Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My bloody ears: ATP Nightmare Before Christmas 2009 curated by My Bloody Valentine

(First and second installments here and here.)

Sunday 6th December

(Thanks to Abbie for the Lilys and A Place To Bury Strangers photos, and to Mel for the Mum, Bob Mould and Dirty Three photos.)

Up with the lark. The lazy layabout late-rising lark, that is. I'm feeling amazingly perky, considering the circumstances (by "amazingly", I mean "a bit"). Still, as I've learned, this side of 30, hangovers have a habit of moving in very mysterious ways indeed - so I might not even be in the woods yet, let alone out of them.

Time to compare survival stories from My Bloody Valentine the night before. You'd have thought that, in terms of human achievement, endeavour and endurance, withstanding the "holocaust" was on a par with scaling Everest. "I couldn't burp properly." "You made me realise - yeah, that I couldn't fucking hear anything." "I lost all feeling and got frostbite in my toes and had to hack them off with a penknife before they turned gangrenous..."

Can I really have got this far into a festival report without mentioning the weather? Well, the rain has temporarily taken a breather, allowing a brief glimpse of blue sky. Suppose we should be taking advantage by heading down to the beach, really, but...

... once more unto the Pizza Hut, dear friends, once more.

Thanks (or no thanks) to a combination of Monday interviews and it being the school term, we're deprived of some of our number, who head back to Cardiff. Those of us left behind will just have to have fun on their behalf, I guess.

Oh dear. Someone really should have read the annoying fold-out programme rather than just bumbling ignorantly along to the Centre Stage a good 20 minutes into the LILYS set. They (well, Kurt Heasley, at least - he's been accompanied by over 70 different musicians over the course of the band's 21 year existence) once had a brief flirtation with the big time, performing 'A Nanny In Manhattan' live on Top Of The Pops on the strength of its use in an ad, and their Pavement-plays-Merseybeat/mod registers an instant hit with me. Not for everyone, though - one of our party wandering off complaining that Heasley's guitar is strapped offensively high.

Back at the chalet, I briefly contemplate a power nap, before deciding that (a) sleep is for the weak and (b) a pint of foaming ale might see me through.

Everything about A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS (Centre Stage) screams obscurity and obfuscation. The shroud of dry ice, the absence of stage lights and the thick, gloopy and near-impenetrable fug of feedback all mean that detail is devilishly hard to discern. All by design, I suppose, but given that they're pulsing, propulsive and poppy on record, more's the pity. And following on from My Bloody Valentine last night, the extended freakout at the end of the set, during which guitars are lobbed in the air, can't help but seem rather feeble.

Looking around, I'm starting to appreciate that there really does seem to have been something of a seachange in ATP fashion. Beards and hoodies may be yesterday's news. Today's news, by contrast, appears to be moustaches of all sizes and volumes, and jumpers of the kind your sort-of-auntie-but-really-family-friend would knit you for Christmas that you'd be forced to wear when she came round. Unless we're sharing the site with a WI conference this weekend, then these ones are all being worn voluntarily.

Ah, one of our own - and when I say "our", I mean my most recently adopted home town of Oxford. Starting out as Shake Appeal, a big influence on locals like Radiohead and Ride, SWERVEDRIVER (Centre Stage) hark back to the early 90s, that curious pre-Britpop period when British guitar music very much lived in the shadow of all things Stateside. Despite vaguely shoegazery tendencies, Swervedriver were an unabashed rock band and actually found themselves adopted by the grunge fraternity, touring with both Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins. And here they are, reformed and cranking out 'Rave Down' and 'Duel', the latter a one-time NME Single Of The Week that I've got tucked away on a mixtape somewhere. Some receive them, improbably, as deities, which makes me feel somewhat mean-spirited in my general indifference.

Who's behind me as Swervedriver wrap up but Jonathan Donohue - I swear he's been following me all weekend. The thought occurs to me that perhaps I could ask him what I got up to after Fucked Up last night. But then I realise that he and Grasshopper are preoccupied with a bloke in a Mercury Rev T-shirt gushing with delight at the encounter, lunging in for an embrace and pressing a copy of his band's CD into Donohue's hand.

Mum's gone to Iceland? Not quite. MUM (Pavilion) has actually come from Iceland - and that means I'm legally obliged to use the descriptor "glacial". But that certainly doesn't tell the whole story - or even, to be honest, a significant part of it. There's the varied instrumentation, the jazzy drumming, the underlying electronica, the unusual time signatures, the weird vocal tics. Tunng are, I suppose, the closest reference point I can think of - not a band I like, and it's not as though we're collectively inspired to follow the instruction of Mum's latest album, Sing Along To Songs You Don't Know. But in the current context the Icelanders do at least stand out as something a bit different and offer respite for the ears. Not that I'm wussing out, waving a white flag and seeking out peace and quiet just yet, you understand...

"He'll play lots of his solo shit and keep you hanging on for a few Husker Du songs right at the end", says a bloke to his mate in the toilet. And, sure enough, that's just about what BOB MOULD (Centre Stage) does. He's full of love for Swervedriver, and also for No Age and Fucked Up - whose last albums albums the sometime blogger ranked in his top five of 2008 and who, it transpires, played one after the other at Coachella in the summer too. Without the No Age boys Mould is a genuinely solo performer, armed with only an electric acoustic which he plays aggressively and a voice which I've never before noticed can sound so much like Michael Stipe. It's not like an ATP audience to be baying for The Hits, and we don't - instead generally indulging Mould's understandable desire to perform recent material, unexciting though it is, but reacting wildly when he drops Sugar's 'Hoover Dam' into the set unexpectedly early.

