DiS is ill, and we’re blaming ATP’s Versus The Fans festival of last weekend. Sure, you give us proper beds and hot running water and – and we thank you for this above almost anything else – an ironing board. But your bars and pubs and various on-site stockers of liquor encourage us to booze, thus lowering our natural defences against bugs and germs and things. Now we’re wandering around London in a daze, the hot-as-hell sun proffering forward precisely zero mercy. We hurt ATP… thanks.
But we did have a smashing time, thank you very much indeed – the bands chosen by both festival bigwigs and attending ‘fans’ alike were almost exclusively of the absolutely excellent variety, and we were never left short of options so far as aural delights went. Sure, some decisions were hard – Okkervill River or Les Savy Fav? – but we’ve all emerged as better people. We think.
In keeping with the spirit of the festival, here we present the experiences of three DiS writers as well as three fans. Here’s hoping they don’t put the ‘professionals’ out of a job. (Click user names for profiles.)
I know I should see The Thermals, but they’re playing in London in not so many weeks; instead, ATP’s curtain rises to the sight of me sucking beer from cans in my chalet with The Mighty Boosh on the fans-controlled television. For some reason I abandon my post to see an old dude play a guitar so badly he has to continually apologise for it, but temperatures soar only minutes later when Yo La Tengo take their wig-out-fuelled indie rawk to the festival’s main stage. I’m dancing and I’ve barely touched the demon drink… okay, that’s a lie.
Which doesn’t help me enjoy Sparklehorse any – play some jovial songs, man! Quit with the moaning! He/they are lovely, of course, but already my mind is racing away to the DJ set I’m booked to ‘play’ ‘tween the hours of Mogwai ending and sometime the day after. The Scots, incidentally, fail to fill the main tent, the Skyline Pavilion, with their usually-so-loud mostly-instrumental guitar buzz workouts. ‘Hunted By A Freak’ is fairly magic, mind, even when witnessed over a shoulder while racing chalet-wards to collect records.
Saturday begins – hangover and a trip to Tesco excepted – with the most frustrating decision of the weekend: watch the FA Cup Final or Shellac, who’ve delayed their Pavilion Stage set by an hour and therefore clash with kick-off. Foolishly I opt for the former, and however bad the match is I can’t pull myself away until the final whistle… of extra time. Shellac can wait until tomorrow, anyway. A few seconds of The Go! Team are welcomed before a grand double-header on the Centre Stage: Les Savy Fav followed by Battles, yes. Positioning myself near the front for the Fav, I’m swept away by the madness from the outset; Tim’s on great form, opening with an on-stage haircut and ending with face black and sweat descending. Battles’ mechanical dance moves draw the drones out en masse – there’s a queue right through the heart of Wilco’s crowd at the main stage – but after ‘Atlas’ I decide I’ve had enough of the dark of Centre Stage and head out for some essential sunlight… and a beer, obviously.
It’s now where I get giddy – the night before’s alcoholic-aided revelry catches up and I drift in and out of sleep during The Books’ projections-embellished set of electro-classico-core (or whatever – they’re good, and very pretty, basically); just before that, neither Cornelius’ weirdo-prog – the opening few minutes of which are, admittedly, amazing – nor Two Gallants’ screaming country-punk can stir my innards into moving my out…ards in a particularly enthusiastic fashion. But, salvation! Why? brings the broadest of smiles to my face in a cramped Reds (the third stage), and Trans Am make my lower limbs twitch as if my upper half has been plugged into the rear end of an electric sheep. They’re so_ much _fun… I immediately decide they’re waaaay better than Les Savy Fav. This opinion only changes a few days after the actual event. 65daysofstatic close the night with a bang… a series of them… and some pretty fucked-up projections. Watership Down gave me nightmares, you know.
