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Things Learned At: ATP End Of An Era
JR Moores , December 18th, 2013 09:54

As ATP bids farewell to holiday camp larks, JR Moores heads to Camber for a weekend of Porn, Wolf Eyes, Pharmakon, Television and more, and ponders what might come next

Photos thanks to Shot2bits

If there aren't enough pillows in your chalet, inquire at Pontins' Accommodation Services

Imagine the dismay at discovering our four-person chalet been furnished with but two lowly pillows. Thankfully, the Accommodation Services can be located easily on the Pontins site map. The staff therein sympathised with our predicament (though did not apologise) and sent over two more pillows immediately. Crisis averted!

Yes, this information is not only mundane but also almost entirely worthless, given that ATP holiday camp festivals are sadly ending. Perhaps there is a Quietus reader out there somewhere who's attending the Camber Sands '48 Hour Party' weekend in 2014 featuring Bootleg Blondie, Carol Decker, and Stavros Flatley to whom this information might prove valuable. Besides, the lamentable lack of pointless mundanity in festival coverage (and in rock writing in general) needs to be addressed.

In other news, the Camber Cafe appears to be shut during winter but if you're looking for an early morning fry-up there is always the Rye Bay Cafe down the road.

It's not how long your microphone lead is, it's how you use it

As Ben Graham brilliantly described, Icarus Line are on fierce shit-kicking, ear-splitting form right now. If you've missed them on their latest tour (and judging by the criminally low attendance figures many of you did) then you're basically complicit in the slow murder of rock & roll and should be ashamed of yourself. You deserve nothing less than an eternity listening to that new double CD Best of Keane.

Hypnotically possessed by the nihilistic, sleazy, punk-scratched, brain-damaged blues of his own band, Joe Cardamone twists, writhes, and contorts his impossibly slight body to every grubby riff, dingy dip, and roaring crescendo. His mic lead acts as an extension of his reptilian self. He whips it up, down, and around like some flailing, lizardy front-tail. One aggressive lash towards the crowd almost has my eye out.

"How'd you lose your eye, JR?" "Oh, I had it whipped clean out of my skull by Icarus Line's mic lead at my final ever ATP." "Was it worth it?" "Yeah, probably. It was an incredible set and there are advantages to enucleation. It's one less eye with which to accidentally catch a glimpse of Michael Gove and the patch makes me look all sexy like that Kurt Russell in Escape From New York." "More like Mackenzie Crook in those naff pirate films."

Margaret Chardiet aka Pharmakon takes a different, though no less commanding, approach to her physical mic-lead technique. Her set may last less than thirty minutes but the evil, anguished, industrial performance leaves a permanent, disturbing impression on all who witness it. Bathed in demonic red lights she holds a sheet of metal to her chest and beats it furiously with her fist to make a malevolent thunder. She clasps the mic and its lead taut between her knuckles, stalking up to the audience, as if selecting a victim to suddenly garrotte in sacrifice to the merciless noise Gods. She screams into the mic, doubling over. She shrieks her distorted wail directly into the front row's startled faces. I don't know what's tormenting her but it's thrillingly terrifying to observe. She's like a long-suffering Clive Barker character, trying to scream her way out of the very flames of Hell.

...But sometimes size is important

I'm watching Porn. Not pornography, my fellow chalet-dwellers would find that distracting at best. This line-up of the band Porn is a delicious supergroup consisting of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould, Merzbow's live drummer Balázs Pándi, and Tim Moss from (erm) Porn. They're bashing out some thoroughly enjoyable, sonically pummelling instrumental stoner-skree. Pándi's crisp, fearsome drum sound is the loudest of the weekend. The beardy canvas-hatted Moss is a scarecrow who's descended from his countryside crucifix with a more effective way to frighten the birds: swapping between beating out massive riffs on the guitar and unleashing storms of electronic static from his Pandora's noise-box. Gould grins cheerfully along to all the rumbling and it's refreshing to hear Moore's familiar six-string avant-rockery thrashed along to something a little meatier than usual. They also have a bubble-machine at the front of the stage, pumping incongruously jaunty orbs over the nodding heads of the crowd.

