Orchestral manoeuvres in the dark: ATP curated by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
(First installment here.)
Saturday 4th December
Time to hit the pool! What a refreshing start to the day - just what's called for when you're patently still drunk and in need of something to fend off the looming hangover.
The late start for today's music means the pool's seriously busy - mainly with the sort of people who look as though in day-to-day life they're phobic of water or indeed the very possibility of being clean. It's like we've stumbled upon a convention for blokes with bedraggled beards who want to show off their tattoos.
Sod clashing stage times, the day's first big conundrum is which flume to choose. There's the Black Hole (seriously dark, maaaan), the Master Blaster (a rollercoaster-type dinghy ride which goes uphill as well as down) and the Space Bowl (which allows you to imagine what it must be like going down a giant's plughole). There's also the Lazy River for those who just want to go with the flow. Perhaps trying to avoid the agony of choice, fellow Nightshift scribe Sam Shepherd is spotted swimming lengths in the proper pool. Exercise, health and fitness at a music festival - whatever next?
The bloke in the next-door chalet is leaning out of the window feeding a mince pie to a seagull with one hand and trying to take a photo with the other. I've heard of swans breaking people's arms, but this aggressive feathered glutton is coming close to chomping off the chap's fingers. I avoid the inevitable bloodshed by retreating back inside to slump in front of an oversaturated Bollywood musical film. Is the fact that the subtitles keep cutting out the result of ATP gremlins monkeying about? Hard to tell.
Butlins Minehead: the only Pizza Hut where your dining experience is likely to be enhanced by the soothing sounds of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Portishead and Sonic Youth's 'Antenna'.
A first inglorious air hockey defeat of the weekend, to Gareth. Head duly hung in shame.
Here to, er, ease us into the day's programme with some virtuoso improv are FLOWER/CORSANO DUO (Reds). Sorry to take exception to your moniker, chaps, but it's the wrong way around. While Michael Flower coaxes curious drones and rhythms out of an odd instrument that's apparently a Japanese banjo, Chris Corsano is the real star, a drummer beloved of Thurston Moore and Bjork as well as the improv community whose octopoid playing is more engrossing than their actual musical output.
I bump into Brummie blogging acquaintance Phill, whose arrival at the festival has been delayed by a day due to train trouble in the second city. Not that he seems miffed - far from it, he's his usual excitable and enthusiastic self, claiming he's made it his weekend's mission to play various artists at different games. Shellac aren't here so there's no chance of taking on Steve Albini at poker, but he's determined to challenge Weird Al Yankovic to a round of crazy golf instead.
BARDO POND (Centre Stage), formerly of ATP's label, are what the mirror will reflect back at Sleepy Sun in fifteen years' time: a bunch of hallucinogen-munching shoe/stargazing free lovers whose only reason for getting up each afternoon is to drench pastoral psychedelia in rumbling amp-treacle. Every now and again something sharp is perceptible through the dense fug - usually Isobel Sollenberger's vocals or flute. Listening to their music, you feel yourself turning into The Fast Show's Denzil Dexter: "Jim Morrison, The Doors, Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead - oh Dave, come see, it's beautiful maaaan..." Needless to say, they're great - how could a band with a song called 'Tantric Porno' not be?
After that dose of heavy sedatives, we're gagging for a mid-afternoon caffeine pick-me-up. Where Pizza Hut led, it seems Costa Coffee is following - we're treated to Sonic Youth's 'The Diamond Sea' in its full twenty-minute-plus glory, followed by 'Fairies Wear Boots' by Black Sabbath.
Back up on the Centre Stage, THE DEAD C are busy waging war on tunefulness. Robbie Yeats manfully keeps the beat for the Kiwis, while one of the other members - not sure if it's Michael Morley or Bruce Russell - spends his whole time waving his guitar around nearer and further away from the speaker. The long-standing trio might be influential, but their racket proves punishing rather than punishingly pleasurable.
A good time to nip over to the Crazy Horse, then, and dip into ONEIDA's Ocropolis live installation, complete with ceiling hangings and a thin gauze behind which the band are playing. During the course of the performance, a series of special guests will be lending a hand: Deerhoof, The Dead C, Chris Corsano. Just our luck, then, to drop in on a dreamy but rather directionless instrumental - though I suppose that even a supercharged garage-psych outfit will have inevitably have a few lulls when they're playing for ten hours straight...
"Rock opera": two words to strike terror into the heart. Hyphenated-Man is apparently MIKE WATT's third, an attempt to come to terms with reaching the ripe old age of 52 - though, according to a bemused Brian, "All of the songs seem to be about a mouse". Backed by the similarly plaid-shirted Missingmen on the Pavilion Stage, Watt rattles through a multi-part string of songs which bring some funk to the punk, but it's hard not to feel that he's rather trading on his reputation and former glories as an integral part of the Minutemen, Porno For Pyros, Mascis' The Fog and most recently the reformed Stooges.
Nepotism is ingrained in the very nature of ATP, but that's no bad thing when it means HANGEDUP (Reds), labelmates of our curators, get to come back to the UK - something about which they're delighted. Little wonder the Montreal duo found a home on Constellation - their tapestries of viola, loops, drones and percussion, played with a punk zeal and a telepathic understanding, like 'No More Bad Future' are electrifying in the flesh. No hang-ups in joining Godspeed! and endorsing them.
Ever diminishing returns on the 2p coin pusher machines. Is there anything sadder than gradually watching your stash dwindle away?
