So ATP had a new festival and Mike Diver and Andrzej Lukowski were there to document it. Here are their words.
Why it took ATP until I’d lived south of the river for four years before hosting a festival-shaped event in what was once my back garden, give or take a couple of blocks, is beyond me. Needless to say, if I was still a local to Alexandra Palace – built in the late nineteenth century as a 'people’s palace' and once home to the BBC (hence the almighty radio tower that rises into the sky) – then enjoying everything that the inaugural I’ll Be Your Mirror had to offer would have been no problem. But with a lengthy journey ahead of me, I have to cut my experience slightly short.
In other words: expect to read about Portishead in Sunday’s report, as I barely caught any of them before my phone began vibrating, reminding me that it was about time I pointed myself towards home.
If that sounds like a cop-out, then you’ve got me red-handed. In tried-and-tested (and regretted) ATP style, I arrive on site and immediately gravitate towards a bar. Any bar. As it happens, this one is stocked with one variety of lager and no ale. Fair, thinks me. I’ll try something else later. Of course, other brands are in short supply (read: unavailable), and inevitably once darkness has descended I’m already a paper cup full of Spanish fizz beyond stringing any kind of coherent sentence together. At ‘regular’ ATP, I’d wander back to my chalet, crash out for a bit, and return fired up for late-night frivolity. But that’s not an option here, so it’s with disappointment gurgling in my gut – that’s what I’m putting that racket down to, anyway – that I have to skip while ‘The Rip’ (plus its animated visuals) reminds all in attendance of just how brilliant this event’s curators are. Somebody, somewhere else on the ‘net, wrote something along the lines of 'more relevant than ever'. Perhaps on Twitter, on the night. I forget. But I agree.
The Bristolians’ bill is impressive. It’s true that, just as when the trio played alt-pop-pickers at ATP back in December 2007, Invada Records perhaps gets a little too much attention – the most striking aspect of Thought Forms, for example, is one member’s denim shorts and no shoes combo, as their music is unremarkable drone. (And I say this knowing that I tried to book them for a gig once. Guess I was more impressed then.) But given that Geoff Barrow and company have secured performances from DOOM ('FM DOOM' as the man tweets just before the rapper’s appearance) and New York legends Company Flow, he can be forgiven a little self-serving indulgence.
The twin rap attacks deliver in rather different ways. DOOM – commendably hyped and supported by presumably the only other rapper he could find who is fatter than him (what am I talking about? Fat rappers are everywhere) – comes on mere seconds after the masses have learned of Amy Winehouse’s death. The mood, then, is hardly buoyant; but my, doesn’t he do well. Perhaps on for a touch too long, DOOM nevertheless navigates his way through more catalogue classics than many a fan could have hoped for. From Mm.. Food, we get ‘Beef Rap’ and ‘Hoe Cakes’ (with decent audience participation on the “super”s); from the Madlib collaboration LP Madvillainy, the tremendous ‘All Caps’. The tinny backing from a laptop, which sits centre stage between the two MCs, fails to deliver the ballskin-shrinking bass necessary to really get the venue’s larger room moving; but if the crowd needed a pick-everyone-up (it did), this was the necessary fix.
PJ Harvey is a really great artist who’s released a really great album this year that I really haven’t got into yet. Therefore, I flit between her set – largely Let England Shake, plus a couple from (my favourite Peej LP) Is This Desire? – and the steadily filling room next door, where Company Flow will perform their first set in the UK for something like a decade. The floor looks like an ice rink, stinks like a swimming pool, and the bar is still charging four quid a pint (optimistic drunk me holds out hope that he’ll find a magic bar where they’ve mispriced their booze – no joy, but it doesn’t prevent me parting with more cash that I just paid an extra three quid to take out). But here I sit, and wait, and then…
Oh my. Quick History Lesson: Company Flow formed in New York in the early Nineties, and released only one album proper before they split in 2001. Said album, Funcrusher Plus, is a masterpiece of its genre; a darkly engrossing collection of confrontational lyricism and innovative production, with near-unprecedented depth to its tracks. Of course, it bombed commercially. But here we (all) are, ready to mouth the words right back at El-P (who has arguably enjoyed the best solo career of the Company Flow trio) and Bigg Jus; behind them, Mr Len cues the beats that get the place bouncing. It helps that we’re walled in, too – no massive, atmosphere-stealing panes of glass here, as there are next door. The perfect place, then, for El-P’s anticipated salvos towards certain media moguls – Company Flow were signed to Rawkus, a label backed at its outset by dollars belonging to one James Murdoch, and the relationship did not end well.
But such talk is overshadowed by the performance proper, which puts so many consistently touring shows to shame with its tightness. This might be a one-off over here, as there are no future Company Flow dates on the horizon, so all in attendance treat it like the swansong they never witnessed back when. Early shouts for ‘Eight Steps to Perfection’ from some corners of the audience reveals rather limited knowledge of the group’s catalogue; but, then, this was never an act that made significant inroads into the UK market (and said track was featured on a free CD from, if I remember rightly, Select magazine). Their legend has grown as members have pursued their own projects, but a reformation was never inevitable, and if this is it, full stop, then hell – thanks, guys.
