last acts / all tomorrow’s parties day three

29 04 2007

The first ATP at Minehead, the Nightmare Before Christmas, lived up to its name with tales of huge queues haunting the holiday camp survivors. But the only queue I encountered this weekend was for the water slide, and so we begin Sunday with a long wait into a short blast down a plastic tube and a headfirst crash into a shock of blue. Oh shit, how do I swim again? Bracing… One circuit of the whirlpool and the last vestiges of last night are washed away.

A highlight: we encounter Josh Pearson, now recast as a spindle-shanked shaman of the wave machine, exhorting the bobbing faithful from two floors up. ATP!

Papa M holds a sizeable crowd spellbound with his tender balladeering in the Centre Stage. A gentle start to the day. Back to the penny arcade pavilion for the rough edged majesty of the Dirty Three, curators of the weekend. Warren Ellis is a wild-bearded prophet forging lightning from his violin while Jim White flails thunder from the drums, the gathering storm to end one hundred years without rain.

The storm breaks with Silver Mount Zion Orchestra. They’re billed for a whopping two-hour set, which just might be long enough to get through, ooh, about one and a half Godspeed You! Black Emperor songs, for three of those infernal scions are ascending this silver peak. Apocalyptic drama in this prosaic atrium of white polythene and winking neon, a call to prayer in the dying days, yea! Fiddling while the very heavens burn…

And they’re gone, well shy of the two-hour mark, yet the enormity of an eternity warps around me… although the effect is somewhat diffused by the bilious carpet beneath my brothel creepers and the vvvVVVVRRRRMMMmmmmm of the racing arcade game at my back.

Might as well go see Mary Margaret O’Hara then. A wilful, playful, twitchy puppet with her strings tangled and tied, she reduces lyrics and singing to wails and squawks and throaty glissando, even abandoning words completely on one song, the sounds pulled from inside her to her apparent delight and paranoia. A five minute warning spooks her so much she abandons Year In Song half-way through, and mutters and giggles the intro to a shambolic and smokily delicate version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow that collapses in on itself in a whisper, and then she skitters off stage. Christ. That’s ATP, man.

Tactical thinking (and laziness): eschewing Cat Power gets me in for the start of one of the most anticipated shows in the ballroomesque Centre Stage. Say howdy to Ramblin‘ Bill Callaghan’s gravel-on-a-tomb-lid-throated country’n’wistful, the highlight being a lollop through A Man Needs a Woman or a Man to be a Man. An abrupt departure leaves the crowd wrongfooted, but it’s back to the sticky floor and Carlsberg while we wait for the second show by the golden-haired pixie with the silvery voice, and a weird way of singing out of the side of her face…

The adorable Joanna Newsom conjures wisps of silk and sawdust with her coruscating harp and swirling vocals. We’re entranced by her lilting tales of life and death and whisky and lace. We’re waltzing in a half-finished chapel beside a clear mountain stream, beguiled and bewitched. Well, I am.

After that, Mum Smokes sound y’know, alright, but this may just be the negative reinforcement in my brain of the worst, worst band name ever. It’s the red stage, it’s Sunday night, I don’t want to go home so I don’t. We gather for the last ‘act’ and the last act, the final curtain: Secretary.

Moist Paula Henderson is, by day, a secretary, and by night she is blows her horn… like some kind of crazy indie superheroine. She opens with musical typing, bashing out 100 words a minute of crashing beats. Yeahhhh, actually typing, on a MacBook, actually dressed as a secretary, and, like, when she types beats come out. And that telltale !ding! when she hits the end of the line. We hit the end of the line with this Secretary when she abandons the cute typing thing and pulls out – jaysus anything but that – a saxomaphone.

Chalet. Fast. Beers on board.

My last act unexpectedly screams in about now, a second, third and seventh wind arriving – ATP! – in one giddy rush of denial that this can’t be it! Not everyone has the spirit (the flesh is weak) so only a hardy pair abandon the chalet, and resisting the Tren Brothers‘ attempts to lull the world to sleep, we thrash out indiedisco nirvana in the Crazy Horse saloon for one last time. Thank you Minehead, and goodnight.


Again! Again!


all stars and earplugs / all tomorrow’s parties day two

28 04 2007

Hmm. I’m awake.

How did that happen?

Even feel quite well rested. Blimey I love this festival in a holiday camp lark: a bed! A shower! I made it into the former without really knowing how, but best to ask no questions as long as you made it, I find. And d’you know, I actually feel alright? This morning is one of those mornings after that you creep around, feeling vaguely suspicious, wary of that telltale first throb of hellish hangover.

