Iain Gray Freelance Writer

Democracy rocks at the seaside

Iain Gray reviews All Tomorrow's Parties vs the Fans in Minehead

Amid the garish water flumes, miniature golf, unconvincingly-themed bars and slightly creepy rows of endless identical chalets, a remarkable event took place.

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It was All Tomorrow’s Parties vs the Fans, a festival catering almost exclusively for the more challenging end of the rock music spectrum, and populated by a mixture of ironically-dressed indie boys, hippie chicks and heavy-waisted middle-aged connoisseurs.

Held at Butlins in Minehead for the first time, it threw up a rewarding mix of bands, from celebrated acts such as Patti Smith, Wilco and Shellac, to relative unknowns like the Thermals and Battles.

The big difference with this festival was that the organisers selected only half the acts - the fans chose the rest. As such, it was just as likely to showcase a big name as it was to put on a performance-art curio such as Bat for Lashes or Cornelius.

This, combined with the attention to patrons’ well-being (fans’ favourite TV shows and films are streamed into the chalets), set it apart from most, if not all, of the large gatherings over the summer.

The dominating musical genre was “post-rock”, a minimalist, hyper-repetitive evolution from hardcore punk. But dismissing the event as a deafening one-trick pony would be to miss the sheer entertainment provided by the bands.

They seemed to regard it as a privilege to play here, a result of their common belief in the ATP ethos perhaps, rather than a provincial day trip to boost the beer fund.

The three stages were within two-minutes’ walk of each other, and the benefit of this was apparent from the start.

One could wander happily from the staggeringly good-natured hip-pop of The Go! Team and be almost immediately confronted by the ranting insanity of Les Savy Fav, and their lunatic frontman Tim Harrington. And, while his middle-aged backing band calmly played away, Harrington was a frenzy of stripping and spitting.

There were disappointments, though. The main pavilion stage, essentially a huge food court housed in a concrete napkin, was acoustically unkind to some bands, Yo La Tengo especially.

However, Shellac, Steve Albini’s latest group, used the space to its fullest advantage, Todd Trainer’s deafening drums roaring from corner to corner.

Probably the most exciting performance of the weekend, and certainly the most anticipated, was by techno-math-rock pioneers Battles, who managed to resolve a scheduling conflict with the mighty Wilco by stealing most of their audience.

Their huge array of sounds, created though a vast collection of guitars, pedals, synthesizers and computers, was complemented by an most astonishing display of drumming.

The key element that made the weekend so special was the way the bands wandered through the crowds, happy to chat - and to watch others perform.

To refer to an event attended by more than 6,000 fans as intimate may sound bizarre, but compared with the chaotic anonymity of Glastonbury, everyone here was made to feel like a member of some loud, exclusive rock club.


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