When ATP announced this event six months ago, I could hardly believe my luck. I make no secret of my devotion to the Melvins and all things Ipecac (Patton's label), so this weekend festival (3 hours drive away) was like a gift from the almighty. As acts got added to the lineup the ticket value seemed to increase - especially when Butthole Surfers were added to the bill - so this was an event for which my expectations were pretty high. And whaddya know? They delivered 100 percent satisfaction, a weekend of eclectic and exciting music surrounded by like-minded people. And so, amidst the spartan tat of this windswept and freezing off-season holiday stalag, people gathered from all over the world to celebrate the left-of-centre and the truly gifted, on two main sound stages and one quadrophonic rig in a smaller venue.
(The) Melvins opened up on Friday as 'Melvins 83' - bringing original drummer Mike Dillard back to revisit their punky roots. Regular Melvins drummer Dale Crover played bass for this short set and was introduced as Matt Lukin. They were great - Mike Dillard sounded really tight - a performance that he can be justly proud of.
With so much going on, there were often choices to be made between two stages - throwing up some unexpected delights and a few minor disappointments. And so, in no particular order, a few words about some of the performances that I did see.
Best thing I've seen all year award goes to Zu - Italian noise-funk trio with the HEAVIEST sound I have EVER heard. Absolutely astounding virtuoso playing with not a hint of chin-stroking introspection. Big, noisy, intelligent party music - I cannot recommend this band highly enough. Want to see the most highly drilled weirdos in the world? Then check out The Locust - falling under the vague umbrella of Math-rock, these costumed and masked humanoids deliver precision salvos of Rhythm'n'Noise. What the drummer was doing looked inhuman. Brilliant. There were some understated and beautiful performances too - notably Martina Topley Bird who has the voice of an angel and Joe Lally (Fugazi) who has the dignity of a war veteran. At the other end of the scale (ie, dignity and restraint missing) was Squarepusher. Whilst his playing and programming are faultless, the smothering fog of his gigantic ego suffocated the fun out of the room. Thanks Tom, but we can make our own minds up about when to cheer. Audience response happens naturally when the music connects with people, and the winners in this respect were Taraf De Haidouks - the most awesome gypsy band on the planet. When they played, the room became a party, and once their time onstage was finished they just carried on outside. Makes you wonder how come our own folk music is so dull. Representing the slightly looser approach to music was the amazingly messy Butthole Surfers. Who knows how wasted Gibby Haines was, but he did punctuate one song by shouting "Three fuckin' hits of MDMA!", so that might have been a clue. Pretty damn psychedelic. Another treat was country-pickin' Junior Brown - possibly the greatest stunt-guitarist you will ever hear in your life, and with a rich barritone voice like a fine matured bourbon. There was a special performance of Stockhausen's Kontakte in the quadrophonic room - mixed from the original masters by Stockhausen's sound projectionist and complimented by a pianist and percussionist on stage. The sound system was crystal clear and the crowd remained quiet and respectfully awed by the one of the original noise-masters. By contrast, "America's funny man" Neil Hamburger was trying to achieve the goal of goading the audience towards "a crescendo of boo's" as he put it. Provocatively tasteless and badly delivered jokes about Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger coupled with general abuse of audience members. I liked it - and there was one genuinely funny joke - (What's worse than Muslim Extremism? Chinese Democracy). Mike Patton himself resisted the temptation to make appearances with multiple bands, concentrating instead on orchestrating a fine performance of The Director's Cut with his band Fantomas. They played the whole album and it sounded wonderful, with Patton clearly in an excellent mood - so much so they even gave us an encore of Al Green's Simply Beautiful which Patton dedicated to "all the laydeez in the house", prompting many female screams, whistles and a general gusset-moistening.
Booby Prizes go to the following - Big Business (hampered by a blown-up bass amp, and a subsequently muddy mix), Leila (technical problems not exactly enhancing something that seemed boring in the first place), Porn (onstage intrusion by mystery drunk guitarist [turns out it was the bloke out of Mastodon] leading to aimless collapse of order), James Blood Ulmer (great voice, but guitar playing somewhere beyond loose), and White Noise (the ledgendary David Vorhaus served up softcore euro-trance which bore no reference to his early experimental works). Didn't get to see Mastodon, Isis, The Damned, Farmer's Market or Kool Keith, so sorry about that. There was only so much a person could take in, but having said that, this was still the best music festival I have ever been to. Support ATP! They rule.