Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties

All
Tomorrow’s Parties – ATP to its friends – is unlike
other festivals. Firstly, it’s held in Butlins, Minehead. The
benefits are obvious: showers, beds, kettles, even a TV, as well as
the culinary delights of Pizza Hut and Burger King and some pretty
perturbed-looking Redcoats.

The
other notable feature of this festival is that you won’t find
Panic! At the Disco headlining here. ATP is a haven for obscure
indie, post-rock, electronica and the odd foray into hip-hop –
basically, the kind of thing you have to be a fairly serious music
fan to pay for a whole weekend of.

A
chosen band or artist selects each festival’s line-up. Past
‘curators’ include Mogwai, The Mars Volta and Tortoise.
This time the mantle falls, surprisingly given their stature in
comparison with such legends, to Texan post-rockers Explosions In The
Sky.

The
first highlight comes on Friday evening, as Tokyo’s Mono
craft a deep, brooding, relentless wall of sound. Epic,
guitar-heavy, vocal-less noise creates an overriding mood of beauty
juxtaposed with darkness. A great start to the weekend.

Disappointingly,
the same can’t be said for Explosions In The Sky
themselves. There’s a weird atmosphere around the main stage: a
huge perma-tent and vomit-inducing carpet just aren’t conducive
to losing oneself in the music. Also, the PA really isn’t loud
enough. Not much is gained from this set that you can’t get
from listening to Explosions on CD fairly loud – and that can
be done in much nicer surroundings.

Later that night
Four Tet tries to make the indie kids dance, failing miserably for the most part.
Classics like ‘Hands’ and ‘Glue of the World’
are beefed up, extended and mixed in with newer, clubbier material.
Pauses between tracks are confusing, as if this show can’t
really decide whether it’s a gig or a DJ set, but altogether
it’s good fun: shame the crowd doesn’t seem to ‘get’
it.

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What was a minor quibble for Four Tet becomes a major problem for Saul
Williams
, who comments repeatedly on the awkward shuffling of the
(overwhelmingly scruffy, male, twentysomething) audience in response
to his staccato hip-hop and diatribes on race as social construct.

The
crowd is back on more familiar ground for long-established art
rockers …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead.
Their set is joyous, the scuzzy complexities of their sound
translating well to a PA modified with extra amps so that, for the
first time this weekend, we leave with an agreeable ringing in our
ears.

Atlas
Sound
also deserve honourable mention. Delicate, deadpan male and
female vocals recall Sonic Youth, as distorted guitars over a
background of pulsating, reverb-heavy looped samples create a
distinctive and impressive sound. Next up are Animal
Collective
, offering something largely unrecognisable from either of their two most recent records. This is no bad
thing: the band’s live sound is heavy, intricately layered and
interesting.

Broken
Social Scene
, meanwhile, bring the festivities to a triumphant
close. Inviting an ‘ATP orgy’ of J Mascis and member of
Explosions and the Constantines on stage, the band confidently
perform brass-laced versions of favourites like ‘Ibi dreams of
Pavement’ and ‘Shoreline 7/4’ alongside new
material.

And so it’s with smiles on our faces that we brave the M5 to be back in time for Monday morning tutorials. A wet weekend in Butlins has never seemed so cool.