If there's one thing I learn about SCOUT NIBLETT (Pavilion Stage) tonight, it's that you just can't second-guess her. I'd been expecting something quirky and acoustic - her live show is the former but certainly not the latter. Several songs lurch into aggressive riffs that betray a first love for Mudhoney and Nirvana, but these are juxtaposed with 'Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death', which finds her singing whimsically "We're all gonna die" accompanied only by her own rudimentary drumming. It's not downbeat, though - "This is awesome!", she squeals in her high-visibility jacket, before instigating a Q&A session which suggests that her producer Steve Albini isn't the only member of Shellac to have influenced her: "What's my favourite cheese? Gouda!"
Get on your black clothes and boots, furrow your brow and, whatever else you do, don't you dare attempt any flash photography. Be warned: NEUROSIS (Centre Stage) are not the sort of band to fuck with - or, for that matter, the sort to make idle chit-chat. "Talkative guys", says Suresh with a wry smile as another song-segue passes in stony silence. If looks could kill, this lot would be mass murderers. The sextet might hail from the Californian hotbed of thrash, but they're most commonly characterised as post-metal - which, roughly translated, means they're a metal band who've absorbed Dark Side Of The Moon. It's no mean feat managing to be both the most bone-crushingly heavy and, perversely, arguably the most uncomplicatedly accessible band on today's bill thus far. Kudos to the fan who refuses to let the fact that he's wearing a neck brace spoil his headbanging fun.
After Scout Niblett, Nottingham continues to hold sway over a disappointingly sparse Pavilion Stage crowd courtesy of TINDERSTICKS. Their set is as exquisitely crafted as their songs - so rich with the romance of the barroom bard and memories of long, dark nights of the soul that you can't help but start to feel lovelorn and drunk. It's like Murder Ballads era Nick Cave appearing at your bedroom window with a rose between his teeth and blood on his hands.
The mood is, er, soiled somewhat by a conversation overheard in the toilet, which begins with one chap enquiring of those present: "Have you ever had a shit in a urinal?" When a Scottish bloke replies in the affirmative and recounts the sordid tale, he's asked: "Did you turn around and look at it? Did you feel sorry for the cleaner?" "No, I wanted him to think 'That boy eats a lot of fibre'", comes the response.
One chomp on a spicy chicken and chorizo pasty that is both surprisingly tasty and staggeringly hot is enough to take the roof of my mouth off. Ouch.
Phill joins us back at the chalet for Match Of The Day, and jaws collectively drop at not one but two displays of outrageous skill by Arsenal's Samir Nasri.
It's the witching hour, and for the second time this weekend our hosts have shuffled onto the Centre Stage. We're inside after a short queue and catch a different set to last night. The sound is now spot on, capturing both the pindrop poignancy of the quieter moments and the raging fury of the apocalyptic passages, and 'East Hastings' is a tremendous finale - but, disappointingly if perhaps not surprisingly, they remain static and seated even while trying to stir up the passions and there's nary a hint of engagement or interaction with those assembled.
In contrast to those punk bands who've reformed in the pursuit of nothing more than a fast buck, NOMEANSNO (Centre Stage) prove that grey hair is no impediment to playing both fast and tight, and do their legacy justice with a barrage of taut basslines, rat-a-tat snare and nods to prog-jazz that you just wouldn't get from your average Fat Wreck Chords band. There's no faking the smiles which bear out their proclaimed delight at having been invited to play to so many.
Pushing the punk envelope even further are THE EX (Centre Stage). Formed in the Netherlands in 1979, they're now down to just one founder member, guitarist Terrie Hessels, whose red T-shirt (identical to those worn by the two members flanking him) is unforgiving in its tightness around the stomach. The anarcho-punks of yore (they've collaborated with Chumbawamba, but let's not hold that against them) morphed via Fall-esque clanging post-punk into aficionados of African rhythms long before Vampire Weekend et al made it fashionable, and tonight they encore, somewhat improbably, with their take on a traditional Hungarian folk song. As a sweat-drenched Hessels and Arnold de Boer engage in a guitar duel, I find myself declaring them the discovery of the weekend so far - and trying hard to conceive how the collaboration with sober musical technicians Tortoise for the In The Fishtank series could possibly have worked.
I'd been relishing THEE OH SEES (Centre Stage) in the late-night slot, but their thunder has rather been half-inched by The Ex and sadly there's not a lot that John Dwyer and his merry bunch of tattoo-heavy psych-garage-toting compadres can do about it. Mention of the forthcoming London show suggests their minds are already elsewhere too.
Not for the first time at an ATP, I'm accosted and grilled about my Spillers T-shirt. All I can seem to gather from my new acquaintance is that he thinks there's some connection to an armed robbery at Spar on Clifton Street in Splott. I believe he may have been drinking. But then so have I.
With Oneida's endurance set long finished (I feel bad - we should have been there to see them wrap up), the Crazy Horse is host to a DJ playing what my scrawled notes later venture is "hardcore jumpy stuff, fist-pumping". (No, I'm none the wiser.)
A bad case of ATP Envy, as a Nomeansno fan recounts memories of his six previous festivals, including a couple I would have given my kidneys to be at. But at least we have the common ground of both having been to the first event to bear the name, Mogwai's bash at Camber Sands in 2000. ...Trail Of Dead's stage-trashing, Sigur Ros' UK debut and Sonic Youth's audience-enraging drone-fest - happy days, mon ami, happy days.