All Tomorrow's Parties, Camber Sands, East Sussex

Treasures from the left-field
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The Independent Culture

One weekend in, the fifth All Tomorrow's Parties festival is shaping up to be that rare thing: a genuinely fresh Director's Cut - more Blade Runner than Apocalypse Now Redux. It's longer than before, but far from being indulgent or unwieldy, it's turning out to be lean, slick, full of surprises and very distinctively flavoured.

One weekend in, the fifth All Tomorrow's Parties festival is shaping up to be that rare thing: a genuinely fresh Director's Cut - more Blade Runner than Apocalypse Now Redux. It's longer than before, but far from being indulgent or unwieldy, it's turning out to be lean, slick, full of surprises and very distinctively flavoured.

Indeed, ATP is in a field - well, holiday camp - of its own as festivals go. It's like the anti-V or anti-Carling. There's no backstage area for schmoozers, and punters aren't assailed by stalls flogging mobile phones, branded beers or useless herbal highs. As for the bands, it's testimony to the audience's faith in the event that it almost sold out before most were announced. And we're not talking Glastonbury-type surprises here: with Botnledja, Uzeda and Lungfish among them, it's fair to say that a good proportion of the audience were taking a leap of faith on an adventurous bill.

It's being duly rewarded, too, by the headliners, made up of curators from four previous ATPs (Mogwai, Tortoise, Sonic Youth and Shellac), one guest curator (Stephen Malkmus) and, for the closing day, the festival's organisers, Foundation. With ATP requesting that curators didn't pick bands from their previous stints at the festival, each band managed to cast their day in their own image while digging out plenty of treasures.

In part, Glaswegian noiseniks Mogwai used their day to showcase the bands on their Rock Action label, which ranged from the spectacularly intense Envy to the nicely delicate James Orr Complex. No less in keeping with their image, too, they split the two stages into a quiet and a loud one, a contrast that gave you the option of catching exquisite sets from Papa M and an on-form Cat Power, or the hyper-pop pastichery of Trans Am and schlock-rock Norwegians TurboNegro, who comically struggled to get the audience singing along to "I got erection!" Come the close, Mogwai pulled these contrasts into one peerlessly dynamic package, playing to a packed hall and a heroes' welcome.

Any suspicion that Chicago's neo-jazz rockers Tortoise would be a beard-stroking affair were soon scuppered. The Boredoms opened the day with their percussive, electronica-flavoured bustle, a rousing physicality making up for what they lacked in subtlety. The rest of the day was nicely wide-ranging, from Supersilent cranking out electronica glitch-bombs to wee Bobby Conn's glam-pop, falsetto-driven frivolities. There was plenty to turn your head, literally so in the case of the weekend's talking point: Lightning Bolt, a duo from Providence who dished out their agit-techno-cum-avant-punk while in the thick of a duly captivated audience.

Lightning struck again on Sunday, waking up the campers with a set outside their chalet that was swiftly curtailed by security. "Best alarm clock I've ever had," quipped Shellac's Steve Albini, perhaps miffed that another band had swiped the thunder from his opening slot. Much of the rest of the day was given to hardcore fare, from Arcwelder to the biker post-rock of Stinking Lisaveta, but unlikely discoveries emerged from left field. The six-piece A Whisper in the Noise proved gorgeously cinematic, playing lullabies with a hint of burlesque that sounded not unlike Black Heart Procession crossed with Godspeed You Black Emperor!

At the other extreme, Phillip Roebuck put an invigorating twist on the one-man-band set-up. With a mean banjo, and bass drum strapped to his back, he swept away any day-three cobwebs in a terrifically energetic punk-folk style. It's the kind of unexpected treat you get at ATP, and after three days of such, makes the second round (next weekend) seem mouth-watering already. As for 2005, what'll that be? A Special Edition, with extras? Roll on weekend two.

www.atpfestival.com

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