But I’m still alright. I even eat some porridge. Then I eat a sandwich. Hey, maybe I didn’t have that much to drink last night after a-


I realise now that last night I may not have been at my most discerning. I can’t have been to have actually chosen to drink that much. So maybe it’s no surprise that the driving melancholy of Magnolia Electric Company sounds better this morning than they did last night, blessed with arching vocals and a restless heart. And afterwards, I don’t feel so bad at all. Bless you, ATP.

What comes next sorts everything out. Sally Timms is breathtaking, opening with a haunting and evocative scorched faery tale, buzzing with the weight of wonder. Then a hop skip and a jump of a gearchange to a selection of fractured folk hoedowns, driven by plinky-skippy beats and whispering toys in the dark. Aside from the harsh sound that plagues the Centre Stage, the results are sublime.

Back to the daylight and arcade neon for the unsung heroes of the weekend. There’s a full and devoted crowd in the pavilion for the unassuming magnificence of Low, the dwindling silver driftwood on a sea of silence.

Later, I hear only bad things about Jason Pierces’s Spiritualised Acoustic Mainline, which makes me feel OK that I sacked it off and hit the chalet, and spent some time taking down a brew, eating pizza and watching Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. And Doctor Who. Now that is a perfect Saturday afternoon.

At least until someone took Pat Garrett off halfway through. They did that last year an’ all, an infuriatingly scant ten minutes before the end of the hangover-melting Time Bandits.

So back on the broadwalk for the man we’re all here to see. Nick Cave, the prince of darkness, his satanic moustachio, has arrived. But it’s hard to imagine the crack of doom in a carrier bag propped up into a big top and stuffed with arcade machines. Red Right Hand has a suitably loungy, almost calypsoid feel, but as the classics keep coming, there’s plenty of sturm and drang in this storm.

After a short break, Cave is back for a romp through his Grinderman racket. Depth Charge Ethel rocks, Honey Bee squalls, Grinderman (the dirge) kills the momentum, and Get It On sounds like the Mission Impossible theme played by sex-crazed cannibals.

After that it’s hard to get excited about The Scientists‘ performance. Sure, when they’re going they’re going, a steam piston of bludgeoning blood-red blues. But there’s too much time in between songs, too much standing around.

At some point tonight, I look out of my chalet window and see Deborah sitting in the next chalet over, so I call her up and say “I can see you,” and she freaks out. Heheheh.

On the red stage, and it is red, are Youpi Youpi Yeah, black-clad gallic groovepunks. They’d even be worth a singalong if I’d ever got past GCSE French. Better still are The Drones, the first this weekend to rock the fuck out, hell yeah! Agonised, wrenching, babbling heartbreak, drenched in feedback and fury.

By now the Carlsberg is copping it’s toll on my critical faculties so the rest of this review may be a bit of a bit underdeveloped. We Ragazzi are, kind of, like, quirkpop, or something, and have the fittest drummer. See? Top critical form.


scenesters by the sea / all tomorrow’s parties day one

27 04 2007

Woke up in Woking. Pile in the car. Soundtrack: Paul’s ’90s tapes. Me: Who’s this again? every song, remembering every word. I sleep through the worst.

Skinny jeans are everywhere in Tesco. How much beer can we carry? Actually quite a bit, as it turns out.

Butlins, Minehead. Lacks the faded seaside glamour of Camber Sands, spiritual home of ATP. The stages are in the Pavilion, a bizarre cross between a big top and a motorway services. Can’t get our heads round it. There’s an Irish pub. We beer up. ATP!

Ian Wadley opens the festival, although it’s hard to tell when he stopped tuning up and actually started playing. “Is this what the music will be like?” asks a bemused Butlins barmaid. Ain’t heard nothing yet love. ATP!

Then Wadley gets going, pull back to reveal it’s the end of the world, Ry Cooder wailing atop a mountain of skulls. Wadley turns his back on the crowd to rock out, then it’s back to stage front, down on one knee, things briefly go a bit Cairo. I get out.

Fuck me, Nick Cave is standing right there! As close as I am to you… Nobody believes me.

It all starts to make sense when we hit the centre stage for The Only Ones. They’re late. We forgive them. It has been 26 years.

The contrast couldn’t be more marked between Peter Perrett’s emaciated frame and the muscular sound the Only Ones belt out. Perrett’s scuttling vocals sound great, and they’re so tight. Bit weird seeing them in what feels like a shopping centre. Hairs on the back of the neck time.

Meticulous timetabling goes out the window as beers get sunk.

Art of Fighting? Art of Pillow Fighting maybe. They only seem to remember they have an audience halfway through eachsong only to then forget again. Magnolia Electric Company are a bit country and that’s it.

