As anyone who’s been to ATP over the past ten years knows, returning home to eagerly (that might be a bit of a strong adjective with regard to a post-Butlins state) investigate the albums of the bands who floored you unexpectedly over the weekend is up there with falling spectacularly on your ass in front of Marnie Stern in the Crazy Horse and secretly savouring every greasy gobful of your fifth Burger King of the weekend whilst whingeing profusely about how you’re never eating another Whopper as long as you live. Apart from maybe at the service station on the way home. And a few during the week following, just to wean yourself back onto vegetables. A pleasure as My Bloody Valentine’s reign over proceedings was, there was a general consensus that this wasn’t a vintage ATP – few real surprises, a dearth of bands sounding pretty samey, and Kevin Shields being a whiney killjoy each night – but still, ATP or camping thigh-deep in mud surrounded by twat hat-sporting wacky idiots who “like a bit of everything”? There isn’t, and nor will there ever be, the slightest hint of competition. Happy Birthday ATP.
Josh T Pearson
It’s safe to say that Josh T Pearson’s decision to come onstage to ‘Killing In The Name Of’ has thankfully fuck all to do with the embarrassing chart pantomime playing out at the moment, but it’s a pretty apt introduction for the grizzly one whose lack of willing to conform has seen him eschew recording a much hankered-after album (and spurn the kind offers of those who offer to frogmarch him to the hi-tech Butlins recording studio to finally lay one down) and patent a prickly live demeanour. But late this afternoon, he’s all gratitude and awe at being “in the house of the lord,” covering a few bars from ‘Only Shallow’ at the end of a set that rails with the feel of a wretched man pleading for futile absolution, mumbling, “oh god, oh god what have I done” in front of a thorny wall of sound that increasingly builds only to destroy itself again with hammers stolen from Thor.
My Bloody Valentine
“One two, one two.” “Can I get some more monitor please?” Hi Kevin Shields, nice to see you too. It’s great to hear that you’re clearly so happy to be here playing for us, in the company of oodles of bands that you’ve picked to play your own festival. Although the sound problems never really let up – during the first few songs there are no vocals – he comes across as a humourless pedant, never giving in to the technical hitches to enjoy bathing in his own craggy ravines of noise. It’s interesting to wonder what must be going through the band’s mind when they play ‘The Holocaust’ section of ‘You Made Me Realise’, the sound of every pane of glass on earth shattering simultaneously, especially as they play it at the end of each of their three performances this weekend. My bet’s on whether they’re going to have Finnigans or Burger King for dinner.
It’s tough to see former cultural vanguards regressing and growing doughy minded with age. Peter Hook’s Freebass project have written a song with Howard Marx doing a “state of the world” rap on it which will probably trump Jon McClure in the political ineloquence stakes (there’s a feat), my dad’s sold all his Clash records in favour of listening to Norah Jones and Michael Buble, and Buzzcocks have become a cod version of their former selves, milking dry the teat of their very much of the times youthful snottiness with wrinkled, callousy old hands. Saying they’re too old to still be raising their guitars above their heads seems mean on one hand, but when you see a band like May’s Pavilion Stage doyens Devo or tomorrow’s rollicking set from Sonic Youth, it’s clear that age is no excuse for this embarrassing display.
Sun Ra Arkestra
There’s little chance of the Sun Ra Arkestra becoming the next embarrassingly middle class world music predilection to accompany the rhythmic wobble of Jools’ jowls of a Monday evening – their humbling respective triumphs against adversity duly acknowledged, the congregational community feel of Tinariwen/Staff Benda Bilili/Amadou & Mariam (delete as applicable) this certainly ain’t. Continuing the legacy of the great Sun Ra, the 85 year old (suck on that Shelley) and appropriately wizened Marshall Allen with his EWI trombone leads the other nine musicians on stage through a chaotic reprogramming of sense and order, bungeeing through perverted parodies of Hollywood crescendos and pyrotechnic “phre jazz” (“jazz of the sun,” a term coined by Sun Ra as a play on free music) made all the more kinetic by the solar system sparkle of their sequined robes. Vocal parts are tossed around the stage like an invisible beach ball, as they turn by turn preach afrofuturistic missives with ominous promise on the wonders of space being the place. There’s an innumerable amount of jaws agog.
