Marnie Stern, Wild Flag, Factory Floor, Nissenenmondai @ ATP Festival, Butlins, Minehead
This ATP Nightmare Before Christmas seems to be, in many people’s opinions, one of the best so far, even though it didn’t sell out and the main stage wasn’t in operation. Three different curators meant varied audiences and the possibility for adventuring into things you maybe wouldn’t normally listen to, and yet quality was fantastic: not at many festivals could you go to any stage at any time and see something thoroughly awesome. It was also a really good call to have two performances by each curator – one at the beginning and one at the end of the day, which meant more people had a chance to go, and some could even see it twice (and compare how perceptions differ at 3pm and 3am.) Add to this all the accompanying attractions and you’ll find very little time left for rest. The chalets mean you could at least rest in peace (that is, in a warm bed) and two or three hours were enough to recharge.
It is, however, disappointing how few women artists were included in the line-up. Of all 44 performing musicians, only 8 (18%) were female or had female members. The diversity audit yields similarly low results for the rest of the programming: the book club recommended 14 books, out of which one (7%) authored by a woman, the cinema screened 15 films out of which two (13%) directed or co-directed by women, and both lectures and an exhibition were done by men. The balance in the audience was perhaps a little less skewed,but with women still in the minority.
It would really feel so much better if ATP took an effort to make itself more diverse and inclusive and a really great feature that encouraged this was the afternoon mix swap that happened on Saturday – you weresupposed to prepare a 10-song mix cd, with title and artwork, and swap it with a stranger at the event. As people started gathering in the Pavillion around 3pm, you could walk up to anyone offering your mix and getting theirs in return. Although occasionally awkward, this was a great opportunity to make new
friends, write down their blog or tumblr or twitter, and then, coming back home in a state of acute ATP withdrawal, listen to some great songs on a cd that was curated for you by another music obsessive. the girls are made a very nice new friend, Natalie, and then every time we’d bump into each other during the remaining two days of the festival, we’d both light up, shout “Mixtape friend! Mixtape friend!” and exchange some enthusiastic comments about the bands we just saw. This illustrates some of the unique, friendly atmosphere at ATP, which makes it such an exceptional festivalon so many levels.
All Tomorrow’s Parties began as a festival by and for people who love music. Now it’s also label and a concert brand. ATP concerts organise gigs and festivals – and stages at other people’s festivals – in New York, Japan, Australia… Butlins.
ATP has a serious, dedicated, maybe a little bit obsessive following: has any other festival promoter asked fans to co-curate it ? How many other festivals can get bands to re-form to play at it? How many other festivals ask the bands and musicians to curate, not only the line-ups, but an accompanying cinema, TV and ‘extra-curricular’ schedule? Not to mention: festival goers stay in chalets. With water: Hot. Running. Water. So, is there anything wrong with this halcyon idyll for anyone who has ever listened to a song that made them sublimate to a different plane of being? Only the false note that rings through the rest of the music industry: the festivals tend to be sausage fests. Put plainly: there just aren’t that many women, musicians or punters, proportionally to the men. This is a larger problem, and is something that ATP have arguably done more than others to rectify: one of 2009’s festivals was curated by the Breeders and had moderately higher lady representation, including that weekend’s visual artist in residence, Tara McPherson.
The 2011 Nightmare Before Christmas festival took place over a wet, windy December weekend and had three curators: Les Savy Fav, Battles and Caribou. All male and all excellent artists. So what did the boys have in store for us? Sausage of course, but lady musicality was represented as well. The women musicians on the programme are part of a cohort that is pushing barriers, boundaries and creating some of the most enervating new music of recent times.
Friday, curated by Les Savy Fav.
The girls are throng in with all the other eager beavers who’d arrived bushy-tailed enough to see Marnie Stern in her early time slot of 6pm.
Marnie Stern is a woman who enjoys talking about vagina, apparently at all her shows, and this set at sweaty Butlins, Minehead receives her polished patter of anecdotes about her and her friends lovely lady bits. Bassist Matthew Flegel joyfully joins in and encourages these musings before they, and drummer Zach Hill, launch into the mayhem of their next song, ‘Ruler’.
Marnie’s music is rambunctious, rainbow-coloured, rowdy. She creates punching rhythms that force your body to move: before the girls are realise it, we are dancing. Marnie’s set is an aperitif for the evening to come: Les Savy Fav have taken the festival at its name and have programmed some of the most party-tastic acts that they could get their hands on.
