It’s a bad wind that don’t blow somebody some good and hackneyed an adage as that might sound, organisers of the revered All Tomorrow’s Parties Barry Hogan and Deborah Kee Higgins have had to face up to some gale force gusts over these past few years. Indeed, the continued survival of ATP is a thing of actual wonder – the preserve of the erudite left field aficionado diligently perpetuated by diehard pundits and stalwart punters alike, it’s a reprehensibly rare occurrence to stumble upon a work of such artistic integrity in these times of omnipresently reported austerity. Although if old habits do indeed die hard, then when All Tomorrow’s Parties’ UK holiday camp jamborees expire as they’re due to this December, there will doubtless be thousands mutually mourning its tragic demise.
For All Tomorrow’s Parties to become a thing of the past is a tangible pity for all concerned, although as much as the grim reality of this being their last summer outing hit harshly last weekend, the despondency was spattered with delight at the surreality sure to ensue. For where else can you go from waltzing with a twenteen masquerading as the enigmatic “Biaggio” tailored in car showroom blazer and Michael Ball wig one minute, to DJing with Avey Tare on an iPad in a dilapidated Pontins chalet the next? Nowhere I’d gently tentatively put forth, that’s where. Whether or not ATP will one day return in a recognisable, if ultimately remote guise we’ll only learn in due course although if nothing else, Deerhunter’s long-awaited curation was a starkly remindful punctuation mark as to how indispensable these weekends really are to the discerning audiophile.
As for the curation of the event itself, quite how collaborative an effort it really was remains similarly equivocal: once settled into chalet number 134, festivities could then begin with Bradford Cox’ extempore fiddling under the guise of Atlas Sound. That there was no room on the bill – one which was already considerably more trim than that of numerous previous editions – for Lockett Pundt’s Lotus Plaza staging seems to intimate immediately toward despotism, and the tyrannic rule to so often ensue.
Cox flippantly blames his set being exclusively sample-based on his having needed to learn some “60 Deerhunter songs”, with the Atlantans set to cast a retrospective glance back over opera Cryptograms, Microcastle and Halcyon Digest over the course of the weekend. (Whispers told of the band practising down in Camber right up ’til their Thursday deadline, such was Cox’ desire to have absolutely everything present and in its correct place.) As such, his amble through a lethargically shapeshifting setlist comprising dusted down cuts from The Dovers and Del Shannon, along with a discernible dearth of original material, sounds like a rehashed party belonging more to yesterday than today and henceforth for the remainder of the evening, Cox can be seen invading nigh on every residual performance. Whether that be uninterrupted disco riffing with Tom Tom Club and Pundt or stumbling onstage midway through an otherwise celestial Saints, his ubiquity is more irritating than it is in many respects infectious. Conversely though, the Breeders’ analogously nostalgic dipping into Last Splash proves one of many heady, sweltering joys to behold.
With the siblings Deal swimming in an inspired vein of form, the woozy surf of No Aloha and the sludgy build of Do You Love Me Now? somehow manage to outgun even Cannonball, before Divine Hammer smashes home the first blissful singalong of the shindig. And as the wilting Americana of Drivin’ On 9 trundles off into the distance, the dust at last settles ahead of Cox’ inevitable return.
Cryptograms is a recording I’ve always treated with a slight trepidation, not least as now regarded indeed retrospectively, its gloopy psych stylisation lacks the cohesion exhibited on more recent attempts. The visceral insistency of its title track goes some way to disproving such casual disregard, as do the hypnotic swells of Heatherwood. An in every way swell Strange Lights, meanwhile, proves almost epiphanic, unifying an already steaming room in effervescent glee. Although otherwise, it’s again all too torpid to engender the euphoria such immersive music truly ought to.
Provoking the excretion of such a reaction around five on a muggy June afternoon may sound an altogether more unfeasible feat, and yet it’s one which is achieved almost effortlessly by Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks. Freshly formed if already all set, that the Animal Collective aborigine, onetime Dirty Projector Angel Deradoorian and drummer of the now dismembered Ponytail, Jeremy Hyman, should already sound not only quite so tight but so too equivalently enthralling is positively astounding. Sonically redolent of a strikingly polychromic return to AnCo circa Strawberry Jam, it’s a reconstitution composed of slightly more tender ingredients where could once be momentarily found moments of seedy hostility. Instantly inviting, it’s with bated breath that we now impatiently await further sonic missives from this sincerely super group.
Sonic Youth stalwart Kim Gordon is no stranger to ATP, having played and ostensibly curated umpteen already. Indeed, ambidextrous Tokyo rhythmist Ikue Mori who this evening backs her up is previously acquainted with the cultural phenomenon, having been selected for the ‘Youth’s L.A.TP of 2002. Bill Nace this time plays the part of rash foil in place of the infidel Thurston Moore although if purposefully voluminous over the blare of the nearby arcades, their quality rarely shines on through and they therefore do little to dampen the allure intrinsic to the pennies and their pushers filling the sunless neighbouring midway with sound, noise, false promise and faux pas.
And in spite of the glistering brilliance innately located within Noah Lennox’ Tomboy LP of 2011, Panda Bear similarly neglects to really get things going on a level even remotely approaching the lofty standards we’ve come to expect of the day’s second estranged Animal of the Collective – one reputedly soon to disband. Much like Atlas Sound before him, Lennox reprehensibly scorns said record in favour of what is largely still rough new stuff. It’s agreeable enough, his honed production techniques ensuring the show flows neatly throughout although again, essentially dawdling, he lacks purpose if admittedly never poise. A Cox collaboration would perhaps have been apt here, but you do begin to wonder as to whether he’s been told to tone down the insatiable stage crashing in light of yesterday’s infantile exuberance…
Although that said having audibly had his true-blue henchmen up for a decidedly early morning soundcheck, the way in which Deerhunter this evening rebuild Microcastle is valid enough excuse for his notable extracurricular absenteeism. Intro crashes into being with pure aplomb, only to ebb serenely into a mercifully faithful, and thereby inevitably sublime Agoraphobia. Although the true charm of the album retrospective lies not only in its ability to stimulate sweet reminiscences of a given recording, but so too to compel us to reconsider the album as an abiding entity. And in this respect, Microcastle has not only survived the swift shifting of the tides to have since splashed across a now almost globally homogenous musical landscape, but its foundations have only been fortified by the unabating swashing of time.
