ATP vs Pitchfork, Camber Sands
Camber; a testimony to the ’60s resort life, booming in its prime along with the big-hitters of Blackpool, Brighton and Skegness. A city-slicker’s retreat for long weekends and pink chests. However, since the decline of the industry (when tourists realised they could hop on a flight to Magaluf for the price of a 99) Camber has become one of those forgotten villages, over-shadowed by the neighboring Rye, whose harbour was once bemoaned by William Defoe no less. Not that the locals mind, happy as they are to continue life with their quiet slice of golden sands, largely untroubled by the surrounding world.
Juxtaposition, then, is in this case provided by All Tomorrow’s Parties (a title taken from The Velvet Underground’s seminal LP, as you knew); a collective who have been running these obscure weekends since the turn of the century, collaborating with various ‘curators’ as they go (in the past, the likes of Mogwai, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Potishead and Matt Groening have lended their creative minds). This year, the decision was made to couple up with America’s pioneering wordly wizards Pitchfork, giving them full-reign to shortlist the acts from the other side of the pond, whilst it was left to ATP to provide the home grown talent. A special relationship indeed. Suggestions of a competitive edge, however, would be laid to rest early by the evident inter-orgy of trans-Atlantic musicianship.
It’s also worthy of note that this year ATP’s head honchos chose to relocate to a Pontins holiday resort housed at this sleepy seaside refuge, favouring its flaking paint and on-site pub (named the Queen Vic, naturally) to the previous, larger host in Minehead (owned by fierce rivals Butlins, whose red coats know no remorse, or so it’s been told).
So then, chalet keys in pocket (this is bullshit; press entry guarentees you’ll be sleeping on floors for the next three nights, rightly so), beer and festival timetable in hand, it was time to sample precisely what the weekend had to offer. I was reliably informed that there were two stages on site; simply ‘downstairs’, and ‘the one up the octopus’ (the latter becoming more logical as pupils dilated), and so I ascended said sea beast to catch around half an hour of The Vampire Weekend, a set which was essentially a warm up for their slot at Radio 1’s Big Bonanza the next day (the two dates compiling a whistle-stop visit to the British Isles, on their current European tour). They provide both an eclectic and accessible collection of urbane rock in their brief showing, with offerings such as ‘Oxford Comma’ being received with goon grins and bum bobbles from the early birds in the audience. An affable soundtrack to mirror the mood around the site at these early stages. Thumbs well up.
I took less from Ween, but then I wasn’t high or well versed in their music, so who am I to judge? So to something completely different; sweating balls in a sweltering cauldron of noise fans, herded in like bovine to glimpse Fuck Buttons taming fx distortion with children’s plastic microphones. The duet were a mind wrong of the right proportion – creating the kind of sound you’d expect of Jupiter as it spins from its axis and hurtles progressively into a giant shield of pocket radios (a defensive mechanism dreamed up by the US military to prevent the impending Armageddon.) A tactfully delivered and mastered set of distorting waves drew and crashed with repeating intensity until the pair left, and we all realised an hour had passed in no time at all. Brilliant. A well-rounded opening day was then closed by festival welterweights Hot Chip, two members of whom span records until the early hours amidst a reflective air and some extremely questionable shapes on the floor… when I saw that trapezium I knew my time was up.
Bleary-eyed and sun-kissed, Saturday awoke to Brooklyn’s Yeasayer. In mathematical terms, the band = Floyd + Queen √ Billy Corgan’s voice-box. Make of this what you will, as then and there things were made just fine. Hey, Metador have always had a keen eye for the new wave, and one of those that stood out from their roster on this year’s spring sampler were Times New Viking (see what they did there?). Although their lo-fi mantra may intrigue and delight the lowly LP listener in equal portions, recreating that charm live was a task, today at least. Be Your Own Pet on a come down. ‘This song’s for Heath Ledger if he’s in the crowd’ a sweaty frame screams from behind the drum kit, before conceding, ‘we’re American, we have no taste.’
