Kevin Shields and co curate a blinding (and deafening) line-up at winter's loudest weekend
Of all the hallowed ways of paying homage to the birth of Christ, holing up in the imposing white spires of Butlins Minehead has become a tradition as holy as gouging a candle and some dolly mixtures into an orange.
December it may be, but there’ll be no holy or silent nights this weekend – proto-noiseniks and this weekend’s curators [a]My Bloody Valentine[/a]’s wrathful line-up makes for a thoroughly welcome anomaly on the festival calendar.
[a]Josh T Pearson[/a] credits their curating skills eloquently. “My Bloody Valentine: son of a bitch!” After a few refrains from MBV’s ‘Only Shallow’, he does their thundering sense of damnation justice with a set that howls with the futile pleas of a condemned man.
His strife for absolution sits in direct contrast with [a]De La Soul[/a]’s block-party jinks. They divide the crowd in two, playfully goading each side into whooping louder, and eliciting a guiltily easy roar when they yell, “If you’ve never been stabbed or shot, scream!”
[a]Primal Scream[/a] give it a fair stab with a raucous ‘Shoot Speed/Kill Light’ and a laser-sighted hits-heavy set, but it’s pretty safe to say that the most violent act any ATP-goer has ever witnessed comes courtesy of the weekend’s curators, who after fighting against sound problems play an absolute blinder, hypnotising with the aforementioned ‘Only Shallow’ and ‘Soon’ before they let loose with what is referred to, rather grimly, as “the Holocaust”. For the uninitiated, it’s a 20-minute barrage of snarling white noise in the middle of 1988 single ‘You Made Me Realise’ that makes its victims cower, screaming into the void and leaning against its physically pummelling attack, and one that never ceases to be astounding when Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher simultaneously shatter
the drop-jawed delirium of the crowd with a sudden, perfectly co-ordinated return to the melody.
[a]Buzzcocks[/a], though, are a tricky proposition – they’re still as snotty as they supposedly ever were, but with their awful cock-rock guitar poses and the fact that they’re as embarrassingly shit as the has-beens that reliably grace the dingy corners of locals across the land every weekend it’s a tempting but poor excuse to say that they’re too old for this malarkey, particularly given that the combined age of Saturday’s Pavilion stage openers, Sun Ra Arkestra, probably totals about 673, and they slay. Looking like sage mystics in appropriately festive sequinned robes, they sound like This Heat deconstructing an old Hollywood jazz fanfare, with the bongos, electric trombones, brass
and the rest of it occasionally coming together to inhale in conventional hooks before scrambling off in tangents of marginally ordered chaos.
At a more mainstream festival [a]The Horrors[/a] would be the weirdest boys on the bill. Here, they’re pretty much squares, and their billing is still approached with some trepidation – despite the triumph of that second album there’s very much a sense that they still have something to prove in such sacred musical company. They pull it off admirably. Joshua Third and Rhys Webb circle like sycamore seeds around Faris, who goes from being terrifyingly serene to adopting a slim-suited fever during ‘Primary Colours’. For all the talk of cold noise, there’s a wild amount of heart beneath their echo chamber squall, particularly once the River Styx death knoll of ‘I Only Think Of You’ subsides.
The only complaint to be made about [a]Sonic Youth[/a] is how fucking polite the volume is; ‘The Sprawl’, one of the few tracks not off their new album ‘The Eternal’ that they play this evening, should grate with insolence, but instead bassist Kim Gordon’s drawl gets smothered to a muffled approximation of what it could be and mainman Thurston Moore’s guitar tries to scream but, as in a bad dream, no sound comes out.
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It’s certainly not a problem that [a]Fucked Up[/a] suffer from upstairs on Centre Stage. The volume and performance are amped up to eight – Pink Eyes mashes the mic into the side of his head and starts to bleed on the front rows, much to security’s chagrin. There’s something that feels rehearsed about their onstage destruction, though, unlike [a]Dirty Three[/a] on Sunday evening. Warren Ellis offsets his band’s bleak grace with a nice line in dry banter, reassuring the crowd that “hell ain’t
a fucking bad place to be”. And even though the carpet’s sticky, and Butlins smells a bit of feet, the man has a point.