Posted on Wednesday, December 16th, 2009 at 5:08 pm
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Matthew Sheret
December 4th – 6th at Butlins in Minehead.
The rumble begins somewhere around my front teeth. The rattle in my mouth is the kind of sensation I imagine I’d get if I held myself up during an earthquake using only my jaw. Fluid trickles from my sinus into my ear, wobbled loose by sheer volume and terror. This is just the beginning. Somewhere in the background I can hear someone slapping their legs to the drum beat of ‘Telstar’. Another man hums the tune.
I feel a headache forming, and although my ears are plugged my body is making it known that this volume level is uncommon, is unfamiliar, is probably unwelcome. I have to fight to stop my feet taking me elsewhere. Drinks wobble. Drinks wobble like that bit we all remember from Jurassic Park. Drinks wobble like something is going to eat us. I name the spot I am rooted to, Deafcamp #4. Why am I here?
Of the festivals held by All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP) in the British seaside town of Minehead the ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ events are often the most hotly anticipated. Curated every year by a different band or personality they become a selection box of special interest; this year My Bloody Valentine stacked up a big noise, heavy thought assault squadron of sound and stomp.
At ATP row upon row of holiday homes house the swarm of vinyl-buying, WIRE-reading festival goers. For four weekends a year, the whole mob give the impression of people too refined, grumpy, important or hep to tag along to the other festivals that litter the summer season; the (hugely inappropriate) comparison that falls off attendees lips is that it resembles a concentration camp filled with the indie and the damned.
You’re in a chalet, you have a bed, the acts are legendary or deserve to be and the film and TV programme is as well-thought-out as the stage line-up. This is the festival where trench foot never rears its head, where salmon and brie are staples and where the only things that remind you of other events is the huge quantity of both Jack Daniels and black t-shirts.
Just a few years previous The Horrors might well have refused to show their faces at an event like this. They took to the stage on Saturday, flaunting their newly spun persona for an audience full of people who saw it for the revisionism it was: “What, us? Responsible for ‘Strange House’? We wouldn’t dream of such a thing!” “Primary Colours” has been an album of the year for a lot of people – the kind of twenty-thirty somethings who got picked on at school and now go to ATP – and the band have taken every opportunity they can in 2009 to pretend that this new album is their debut instead of the bratty, terrible effort they released back in 2007.
They still seem lost on the main stage though. Their moody lights and black-clad grumpiness doesn’t tally with the delight Warren Ellis showed during The Dirty Three’s set, or the nostalgic tour through power that Sonic Youth launched on Friday. The Horrors don’t care enough about one another, they aren’t the gang they need to be.
Such groups roam around the site. Largely packed into units of six, the chalets are a basecamp for forays into the festival. In them we sit, transfixed by obscure David Bowie interviews, odd ATP idents and the Joe Meek biopic “Telstar”. Part of ATP’s appeal lies in these moments, when all the festival has to do to please is provide a comfortable atmosphere for you and your friends to launch on a jolly. With a sparse bill of music that won’t suit every attendee the chalet instantly becomes a slung down home, and not the hated last resort that a tent might be elsewhere.
It’s a nice place for a cup of tea and a think. Or for a whisky and an argument. Or a vodka and coke and a dance. The chalet is all the things your living room is at home, surrounded by music and people just like you. In that respect it lacks the variety of Glastonbury, but that’s okay; you wouldn’t come to ATP for variety.
Of course, at times that’s a terrible shame. When De La Soul rip up the stage on Friday it’s the work of a moment to look around the room and feel uncomfortable. The rappers are brilliant; they throw down a party that doesn’t feel like it’s aged in twenty years so much as matured. But when they ask us to put our hands in the air the crowd are stilted, awkward, stiff, not so much raising the roof as a salute (a rally?).
De La Soul are the kind of pop that should make you bounce, not think about why you’re doing it. The Membranes ought to have the same kind of gut-punch roar. Reformed for ATP, the 80′s post-punks are filled with the anger and invective John Lydon pretends to still have. John Robb’s a fascinating, lashing frontman who urges his band to reel and scream around the stage, hoping it’ll persuade the audience to reciprocate. He has limited success. Incredible to watch though; through the noise you find funk and violence and hope and charm and teeth. On Sunday My Bloody Valentine do something very similar, but not quite.
If I concentrate on my trousers during the noise I can feel them vibrating. That is a strange sensation. You know those cars with speakers that boost the bass to ungodly proportions? Imagine a fleet of them. Imagine yourself standing next to them all. Yes. My clothing is fighting to hold itself together. My friend, at the bar now, is yelling to order, but nothing escapes his mouth.
The sound has been frightened away from guitars and footpedals and drum-storm-fury. I picture myself five and a half years ago at Reading, fragile in skinny jeans and a slack t-shirt, thinking that Alkaline Trio were loud. They were nothing compared to time spent at Deafcamp #4. Were I in skinny jeans today I imagine the vibrations would mainline into my body, rupturing organs and tearing skin. I feel my shirt reach a point of crisis, and the threads under the armpits contract, slicing into me. There is no blood; it is too scared to show itself.
This is all a far cry from just a few hours previous. Onsite the regular drinking hole is The Crazy Horse, a strangely decorated saloon bar with a lot of space to kill. It’s the kind of place you imagine the summer crowd might stage a barn dance. For ATP it becomes the de-facto hang-out, booze trickling out at all hours to fuel us. In the ‘mornings’ (rise after midday, sleep after dawn) it hosts bingo and quizzes, weird call-backs to the peak season custom familar to it.
Our quiz team was terrible. We fared better during the 60s garage music romp of Friday night, where Ian Svenonious lazily spun music to hop and step to. That noise was funky, targeted fun, a spot of colour and flash in a weekend of throbbing and feedback.
The rending screeching tearing noise I sit within at Deafcamp #4 takes me past the midnight hour, into Monday. I try to remember that this is only a gig, that the scanning projections which seem to be reading the fixed and frightened audience are just FX.I am only watching My Bloody Valentine. I am only watching their third show over the festival weekend, a selection of tracks for which we have all been issued ear plugs for protection. And we need them; those without are running scared, hands clamped to their heads to stop the high-speed spray of blood escaping onto their friends and neighbours.
My Bloody Valentine are destructively, painfully, aggressively loud. Those close enough to see the band’s faces through the low-lights and fog come away hurting. It remains for two hours the closest to contact that the whole audience gets; no acknowledgement; no thanks; no reason to see the band as anything other than the source of all noise forever and always.
In the dim and early hours of Monday morning I find myself wandering into the chalet of a long-time ATP attendee. His Team – friends is not the right word – have brought with them a lighting rig that towers above the family camp furniture, and a sound system that the small stages might envy. Still in shock after the trauma of My Bloody Valentine I take this in as entirely normal.
He DJs the kind of pop that I find myself instantly at sea with. I recognise fragments of Dizzee, of Warren G, but the remix gloss and polish seems ultra-sleek, a parody of radio play dynamic enough to be sentient. He has a smoke machine. Sore from the weekend I briefly wonder if I have died, before putting on a pair of Kanye cartoon shades and dancing, gently humming ‘Telstar’.
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