Sunday is all about Shellac. A heckler gets some from Todd while Steve still looks like the most brilliantly not rock and roll rock and roller on the planet. But, if I were to be a member of Shellac, I’d be Todd – he clearly lives the least serious life of the three. ‘Ghosts’ is immense, and the material from Excellent Italian Greyhound is typically solid of form. I am excited about this record, believe. Slint offer nothing new, obviously, so it’s back for some eats at the chalet. And then…
Bat For Lashes play to next to nobody on the Pavilion Stage as everyone’s dancing to Architecture In Helsinki, whose silky dance beats set an excellent precedent for the rest of Sunday’s performers. Band Of Horses and their beards follow, their accomplished indie-tinged alt-country (or vice-versa) filling the Centre Stage with good vibrations… which are then shattered, brutally, by the ever-excellent Isis, whose run-through of a number of In The Absence Of Truth monsters is remarkable. Whoever accused this band of toning things down with their last release is, clearly, an idiot. Then the beards return: Built To Spill’s majestic indie-pop rounding off a brilliant run on the festival’s second stage. All that’s left, for me anyway, is Grizzly Bear (very nice, boys, but not now, please…) and the all-eyes-on-them (well, on dose one) Subtle, whose speedy and intelligent hip-hop closes ATP with a flourish of immediate rhythms and beguiling man-made beat complexities (even if they’re preceded by the beyond tedious Brightblack Morning Light). They’re stunning, in short. Much like the line-up of Versus The Fans, really. Several bravos!
It's hard to sum up such a good weekend in words. Words have always been pretty useless for describing emotions. It just won't work. The truly joyful and wonderful things slip through the gaps between the shoddy and unwieldy words and get kind of lost, other than in memories or feelings or hints you get from photos or videos. So how can I describe how ATP is different from other festivals? Nowadays there are lots of festivals; there are tons. But ATP seems to just have something special going for it. Maybe it's the venue: a holiday camp, a mini-world where time stops for a short while and you do feel separated from whatever ails you elsewhere. Maybe it’s the people, often accused of being a bum-licking Wire-reading group of beardy jumper-wearers. In reality they're more like the friendliest, funniest, most likeminded group of people I've been lucky enough to be with at a festival. Not likeminded because everyone agrees on liking Shellac or Battles or whatever, but because every single person is absolutely dedicated to their love for music. And everyone seems to know that about everyone else. And so do the bands. And so the bands don't feel like bands, and the staff don't feel like staff, and we don't seem like punters.
And this time we_ picked these bands: this is the music we love. It wasn't all pretentious, or intelligent, or groundbreaking (though some of it was); mostly, it was just what we love and think about every day without a thought for categories that make the music world seem far more regimented and competitive than it should be. This weekend, then, I absolutely adored the muscular rock action of Modest Mouse. I felt joyous as hell whilst loving the ELO/Beatles rock-pop malarkey of The Apples In Stereo. The Go! Team converted me from _meh-dom to love. The Thermals made a friend vomit with excitement. Trans Am rocked my face. Built To Spill had guitar tones that made my balls tingle. And, most of all, Les Savy Fav put on a show that has gone into my top five live performances of all time, a performance that made me feel so alive and happy and filled me with such love for every tiny molecule of this festival that by this part of this article you're probably sick of my deluge of superlatives. But it was a weekend of superlatives.
And then, of course, we have the inevitable last night effect; like the season finale of a teen soap, we all realise somewhere inside that tomorrow we'll be leaving this strange alternate world of no consequences and maximum love and returning to our shitty hometowns, jobs, schools and whatevers. So we dance like idiots to songs we don't even like, and the bar staff dance too (to McClusky!), and the supposed indie schmindie beard-strokers unashamedly sweat out every drop of love and life to Bon Jovi and System Of A Down and Shellac and CSS and every other band and every other song, because that love for music is so great that for a while it isn't about the details, it’s just about the pure party. And then you go back to chalets and you talk shite and you drink and you vomit. And the vomit tastes good, because it proves you're alive, and young (at heart) and stupid and idiotic, and because it reminds you that you'll be vomiting the same beautiful vomit in another six months. So let's make a date, okay? You, me, some music, in Butlins, at Minehead in December. Fuck yes.
Coolest band of the weekend are Shellac, hands down, Steve Albini flaying the doubters with his trademark mix of clangourous guitar that could strip paint at 20 yards and a pithy line in urbane put-downs (“Why do we suck so much? Because your ma’s on business”).
Drummer Todd Trainer is less of a cool customer in the face of persistent heckling from one punter, wearing the look of a man on the verge of dishing out a serious kicking after said wag refuses a less-than-polite request to leave the gig. Thankfully he sticks to beating seven bells of shit out of his drum kit, albeit in a tightly-marshalled fashion that imaginatively propels their watertight set.
It’s a self-reflexive lesson in dynamics from the outset, from the_ is-it-over-yet_ dramatic pauses to the mischievous set-piece finale which sees Albini and Bob Weston down axes and dismantle Trainer’s kit piece by piece until he’s left bashing away at a solitary drum. It’s left to Weston to deliver the kiss-off to the obstinate naysayer: “You’re a sack of toss.” Quite.
