All Tomorrow’s Parties is the UK’s world-renowned alternative music festival. Mark Robertson watches the new film that celebrates a decade of its existence
A young man, at the head of a throng of people, kneels in front of a performing drummer, his hands either side of the drummer’s floor tom. The man is shouting, nay pleading with the drummer through a variety of emphatic hand gestures. Growing more desperate, he appears to be shouting ‘Thirteen’! The drummer takes note, before unleashing a battery of furious beats. The man, request answered, explodes into life, jerking back and forth, only the wide grin on his face suggests rapture rather than torture. The camera pulls out to show a row of young people furiously air drumming; a team of grinning, grimacing Energizer bunnies lost in the whirlpool of the music.
This intimate exchange between gently unhinged fan and similarly unhinged musician (the drummer was Brian Chippendale from US noise rock two-piece Lightning Bolt) is only one of a number of perfect, capturing moments from All Tomorrow’s Pa r t i e s, a new film made to celebrate ten ragged, wayward years of the UK’s flagship alternative music festival of the same name. essence
Held in out-of-season holiday camps in the south of England, each ATP event is curated by a single artist or band who choose a programme comprising their particular set of tastes, rather than the acts who happen to be out touring at that given time. There’s no corporate sponsorship. There are no headliners. The result is a refreshing deviation from the festival norm.
30 THE LIST 22 Oct–5 Nov 2009
The film embodies that same collective spirit. It credits almost 200 directors – the film was constructed from almost 1000 hours of footage captured by organisers, fans and artists – and the focus is very much on the experience of being at ATP rather than just delivering a roll call of live performances. That said, the live cast list is pretty breathtaking, including Belle & Sebastian, Iggy and the Stooges, Grinderman, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Shellac, Mogwai, GZA, Daniel Johnston, Gossip, Battles, Sonic Youth and Slint.
The film also captures the frequent impromptu performances and the (mis)adventures in the swimming pool, amusement arcade or chalets after dark that all add to a typical ATP weekend. There’s also a wealth of set pieces, like Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore wielding a microphone, quizzing bemused French kids about how to battle against ‘corporatised teen culture’, and Portishead’s legendarily reclusive Beth Gibbons leaping offstage to dish out high fives and hugs to audience members during the band’s set. This is the essence of ATP, inter-cut with old footage from 1950s holiday camps. What few people know is that the original concept came from Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian. Barry Hogan, the public face and founder of ATP, takes up the story.
‘It started off with the Bowlie Weekender in 1999. I was booking Belle & Sebastian’s gigs in London, and then they just came to me and said they had this idea and it should be a gig on a holiday camp. We did it and it was great but Stuart said “I think we should leave it as a one-off”. But a lot of people were kicking themselves that they didn’t get to go to it and I just felt it was too good an idea to let go. So, I asked them if we could continue it.’
The film premiered at Edinburgh International Film Festival in June with a holiday camp themed event
manned by red coats, and a live performance by Mogwai followed by a round of bingo. This month there’s another special screening with a live performance from US rock hedonists Les Savy Fav. Bassist Syd Butler is quick to praise ATP both as a fan and musician. ‘The most important thing about ATP is there’s a connection, it feels personal,’ he explains. ‘The bands party with the fans and get to know their fans, and the fans get to know the bands they love. With something like T in the Park there’s nothing new to discover. With ATP, the curator might invite a band you have never heard of, that has only sold 100 records, but blows your mind.’
But the question remains, given the festival’s Scottish roots and the convenience of Butlin’s in Ayr, would Hogan ever consider an ATP Scotland? ‘It’s funny, it came up in conversation again recently,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t rule it out, as so many people from Scotland come down to the event, and given that you’ve got Butlin’s, that was where Stuart Murdoch worked and inspired the whole thing, so I wouldn’t say we’re doing it, but maybe one day.’
Les Savy Fav play as part of the All Tomorrow’s Parties screening at ABC, Glasgow, Sat 24 Oct. The All Tomorrow’s Parties DVD is out Mon 2 Nov.