What the festival has been lacking is a good bit of stage banter - but thankfully here's high-kicking Bad Seed Warren Ellis of DIRTY THREE (Pavilion), right on cue and, if appearances are anything to go by, fresh from going through the bins out the back. Between every song drummer Jim White (currently sporting the electrified bouffant of a mad professor) sits back on his stool, guitarist Mick Harvey sups placidly on his bottle of beer, and violinist Ellis starts talking. Sometimes his ramblings are - nominally, at least - an attempt to set the context for their brooding and often feral punk-folk instrumentals: Ellis tries to convince us that 'The Zither Song', despite being a cover, was written about "fluids and the future" while 'Hope', taken from 1995's Horse Stories, is (to paraphrase, inevitably) about falling into a hole, deciding you like it, decorating it and living in it for five years, only leaving it to buy glue, turning your brain into porridge and finally getting out of it with the aid of "some heavy duty pharmaceuticals". More amusing still is his tale (possibly true - who knows with him?) of taking some Glastonbury 1975-grade LSD and trying to buy a packet of crisps: "You're rummaging around for a pound coin, and then you discover you've been rummaging around in someone else's pocket, and they ask 'How much do I owe you?', and you say 'A pound' and they give you a pound and then you discover the vending machine's out of order"... The penultimate song is 'Everything Is Fucked'. Priceless.

Oh the pains of being late for THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT HEART (Reds Bar) because you thought they were on later. All I get is a tantalising snippet of the final song ('Young Adult Friction', I think, but don't quote me on that). Note to self: make a point of actually reading the big posters they put up advertising changes to the running schedule.

It's quite a feat to make yourself heard through the floor of Butlins' main purpose-built venue. It's even more of a feat to do so while My Bloody Valentine are playing above you in the venue in question. That's what LIGHTNING BOLT (Reds Bar) accomplished last night on this very stage. (Of course, for those in the know, the fact that they were even playing on a stage rather than on the venue floor is remarkable enough.) Having heard rave reports from those who missed MBV to squeeze in here then, we were thrilled to hear they were the revealed as this evening's special guests for a repeat performance. The two Brians couldn't be much different - bassist Gibson seems calm and composed, while drummer Chippendale is a crazy blur of limbs and sticks, his characteristic mask keeping the mic in place between his teeth. As the weekend's most violent moshpit develops, the evening turns very surreal. First, on a trip to the bar, I get embroiled in an argument with a drunk Cardiffian who, rather than giving it the customary silent nod of approval, takes umbrage at my Spillers T-shirt. And then I look over to my right to see Bob Mould and a young chap with an Amish beard chewing each other's faces off. Noise-rock isn't exactly the most conventional aphrodisiac, but I guess whatever gets your juices going.

Overheard as we file out of Reds: "Hey, look, it's him - it's Bob Hoskins!" Er, no, dear - that would be Bob Mould.

Queueing to get back upstairs as MBV's final victims file past, we spot a bloke shinning all the way to the top of one of the fake coconut trees. He's not seen by security, but not spotted by many in the queue either - most of whom are too busy laughing at the comically drunk 80s hard rock types (think extras in a Scandinavian Heavy Metal Parking Lot) who have piled into the basket of the model hot air balloon and are amusing themselves by asking people to take their photo, counting up to three and then ducking down beneath the rim of the basket en masse just as the flash goes off.

Proving that shoegaze certainly isn't an exclusively British preserve are the last band of the festival, SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS (Centre Stage), comprised of twins Alejandra and Claudia Deheza and former Secret Machine Benjamin Curtis. Progressively better (as well as progressively louder), the trio are however less than engaging, and following Lightning Bolt it's a case of after the lord mayor's show, particularly as excited chatter also abounds about what consensus seems to suggest was MBV's best performance of the weekend.

It occurs to me that I haven't eaten since lunchtime, but salvation is near at hand in the form of a Ginsters peppered steak slice. In the shop I bump into associates of the Quiz Blogger, and to say my arm is twisted into going back to their chalet to guzzle wine and talk politics, music and debauched behaviour would be a complete lie.

Is that really the time? I'm sent on my way with a Wispa Gold, of which there's a massive stockpile in the shop. Perhaps they were preparing for the possibility that everyone on site would have a craving for five bars a day, each. Or maybe it was just a misorder.

Monday 7th December

Four hours sleep. Ouch.

The coach to the train station pulls out of the car park early, and it's only then that I realise quite how close we were to the beach. Back again next weekend, so it seems a bit ridiculous that I'm not sticking around for Inbetween Days - but then I seriously doubt my body or bank balance could take it.

My first train, from Taunton, terminates in Aberdeen. Not a good idea to succumb to the temptation of catching forty winks, then.

What seems like an interminable wait at Bristol Parkway spent staring out at the drizzle, hungover and eating a heinously overpriced baguette. As far as coming back to reality with a bump goes, this is textbook.

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