Gloomy French prison dramas and piano-playing chickens, star-jumping Japanese bassists and elderly saxophonists sounding like strangled cats in a wind-tunnel…yup, Canadian post-rock legends Godspeed You! Black Emperor emerged triumphant from an eight-year hiatus to curate the hipster’s festival of choice, with predictably bewildering results. From Charlemagne Palestine’s half-Jonsi, half-Daniel Johnston wailing over the ringing of a wine glass, to Neurosis’ melodic metal onslaught, this was certainly not an ATP for close-minded/faint-hearted.
Noise, delivered at volumes that threatened the structural integrity of Butlins, was the hallmark of the weekend; standing next to the speakers during the viciously ear-splitting Dead C was like being punched repeatedly in the eardrums by a concrete fist. True, a few folky acts slipped through the net (Marissa Nadler’s dulcet tones were the perfect panacea for Sunday morning hangovers), but for the most part this weekend belonged to the loud and visceral. Godspeed themselves made particularly good use of the beefed-up PA; whilst perhaps they’ve been superseded by some of the bands that followed in their wake, the grandeur of their slow-building crescendos sounded magnificent even in the soulless environs of Centre Stage.
If this all sounds rather arty and po-faced- well, it was. Black Dice’s abrasive electro-noise and Oneida’s glorious 10 hour marathon aside, the first two days were marked more by bands I admired rather than enjoyed – whilst I could acknowledge and respect their talents on a cerebral level, I’d acquired an acute case of melody deprivation syndrome by Saturday evening. Thankfully, veteran pop-culture satirist Weird Al Yankovic was on hand to inject some much-needed levity into proceedings; although his parodies were often goofy rather than laugh-out-loud funny, the fact that his songs had actual melodies (and confetti, a dozen costume changes and Darth Vader) was the perfect antidote to two days of unyielding drone. And if that was good, then the Boban I Marko Markovic Orkestra set that immediately followed was something else- it’s a testament to the Serbian brass band’s brilliance that for a full half-hour after they’d left the stage, all you could hear around Butlins was the roar of people signing the refrain to a traditional Serbian folk tune. You certainly wouldn’t get that at Reading.
Indeed, of all the ATPs I’ve attended, this was the one that stood in starkest contrast to the over-commercialised “mainstream” festival market; three days of the kind of innovative, challenging acts most promoters wouldn’t touch with a bargepole, and as such both the organisers and the curators should be applauded. That said, as much as I enjoy having my musical boundaries expanded, a few more tunes wouldn’t have gone amiss…