Snapshots: Dancing to My Bloody Valentine in a room that feels like a wedding reception. Trying to get into our chalet without a keycard. Buying another pint. Where the fuck am I? Autopilot on. All goes black…

another richizzle trenizzle producshizzle

24 04 2007

What is the deal with record producers popping up in music videos? The charts seem awash with fat Yanks in 3xXXL white T-shirts contributing to the energy, rhythm and vitality of the song by, er, barking their own name, or doughy-faced Dutchmen in shellsuits pulling faces.

Timbaland may be a master of jittery, skittery beats, but in the looks and charisma front he’s no Pharrell, lurking apologetically around his own video for Give It To Me, with him and Justin Timberlake like a bizarre race-swap version of the Easy Lover video where Phil Bailey dances all cool and then makes a sweaty, embarrassed Phil Collins dance like a balding little troll.

Jay-Z’s one of the worst for dribbling meaningless nonsense over perfectly serviceable intros. On Thriller, the (terribly-named) opening track of Fall Out Boy’s latest album, he spouts some nonsense about this album being dedicated to “anyone who said it couldn’t be done.”

Um, yeah, because there were loads of haters who were convinced that a hugely successful bunch of gauche emo whiners would never conquer the insurmountable odds to punt out another album of overproduced, vaguely hummable pop-punk supposedly produced by a coasting tycoon as a cynical gimmick.

the horror, the horror! (of fang rock)

23 04 2007

Daleks in Manhattan: the most does-what-it-says-on-the-tin episode title since The Deadly Assassin (wouldn’t actually be a an assassin otherwise, would he?)

Better than the execrably-named Aliens of London, World War Three or Doomsday for the sheer kitsch value, maybe, but still not terribly imaginative.

Whatever happened to the days of titles like The Talons of Weng-Chiang… Planet/Face/Mind of Evil… Four to Doomsday… Mawdryn Undead… Carnival of Monsters… The Mind Robber… The Time Meddler…

Great evocative titles all.

How about Dalek Dalek (so good they named it twice)?

“it’s way past time you learnt — what it means to be a man”

23 04 2007

“This would be a good death…”

A common theme of Frank Miller’s work is a man’s mission to ‘die right’. 300 is an extended last stand, full of talk of dying with honour and glory. Sin City is full of flawed heroes going unwaveringly to their seemingly inevitable doom. In The Dark Knight Returns, Batman chooses the time and place of his death – to the second (although he claims his timing is a bit off, but I like to think that’s a deliberate mistake – Bruce letting Clark know that he trusts him, always trusted him to come through in the end… but also getting one up on the Kryptonian yet again. A wink, and a reminder.)

Miller’s heroes represent absolute moral justice made flesh – yet more than flesh, their rock-hard moral convictions reflected in the hyperreal, granite-like physicality of Marv, the Dark Knight, or Leonidas. Maybe this explains Miller’s attraction to Robocop, the male body rendered literally impenetrable, metallic.

For Robocop, doing the right thing is programmed into him, even overriding the
programming imposed upon him by society. It’s the same with Bruce Wayne scorning the committee that bans superheroes, Leonidas killing the messenger. They’re not interested in what lesser men might do.

Doing the right thing despite the cost means that death is near-inevitable. So while conviction means death, life means compromise. Society compromises; so the uncompromising hero is a loner. We see this in 300, when Leonidas questions the Arcadians’ professions. Be a part of society, but lack agency, or be in control of one’s own destiny and conviction but be apart from society.

This is why there’s such a clear separation between the warrior class of Sparta and the others, the chattering classes of Gotham and the Dark Knight (“Batman? I’m plain tired of hearing about him. Him and how he doesn’t let things stop him or just let things go the way us humans do.). It’s the same as the distinction between the normal folk of the American West and the gunfighter who rides into town to commit righteous violence on behalf of society, yet can never be part of that society and must always ride on into the sunset.

To attempt to be part of society is irreconcilable with the way of the warrior. Love always means trouble in Sin City. This construction of hypermasculinity precludes relationships. Relationships lead to death. And it’s not always the man that’s punished.

“The world only makes sense when you force it to…”

doctor who’s greatest enemy: self-deception

16 04 2007

One of the major themes of the new Doctor Who is how apathy and denial in the face of social breakdown was just as pernicious an enemy than the agent of that breakdown. This was made most explicit in The Long Game (1.7) and it’s semi sequel Bad Wolf (1.12), with television providing the world with a distraction from the bad stuff going on.

