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All Tomorrow's Parties is a unique yet burgeoning festival brand, named after the Velvet Underground track that is a little more poignant this week. Its previous incarnations in Oz ranged from the sublime; think the coolest backdrop EVER of Cockatoo Island smack bang in Sydney Harbour, and the serene Mt Buller in 2009, to the ridiculous - the unairconditioned sport stadium facilities of Altona in Melbourne on a 40 plus degree day earlier this year. Despite its contrasts, what always held the thing together were the line-ups. Nick Cave and The Drones were formidable acts to begin with, but their choice of bands (think Neaubauten, Spiritualized, James Blood Ulmer, The Saints and Laughing Clowns, Beasts of Bourbon etc etc) when given curator duties (a task I would find impossibly delicious) were hard to beat. So the third crack by ATP to put together your ultimate festival mixtape entitled 'Release The Bats' was always going to get my dollars.
But then the unforeseen circumstances house band came along. The Altona venue had to be scrapped due to lagging ticket sales - this was bittersweet, there were fears it would be cancelled altogether amidst a spate of similar incidents in the Oz festival scene of late, but on the plus side the bizarre stadium had been changed to the Melbourne beachfront suburb of St Kilda, between two great venues that happened to be close to where we were staying. But then Jesus Lizard pulled out. And then my new favourite act, Forest Swords, cancelled. And then the realisation that the two venues were far enough away from each other that you could potentially miss an act (as punters did with metal act Sleep) and only the Palais Theatre could hold everyone at once. And you couldn't bring booze into that one. Granted it was a divine regency theatre that deserved care and attention, but despite the great acoustics and pretty light fittings I don't dig on sitting in a "first bought first served" wristbanded area (another quagmire of admin pain that doesn't deserve more than this sentence).
But we still had a cracker day.
The Scientists reform was a highlight, with Kim Salmon (Mark Arm and Kurt Cobain credit him for inventing grunge) proving that their dark, raw, feedback-driven sound from the late '70s to mid '80s has influenced much of what has come since, and therefore sounds current in 2013. The highly anticipated Television performed their seminal 1977 'Marquee Moon album'; the album is a slow burn and so was their performance, fans seemed lost in nostalgia which propped up Tom Verlaine's less than energetic moments, but the New Yorkers maintained their subversive guitar lines and pleased the diehards; particularly with the title-track. Pop Crimes are a tribute to the late Rowland S. Howard with an impressive line-up featuring past collaborators and family of the master of sonic poetry, including Birthday Party bandmate, Mick Harvey. Brother Harry Howard (Harry Howard and the NDE), Jonnine and Conrad Stadish (HTKR) and J.P Shilo shared vocal duty on songs that are only now achieving the critical acclaim they deserved when Howard first released them. The first half of the set was dedicated to tracks from These Immortal Souls (featuring original member Genevieve McGuckin) with the second half dedicated to Howard's two solo albums, 'Teenage Snuff Film' and 'Pop Crimes'. 'Crowned' was an absolute highlight.
Melbourne band Total Control were younger and more guitar-heavy than I had imagined, their set at the smaller Prince Bandroom venue was tight, focused and loud. Defying genre, their sound is heavier Joy Division meets intangibly cool older brother CD collection. Electronic duo Fuck Buttons assaulted the senses with tracks from their first solo produced album, 'Slow Focus'. An expansive, melodic and often frightening mix of engineered madness. It was a strange experience to be seated, merely watching Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung at opposite ends of a big mixing desk, albeit in front of a large screen that animated their profiles for larger-than-life effect. Their second from the end billing was incongruous (rumoured to be due to their inclusion on ATP recordings label) and whilst the acoustics were incredible, watching a dance act as if it were theatre was not.
The headliners defied the conventions of the day though, with a beautiful Spartacus effect of everyone in the theatre understanding it didn't pay to be seated. The Breeders in their original format played 1993's 'Last Splash' from start to finish, with the joy of hearing 'Cannonball' and 'Divine Hammer' live as evident on the faces of the band members as the punters. The slacker Deal sisters, who I recall waxing lyrical about a "juicy bud" as the centrefold in a copy of High Times, haven't changed a bit. They were engaging, humble and friendly, weaving through the drones and harmonies of an album that defied girly kitsch and represents a frenetic '90s fever that can’t be tamed. With the big acts playing mostly at the Palais, it was less festival and more extended grown up theatre visit, with the advantage of not being held to ransom by dodgy festival food and portaloos. You could stroll out into the overcast but pleasant day with the other thousand black clad over 30s and enjoy local cafes as well as a ride at Luna Park. It was all very civilised; we even escaped the staple endurance test and indignities of waiting for public transport at the end with the usual drunk and sweaty hordes. Collapsing into a hotel bed located merely a hop away with only mild ear ringing was far more elegant than usual gig fare, much like the day itself.
All Tomorrow's Parties' website
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