All Tomorrow's Parties 2004

By David Gunn

After five years, the strengths of ATP remain undiminished. Standing like some biblical David in the summer festival wastelands, it remains a giant shit-off to Michael Eavis and his eternally repeatable Woodstock, and to Branson's synthetic carnival of corporate joy-taking. Whilst these and other institutions have been kept busy recycling their own excrescence, in some genius coup d'etat ATP has stolen up from behind and become both the Rolls Royce and the punk-rock underdog of the festival circuit.

But before I go any further, I should admit that I didn't take on the full two-weekend bonanza – restraining myself to the first weekend and Saturday of the second. For the latter, Sonic Youth were predictably fantastic and OOIOO managed to magically locate the point of intersection between Public Image Ltd and Ninja Bitches Go Nuts, but the first weekend is my primary business here – three days at the hands of Mogwai, Tortoise and Shellac. My children, it happened just so...

Mogwai's Friday was partly a brief tour through their own rock action label and partly a bald assertion of their hard noise credentials. And although the label-kids Part Chimp and Envy carried themselves, it was psychedelic squalls of Acid Mothers Temple and the precise rage of Isis and Converge that inaugurated the true beginnings of ATP 04. Was the Temple's collective really fronted by a twelve-year-old girl playing truant from boarding school? Did my girlfriend really fancy the scrawn-faced/bear-voiced frontman of Converge? Possibly. But it really didn't matter. Both were already long gone and we were off on the ATP rollercoaster – a world of crazy golf and refillable plastic cups; a world where you can watch a Swedish school of rock with added sailors hats and dolphin blood (Turbonegro), and where ugly techno rubs up against calypso gymnasia in a CAMRA-endorsed disco (John Peel). Fat men jumped out of their own sweat. James Orr complex, Mogwai and Trans AM all sallied forth with authority. I spent more money on Daytona racing than I did on beer and I saw a kid jacking off next to me in the urinals.

That is not to say it was all unadulterated joy. I had kinda decided to bin the upstairs evening for the more delicate delights of Papa M and Cat Power, but here lay the first surprise of the weekend – for two long hours little but bored underachievement & skittish disengagement flowered under electric lights. But just as Friday was threatening to end in disappointment, Cex and Kid606 took centre stage. These lovely gentlemen saw the worlds of six-string tomfoolery surrounding them and gave the peeps what they needed – a small island of Tigerbeat attitude and flack-storm dancing, wacky race pileups and fractal noise.... There's no point drawing this out. These children know their shit and they know you want it. Badly.

So sleep for two hours, stare at a tired ceiling for two more and then cut back to the Boredoms entering from stage left. My head may still have been thrumming, but three Boredoms sat down to three separate drum kits and pounded out an hour of unplugged drum and bass and techno-temple rhythms, as Eye jumped and hollered. They left me grinning like a loon unhinged. in fact, it swiftly became clear Tortoise's Saturday was of almost unimpeachable quality. Yes, the final Tortoise set may have been rather pedestrian, but the other acts they timetabled made this all but irrelevant. Bobby Conn did what Bobby does. Supersilent may have occasionally meandered, but at their best, their spattergun rhythms and swamping splendour was more than adequate compensation. And most satisfyingly, Takemura turned in a set to erase all memories of his recent union chapel event. An hour of hurdygurdys beautifully weird, fishermen children , ambient forest echoes and half-spoken unwords. Entirely distinct from expectations of what constitutes a live musical event and all the better for it.

And then on to Lightning Bolt.... I'm pretty safe in assuming every review is gonna eulogise these brutal fuckers, so i'll keep it brief. They decided not to play on stage but in the calm eye of a moshpit storm. They decided to be a two-piece that sounds like a 12-man pulmonary of rags and chrome. They decided to absolutely destroy their audience and the four walls surrounding them. All were decisions their parents should be very proud of.

And so, following a late night party at the hands of Prefuse and crew, the end was in sight. But not before Shellac used Sunday as an extended lecture on the best-of-class in live performance. First up was Phillip Roebuck – a one-man banjo-band who turned in a hill-billy-Byron set rivaled only by his own karaoke singing in the pub later that day. The upward curve continued when Entrance stumbled out mid-afternoon and provided another of the weekend's highlights. Wacked out on mushrooms and anything else to hand, the kid resembled some Frankenstein paradise of Syd Barret, Tim Buckley and Charley Patton all rolled into one. And almost that good.

After the rather dubious Azita (Ricky Lee Jones seen through the eyes of Wynton Marsalis), McLusky and Shellac delivered for audiences who mustered some last shreds of strength in their honour. McLusky dedicated songs to bi-polars while the drummer spent the pauses wrapping electrical tape over his hands (to keep his shattered fingers together) and the bassist spent them wrapping electrical tape over his eyes (not sure why). But there was no time to find out before Shellac kicked off. The consistent brilliance of this band is pretty much a formality by now, but I've never heard punk sound so immense – architectural mountains of sound swiping down at your pretty heterosexual ears for an hour and a half. And a 5-minute story about how Mr albini is really an Airfix kit for children aged 5-9. Value for money indeed.

So this eccentric little beast is done for another year. And some reservations remain – the scheduling was a little odd, and far too few people are prepared to kick out and dance until smacked out on cider in the small hours, but such complaints are pointless. At ATP you see bands you always wanted to see and you get thrown knee-deep into musical worlds you never knew existed. Okay, there are some disadvantages – for one thing, you give journalists an excuse to say things like "musical smorgasbord", "aural tapas" and "symphonic dim sum", but the trade off is entirely acceptable. And just as importantly, at ATP you get beds – beds in rooms where you can make tea and sit upon cushions. Okay, the beds may be plastic-coated to combat the incontinent, Panda-pop pissings of the camp's regular visitors, but all the same – praise be to the beds. And glory be to ATP.
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