As the seventh Doctor noted in Remembrance of The Daleks, humans have an “amazing capacity for self-deception.” The Doctor’s role is often to act as a catalyst, freeing the perceptions of the oppressed, to defeat the threat by first facing up to it.

The series is littered with examples of characters turning a blind eye to something, trying to conceal or ignore something bad – and often punished for this hubris:

•    Sneed the Undertaker stuffs overactive corpses back into their coffins and bullies Gwyneth into silence in The Unquiet Dead (1.3), only for one of the cadavers to later snap his neck.
•    Adam Mitchell’s happiness within Van Statten’s set-up could be seen as the first sign that he is a wrong’un in Dalek (1.6). He pays for his self-interest over social concern in Bad Wolf.
•    Nancy is in denial over the danger of the Empty Child (1.9), which is defeated by her acknowledgement that he is her son.
•    The Doctor says to Mickey that humans do not notice unusual things such as the TARDIS, in Boom Town (1.11).
•    The Sisters of Plenitude in New Earth (2.1) keep scores of infected people hidden in their hospital to develop cures. These plague carriers wipe out many of the nurses, although Novice Hame survives to be redeemed in Gridlock (3.3).
•    Mr Parsons and the other teachers don’t seem to notice children going missing, distracted as they are by the intelligence of their pupils in School Reunion (2.3), which is suspicious enough to attract Sarah Jane and Mickey’s attention.
•    Eddy locks Grandma up in The Idiot’s Lantern (2.7) and is eventually kicked out of house and home.
•    The Doctor confronts his own refusal to accept something that challenges his beliefs when he encounters the Beast in The Satan Pit (2.9). He is able to defeat the imprisoned being secure in his faith that Rose will not give go quietly to her doom. She is no victim; and will always act.
•    Stretching the theory perhaps, but the suggestion is that love should not remain unspoken in Love and Monsters (2.10). Mr Skinner and Bridget, and Elton and Ursula, initially hide their feelings for each other. Elton and Ursula find happiness despite her being melted into a paving slab – love will find a way, even in extremely non-traditional relationships.
•    Trish’s failure to address with Chloe the problem they had with her Dad leads to Chloe’s emotional problems in Fear Her (2.11). These problems take physical form, but Chloe and Trish overcome their fear together and sing the Dad monster away.
•    The people of the world almost will the ghostly forms into being with their self-delusion in Army Of Ghosts (2.12). Jackie imagines the smell of her grandfather’s cigarettes and clings to the belief that this is her grandfather returned.
•    Donna admits she missed the human race’s first contact with alien races because of a hangover and a scuba-diving trip in Spain in The Runaway Bride (3.0).
•    The motorists cling to the hope of arrival and try not to think about the noises they hear from the Fast Lane, and never wonder why they’ve never actually seen a police car in Gridlock (3.3). However there is an element of hope and social cohesion here that is seen as positive in a bad situation.
•    Less positive is the populace’s use of drug-like mood patches in this episode, altering the user’s emotional state. A specific ‘forget’ patch is available for those unable to deal with the horror of the Motorway, to the Doctor’s great disgust.

Here the existence of the villain or threat to society enters the social conscience as an ‘urban myth’. Such myths are proved (fatally) correct in Tooth and Claw (2.2), Rise of the Cybermen (2.5) and Gridlock. In the parallel universe, the rumoured disappearances galvanise Ricky and his cohorts to action. Although the Doctor is often the catalyst for change in a threatened society, resistance movements frequently exist before his arrival, and defeat the enemy with his help.Acknowledgement that something is rotten is often the first step in defeating the problem, or indeed the only step, as in The Doctor Dances (1.10) and Fear Her.

Conflict between the Doctor and Rose’s is stirred up by her inability to give up on the idea of meeting her dad, in Father’s Day (1.8) leading to a wound in time and the Doctor’s death, and placing them in harm’s way in Rise of the Cybermen (2.5). Despite defeating the Cybermen, Rose loses Pete.

Rose’s tenacity saves the day in The Parting of the Ways (1.13) when she refuses to accept that she is out of the fight. It is for this that she is rewarded with a family reunion, as her actual attempts to reunite with her father all ended in disaster.

Perhaps the Doctor is so conflicted about this particular issue because he is unable to see his family again, despite his great power, perhaps suggested by the bitterness in the line “…while I lose everything” from Daleks in Manhattan (3.4).

Despite his pain and loss, The Doctor never gives up and flinches from recognition of social threat or decay. As well as directly fighting threats to society, he often acts as a catalyst for members of society to face their problems. This is a pressing contemporary concern in a world of television and text messaging, drugs and distractions, celebrity gossip and cultural genocide.