A Farewell To Camber In The Spring: Deerhunter's ATP
, July 1st, 2013 10:47
We bid farewell to ATP summer holiday camp gigs by heading down to Camber for a great weekend with Deerhunter. Words by Sean Kitching, pics thanks to Shot2bits.net
My first ATP was an unforgettable experience. Driving down to Long Beach from San Francisco in a rented convertible, soft-top down and the stereo blasting out the audio version of Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas featuring Harry Dean Stanton and Jim Jarmusch. At the Festival were Sonic Youth and The Magic Band, Iggy & The Stooges against the surreal backdrop of the LA sunset, with the permanently moored Queen Mary serving as hotel and secondary gig venue. Sneaking on board, we ended up in the bar at the top of the ship, along with a Mexican Elvis impersonator, James Chance and his charming partner, Judy Taylor, and my friend La-ni Lithman (Snakefinger's daughter), who introduced us to the Stooges, minus Iggy, who had already left for Malibu in a private helicopter.
Since then, ATP has brought me many incredible times, year after year, albeit usually closer to home. Without Barry Hogan's inception of the boutique festival I would have never had the chance to see some of my favourite, more obscure American acts, such as Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 or The Flesh Eaters performing A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die. Without ATP, it simply wouldn't have been viable for acts such as those to travel to England to play their one-off gigs. Without ATP, my musical memories would be far poorer, although (who knows) maybe my general state of physical health would be considerably better. What I'm driving at is, now that we all know that the holiday camp ATPs are coming to an end, I think it's time for all of us who have been touched by this festival to reflect on just how special those times have been.
For me and my usual cast of reprobate friends, this Deerhunter curated weekend is one of the most successful, musically speaking. Bradford Cox gets the festival off to a fine start with a performance under the guise of his solo alter ego, Atlas Sound. I've seen Atlas Sound play numerous times now, and each time the performances seem completely different. Last time was at the Animal Collective curated weekend, when Cox chose to highlight the noisier aspect of his musical persona. This time, perhaps in anticipation of Tim Gane's Cavern of Anti-Matter, there is a distinctly krautrock slant to the songs, highly enjoyable and danceable loops underlying their structure. Cavern of Anti-Matter themselves are one of the highlights of the day, if not the entire weekend. Tim Gane, known primarily as the leader of Stereolab, is joined by Holger Zapf on synthesiser and Joe Dilworth on drums. Their sound is ecstatic kosmiche music - like a heavier version of Michael Rother's Neu. It's still only early on in the night but judging by the crowd's response, it's not only me who's blown away. The Breeders too, are a crowd pleasing treat, although I'm not entirely convinced personally that Last Splash is the classic it's now heralded as being.
Given the fact that I first became aware of Deerhunter at the ATP vs Pitchfork curated weekend in 2008 at this very venue, it's entirely apt that they begin their return to Camber by playing my favourite album of theirs, Cryptograms, in its entirety. These are songs rendered far more expressionistic by delay effects than anything else from Deerhunter's back catalogue. 'Octet,' 'Spring Hall Convert,' and 'Hazel Street' sound particularly awesome - much closer to the sprawling psychedelia of My Bloody Valentine than the cleaner sound of the band's later material. 'Fluorescent Grey' gets an airing during the encore, much to fans' delight.
Samara Lubelski begins Saturday's programme, aided and abetted by a member of Oneida on keyboards. I'm not exactly sure why but her performance, for me, falls a little short of the recorded versions of those songs, although it's still a pleasant enough way to begin the day. Similarly, whilst Ex-Models seem to make a good impression on the majority of festival goers that I speak to, their mantric take on motorik guitar riffage is a little too repetitive and tightly wound for me to let go enough to find the hypnotic sense of immersion that others report.
Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks, however, are a revelation. Whilst I would in no way describe myself as an Animal Collective fan, this trio of Avey Tare on guitar and electronically treated vocals, Dirty Projectors' Angel Deradoorian on keyboards and Ponytail's Jeremy Hyman on drums scratch an itch that I didn't even know I had. Accessible, yet also winningly strange, I keep wondering to myself what kind of music this actually is. Coming on like a spacier, dronier, more new-wave version of Animal Collective, the Slasher Flicks tracks appear to be composed of sections that should be incongruent with one another but which fit together seemlessly, as if perhaps they were improvised at one time and then edited together. I am unsure as to whether any of these tracks have appeared on Avey Tare solo releases, and find myself hoping that an album containing them appears sometime in the near future.
