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Sunday, 15 January 2012

Wir könnten Helden werden: Barry Hogan and Deborah Kee Higgins

Inspiration for these Blogs often comes from the most unexpected places. And occasionally an idea will spring from an encounter with something we dislike, rather than something we are actually fond of. Take this Blog for example. The seeds of this Blog were sown as I drove into work, my first day back after the Festive break. As I listened to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, I found that Zane Lowe was sitting in for Chris Moyles. Now....I don't have a problem with Zane at all, I actually admire his energetic enthusiasm for music, especially new and often left-field cutting edge music. He is loved by Radio 1's Indie listeners, and repeatedly wins the NME's DJ Of The Year award. Squint hard enough and you can almost see Zane becoming the John Peel of his generation (though I'm sure he'd baulk at the very suggestion!).
So why did Mr Lowe annoy on this particularly bleak morn?
Because his guest was the very Chartered Accountant Of Beige, Noel Gallagher. And to hear Zane simper, fawn and try not to upset such an anti-music figure as Gallagher was rather dispiriting. I refuse to let my dignity slip and plunge into a tirade about how much I dislike this man's music and how he's done nothing of any worth since 1996 (and even that was shoddy), yet still he lords it over everyone like he's some Lennon/Townshend/Hendrix hybrid; but to hear someone like Zane pamper his bereft-of-an-original-idea arse was just depressing. Yet it reminded me of how Radio 1, the NME, and indeed most of the media are always 1, 2 or even 5 steps behind what really counts as musical innovation, the cutting edge, and the genuinely talented.
And it led me to think of Barry Hogan.....
Now, Barry Hogan is not a musician, but he is most definitely a music lover, and one who, unlike Zane Lowe, would never pander to any Tom, Dick or Gobshite. Since the turn of the millennium, Barry Hogan has been the co-organiser( along with Deborah Kee Higgins) of the All Tomorrow's Parties series of festivals; festivals that literally seethe with outre talents in a fields of musical diversity would give the editor of the NME a reality check, and the controller of Radio 1 a seizure.
So let's take a look at this magnificent series of festivals, and let's ponder how ATP gets it SO right that even Glastonbury looks like a pale and shabby imitation of it's myriad splendour.
All Tomorrow's Parties began as 'The Bowlie Weekender'; a one-off festival curated by Belle & Sebastian and held in the Camber Sands Holiday Camp is Sussex in April of 1999. Named after the curious haircut sported by Indie-kids of the time, the line-up included The Pastels, Camera Obscura, The Divine Comedy, Sleater-Kinney, Teenage Fanclub (~Streetlamp~ favourites all) to name but a few, as well as DJ sets by Jarvis Cocker (of Pulp) and Tim Gane (of Stereolab).

Inspired by the success and unique atmosphere of the festival, Barry Hogan took it upon himself to continue the good work, setting up the All Tomorrow's Parties concept, based pretty much upon the Bowlie Weekender blueprint.
Barry's first major idea was not to choose the line-up himself, but to have a band or artist as a curator and have them choose the line-up and create, in Barry's words, 'an excellent mixtape'.
The first ATP Festival was again held at Camber Sands and was curated by Mogwai who chose artists as divers as Sonic Youth, Arab Strap, Super Furry Animals, Aphex Twin, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Shellac and Wire.
Further festivals would be curated by Tortoise, Shellac, actor Vincent Gallo, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, My Bloody Valentine, Thurston Moore, The Breeders, Pitchfork Media, Autechre and Portishead (among many others). In 2005 Barry Hogan asked his favourite band of all time, Slint, to curate the festival. Not only did they do this, but they reformed for a one-off performance of their landmark album 'Spiderland'.

As the success of the festival grew, it spread over into a two weekend affair with the second part taking place at Butlin's Holiday Camp in Minehead. The branded festival has also branched out, thanks to major involvement from US Indie music champions Pitchfork Media with festivals being held in Long Beach California which have seen performances from Lou Reed, The Cramps, Daniel Johnston, Deerhoof, Iggy & The Stooges, !!!, Built To Spill, Smog and Television (again amongst MANY others).
In recent years the Festival has also taken place in New York, Barcelona, Australia and Tokyo.

In the early days of the Festival, Barry would issue his own missives as little introductions to the festivals, taking potshots at chancers of the time like The Vines, The Hives, The Cooper Temple Clause (and Oasis) while gushing longingly about The Breeders, Nina Nastasia, Mark E Smith and Threnody Ensemble. It was these messages that elevated Barry to the status of HERO for me; that in one sentence he could eulogise passionately about acts like Bad Wizard, Gang Gang Dance or The Mars Volta, then instruct people to go home and set fire to their Bloc Party CDs (who at the time were probably on the cover of the NME and in session for Zane Lowe) made him a man after my own heart.
I wish I could say more about Deborah Kee Higgins as his trusty cohort, but unfortunately she doesn't tend to release many utterances so I'm afraid my info is a little stymied.
Of course there's no way I could hope to successfully capture the whole essence of 12 years of incredible festivals and cutting edge music in one single Blog, so I must point you in the direction of the usual sources; you'll find plenty of info on their Wikipedia page which lists the entire line-up of every festival; there's their own official website where you'll find videos and also the fact that ATP is now a record label on it's own; but most importantly I must bring to your attention 'All Tomorrow's Parties' - The Movie!

Filmed over the whole duration of all the festivals by the curators, the musicians, and the public alike, the footage has been collated and edited by Jonathan Caouette who made the hallucinatory, melancholic Ode-To-Boy 'Tarnation'.
Like that movie, 'All Tomorrow's Parties' has a woozy dreamlike air, like binging on Mescal jellies; a chewy, intoxicating patchwork of mind-altering visions. Cut together with old footage of the holiday camps in their heyday, we see the probability that a festival goer may end up occupying a chalet right next door to Nick Cave....or Iggy Pop....or Mark E Smith....or Daniel Johnston, and yes, that's every bit as wonderful or frightening as you can imagine. That's one of the things the movie brings across, and one of the factors that makes the ATP festivals so special; there is no 'Superstar' us-and-them mentality....everyone shares the same space, everyone is on the same level (in every sense). Somehow I can't envisage Mr Gallagher so far out of his comfort zone.

The film rattles with sparkling visceral performances from the likes of Battles, Fuck Buttons, Lightning Bolt and Grinderman, then offers moments of early morning reflective troubadouring from Daniel Johnston, Grizzly Bear or Micah P Hinson. Genuine legends like Patti Smith and John Cooper Clarke are seen clearly enjoying themselves and letting loose and you find yourself chanting "What the fucking hell is Glastonbury?".

And that's the whole point of this Blog, my Friends....the BBC and the NME (and all their respective ilk) offer us this version of alternative music, alternative festivals, and out-there left-field art, but they offer nothing! The emperors are undressed and playing songs that sound like old Beatles riffs.
So here's to Barry and Deborah; true independent spirits, purveyors of genuine musical thrills, and above all....HEROES!!
"The sun will come out tomorrow..."


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