Report/Photos: All Tomorrow’s Parties NY 2010

 

Held, once again, at
Kutsher’s Resort in Monticello, NY, this year’s (Sept. 3-5) ATP NY just
may have been the greatest one ever. Witnessed: the Scientists (above),
Stooges, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, GZA, Michael Rother’s Hallogallo, Fucked Up,
Tortoise and much more.

 

Text by Evan Haga / Photos by Abbey Braden

 

“This song goes out to anyone with a record problem,” said
Damian Abraham, the massive, mostly naked front man of the Canadian band Fucked
Up. He was detonating another cut of hardcore punk during the group’s set at
this year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties New York festival, and, more than likely,
his dedication applied pretty squarely to most of the few thousand people who made
the schlep. ATP NY, in its third year at Kutsher’s, a faded Jewish hotel and
country club in the Catskill Mountains of New York, is custom-built for music
geeks and vinyl junkies; a three-day sleep-away camp for hipsters young and old
– or at least middle-aged – whose tastes are at once diverse yet steadfastly
focused in their rejection of the bourgeois and the overtly commercial. All
indoors, it’s a festival for club people: five-dollar domestic beers but no
sunburn, beyond-hammered frat boys or massive lines for the bar and bathroom.
The sound was precise, the lighting and projections were quaint and things
started when they were supposed to. It’s probably the most comfortable time you
can have at something that considers itself a rock festival.

 

Not that Kutsher’s is by any stretch of the imagination
posh; on the contrary, it’s hard to imagine anyone staying there if they
weren’t going to see Sonic Youth and Raekwon. It’s dilapidated, mildew-ridden
and generally sketchy: Sit in the lobby long enough – in my case, about five
minutes – and you’ll spot vermin scurrying by. But for an event populated by
folks wary of corporations and unafraid of lousy New York apartments or a little rocker B.O.,
it’s kind of ideal – frozen in time, full of irony. There were two
standing-room venues, one a banquet hall and the other a multi-leveled,
old-school-casino-style ballroom with outstanding sightlines and a kitschy
floating-in-space décor. That Tomorrowland vibe could also be found at the Deep
End, the best and busiest of ATP’s three bars, where hip-hop architect Kool
Herc DJ’d a weekend-closing set on Sunday night. There was also a pond you’d be
fairly horrified to fall into, indoor and outdoor pools that actually looked
OK, some resortlike activities and amenities not worth mentioning, and on-site
food options that included solid pizza, less solid barbeque and little else.
All of this was connected by massive stretches of couch-filled lobby where the
wasted or just plain exhausted could stretch out un-harassed. Security checked
wristbands with diligence but didn’t play God.

 

It all made for an atmosphere something like that of a small
liberal arts college: You saw the same faces everywhere you went, and made fast
friends. The artists stayed on the premises, and many of them enjoyed the
entire weekend right alongside the fans, providing encounters whose surreal nature
had rapidly diminishing returns. (In other words, people didn’t seem too scared
to say hi to their heroes.) You could have spotted Lee Ranaldo eating ice cream
and watching his kids play air hockey; Jack Lawrence, after a solid set with
his Greenhornes, with a bottle of suds by the pond; T-Model Ford (pictured,
below) jamming through a battery-powered amp in the lobby and faring better
than he did at his proper show; or Ron Jeremy, who introduced Raekwon on Sunday
(huh?), kicking it on the Deep End’s dance floor. And you couldn’t miss filmmaker
Jim Jarmusch, whose shock of white hair wound through the crowd at most of the
shows I saw. 

 

 

 

Jarmusch curated the final day, and has through
his films already done a great deal of musical taste-making. Certain
collaborators you may have hoped or expected to find on the bill weren’t there –
Neil Young, Tom Waits, John Lurie, RZA – but many other of his film or
soundtrack veterans were included: GZA, the Greenhornes, Sunn O))), Boris.
(Some Jarmusch favorites, like the Stooges and Sleep, made it onto the weekend
schedule without his help.) Following ATP tradition, the weekend began with an
evening of album performances and continued on Saturday with a versatile
line-up chosen by the fest. And if you grew tired of ear-splitting distortion,
there was other stuff, too: comedians like Todd Barry (below) and Hannibal
Buress, both of whom killed; films from the Criterion Collection; a book panel;
and a Q&A with the ageless Thurston Moore and Jarmusch, somewhat marred by
concertgoer-submitted queries that were too cute to be either funny or provoke
worthwhile discussion.

 

 

 

The music, however, was hardly cute or precious at all. (OK,
maybe Girls.) It was, largely, deafeningly loud and rip-roaring – enough so that
stage diving and crowd surfing were a constant in the Starlight Ballroom. The
Scientists (top of page, and below) in their first-ever Stateside show, opened
Friday’s “Don’t Look Back” program with a run-through of their 1983 classic Blood Red River, making an imposing
argument for a full U.S.
tour. The quartet’s bluesy, lock-step, noir-inflected post-punk sounded sharp
and sinister: Kim Salmon’s atonal howls and curt falsetto shouts perfectly
complemented his guitar work, which primarily consisted of crude slashes of
slide and scribble-scrabble runs. (Few guitar bands do anti-technique as
effectively, or, for that matter, write songs as stylish as “Swampland.”)

 

 

 

Mudhoney still had it, performing its Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles out of order and reminding
everyone what grunge is supposed to sound like.