Tom Tom Club are another crowd pleaser but although their music represents a better take on 80s dance/pop music than most, it's not entirely to my taste. Downstairs, Rhys Chatham and Oneida run through a set of excellent krautrock tinged drone pieces, including the classic Chatham track 'The Well-Tuned Guitar.' Next, Kim Gordon, Ikue Mori and Bill Nace fuse individual instrumentation into a hypnotic whole against a backdrop of hallucinatory film images. Although I've seen Ikue Mori play a number of times in the past, this is the first time I've seen her sat behind a traditional drum kit rather than a laptop. Back upstairs, Deerhunter perform the songs of Microcastle, with some songs from Weird Era Cont featuring in the encore. 'Never Stops' and a stretched out, krauted out, version of 'Nothing Ever Happened' are clear highlights of the set. Then it's time for B-52s cover band the B-53s, featuring Deerhunter's Josh McKay, to finish off the evening in true party style.
Sunday's first act is Blues Control, featuring electronically-modified zither player Laraaji. It's a perfect start to the day, even for the most fried of festival goers. It's no surprise that Laraaji views his music as a healing tool. As a friend says to me, it's like being submerged in a warm, bubbling bath - lovely.
Steve Reich is next on the bill. He emerges on stage with no introduction and launches into 'Clapping Music.' The piece is a pure distillation of what he does best; two pairs of hands clapping a rhythm together, then one slips slightly out of sync, every few bars moving slightly further from the original time until it comes full circle and they are in unison again. There is a mathematical simplicity to the idea, but it yields such a range of sounds that it is easy to see how the possibility of applying principles like this to multiple pianos, violins, marimbas, choirs and orchestras has fuelled such an amazing body of work. The rest of his set is definitely pitched towards an audience more familiar with rock music. 'Electric Counterpoint' is a solo guitarist playing against a recorded backing of multiple guitarists, what it lacks in group dynamics it makes up for in precise and crystalline beauty. 'New York Counterpoint' applies a similar approach with a clarinet soloist. The final performance is '2x5,' a 2008 composition, described as a 'rock and roll piece'. Starting with a piano pounding out a rhythm which closely recalls 'Clapping Music,' the guitar, bass and drums quickly lock into an intricate shifting rhythm. Reich's mathematical approach is never going to be as comfortable with rock music as Rhys Chatham or Glenn Branca, but this piece demonstrates that he is still finding new ways to play with phasing and repetition. Although the Reich performance is very enjoyable, I find it somewhat disappointing that he doesn't opt for playing one of his more impressive pieces, such as 'Desert Music,' 'Octet,' or 'The Four Sections.' For anyone who wonders what all the fuss is about after witnessing his ATP performance, I strongly suggest checking out any of those pieces.
Pere Ubu play a great set, drawing heavily from their excellent new album Lady From Shanghai. Second keyboard player Graham 'Gagarin' Dowdall (now a full-time member of the band) brings an extra layer of electronic sheen to their already dense, yet danceable new-wave sound. Although singer David Thomas (now aged 60) spends the entire gig seated, swigging from a bottle of red wine, his performance is shot through with more wit, piss and vinegar than the majority of frontmen half his age. Michele Temple's clunky yet infectious bass playing and Steve Mehlman's simple yet powerful drumming make them sound like Talking Heads and Devo crossed with Can, and Robert Wheeler's theremin and toy raygun complete the highly entertaining spectacle.
Downstairs, Dan Deacon plays to the most crowded room of the weekend. This is the only time admission is reduced to one-in-one-out. Playing with two drummers, including Jeremy Hyman (formerly of Ponytail and now with Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks), this is just the uplift that Sunday night needs. Sometimes Dan Deacon's audience participation schtick gets in the way of the music, but tonight the audience is very receptive, and gets on with their dance off and swirling games without too much coaching. By the end of the show, 'Wham City' followed by 'the America Suite', no-one needs any prompting to dance like lunatics.
Although I'm a massive Soft Boys fan, I'm not quite prepared for how fantastic Robyn Hitchcock's performance is. His gorgeous Byrdsian guitar sound and wonderful, vulnerable, powerful voice mark him out as one of the UK's true musical treasures. Not only does he play two Soft Boys tracks ('Queen of Eyes' and 'Kingdom of Love' from Underwater Moonlight), but tracks from the new album Love From London such as 'Be Still' and 'Ole Tarantula' (from the album of the same name) sound equally fantastic.
Deerhunter play an emotional final set, this time the entirety of Halcyon Digest with assistance from Electrelane's Verity Susman on saxophone and new tracks from Monomania by way of an encore. Bradford Cox's thank yous extend into the realm of awards ceremony speeches, but it's hard to wish him ill even after he's outstayed his welcome, especially when he brings up Barry Hogan to let us all thank him for all the ATPs past. Finally, it's left to Black Dice to destroy any eardrums or nervous systems that might still be intact, and the sight of Bradford stage diving to their incredibly dense, cacophonous electronic maelstrom of sound is the final image seared into my retinas before I stagger, utterly destroyed, back to my chalet.