Some Thoughts On ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror In Asbury Park New Jersey

Luke went to New Jersey for ATP and was once again melted by Swans. But America, why you not dancing? Images thanks to Abby Braden

New Jersey is more Middle America than New York

The Quietus didn’t bother with the train journey from New York down to Asbury Park. Instead, we took a ferry across to Jersey, and then a cab down the coast road along a narrow sandy spit between the Atlantic and the Garden State. It’s instantly noticeable just how different the area is from New York, despite its proximity to the City. This feels like Proper America. There’s the Deal Casino, Peddlers Bike Shop (see what they did there?), a road closed for a fire brigade block party. Punctuating the boarded up hotels and multi story boat racks are gigantic homes in a perplexing array of styles: Spanish gangster ornate, Bauhaus with an inappropriate cupola, and generic American wealth, the latter all white weatherboard, porch, five car garage and a lawn of surreal green. "Some of these are only occupied for the summer," the taxi driver says in a rich phlegmy smoker’s voice "And there are people starving in this world." We’re tuned into one of those hit stations that pumps out classic pop and rock – ‘Time Of The Season’, "101 of the best rock songs for past forty years, iiiiiit’s Rocktober!" Our cabbie again: "Asbury Park used to have amusements, all these entertainments. They tried to bring it back again but the downturn hit. Now, well it’s just destroyed. I don’t get much call to come down here. Not this far."

ATP played a blinder with this knackered venue

Asbury Park is therefore a very strange place to go for a music festival, and therefore almost perfect. The Asbury Park complex has clearly seen better days, and seems to be on the way to trying to find them again. An old theatre down the boardwalk resembles a 1930s power station. An enormous shed is empty apart from a prodigiously fat man playing ludicrous guitar solos through a battery-powered amp. ATPs production is based in the Berkeley Hotel, in which Johnny Cash invested tens of thousands of dollars, and where for a while he lived in a suite of rooms. Another stage is held in Asbury Lanes, an old bowling alley that hasn’t been turned into some grim place where bowling is prettified and twee. This is proper Tennessee Williams’ Stan, sweat and silk shirt bowling. You get the sense that the whole place was just about to fall into Detroit-style dereliction, but was rescued in the nick of time. What better spot to spend two days listening to apocalyptic rock and electronic music selected by Portishead?

It was nice of ATP to commission a painting to welcome us to the festival

Americans are rather restrained

ATP in the UK is generally a terrific debauch, with fools running hither and thither ruined by plentiful appalling Butlins lager and whatever synthetic drug is popular and cheap at that time of year. Nights see running skirmishes between security staff and chalet parties, including one memorable year when a group of 50 or so gurners attempted to combine Carnival with the back catalogue of Einsturzende Neubauten, and marched around the site bashing out rhythms on luggage and delivery trolleys, pots and pans, and the odd snare drum, all the while fighting a running battle with the security heavies. The Americans seem rather more polite, limiting themselves to a "woah yeah!" after a song, or a few cigs indoors during Public Enemy.

NPR isn’t much like Radio 4 is it?

One of those flawed cultural comparisons between the UK and US is to say that their NPR is a bit like our Radio 4. And while it is true that both radio stations feature erudite and enlightening programmes on politics, science and the arts, it is not Radio 4 who you find broadcasting full recordings of sets from ATP online following the end of the Festival. Imagine it, JG Thirwell following Lord Barg’s In Our Time! We had Swans set on in the office, and the lady who runs the building came running upstairs because she thought someone was being attacked. You can listen to NPR’s recordings of sets from ATP including Swans, Portishead, Public Enemy and The Horrors here

Swans are the greatest rock band on this planet

Basically, to reiterate what Tim Burrows wrote in his review of the London I’ll Be Your Mirror, there are very few bands who can touch Swans at the moment. The first track goes on for well over 20 minutes, after which M Gira lambasts the "lardass Americans" in the audience for remaining seated in this theatre venue. He demands they "come forward, get some exercise. We are not your polite band." The result is a rush to the front, which for most of the set results in grumpy to-dos between security and crowd. The crowd, with the Swans assault system on their side, are victorious. What is so exciting about Swans is how material from their brilliant My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky seems to evolve so seamlessly into whatever is coming next – Gira is currently putting finishing touches to a new album due next year. Addition: shortly after printing this article, Swans gave a hint of what this might be via their facebook: "Half of the new album is severe and pummeling, but kinda groovy too. The other half is intentionally quit pretty. Pink is the new brown. Like putting lipstick on an anus."

