All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival – Animal Collective On Curating

This weekend, Baltimore experimentalists Animal Collective join up with legendary festival promoters All Tomorrow’s Parties for what’s set to be ATP’s last May festival at Minehead’s gloriously shabby Butlins. It’s a crying shame – the May ATPs (there used to be two each spring – now there’ll just be two installments of the Nightmare Before Christmas ATPs each December) were like the perfect early summer holiday – Minehead’s as quaint and creepy a seaside town as they come, and Butlins itself is like a time capsule to a more wholesome time (if you ignore the eight-foot Bob The Builder statue, which you’re not advised to spend too long staring at when spangled…).

Then, of course, there’s the bands – ATP put on weird and wonderful line-ups like no other, allowing you to mingle with people like Thurston and Nick Zinner at the arcade machines, thanks to ATP’s no-VIP ethos, and discover weird and wonderful bands, like doom jazz noise-mongers Bohren & Der Club Of Gore…

Here’s our interview with Animal Collective’s Geologist on being asked to curate the cult festival.

Which was your first ATP?
“It was the Explosions In The Sky ATP in May 2008. Sadly I’ve only been to the ones we’ve been invited to play – I’ve always been busy during the other ones.”

What was your first impression of Butlins?
“I remember being pretty into the vibe. It reminded me of cheaper local amusement parks around the area where I grew up that seemed really cool as a child. It’s not until you’re an adult that you realize it was much cheaper and smaller than in your memory, though actually, Butlins is a little bigger and more hi-tech than some of the places I’m thinking of. Unfortunately the weather was really bad that weekend – kind of wet and cold – so no one was really taking much advantage of the setting on the first day. That made it have an older, more abandoned feel that it probably would if the weather had been nice.”

Would you rather end your night dancing in the Crazy Horse, drawing the curtains in a hazy chalet and listening to music in the dark, or skinny dipping at the beach?
“Probably Skyping with my wife and kid actually. That’s how I end most nights on tour. I imagine after that I’ll still have time to listen to music in a hazy chalet. I’ll go wherever the majority of my friends are actually. Many of the artists playing our ATP are close friends that I don’t get to see enough of, so I’m sure I’ll take advantage of the hang time.”

What kind of reputation does the festival have in the US?
“It has an amazing reputation amongst people that would go to that sort of festival. The quality of the line-ups, the way the artists and fans all live in one community for the weekend – there’s nothing else like it on so many levels, not in the US, UK, EU or anywhere in the world, unless it’s the ATP people putting it on. When they finally started doing it in the States, people were thrilled because for years it was frustrating to see these amazing line-ups taking place somewhere so inaccessible unless you had sufficient time and money to travel overseas.”

Being asked to curate must be the stuff of your teenage fantasy festival dreams – what was your first reaction to being asked?
“Yeah totally. I know a lot of bands who have spent time on tour discussing their dream ATP line-up. It’s a great way to pass the time on the highway, and also reminds you of how much music there is that means a lot to you and gets you psyched at being part of that continuum. We are no exception, and the conversation has come up many times over the years. Even just listening to someone’s iPod on tour can spark the conversation out of nowhere. You’ll hear a song by a band long broken up or retired and say, ‘if we ever get asked to curate an ATP, we’ll get them to reunite.’

“So we were thrilled when we were first asked and since we had talked about it in the hypothetical sense so many times, we already had a good idea of who we would ask. Then we were told to turn in a list of 40 bands and we already had about 80 on our dream list. That’s when we realized it was going to be difficult. We asked the Pavement guys to play but they weren’t able to do it. The parting words in the rejection were something like, ‘Congrats, curating ATP is fun, and hard.’”

Did you decide by democracy, or did you each pick a few bands? Can you see your individual selves in the line-ups?
“It started by us each contributing our own suggestions. We were all living in separate places so we just had a running list online for a month or so and each of us could log on and add names when we thought of something so I can definitely see ourselves as individuals when I look at the list. After we felt maxed out we began voting on the bands. If there were any split decisions, we would talk about it and take other factors into consideration, such as how many times we’d seen someone already, how many times they’d played ATP before, the likelihood of them getting asked by someone else at a future ATP and so on.

“If there was ever something that only one of us wanted and the others didn’t care or didn’t like it, we allowed for each of us to have a couple of single person dream requests. I don’t think that ended up happening though. At least two of use is psyched on everyone that is playing. The ATP people themselves also play a role in it because they request a certain number of bands with a certain level of popularity to help ticket sales. Not in a gross way or anything – they still give you the freedom to choose whoever you want, but they’ll ask for a certain number of bands that can draw X number of people.”

If money and death were no object, who would you have liked to book?
“This came up a lot, hahaha. We turned in a few names that made ATP come back and say, ‘their guaranteed fee is larger than the budget for the entire festival’. We really wanted Daft Punk and it seemed like it might work out but they just weren’t available. That was our biggest rejection bummer. We also considered asking Neil Young, Ray Davies, The Dead and Kraftwerk, but money wouldn’t allow. The death qualification would be too long to list.

“One person we spent some time and energy tracking down to invite was Bobby Brown. Not the R&B dude from New Edition, though our manager thought that was who we wanted when we turned in the name and he wrote back about him having a bad reputation here. There’s another musician named Bobby Brown who put out a few records in the early ‘70s and ‘80s. One is called ‘Enlightening Beam Of Axonda’ and another good one is ‘Prayers Of A One Man Band’. He actually toured with Fleetwood Mac for a bit and recorded a live record on that tour, but he didn’t like how it sounded so he re-recorded the set in his van and sold that instead. Those records are big Animal Collective favourites, so we tried to track him down and got closer than we thought we would, but the trail led to a complete disappearance. Hopefully he is alive and well though, and one day someone will see him play again. Everyone should check out those records. They’re easily found online.”

There’s a real fan community that surrounds ATP – was it important to draw on bands that you’re friendly with for the line-up?
“Yes, and this was probably the most difficult thing about curating. It was important to us that the festival feel really personal and honour the community of bands we come from as well as the bands we find inspiring. We could have filled up the 40 band list with friends alone, probably. We curate our own record label, Paw Tracks, so it was important to us to have that entire roster, and ATP gave us their blessing to do that which was really cool of them since a lot of the bands aren’t as well known in the UK. Beyond that we had to make some really difficult decisions. Unfortunately a lot of our friends were just too unknown in the UK. We got a lot of them on there, but there are some hurt feelings for sure and we feel really bad that some friends can’t be there.”

Of the folk you’ve not met, who are you looking forward to chatting with – and maybe collaborating with? Any collaborations on the cards?
“We’re a little too shy to be psyched to talk to people we don’t know, and personally I’m not the most collaborative person, but maybe some stuff will happen.”

Every ATP has a totally different atmosphere – what are you hoping for this weekend?
“I hope it’s a good, mellow time and that people leave feeling like their minds were blown.

Read Laura’s interview with Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington on what makes ATP the best here.

Read Laura’s interview with founder Barry Hogan on over a decade of ATP here.