Click on any image to enlarge | All photographs by Sonny Malhotra
Bleary eyed and craving coffee, electricity pylons zip past my window as the car cruises down the motorway towards Belle & Sebastian’s second stint as All Tomorrow’s Parties curators. Eleven years ago the original Camber Sands based Bowlie Weekender that “started it all” saw performances from The Flaming Lips and Mogwai, not to mention those who have made it back this year such as Teenage Fanclub and Camera Obscura. Since that weekend in 1999, ATP has played host to just about every important, experimental and alternative musician around from classic staples like Shellac, Sonic Youth and The Fall to Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Avi Buffalo and Wild Beasts. And so it is with great excitement and a slight air of shame that I have to admit this will be my first chalet staying, real ale drinking, failed junk food avoiding ATP.
Scanning the line-up times as my co-revellers and I wander around in an effort to find our chalet it looks likely that Best Coast are going to be the first order of the day, if you discount the arcade games and the extensive sound check we caught Foals doing as we explored the site. Everything is still pretty quiet as we head upstairs to see the LA based chill-wave infused, surf rock inspired trio. Bethany Cosentino and co pretty much follow the same formula as their Scala show a few weeks back, only this time it’s almost entirely lacklustre. Ripping through hazy, distorted romantic pop numbers such as ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Summerville’, Bobb Bruno’s pounding bass lines and fuzzy riffs do inject some much-needed electricity into the performance but on the whole they all just seem exhausted.
Technically on form, Cosentino looks bored as she listlessly hums into the microphone, quietly sipping water without so much as a word to the crowd that has gathered to catch songs from their much loved, beautifully infectious debut. Jostling from side to side the audience seem happy enough and who knows perhaps things picked up in the second half of the set, but with Teenage Fanclub due to take to the stage any minute I decided not to stick around to find out: give me champagne swigging, slightly clumsy, overly excited and nervous Best Coast anytime over today’s Best Coast.
Under pink lights and the vast expanse of the Pavilion’s white ceiling, the instantly recognisable and intrinsically indie twangs of Teenage Fanclub’s Songs from Northern Britain era ‘Start Again’ ring out. Famed for falling just short of outstanding but managing to remain a constantly good output, the Scottish quartet’s humble and soft vocal harmonies crack with the maturity of their years. Something in the simplicity and honesty of their C86 associated melodies instils a sense of sighing nostalgia in the gently swaying crowd. Disappointingly though the set list seems to work against the ebb and flow of this evening’s misty-eyed audience, focusing largely on more recent material. They do thankfully touch upon 1990s A Catholic Education with a blistering rendition of ‘Everything Flows’ whilst finishing off their set with the howling guitar and harsh, smoky vocals of Bandwagonesque classic ‘The Concept.’
Classic sixties psychedelic five-piece The Zombies were up next. Rapidly approaching their fiftieth birthday, the band are, as ever, led by Rod Argent’s epic keyboard solo’s and Colin Blunstone’s smooth, charming vocal refrains. Effortlessly sweeping through pop hits from ‘She’s Not There’ to ‘Time of the Season’, their set sticks to familiar, sing-a-long numbers from Odessey and Oracle.
Now for a change of pace, it’s Foals’ real turn to step up to the plate. Since carving themselves an incredibly ferocious and challenging math-rock niche back in 2007 with their early declamatory tracks and sensibility, the Oxonian five-piece have released not one but two critically acclaimed albums. There is something about Yannis Philippakis and co that either attracts over active hyperbole or hostility from those who tend to ignore their musical offerings and hate them for their hipster associated image. Having not seen the oblique instrumentation and intelligently plotted melodies of the band’s swirling and steadily maturing oeuvre live in at least two years I don’t really know what to expect.
Trilling high pitched guitar strings underpin Yannis’ cold, echoing vocals against Walter Gerver’s pale muted bass lines before the melody of ‘Blue Blood’ begins to sparkle with flourishes of percussion and synths. The gentle undercurrents of melancholy and pensive tones that populate Total Life Forever really emphasise how far Foals have come from seeing themselves as “just a pop band, a really retarded, stupid, weird pop band.” Keeping the tempo ramped up the strained angular shrills of Antidotes epic ‘Balloons’ are interspersed with more relaxed numbers like ‘After Glow’ and ‘Olympic Airwaves’ to allow a stronger pop element to infect the band’s frenetic performance. Surrounded by twinkling lights and silhouetted by a misty green light ‘Spanish Sahara’ is nothing short of breath taking, it’s tension building with soft vocals and incredibly infectious rolling synths. With an incredible frenzy the climactic cacophony of instruments and reverb jolts forth from the speakers before I regrettably drag myself away to catch Saint Etienne.
Turning up, at what I expect to be about the halfway point of their set, the stage is empty: Sarah Cracknell is stuck in traffic. Adorned in a shimmering white sequin dress she finally steps up to the microphone, shortly followed by Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs. Born of the so-called ‘Second Summer of Love’ the dance pop trio exude the pure, euphoric atmosphere of the early acid-house inspired nineties. Hazy, creeping synths and hushed whispered lyrics soar over soft drum beats and smooth rhythms from Foxbase Alpha era ‘Spring’ and ‘Girl VII.’ The snare drum rattles as the low synth dub warps in time with the keys on ‘Nothing Can Stop Us Now’: “the first song [Cracknell] ever sung with Saint Etienne.” Slightly hampered by poor sound issues I left things at the classic key driven, Balearic infused ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart.’
Entirely too saturated with nineties synths I had to take a break before catching the Swedish five-piece Those Dancing Days round off the evenings live music. Fronted by Linnea Jönsson, gently infectious vocal harmonies simmer below unadulterated pop synths and sixties influenced, indie riffs. Taken from 2008’s In Our Space Hero Suits much blogged about tracks like ‘Run Run’ and ‘Hitten’ are incredibly contagious: the girls flirtatious, layered vocals are aching and brimming with smooth soul harmonies. With saccharine sweet pop and dizzying, kaleidoscopic Nordic synths it is impossible not to get caught up dancing until my feet hurt and until I realise I’ve been awake for around 24 hours.