…For All Tomorrow’s Parties
Fit For One Who Sits And Cries/For All Tomorrow’s Parties, by Bianca Cornale
Over a sweltering weekend, some of the world’s most influential musicians touched down in Altona, Melbourne. And don’t worry, nobody else has heard of Altona either. The reason? All Tomorrow’s Parties returned to Australia for B-Side festival, I’ll Be Your Mirror, that was co-curated by The Drones.
During the two days of Melbourne’s All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival comparisons abounded regarding the venue choice. Thee Oh Sees vocalist John Dwyer quipped it as an airport hangar. Others said it looked like a cross between Cockatoo Island and Guantanamo Bay. The Westgate Sports and Leisure Complex seemed like the locale of an elementary school’s low budget athletics carnival. And in reality as All Tomorrow’s Parties is a festival sans corporate sponsorship, the budget is low via keeping “The Man” at bay. Organisers seemed to skimp out on important things like air-con and seating, especially at the main stage where it was desperately needed. But there was a jumping castle – so the Sports and Leisure Complex didn’t crap out completely.
A Californian takeover launched the festival; Sleepy Sun followed by Thee Oh Sees. Raucous enthusiasm was to follow as the San Franciscans blistered through their up-tempo rock and roll. Lo-fi vocal distortion, big muffed guitars and lyrical squealing was delivered true to form. They waisted none of their seventy minute set, shredding through songs that were simultaneously slack and tight, incongruous harmonies punctuated by characteristic yelps. Many audience members agreed that Thee Oh Sees were the strength of ATP. Their party vibe got the day off to a great start, and was missed later on as the music went to a dark place and stayed there.
The darkest of dark places were inhabited by godfathers of No Wave, Swans. In hindsight, one can more appreciate their mystic/hypnotic/apocalyptic live sound. But the sheer amount of noise coming from the group was completely overwhelming. Swans seemed determined to claw through eardrums en-route to the soul. Their dual drummers were most effective in Coward, shattering through an intro before frontman Michael Gira growled disquietingly “put your knife in me, walk away.” The vocalist and curator of Swans snarled through songs spanning their thirty year career, and was conducting on high like he stood atop an orchestra pit, rather than a mosh pit. He gestured to his band in an impossible attempt for more, though one cannot possibly fathom how the relentless wall of sound could be surpassed.
Vacationing from the heat and dystopia of Swans – to the haven of stage 2, Melbourne-born/Iceland-based Ben Frost (pictured, left) was creating his own kind of unnerving. One doesn’t really know how to explain Ben Frost – except to say that his music deals a lot with contrast. Aurally opulent yet simultaneously pained; Ben Frost uses instruments in strange ways to produce strange sounds. Frost thrives off harnessing his feedback and distortion to layer with dissident suspended notes. Add into the mix sampled titbits from earlier albums subsidised into newer tracks and the Ice-Stralian did a bloody good fucking job of his atmospheric set.
Back on the main stage Godspeed You! Black Emperor were prepping their nine-piece collective to play. But nobody could have prepped the audience. People were literally dropping like flies – the back half of the pit sprawled with reclining bodies as fans attempted to take it all in. Though it’s not often a band with a strings section without vocals would fit a festival setting, Godspeed You! Black Emperor were a beautifully melancholic addition. Indeed their recordings do little to attest to Godspeed’s live show, where the wall of sound is darkly thrilling, simultaneously uplifting and bleak. Oh and plus their ATP set included some sweet visual accompaniment, as behind GYBE 8mm film was projected while mixed live. The imagery drew upon their Eastern European flair and for a moment it was easy to confuse Altona for early 20th century Russia.
Day One’s line-up was emotionally dense. From Swans to Ben Frost to Godspeed there was not much respite from the intensity. Audiences teemed with feelings of shell-shock, trauma and emotional violation. All acts wonderful and all music amazing, but one needed a quick game of tennis in the games room and a whirl on the bouncy castle to remember what being happy is like.
