Now into its 11th year, the first ATP festival of 2010 was curated by creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening. Having successfully done the job at the 2003 festival in Long Beach, California, it was now time to try his hand at the UK’s home at the 6,000 capacity Butlins in Minehead.
The trip down to Minehead passes in a haze. The effects of sitting up to an ungodly hour expecting some kind of result in the General Election start to make those signs that say “Feeling Tired? Pull Over” resonate with an almost Biblical importance. A bellyful of energy drinks and the thought of an incendiary Stooges performance keep the eyelids rolled up and the foot pressed hard to the floor.
On arrival, Broadcast do their best to shuttle everyone off to the land of nod with a set full of ambient noise and a fluttering projection backdrop. Combined with what little of James Blackshaw‘s beautiful acoustic cerebral explorations that we caught earlier, it’s hardly the bang that a festival needs to get going. But Broadcast’s performance set the tone for one of the themes that became apparent over the rest of the weekend – Groening had conceptual art in mind when he chose some of the acts.
There were no such namby-pamby concerns for the first act to play on the big Pavilion stage. Currently touring with Dinosaur Jr (a surprising omission from the line-up as J Mascis is such a fixture at ATP that he’s an honorary Redcoat), Built To Spill put in the first incredible performance of the weekend. It’s no surprise that each of these songs hits home with such efficiency considering the tireless perfectionism of band leader Doug Martsch. A massive guitar sound fills the pavilion, soaring with a passion rarely heard in bands half their age. Each song is perfectly formed and composed, and with Martsch as an intense focal point they’re impossible to fault.
It’s a quick hop upstairs to see American synthpop types Cold Cave. Their sounds is dark and beatsy, and with ex-Mika Miko frontwoman Jennifer Clavin in the mix they come across like a gutsier version of We Have Band. Unfortunately the lighting is so sparse, it’s impossible to see much of them at all, and after a while we head back downstairs for Iggy And The Stooges.
Not content with coining it in selling insurance, Iggy Pop has a team of what can only be termed usherettes scattered around the Pavilion holding trays crammed with memory sticks, these populated by a live performance of Raw Power on MP3. There’s something uncomfortable and street teamingly cynical about it, and the added disappointment that they’re not carrying ice cream is crushing.
Such concerns are pretty much wiped out as soon as Iggy hits the stage. In the middle of a very well received European tour of the Raw Power album, the ATP crowd are instead treated to a more eclectic set taking in other works as well. Sixty-three he may be but he’s got the energy of a hyperactive toddler. He’s hobbling about like he needs a couple of new hips, but the likes of I Wanna Be Your Dog or Raw Power still have a ragged youthfulness. The stage invasion of Shake Appeal is a bit hokey and the sound is appalling at times, but the sheer spectacle of the show is undeniably impressive. Mike Watt puts in an amazing shift replacing Dave Alexander as the Stooges bass player. It’s heartwarming to hear him receive an absolutely deafening roar of approval when Iggy introduces him later on. Obviously there’s a lot of Minutemen/Firehouse fans in attendance.
A regime of no sleep and a large quantity of lager is not conducive for consciousness. Toumani Diabat‘s hypnotic versions of traditional Mand songs don’t help either, and as his fingers trip over the 21 strings of his kora an array of dreamlands make themselves available. The musicianship on display is simply stunning; notes fill the air at a seemingly impossible rate while the chants that drive the songs invoke a drooling trance from a number of punters.
Groening is visible throughout the weekend, giving back to the fans by way of lengthy signings and just generally seen hanging about. He’s not the only one. Daniel Johnston was spotted at the all you can eat Pizza Hut buffet, and there were reports of Shonen Knife doing their grocery shopping in the local Tesco’s. Groening magically appeared to introduce Jill Sobule, the first act to play on the Reds stage. An antidote to the larger than life performances elsewhere, Sobule appears alone carrying just her guitar and rattles through some gorgeous and humorous tales of daily life. Her audience seems as genuinely surprised by how delightful her set is, as she seems taken aback by the warm reception.
The cartoon colours of Shonen Knife serve as a reminder that the King Of Cartoons is responsible for the weekend. They’ve had some line-up changes since forming in 1981, but Naoko Yamano remains the frontwoman and, such is her lust for life and youthful vim, it seems amazing that the band released their first album back in 1983. Thanks to the patronage of a certain Kurt Cobain, they were one of the first Japanese bands to make an impression in the UK back in the early ’90s. Yet it is wholly plausible that their cute pop songs might have made an impression regardless. Tonight’s show is a manic performance of material mainly culled from latest album Super Group, and they attack them like the Powder Puff Girls on speed. Each song is a perfectly formed pop gem, dealing with important lyrical matters like sushi and pyramids, and while the cover versions are generally a bit naff, their reworking of Jet gets everyone onside.
That explosion of primary colours is quickly tempered by Liars, who hit the stage bathed in red light and very little else. Frontman Angus Andrew is a striking presence, prowling the stage like a man possessed, occasionally prodding at some effects to distort his voice dramatically. “I’m on acid, so I hope this sounds alright” he mumbles as the band explodes into the nihilistic rumble of A Killer Slant – naturally it sounds terrifying and absolutely perfect. The cacophony the band evokes through their set positively drips with menace and an unhinged lunacy that is somewhat troubling. Any thoughts of getting any sleep tonight are instantly dashed at the thought of a bug-eyed Andrew cruising the site after hours looking for a victim.