Thursday, 15 October 2009

Futurama in Somerset

Both May weekends for the ATP festivals have had their curators announced now. For those not in the know, these are the All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals which have been running for ten years now, initially at Camber Sands and now at the Butlins Holiday Camp in Minehead on the Somerset coast. More recently they have gone global, staging festivals in Australia and New York, as well as releasing records on their own label and a film through Warp’s cinema division. As with any organisation these days, the full title was soon boiled down to a punchy acronym; hence, ATP, not to be confused with the doomed APT, or Advanced Passenger Transport train from the dying days of British Rail. The innovative idea which the organisers of these festivals came up with was to stage them in out of season holiday camps, which meant accommodation was readily available on site in the form of chalets, and performance venues were, with the odd bit of jerrybuilding and ambience adjusting, also pre-existant. Frankly, this all holds great appeal to those, myself included, for whom the idea of lugging a tent through the multiple changes required in negotiating the labyrinth of the English public transport system before erecting it in a crowded field and exposing yourself to the vagaries of the English weather, has long since lost any patina of rugged outdoors romance it might once have had. Each weekend is curated by a particular artist or group, who choose the majority of the line up, as well as staging extra events and choosing a programme of films which play in the small and cosy cinema on the Butlins site.

The second weekend is already pretty much a write off, as there seems to be such a buzz over the temporary reformation of Pavement (who are the curators) that tickets sold out almost immediately. And that’s without a single further act having been announced. Where they really that big? Or have they merely expanded to fill the needs of the nostalgic imagination? I can’t help but feel slightly disheartened by this yearning for a replication of the past (as witnessed by the frenzy over My Bloody Valentine’s gigs last year). After all, the individual musicians have pursued solo careers in the wake of Pavement’s dissolution. Would anybody have got so excited had they been involved with current projects? It’s impossible to recreate a cultural moment in any but a dessicated and reduced form, a faded copy of a copy. There must be something of the moment now which warrants an equal amount of excitement.

Anyway, enough of such cavils. The first weekend is being curated by Matt Groening, possibly the world’s most famous cartoonist, but here in his guise as music fan. This is his second curatorial invitation, the first having been for the ATP Pacific at California in 2003. The line-up for that event gives some idea of the breadth of his taste:
American Analog Set
Bardo Pond
Black Heart Procession
Carla Bozulich
Built to Spill
Cat Power
Daniel Johnston
The Danielson Famile
John Wesley Harding
Har Mar Superstar
Iggy and the Stooges
Jackie-O Motherfucker
James Chance and the Contortions
The Magic Band
The Mars Volta
Mike Watt/George Hurley Minutemen Duet
Mission of Burma
Modest Mouse
Terry Riley
The Shins
Elliot Smith Tribute (with Lou Barlow)
Sonic Youth
Moris Tepper

Whether any of these make the transition from the Pacific to the Atlantic (ok, so technically I guess it’s actually the Irish Sea, or an estuarine inlet, but that doesn’t quite sound so snappy) is yet to be seen, as there have been no acts announced as yet, but it’s certainly an eclectic line-up. Groening is a big Captain Beefheart fan, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Magic Band crop up again. Perhaps we will be retreated to a performance by his rock-band of fellow authors, The Rock Bottom Remainders, featuring sterling support from such luminaries as Amy Tan and Stephen King. Whether this is a case of don’t give up the day job, I couldn’t say, but they sound like they could be very entertaining on stage. I for one would be particularly excited to see/hear Terry Riley. A Poppy Nogood all-night flight at the house of Billy Butlin, overseen by the creator of The Simpsons and Futurama. Now that really is a chance surrealist collision worth contemplating.

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