As ATP continue their reboot of the holiday camp festival formula in Prestatyn Pontins, Getintothis’ Paul Higham looks ahead to the Stewart Lee curated weekend in April.
It is fair to say that recent times have not been without difficulties for the much loved All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. Forced to return, tail between legs, to their spiritual home in Camber Sands following rumours of a falling out with Butlins the festival organisers called time on their well-worn holiday camp formula with two End of an Era Pontins‘ blow-outs.
It felt like the event had run its course. Always uncompromisingly niche, its well had seemed to have run dry. The list of bands playing at the ‘last’ festivals was all too familiar. Slint: check. Shellac: check, Dinosaur Jr: check. Indeed, the final performance by Mogwai was laced with such valedictory emotion that when the DJ, as the last of the shuddering noise abated, spun Sonic Youth‘s Teen Age Riot there was a release of euphoric sadness that we would not see the like again. The time for all of us, now with day jobs and mortgages, to settle down was surely upon us.
But now, the Jabberwocky debacle notwithstanding (let’s not go there), ATP are back. Back doing what they know best, what they do so well. Weekend holiday camp, tent-free festivals. A home from home for the misfits, outsiders and those who refuse to grow up respectably. What’s more they’ve moved to Prestatyn, which for our North West readers at least, signals an end to torturous battles with Friday traffic en route to the East Sussex coast.
After the muted success of the last November’s Jake and Dinos Chapman curated reincarnation, esteemed comedian and alternative music fan Stewart Lee will plumb the depths of his prodigious record collection to curate the weekend in April.
The acts already announced have us salivating in expectant anticipation. Perhaps the most tantalising prospect of those currently announced is Roky Erickson, the figurehead of the pioneering 13th Floor Elevators. Fresh from having headlined Austin’s Levitation festival in a recent Elevators revival, the influential Texan psychedelicist will perform a rare UK solo show which will be the first based exclusively around the music of the 13th Floor Elevators.
Also on the bill are Sun Ra Arkestra who are preserving the unique artistic vision of Sun Ra, an avant-garde jazz pianist and band leader obsessed with space travel and convinced he hailed from Saturn, Sound bonkers? That’s because it largely was; but, brilliantly so. Keeping it alive is freeform saxophonist Marshall Allen as he leads his troupe of arch-improvisators through weirdly wonderful, sci-fi-inflected interpretations of jazz, soul, honky-tonk, ragtime and bebop. A fitting tribute to Sun Ra, yet one that will be also utterly unique and highly original.
Joining the two legendary performers will be Thurston Moore, as the former Sonic Youth man continues to push sonic boundaries and refuses to allow the march of time to slow his often restlessly experimental bent. Liverpool’s favourite avant-folk Geordie, Richard Dawson will bring his unique and often anarchic folk vision to proceedings while Liverpool’s very own guitar-based percussive innovators, Ex-Easter Island Head have been specially selected by Stewart Lee to perform – although to those who read our interview with him last year that will come as little surprise.
While the reboot of ATP – consciously rebranded as ATP 2.0 – seems to indicate a subtle shift in direction away from those acts that have become synonymous with ATP towards new and more modern acts, Stewart Lee has drawn on some of the acts that he grew up with. Bristol new wave and post-punkers, The Blue Aeroplanes will be joined by vintage Dutch anarcho-punks, The Ex and The Raincoats one of London’s boundary-pushing post-punk starlets.
As if by way of a nod to its Welsh setting, Lee has chosen the recently reformed experimental Welsh rock band Datblygu along with Richard James, whose band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci were clearly influenced by their compatriot forebears.
Fans of psychedelia are equally well served, and it will surely evoke memories of Liverpool Psych Fest times gone by when the likes of The Heads, Carlton Melton, and Wolf People take the stage. Lee has equally looked eastwards to Japan having booked two of Osaka‘s most influential bands. Pop-punk trio Shonen Knife, who twist the 60s girl group template through a defiantly punk lens, will be joined by long-time ATP favourites Boredoms.
It is often difficult to predict what you will get with Boredoms. Known for heavy and complex, noise-influenced drum-led arrangements, at the Jeff Mangum curated ATP in 2012 the band featured 6 drummers and 14 guitarists that built a monolithic and pounding set based around motorik rhythms and crushingly dense ambient soundscapes. As they band have also played with 77 drummers in Brooklyn, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Known for their abrasive live shows and acerbically wry anarchic musings on the absurdity of modern life, Sleaford Mods will no doubt be using this show as a rehearsal for their appearance at Sound City in May. While many had suggested that their appeal would be limited and short-lived, the Mods are confounding expectations which will come as no surprise to anyone who saw their venomous Kazimier show last year.
Although ATP has had much publicised financial troubles in the past which has strained relationships with both fans and artists alike, it is to be hoped that the move to Prestatyn has reinvigorated the brand and tempts many back into the collective fold.
In the words of its curator Stewart Lee: “Of all the ATPs I’ve attended, the 2001 weekend, when Tortoise curated it and laid American free jazz, European improv noise, alternative country rock, alienating stand-up comedy, ambient electronica, Eighties hardcore, Seventies CBGBs nostalgia, smart-arse post punk, Dutch anarcho-jazz and all manner of unexpected cross-currents on curious young people, remains a pivotal point in my musical education. It’s a great honour to be allowed to attempt something similar. Bring bucket, spade, swimwear and an open mind.”
Few festivals have consistently assembled such line-ups of the niche, the obscure and the unheralded; the organisers and their many co-curators have certainly contributed greatly to this writer’s musical education and we’re glad of the opportunity to have our minds further expanded. Welcome back ATP, you’ve been missed.
With many more acts than we could possibly mention having already been announced, check out our playlist below to find out more.
Stewart Lee‘s ATP will take place at Prestatyn Pontins on the weekend of April 15/16/17.