Live Review | All Tomorrow Parties curated by Jeff Mangum, Butlins, Minehead, UK, 09-11.03.12
Words: Lucy Cage
Photography: Michele Wade
Yeah, I can see why people hate All Tomorrow’s Parties, the alterno-music festival that’s held in a seaside holiday camp. Or hate the idea of it. Running your eye down a typical line-up makes you wonder what decade we’re in. What century even. Now spreading its cardinganny tentacles across the globe with Parties in Japan, Australia and America, it’s easy to cast ATP’s USP as nostalgia-merchandising for aging indie kids, to scoff at it for allowing a certain brand of music fan whose record collection/mind stopped expanding when they turned pipe’n’slippers at 35 to indulge in “Ah, now this is Proper Music! Kids today, eh?” mutterings while closing their weary ears to the marvels that are being dreamt up now. Is ATP essentially any different to the themed weekenders that this very same Butlins holds throughout the winter months, the Disco Infernos (no, not that one) and the Ultimate Eighties parties? Well, no. It isn’t. You could argue that the line-ups are much more consciously and creatively picked by their guest curators, that ATP’s idea of “alternative” is more strictly accurate than Butlins’ own (whose Great British Alternative Festival features The Beat, The Damned, Hazel O’Connor and, uh, Eddie And The Hot Rods), but you couldn’t really make a case for it being a different order of things. It’s still just a group of 30/40-somethings gathering in a holiday camp to get drunk and watch bands whose heyday was decades ago. Bear with me. I fucking loved ATP.
First of all, it’s a festival with beds. Roofs. Kettles. Hot showers and roast dinners. A total dearth of hippies and mud. We roll into Butlins after a long and mostly featureless drive, the last hour in gathering dusk and along the twisty country roads that lead from Taunton to the small beached hummock of a seaside town that is Minehead, to find our misleadingly-named chalet is actually a small third-floor apartment with sofa, table, kitchen, television etc. Oh joy! Cue cooing over the dishwasher and microwave, neither of which we would use over the course of the weekend. Although we do bake cakes and a huge pot of soup from which we replenish ourselves on between-bands chalet trips. (On Saturday I overhead a group of people making enthusiastic plans to cook venison stew and had to stop myself from snorting out loud.)
On the whole it’s a well-dressed and likeable crowd (no hippies, remember; no trustafarian twattishness, no “Uni” students in comedy hats). Everyone I meet from Sheffield is wearing a suit. Everyone from Leeds is absurdly cool. Everyone from Scotland knows everyone else from Scotland and is magnificently drunk. By Sunday afternoon I’ve been introduced to so many youngish/oldish men with beards that I’m smiling at all of them, just in case. There are lots of people here in the same glasses, you know the ones? Everyone over 40 looks like they’re in a seminal indie band. That’s quite an impressive look for oldsters to pull off and, to be fair, most of them probably are in a seminal indie band, given ATP’s remarkable lack of separation between performer and punter. Everyone here’s a geek-level fan. I discover the man in the peculiar hat I’d noticed in audiences throughout the weekend is a key member of Olivia Tremor Control. I see Alison from Young Marble Giants who played on the first day still smiling as she queues to get into the last act on Sunday. Eye from Boredoms down the front for The Raincoats. Mike Scott from The Waterboys (who weren’t playing) agog at Joanna Newsom. Low take a 30-strong crowd jogging along the seafront on Sunday morning. It’s all rather egalitarian and lovely.
Above all, ATP brings you the music its curator loves, the music they want to hear played live even if the band in question split up years ago. It’s all about being head-over-heels in love with music.