Thursday, 14 May 2009

Arbeit Macht Freitag - ATP vs Fans (Day The First)

ATP v FANS, Butlins Minehead – 8-10 May 09

Sunshine? Weird. ATP is not about sunshine: it's about huddling around the flickering flame of alternative music under overcast skies. It's about booking a cavernous holiday complex and filling it with glamorous long-haired bearded psych-rock types, even if their waistbands thicken ever so slightly year on year. It's about Fuck Buttons playing every year. It's about monstrous seagulls and a deepening morass of nostalgia for the rainy days at Camber, when you could leave your chalet unlocked and the neighbours would pop round for a cup of absinthe. It's subtle, this incremental heartbreak. Some years it seems as though the gig is up, but I always drift back.

Day One. I skip Casiotone, giving in to bad band-name prejudice, and kick off watching Jeffrey Lewis on the Pavillion stage. He does his half-lecture on the development of punk rock on the Lower East Side, which is always a pleasure. “Bugs & Flowers” from the new LP sounds sweet and darkly lush. Then up I tramp to the moodily-lit cabaret lounge that is Centre Stage for one of the hotspots of the weekend.

Health are awesome – Close Encounters with tachycardia. Constant battering drums, earthmover bass, guitar noises mashed through a thousand tiny metal teeth. At one point, a noise is emitted like the funereal sod hitting your coffin. Visceral, beautiful broken stuff. I desparately want to put my finger on what these tropical punk sounds from the Smell club and Brooklyn's Animal Collective types share, but I can't. Some sense of music as a living, vegetative yet potentially cruel force. It's so thrilling, I can almost forgive LA for Guns 'N Roses - but not Motley Crue.

Then a bleak period. I watch some M83 with fond memories of their “Dead Cities” era, but the slo-mo adolescent glory I remember translates into a dreary Euro drudge in the semi-oudoor atmosphere of the Pavillion. Unsuitable. Against my better judgement, I then sample Andrew WK. Rancid. Tom Cruise on Lazytown. He runs about the stage, preaching the party line in his white tee and jeans, hammering at his little piano. Self-help seminar toss.

Devo tried to warn us about shaven chimps like WK. Thirty years ago civilisation's decline was mainstream stuff, fit for perky novelty pop, before it became the domain of Radiohead and Slipknot. Five paunchy men in matching jumpsuits would normally spell IRRELEVANT; but seeing as no-one talks about how shit humanity is in this punky poppy format any more, they seem pretty fresh. There's the same sociopathic twitch to the synths, and the auld spudboys are as tight a unit as the black shorts they whip out halfway through the set. They play all the hits - “Mongoloid”, “Gut Feeling”; they wear all the outfits. They're living proof of how edgy youth gets fat and goes to seed – and it's beautiful.

Hip-hop acts always seem to stiff a little at ATP – a black, urban spectacle for white, middle-class onlookers to pore over without getting involved. Even Anti-Pop Consortium's brain-friendly dubstep-inflected enormity fails to snap people out of their museum poses - criminal. The boys crowd round their equipment, nodding and twitching and running glorious from the mouth, fizzing with a cool menace. “Human Shield” is massive, smashing thousands of crippled Lil Wayne clones like beer cans against its majestic forehead.

My Friday is finalled off by ATP-protegees Fuck Buttons. Seen them twice and loved them, but this time they lack a little special spasmodic something. Loops build, organs swell, drums are smacked, but there was precious little taste of chaos. A friend complains that they tick too many boxes without ever stepping out of them. I am sated.

Your pal, Coc x

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