Finally My Bloody Valentine took to the stage to polish off the last of ATP’s energy. And though the heavyweights transcend legendary status, there was definitely something amiss. Audiences pleaded not for merely more, but specifically for more vocals as MBV’s lyrics were even more inaudible than on recordings. And though their stoic stage performances are known for being mostly immobile, the veterans seemed to play with waning enthusiasm. While tracks Soon and To Here Knows Where were hugely gratifying to experience live, set closer You Made Me Realise berated the audience with twenty minutes of distorted feedback. And while some claimed they saw Jesus and he had the face of Kevin Shields, others had the distinct feeling it was as if MBV were trying to clear the arena for the post-show clean-up. Either way, My Bloody Valentine was a surprising disappointment, as everyone hoped against hope they would be a spiritual revelation, but circumstantially they did not live up to their own (though much deserved) notoriety.
So after a lengthy, hot, and emotionally turbulent day most audience members sought speedy refuge in the comfort of their beds. BUT NO, ALTONA. The provided transport was as bleak as a Swans song. Due to the lack of corporate funds, previously seen as so magical and puritan, there were limited amounts of shuttle buses to carry punters away from ATP. Ergo a two-hour wait. By the time the queues had all amassed on buses to North Melbourne Station, it became clear that trains had finished for the night. Meaning 200 tired and confused fans roaming the streets, attempting a dreary walk back to whence they came. It was an unequivocal clusterfuck.
And yet, the next day people again converged upon The Sports and Leisure Complex, this time a little wiser. Many did not return at all – some even selling their two-day wristbands the night before. As hangovers were slowly being drunk away there was an absence of yesterday’s stress to experience the line-up to end all line-ups. Meaning despite all qualms had with All Tomorrow’s Parties, Sunday proved to be a bloody ripper.
Festival curators The Drones obviously felt at home amongst the bands they had handpicked for the weekend. Highlights were not surprisingly Shark Fin Blues and The Minotaur, with intricate and exciting vocal harmonies which usually sink behind in recordings sounding hella good when performed live. However I’m about 85% sure frontman Gareth Liddiard was pissed, especially as his vocals were obnoxiously loud and went uncorrected (ditto with percussion). Not to mention he made a pretty nasty crack at the overweight, explaining any heat complaints were merely the grievances of frying fatties. Smooth.
Joining the ranks of their predecessors Beasts Of Bourbon showed their years of experience, despite complaints that the sound quality was enough to induce a mass exodus. They killed it, and although the vocals were far, far too loud, songs such as Black Milk, Cool Fire and Lets Get Funky were goddamn excellent. Especially in the former, where lead Tex Perkins danced like a sensual chanteuse, despite being relatively old and relatively male. Playing with an original line-up which had not graced stages in over a decade, audiences dug their sweet, sweet vibes. Sunday’s props definitely went out to the Australian acts.
Sadly the Westgate Sports and Leisure Complex had some serious issues over two days. And most of these were sound complications. It seemed in order to resolve one problem there would be serious overcompensation – in turn creating others. Complaints abounded from previously chuffed audience members; vocals too soft during My Bloody Valentine, drums and vocals too loud during The Drones and Beasts Of Bourbon, EVERYTHING too loud during Swans. It was expected that such good bands would create an even better live sound; however this was a raging disappointment. Amongst all this, what really made ATP unique as a festival was the crowd. The only people with enough fortitude to withstand two hour sets, thirty-seven degree heat, inconsistent sound quality and the $270 admission fee were people truly passionate about the music. It was a marvel to see hundreds of people crowding the pit half an hour before sets which ran for two. It seems without corporate assholes polluting a festival, other kinds of assholes are likewise absent. Instead the people of ATP were genial and mellow; though these were potentially symptoms of heat exhaustion.
Words and photos by Bianca Cornale.