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Haven’t we been here before? Pontins Camber Sands. Shellac curating All Tomorrow’s Parties. A year ending in 2. It’s been a decade since Shellac last curated an ATP weekender but in some sense it feels like they’ve never been away. That sense is a very real, physical sense: Shellac have never been away. The band have since played more ATP shows than any other, becoming known as the festival’s ‘house band’ along the way. In a year when financial difficulties have threatened ATP’s very existence, and it’s made a consequent return to its shitty spiritual home in Camber Sands, it’s fitting that Shellac are the band picking the bands. A lot may have changed in the past ten years, but Shellac’s taste clearly hasn’t, with much of the bill from 2002 replicated in this year’s line-up. Drowned In Sound celebrates that fact, with a list of are nine acts that made the trip to Pontins with Steve Albini, Todd Trainer and Bob Weston last time around, and are doing it all over again. If you missed out first time round, you have no excuses now.
The Ex with Brass Unbound
On the back of a trio of gigs at London’s experimental haven, Café Oto, to celebrate their 33 and a third anniversary, The Ex bring a bunch of improvising brass blasters - Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark, Roy Paci and Wolter Wierbos – down to Pontins. The Dutch punks were no less plugged into the avant garde a decade ago, when they appeared - bolstered by some other titans of the improv scene - as The Ex Orkest. They’ve turned up at a few more ATPs since, with their performance this time last year alongside septuagenarian Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya proving the high point of the whole weekend. This well-worn collaboration finds them at the peak of their game.
Nina Nastasia had a lone album out but was already developing an adoring cult following when she arrived for ATP in 2002. Her debut had been touted with uncharacteristically reverent praise from its engineer, one Mr Steven Albini, who said: 'Of the couple thousand records I've been involved with, this is one of my favourites, and one that I'm proud to be associated with.' She’s continued to apply just the right balance of distraught pathos and delicate beauty on subsequent releases, all of which Albini has proudly recorded.
After an arid decade, Wire turned up at ATP 2002 with something to prove to a whole new generation of fans who’d been too young for them the first time but had been turned on to the London quartet by adoring praise (and plagiaristic riffs) from the likes of Elastica. They more than delivered, each member clambering on to a darkened stage with a torch on their heads carrying a guitar and bashing out the same guttural two chord strum. The sturm und drang that followed set the tone for the two Read and Burn EPs they put out later that year and the immense Send, which followed in 2003. Wire charted a whole new area away from the spindly lines and brittle corners they had negotiated in their youth, and it is here that they have remained. This year’s performance may lack the shock of the new, but it will still be eagerly anticipated.
Mission of Burma
As with Wire, regular touring and recording over the past decade means that this appearance by Mission of Burma will be less of a bolt from the blue than their first gigs since 1983 were back in 2002, expect it to be no less incendiary though. It was Shellac bassist Bob Weston who cajoled his favourite band into appearing on his ultimate festival bill back then, even taking on the role of tape-manipulator in the mixing desk when original member Martin Swope refused to join the comeback trail. He’s been on board ever since, and while four new albums have yet to produce anything with quite the ferocity of early classics 'Academy Fight Song' or 'That's When I Reach for My Revolver', they’ve frequently proved their mettle as a live act, at ATPs and beyond.
Kim Deal (solo)
Shellac gave Deal her first taste of ATP with The Breeders a decade ago, and the band have become an occasional fixture in the years since, even taking on curatorial duties for an enjoyably ramshackle event in 2009. A Kim Deal solo set however, is something new. While not for the first time there is talk of a solo LP, the prospect of career-spanning set encompassing acoustic reworkings of the Pixies tracks she had a writing credit on, along with a slew of Breeders songs, and some from the undersung record she put out with The Amps, will be enough to tantalise her droves of fans.
2002 was the first year ATP started doing events over two weekends, and initially it was with the idea that the same festival would be done twice over, so in a sense this is actually the third weekend that Shellac have curated – two back then and one now. When tickets went on sale for ’02, it was with the expectation that both weekends would feature exactly the same bill, but a few acts actually played only once - weekend one got Godpeed You Black Emperor! (exclamation mark historically accurate) and Do Make Say Think, weekend two got Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Melt Banana. I fucking love Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Melt Banana. I went to weekend one. Fuck you, Shellac. Fuck you.
As solo artists, KK Null and Ruins have been latterly been pushing the envelope in electronic noise manipulation and solo percussion performances, respectively. Together they have renewed their partnership in Zeni Geva to pursue the kind of gleefully retrograde heavy rock that is only taken seriously when it’s made by people from Japan. A bigger line up in 2002 (during an era when Ruins wasn’t in the band) produced a monolithic sound that pummelled many downstairs from Centre Stage - if a recent show at Birmingham’s Supersonic is anything to go by, the duo will probably do the same this time round.
Whilst they’ve never had a huge following this side of the pond, Minneapolis trio Arcwelder make a welcome return to ATP after producing a dense whirligig of a performance last time round. The band have a clear affinity with Shellac: Touch and Go labelmates, they toured with skinsman Todd Trainer’s pre-Shellac act Rifle Sport in the early Nineties. They also occupy a similar sonic terrain, scoped by the likes of Big Black and the Jesus Lizard back in the eighties, that Shellac seem to have claimed wholesale in the year’s since. Their shows are a rarity, and not to be missed.
Shellac of North America
Lightning doesn’t strike twice, they lie, but Shellac do. They strike again and again and again in exactly the same spot with all the force of a thunderbolt. When they curated in 2002 they were the first act on the small downstairs stage each day before doing their damnedest to turn up at every show from that point on. Two weeks later they did it all over again, and in the intervening years they’ve added another 67 ATP-sponsored shows to their tour history (and a single, stunning LP to their discography). If you haven’t seen Shellac at an ATP then you’ve probably never been to ATP, and you’ve probably never seen Shellac. That’s something you really should remedy: the trio’s ear-splitting bursts of nascent rock interspersed with aggressive-aggressive Q&A sessions are never less than magnificent. Of course Shellac are a very different band now than they were all those years ago: I mean, back in 2002 didn’t Bob Weston have a beard?
A few chalets are still available for The Nightmare Before Christmas, which takes play this Friday to Sunday
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