Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Photos/Review: All Tomorrow's Parties End of an Era Part One @ Pontins Holiday Camp, Camber Sands, UK

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BEAK>
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Lee Ranaldo & The Dust
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Television
All Tomorrow's Parties End of an Era Part One @ Pontins Holiday Camp, Camber Sands, UK
November 22-24, 2013
Photos: Rhona (Wiglet Bill) Aquilina & Chris / Review: Chris

All things must pass. Even festivals that strive to provide an overwhelmingly enjoyable experience in addition to some of the best music lineups known to mankind. In the past thirteen years, UK promotors All Tomorrow's Parties have put on legendary festivals all over the world, but it's their original three-day series at Pontins Holiday Camp in Camber Sands that started it all, and set the template for what a music festival can and should be. And with good reason. Part one of their End of an Era series, curated by Primavera Sound and ATP, provided three of the most memorable days of my life.

Some background on our journey to our first UK ATP festival. My fiancee Jennifer and I decided to take the plunge and make a trip to London after finally meeting FN's London contributor Rhona and her wife Niki back in October, following a two year online correspondance with them. Of all the experiences I've had since creating this blog in 2011, getting to meet people as obsessed with music as I am has been the most rewarding. Rhona and Niki have been to numerous ATP Festivals, and considering the End of An Era series would be the last at Pontins, they were of course attending both weekends. Everything fell into place when Rhona informed me that there was room for the two of us in the 4-person chalet for Part One of End of An Era. Five weeks later we found ourselves on a red eye flight to London, the next morning driving to Camber Sands in a car packed with food, a couple cases of Sapporo cider and a big bottle of Apple Schnapps (more on that later).

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View from Pontins Holiday Camp
Friday.

We were early to arrive at Pontins, finding ourselves among the first people to check into our chalets, with not much to do but watch festival-curated television and await for the heat to warm up our room. There were two channels on the TV curated for the festival, one by ATP and the other by Primavera Sound. I later learned that it's actually rare for both stations to actually come in properly, and our chalet's TV was no exception. We only got the ATP channel, which was really fine by us. We were able to watch at least two seasons of Eastbound and Down, and we also got to watch Fuck Buttons' music video for "The Red Wing" at least eight times (it played, presumably, whenever ATP was switching DVD's for the next program). Great band, great song, great video, but I'm not listening to that song for at least another five years.

"Woo!"
After a good four hours of downing cider, we finally walked over to the stages and caught the first band of the night, His Clancyness, a dreamy shoegaze band from Ottawa that had a sizable crowd on stage two. The band played a solid set, reminding me mostly of newer bands like The War on Drugs, but also clearly influenced by '80s lo-fi like the Vaselines and Beat Happening. It was a solid way to start the evening. Photos of His Clancyness below...

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Following that, we went upstairs to the massive main stage where Scout Niblett had already begun her set with band that comprised of her, a drummer off to the side and a bassist. Her sound was in stark contrast to that of His Clancyness's set, as her band took a much more minimalist approach, however being no less intense at moments. Jen noted the similarity's between her voice and that of Bjork's, which probably wouldn't have occurred to me otherwise, but I couldn't un-hear that afterwards. Definitely check out Scout Niblett. Photos below...


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We went back downstairs to catch some of Magik Markers' set on stage two, but only caught a couple of songs before heading back to our chalet to grab a few drinks. One of the best aspects of ATP at Pontins is the venue letting you provide your own alcohol for your rooms. You had to buy beer at the bar if you were at the venue, but since the weekend's schedule had numerous thirty-minute breaks, it allowed us to take a five minute stroll back to our rooms to pound another cider, and walk back to the stages to watch music. I couldn't have been happier with this situation.

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Magik Markers
The highlight for me on Friday night was Lee Ranaldo and the Dust's excellent set on stage one. The Dust includes Ranaldo's former Sonic Youth bandmate Steve Shelley on drums, meaning it was the closest we'll get to seeing Sonic Youth for some time. Many of the Dust's songs would begin somewhat mellow, but would soon culminate in long hypnotic jams -- reminding me mostly of the Velvet Underground, so it came as no surprise when Lee dedicated one of their final songs to Lou Reed, and began singing "Sweet Jaaaaane!" over the end. Photos of the band's set below...

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Closing out Friday night on stage one was legendary slow-core band Low, who are no strangers to ATP, and the insanely packed crowd certainly reflected that. The band's trademark harmonies and slow, slow (slow!) songs sounded great in the huge venue. It was a good way to end the first night; satisfying, but definitely leaving us wanting more. Photos of Low below...

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Saturday.

Did I mention that ATP also has a cinema that plays movies all day? Well, ATP also has a cinema that plays movies all day. Jen and I took advantage of this by attending a 10am screening of brat pack classic The Breakfast Club, which was surprisingly well attended for such an early morning event. The theater itself was really just a big room with foldout chairs and a projector. But everyone in attendance was really into it, particularly the moment where Emilio Estevez has a cartwheel freakout while high on marijuana.

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After a couple hours of hanging around the chalet watching more Eastbound & Down, we walked over to the stages to catch post-rock staples Tortoise. Equipped with five multi-instrumentalists, including at least three percussionists, the band's set comprised of lengthy instrumentals that got the day off to a good start. Listen to more Tortoise.

