Two years ago, almost to the day, at Pontin’s in Camber Sands, Mogwai drew the final curtain on the very last ATP Weekender. It was the end of an era. All Tomorrow’s Parties had, after all, been at the vanguard of promoting festivals at holiday camps. For 14 years the London-based promoter and record company had blazed a trail of non-commercialism, fierce independence and out-there experimentalism with a spectacular series of guest artists programming these often weird and wonderful events. But a combination of poor ticket sales and ATP’s more recent business history were to signal their demise.
The following year ATP finally hit the commercial and credibility buffers when it pulled the plug on its much anticipated Jabberwocky festival three days before it was due to take place in London. Much acrimony followed the cancellation. Accusation and counter-accusations flooded social media sites and great disapproval, frustration and spleen was vented.
It then came as some considerable surprise to learn earlier this year that out of the ashes of ATP had emerged ATP 2.0 and, what was even more startling, the ATP Weekender was now back on. It would be held at a new location – Pontin’s Prestatyn Holiday Park on the North Wales coast – but most everything else would be just as before.
Having curated the first Nightmare Before Christmas, the venerable English visual artists Jake and Dinos Chapman would reprise that role in Prestatyn. Braids, Föllakzoid, OM and Fuck Buttons (individually, if not collectively) would return from that valedictory Weekender at Camber Sands. Forty other acts who fit perfectly into that beyond-the-mainstream ATP profile would be joining them. The ATP Cinema, ATP TV channels and Lord Sinclair with his lunchtime Book Bingo and Pub Quiz competitions would also be back in their rightful places. As ATP head honcho Barry Hogan wrote in his programme notes “…we thought we should return to what we are good at and not be remembered as the people who nearly brought you Jabberwocky”
And late on Sunday night as Courtney Barnett draws to a close what has been a nigh on perfect three full days and nights of high-class cultural entertainment and downright rip-roaring fun it is proving very difficult to argue with his decision.
Some fifty three hours earlier the Los Angelean singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe had taken to the main Pyewacket Stage, bringing with her a dark, dense wave of gothic-folk that reflected the severe meteorological elements swirling around outside in this austere, out-of-season holiday camp.
Viet Cong remain mired in the controversy that surrounds their name. Their music is no-nonsense, intense and explosive but there any similarities with guerrilla warfare end. For with its relative predictability and derivative post-punk slant, the Canadian four-piece can hardly be accused of battering down the doors of creativity.
The distance between Pyewacket and the festival’s other stage is only a matter of yards as you pass through the neon glare of the Family Entertainment Centre with its banks of slot machines and arcade video games. Yet on Friday evening the two places couldn’t have been much further apart.
On the Secret Stage the British-based German-born pianist and composer Max Richter, along with The Album Leaf before him (with In A Safe Place) and The Notwist immediately afterwards (with Neon Golden), performs a full album in its entirety. He chooses his second solo record, The Blue Notebooks. Accompanied by piano, strings and interspersed by the occasional spoken word passage, his is an exercise in transmitting peace, purity and undiluted emotional beauty.
Saturday belongs to Holly Herndon. Flanked by frequent collaborators and fellow technological innovators Mat Dryhurst and Colin Self, she produces the performance of the day. It is one that meets all of ATP’s classic artistic prerequisites of experimentation, bold creation and what is often the wholly unexpected. She stretches the parameters of audio-visual performance art by conjuring up a laptop-fuelled soundscape of percussive beats and strange fractured rhythms, all of which are punched out in front of a huge projected backdrop of cut-up images and disorientating film footage.
The San Fransiscan expressionist impresses us further with her knowledge of the English Premiership. At one point she taps out on her keyboard congratulations to Jamie Vardy, the Leicester City striker who that very afternoon had broken the league’s goals record by scoring in eleven consecutive matches.
Earlier in the day, ATP’s much-fêted reputation for embracing all things that are diverse was captured by Black Pus, Death and Braids. Black Pus is Brian Chippendale who also happens to be one half of Lightning Bolt. He had joined forces with bassist Brian Gibson the previous night on Pyewacket and together they kicked up one God almighty sonic storm that was the aural equivalent of someone smashing you over the head with a gigantic spoon before delving inside to scoop your brains out. Chippendale was to prove no less forgiving on his own as he pulverised his drums, and the audience, into hopeless submission.
Like Viet Cong, Death are another band whose name has faced them with certain difficulties. They had risen out of the Detroit garage-rock scene of more than 40 years ago but their admirable refusal to change their name had thwarted any real chance of commercial success. Over the years their proto-punk origins may well have crossed over into the realms of more conventional power-rock, but their cultural legacy of never having sold out is one that lies four-square with the very best of ATP credentials.
Raphaelle Standall-Preston, singer with Montreal’s Braids is a constant, reassuring presence over the entire weekend. With her unmistakeable faux-fur hat, she can be seen in regular conversation with various punters underlining the intimacy of these ATP Weekender events where artists and audience are living cheek-by-jowl with each other for the duration. She even finds time to front Braids on Saturday evening as they charge their set with charm and delicate exploration, her quivering voice drawing favourable comparisons with Kate Bush and Björk.
Sunday sees a glimmer of sunshine on the Denbighshire coast and the light this affords translates into Jessica Pratt’s performance. Accompanied by Cyrus Gengras on guitar, her songs – largely taken from her second album, the excellent On Your Own Love Again – are ethereal. They possess a haunting fragility, an almost unspeakable vulnerability, a feeling that re-emerges later with Jessica Moss. The Canadian violinist performs just one piece, ‘Plastic Island’. 23 minutes in length it is a mesmerising narrative; a story about the ocean and the troubles that it faces.
Immediately prior to Moss, in what proves to be a remarkable sequence of music throughout Sunday afternoon, is Grimm Grimm. There is an almost child-like innocence – albeit one that is imbued with something altogether more sinister – drifting through the musical minimalism of the London-based and former Tokyo resident Koichi Yamanoha. It would make the perfect soundtrack to a Tim Burton movie. Hell, it could even be called Nightmare Before Christmas.
Thee Oh Sees may seem as if they have been around forever but their longevity has clearly taught them a trick or two about how best to incite a crowd. John Dwyer leads his current band of psych-rock explorers through an incendiary set that sees a multitude of crowd-surfers heading in a backwards direction (in response to some earlier heavy-handed, and in the context of the entire weekend most uncharacteristic security measures) and the “good times” needle disappearing right off the dial.
The rise of Courtney Barnett continues unabated, testament to her stamina, self-deprecation and remarkable talent. She opens with an astonishing ‘Avant Gardener’ and closes with a peerless ‘Pedestrian At Best’; everything that occurs in between is just as good. She proves to be the most accurate of barometers for the entire weekend. It has been a blast. Welcome back the ATP Weekender, you have been sorely missed.
All Tomorrow’s Parties 2.0 Nightmare Before Christmas was held at held at Pontin’s, Prestatyn Holiday Centre in North Wales between 27th and 29th November 2015.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from ATP 2.0 can be found here