I last posted on this blog 3 years ago after visiting Shellac’s ATP at Camber Sands. Life got too busy and I forgot about the blog. I didn’t realise at the time it was to be my last ATP because they wound up the enterprise the following year.
It was a shame, ATP was my favourite festival, a chance to just immerse yourself in great music without having to endure the festival horror of pebbledashed portaloos and the Great British climate. A place where you can dance like a tit and not be judged too harshly. I was really pleased when earlier this year ATP started putting out the feelers over whether there was any interest in the festival being rebooted.
So I’ve just returned from The Chapman Brother’s Nightmare Before Christmas and the personal verdict is that it was chuffin’ brilliant.
The festival experience got off to a damp start on the A road crossing into North Wales where we were suddenly assailed by heavy rain and squally winds. We trundled into Pontins only to be greeted by security guards with sniffer dogs and a line of soggy and shivering punters queueing to collect their wrist bands. Along with the drab concrete chalet blocks and waterlogged carpark it seemed that Banksy had been substituted as the curator.
Security was a little more assertive this year, I was stopped twice returning to the park and asked to give my details and line up for the sniffer dog. I’m so used to revelling in a comfortable middle age that I’d forgotten what it’s like to be treated like a drug dealer. I guess from a distance I kinda look like Walter White.
On the whole security were friendly but twitchy. I was at the Oh Sees set on Sunday and they stopped the performance because security were being rough in ejecting a female. I guess this is what going to a gig is going to be like in the aftermath of the Bataclan murders, but it was a very minor negative on an otherwise friendly festival.
Pontins as a whole was a good experience, the chalets were basic but well heated and insulated (at least mine was) which was good considering the wind and the rain that rarely let up for the entire weekend.
Our chalet was across from the sea and I attempted a stroll along the sea front but the waves were just thrashing against the sea defences and the wind would just propel you forwards. It certasinly blew the cobwebs away and I got a sand and saltwater exfoliating facial for free.
Everyone bar the security were really friendly and chilled. I can remember being grateful to a group of guys who had found a way of making those claw grabbing games deliver a prize each time. I was really pleased that I managed to get a day glo penguin and plastic piggy bank before the scales fell from my eyes and I realised I’d overestimated the monetary value of the tat I’d spent £2 securing. I cheered up by watching post gig Om rotating serenely on the Tea Cup Carousel in the arcade area. They’d earlier given a cosmic set with deep sonorous bass and arabic scales, it felt kinda spacey, spiritual, shamanic et al . It sent me off into my own inner space where I too felt like I was slowly rotating in a tea cup orbiting a super massive black hole.
The line up was very good, lot of surprises such as Mueran Humanos, Suuns and Chelsea Wolfe and the acts I was really looking forward to; Holly Herndon, Lightning Bolt and Blanck Mass really delivered the goods. It was true of a lot of the acts that they would lock into a motorik groove and you would just be enveloped in the music and get drawn into your own little head space. Great smashing super.
The gig spaces at Prestatyn were much better than the equivalents at Minehead, I had found Reds cramped and the stage in the dome too open, echoey and redolent of hotdog ming. Pyewackets and the Secret Stage felt more like a regular gig space and the PA systems were full and beefy.
I saw most of the bands and can’t think of a bad one, although I chickened out of Russell Haswell after just 5 seconds on scronking noise. I love noise gigs (hell I can even dance to Merzbow) but my synapses were needing something more emollient at the time. I made the decision not to fret about recording anything and just go with the experience, sometimes it’s better to forgo documenting everything and just enjoy the moment. So no reviews as such, just the bits that stood out.
Saw first Dead Rider. The park was still sparsely attended so there must of been just two dozen or so people at the performance. It was a shame because I liked their twisting loping style. Todd Rittmann prowled the stage giving of an aura of threat and nervous tension. They reminded me a little of Oxbow with the schizoid blues vibe. Very good.
I caught Chelsea Wolfe for the first time. Her music had a deep melancholic undercurrent, I felt myself drifting on a sea of resonant bass waves, slowly sinking in to the depths.
Lightning Bolt were a force of nature. they played on the stage rather than in the audience but their frenetic blast beats and manic fret abuse still felt very primal. My fillings are still vibrating from the aftershock.
My copilot Spookyfruit played me some Suuns on the drive up, Motorik on the motorway helps eat up the miles. They jammed with Jerusalem in my Heart and I found myself lapsing into my customary swaying to side to side with my eyes closed and mild synaesthesia. Nice.
Things start getting fuzzy now, I saw The Notwist perform Neon Golden with its fizzy fidgety beats and nagging pop hooks as well as The Album Leaf and Loop (who were surprisingly unhirsute, they’d been forever frozen in my minds eye in their 1989 hairier incarnation). They were much sharper and focussed than I anticipated, I guess I was expecting slow space rock jamming.
I wanted to see Micachu and the Shapes but I turned up at their time slot and found Xylouris White instead. I dunno whether they pulled out or rescheduled or was just too discombobulated to be in the right place at the right time.
As mentioned earlier the evening ended with rinsing the claw grabber machine of plushy tat and watching Om rovolving and rotating.
I’d been drinking absinth the night before (La Fee – highly recommended, smooth and sweet and delivers a nice glow to the chest, your body feels pissed but your mind feels clear). I woke up surprisingly energised and decided that walking along the sea front during a gale would be a good constitutional.
I dipped in and out of the bands that afternoon. Holly Herndon’s set stood out. She was accompanied by Mr Colin Self and some other guy (sorry can’t remember his name) puffing on an inhalator. Whilst the crunching bass tones and gated vocal fragments agitated the airspace Holly would type messages to the audience, it certainly created a feeling of connection between her and the crowd. Colin Self started a bout of very fierce dancing, pushing away against invisible walls and throwing shapes with a pulsing LED array in his gob like a mime artist on meth.
The two halves of the Fuck Buttons played separate sets. Andrew Hung’s performance was very bouncy and sproingy with a chip tune wonkiness. You couldn’t help grinning / gurning depending on level of intoxication. Blanck Mass were more epic and propulsive and it was impossible to stay still. Did I mention that I was doing a lot of “not staying still”, probably more so than any previous festival.
More bands, more beer, less focussed memories, more an impression of bass drum noises like hot tarmac poured onto contact mics, juddering bass waves pummelling my solar plexus the floor feeling progressvely spongier.
Pub quiz – came fourth, woo hoo. Good way to slowly recharge after two nights of excess and poor quality sleep.
Highlights – Follakzoid (Chilean Krautrock oh yes!)
Total control – they sound like a distillation of 80’s synth pop / rock, elements of The Normal , Warsaw, Wolfsheim but they seem to make a space of their own rather than seeming like a pastiche a la Primal Scream. I really liked their set, they have a really strong melodic edge, great choruses and hooks.
The final act I saw was also my favourite of the festival. Mueran Humanos were completely new to me but I thought their mix of motorik grooves and Spanish declamations really absorbing. I can’t really add anymore to that other than seek out their music, me gusta mucho!
Until next time (hopefully there will be a next time).