Tuesday, December 03, 2013

sometimes it's nice to meet your heroes - End of an Era 2, the final ATP holiday camp festival and Mike Watt

The ATP festival concept was brilliant but sadly it has now run it's course.  This weekend I attended the ATP chalet festival at Camber Sands in Rye.  For work and financial reasons I never made it to the early festivals but I always looked at the line-ups with awe.  A good friend of mine plays in Mogwai and actually curated the first ATP festival but the first one I made it to was curated by Jeff Mangum in 2012.  I loved that experience and went back to the Deerhunter event this summer.

I was sad to hear that the festivals were ending.  I am not privy to the reasons for this but running a big festival has to be difficult in harsh financial climates.  Pontins certainly did not roll out the red carpet for guests this time, requiring us to bring our own linen.

The line-up for this festival was brilliant and contained many personal favourites. Slint, Shellac, Loop, Girls Against Boys, Michael Rother, Mike Watt and of course Mogwai.  Attendance was required despite my fears about the notoriously unpredictable late November weather.  In the end I made it to Camber Sands without any snow having made a stop at the British Museum on the way.

Pontins is not scenic and reminds me of my home town of East Kilbride.  I guess it provides an appropriate back drop for alternative rock but I wouldn't want to spend an actual holiday here.

On the first night I saw Thought Forms, a band I was unfamiliar with.  They made some cool Sonic Youth-y noises and jumped about.  I liked what I heard so I bought up their back catalogue.  I'll look out for them in the future.
Thought Forms

After Thought Forms I caught Om and the Fuck Buttons set.  Om were intense with a great Sabbath/stoner rock sound.  I have a few records by Sleep, the band that Om developed from and they were just as good.  After that the Fuck Buttons hit the stage.  They made some great noises.  I don't have any of their records but I enjoyed seeing them.  Finishing off Friday night was a one-two whammy of Shellac and Slint. 

I saw Shellac in Glasgow last weekend and this was the 5th time that I have seen them since 1994.  I bought the first Shellac singles as they came out back in 1993 and they have always been one of my favourite bands.  They played a great set although they were oddly quiet (dodgy PA).  They even played 'wingwalker'.

Shellac wearing their evening suits

Slint too had a quiet PA but it was great to see them again.  They played most of Spiderland as well as a track from Tweez and a track from their EP.  I had hoped that we might have seen more of the mythical Slint documentary film but there was no joy.  After the concert I ended up in the Mogwai party chalet and in a drunken haze I met David Pajo.  He seems like a nice guy, even when confronted with an intoxicated Scottish Danzig fan.

The next morning was a bit of a red wine haze.  I woke up early and went to Camber Sands beach to contemplate infinity.  Camber is probably fairly nice in the summer but it's a really small town.  I wouldn't want to live there.  The locals were nice but the holiday camp is certainly grim.  This time we brought food with us so we didn't have to buy overpriced rubbish in the Nisa store or toxic waste from the onsite food outlets.

The beach itself is beautiful.  I took a few photos before my hangover really kicked in.  I was able to watch the Dismemberment Plan play a set that drew heavily from 'emergency & I' but after that I had to lie down for a bit to prepare myself for the evenings festivities.  After my much needed beauty sleep I caught a bit of 23 Skidoo and the Pop Group.  Neither band really set my world on fire but it was nice to see 'we are all prostitutes' played live.

Comets on Fire were a different thing altogether.  They took to the smaller downstairs stage and tore the place apart.  I've been listening to a couple of their albums which are enjoyable enough.  The recordings did not prepare me for the rock fury of the band on stage.  Blending Mudhoney, the Stooges and Sabbath they sent an electric shock through the crowd.  Rocktastic.
Comets on Fire
I had been listening to Loop stuff in an attempt to prepare myself for this concert.  I sort of missed Loop as a teenager spending more time listening to Spacemen 3.  In recent months I have taken a bit of a crash course in their stuff but it didn't really click until I saw them live.  They managed to make an immense noise with the hitherto 'polite' upstairs PA system.  Their repetitive drones drove the crowd mad and a plague of crowd surfing spread though the room.  To ice the cake they encored with 'mother sky' by Can.  I was grinning from ear to ear.  Once more I retired to the Mogwai party chalet where I had a close encounter with some rather nice 15 year old Glenlivet.  I stumbled back to my chalet at around 3am with a smile on my face.

