review: All Tomorrow's Parties - Nightmare Before Christmas curated by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 3rd-5th Decemeber 2010

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All Tomorrow's Parties - Nightmare Before Christmas curated by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, 3rd-5th Decemeber 2010

Another ATP festival, another return of a legendary alternative group. Godspeed You Black Emperor chose to fill it with the classic and the obscure and their curation threw up some curious surprises, drone, electronic music, improv, krautrock and even Weird Al Jankovic.
In their first incarnation GYBE left us with memories of some great shows, but really only something like 15 songs over the years, yet like all of the good curators of this mighty festival, they put together a line up that reflected their influences and inspirations.
GYBE's music is often referred to as being apocalyptic, a symphonic reflection of urban decay and societal disorder. Appropriately the choice for the inagural ATP book group at this festival is JG Ballard's excellent High Rise, the tale of collapsing society told from the location of a self-contained state-of-the-art tower block, and the cinema choices are .... very challenging indeed.
Musically, the event doesn't get off to a great start with the unfortunate withdrawal of the Friday night headliners Throbbing Gristle or X-TG as they recently become, beset by bad luck in recent weeks with the retirement of Genesis P Orridge and the untimely death of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson. ATP chose not to replace them as headliners and played their music in the Pavilion stage instead, a few hours after Sleazy was cremated in Thailand.
The first band I actually see are BLACK DICE in the Centre stage who, as far as recent releases are concerned seem to have fallen back from the advances of Creature Comforts in the mid-00s. Tonight they are simply crunchy electronica providing little for the audience to click with. They aren't bad, but the oppressive volume means a lot of the casual observers wander away.
WHITE MAGIC are up next in Reds, and from previous encounters with this lady I have them down as one to avoid, however this is an improved performance though it's clear she owes much of her act to Grace Slick and Nico.
GYBE are doing the same trick as MBV last year and playing three times on the Centre Stage, so I opt to avoid the queues and wander in just after they start. As an ATP veteran I always consider there is too much to do to be queuing up for any act, in fact the only time I queued was for coffee on Sunday morning. It is their first gig anywhere in seven years though and the crowd are reverential for the opening salvo of Gathering Storm/ Monheim. Everything is in place, although on reflection I thought this was the most subdued of the three shows. BBF3 is a collosal ending though, and am I right in saying this may actually be the first time it has been played with the spoken word pieces included? Whatever, it was a pretty big deal, though it was clear GYBE could take it up a few gears yet.
Poor Daniel Higgis had major snow related problems, suffering the same travel chaos that has affected some of the crowd, so TIM HECKER's slot is moved to an earlier 1am start on the Centre stage. Curiously he seems to have not been given any stage lighting so it's fortunate his music is so strong. Pleasantly abrasive electronica which actually seemed a bit brief, he is one act who ought to have played longer.
So whilst day one was a little underwhelming, the rest of the festival proved to be relentlessly busy.

