Tuesday, April 07, 2020

All yesterday's parties

I was reminded today that it's 20 years to the day that I pitched up at a Butlins for what was the first official ATP weekender. And what a weekend it was.

Astutely curated by Mogwai (whose Stuart Braithwaite really didn't deserve to be joshingly heckled by so many people when he was playing in goal in the inter-band five-a-side tournament), the bill delivered at every turn: a first UK performance from Sigur Ros, who seemed to have been beamed in from another dimension; ... Trail Of Dead at the peak of their destructive, pre-prog powers; Super Furry Animals sharing tracks from Welsh-language LP Mwng (the featured album for #Tim'sListeningParty last night); Shellac on brutal form, with Steve Albini playing the role of misanthropic stand-up ("What's orange and looks good on hippies? Fire").

One minute we were playing a painful game of football on the beach with a leaden basketball, and the next we were watching Godspeed You! Black Emperor weave dark magic while shoulder to shoulder with John Peel, or stood in the professional photo pit snapping pictures of Sonic Youth with a £20 camera as they played what must have been one of the most esoteric, obtuse sets of their career (it kicked off with a half-hour-long drone song that didn't feature on the album towards which they were working, NYC Ghosts & Flowers).

A wet-behind-the-ears student journalist, I corrected the press rep when she mistakenly offered me an Access All Areas pass rather than a photo permit and then spent much of the rest of the festival kicking myself - though in truth the backstage area must have been largely deserted because all of the artists seemed to be milling around watching each other. It was a festival as much for the bands as for the fans, and the lack of division between the two was revelatory.

In our chalet, the TV aerial was defective, a handrail came off the bathroom wall with minimal persuasion, there was a constant procession of ants across the carpet and screeching of seagulls outside, and two of us were forced to sleep top to tail in a fold-out double sofa bed in the lounge. But, to four scruffy oiks used to the collapsed tents, mud lagoons and trenchfoot of Glastonbury, it was unimaginable comfort and luxury.

And so began a serious love affair - albeit one that, primarily for financial reasons, I didn't rekindle until 2008. It remains a terrible shame that it ended the way it did.

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