‘Blind’ is just one of a series of hands-up, get-down highlights. On it, El-P’s claims that he must be “entirely too fucking nice” sit at odds with a menacing stage presence – while Jus shuffles and shrugs, throwing shapes from a standing position, El-P prowls, as if ready to pounce into the crowd. If it’s the second-best-known track from Funcrusher…, then the best-known is certainly the aforementioned music-monthly freebie. And, expectedly enough, Company Flow finish with it. The room duly erupts. I spill what’s left of my drink, and rush to the front (easier, come the last few songs, as punters have drifted next door for the start of Portishead). If this is never to be repeated, well… I wish I wasn’t so stupidly shitfaced.
I wake up at 4am parched, the taste of kebab in my mouth. No chalet party, no sunrise supping on the beach, no sauntering into the town centre for a sanity-saving fry-up. Just the wish that ATP had landed one of its marquee events (which this surely is, already, at the first time of trying) in the capital when I still had the stamina of the twenty-something me; that, and when I still lived five minutes’ wobble away. (MD)
Ally Pally’s reputation as a gig venue is of such daunting awfulness that I'd half expected a member of staff to knock me to the flor and piss in my eardrums. Thus the actual reality of arriving there on Sunday felt like some groovy dream. Flowerbeds! Panoramic views! Pin sharp sound in the West Hall! Decent to excellent sound in the Great Hall! And I hopefully ruin the day for some dead eyed posho who is attempting to blag his way on the DiS name just as I arrive to collect my wristband. Splendid stuff.
Playing the second stage at 12.30pm, there’s infinitely less pressure on Godspeed You! Black Emperor than there was at their ATP festival back in December. And this reformed seven-piece incarnation has now had a good half-year on the road under its belts. So while I’m not sure it should be a surprise that this near two-hour set – performed under those ageless, flickering projections, building through a burning 'Moya' to an overwhelming ‘Storm’ and a fiery ‘East Hastings’ – very nearly overshadows everything that comes after it, it gains something from being somewhat unlooked for. I miss the brass, I guess, but this tight, focused collective have a precision and intimacy that the band lacked pre-split. Pixies-like, they could probably get away with touring this sort of set forever while focusing their creativity on lesser side projects, but it would sadden me if such beautiful, alive music was simply a museum piece. New record plz.
It’s nice to see Liars and I think they’re pretty happy to see us, but they don’t quite have the measure of the Great Hall’s sound and this short, Sisterworld-leaning set lacks any real sense of occasion. Following a moderately soul sapping queue for a burrito, we head back to the West Hall to see Adrian Utely and Will Gregory’s score to Theyodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc. They’ve been trundling it around for a while, and to be honest only the sobbing strings of its elegiac final segment stick in the head, but jeepers, this 1928 film – shot almost entirely in close up – is astoundingly beautiful, unsettling stuff.
Swans and Grinderman I saw at Primavera, under darkness, in slightly more atmospheric surrounds: I’m not sure Ally Pally’s oddly shaped main room quite suits the high drama of their music, but both compensate nicely, Swans by playing a blunt, punky, punch in the guts of a set that eschews such flourishes as Thor’s, er, wall of percussion thingy, Grinderman by simply upping the whole midlife crisis panto schtick vibe to something gloriously close to breaking point (either that or Nick Cave is just bolloxed). The latter still only have two genuinely great songs, but really, this is panto of the first order: Cave does all but drive off into the sunset in a red Porche, sobbing about how he's 'still got it'.
When I’ll Be Your Mirror was announced, the worthy dullard in me had hoped Portishead ‘s presence was a precursor to a new record, but – bar an aborted newie that may have been 2009 charity track ‘Chase the Tear’ – it’s all old stuff. Which turns out to be great, really; they’ve got one of the strongest three album back catalogues of any band going; the sound is absolutely immaculate, a dark, textured thunder; and it’s good to hear Third recontextualised into back catalogue, to hear the crowd howl in delight at a monstrous opening ‘Silence’, a churning ‘We Carry On’, the lambent immensity of ‘The Rip’. Beth Gibbons’s voice is a pitch perfect razor of sorrow and the Dummy songs retain their torch song frailty, even if some of the 'big' trip hop era songs now feel like the work of different band, in some ways. But her grinning, gawky return to the stage at the end of the show is equally as affecting in its own way. Fuck knows when or if a new record will emerge, but this is a valedictory set, for both Portishead and this solid little festival. For sure it's a pragmatic alternative to the magic of a full ATP weekender; 2007's ATP Portishead was undeniably heaps more fun. There are some weird quirks to do with one ways systems and angry security that need to be ironed out. But for a London-based festival, there’s no complaints here. (AL)