Day two began with an intense improvised set by Michael FLOWER (Vibracathedral Orchestra) and Chris CORSANO, the latter setting out on a bid to become the performer with the most appearances this weekend. For this one his incredible drum skills are coupled with Flower's string work on his Japanese banjo (or shahi baaja if you are being exact). It doesn't really click with me until I can get closer and actually see what they are doing, so I guess I was more impressed by the technical skills than the music. Having said that, their middle piece sounds like it has been lifted from the end of Marquee Moon and it spirals and twists into some lovely territory.
BARDO POND are even lovelier upstairs on the centre stage. They sound eactly like they did when I last saw them in 1999, in fact they sound better as this venue is one of the best places to see a band like that. Nice lights too. I was amazed at the end to find out a lot of the set is from a new album as I could have sworn most of it was from the Amanita/ Lapsed era. One of my definite highlights.
A quick first visit of the day to ONEIDA's 10 hour 'jam' in their recreation of their studio The Ocroplois. They are on the stage but it's curiously intimate and white sheets with holes cut in them are draped around the venue, and stunning visuals throughout from the Secret Project Robot crew. An ambitious step for them to take over the area normally reserved for the bingo and the quiz, but this turned out to be one of my major highlights of the whole weekend. I was delighted enough to see Greg Saunier from Deerhoof playing drums with them on my first visit.
Back upstairs for the bleak noisescapes of New Zealand's THE DEAD C, a group I had almost forgotten about. I really liked this, but they proved a bit divisive and a lot of the audience were worn down by the drone, to be honest a drone that had been present from the Flower/ Corsano set a few hours before. Two guitars, one drummer, and nothing really resembling a tune – just a noise/ drone workout.
I have a bit of a chill-out and get a seat for MAHER SHALAL HASH BAZ, and I feel sorry for them that their crowd is decimated by a four way clash – Mike Watt, the ongoing Oneida, and Hanged Up – the latter duo cited by many as a festival highlight. Maher are delightfully wrong, it takes skill to miss the beat over and over again in the same place for their opening 15 minute jam, and they keep this level of strangeness thoughout the set. There are 14 of them, including a child who can't be much more than 3 years old and it all comes across as a weird mix of the Magic Band and the Shaggs, and even this audience are bemused!
SCOUT NIBLETT also does a nice line in audience bemusement, but tonight she is just great. She is on the largest stage, the Pavilion, possibly the biggest crowd she has played to. It's been so long since I've seen her, she rarely plays the drums now, and the set is mostly her on guitar and a drummer. She wears a vis-vest throughout, which I'm told is just her 'thing'. A highlight.
I should chill out and eat something but instead I'm tempted to see what ONEIDA are up to next door. This was an amazing sequence – two of the Dead C were just finishing up then Chris Corsano joined them, entering into some amazing drumming with Oneida's own Kid Millions, the latter by the end of the day surely deserved some sort of medal. Then MIKE WATT pops up again to add some noise guitar. If Oneida had done this event on Friday night I wouldn't have watched anyone else, but Saturday is busy busy busy.
All that activity means that I miss the start of TINDERSTICKS, and I end up finding them dull and disappointing, though they were redeemed by a lovely closing Raindrops.
Meanwhile back at Oneida they are entering a krautrock/ motorik groove, helped along by Aaron of Tall Firs/ Hallogallo and some excellent psychedelic visuals, and that morphs into an extended jam with two of WHITE HILLS which is yet another highlight. An appointment with Godpseed means I don't stay for the very end, which is unfortunate as Oneida make the last hour the set their own and end up closing with 'Sheets of Easter'. You’ve got to look into the Light Light Light Light Light Light Light Light Hard to believe they chose something so epic and intense to close out their ten hour set, and a random audience member gave them a trophy! Amazing.
That would finish any normal gig-goers fun for the day but the best is yet to come. I almost wavered and didn't go to Godspeed tonight, but I did wander in about 15 minutes late. Now, I've seen GYBE many times between 1999-2002 and some of those shows rate amongst the greatest gigs I've ever seen. Tonight's show is equal to any of those, the band really gel, the back projections are superb and they actually change the set from the first night. It's the East Hastings section which floors me tonight, BBF3 is omitted but isn't missed. It's all just too good and I have to retreat to the chalet just to clear my head afterwards.
I catch a little bit of NOMEANSNO and they are impressively edgy after all these years, closely followed by a burst of THE EX who are punky and fun and crowdpleasing – I'm sure they do a Konono No1 song too! Both those bands took me back 20 years to the squat punk gigs that warzone used to put on in Belfast, pretty sure it was the last time I saw either!
The other real highlight tonight was THEE OH SEES late set in Reds. Rattling through some fine spiky pop songs and coming across much better live than on record, though maybe that's just me. Impressed that they held the crowd until 3am as well! I catch a little bit of DJ PARASITE before bed, yet another fresh sound, crazy gabba mixes into the wee small hours.

