Over the years, ATP has become a watchword for a certain kind of classicism, an “accepted history” of what ‘good’ music is over the last 30 years. In this version of events, punk is good, rock is largely bad, unless it doesn’t take itself seriously, although “new” metal is ok. Electronica is generally given a by ball. Bands like Mission of Burma, Yo La Tengo (below), and The Flaming Lips are regarded as in the same way Mojo readers regard The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Eric Clapton, and many of the younger people there are aware they’re seeing something that they should display reverence to, but they’re not sure why. And quite a few of the older people do exactly the same thing.
So, without really meaning to, ATP has become (at least in part) an oldies festival for ‘cool’ people, where dudes with thinning hair and thick spectacles can revel in the power and the glory of acts that are largely past their prime, whilst reminding themselves that they’ve still “got it”. Didn’t see (insert feted but obscure act here) back in the day? Don’t worry, they’re playing ATP! We can relive the youth we never had! Really, it wouldn’t make a lot of difference if we were seeing Slade, Status Quo, and Mud – we still weren’t there when it mattered, maaaan.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone, there’s no denying it. The band I came here for most of all was Television, a band who have mattered to me more than most others over the years. Of course I’m too young to have seen them in their prime in New York back in ’76, but I can make up for it by watching them in a dingy holiday camp hall with pictures of generic jazz musicians on the walls, right? Be it talent, or be it my own ability to enter into the moment, I lapped up every note they played. As Tom Verlaine’s weak and aged voice dripped out of the PA, a swirl of guitar notes filled the air, doing something magical. Playing their classic debut album, Marquee Moon, I grooved along with all the other hipsters, lost in my own moment, feeling the twisted lyrics and guitar spirals wrap themselves around my soul. Honest to God, man, I actually got an electric shock off myself when they played the title track, it was that good.
Or it could have been from the knackered old air conditioner nearby, that was swimming in a sea of beer. I just don’t know.
The bar was a nightmare in itself, shattering any chance of embracing the illusion of fun. Instead of offering up a little brain lubrication to ease us into the surroundings, the various bars offered us queues of up to half an hour, for weak, watery ale or beer, in a surprisingly robust plastic glass. One did not “nip to the bar” at this event, that’s for sure.
But whether they were quaffing ales, or ingesting substances they shouldn’t have been, the temporary population of Pontin’s did not disappoint on the ‘weird’ factor. Be it staggering around in a Russian sailor’s outfit, or doing interpretive dance whilst dressed in rags, or clad fully in Kiss costumes, the crowd were occasionally as fascinating as the bands, frequently more so. A particular highlight was a young(ish) couple who came in during Tortoise’s breath-taking set of post-jazz, a stunning tour-de-force of dynamics, melody, rhythms, and joy. On record, Tortoise can sometimes seem a bit cerebral, but in a live setting they dazzle, the glowing optimism and love of creation spreading like rays from the heart of the stage. However, this wasn’t enough to interest our hipster couple, as she sat cross-legged on the ground reading a book – WITHOUT EVER TURNING A PAGE – whilst he decided to get his sketch book out and draw her whilst she pretended to read. It would be funny if it wasn’t so hair-tearingly awful.
Godspeed! You Black Emperor (above) were always going to be a big draw, and it’s a safe bet that a large portion of the crowd came here specifically for them. I was one of them, or at least I was until I discovered that it clashed with the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who. In perhaps the worst incident of “First World Problems”, I was forced to choose between the apocalyptic fury of Godspeed, or the heroism of my beloved Doctor. Without any hesitation, I chose the Doctor. Which, when I write it down, sounds kind of lame, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. I’m not getting any younger, and there would have been a time where the desire to see Godspeed would have been all-consuming, but sat in this decaying holiday camp, feeling tired and old, sitting down and enjoying Doctor Who was a treat I did not have enough spiritual armour to deny.
Watching The Doctor, watching a programme about time, I became aware of how much had changed over the years, and in turn, how much I had changed myself over the years. I’d been down on the event, and down on the people. This was supposed to be my spiritual home! This was supposed to be special! But here I was, drinking a warm beer, eating crisps, and watching Doctor Who. It dawned on me that I wasn’t alone. These people who I’d been sneering at were in the same boat as me – we’d also somehow missed our moment. It’s just that some people were embracing it better than others.
I felt bad about myself, and found myself mourning the passing of a different era, a period of my life where this stuff seemed so much more important. When I got home, I cut off my wristband, and dutifully removed my good luck charm. ATP – in its current state – is over, and I think it’s not a minute too soon. They’ll continue, and so will we, grasping for that lost moment, standing in venues seeing bands from the past, and imagining what it would have been like if we’d actually been there when it counted, or seeing the new breed, confronting sounds and methods of doing things that haven’t quite found their way yet. And it’s all ok, there ain’t nothing wrong with taking what you can get. But the spell has been broken, and I feel it’s time to move on with my own life. Music still matters, but I no longer feel like I’m missing out on something. Sure, I wasn’t there when Black Flag were tearing up the sunset strip, or when Sonic Youth were obliterating the New York art scene, or when Godspeed were reinventing what rock could be in Montreal. But I was there when John Hurt did his stint as The Doctor, and maybe that’s what counts.
But either way, farewell ATP, may you grow old disgracefully. Me? I’m just happy to grow old. Steven Rainey
Read part one of Steven’s article right here.