The New York incarnation of ATP may only come around once a year, but few folks who have braved the charmingly decrepit surroundings of Kutshers Country Club can resist its lure. Most of the lineup this time around is made up of 40-something musicians who are lifers at this game, working every shitty day job imaginable to support themselves, playing notorious flea pits all over the globe, and finding a home of sorts in the shape of multiple ATP festivals. Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch is on board as a curator, porn star Ron Jeremy is stalking the corridors, Bill Murray is rumoured to be in attendance (false, sadly), and Thurston Moore is talking about hummus at a Q&A. Just another vintage weekend in the Catskills for what is hopefully now an annual trans-Atlantic jaunt for the ATP organisation. Photos by Abbey Braden.
The Scientists Kim Salmon is one of those lifers mentioned above. He’s been in at least half a dozen bands since the late Seventies, with varying degrees of success. But you can tell from his demeanor that he’s the kind of performer who is driven by a strange compulsion to keep doing this year after year. The work of the Scientists’ frontman is still mostly discovered by word of mouth, through knowledge passed on by other musicians and the devoted, many of whom have been enraptured by his swampy blues rock for years. It’s to his post punk opus, Blood Red River, that Salmon turns to here, and it’s a fine way to open up the festival, with the strident guitar thrum of ‘Swampland’ reeling in the curious and causing the already converted to punch the sky in triumph.
Mudhoney Mark Arm tips his hat to Salmon’s band during his set, which is a by-now achingly familiar concoction of Superfuzz Bigmuff plus the early singles from an era now long behind them. The group look nonplussed to be running through this material for the umpteenth time, but they’ve found an ideal forum for it here — the bone crunching Kutshers sound system is a perfect match for Mudhoney’s deliciously stodgy guitar noise, which has never sounded more persuasive than on the twin downer riffs of ‘Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More’ and their cover of Sonic Youth’s ‘Halloween’.
The Stooges Getting Iggy to play before Sleep was a smart move on the part of the ATP organisers. For one thing, the Stooges’ sinewy frontman has reached the grand old age of 63 and probably needs to get to bed early, although you’d never think it from the energy he pummels into his music. Iggy and his taut leather handbag body is the primary focus, but it’s hard to imagine any singer failing to excel with the ferocious backline of Williamson/Watt/Asheton/MacKay behind them. Naturally, Iggy is in the crowd on and off throughout, the bouncers have an increasingly hard time fishing him out, half the audience are on stage are for ‘Shake Appeal’, and Raw Power is battered into our sweat soaked faces in full. The carnage ends with ‘No Fun’ and Iggy dancing in silence on stage, still lost in the music echoing around his head, still feeding off that unbreakable bond with his audience, still twitching like 10,000 volts of power are careening through his veins, long after his band have vacated the Starlight Ballroom.
Todd Barry There aren’t many creepier looking comedians out there than the New York City based Todd Barry. There’s something unnerving about his still, unblinking posture, and he appears to be fully aware of it — even making fun of the photographers taking multiple pictures of him when he barely moves throughout his set. His humour is based around acute observational tracts drawn from his life, including an amusing passage about trying to find an apartment in New York, all delivered in a room hazed by smoke from a dry ice machine. Barry’s chilly Hannibal Lecter manner can freeze a crowd and have it rolling in laughter at the same time, it’s just a shame that so many folks were milling about outside between the Stooges and Sleep shows during his set.
Sleep The first note stoner rock titans Sleep play is a prodigious bass throb so powerful that just about everything in the Starlight Ballroom — from walls and floor to bones and flesh — reverberates wildly. It’s unlikely anyone here would be hoping for anything less, and Sleep more than deliver. We get Holy Mountain in full, a strangely failed attempt to deliver a classical piece on acoustic guitar by Matt Pike, and a set that rattles even the hardiest metal fan’s cage by stretching well over two hours. There’s a sense of devotion from the faithful, many of whom appear to be following the band around on tour for this reunion, and are eating up the Sabbath heavy slo-mo riffage being pounded from the stage. ‘Dragonaut’ predictably gets the biggest cheer of the night, but they also deliver parts of ‘Dopesmoker’ and end up going on for so long that they cause Jim Jarmusch to ponder whether they are still playing during his Q&A the following afternoon.
Beak> There probably aren’t going to be too many chances to see Geoff Barrow and his Beak> project stateside, so the Starlight Ballroom is comfortably packed in the early hours of Saturday to see them. It’s to his credit that Barrow seems humbled by the reception as his band blasts through a selection of Silver Apples/krautrock inspired grooves, which all seem to have taken on new and slightly different angles since their excellent debut LP.
Fuck Buttons The loosely slung together grooves of Beak> make a perfect calm-before-the-storm introduction to Fuck Buttons, who crank the Kutshers PA to terrifying volume, ultimately sorting the wheat from the chaff in the how-loud-can-you-go stakes. But Fuck Buttons aren’t just an object lesson in brute force — there’s raw emotion buried deep in the heart of tracks like ‘Olympians’, which just about manages to sneak through the monolithic bass and great welts of ugly distortion that are a near constant presence through their set.
