All Tomorrow’s Parties is not your typical music festival. No muddy fields, no stupid hats (well, maybe a couple) and no particularly well-known headliners. Plus, no worries about rain. ATP is back at its spiritual home of Pontins (yes, that Pontins!) in Camber Sands on England’s south coast, which means all the artists will be performing in the warm(ish), dry surroundings of this tacky, out-dated holiday park. The whole weekend is curated by Ohio indie rockers, The National and they’ve managed to bring a brilliant mix of bands from around the globe to this seaside location.
Circumstances mean I miss the Friday and arrive on Saturday afternoon in time to catch one of my personal favourite singer/songwriters, Kathleen Edwards, play a superb 55 minute set in the smaller second room in front of a crowd which grows and grows throughout her set. Playing with just two musicians and no rhythm section, it’s a stripped down set but with gems such as Asking For Flowers, Soft Place To Land and Change The Sheets sounding as fresh as ever, Kathleen sets the bar high for the rest of our weekend.
Shortly after Kathleen finishes we find ourselves in the huge main room where Sharon Van Etten is winning over an already packed venue with her unique understated songs. Her voice is rich and almost choral-sounding in parts and she seems to be enjoying playing to this large, attentive crowd. Serpents and Give Out, from this year’s magnificent Tramp album, seem to go down best tonight but older songs are presented beautifully, even if she does sometimes seem to be holding back somewhat.
Speaking to people at the festival, there’s obviously plenty of interest in The Antlers, and they don’t disappoint. Their quirky, disjointed, melodic tunes take things down a notch tempo-wise but the ethereal vocals and almost Sigur Ros-like layering of sounds of their music has everyone enraptured. I Don’t Want Love is noticeable by its absence but their whole set is a blissful and quite beautiful journey and they have themselves a new fan in yours truly.
A quick break to get some food… The food options are certainly one of the low-points of this great festival. Bland curries or some of the most tasteless burgers in existence and….. yep, that’s about it! Hopefully they’ll look to improve this for future events.
Saturday night is wrapped up nicely by those Wild Beasts but already we’re looking forward to what Sunday has to offer…
On my list of bands not to miss, Youth Lagoon chart near the top, and their slightly psychedelic blend of digitalised indie-pop sounds as great live as it does on their brilliant 2011 album, The Year Of Hibernation. Youth Lagoon is the work of Idaho’s Trevor Powers and his awkward, slightly nerdy persona is at odds with the music, which is knowingly heartfelt, uplifting and honest.
Perfume Genius follows and, to be honest, is not my kind of thing at all, so we head downstairs in time to catch one of the rockier bands of the festival, Baltimore’s Wye Oak. The duo impress with their dirty grooves almost as much as the ability of Andy Stacks to play drums and keyboards simultaneously! And they say men can’t multitask.
We stumble across an impromptu set in the Queen Vic pub by Camera. It sounds great, although it’s difficult to see anything as there’s no stage, and the whole thing is over in a flash so we head back upstairs to discover another fantastic band who were previously unknown to me, California’s own Local Natives. Their polished indie rock has seen them opening for The National on tour and tonight their quirky pop songs go down a treat and encourage plenty of movement at the front of the crowd. A definite highlight of the weekend and a band I look forward to catching again after their new album comes out in early 2013.
It’s gone 11pm before the weekend’s headliners finally make it to the main stage but they end the festival on a high, blasting through two hours of magnificent anthems, most with a dark melancholy running through them. The Dessner twins stand at the edge of the stage, slashing away at their guitars as if they’re playing in a stadium, while frontman Matt Berninger grabs his microphone intently, rarely acknowledging the crowd until towards the end of their set when he becomes more animated, eventually climbing the barrier, balancing in position as he gazes out at the packed-out room. All around, the fans sing back every lyric and it’s clear that this is the band that most people have been waiting patiently all weekend for.
Bloodbuzz Ohio sounds majestic and a weightier interpretation of Terrible Love is every inch the brooding classic. The band showcase a couple of new songs, which seem to be taking The National in a more adventurous direction, although Berninger still needs lyric sheets on stage to help him remember the words.
The final moments of the festival see a packed stage as the band bring out friends for an emotional a cappella run through of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks and the whole room is seemingly screaming the words, “All the very best of us, string ourselves up for love”. It’s a triumphant and joyful end to a very unique and important festival.
Review & Photos – Steve Gerrard