Now into their ninth year All Tomorrow’s Parties have established themselves as organisers of some of the most interesting festivals in the world. With three festivals in the UK each year, plus several other events worldwide, they offer the best weekends around for music fans looking for something a little bit different. After a well received fans curated festival the week before expectations were high for the second weekend at Minehead with bands selected by Ohio’s legendary Breeders.
Our journalist Dorian Rogers reviews the three days. For additional pictures go to our ATP Gallery.
Arriving on site in the afternoon you’d never know that a rock festival was happening. The site was still quiet, the chalets neat and tidy, and the various fast food outfits open but quiet.
Drawing the short straw as the first band on was LA’s The Holloys. In a half full auditorium, with a quiet and sober crowd, they failed to make a big impact. Their sound was good, two bass players and two drummers with one solitary guitarist, but couldn’t fill the vacuum.
The first band on the main stage in the late was Tucson’s Giant Sand, a real scheduling mistake of the weekend. Apart from belting versions of early songs ‘Wearing The Robes of the Bible Black’ and ‘Thin Line Man’, most of the tunes came from their recent release Provisions. It is a great album but the languid, smokey sound would have been perfect at 11pm in a smaller venue. In the huge Pavilion in the afternoon the sound was lost somewhat.
Fairing much better on the same stage was The Throwing Muses. I hadn’t listened to them since 1991’s The Real Ramona and didn’t have high expectations for the show. It didn’t take long for lead Muse Kristin Hersh to win me round. With a voice and guitar style to match the loudest acts of the weekend she packed a punch, and the rhythm section were faultless throughout. A big hit with some of the older men in the audience she managed to successfully laugh off their sexual advances throughout the set.
Bon Iver seemed like an odd choice of headliner. His brilliant debut album has a big following, but is a sparse, somber and understated song cycle. The set started low key and built up to a more rocking and upbeat sound. By the time he was wildly soloing through Creature Fear he had hit his stride. Newer songs from the Blood Bank EP went down well and he proved conclusively that he can hold his own on the big stage as well as he can in the log cabin.
Considerably less interesting was The Buffalo Killers. I love hairy 70’s American classic rock, but this band of retro rockers didn’t cut it. I was left wishing I’d been more adventurous and gone to see Boston Rapper Mr.Lif.
After a sensible early Friday finish we spent the day enjoying the delights of Butlins. Nothing is a better treatment for a mild hangover than a float down the lazy river in the swimming complex. Refreshed and nourished (the joys of the chalet’s self catering facilities) we headed back to the Centre Stage to see what day-two had to offer.
The Whispertown 2000 proved to be one of many surprise successes of the weekend. Playing live they displayed a much more varied and often noisier sound than on record. They seemed a little rattled by the scale of the event but pulled off an accomplished set that included a beautiful ‘Pushing Oars’ from their latest album Swim.
Opening the main stage was Brighton duo Blood Red Shoes, one of several former ATP attendees turned performers at the festival. Their sound was great and songs like ‘Boring By The Sea’ and ‘Say Something Say Anything’ sounded much better than they do on record. Their only real flaw was a lack of variation of sound or pace, and after 30 minutes I was happy to take a break and go to the bar.
CSS are a near perfect festival band. They look great, with lead singer Lovefoxx dressed in a ridiculous spandex jump-suit and homemade tassels surrounded by balloons all over the stage. They sound good and clearly have an absolute blast on stage. The songs aren’t quite up to the performance but it is hard to care when the band and crowd look as happy as they did.
Teenage Fanclub are almost the polar opposite of CSS. They have never been a band known for their visual appeal and, apart from the always genial lead singer Norman Blake, you’d have been hard pressed to sense much enjoyment coming from the stage. However, what they have in spades is a huge back catalogue of great songs. Apart from a few lacklustre new numbers they didn’t put a foot wrong. By the time they played a finishing couplet of ‘The Concept’ and ‘Sparky’s Dream’ I was transfixed. It was easy to see why they had some of the most passionate fans at the festival.
