January 8, 2010
Live Review: ATP A Decade Of Destruction
The most imaginative small festival in the world celebrates 10 years of surprises
Set the clichés aside for a moment: ATP's clientele is no more dominated by the bearded indie elite than it is by lairy Muse fans. All human life is here, and nobody gets rinsed out - meteorologically or financially. Here is a world where you don't have to shout 'bollocks' from your cold, damp tent while a 'rock opera' unveils itself in a vast neighbouring field, and where the air is free of flying bottles of piss - a brilliant deconstruction of the clichéd idea of festival fun.
At ATP, you not only get to shelter in a chalet with its own bathroom and kitchen, but to enjoy a veritable dating and introduction service for people who like good music, and by now its legacy is ripe for celebration. When ATP came to fruition in 2000, an inspired selection gave Mogwai - a band far from the fringes of mainstream success - the opportunity, as curators, to fill three days with their favourite bands, and the template was in place: throughout the noughties, sleepy seaside resorts have been improbably overrun by genre- and era-defining artists - as chosen by their peers. Not only that, but the festival has spread to New York, Australia, the Don't Look Back concert series and a label that's given the world the likes of Fuck Buttons and Sleepy Sun.
At this anniversary bash, the main-stage curtain is raised by former curator Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks, who ease us into a weekend that will bring sleep deprivation, liver abuse, and a nagging question: is there anyone who isn't taking plant food? However, the Pavement frontman's meandering set ultimately fails to quicken the pulse: indeed, it almost seems designed to make us impatient for next year's reunion gigs.
Luckily, Dinosaur Jr veteran and peerless space cadet J Mascis is on hand to pick up the pace with his backing band The Fog, but it's Yeah Yeah Yeahs who the crowd are really waiting for - and boy, do they wait. Nearly 40 minutes of an allotted 90 have passed before the band loom into view, but Karen O's making no apologies. Sounding much like a drunk Regan from The Exorcist, she greets us with, "You sons of bitches. We only just got here, motherfuckers!" There follows a gleeful thrash through the band's seminal debut album 'Fever To Tell'. At one point, the highly refreshed Ms O fishes a banana from her cleavage and flings it into the audience. Later she gets bored during 'Zero' and cuts it to an abrupt halt. Her abandon and exuberance lights the touchpaper for the two days to come.
Saturday's revelries are paused as Slint legend Dave Pajo, here in the guise of Papa M, plucks the heartstrings with a set of gentle instrumentals, but chaos erupts when Japanese duo Afrirampo seize the main stage for a masterful display of AC/DC scissor-kicking and syncopated screaming. Not to be outdone in the comedy stakes, Shellac leaven a set of teak-hard post-hardcore with dry, acerbic wit: Bob Weston closes off a pulverising 75-minute set with a simple, "Bye, cunts." Later, the night's main draw, The Breeders, bring to ATP their trademark 'Dealisms': giggling fits and a shambling musicality. Kelley Deal manages to strum through an entire 'Little Fury' without realising her guitar's unplugged, but all's forgiven when they wheel out a giant Butlins-shaped cake for ATP's organisers and then dish out soft Victoria sponge to the crowd. A late-night call from The For Carnation sees the post-rock minimalists take a perplexing turn for the jolly, with perky organs somewhat undermining Brian McMahan's ominous vocal.
On Sunday, The Magic Band seek to nurse hangovers with tales of Frank Zappa. Later, another hirsute weirdo, Devendra Banhart, reaps the benefits of having toned down his kookiness a bit: his main stage set is confident, melodic and joyous, even if he's acquired an unhealthy obsession with blowjobs. Still, the litany of double entendres that make up 'Lover' brings some welcome smut and sleaze to Minehead.
By now we're reeling, but there are further treats in store. Grunge pioneers Mudhoney remind us of their place in history with a swaggering greatest hits sets, with 'Touch Me I'm Sick' a delight for those who lost interest post-2002. As night falls outside, robe-clad doom-mongers Sunn O))) prove that a sense of theatre and spectacle bring infinite benefits to noise rock: their thunderous set resembles nothing so much as an elaborate satanic ritual, replete with nonsense chanting and deafening screeches. Perfectly, someone pops a fire door mid-set, triggering an automated warning that urges Butlins staff to "return to home base". As the diehards raise the famous 'claw' to salute them, anticipation for May's Pavement-curated weekend is already taking hold. Not before Lightning Bolt destroy any still-functioning eardrums of course.
Happy birthday ATP. Here's to many equally glorious returns.
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