Two weeks ago Jeff Mangum's rescheduled ATP finally took place. And we had reviewers there and everything - but in tribute to the three month delay of the festival, we had a slight delay on the write up, which is here with you now, at last, sorry. Words by Eli Lee with additional thoughts by Jenn McCambridge and photos by Gary Wolstenholme.
Butlins Minehead has always seemed an incongruous location for a music festival, but at All Tomorrow's Parties we make the best of it. We appreciate the warm showers, the curated television, the beautiful beach to run around on when filthily hungover. Besides, each ATP is another chance to colonize the place a little more – another chance to twist Butlins' cheerful, family-friendly amenities so that they're custom-made for wandering around in at 3am, boozed-up, wide-eyed and worse for wear.
I'm feeling a little jaded about it all today, though. I'm still pissed off at ATP for never giving us an explanation for why we were usurped by the Showaddywaddy weekender, or whatever it was, back in December, and I’m feeling old and tired. This is my fourteenth ATP, memories of previous ones have merged into a mess of bands and boys and dancing, and I was gonna call time after last year's Pavement one. I swore that the only way I was going back was if they got Neutral Milk Hotel to curate. Then they announced Jeff Mangum. Well, I could live with that.
It's my first ATP as a reviewer though, and I begin badly, falling into old habits of imbibing noxious substances and stumbling around without any sense of focus or duty. But I'm roused for Joanna Newsom, who is delightful, of course, even when forgetting her words and mispronouncing Mangum 'Magnum'. She plays few of my favourites, relying far more on Have One On Me than on Ys or The Milk-Eyed Mender, but it's still gorgeous, especially the plaintive 'In California', and the closer 'Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie,' a song that's so sadly hopeful, with its road-grey skies and skin shedding into cups of tea, that I never know what to do with myself after hearing it. Wipe away a tear or two. Get a drink. Remember that Jeff's on next.
A few people iI've spoken to about seeing Jeff Mangum have said things like “My seventeen-year-old self is wetting their pants” – and that's a way of understanding it that makes sense to me. It's almost 15 years since my obsession with 'Gardenhead/Leave Me Alone'; since listening to 'Naomi' would make me cry, since 'Song against Sex' seemed an infinitely intriguing puzzle. It's not as though holy rattlesnakes and semen-stained mountaintops have been absent from my life since 1998 – far from it, thanks – yet I still wondered if, finally seeing Jeff Mangum after all this time, I’d feel more detached than I'd like.
But there's a sharp intensity about watching him alone with his guitar onstage right now, and its impossible for me not to feel swept up and to sing along, even to the en masse “I love you, Jesus Christ” – ridiculous shit – though it's always seemed that Mangum's fans would follow him anywhere, even into fake religious devotion. His paths to transcendence drag us through a relentless freaky dream logic, and back in the day it was overwhelmingly powerful. It still is. I feel 18 again.
Afterwards, I'm sated and fuzzy-headed – time for a nap. Realise on waking up that I missed Young Marble Giants and Matana Roberts/Sebastian Rochford. Fuck. Catch the end of Thurston Moore. He's rocking out, all angry, brash chords. It's alright. I walk away to find the Minutemen. Only at ATP can you be this nonchalant, just walk away from one great musician to go and find another. You can do this because ATP spoils us, always. Maybe this line-up's not as good as at previous ones, but it's still unfathomably easy to walk one minute from Centre Stage to the seediest of all Minehead venues, Reds (designed for dancing to adult-oriented rock on swingers weekends) and be staring at George Hurley and Mike Watt power through an ass-whipping Minutemen set, flinging bass solos around, shouting at us. D. Boon's missing guitar is poignant. I'm standing against the wall watching them, enjoying it, wishing that I had an ounce of their energy. Maybe partying will help. (Sorry).
Nights at ATP always revolve around the Crazy Horse bar, which looks like a village hall given a low-budget cowboy-themed makeover. I give up at 3am to watch Monty Python in the chalet – Jeff Mangum has programmed one of the ATP TV channels, as the curators always do, and he appears to be a fan, as it’s a Monty Python marathon. I try not to think about missing Matana Roberts or about past Friday nights at ATP where we've been running riot. I vow to be a less shit reviewer tomorrow.
And the rest...
Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise The first band of the weekend, Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise, had people running to Centre Stage, it was as if Oxfam had vomited on Butlins and produced a huge jumble sale but no one was buying as a mass of skinny jeans, harem pants, tea dresses and grandad cardigans tore into the room. Excitement was in the air as the ATP ‘super group’ tore around the stage, swapped instruments and led the crowd in a musical wave formation outside into the Minehead sunshine.