Headlining the Saturday night were curators The Breeders. I’ve always liked them but had dismissed them as The Pixies’ less interesting sister until I heard the excellent Mountain Battles album prior to attending the festival. Like Teenage Fanclub they have a wealth of great songs and played a crowd friendly career spanning set. The Deal sisters, Kim and Kelley, were a warm stage presence and their clear struggle to get the songs 100% right was endearing and refreshing. There wasn’t a duff song in the set and it is hard to argue with eternal indie disco favourite Cannonball as the clear set highlight.
Given that it was Saturday a later night was in order, and what better way to start than The Frogs, a band playing their first ever UK show after 20 years. Looking more like a set of Mighty Boosh characters than a band they certainly made an impression. Beloved by Kurt Cobain, The Smashing Pumpkins and Kelley Deal, who joined them on stage, they are a baffling experience for the uninitiated. You don’t so much see the Frogs , but get violated by them. They aren’t massively musically adept and their songs are offensive, but they clearly don’t care. Impromptu bursts of Oasis’s ‘Champagne Supernova’ and poor impressions of the English accent were all part of a show that was sneering, but clearly played for some, albeit nasty, laughs.
Fairly worse for wear by this point it was time to see Holy Fuck hit the stage. I was blown away by an act who exceeded my expectations. Their set went by in a boozey blur and before long I was dancing in the Crazy Horse saloon, Butlins own wild west themed bar.
Sunday started slowly. Had I really been dancing to the Wickerman soundtrack at 5am? Surely not… After an extended lie-in it was time to get back out there and see what the final days line up had to offer.
Heartless Bastards were a non-threatening and unexceptional start. Their pleasant classic rock sound seemed at odds with their name. They were a good solid act, but failed to lift themselves to being a band you would want to see again.
The Soft Pack were a different story, and surely destined for greater popularity. Their poorly recorded debut, as the Muslims, sounded crisper and full of energy live in what was a very short set. ‘Extinction’ was a set highlight and I look forward to their future work. One to watch.
Deerhunter were one of the bands that I came to see with very high expectations, Microcastle being one of the best albums of last year. I wasn’t disappointed as the band filled their set with a mixture of dreamy soundscapes and more poppy numbers like ‘Never Stop’. Lead singer Bradford Cox also proved to be a charming and endearing presence. He invited the Deal sisters on stage and dueted with Kim on a version of a song by her other other band The Amps. As he hugged her before the song, he said, “I’m such a dork”, but a hundred other dorks in the crowd were with him.
Another band I had high hopes for were Leeds political punks Gang of Four, an act whose influence on other bands exceeds their own success. The band proved to be a big disappointment. Their po-faced delivery was unappealing and singer Jon King looked ridiculous shirtless under a suit jacket. The bass and drums had a real drive to them, but it wasn’t enough to keep me interested and a break for some food became a more tempting proposition.
Foals were accomplished, but perhaps too polished, churning out tracks such as ‘Balloons’ from their Antidotes album without any real live magic. Upstairs a much better show was in progress.
Shellac are an ATP institution, and curated the festival themselves in 2002. They were also the only band of the weekend asked to play two sets. When I saw how good they were I wished I’d been to the first one. Steve Albini is a busy man, seemingly engineering 50% of all albums released this year. So he doesn’t tour much and his band have only released a handful of recordings in 15 years, with a seven year gap between the last two. They play like they do it every night, so tight are the bass and guitar with the almost jazz backing of drummer Todd Trainer. And it is a hard, abrasive buzz saw sound, matched to misanthropic lyrics and Albini’s trademark snarl. The amazingly nasty ‘Prayer To God’ and an epic ‘Wingwalker’, complete with a hilarious spoken word section, were two of a set of highlights. After they finished I called it a night, keen to finish on such a high.
The festival was an undoubted success and I was left with only one regret, that I hadn’t already secured myself a chalet at The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Additional material and pictures: Joe Lepper