Tortoise It might be a worry for Tortoise that the best song they play here by far is ‘Glass Museum’ from their 1996 album Millions Now Living Will Never Die, but the great thing about ATP is that you can just move on to countless other activities if something doesn’t connect with you. At some point John McEntire and his group became a little too in thrall to their liquidy jazz fusion influences, and while it’s hard to see then coming back from that particularly unsavory brink at this point, there are a couple of solid, danceable grooves that just about make this a set worth sticking around for.
Michael Rother presents Hallogallo It’s safe to say the members of Sonic Youth ended this day pretty exhausted, with Lee Ranaldo performing a full set in his noise-driven Text of Light outfit and Steve Shelly drumming here with Michael Rother. It’s not quite the set of Neu! songs some were expecting, but Rother is the kind of artist who doesn’t seem interested in a simple replication of past triumphs, instead taking songs by that band and Harmonia and twisting new bends out of them. Shelly is the perfect drummer to bash out Klaus Dinger’s metronomic grooves, and this ends up being a perfectly tranquil mid afternoon bliss out session, with heads nodding in silent contemplation throughout.
Shellac Do we need another review of Shellac at an ATP event? No. Do they still play with all the power of a brick shithouse being forcibly shoved up your rectum? Absolutely. No questions for Bob Weston though—time constraints scuppered his usual Q&A session.
The Breeders Kim Deal tells us the Breeders have traveled all the way from Ohio for this show, and their efforts are met with warm appreciation from one of the biggest crowds of the weekend. We get a decent span of songs, including the upbeat ‘Overglazed’ and the Hawaiian lilt of ‘No Aloha’, although not enough Pod action (what a great Don’t Look Back show that would be). The Deals even manage to embarrass Steve Albini — no mean feat, that — by wishing him and his wife a happy anniversary. It’s too bad Kim has spent the past few years bleeding the Pixies dry, because this set prickles with beautiful vocal harmonies and wonderfully skewed pop tunes, making it a damn shame that she doesn’t spend more time with this vastly superior outfit.
Papa M Like Kim Deal, Dave Pajo is another figure who has an effortlessly affecting project he can delve into, but spends far too much time elsewhere (First Zwan and now Interpol? C’mon Dave, you’re killing me here, man). But everyone has to pay the bills, and if an unlikely stint as the new Carlos D can fund a Papa M album—which is surely long overdue—then we can probably all make peace with that. The beautifully hushed sounds floating off the Dining Room stage are in stark contrast to just about everyone else at this ATP, but it’s a welcome relief to listen to Pajo and his cohorts demonstrate a true mastery of subtlety. He needs to get back to this place more often.
The Books The Books are here on the back of their inventive new album, The Way Out, which is partly constructed from old instructional and relaxation tapes they’ve unearthed at thrift stores. They play a sublime set of songs eked up from it here, which are flooded with unexpected twists, turns and jolts into dance music and contemplative balladry. Their approach to music is often reminiscent of their forbearer in the New York art/dance/rock scenes, Arthur Russell, and that’s not a comparison anyone should make lightly. There’s also a magnificent visual accompaniment to their sounds for this new incarnation of the band, but to describe it here would spoil the surprise — it’s best to go into the Books’ current live show cold.
Sonic Youth Thurston Moore is everywhere at this ATP. He managed to embarrass his daughter at a Q&A he conducted with Jim Jarmusch earlier in the day — isn’t it great to know that Thurston is an embarrassing dad? — and he takes to the stage with considerable zeal for Sonic Youth’s headline set later on. What we get here is a Mark Ibold-less return to the Eighties, with the band ripping through a set of vintage material, including a decent fist of Daydream Nation plus choice vintage Youth cuts like ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ and ‘Death Valley ‘69’. For once, Thurston and his band actually give the crowd what they want — and past ATP attendees will be acutely aware that they don’t always do that. It’s a moving and powerful way to end Saturday’s festivities, with Sonic Youth sounding vital in a way they haven’t done for years, which doesn’t reflect well on their recent output, but indicates that they have become more comfortable with digging deep into their past.
Thurston Moore Sunday begins in a similar manner to Saturday’s end, albeit with Thurston Moore strapping on an acoustic guitar whilst simultaneously looking shattered and cracking jokes. The few stripped down songs he begins with are a perfectly peaceful way to shake off the previous night’s reverie, and leaves a feeling that Moore should perform this way more often, as it’s a pleasant surprise to find out how well a simple acoustic singer-songwriter-y set up suits him. It looks like he’s heading into noisier pastures when Bill Wells, who is Moore’s partner in Northampton Wools, joins him, so I flee to the pop quiz in the Deep End bar, with Team DiS putting in a respectable fifth placed performance.
