Live Review | All Tomorrow Parties curated by Jeff Mangum, Butlins, Minehead, UK, 09-11.03.12
Thurston Moore – who from a distance looks exactly the same as a decade ago when I last saw him play, all hair and plaid shirt – seems to be playing material from his solo album of decade ago rather than his acoustic stuff from last year but I like it a lot. Maybe because, unsurprisingly, it makes the same sort of Moebius-twisted shapes as Sonic Youth. Moore is a master of harmonics; he coaxes microtonal dramatics out of top-end heavy blasts of noise, two guitars, a violin (no bass) whipping up a trebly squall. “What’s new?” he says. Yes, well. What is? New isn’t a priority here. Does that matter?
Jon Spencer plays his usual dirty blues – a double dose of old that has end-of-the-evening me thinking of Status Quo, despite or because of his mesmerising shiny leather kecks and the tremendous righteous battering he gives to ancient rock’n’roll tropes. By this point in the day – he comes on at one in the morning – everyone is too fucked to care; we’re down to bloodthumping basics.
Scratch Acid, Saturday’s main stage closer, pass summa cum laude the, er, acid test of whether a band entirely unknown to the listener can engage them; no enhancements, no performance-boosters of nostalgia or familiarity or celebrity or reference points or fondness, just the bare bones of an experience, the playing of the music. I know its illustrious spawn, Jesus Lizard and Rapeman, but I’ve never heard a note of Scratch Acid before and don’t expect much of it. But each successive song has me edging forward, out of my seat and onto the floor until by midset I am mid-mosh where a bare-chested David Yow is being carried aloft on the crowd. Scratch Acid make the kind of furious noisy mess that makes me want to singalong raucously even though I don’t know a single word. It makes me stamp and shout and grin. It makes me rush up to Yow an hour later and gush at him about how brilliant he was (and he seems genuinely touched by my enthusiasm, gives me a hug and wishes me nothing but the best. Agh, starstruck!).
Then, two successive afternoons, out of the Spring sunshine and into the glitterball dancehall, there’s Boredoms. Boredoms turn out to be so transcendentally awesome that their performance alone is justification for the continued existence of ATP and I thank Jeff Mangum from the bottom of my uplifted heart for having the intelligence and savvy to put them on. To put them on twice, even! No one can follow them. Earth suffer particularly in this respect, their trancey drones ample consciousness-altering fodder in the usual course of things, but no match for mass post-Boredoms euphoria. (Review to follow.) [Please! – Ed]
So what’s new? Does it matter that a festival schedules mostly oldies for oldies? I guess not. Music isn’t linear. There’s no “progress” being made, just evolution, revolution, change. What’s the difference in discovering Scratch Acid like a revelatory noise rock thunderbolt from the blue and hearing Pussy Riot for the first time if both make your heart skip a beat? Music is only notes; the listener provides as much context as the era it sprung from. Heart-racing excellence isn’t confined to the new. So party on, ATP. You bring new things to mix, even if they’re decades old. If it were me picking a line-up, I’d ramp up the girl quota and keep the dinosaurs down to no more than a quarter of the acts. But even if you’re reconfirming prejudices and preferences in some of your attendees then I’m going to have to let it go, because in the end you are dealing in love and thrills. And I’m all for that.