The incessantly ramshackle thrash of Never Stops; the humid slump to a syncopated Little Kids; the eventual dulcet release which tips its title track over into frothy resplendence. And Cox is instrumental in the executing of their every superlative-inducing manoeuvre: he seethes to Nothing Ever Happened, scuffling with heavy-fisted bouncers when things briefly slip out of hand; smooches with repeat invaders who continually prove considerably more entertaining than he some 24 hours previously; does away with his jet-black toupee to unceremoniously fling the thing into the eye of the mêlée breeding directly beneath him. Hence indeed Saved By Old Times, the prerequisite calm after the storm sees comparative normality resume, only for These Hands to coax further euphoria in the closing moments. It’s as compelling as I can recall catching Deerhunter, and as Cox encourages their every member stage dive to what at first seems an interminable Circulation (it alas, in fact transpires to be quite finite), the evening feels complete.
If the notion of an album in its entirety followed up by a complete recital of the accompanying extended-play apparently appears the completist’s dream, then having newly recruited bassist Josh McKay’s tribute to The B-52s – sardonically known only as The B53s – hurtle through the likes of Rock Lobster and Love Shack only heightens the crowning sense of infallible fulfilment.
And so to Sunday, as we awake to the weekend’s crowning procurement – the performance of the London Sinfonietta, who are masterfully led through the lifework of inimitable neo-classical composer extraordinaire Steve Reich by the virtuoso himself. Flashing through the syncopated hand smacks of Clapping Music and the keenly acute pulses of an Electric Counterpoint supremely recited by Steve Smith, these ephemeral recollections – or perhaps rather aural memoirs – from Reich’s unblemished back catalogue might well make for a discombobulating fit when set against the remainder of Cox’ rundown, although if only for an all too evaporable hour variety emphatically spices the lives of those in awestricken attendance.
Another to have patently taken from the NYC maestro is ambient vanguardist William Basinski, whose eminently bohemian techniques are this afternoon eschewed in favour of laptop-based sedation. As such, his conspicuous mane (think that of a Catalan Kunt and the Gang) is just about his most noteworthy feature of an otherwise lulling nothingness. All of which feels to be the total antithesis to Verity Susman’s pulverising forty-five a short while after. If freeform instrumental jazz parped from a sax by a lass in a moustache sounds as though it may only veer off wildly into the realms of punitive self-indulgence, then never does the onetime Electrelane luminary deign to indulge as such as we’re instead guided by the voice of a boldly ribald text-to-speech. The Philip Glass Ceiling shatters the proverbial to smithereens, as we shower in the unfettered glee she so adeptly elicits these days and genuinely? Filthy gorgeous fails to do this one justice.
The remainder of the festival undulates with the routine erraticism of an orchestra of life support machine screens inhabiting a densely populated ICU. From the ethanol-beholden languor of perennial Ohio misery David Thomas, who fronts his imperishable Pere Ubu project from the discomfort of a plastic stacking chair, to the maniacal superficialities of Dan Deacon inconsistency becomes the evening’s nigh on only constant. That is until Deerhunter reappear for a third, and regrettably final time…
This time turning to 2010 opus Halcyon Digest for undying inspiration, Cox & co. bring their eagerly assembled curation to its logical conclusion with a climax to turn the truest of asexual eunuchs to the smuttiest of $1 subscriptions. And if Earthquake makes for a disorientingly placid introduction, then it’s only moments before the giddy wobbling of Don’t Cry brings us right back up to a totally invigorating swing o’ things. The chantey sway of Revival rejuvenated, if our unprecedentedly vociferous reaction elucidates anything, then it’s that Halcyon Digest is widely regarded as their pièce de résistance thus far. Pundt’s Desire Lines, intriguingly featured on Cox’ curational mixtape and tonight introduced as their “best song” yet, unites us in a fizzy kind of formidably celebratory intoxication which, subsequently allowed to mature, has us cockeyed and unshakeably elated come Helicopter. It’s Cox stratospheric turn of the weekend, his vocal flittering joyously between the incorporeally ethereal and the bodily raw. And as has been their wont these past couple evenings, He Would Have Laughed then becomes the vortical eternal as it winds up only to unravel some ten exhilarating minutes later.
Only a blinding trifecta comprising Monomania doozies The Missing, Back to the Middle and a rip-roaring title track – neatly despatched in the order dictated by the album’s original tracklisting – can perpetuate the insatiable thirst for their heady blend of limpid ambient and rollicking psych although the tonic is, akin to ATP itself, destined to wear off. It’s a transitory pleasure, if one which not even a failed crowd surfing attempt and a consequently bruised vertebra can snap me out of. The thought of a brighter tomorrow bereft of ATP, for the time being, feels nothing short of a thoroughly nonsensical, and indeed utterly illogical nightmare. And whilst we can but hope it’s one from which we’re soon to be roused by the hubbub of newly a resurgent All Tomorrow’s Parties, all that’s left to do today is to dream away the reverie. To Bradford, the Breeders and so too Barry Hogan, peace and praise alike be with you.