The Pastels / J Mascis & The Fog
The contrast between the next two bands couldn’t be much more stark. Earnest frontman Stephen McRobbie makes like a friendly professor giving us an introduction to The Pastels, making sure everyone’s up to speed on which song comes next. Despite not knowing much of their stuff, they feel like a band of great comfort, leaving us kicking ourselves for not having familiarised ourselves with their slowcore, National-ish dark homeliness prior to their set. It’s not too much of an issue with J Mascis, one of the noisier elements of the weekend who deals in abject riffs rather than muddy forests of sound.
Despite being one of, if not the youngest band on the line-up this weekend, there’s an old fashioned feeling surrounding The Horrors’ performance, and it’s not one rooted in the dusty garage record raiding sound of their debut (none of which is aired this evening). In part, is has to do with their aesthetic, a point which may seem axiomatic – that surely being what they’re known for, ersatz substance over style and a peccadillo for spidery silhouettes. But there’s something about the way they look, the ordered way each member duly takes his place on stage that gives the feel of a band that’s arrived fully formed in their second coming; it’s as if they’ve experienced a whole history and we’re looking at it with the same retrospect as we applied to seeing Buzzcocks the night before, though with greater reward. There are obviously rehearsed elements to their show, such as Tomethy Furse on scientific Kraftwerk duties up in the corner and the simultaneous whirlwind spin of the guitarist and bassist, but it feels like a ritual dug from rock’s happily revisited annals. At the start, Faris is a bucolic marionette draped over the mic stand, but as the surprising orange warmth of the guitar grows, he’s liberated, stalking in circles with temerity and growing to fill the cavernous Pavilion Stage before commanding with a trembling fist. The way they mix their sound live proves that it wasn’t just Geoff Barrow’s impetus that saved them from their former pastiche ways; ‘Who Can Stay’ has sweet, starry sounding synths that collide with bleak, A Certain Ratio-style vocals whilst the guitar sounds like stained glass shattering. A sight to behold, and one from which many of their older peers could learn.
It almost seems like age and how its owners deal with its accordingly sized back catalogue is coming through as a theme of sorts for this weekend. Kim, Thurston, Mark, Lee and Steve predominantly play songs from The Eternal, dipping into Daydream Nation for a screaming version of ‘The Sprawl’ – in one respect it’s slightly disappointing for anyone angling to hear ‘Kool Thing’ and the like, but in the context of the weekend, it’s worthy of respect that Sonic Youth display no tendencies for wanting to stagnate or wallow in easy glory; they never come across as a diluted version of their former selves. They play in front of a backdrop that looks like burning Yves Klein bodies have burst through strips of flypaper, which pre-empts their diabolical take on sexuality concisely; Kim’s grisly scream on ‘Calming The Snake’ and ‘Anti Orgasm’ is the perfect sexually terrorising foil to Thurston’s apathetic androgyny. It’s everything you could want from a Sonic Youth show – that feeling of indestructible and hellbent youth – aside from the volume, which is so mild that when they crash out with a riff undigging itself from a static shuffle of chimes and feedback, it feels uncharacteristically polite.
Considering that according to silver-tongued fox Warren Ellis’ anecdotes approximately 90% of Dirty Three’s songs are seemingly about being “out of fucking order”, “turning your brain into porridge” and being beyond spangled on LSD, it’s testament to Ellis, Turner and White’s combined prowess that they avoid ever bordering on sounding torturously druggy or self-indulgent. If this is the right word, theirs is the most astounding translation of trauma into music – every pragmatically sad moment is one of sustained high drama; they’re not a band who build with intensity over the length of a set, it’s present from the off. Everything’s a crescendo, but never overblown. Warren Ellis plays like a sculptor, kicking and flailing like the lead ballerino in a dance set in the most arid of godless boltholes and whispering a soft lament into the strings of his violin muse at the start of ‘Sea Above, Sky Below’ which in turn sings like with the reverent tone of an old lady lamenting a life passed. They’re undoubtedly one of the greatest live acts playing today.
Th’ Faith Healers
De La Soul