The Rambler :: blog

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

All Tomorrow's Parties, Weekend 2: Camber Sands, 2nd-4th April 2004 

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Sonic Youth have been my favourite band for almost 15 years now, but for assorted reasons fair and foul, before this weekend I had never seen them live. Many opportunities had been and gone, and it was starting to get to the point that I didn't believe I could ever see them. Almost as though I had held them in such high regard at times that I no longer thought myself worthy of watching them at a mere gig. Daft. Add this expectation to a bill that included Dizzee Rascal, LCD Soundsystem, Le Tigre and Hanged Up, and it became something else again. When milady asked me on Thursday night if I was excited I couldn't say yes - it all seemed too good to be true, and it's hard to be excited about something you can't quite believe.

Off we went though, B, C, D, R, T and I, crammed in the back of a Vauxhall Zafira. Because ATP is held at Pontin's holiday camp, your first impression is that you've turned up at a giant hipster wedding reception. It remains surreal, as cartoon crocodiles, parrots and the evil Captain Blood greet you at every turn, as well as the Orwellian exhortation 'Fun' in six foot letters on the walls.

Nicely cocooned from the real world, in we went. The first band to make an impression were The Fiery Furnaces, purveyors of quirky Wurlitzer indie-rock. The set ran on without gaps, and could conceivably have been one multi-part epic music journey, or a string of odd tales about lost dogs and wife beating. Probably the latter. Special mention should be made of Fiery Furnaces' new drummer who, with a nonchalant cigarette hanging from his lips looked, and sounded, the business. The weekend was off to a fine start. Unfortunately, the next band on my list, who were the first of my expected highlights, Mission of Burma, were really disappointing. Maybe it was the venue, maybe the fact that it was only early Friday evening, I don't know, but they just felt flat. Uninspiring, straight, punk. A shame.

In contrast, Enon picked up on what would be a recurring theme for the weekend - keyboards are cool, and every good band should have them. For some reason I made the note that the current rise of electro might have something to with a post-terrorism desire to tame technology once more; use electricity for fun, not detonators. I don't remember quite why I thought that with respect to Enon (although they are a vaguely electro act), but it may be something. Still, I liked Enon a lot.

Can't say much about Modest Mouse, or Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks. Neither really made much impression on me - MM were more rawk than I was expecting, and by the time the Jicks came on I was too knackered to take much in. Sorry about that.

Yes, I'm a lightweight, but after a good kip, and losing a tenner on Bear on Board in the National, I felt refreshed enough to re-enter the fray. OOIOO were up, and were another ATP discovery for me. Japanese modally-inflected vocals spanning guitar harmonics. Biggest talking point was the trumpet, which came from absolutely nowhere, and completed the impression that OOIOO are the missing link between Dots and Loops, Bad Moon Rising and Bitches Brew, and a damn good thing too. Quick break, watched half of The Wicker Man on ATP's dedicated TV station, and back in for Le Tigre, who I was really looking forward to. I wasn't disappointed. "Hello, we're Le Tigre and we're from New York City", and were they ever. After Friday's mostly polite, enjoyable, head-nodding line-up - curated in Malkmus's own image - here was the first real, hard hit of dirt and fun. I loved every second of Le Tigre - do yourself and your housemates a favour if you haven't already, and go out and buy some, now.

Onwards, then, to Sonic Youth themselves. After a certain time, some actors, the truly great ones, are able to impress in whatever they do. A lot of them, with Hamlets behind them, start to take a few easier roles - and who can begrudge them - but the very best still make something of them. And there are few greater pleasures, I think, in cinema than watching a great actor, and knowing that for all that they're giving to their part, they've still got loads left in the tank. Ian McKellan has become a master at this recently, with X-Men and Lord of the Rings; Gielgud in Arthur also comes to mind. It's the difference between 9-carat and 18-carat, or speakers that are enough, or speakers that are twice as powerful as you'll ever need. Both do the job, look the part, but with the latter you can feel the weight behind everything, the ease of it all, the latent power. Sonic Youth, who are still gigging tracks like 'White Cross' after 18 years, have this quality too. Sure, anyone can make a feedback racket between songs, but only a band who've been doing it as long as SY can make it look as unselfconscious as this. The set was about half new material (forthcoming album sounding good), but the band have reached such a plateau (in their rock incarnation at least), that it could have all been Spice Girls covers, and the audience would still have felt it. And I struggle hard to name many bands, after Sonic Youth, and the Fall, who've been playing this long, and are still creating, still on top of their game. Expectations met. However, I also noticed for the first time that Thurston shares the same deadpan delivery as George W. Bush. Odd.