Then I receive a text from my mole at stage 1:

"Savy Fav man. Singing from the sound desk in the middle. Topless? Lollipop? Sailors hat? Of course!"

Porn are great but this sounds like it could get special. By the time I get there, Les Savy Fav frontman Tim Harrington has made his way back to the front where he waves a massive stage-light in his arms before throwing giant eyeballs into the crowd. If I had been cyclopsed during Icarus Line, I could've sellotaped one of those to my face as a makeshift replacement. Harrington spots Har Mar Superstar off to his right, drags him on to the centre of the stage and proceeds to mime-hump the greasy loverman in front of everyone. The two boys have a brief homoerotic wrestling scuffle before, whether willingly or thrown, Har Mar ends up on top of the crowd, surfing around the entire room. Then it gets really special. For a second time utilizing the dramatic length of his wire non-leash, the man with the longest microphone lead in rock marches through the crowd to the unsuspecting hotdog stand at the back of the hall. He arches his naked back over the counter, squirting ketchup all over his big hairy man-chest. He marches back towards the crowd who part like Moses' sea from the condiment-sodden maniac. One daft punter jumps forward to smear the chest-'chup around. Harrington returns to the hotdog stand, procures the whole bottle, and proceeds to spatter those who offer themselves up for baptism at the hands of this tomato-y Saint. You'll never see a hotdog-stand-lady look so damn furious. When Harrington finally returns to the stage, breasts all sticky and red, he resembles those iconic photographs of Iggy Pop or Sid Vicious with their torsos all sliced up and bleeding. Only he's plumper, more hirsute, and it's only ketchup. Does that make him less rock & roll than them or much, much more?

Follow the rumble below

Other than Geoff Barrow's Beak> most of the weekend's "big" acts appear on the Friday and the Saturday. Such is ATP's scheduling aptitude, which has also failed to stagger performances like in previous years. Consequently, there are a number of bothersome clashes. (Particularly maddening is that two of the very few female-led acts, Magik Markers and Scout Niblett, clash directly. I plump for the Markers whose Elisa Ambrogio transforms herself into a cross between Patti Smith at her coolest and Shreddie McShred the shreddiest guitar shredder in all of Shredsville. At one point Ambrogio appears to be playing the guitar with her actual spine. Take that Hendrix, with your silly old teeth. Ambrogio is left-handed, of course.)

Worst of all is the Television/Wolf Eyes parallel billing. Television are ancient legends playing their Marquee Moon masterpiece. The original punk band. Or the band who somehow managed to be post-punk before punk really got going. My only chance to see them, probably. Wolf Eyes are legends of a more underground nature: the Michigan noise heroes whose latest record No Answer: Lower Floors is one of this year's best. Television are good. They look good. They sound good. Without Richard Lloyd, the guitars intertwine as superbly as can be hoped. Verlaine can still muster up the New York yelp of his youth.

But from the room beneath us comes a pulsating, Earth-quaking rumble. Shaking the floor that we stand on, it is far too seductive to ignore. I stumble down the stairs into a surprisingly cold room, as if Wolf Eyes carry an eerie chill everywhere they go. They look like two Mad Max future sadists babysitting the dropout lovechild of an unholy union between Alan Moore and Sweetums the Muppet monster. One of the gay cartoon bikers, Nate Young, screeches and moans from behind his shades while the other, John Olson, "plays" a multi-knobbed noise box belted to his waist. It's the loudest codpiece in town. New recruit Jim Baljo calmly twists menacing creaks out of his guitar strings. It's kinda psychedelic (somehow). It's kinda sexy (somehow). And somehow, somewhere, there's a softer, humane vulnerability lurking behind their harsh surface of noise. "Have we time for one more?" asks Young. "TEN MORE!" I shout, a little overexcited. "Ten?!!" the chap in front turn to me, horrified at the prospect. At least the final song is a good ten minutes of slow, scraping, groaning, crackling creepiness.