Vivian Girls Vivian Girls have made vast leaps and bounds in the past year or so. The endearing amateurisms of yore are far in their past, and while they’re not now (and thankfully never will be) a slick professional outfit, they sound confident and together here. There’s a bittersweet heart beating away at the middle of this music, which is enforced by Cassie Ramone’s sad-eyed demeanor and her brittle vocal harmonies with bass player Kickball Katy. But they also know exactly when to turn the tempo up and sink a few pop zingers into hungover heads, providing welcome respite from the sterner fare on offer elsewhere.
Fucked Up If the sight of a half naked fat guy sticking Oreos onto his forehead is your idea of musical rebellion circa 2010, then you got it in spades at this Sunday afternoon performance. Fucked Up frontman Pink Eyes is entertaining for a song or two, and his band’s rote mining of punk rock signifiers is enjoyable for a similarly brief stretch of time, but they just seem a bit too nice to be doing all of this. Fucked Up are the Poison Idea that you can comfortably take home to mum and dad, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it seems a little pointless.
Wooden Shjips There’s something of a mini San Francisco theme that develops over the next three acts, who have all been shipped (or should that be shjiped?) in from the Bay Area for the day. It begins with the blistering psych rock of Wooden Shjips, who draw heavily on their devotion to the fuzzed out space mantras of Spacemen 3 and the compact feedback squall of the Jesus and Mary Chain. They pluck some choice cuts from the excellent Dos, which are perforated by wonderfully crunchy repetitive guitar lines that circle deliriously around the venue, all delivered by men with long hair and even longer beards, and set to a strange and totally indecipherable set of projections beamed onto the ceiling.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions There’s a nervousness in the air when the notoriously stage shy Hope Sandoval surfaces for this performance, especially as she cut short a recent New York City show due to sound related problems. But the worries soon dissipate as Sandoval and her band, which includes Colm O’Ciosoig from My Bloody Valentine on muted drums, work through a set of heart crushingly fragile songs. It probably helps that the PA at ATP NY is provided by the folks who run the Super Bowl half-time show, and while Sandoval never looks particularly relaxed, she still gets through it, looking like she’s been cryogenically frozen since the Mazzy Star days, and even joking that we look 'quite tired' at one point.
Girls Few people would peg Jim Jarmusch as a Girls fan, but he chose them as a main stage attraction for this day, and it proves to be a wise piece of booking. For one thing, it’s a relief to see a fresh faced band amid the grizzled beards and middle age paunches that huff and puff between the two stages. But Girls are also a tight and endearing live act, with the heavily tremeloed guitar lines offering a hint at what Jarmusch saw in them, and Christopher Owens pulling off some earnest furrowed-brow crooning throughout, which isn’t going to put an end to all those Elvis Costello comparisons any time soon.
T Model Ford There was only one bona fide star at this ATP, and that was the 90-something-year-old Mississippi blues legend James Lewis Carter Ford, aka T Model Ford. Ford was in attendance for the whole three days, playing several impromptu sets in the lobby, and generally charming the pants off everyone by gliding around in his wheelchair and emitting a sweetly endearing warmth and grace. His kindly smile is in stark contrast to the subject matter of his songs, suggesting there’s a darker side to Ford than his amiable surface persona, but it all came together neatly in those hushed lobby sets, which provided a better intro to his work than his actual show, mainly due to some pesky technical problems (and perhaps a little nervousness) that dogged him throughout.
Raekwon Ron Jeremy appears on stage to introduce Raekwon during the interminably long build up to The Wu-Tang man’s set here, which finally gets under way via some earth-shudderingly loud bass hits. That lengthy intro ultimately ends up causing Raekwon’s set to be curtailed, but not before he ran through a selection of choice Wu Tang Clan cuts (‘Protect Ya Neck’, ‘C.R.E.A.M’), a few solo jams, and a tribute to ODB. Audience members are encouraged to stick the Wu symbol in the air throughout and GZA makes an all-too brief appearance at the close, but it’s ultimately an unsatisfying set, with Raekwon putting in a bare minimum of effort and then leaving us feeling short changed. GZA reportedly put in a much better performance later in the day, but it sadly conflicted with other things, notably…
Sunn O))) and Boris Sunn O))) and Boris performing their drone/doom 2006 collaboration Altar is the reason most people with day tickets are here today, and it’s unlikely that any of them left disappointed. Like Fuck Buttons before them, the sheer untrammeled force of these two acts on one stage causes the entire venue to tremble and buckle at the seams, making it feel like Sunn O))) and Boris are taking the Starlight Ballroom on a descent into a murky Dantean pit. There’s so much dry ice that it’s difficult to see anything — a hooded figure here, a devil sign raised there — but “seeing” isn’t really the point here. This is music designed to make a strenuous physical impact, where sound becomes a tangible force that you can feel hitting your body, triggering contrasting urges to retreat from it and embrace it, all at the same time. It’s not exactly the feel-good end to the festival that we had last year with the Flaming Lips, but the subtle shifts in mood, from moments of delicate beauty to points where it feels like you’re mainlining exhaust fumes, leaves the hoards shuffling out feeling suitable eviscerated.