Unlike Simeon, who passed away after circumcising Christ and fulfilling a lifetime's ambition, I made it through the night, and after fish and chips in Rye saw Polmo Polpo and Hanged Up on the downstairs stage. Frankly, PP were very underwhelming. Their poor guitarist looked as thought he'd rather be anywhere but on stage, and the grand crescendos of their recent Domino04 track 'Sky Histoire' were sadly missed. The 45 minute set was split in two, leaving Hanged Up, after some reshuffling, just enough time for two tracks. Which was a real pity, because of all the droney, clanging, swell-and-decay bands of the weekend (and there were many) they were by far the best. I've always thought Hanged Up were the most interesting of all the Godspeed/Constellation offshoots. The ultra-stripped down line-up of violin and drums baulks any indulgence, and frankly both players have to work a lot harder for their soundscapes, which makes them that much more interesting. Stripping down further to just two songs, however, was a bit much, and we could all have benefitted from a bit more from one of the better acts of the weekend.

There followed Explosions in the Sky (guitars, bass, drums do a loud version of the drone-clang-soundscape), and Arab Strap (hugely underwhelming, a pity) before a strategic break and a plunge into the double hipster whammy of LCD Soundsystem, followed by Dizzee Rascal. This was scheduling apparently dreamt up by the Gods of Blog, and I've been cueing up 'Yeah (stupid vers.)' next to 'I Luv U' on mix tapes and playlists for ages now. Something else was for sure, too - I was suddenly one of the least cool people in the room as the glitterati all turned out in their Sunday best for this one. LCD came on late, really late for 60 minute set, thanks to a horrid soundcheck (and they were dogged with mic and bass problems throughout the set), and a hefty dump delay from one member of the band. So a generous crowd were against them, as was the ATP soundsystem, and the schedulers apparently asked that the set was cut short. So disappointingly no 'Yeah'; but a storming outing for 'Losing My Edge' almost made up. James Murphy didn't look impressed, but as he predicted, we moved on. Dizzee was, well, awesome. By the end of his 'warm up' a capella, he was everyone's highlight for the weekend. Every superlative is exhausted by now, so I won't add more, except to say that when he smiles, Dizzee is the best looking man in the world. The set's - and the weekend proper's - close-out track was 'Fix up, look sharp', complete with new verses about Dizzee's recent worldwide touring. When the record started to skip, and the DJ totally lost his beat, everything should have fallen flat, but while the DJ blushed, Dizzee just cracked up. "We'll do that a second time," as good as the first time round. And thus all the navel-gazing guitar histrionics of many of the bands on show that weekend were punctured in one moment of bashful, teenage honesty.

Here's the tracklist for the ATP CD I burnt before we left:

Alone Again Or - Love
Progress - Mission Of Burma
Tongue Tied - Erase Errata
Love Detective - Arab Strap
Cry 4 Help - Har Mar Superstar
Yeah (Stupid version) - LCD Soundsystem
I Luv U - Dizzee Rascal
Dyke March 2000 - Le Tigre
Holy Night Fever - Deerhoof
Worms vs. Birds - Modest Mouse
Craw Song - Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
Disconnection Notice - Sonic Youth
ThaRoman - Threnody Ensemble
Winternational - Hangedup
I Don't Blame You - Cat Power
Marbles - Tindersticks

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