Marnie sets the scene for the bands to come. There are no surprises in her set, but it is fun. It makes us want to throw up our hands and shimmy our hips and talk about our vaginas to rooms full of strangers (okay maybe that’s just Marnie). What she lacks in innovation she makes up for in invigoration. Here’s the long and short of it: Marnie Stern is Fun. (AO)
Wild Flag: four women who carry a weight of expectation. Their former reputations precede them, at least for the ATP crowd which tends to pride itself on its greater incidence of geek-level music knowledge. It’s fair to speculate that the fans gathered here to watch Wild Flag tonight are aware of the band’s heritage. And for this band, if you know their heritage then you know what to expect. The ladies who make up this band are femme-rock legends: their former bands include Sleater Kinney, Helium and The Minders.
The chemistry between the women in Wild Flag, Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Rebecca Cole and Janet Weiss, is palpable in tonight’s solid set. They exude a cool who-you-talking-to attitude. If this is a carry-over style from their previous bands, the crowd don’t seem to mind as Wild Flag fling out riff after riff after joyful riff. They are one of the very few guitar-led bands on the programme for this weekend, but they hold their own. The set is, of necessity, made up of new songs, but they are received like old standards. ‘Electric Band’ sets the crowd jumping, ‘Glass Tambourine’ sets the crowd pouting and flicking up their collars. Carrie Brownstein leads her gang with the self-assuredness of a headline act.
Wild Flag’s songs have a distinct feel of retro, vintage cool to them. They do have a modern edge but there is an audible referencing to past paradigms in Brownstein and Timony’s dual vocals. The four women come together with lashings of aggro in their hooks and belligerence in their vocal boomerang-ing. Their music gives the feeling that you get between the tequila and the salt, caught in a convulsive moment, a second before an ecstatic shudder. The girls are want to be in Wild Flag’s gang. Their gang sounds cool. Their gang sounds awesome. (AO)
Saturday, curated by Battles
When the girls are texted a friend asking if he was going to see Nissenenmondai’s early set on Saturday, he thought I’d made a hungover typo. The band, Sayaka Himeno (drums), Yuri Zaikawa (bass), and Masako Takada (guitar) have been playing together for over 10 years, recorded more than 12 albums, and still don’t have a Wikipedia page. Their name, which according to their website means “computer bug problem of 2000 year,” marks their own personal year zero, but also manages to transcribe some of their sound – long, confusing, repetitive, exciting. Nissenenmondai would disagree – they believe in no words, only sound. Hence no singing, makeshift song titles, and a proclamation that “we don’t think anything. We want no meaning.” They achieve that effect – it’s hard to put Nissenenmondai’s performance in words. Not quite noise, edging towards techno, stretched out but highly danceable, instantly taking over your brain and putting you close to the intended “point where there are no words.”
They played ‘Mirrorball’ and ‘Fan’, but the whole thing sounded like one long slowly unravelling jam which once at the breaking point, held it for a very long time, and every time you thought it was about to finish, it would morph itself into a new variation on itself and recommence with just as much vigor. The band’s drummer was a performance in herself: she totally steals each show by being the smallest and most delicate yet wildly energetic, or, as one review put it, “like Animal on Ritalin.” Her hi-hat antics were enough to leave you amazed, wide-eyed, and totally into it, even though it was only 4pm. (MO)
Sunday, curated by Caribou
The third day of ATP: a day when the parties of the nights before weigh heavily on the livers and eyelids. Not traditionally a day for dancing and a notoriously tricky day for curators to get right. We’re lucky then, that Caribou is curating this day. The man has genius music taste and has programmed his day with mathematical efficiency in order to inspire even the most partied out music fan.
Factory Floor are an integral part of this master-plan: they have built up a reputation over the past 18 months of marrying brutal noise to shivering beats. Tonight they carve another notch in their winning at festivals bedposts. The harshness of their sound seems to be mellowing with each show, but their entertainment value increases. Although none of the band bother with banter – they launch headlong into their set and don’t break for breath – they are mesmerising. The dance floor is awash with bodies, jerking and splaying to Factory Floor’s insistent rhythms. Behind the band there are projected neon geometric patterns. The patterns fluctuate with the music. It’s all very hypnotic and aggressive all at once. At the end of the set singer Nic Colk Void raises her arm in salute, as if to say, ‘Well done for surviving’. It was an aural assault and it was worth it. (AO)