Possible heckles for Adam Gnade:

Sorry, but Gnade is pretty darn annoying. He has the awkward mannerisms of a man who wants to rock but knows deep down that he does not and cannot. His banter consists of several sarcastic diva-isms such as "Woo! Sunday! Rock 'n' roll day!" as if he deserves a better billing. Worst of all, he delivers his sheep-baa-quiver spoken word poetry backed by Youthmovies' earnest post-rock; a fatal combination of po-faced pseudo-highbrowness. I prefer to limit myself to encouraging heckling, such as my Wolf Eyes ten songs request, but if you ever do feel the irrepressible need to heckle Gande, these might come in handy:

"Sing us a song" "Play a spoken word number" (sarcasm, ho ho, because, you see, they're all spoken) "NOTES!" (you know, like in Parliament. Gnade has written down his lyrics/poems/stories because he has an awful lot of words there and their material existence on a physical piece of paper gives them more literary merit than if they were simply stored for recollection within an ordinary human brain) "Stop thinking you're better than us" "Bright Eyes called, he wants his intro back"

This doesn't have to be the end

Clearly there is still a market for alternative music festivals held at dilapidated UK holiday camps. Despite the recession, despite Christmas being just round the corner, and despite ATP rivalling itself with two legs of final weekends, Pontins is rammed. And it's not just us oldies reliving the glory days of '90s by watching the survivors from that era. There are disposable-incomed young 'uns here too, bouncing ecstatically along to Dinosaur Jr, as excited by the fresher tracks from last year's I Bet On Sky than any minor slacker anthem from decades ago. Newer, electronic acts like Headbirds, Forest Swords, and Haxan Cloak are lapped up by countless swaying bodies. He may not be Mogwai but there is something appropriate about Haxan Cloak concluding this weekend, a deafening, smoky, funeral drone-dirge of a set that proves extremely moving.

Like many others, I don't have the time, money, or inclination to devotedly follow ATP to Japan or Iceland or the seventh moon of Jupiter, even if they do book Groop Dogdrill to reform for a one-night-only rendition of their seminal sophomore album Every Six Seconds. Hosting festivals at Pontins and Butlins was ingenious and thanks to that idea I've seen some of the greatest musicians who ever lived play their hearts out on those funny red-coat stages. The festivals can't stop. They just can't. I can't go back to camping. Not after the luxuries of a fold-down sofa-bed, a shower, a toilet, a fridge, an oven, a door, and a motherfucking roof. You'll find me at End of the Road, wandering around with my eyes glazed over like Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, a sad, broken lunatic, laughing to myself about the happier times once shared in those lavish chalets. Like when Colin forgot to bring his towel and had to dry himself off with the shit Butlins bathmat. Hahahahahaha.

Who'll fill the niche? Hopefully someone with less of a Ryanair attitude to public relations. I can identify with writing something that is only of interest to its own author, but ATP kingpin Barry Hogan's programme notes for this event were ludicrously charmless. Portraying himself as some promotions company martyr, he moaned about being branded a "cunt", condemned those peers and friends who "turned out to be a big cup of dickmilk" and hated on the (unnamed) bands who acted like "fucking arseholes". In apparent tribute to the late Velvet Underground singer, he recounted a stupid story he'd heard about Lou Reed himself acting like a complete arsehole. There was a cursory thanks for "buying tickets" in the final paragraph. It didn't exactly make anybody excited for the weekend ahead. But cheers anyway Barry, despite the frequent cancellations, postponements, and poor communications, it always was a bloody brilliant festival.

So come on readers, someone out there must be tempted to pick up Barry's seaside baton and carry it into the next era of thrilling new acts, reformed geniuses, and grizzled survivors. Who will it be? Primavera? Capsule? Bloc? Fucking Branson? I don't care. Somebody.


Either that or I'll see you down the front for Carol Decker in 2014.