Disclaimer: nobody sees everything at an ATP festival. Nobody except one man. He was a bearded American guy I met outside Crazy Horse a little after 4am at the very end of this year's Nightmare Before Christmas, and he looked me soberly and squarely in the eye and informed me he’d seen every band for “at least seven to ten minutes”. Not sure if he is a hero or an idiot, but I hereby hold my hands up and say I missed Dälek, both of Mastodon’s sets, and a bunch of other stuff besides. Even so, a first draft of a straight review crested the 1,000 word mark before I’d finished writing about Saturday, so screw it, here are my top ten moments of a resoundingly back on form ATP, the best since Dirty Three.
You can feel a bit absurd simply listening to Fantômas’s The Director’s Cut; co-festival curator Mike Patton and chums’ avant-metal homage to the cinema of the 20th century is so far-fetched and theatrical that whacking it on while you have a cup of tea seems somehow inappropriate. This live run through fully realises it: a booming, colourful, lithe performance that treats The Director’s Cut as a fundamentally entertaining piece of music, while dispatching it with enough zeal and intensity to avoid descent into high camp. Patton’s mad charisma is the key, and kind of makes up for the fact he didn’t get his collaboration on with anyone else on the bill. Also top marks for bassist Trevor Dunn’s parent-friendly joke about libraries.
Teenage Jesus & The Jerks
Lydia Lunch is deadpan, dead-eyed and mean; Jim Sclavunos is all ramrod straight, silvery charisma; and an unobtrusive gent by the name of Thurston wangles his mandatory ATP appearance on bass duties. Nobody was expecting Vegas, but the band’s first UK show in 30 years is still wonderfully unsentimental, a loud, stark, vengeful knife in the gut that’s free of any sense of pomp or occasion. I can well imagine an average gig of theirs in the 70s might have been a lot like this, and that’s definitely a compliment.
The Melvins go back in time
This Nightmare... kicks off with the reunion of a band that never technically existed: Melvins 1983. It’s a hook up between our gracious hosts Buzz Osbourne and Dale Crover and Melvins founder drummer (ie Crover’s predecessor) Mike Dillard, for a gig that confirms their grunge godfather status with a melodic yomp through scrappy, big riffed songs that would have fitted very nicely indeed onto Bleach, thankyouverymuch. I actually enjoy it more than Sunday’s straight Melvins set, though kudos for drums that could probably be heard in Cornwall and the frankly shit scary cover of ‘My Generation’.
Is Monotonix's music any good? I dunno. That's not the point. The point is that Ami Shalev is singing suspended from a ceiling beam by his legs and is probably to die quite soon. Except he doesn’t, nor does he croak it the several dozen other times he lobs himself into mortal peril for the sake of his own amusement. You know, like where he crowdsurfs. Standing up. On a drum. Hijinks continue outside, until the aghast security put an end to our fun.
Even without his usual visuals, the Austrian’s taut electro-static tundra is stunning, all crackled, foggy ambience laced with ghosting melodies and the choked screams of distant guitars. Why he only plays a half hour instead of the promised 45 minutes is a mystery, but screw it, it was a great half hour.
You wouldn’t exactly call them Springsteen-esque, but there’s definitely a little blue collar romance at Torche’s core, intermingled with the detuned breakdowns and sheer massiveness of it all, heavy and liquid as deep ocean. Or maybe I was just distracted by the cowboy hats, but a blast regardless.
Such a perfect start to Sunday – the 81-year-old musique concrete master’s set is kind of like being inside a gentle old machine, Parmegiani coaxing out a peaceful series of squeaks, rumbles and gurgles that condense into sheets of delicate thunder.
A real surprise: after two fairly anaemic solo albums , this is just awesome. Tracks from this year’s The Blue God have infinitely more edge and spark live, but it’s a generous slew of inventive covers that really set the night on fire – The Beat’s ‘Mirror In The Bathroom’, Kate Bush’s ‘Army Dreamer’s and a jagged blast through ‘Black Steel’. The next day her turn on ‘Deflect’ provides a rare nugget of perfection during Leila’s intermittently enjoyable but technically embuggered set.
Awesome live drums don’t stop the Just A Souvenir-heavy first act kind of grating – after a while all the arch pinging and the giant LED backdrop make you feel like you’re watching a casino. Then he kicks into a set of outrageously full on drum and bass and everything is very much alright with the world again.
Einar Örn has the air of a washed-up poet going through a mental breakdown; that might actually be what’s happening here. But it’s not about his vocals, it’s the beats, and they are profane, a reverberating hail of electric meteors that leave Reds shaken to the foundations.
After Zu’s set people either seem to have either had some sort of road to Damascus moment or actually be quite angry; I’m still kind of on the fence – a heap of the time the screaming staccato guitars and oblique free jazzing seem to flail around with no logic or design, but every now and again you’re blindsided as it coagulates into a groove of dumbfounding potency.
The S2 Saturday night chalet party in Holnicote Village
A kit is set up in the centre of the living room and Torche drummer Rick Smith is walloping the crap out of it, unphased by the heaving throng that keeps falling ontop of him. A guitarist intermittently teases out shrieks of distortion, and when Smith understandably tires, some other guy takes to the sticks until security eventually break things up around 5am. Okay, it’s basically a bunch of drunks squeezed into a small room watching a very long drum solo, but it’s just such a perfect ATP moment, no barriers between artists and performers, just a bunch of music fans doing something fun and slightly impractical.
I could go on. But I won’t. Just to say it was great to see ATP back on such eclectic form: it’s at its best as a festival of musical adventure and discovery, which isn’t necessarily something you can say of recent indie-stacked incarnations. Sure not everything worked – Os Mutantes were awful, Farmer’s Market did not make a compelling case for uniting gypsy jazz and lounge, the ATP TV was the weakest in memory – but interesting failures over safe choices anyday, and after the slightly ho-hum Release The Bats, the weekend was this festival at peak eccentricity and form.