Charlemangne Palestine One man and his soft toys, the rather eccentric Charlemangne Palestine took to the stage in what appeared to be a world of his own. With a multitude of instruments and a case full of teddy bears he appeared like a mad uncle you only see once or twice a year if you’re really unlucky. Taking the stage, he spun anecdotes relating to his cuddly friends and the grand piano of which provided the centrepiece for his performance which he simply tinkled along repeating note after note in a minimalist one man showdown. A welcome surge into 'Chopsticks' would have been delightful but it never happened and the keys simply went on and on and on.
Raincoats If you’ve ever seen your mum and her mates after a few too many vinos and found it amusing then you’ll simply love the Raincoats. Dressed in comfy shoes the ladies set off on a melange of songs including 'In Love', 'No One’s Little Girl' and a cover of The Kink's 'Lola'. Despite having a few technical hitches at the start and at times appearing a little shambolic they pulled off a genuinely pleasurable set.
There's a place at Butlins Minehead called Cafe Rosso that serves a decent coffee. The people there will look at you in the way anyone should look at you when you ask for a double macchiato at a music festival, but the caffeine has merit. Cafe Rosso, and the upstart cafe that's sprung up next to it (evidence of the unstoppable gentrification of Butlins Minehead, along with a soulless-looking new faux-Nandos) – are prime spots for sitting and watching the world go by.
One of my favourite things about ATP: seeing so many lovely-looking people, bumping into friends, just being able to pop to the cinema to see Jan Svankmajer's Alice, then, easy as anything, going to watch The Boredoms. Ahh, the Boredoms. Eye conducting a circle of five drummers and 14 guitarists, leading them through a majestic performance that builds up and dissolves concatenations of cymbal-driven noise before swerving into drum-heavy, chaotic free jazz via Yoshimi's yelped segues. It's astounding; one of the most assured shows I've seen in ages. Afterwards, my little brother says it's the best thing he's ever seen while other friends say it's pretentious and boring. I call them 'zen masters' and get told I'm fetishing the exotic. Try to think of synonyms for 'zen masters' like it matters. Fail.
This is the second time I've seen the Apples in Stereo at ATP and they're on great form again – and like all the Elephant 6 crew here, they look like they’re enjoying themselves too. They do a tight set, especially mining Tone Soul Evolution (1997) and my favourite album, New Magnetic Wonder (2007). At times, they’re so poppy, sounding so much like one of those clean-cut, bowl-haircutted bands from the early Sixties, that I can all too easily imagine them wearing identical outfits and flashing wholesome white toothed-grins. But always, before this gets too maddening, they undermine it with their expansive psychedelic weirdness. At its best, like in the joyous '7 Stars', this works brilliantly.
I'm excited to see Blanck Mass, having enjoyed last year's album a lot, but I'm all kinds of bored. I was hoping to channel Carl Sagan, get lost voyaging through the solar system and whatnot, as that's what happens when I listen to Blanck Mass at home. But no. Nothing. I'll blame this entirely on my tired mental state at this moment and say that it's me, rather than Benjamin John Power, who can't bring it.
Earlier, we'd chatted to two guys who were telling us they were here to see the main influences for their band, People Like Us. One of them raved about Olivia Tremor Control as I nodded wildly; the other banged on about Mt. Eerie. Shamefully, I've never listened to any Phil Elverum, but after this hearty recommendation it seems wise to check him out. Five minutes of his wistful whispers and it hits me how dreary Saturday night is shaping up to be. I know I'm a fool for not giving Elverum more of a chance, and also for choosing not to see Earth or Low just because I know that they'd, too, have far more of a sedative effect than I'd like right now, but I don't care. I head to Yann Tiersen, in need of something – anything – upbeat, though suspicious that it's gonna be a horrible tweefest. Mysteriously, it's great, all sweet synths and electric guitar, detours into violin solos, glimmers of Arcade Fire – I repress my cynical thoughts about the Amelie soundtrack and lap it up.
Feeling strangely happy turns out to be the right mood to watch Daniel Lopatin fiddling on a laptop. I've got huge respect for Lopatin. Every moment of Oneohtrix Point Never's music integrates so much, and the process of listening to it – starting with the sub-frequencies and building up to take in the layers, the different directions he pulls us in – makes me see how it's repeatedly immense and fragile all at once, elegiac as classical composition, yet as distorted and glitchy as digital can go. I can't stop marvelling.
We walk out and my friend says: “A shabby-looking dude checking his email. The fuck?”
At Crazy Horse, we find the party. Mogwai's Stuart Braithwaite is DJing. I get into it but irritate myself by stupidly comparing it to more fun Crazy Horse and Queen Vic sessions of ATPs past. We move on to a chalet party and as I'm dancing to much-loved old Of Montreal, I've still got this feeling of repeating the same night again and again. But it's no Choose Your Own Adventure, where the more I’d relive it, the better at it I’d become, getting a more intense hit of indie decadence every time; it's the reverse. The more I retrace these steps, the more diluted everything feels. The chalet parties seem somehow more tepid, the drugs more insistently soporific, the late-night banter has lost its rush. I end the night watching Monty Python alone in my chalet as the sun rises, and wonder if it's just me, if I'm losing my edge.