 

 

 

Iggy and the Stooges reminded everyone what a rock and roll show
is supposed to be, or can be. Again, the sequencing of the album in question,
1973’s Raw Power, was shuffled, but
deftly so: “Raw Power” was played first, and the space in front of the stage
became a seesawing mob; as usual in the reformed Stooges set, some of that mob –
“dancers,” “spazzers” and “freaks,” per Iggy’s request – got onstage to
convulse, this time through “Shake Appeal.” After the band finished the album
material it worked through songs like “1969,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog,” “Fun
House” and “No Fun,” and bucked any stigmas of nostalgia or revivalism. James
Williamson, the original Raw Power-era
guitarist who reclaimed his spot in the reformed Stooges after Ron Asheton died
in 2009, riffed and wailed with the best of them, and Mike Watt, who hobbled on
and offstage with an injured knee, seemed more like an O.G. Stooge than a hired
gun. Iggy, at 63, can still make security nervous. He stage dove, crowd surfed,
fell off amps into the audience, rocked a speaker back and forth until it
wedged underneath the PA, and pulled his weight vocally, whether offering a
pseudo-croon on “Gimme Danger” or inciting a slight riot on “Search and
Destroy.”

 

 

Matt Pike’s seminal ’90s stoner-rock band Sleep, with
Neurosis’ Jason Roeder on drums, played monolithic heavy metal from its Holy Mountain and Dopesmoker records for two hours
and 10 minutes. The power trio’s hypnotically grooving sound, particularly Al
Cisneros’ bass, which felt like a constant breeze, was so loud the set became a
disorienting physical experience. It was satisfying to hear Pike, who mostly
plays a nine-string guitar at blinding speeds in High on Fire, use his Gibson
Les Paul for an entire set and play very, very slow: not slow by rock
standards, but with an extreme sense of space found in some strains of the jazz
and classical avant-gardes.

 

 

An ultra-rare performance by Altar, Sunday’s Jarmusch-picked
headliner, worked in an even more experimental milieu, in terms of both volume
and leaden sonic landscapes. A combination of the American band Sunn O))) and
the Japanese group Boris, Altar provided wild and creepy avant-metal ambience before
it played a note, with an absurd wall of amplifiers that stretched toward the
ceiling and smoke that obscured the stage, filled the room and spilled out into
the nearby hallways. The musicians emerged, cloaked – in Sunn O))) fashion – like
druids, and proceeded with distorted drones and sirenlike harmonies that overwhelmed
the space and guaranteed tinnitus.

 

Jarmusch’s Sunday lineup offered much to fans of artsy
post-Sabbath hard rock: White Hills’ space rock and Dungen, who brought the
crowd’s vintage-prog vinyl collections to life, were highlights. The filmmaker,
who is currently working on a documentary on the Stooges, also chose solo gigs
by Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and GZA, and both were excellent. Raekwon did
something like the standard university-appearance hip-hop set – efficiently
designed with hype, choice solo material and classic Wu bangers – and addressed
the crowd as if everyone there were born and raised in the sticks of the Hudson
Valley. GZA’s performance, the only one that required rescheduling all weekend,
was rough in parts: It included some slight race-based tension up front, false
starts and flubbed verses with guest Raekwon. But it extended way past curfew
and was overall more interesting, a raw exhibition for Wu’s foremost lyricist. There
were, expectedly, some overlapping Wu staples – among them “Triumph” and
“Shimmy Shimmy Ya” – but GZA covered Liquid
Swords
terrain and his virtuosity snowballed as the show progressed;
showing his mettle, he rhymed brilliantly a cappella and over what he referred
to as “open beats.”

 

 

Other peaks during Jarmusch’s day included Hope Sandoval’s
dreamy Americana and Fucked Up (both pictured, below) whose Damian Abraham is a
transgressive frontman who has much more in common with current Iggy than he
does with G.G. Allin. Instead of antics that demean or damage, his in-the-mix
punk-rock theatrics were based on community-building: He incited group hugs,
shared his drink, frequently turned his mic over to the kids, and was a
constant friendly presence around the resort. The band, with its mighty
three-guitar attack, played anthems like “Crusades” touting a ferocity that
belied its art-school looks.

 

 

 

Saturday included a number of ATP favorites that reflected
the organizers’ penchant for Gen X-era alt- and indie-rock. Sonic Youth, a band
that seemed to represent most of what this weekend was about, was back to being
a quartet with Kim Gordon on bass and stuck with older material: a bunch of
cuts from Daydream Nation, some from Sister and EVOL, “Death Valley ’69,” “Shaking
Hell.”

 

 

The Breeders, a band whose famous sisters still play their
excellent songs as if they learned them two weeks ago – that isn’t a put-down –
hit the high points off 1993’s Last
Splash
and pared down to a trio so Kim Deal could perform the Amps’ “Empty
Glasses.” Shellac’s brand of thorny, severe post-hardcore was as potent as
ever, especially “Dude, Incredible.” 

 

 

Tortoise played a very rhythmic, nearly danceable set that relaxed
its propulsion with sterling, pastoral compositions like “Crest.”

 

 

Their set was right before former Neu! guitarist Michael
Rother’s Hallogallo 2010 with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Tall Firs bassist
Aaron Mullan, and the sequencing pointed up how much Tortoise’s aesthetic is
rooted in Krautrock. The set was worthwhile but the mix was troubling. Part of
the appeal of those classic Neu! records is how the rhythms are insistent and
propulsive but in a watery way; they’re never overpowering. Here the rhythm
section was too loud; in particular, Shelley’s backbeats seemed to suffocate
Rother’s guitars and electronics. In stark contrast to most everything else
about ATP, it didn’t leave much breathing room.     

 

        

 

 [Photo Credit: Abbey
Braden; courtesy ATP]

 

 

 

 

 

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