My hangover was a bit worse on Sunday.  I managed to reconstitute myself in time for the Michael Rother set at 3:30pm.  It was pretty good but I preferred the Neu heavy set that I caught in Primavera a few years before.  My recovery was complete in time for the Mike Watt set.  He was playing ll Sogno Del Marinaio, a sort of opera about sailors.  It was nice, instrumental passages with intermittent vocal flourishes. He finished his set with a cover of Funhouse by the Stooges (i think).  Watt is a great hero of mine but I'll return to this topic in due course.

Mike Watt
After Watt came Girls Against Boys.  I've been listening to Girls against Boys for many, many years. I saw them 2 or 3 times in the mid nineties but I haven't seen them for a long long time.  I was rather excited to see them again and I wasn't disappointed.  The sound was slightly ropey during the first song but they managed to shine anyway.  They kicked off with 'tucked in' before playing an action packed set.  The strength of the Girls Against Boys back catalogue was highlighted by the fact that they managed to play a great show despite missing out classics like 'I don't got a place' and 'sexy sam'.  The new songs that they played held their own against the old material.  It's a shame that GVSB never had the success they deserved.

Girls Against Boys

The next big discovery of the weekend was Goat.  Goat are a Swedish band that wear masks and play intoxicating rhythms.  They make you want to dance.  I suspect them to be the Knife in disguise but I am told that this is not the case.
Goat going bongo crazy

Finally the last ever ATP festival was closed by one of the best bands on earth. Mogwai.  I cannot write an objective word about mogwai, especially when they got me drunk all weekend and gave me a stage access pass for their set.  However, I will honestly say that they played a brilliant set.  The new material is amazing (especially 'remurdered' and 'blues hour').  I remember first hearing them play Helicon 1 about 18 years ago in a very small room and seeing them playing it again in a very big room in front of some very excited fans was great.  Mogwai curated the first ATP festival and it was fitting that they closed the last one.
Mogwai playing mexican grand prix

After they finished the DJ played 'Teenage Riot' by Sonic Youth and it was all over.  The crowd went mad.  I was able to nip on stage and take some photos of the departing crowd.  Somehow I had found the 'make everything look drunk' button on my camera.  I ended up in the surprise party for Barry Hogan at 2:30am.  I shouldn't really have been there (although I was again abducted by the 'gwai) but it was nice to hear his words on a series of events that have meant a lot to people with good taste.  I don't know what he'll do next but I'm sure it'll be good.

As a coda to an amazing festival I had an amazing experience on the train from Rye to Ashford.  I met Mike Watt on the platform and I spent about 30 minutes talking to him.  SST punk was a big thing for me and I remember first hearing the Minutemen after buying the Post-Mersh volume 3 CD from Tower Records one boxing day (maybe 1991?).  Watt is one of the nicest men alive and when he heard my accent he asked me if I knew Dep from Monorail Records.  When I told him that Dep had advised me on Minutemen records over the years he smiled.  I think he regards Dep as a sort of missionary.

Watt spoke about his need to constantly tour.  He sees life on the road as being like that of a sailor, like his father who was in the navy and served in Vietnam.  Watt told me that he saw little of his father growing up and that he feels he only got to know him in his thirties by which point he was dying of cancer.  Watt himself said that he had decided not to have children as he felt family life was incompatible with life on the road.

He suffers from arthritis and needs to have a knee operation next year.  He'll need to to take 6 months off from touring to do that.  He says that this will be difficult as he doesn't know what to do when he isn't touring.

He told me a bit about how he recorded some of his records, how they got free studio time to record one song but managed to record all of the first side of 'buzz or howl under the influence of heat' by pretending it was one song.  He told me that he originally wanted to use images from the magazine Scientific American for the cover (indeed the title came from Scientific American) but the photo cost too much so Joe Baiza drew a sketch of him and D Boon instead.

Watt is an inspirational musician and his life and words have meant a lot to me over the years.  After I finished talking to him, changing trains at Ashford International I listened to all 175 minutemen tracks on my iPod back to back.  They took me most of the way back to Glasgow.  I thought about the life of Mike Watt and how he has given so much to me.  I don't think he's a rich man but he is a good man.  Like most American musicians he won't have free health care and nobody buys records now so musicians have to tour to make money.  If anyone reads this think about buying a mike watt record (fIREHOSE/minutemen/anything) or go to a mike watt gig.  He's a good bloke.

With the ATP concept, Barry Hogan did a good thing and has given me some amazing experiences.  I hope he does something new, similar and brilliant again.  Maybe even in Scotland?