ATP: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Butlins, Minehead 03-05/12/10

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Click on any image to enlarge | All photographs by Valerio Berdini

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 Godspeed themselves made particularly good use of the beefed-up PA; whilst perhaps they’ve been superseded by some of the bands that followed in their wake, the grandeur of their slow-building crescendos sounded magnificent even in the soulless environs of Centre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…

3 Responses to ATP: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Butlins, Minehead 03-05/12/10

  1. mapsadaisical December 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm #

    You imply you’d have liked fewer challenging acts but, other than Charlemagne Palestine, you don’t mention having seen any of them. The likes of Francisco Lopez and Daniel Menche in particular were mindblowing. You say you wanted more tunes, but there is no mention of Tindersticks, White Magic, Scout Niblett, Matana Roberts, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, and The Ex, for example – all of whom had tunes, and good ones at that. A fair balance, and a cracking lineup I thought.

  2. Adam Elmahdi December 13, 2010 at 11:05 pm #

    I completely forgot to mention Matana Roberts, who I really enjoyed. Not a fan on Tindersticks and Scout Niblett, so my moan about the lack of tunes was partially my own fault, although still reckon any festival where Maher Shalal Hash Baz is considered one of the more ‘accessible’ acts is probably a bit too avant-garde for my personal tastes (it did strike me as much more your sort of thing). .

  3. Anonymous December 14, 2010 at 8:51 am #

    Mahar… wasn’t avant-garde to me, just boring. Seemed to pick up where the Beatles left adding Japanese weirdness to the lot.
    Tindersticks are such a classy band, their tunes should be taught at school.
    Scoutt Niblett was probably my favourite gig with Bardo Pond. This doesn’t include the three Godspeed sets, of course.
    A great lineup, I agree witk mapsadaisical!