All Tomorrow’s Parties has to be one of the few festivals that can’t be ruined by the weather. All set in the Pontins Holiday Resort at Camber Sands on the south coast, you hire a chalet for the weekend and the bands are split between the large ball room upstairs and a smaller bar area downstairs. No need for wellies or worries about overflowing toilets. A perfect way to spend a weekend especially with the acts that had been selected by this years curators Dinosaur Jnr, Sleater-Kinney and The Shins – all the way from the USA. In fact the choice of bands was very US-centric this year, but it gave us music lovers in the UK a chance to catch bands that would perhaps only tour small venues in London when they did come over.
After arriving from a pretty easy drive down to the wet and windy south coast, everything was going well. Out chalet was nice and close to the main building and stages and a pleasant surprise was finding a proper pub there which sold beer in glasses in exchange for money, not tokens and in paper cups. Result. Sinking a pint, enjoying a packet of crisps and generally enjoying not being in work, across the table a couple of members of Spoon take a seat and enjoy a few pints as well. The only thing to shatter the peace and tranquillity is someone warming up next door… it’s so loud that the walls seem to be visibly shaking… I guess it’s Lightning Bolt, but only time will tell.
As the time approaches for Lightning Bolt’s first of many sets of the weekend, we make our way into the smaller of the two rooms to host bands. And there they are: Lightning Bolt. They also seem to have set up in the middle of the floor, towards the back of the standing area. Numbers are limited to a mesmerised 500 as one of the most exhilarating rushes of music blasts from the speakers that look barely big enough to contain the noise. Drummer Brian Chippendale has the microphone stitched into a World War II fighter pilots mask, shrieking and muttering the vocals in equal measure and Brian Gibson’s guitar thundering out great riffs and, at times, subsonic noises that defy the senses. What an amazing start to the weekend…
Things actually calm down a bit later on when the bands kick off proper and I check out The Lilys upstairs first. They’ve become a bit of a collective of musicians all headed by the ever present lead man Kurt Heasley. Playing a kind of Pavement-esque indie rock with plenty of edgy guitar solos and catchy lyrics I was pleasantly surprised. I was a little more concerned, however, with Kurt’s uncanny resemblance to Anton from The Brian Jonestown Massacre…
Next up were Dead Meadow on the main stage. Sounding more rock than stoner rock dirge than they do on record, there’s plenty of noise from the three members. They come across as a more ponderous Led Zeppelin; not out and out riffs, but there’s tunes rising out of the heavy mist of noise.
A stroll downstairs lands me half way through the Magik Markers set… Hmmm… I also seem to have arrived half way through a “song” as well. A stream of noise with no discernable focus, it just seems a little self-indulgent and uninteresting.
I wind my merry way back up to the main stage to catch ageing rockers Bevis Frond and my first reaction is “Where on earth did they dig these guys up?” This is classic prog-ish rock full of clichés, as each member of the band is introduced they all get a chance to “solo”. They also write songs about dragons and stoned train drivers in Scotland. Despite all this though, they’re great fun and entertainment.
The night progresses and Broken Social Scene are on next. One of my must see bands of the weekend, I was a little concerned that all the hype and a short set my blunt them, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was the highlight of the day for me. They managed to weave a fantastic blend of sounds and instruments including a brass section. Their sound has more depth live and they’ve picked their heavier tunes for tonight. There’s also the added entertainment of the sheer number of them and the fact they all swap instruments through their set. We also get a guest appearance by Dinosaur Jnr’s J Mascis who does some serious jamming and guitar solo duelling which could come across as almost masturbatory, but somehow works!
Thinking about Teenage Fanclub before they come on, I’m struck by how jarring their sugary indie-pop music might be to the previous groups who rocked with a capital R. They don’t seem to be an obvious warm-up for Dinosaur Jnr. But they begin their set with one of their more upbeat instrumentals that makes me think they could pull it off… However, it doesn’t last and they continue through a set of Scottish power-pop that’s nice, but ultimately reminds me of why I’ve not dug out their records for a while… Forgettable.
So, I head downstairs again (careful not to spill my pint) and head to the car crash that could be The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I would suggest that the majority of the crowd are here to see whether Anton can keep it together and it seems as though he’s doing a good job. He’s decked out in Sherlock Holmes style deer-stalker and cape. Their 60’s/70’s influenced tunes, once they get going, are great but at times it veers to the self-indulgent as they fail to wrap up the song in a satisfactory manner and the pauses between songs are extraordinarily long and I soon get bored and wonder back upstairs for the main attraction.
Now I was never a big fan of Dinosaur Jnr, but my two companions for the weekend are only here for this one band, so as they storm down the front to join the masses of sweaty minions. I step back and prepare myself for the aural assault that’s been promised. They do not disappoint. I’m completely blown away by their set, song after song of great swathes of guitar noise, feedback and, amazing, tunes buried in this wall of sound. Not knowing much about them their set list meant nothing to me, but they obviously play plenty of fan favourites as the crowd goes completely nuts. I came away wanting to borrow the entire back catalogue and destroy my hearing in one sitting.
We head back to the chalet for a drink and to give our hearing a chance of recovering in time for tomorrow’s selection.