Modest Mouse are the other big thrill of the weekend, leaving timbers emphatically shivered with a surprisingly fat-free 90-minute set of bone-rattling meta-shanties from recent LP We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, along with a clutch of old favourites like ‘Float On’ and ‘Paper Thin Walls’. A sprightly-looking Johnny Marr proves a genial foil for the prickly stage presence of Isaac Brock, and a few zealots even indulge in the very un-ATP-like activity of crowd-surfing.
Other highlights of the weekend include the joyous, primary colour pop splurge of The Go! Team, Les Savy Fav frontman Tim Harrington mock-fellating an audience member (but not his member) with his microphone before wriggling into his T-shirt and leaving said spectator to slope off back to his chalet covering his nipples, and having to actually walk right up to the stage to check that, yes, Brightblack Morning Light are actually playing their set.
Biggest let-down has to be Daniel Johnston, who is scarcely able to sing his songs while scrabbling guilessly at his guitar like an inquisitive toddler, apparently in mortal terror of his audience. The crowd thins, some stick around, but it’s almost as if they’re applauding his childlike insecurities rather than his undoubted songwriting abilities, and feeling uncomfortable I make for an early exit. Allegedly he played three more sets over the weekend, including one at somebody’s chalet, so maybe he got better, but I’ll stick to his records from now on.
Another great weekend, all told, lacking only in a certain pop sparkle; a crowd-pleasing element which it’s hard to envisage being remedied by Portishead curating in December. Still, they might surprise us yet.
Friday: Bands seen: The Thermals, Mogwai, Tall Firs, Akron/Family, DJ Mike Diver
So, kicking off ATP are* The Thermals. They sound pretty good but they don't blow me away like some other reports have suggested – was everyone else just carried away on first day excitement? Mogwai, again, are good, but the sound in the Pavilion Stage/Skyline is not the best and seems to lack a real sense of atmosphere – it’s a bit like the inside of a shopping precinct and when it's pointed out to me that _"this reminds me of _Michael Barrymore's My Kind Of People_"_, it's kind of hard to watch bands in the same light, half expecting the next act to be an old woman playing the spoons. The highlight of the day is *Akron/Family. Described to me as ‘Nordic’, they stroll on stage and announce, "Hey everybody, we're from America!" Hmm… so not Nordic, then, but really really good. I leave their set really impressed and keen to get my hands on some of their recordings.
Saturday: Bands seen: Shellac, Les Savy Fav, Wilco, Two Gallants
There's something quite charming about being awoken by the chirps of birdsong on a bright May morning, but perhaps the screech of gulls and honking of geese outside your window at 7am leaves a little to be desired. Minehead Butlins is awash with birds – it’s their turf and don't we just know it. The only 20 minutes of rain to occur all weekend happen to be the 20 minutes I am at the beach. Typical. Back to the chalet for what has now become synonymous with ATP - R.Kelly's Trapped In The Closet. From all around the site you can hear the laughter and people singing "spatulaaaaa". It's heart-warming the way it unites the masses. Off to see Shellac, whose time has been changed. Another dilemma is thrown up: Les Savy Fav or Okkervil River? Who rocks the party that rocks your body? Gotta be the Fav! They’re so much fun live, and Tim Harrington really excels himself with the number of costume changes. The man certainly knows how to carry off a black catsuit. Wilco, on the main stage, are brilliant – Jeff Tweedy is staying in a castle, Mr Fancy Pants. Two Gallants, meanwhile, prove to be the surprise of the weekend. The two-piece are awesome.
Sunday: Bands seen: Slint, Architecture in Helsinki, Band of Horses, Modest Mouse, Isis, Built To Spill
Seems like the best line-up today, though writing this it seems like I didn’t watch that many bands the other two days… what was I doing? Damn you, air hockey, 2p shuffle machines, pool tables, ATP TV and all that other distracting stuff. Band of Horses play their first-ever UK show and despite having not practiced for two months they sound pretty great and seem the most genuinely excited band to be playing all weekend, even if most of that excitement did seem to stem from asking who could get them stoned afterwards. Would've liked to have seen more of Modest Mouse, only managing to catch 30 minutes during change over on the Centre Stage, but what I did see was far more impressive than I was expecting. I sat down to watch Isis whilst eating hot nuts and drinking wine. I am so rock.