ATP even makes sports fun

There are a truly exciting array of highly physical leisure activities on the cards at ATP New Jersey. The Quietus availed itself of the boardwalk for its intended purpoe, a vigorous Sunday afternoon constitutional. This was followed by some intense wrist exercise in Asbury Park’s pinball museum, where most games were operational even if the Guns & Roses one was fully occupied by a man with dinner in his beard. An exhilirating round of crazy golf was lost by just the one point before we bowled, and sat down to some fries with disco sauce in the excellent on-site bar/café. However, It must be said that disco sauce (a weird slurry made of processed cheese and some unspecified meat juice) didn’t manage to make the American football match playing on the bar’s big screen enjoyable or understandable.

Due respect was paid to the Ocropolis

One of the best bits of this I’ll Be Your Mirror was Oneida’s Ocropolis jam in the bowling lanes, which took place over eight hours on Saturday afternoon. Their infamous Brooklyn studio is now being demolished to make way for more flats for fixie bike riders and graphic designers to live in, which is of course a crying shame for heavy psychedelic avant-rock. They’d brought one of the Ocropolis carpets along to give off true must & vibes, but it was the stamina of the various Oneida gents and guests including Geoff Barrow on drums that kept us captivated for much of the day. All hail Oneida. All hail Kid Millions, a drumming machine among men. You can listen to Oneida’s O-jam on NPR here.

Best use of social media: Public Enemy

With their still-radical attitude, the collective approach of hip hop and a brutal, tight band, Public Enemy were one of the highlights of ATP. This is even despite Flavor Flav’s tried and tested striptease before he gets his clock out, and social excessive social media evangelism: "yo you all get your phones out, and you Tweet at me, Flavor Flav, and Mr Chuck D… the best tweet wins a signed clock!" They’re just masters at what they do, not giving much of a shit about genre or preconception, instead delivering mean aggression with a brilliant awareness of showmanship. More like Swans than you might think.

Credit is due to:

The Horrors, for increasingly becoming a genuinely fearsome live group, tight and focussed and, finally, Faris Badwan hitting all the right notes. Not quite sure what the American crowd made of this very arch, very smart English group, mind. Anika, for continually developing her sound with the gents of Beak>… we’re very much looking forward to hearing more than covers; The Pop Group for bringing the fierce dub, and Mark Stewart carrying on despite his broken belt; Lord Sinclair’s foulmouthed music pub quiz, where we came third, for his filthy tale about Lemmy’s crabs and Mercury Rev’s Grasshopper playing Name That Tune on the clarinet; Factory Floor for a brilliant ATP set, their fourth-ever American performance, that seemed to impress all-comers including Swans’ M Gira, and so on and so forth ad-infinitum.

When the balloon goes up, Portishead will outlive the cockroaches

The biggest reception of the weekend goes, deservedly, to Portishead, who not only put together the terrific bill, but unleashed two stunning performances on the Saturday and Sunday nights. With a huge screen behind them, Portishead bring the music of Dummy and Portishead into the same irradiated, Threads-evoking space occupied by their finest album, Third. Adrian Utley’s thin, needling guitar gets under the skin, turning it into Geiger crackling, and the minimal tensile beats of Machinegun et al are deeply unnerving. All of you who go on about how Beth Gibbons is a strangely aloof figure (largely, it seems, because she doesn’t bother talking to herberts like us, which is fair enough really) ought know that she executed a pretty impressive crowd surf at the end of Saturday’s performance, but most importantly once again showed she has one of the most distinctive voices in music today, not to mention one that is able to perfectly convey Portishead’s atmosphere of futuristic dread. It really is now bizarre that Portishead became seen by many who weren’t properly listening as music for posh potheads: listen to this on the green and you’ll be throwing grandma outside covered in a sheet for later collection by the authorities. This collection of weird, run-down buildings on the Jersey Shore couldn’t have made for a better setting for a dose of this unsettling music, heard as if from another time.

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