Post-rock, post-Redcoats at the seaside alternafest. Butlins, Minehead (May 16 - 18)
Texan post-rockers Explosions In The Sky may be a fine name to drop in certain circles, but in terms of legendarily inspirational and influential bands they’re hardly Sonic Youth. So the decision to allow them to curate ATP seems a trifle strange – that is, until their impeccable, eclectic taste and their skyscraping main stage headline performance on Friday night are taken into account. What they lack in engaging stage presence (they hardly put the ‘mental’ into ‘instrumental’) EITS more than make up for in epic, gorgeous soundscapes, leaving the crowd gently floating somewhere above Somerset.
A hazy Sunday afternoon begins with De La Soul’s fabulous old-school dancefest. Coupled with a dose of deranged euphoro-pop majesty from Animal Collective, it provides a vitality and bounce that sits nicely next to the eyes-closed, head-nodding charms of Mono. Six-minute grunge guitar solos? Must be Dinosaur Jr, who play two astonishing sets that illustrate just how many brilliant songs they have, J Mascis later appearing with Broken Social Scene to show the young bucks how to wail up a storm. Battles too play twice, with their 2am headfuck set on Saturday being – the masterful ‘Tonto’ aside – more of an exercise in self-indulgence than a show full of space-pop tunes for mashed people to dance to. Which would be far, far better.
…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead’s set, though, is an exemplary lesson in how to make rock’n’roll sound like a noisy, messy harvesting of souls, buoyed no end by the presence of a team of drummers who play so feverishly you fear for their health. One of the most unexpected delights is watching The National rise to their Pavilion Stage slot with aplomb – their chiming guitars and Matt Berninger’s anxious, nervy performance bringing a sense of intimacy to the huge stage. All they need to do is keep writing songs as good as ‘Green Gloves’ and they could turn into the U2 it’s OK to like.
However, it’s Japan’s Envy who put in the most stunning set of the weekend, with an hour of tooth-grinding hardcore that doesn’t so much blow away the cobwebs as drop a kiloton neutron bomb on Butlins. On a normal day their sheer violence and ferocity would be a lot to deal with; at 1am at the end of ATP it’s like being turned inside out and beaten with a stick – in the best way possible.