Best thing about Minehead over Camber? Erm, probably everything. Nicer chalets, more venues, more bars, more fun stuff to do. Will another ATP line-up live up to Versus The Fans, though?
ATP is something of an irritant for your average festival attendee. Whilst such events usually present the standard dilemma over whether you would prefer to watch Placebo or indulge in a lukewarm pint, Versus The Fans instead calls to question whether you want to watch Shellac or the FA Cup Final, Battles or Wilco, or opt for* Subtitle *rather than fill your rot-ridden gut with something other than a putrid-scented hotdog.
Given Daniel Johnston’s somewhat reclusive habits most descend upon the Centre Stage for a sighting of this bashful gentleman. However, whereas his records have something a vulnerable charm, the renown that has earned this stage over the past couple of years seems inappropriate given he seems so uncomfortable. It cannot help but feel like everyone’s rapturous applause is somewhat strained.
Whilst most others have their post-rock wet dreams satisfied by Mogwai, Sparklehorse seem a sensible alternative with an appropriately downtrodden set. ‘Don’t Take My Sunshine Away’ begs Mark Linkous; stood inside with warm wafts of the hotdog death-breeze, you can relate to the man.
After a bout of Cornelius’ meandering prog, *Trans Am *announce that they will play a somewhat synth-stripped set, which pays off. Frontman Nathan Means appears to be gnawing on something, something that appears to be a pastry-based product of some sort as they play ‘Tesco vs. Sainsbury’s’. Innocently forgetting quite the back-catalogue they’ve now built, it’s one of Versus’ most captivating performances.
Saturday evening’s proceedings are something of a spectacle. In what former cLOUDDEAD associate Why? offers in twisted anticon innovation, Edan follows with what proves a far more traditional effort. The following evening, Subtle MC dose one’s bravado seems a bit desperate; that these two perform with such casualness seems remarkable and is testament to their illustrious status.
After being left nonplussed by Akron/Family and Band Of Horses earlier, Grizzly Bear’s esoteric ways could have ended a similarly tame affair to end the weekend. Instead, appropriately detailed and delirious, it’s hard to imagine a better act to pull the curtains on events.
In no real order…
Daniel Johnston, despite his nerves, broke my heart. Nels Cline of Wilco seemed to tear open the space-time continuum with his guitar playing. Whoever moved the Time Crisis machines next to the main stage is a genius, as Yo La Tengo provided a near-perfect soundtrack. Youthmovies looked lost on the Centre Stage, and provided the only real disappointment of the weekend.
Subtle’s frontman tells awful, awful jokes. Experiencing 65daysofstatic’s live A/V assault at 1am, after a day of drinking, makes even more sense.* Okkervil River are well worth missing *Les Savy Fav for, even if a) they didn’t do their duet with Daniel Johnston and b) frontman Will Schaff is so hot as to make any other man feel inadequate. Modest Mouse are a ROCK MACHINE, even if Johnny Marr looks like Isaac Brock’s father. Watching the shadows of birds fly overhead whilst ‘Float On’ rang out remains a high point of the weekend. Finnigans’ chips and cheese own my soul. Mogwai’s bass hurt my insides. Dancing in Jak’s to The Blood Brothers at 2:45am is a highly recommended activity; starting the weekend off with vodka shots is not. You will not meet nicer random festival people than those you meet at ATP. Chalet parties are fun until security guards turn up, and when they do turn up, do not try to ‘negotiate’ with them. The seagulls in Minehead are enormous, and best left alone.
Subtitle seemed to be everywhere, all the time – did he even have a chalet? Shellac win the Funniest Band Of The Weekend award, for both their jokes and not Todd Trainer’s demented drumming face. In short: an excellent weekend, and the probably best ATP I’ve been to. Can we have another one now, Barry? Please?
For further information on ATP and its associated events, click to the official website here
Photographs, from top: Shellac (main) by Gary Wolstenholme, Yo La Tengo by GW, Mogwai by Lucy Johnston, The Go! Team by GW, Trans Am by LJ, Slint by LJ, Isis by LJ, The Apples In Stereo by GW, Les Savy Fav by LJ, Les Savy Fav by GW, The Thermals by GW, Shellac by LJ, Shellac by GW, Daniel Johnston by GW, Echo And The Bunnymen by LJ, Akron/Family by GW, Wilco by GW, Isis by GW, Battles by LJ, Sparklehorse by GW, Subtle by GW, Youthmovies by LJ, 65daysofstatic by GW, Why? by GW