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The only real time-clash for me was deciding between Thurston Moore's latest thrashy punk band Chelsea Light Moving on stage one and Brooklyn's own Har Mar Superstar on stage two. Having already seen Chelsea Light Moving, I decided I would catch half of their set while the rest of our crew got a good spot for Har Mar Superstar. Thurston and co. sounded great, and he was in top form. I swear, the man doesn't age. Photos of Chelsea Light Moving below...

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By the time I made it downstairs, the crowd for Har Mar was so packed they wouldn't even let me in the stage's main entrance. I had to walk around outside to the pub entrance to make it through, and even then I could only watch from the side and not see anything. But he and his band sounded great on the small stage. Apparently he started his set fully clad in a coat, but by the time I made it down there he was only wearing pants. Check out Har Mar Superstar in all his shirtless glory below...

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Television, undoubtedly one of the biggest bands on the entire lineup, were placed relatively early on the schedule considering the headliner-like status for the festival. But the proto-punk legends still managed to plow through every song from their 1977 classic Marquee Moon (albeit in a completely different order), as if they were closing out the weekend. Richard Lloyd, the band's original lead guitarist, is no longer touring with the band, but Lloyd's replacement Billy Rip must have studied those guitar parts like some sort of obsessive savant, because it sounded identical to the recordings. The sound mix was a little off--the drums were mixed low and the overall volume seemed lower than every other band that played that day--but witnessing Marquee Moon live was really quite an experience. Check out photos of the band below...

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Up next on stage one was Les Savy Fav, aka the Craziest Live Band on Earth, and frontman Tim Harrington, dressed in full Glenn Danzig regalia, wasted no time getting weird with the extremely full venue. I'm pretty sure Harrington spent more time in the crowd than he did on stage, at one point laying on the table of the venue's hot dog stand and squirting ketchup all over himself, and making out with random people. He even managed to bring Har Mar Superstar up on stage and get him to crowdsurf through the entire venue during "Let's Get Out of Here." It was pretty much the best part of the entire weekend.











Following five insane sets in a row, we decided to take it easy and rest up before Dinosaur Jr., even though that meant missing Godspeed You! Black Emperor. We've all seen them before, so the collective decision was made to watch more ATP-curated television (namely, some weird Studio Ghibli named Whisper of the Heart), get nice and toasted before Dinosaur's Saturday-closing set, forego the photo pit, and enjoy the show from a good spot in the crowd. And that's when we cracked open the bottle of Apple Schnapps.

Whisper of the Heart
Three rounds of shots later, we arrived at stage one in time to get a great spot for Dinosaur Jr., who played what was easily my favorite show of theirs I've seen yet. Playing a bunch of their newer, and still great, songs from I Bet On Sky, and classics like "Freak Scene," "Feel the Pain" and even their insanely weird cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven," the mosh pit and crowd surfing were in full effect. The highlight for me was when they played "Get Me" off of Where You Been, which up until that point I had assumed would never, ever happen.

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Towards the end of "Freak Scene" I was jumping around a bit too much and managed to lose my glasses on the floor. I couldn't see anything in the darkness, so I managed to snap a flash photo of the floor, find the glasses underneath someone's shoe, and the glasses remained completely unharmed. See photo below for proof. Just one of the many magical things that can take place at ATP.


We called it a night and rested up for the final day of ATP.

Sunday.

Apparently that's not really Bowie's hand.
Sunday was largely dedicated to recovering from the previous night's activities, which resulted in not much more than playing a three hour pub trivia game, watching a ton of ATP-curated TV and catching only a couple of bands. Luckily the lineup was not as rapid-fire "must-sees" as the day before, so we didn't feel too guilty about this plan.

Pub trivia required heavy, heavy knowledge of the most obscure bands in order to walk away with any form of prize, the grand prize being tickets to End of an Era Part Two. Our team, Scrote Scent (don't ask), scored 60 points and the winner scored in the high 70's, so we didn't do too bad.

Sunday's TV lineup was pretty fantastic, beginning with Jim Henson classics The Dark Crystal and Labrynth, with the night's lineup ultimately ending with Sean Connery's most bizarre post-Bond film, Zardoz. Holy shit, have you ever seen Zardoz? I have no idea what the hell happened in that movie, but I was pretty much giggling to myself the entire time. Just look at these image of Connery, and tell me it's not the greatest thing ever.





Music-wise, we did manage to catch the whole of BEAK>'s set, which made Sunday worth sticking around for. More-so than any other band that played stage one, BEAK> sounded so ridiculously crystal clear, with each element of their sound being wonderfully represented. Geoff Barrow, of Portishead-fame, gets to show off his drumming talent more than he gets to with Portishead, and you can tell he's having fun doing it. Photos of BEAK> below...

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Walking back to the chalet that Sunday night, you couldn't help but hear groups of people in their chalets being as rowdy as you could be on the closing night of an epic three day music festival. Without a doubt, it was the most fun I've ever had at a music festival, and I'm eagerly awaiting to see what ATP does next. That said, the All Tomorrow's Parties festival series at Pontins will be greatly missed.



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