Why We're All To Blame For ATP's Latest Collapse
, April 18th, 2016 16:12
ATP's Barry Hogan is far from omnipotent, and with the inevitable cancelation of its forthcoming festival, Alex Marshall ask exactly who's to blame for this apparently never-ending cycle of pain
This morning, the most inevitable event in music happened: All Tomorrow's Parties cancelled a festival due to be curated by Drive Like Jehu and meant to start on Friday.
Most people found out from Drive Like Jehu themselves, who said in a Facebook post that the event had felt like a "uniquely cruel hoax". "ATP is out of funds," they added bluntly, which shouldn't have come as a surprise to anyone – including Drive Like Jehu.
If you have followed the promoter's fortunes you will know their finances have been a mess for years. But if you haven't, here's a short guide: Back in 2012, Barry Hogan voluntarily liquidated a firm called ATP Concerts Limited, which had debts of over £2.6m. He blamed those debts on poorly performing festivals in the US headlined by the likes of My Bloody Valentine and the Flaming Lips, as well as one in the UK curated by Matt Groening of The Simpsons fame.
The recession stopped people buying tickets, Hogan was sure. Among those owed money were a piano tuner and the band Portishead (who didn't seem fussed, to be fair). Full disclosure: The Quietus was also a creditor, owed for advertising ATP had bought on the site.
Hogan announced an end to ATP's holiday camp festivals in 2013, having seemingly learned there was no longer a market for them, but ATP still ran into problems that year when it had to cancel the one-day London festival I'll Be Your Mirror, due to be headlined by Grizzly Bear.
In 2014, ATP cancelled the Jabberwocky festival in London with three days notice, a mess that left many fans out of pocket. This cancellation only seemed to catch up with the firm in December 2015 when Companies House forcibly dissolved one of Hogan's firms, ATP Presents Ltd. That company never filed accounts, but it was taken to court for £132,000 by, among others, the ExCeL Centre, which was due to stage the festival.
Despite the Jabberwocky fiasco, Hogan led ATP's return to holiday camp festivals in 2015. Earlier this year, ATP's current main arm, Willwall Ltd, took out a loan with "fast business loans" specialist Ashley Business Cash, essentially Wonga for struggling companies. This is hardly the greatest sign of any organisation's fiscal health.
There is a looming question you have to ask yourself after reading all that: "Why on earth did Hogan keep on running festivals when they had repeatedly failed and he had angered most of the fans who might actually buy tickets to them?" (ATP had a horrendous communications problem, seemingly deciding the best thing to do when an event was in trouble was not to talk about it).
It seems impossible that Hogan did not realise ATP's 2016 events were failing as he would only have had to look at his own predicament: last year, one of ATP's creditors told me they had sent debt collectors to Hogan's office and house in a desperate bid to try and get their money back. The debt collectors called them up later that day to say there was nothing worth taking.
Hogan's heart has always been in the right place – he wants to bring unusual, inspirational music to people and stage unforgettable parties (most people who went to their Stewart Lee event seem to have had a great time). But he achieved that legacy ten years ago. For most of the past five years all he's done is trampled it into the ground like a band who didn't know when to break up and call it a day.
Hogan seems to have been under the belief that anyone who criticised him was an idiot who didn't understand what he was trying to do, or that they were 'The Man' trying to undermine him and ATP's anti-corporate stance. After The Stool Pigeon's initial investigation into ATP's operations Hogan accused the paper of printing inaccuracies, yet to date has never come forward to explain what they are. The Stool Pigeon's article was thoroughly checked over by lawyers before publication.
The people he has most screwed over couldn't have been further from being 'The Man': They're normal music fans — I spoke to one last night who had forked out about £800 to fly from Toronto to see Drive Like Jehu and now doesn't expect to get that back — and small businesses. The people who have taken ATP to court recently include a taxi firm, a furniture hire company and Islington Council. [Since publication, an Islington councillor has been in touch to say their debt has been paid]
But Hogan alone can't be blamed for this. The wider independent music industry really needs to take a look at itself for not speaking up and for continually defending Hogan when problems occurred. I'm not criticising the bands who played their events – everyone needs a stage and many were owed money did not want to speak out and ruin their chances of getting it back. But the venues who let ATP festivals go ahead without guarantees, all the booking agents, managers and labels who told their acts to play them, all the journalists who wrote gushing pieces about ATP's legend and didn't criticise them, and so prevented the message that they were messed up from getting spread far and wide. All of them need to have a long hard look at themselves.
So too, really, do the punters who kept on buying tickets to ATP's events despite the problems mounting. If you speak to many of them, they sound like sadomasochists: they'd been repeatedly burned by ATP, but they kept coming back either because they had such a good time in the past they were happy to take a risk to do so again, or because their favourite act was announced as a curator — and if they were involved then things would surely turn out alright wouldn't they? Stewart Lee would never let things fail, surely? Drive Like Jehu wouldn't get into bed with inept business people, would they? Steve Albini, that great blaster of rip off merchants, wouldn't continue supporting a company if their business practices were as bad as everyone says, would he?
A couple of weeks ago, when Drive Like Jehu's event was moved from Wales to Manchester, and one fan told me he'd never buy a ticket to an ATP show again. "Unless, you know, they somehow get Spacemen 3 to reform."
That one sentence shows the power of music – to overwhelm you, to make you forget all sense and instead put your faith in blind hope. The desire to get zoning out to Spacemen 3 in a holiday camp is apparently so overwhelming for many people, they'll risk several hundred pounds to do so, even if they know they'll likely hurt bands, contractors and themselves in the process.
I can understand that feeling. I've boycotted ATP's shows since I first wrote about them in 2012 and have felt like an idiot at times because of that, especially given how much I like Thee Oh Sees and how I've had to travel outside London to see them.
But you have to stick to your gut feeling: a bad business is a bad business. Just because they support indie music doesn't change that. Donald Trump would be no better if he suddenly announced his favourite band was Shellac.
I really hope more people start taking that attitude. And if Barry tries to relaunch the festivals again in a year or so as ATP 3.0, I hope people don't support it.