And the rest...
Low Low brought a political stance to the start of their set - mainly reference to the events in Syria - but all being said the music took over. Leaving the audience hanging onto every sigh, Alan Sparhawk's calling the crowd angels midway through sparked an American next to me asking if he said "angels or a-holes?". Despite the earlier rant Sparhawk was in a generous mood and invited people to go jogging the following morning - and indeed 20 plus early birds went for a Sunday run with the dude from Low.
Scratch Acid The infallible Scratch Acid brought about a multiplicity of dirty rages: within a matter of minutes David Yow had ripped his top open and penetrated the mini mosh pit which encouraged a sea of opportunist skinny jean-ed stage divers to attempt to follow suit. Fuelled with dirty post hardcore rock, sweat and noise it wasn’t pretty and showed ATP what a Saturday night is all about.
I've forgotten my swimmers so can't go to the pool, I've failed to sign up to the pub quiz, I didn't make a CD for the mix CD swap, and I slept through the Lance Bangs Q&A. But hitting the beach, shuffling into Minehead town centre and talking for hours under the bright sunshine is a more than good enough start to the day.
Olivia Tremor Control are a band I love so much I'm scared to see them in case they're shit. There are sound problems during their set, but their open-hearted optimism, like “there is an ideal – I'm gonna reach for it” as they sing in 'No Growing – Exegesis' and their aching sadness – “I don't want to die inside anymore” as they confess during 'Green Typewriters' - float so perfectly on their sea of psych-pop that the imperfect sound doesn’t matter. I read somewhere that listening to them brings on nostalgia for imagined pasts – places you’ve never been to and people you never knew; things that might bubble up from your subconscious if you, say, took the time to waste a sunny day. I fully agree, and adore these guys so much that their affably shambolic performance just about makes my festival.
Post-OTC seems a good time for a nap; I can't face the night on four hours' sleep, and it's Sunday – surely gonna be a big one. I wake at 11pm and realise I've missed Jeff Mangum’s second set and the Magnetic Fields, which I don't really care about, but as I catch the end of Sebadoh reports filter through about how good Stephen Merritt et al were. Well, Sebadoh's pretty much the right band to get emo about one's own scheduling stupidity to. They're ferocious tonight, not in the least bit sloppy, and I'm hoping they're warming us up for an evening of getting wasted and partying. We head to Crazy Horse to do just that, but the music's not our cup of tea. At all. We wander around, keep popping back to Crazy Horse, hoping that the DJ will play something a bit less northern soul, a bit more Sonic Youth, but it's not happening.
We hunker down at the Horse, watch people dance and wait for something we like to come on. I gripe about how crap this is compared to the brilliance of the DJs at the Animal Collective ATP. I bitch about how I wish come midnight ATP turned into Bangface or Bloc Weekender. We lament that we hate the music they're playing, and that there's not even the Irish Bar to turn to now. We give up and go to watch Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It's mesmerizing enough to pass up an impromptu Elephant 6/Boredoms/Sun Ra jazz jam that's meant to be great, but by 2am we're fully itching to party. Crazy Horse, though, is closed.
We head chaletwards to drink and talk shit. I'm told it was too much to ask that a Jeff Mangum ATP would please my inner glowstick-waving raver. I don't agree, and I'm pissed off. But walking back to my own chalet in the 3am mist, heavy with memories, past seagulls cawing, past the Elephant 6 guys hanging out, coming back to friends watching Monty Python (thanks, Jeff) and still jabbering excitedly about the Boredoms, the frustration evaporates and the magic of the place steals over me again. God knows I'll be back for a fifteenth.
And the rest...
The Magnetic Fields Starting with a cheeky bit of humour and a quip about band mates playing Words With Friends, The Magnetic Fields kicked off a notably quiet set but an unforgettable one. Pulling one of the largest crowds of the weekend, they played a range of material from old to brand spanking new. The New Yorkers provided the key to the weekend’s music with a sterling performance and a dash of wit overseen by a single red balloon making its way above centre stage simply capturing the moments.
Jeff Mangum With a request for no photography and queues stretching across the pavilion for Jeff Mangum’s second performance of the weekend, our curator wasn’t sending out good vibes to the people. But we were inside... The ambience somewhat like a sermon, he appeared to be preaching to the masses tales of trailer parks, disharmony and love alongside tributes to Daniel Johnston. Emotive, captivating and sombre Mangum actually made grown men cry.