Where else, then, to seek some grounding than in the Welsh? Namely the meek flock of Los Campesinos! coining their set on the main stage today as ‘their Wembley’, and how they delivered. Guitars rarely sounding spikier, vocals rarely as heart-felt, starry xylophones played at summer speed; if this was their Wembley why on earth weren’t they drafted to play Croatia all those months ago? Oh. Humbled by the occasion, vocalist Gareth stuttered and stumbled between songs, unable to put the event into legible prose (he has this writer’s uncompromising empathy), and the sum of all these parts made for a magical moment. Personally, my summer started there.
Last year, Andrew Ferris wondered aloud ‘why do they never play Les Savy Fav on the radio? The only punk band left in America!’ The only water-tight explanation I can muster is that, no matter how perverse one’s mind is, merely hearing this band over the airwaves would do little to compensate being unable to witness them live. On taking to the stage, Camber braced itself for a no-holds-barred display of unadulterated showmanship, safe in the knowledge that anything could happen over the course of the next hour. An hour later of course, everything had. Relentlessly charging through thirteen (fuck!) years worth of material, only occasionally pausing to pluck a female fan from the crowd to seat onstage, or to climb ladders, Les Savy Fav simply didn’t. let. up. Tonight, the set concluded with one of the defining moments of ATP; vocalist Tim Harrington dismantling the drum kit before leading the band off-stage and out through the crowd in a pied piper fashion. Only here.
A picture-perfect day of discordance was once again sealed by a from E4 darlings Hot Chip, shining through school-disco smoke machines on a now blistering furnace of a stage. With a narrow emphasis on this year’s big hitter ‘Made In The Dark‘, the troupe rallied through 90 minutes of songs which sounded strangely, then unmistakably, familiar, before concluding with their own take on Sinead O’Conor’s tearjerker ‘Nothing Compares To You‘. It was an aptly disjointed close to what had been another wonderous day of noise.
We spend the majority of Sunday morning utilising that novelty of novelties within the British festival – detoxing from the previous night’s escapades on a gorgeous stretch of beach along with hundreds of others. Camber is to Benicassim as Margate is to Middlesborough. It’s too perfect a remedy. Yet the final leg of the weekend had crept up swiftly on those wristband wearers who hadn’t capitalised on the Kentish coastline, a noticeable number of whom had left mid-day with the reality of real-life shifting from the back of the mind to the front. I managed to last, albeit after chasing enough ibuprofen to sedate a small zebra, and belatedly made way up the octopus to catch Of Montreal. To be perfectly honest, all I can really remember were a lot of vibrant colours and chord sequences which were forced to fit. I also recall walking away with a smile on my face. The two events could quite possibly be linked, although it could’ve just as easily been the meds.
An equally disorientating experience were pioneering electronic trio Harmonia, providing an authentic Motorik experience some 30 years after its inception. Famed for an expansive catalgoue, alongside work with Brian Emo, or as a singular with Neu!, their minimal ambiance was welcomed warmly, with this show one of a handful comprising the group’s reformation after a lengthy hiatus. I savoured as much as I could before conceding that my feet were itching for a harsher beat, and so I traveled the octopus for the last time to catch the final half of Caribou‘s set. Fitting perhaps that it was a Canadian collective who had the final say of the weekend, their sound whirring around like a dreidel on meth, much to the delight of the contingent who had stayed to witness the event’s close. Much dancing was done, many more drinks consumed, and before we all knew it the sun was rising on a new working week.
Of the people I spoke to over the course of the weekend, many were attending ATP for an average of three consecutive years. Having myself experienced the ‘festival’ with virgin eyes, this was completely understandable by the close. There’s something genuinely reassuring in the knowledge that a community like this can thrive, organically, born purely from a lovely of music and the mantra that it should be for all. A highly recommended start to the summer for those of us who are looking for well measured levels of innovation and smile-induced face ache, a blend of which ATP currently have nailed.