All Tomorrow's Parties, Camber Sands, East Sussex

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The Independent Culture

Part two of this bustling alt.rock festival confirmed its standing as one of the freshest, friendliest festivals around. It's considerably more modestly scaled than the likes of Glastonbury, but that intimacy works in its favour. Bands mingle with the audience: even Vincent Gallo lurked among the arcade games and chatted to PJ Harvey in the on-site pub. This small scale means that a lot of the bands are unknowns, but it also means you won't find the likes of Oasis or Paul McCartney, which has to be a relief.

Not that there was any shortage of great pop bands on offer. The curator for day one, Stephen Malkmus, introduced Albuquerque's The Shins to the UK, and not before time: they justified their position as SubPop records' biggest-selling act since Nirvana with their hugely energetic twists on classic guitar pop. On day two, Sonic Youth's line-up included Le Tigre, whose riot grrrl-pop made for an exhilarating live spectacle, complete with back projections, plentiful yelping and leaping from Kathleen Hanna, and a pop corker in the ramalama romp of "Hot Topic".

Le Tigre certainly wiped the floor with Vincent Gallo, who followed them and played the sole dud among the gigs I saw. And his promo T-shirts cost - get this - £70, the cheeky scamp.

Otherwise, though, it was near-impossible to keep up with the sheer number of superb sets. Stephen Malkmus and Sonic Youth proved reliable, the latter making up for the last time they appeared at ATP, when they played little more than a noodle-fest.

Of the other old-timers, no-wave rockers Mission of Burma, New York funksters ESG and the magnificent Love all looked deliriously happy just to be on stage. Indeed, Love's Arthur Lee seemed ready to play all night, and no one complained when his invigorating set overran its time limit.

Of the younger bands, Ella Guru coaxed a comedown Sunday into life with their unerringly beatific dream-folk, while Arab Strap proved an equally perfect hangover cure, their morning-after mumblings having matured nicely live. In between, the Texan instrumentalists Explosions in the Sky provided furious fireworks, with a 50-minute set of gale-force guitars and chiming, epic melodics that flew by and went down a storm.

Many tired punters had made tracks back to their chalets by the time Tindersticks headlined, but their magisterial soul-rumblings were heartily welcomed by those who stayed. Back in 1999, Tindersticks were scheduled to play the second alt.rock festival at Camber Sands, following Belle & Sebastian's original "Bowlie Weekender". The event was cancelled, sadly, but ATP has since gone from strength to strength in its five-year stretch. As the other summer festivals reveal over-familiar line-ups, it's heartening to see.