Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise
My close friends still find it extremely hard to believe. I’ve attended countless concerts in my lifetime (seeing some bands literally more than a dozen times), yet this weekend marked a personal musical landmark.
I attended my very first music festival, All Tomorrow’s Parties New York.
I’d been salivating over this day since I got my driver’s license. One entire day filled with bands I wanted to see, surrounded by people who shared my passion, spent entirely in some uber-trendy locale. All those powers combined would create the perfect storm of music experience that you had to be there to appreciate.
Everyone can rattle off the festivals that are spoken with reverence (the SXSWs, ACLs, CMJs of the world). ATP NY isn’t treated as if it’s on that level, rightfully so if it’s only in its second year of the current format.
However, my colleague for this festival was a Lollapalooza regular at one point and he’s raving about this experience. The New Yorker’s famed music critic Sasha Frere-Jones chose this as his one and only. I’ll certainly second those thoughts.
Kutsher’s is a former Catskills hotspot that once hosted Wilt Chamberlain celebrity events and Muhammed Ali training sessions. The past two years have seen the aimless resort turn into a hipster haven, and for good reason. This place has everything. No other music festival presents the opportunity to play air hockey or ping pong, drink by the lake or indoor pool, stay over in the hotel area and shop at the authentic Jeanine’s Market. Not to mention, there are also two cool venues indoors at the resort to prevent any inclimate weather issues. If ATP moves this, someone in management has lost their mind. You can’t think up a better setup (and I didn’t even mention the constant cinema).
Sufjan Stevens opened the event rather than closed it for some reason. He decided to perform only the Seven Swans album but, despite the lack of full orchestration, Sufjan riveted the crowd. Easily a top three set for the day just on the merits of how clean his sound was.
The other early highlights included an intriguing set from Australia’s Bridezilla (vocals kind of similar to Evanescence, but sax/violin incorporated into more of a indie-pop sound) and the Black Dice experience. I say experience because it’s 45 non-stop minutes of sound – some melodic, some electronic, some metallic, many rhythmic. No matter where you are in the theater you will leave and remain silent for a few minutes afterward (both contemplating what you just saw and physically recovering from being smothered by sound).
Yep, I randomly saw these guys and it wasn’t even the weirdest sight of the afternoon. If Sufjan had one of the top three sets at ATP NY (Sat), then this guy gets the second of those spots. It’s worth noting that old man keyboard renditions of “Candy Man” and “Time of My Life” are absolute showstoppers at hip musical festivals. Dance hysteria ensues.
I wish I got to catch more of the Anti-Pop Consortium because after the mellow (and metallic) morning I was ready to jump around a bit. They seemed to have a good rapport with the crowd going on. My time at Sleepy Sun was similarly cut short but their first impression was fantastic. They reminded me of The Doors in some strange indie sort of way (plus, it’s hard to root against a band whose self-proclaimed slogan is “let’s get weird”).
Akron/Family was one of the biggest surprises for the day. I immediately hesitated when I noticed they hung the de facto United States of Jam Bands flag on stage for their set and then followed that with an opening song easily over 7 minutes. Ultimately. I did witness a jam band for 45 minutes. Akron/Family however are a jam band that experiments with genre. Sure they opened with the jam band staple of world/acoustic music (complete with hand drums naturally) but they proceeded to play jams in 70s electric funk style and industrial electronica as well. There’s something about a 3 minute minimum solo section that just gets a crowd going I guess.
I know I’m not knowledgeable and versed enough to truly describe and appreciate what Shellac is/was (so here’s Sasha Frere-Jones’ take). They are clearly a group that doesn’t care about popular perception of them and that meticulously chooses their concepts. They’re loud. They write no-nonsense music. Their lyrics are showy and almost like character poetry. They’re older but I doubt they’ve changed their approach at all over the years.
All that said, they have a very loyal fanbase and you have to admire how fervently they live out what they believe in. Whether it’s singing songs that praise the snare drum or turning into airplanes during a solioquy, Shellac defiantly remain themselves whether you laugh at or buy in to what they share.
This. Was. The. Set. Of. The. Day.
Deerhunter was a band whose album (Cryptograms) became excellent study music for me. I knew nothing of them, couldn’t really name a single song of theirs. The album was wholistic and great ambience music.
Their live set only amplified how excellent their musicianship is. The songs are clean, almost hypnotic in the way they cause everyone to pay attention and bob. The band just shuts up and performs. There’s no major light show, no major jumping into the crowd or prancing around stage. The lead singer is a gangly guy who wears flannel for cyring out loud. They have a subtle intensity that’s a refreshing change from most acts today (particularly at a festival curated by the eccentric Flaming Lips).
The night’s headliners are one of the more eccentric sounds out there today. Their live set is similarly unique. It was a stark contrast from Deerhunter – lots of lights, lots of effects, the crowd seemed to chose to move rather than being compelled by anything on stage. Perhaps Animal Collective have so much hype around them that it’s impossible to live up to it, but their performance is an accurate representation of their album. It’s an artistic interpretation not for everyone; something that’s meant to be different but hopefully in a progressive “how the hell did they come up with this,” sort of way.
Overall, feelings on the day justly should be described in 140 characters or less:
Sufjan, Deerhunter, Piano Man: the best from a day full of surprises. Inevitably will be back next year whoever headlines. Kudos to the Lips
(Links today from The New Yorker, YouTube and Wikipedia)
E-mail if you went another day, I’m anxious to hear if the weekend trip is worth it.