On Sunday I'm supposed to be in the venue at midday to see Marissa Nadler but I am just not able to get moving in time. I also opt not to attend the early and final GYBE show as it couldn't be as good as the previous one, but reports say it is and I can't resist. This was the quietest the crowd has been during their sets here, at some points you could actually hear the whirr of the projector. I actually miss the opening Dead Flag Blues, which was the first time they have played it this weekend. I was impressed they chose to vary the set each time they played and to be honest, this was on a par with last night's performance. Seeing them be so amazing barely 12 hours apart was priceless really.
Meanwhile next door I was missing Francisco Lopez's sound experiments, which lots of people had chosen as a highlight, even if it did mean being blindfolded as soon as you enter the venue.
Back on the centre stage, next is RANGDA, a kind of post-rock/ improv 'supergroup' comprising of Chris Corsano (again) on drums, Sir Richard Bishop (Sun City Girls) on guitar and Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance) on even more guitar. Again, like the Flower-Corsano duo yesterday, they were hugely impressive technically, though some of their wig-outs may have passed over the heads of the audience. I thought it was powerful stuff though.
I have a quick look at the COUNTRY TEASERS in Reds who happily sound exactly like their records, fuzzy vocals, slightly shambolic take on country-punk and some pleasantly offensive lyrics!
German legends CLUSTER are next on the big stage who, as well as being the most senior act here in terms of age, they also make some of the loudest sounds of the entire weekend. They play a set of dense dark electronica, it's good down here in the Pavilion but it would have been amazing in the centre stage.
This is most certainly the only time that a festival will feature Cluster on just before WEIRD AL YANKOVIC, but that's one of the beautiful things about ATP. I was puzzled by this choice, although I reckon his status as a top Canadian meant that some of Godspeed liked him when they were growing up, and as curators they asked him and he said yes. This reminds me of the story that the first band the Dirty Three asked when they were curating was AC/DC! I haven't much interest in him to be honest and I watch a little bit and have a smirk. I did spot Godspeed in the crowd, so I guess that explains their earlier stage time. They deserve the night off after all!
I spend most of the rest of the evening in Reds, I'm curious to see what guitar noises KEIJI HAINO can conjure up. Conjure is probably the best word to use as there is something spooky and otherworldly about him. As well as all the cacophony he manages to unleash by himself, I am also wondering how does a man in his late 50s have such flyaway hair.!
I stay in there to watch EMERALDS who are one of the bands I have been really looking forward to, unfortunately this means I don't get to see any of BOBAN I MARKO MARKOVIC ORCHESTRA who most people rate as a highlight. It seems carried on the party that Weird Al started and one of their refrains ends up being randomly chanted around the site all through the night. Emeralds are good though, they dedicate the opening song 'Passing Away' to Peter Christopherson and proceed to play it and 'Genetic' the best track from their recent album. They are entertaining to watch as well, their stage histrionics makes me think they are listening to different music as they play; noodling ambient drone whilst punching the air looks weird but fun.
A brief visit upstairs which is packed for WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, who play exactly the sort of epic metal I was expecting them to. They have soo much smoke/ dry ice on stage that I don't actually have any proof that they are there at all!
More venue hopping for THE SADIES back in Reds who wear a lot of 50s/ 60s influences on their sleeve with their set of country tinged rock n roll. Refreshing to hear some old fashioned tunes and the band are super tight – nice suits too!
It's perhaps strange for DEERHOOF to be tucked away so late on the Sunday night (actually Monday morning), but a lot of people are hanging on for their 1am start and they don't disappoint. Despite a new album looming, they play tracks from a lot of their back catalogue. Panda Panda Panda' and 'Desaparacere' are there, and their set is one of the real highlights. Amazing drumming from Greg Saunier, although some people don't quite get his stage announcements 'act'.
I do check out one DJ before saying goodbye for another year. AWESOME TAPES FROM AFRICA is a guy who is mixing music on found cassettes from his African travels. It goes down well too, but those of you who know what I currently do for a living will appreciate that I found the set a bit of a busman's holiday!

Overall a very good ATP, which for me was more enjoyable than it looked on paper. There was an incredible variety of music on offer, and my only slight grumble was the unfortunate balance of the barren Friday with a rammed Saturday and Sunday. Still that's a very minor point and there is a good reason for why that happened. For a festival that started under the shadow of the untimely death of Peter 'Sleazy' Christopherson of Throbbing Gristle, I think ultimately it had a spirit and verve which he would have enjoyed. See you next year.

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