Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Ten Years of All Tomorrow's Parties - Minehead, Somerset - 11/12/09 to 14/12/09.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
A rousing encore from a drunken, messy trio that seemed to fit the mood of an excited audience perfectly. People were still stretching their legs from long car journeys and quaffing beer in a constant attempt to catch up with those around them; Karen O shouted "I'm wasted, are you fuckin' wasted? This is off our first ever EP," much to the joy of die hard fans.
Expecting smooth, subtle, acoustic electronica, I was blown away by these guys. There were no manners in their set; just lots of glitch, strings and aggressive guitar licks. The two female vocalists did well to harmonise together amid the racket going on behind them, before jumping behind various cellos, fiddles and whistles themselves to add to the confusion. Excellent stuff.
A determined and calculated assault on the senses here. Two men pouring over a vast banquet-sized table filled with boxes, synths, analogue systems, modular effects and a giant spinning disco ball got my mouth watering. Throughout the set there were at least four very distinct types of noise that they inflicted on us, all of them deeply pleasurable to listen to. At one point there was a Game Boy solo. During another section a cut up vocal began oscillating into a hypnotic beat. Baseball Cap Man played live percussion like a circus performer. The Clever Wizard to the left just stood in a state of supreme composure, laying layer after layer of monophonic synthesiser on a rapturous audience. At some point I looked up and realised that somewhere along the line they had both begun to twitch like lunatics, and any attempt at keeping beat or melody had been abandoned in favour of all out sonic warfare. Very exciting.
The most bonkers band of the festival, Afrirampo consisted of two dolled up Japanese girls in fishnets and sequins, thrashing out drum and guitar punk rock as if they were actually wearing skinny black jeans and leather jackets. Their energy was infectious, and some of the guitar breaks were truly deranged: they seemed to come from nowhere, one moment a riff, the next a cacophony of fretting and feedback with no warning whatsoever. The drummer was excellent too: she had a speed around the kit which gave the show real momentum. They peppered their set with kazoo solos, bizarre lost-in-translation adlibs about the speed of light, and a cappella duets complete with waving and dancing.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. After their set finished I looked around the hall, and there was this one guy holding his hands over his mouth, still staring at the empty stage in disbelief at what he had just experienced, before his friend came over and hugged him. They both stood there a long time. I almost joined in. I was reeling, shivers zinging up and down my spine, mind expanded, head bent, life irreversibly changed. Why? There was an economy to the trio's performance that focused the mind and the ear. Their careful choice of tone and arrangement created a powerful density to the songs that seemed to leave an indent on your imagination long after they had finished. There was true showmanship, from Todd Trainer's drum solos that involved him getting up and walking around the venue with his snare drum and sticks, to Albini's expression of electrocution inbetween guitar licks as he danced on his tip toes around the left of stage. Surreal humour ran through the whole thing too: the question and answer sessions had people asking all sorts of odd things, from queries about Albini's mastering to what their favourite type of sandwich was. In each song the lyrics veered from the script. In End of Radio, Steve started riffing: "Snare drum, I am a beacon, oh to be Todd Trainer's... snare drum, oh to be Todd Trainer's... drum stool, oh to be Todd Trainer's... hair stylist," as the rest of the band broke out in laughter. They didn't miss a beat either: the proficiency of their playing was acid sharp. Travis guitars, nylon guitar leads, simple kit and only one distortion pedal on the whole stage: this was minimalism at its finest. By the end, I was bopping around like an extra from Top Of The Pops, with most of my brain orbiting around the venue in outer space. Retired to the chalet afterwards to think seriously about amp settings, waist-mounted guitar straps and a drummer who plays with the handles of the sticks rather than the tips.
Disappointing; none of their arid vibe that their records display was present here. Almost fell asleep standing up, so drifted away in search of something else.
This was the something else I needed: two drum kits pummeling away at once, delayed ranting howls from a man dressed as Lawrence of Arabia, and blinding guitar from Buzz Aldrin (hidden behind a huge grey afro). They would not let up, and just when you thought it couldn't get any heavier, the back curtain was raised to reveal a further two more drum kits. Bloody marvelous. One suspects these guys are as good today as they were when they were first name checked by Nirvana eighteen years ago.
Competent, but left me cold. I returned back to the chalet worried that I was missing something everyone else had got.
[below is a handwritten account of The For Carnation and Sunn O)))]
First into the venue, coffee in hand, placed front and centre. I watch them finish sound check and talk with the audience about possibly touring South America. My camera is recharging back at the chalet, so I'm absorbing all events, images and sounds the old fashioned way. They begin with the drummer walking through the audience from the back of the room bashing his snare to a hail of flashbulb lights from the press pit, and end it by deconstructing the drum kit one drum at a time as he plays frantically with whatever is left in front of him. Inbetween is more of the same brilliance as displayed the day before. This is total indulgence, seeing one of your favourite bands twice in less than twenty four hours. I watch Albini coil up his guitar lead afterwards. He does it the special way. My question of "Can I come and work for you for free and learn all that you know?" goes thankfully unasked. Steady As She Goes is more relentless and uncompromising than yesterday's rendition, and Squirrel Song is like being hit over the head with a spade. Albini barely bothers with the vocals and instead stalks the stage. At one point both he and Bob Weston creep to the rear of the stage, almost out of sight, leaving Trainer in the limelight he so readily deserves. The man is a vision: Kiss hair, Ramones clothes, Led Zep scarf, and a succinct telepathy with the rest of his colleagues that means every break is cut and dried, exacting to the last millisecond. Weston's bass playing is crude but limber: nothing too showy, nothing too pretty. Albini's guitar weaves amongst this, sniping out solos at the most unexpected of moments, other times playing in sympathy with the bass, other times dropping out altogether. They seem to be so far ahead of everything else I've seen: they give the impression of being this angry, hard rocking band... yet when you see them their songs are laced with absurd humour, and their three piece set up doesn't restrict them from conjuring up grooves most dance or Krautrockers would give their eye teeth for. Their arrangements sho no fear at all: they have faith in the bits they have chosen to leave out, in the gaps of silence between the beats. I stand in rapture, eyes closed, on the edge of giving up music forever, learning.
I was curious to see if these guys could bring the quirky sound of their records to the stage, and it took me about two songs to 'get my eye in'; after which I was in heaven. Standing in a position where I could see the drummer really helped because his playing was fantastic. Another highlight of the festival, with a suitably crazy rendition of 'All Tomorrow's Parties' in tribute to the event itself.
Explosions In The Sky
An unexpectedly good show from these guys; I was anticipating something more wishy-washy based on their recordings, but Lauren persuaded me to stay and listen and it was worth it. "We're on our way to the stars tonight," said the dude who would end the set hitting his guitar with a tambourine. One of the few acts who managed to fill the Palladium stage with their sound, as many other bands seemed a bit dwarfed by the size of the venue.
An even better set from the Buttons, in the club environment of Reds. Video below demonstrates the Game Boy solo.
Crazy Horse disco
The weekend ended here, in the dilapidated Crazy Horse Wild West-themed bar. Haven't danced as energetically as I did here in some time.
The whole event was a revelation. I've enjoyed festivals in the past, but the choice of music at this one outstripped anything else I've been to before. Coupled with the beach on your doorstep, the greasy spoon cafes and trinket shops of Minehead high street, the water slides and snooker halls with the comfort of your own shower and kitchen right by the venues... you cannot knock the Butlin's experience one bit. A return in the new year is now a certainty.