Wednesday 14 December 2011

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Before I arrived at Minehead Butlins last weekend, I had this idea that music festivals were just for farting around with your mates in fancy dress and randomly stumbling over weird gypsy punk bands at 4am.

But the previously alien concept of timetabling bands suddenly became critical at All Tomorrow's Parties. This is because most of the music is GREAT. Every amazing band I missed due to time clashes sent me into paroxysms of disappointment, meaning any extra-curricular activities were swiftly sidelined in case I missed something life-changing.

I only made it to the swimming pool complex for a drift round the Lazy River once in the whole weekend. Once! And I spent that whole time squinting to see if Carrie Brownstein from Wild Flag/Sleater Kinney was in the pool.

Carrie Brownstein: Not On The Water Slide

 After a fun stop-over in Bath on the Thursday night (very pretty, got drunk and lost my scarf) we had a leisurely drive to the coast on Friday, where I got typically over-excited about being able to the sea. The Friday night was curated by long-time heroes and all round crazy bastards Les Savy Fav, and we saw Marnie Stern, Wild Flag, Archers Of Loaf, Hot Snakes and a brilliant and very glittery closing set from LSF all without having to leave the kitsch, Butlins-tastic Centre Stage.

Les Savy Fav: spangly belly

The complex is entirely indoors with only a few outside sprints required to get from chalet to venue (just as well as it was freezing cold and occasionally very wet). As you'd expect from a holiday park, there's loads to keep you occupied - including a huge arcade in the middle of the Pavilion which was great for keeping our drunken clan entertained between sets. The bouncy ball Chris won in a grabber machine kept a whole crowd of strangers engaged in a game of catch at the back of Cults on Saturday night.

Walking into Minehead for fish and chips requires unimaginable layers of clothing
Saturday was probably the least exciting for me in the programme, I didn't really get Battles or the Thankyou - they all seemed to be excellent musicians but the music didn't hang together right in my brain. Above mentioned twee popsters Cults were pretty dull -hence the ball game, as was a possibly botoxed Gary Numan -we missed him playing Cars too, which was annoying. I had been looking forward to seeing the newly reformed Bitch Magnet (without whom we would never have had Mogwai, or possibly post-rock at all) ever since we found out they were playing, and they were the evening's highlight for me, as well as unexpected treats from the ear-shatteringly bass heavy Flying Lotus and techno awesomeness from Chilean maestro Matias Aguayo which we danced to til silly o'clock. We then crashed a bizarre chalet party and bogled in somebody else's kitchen to a calypso version of Cars until we were too tired to stand any more.

 Alex & Penny Benj: Dancing to the music

Sunday dawned. I still couldn't decide if the big fat white bird plodding round the chalets was a skua or not. Hipster spotting was more succesful than bird watching: more horn-rimmed glasses and beards than you could shake a plaid stick at. There was also some Christmas fancy dress, but I would have liked more.

Coming as Chris's doppleganger, however, is EXCELLENT fancy dress

Our chalet-mates kindly made breakfast while I lay uselessly on the sofa watching the X Factor repeat, before stumbling out to watch the first Caribou set, then rolling back to mine and Sam's tiny 2 berth to fall asleep in front of a Tim Allen Christmas film. I prised myself out of bed for my festival highlight, the terrific afro-futuristic avant garde jazz of the Sun Ra Arkestra - 11 old men dressed in spangly outfits tearing up the stage. My favourite was definitely band leader Marshall Allen, an 87 year old saxophone genius who raced up and down his instrument like a set of funky stairs, only pausing to get out what Sam neatly described as his "space kazoo" - a weird Akai developed electronic whistle. They had four saxophones, people. FOUR.

Sun Ra Arkestra: Jazz In Space!

Also terrific was the Syrian stomp of the awesome Omar Souleyman, who I bounced to so much that I couldn't bend my knees the next day and the ever-brilliant Four Tet, who made me dance even though I was clearly falling asleep again. Fifteen minutes into the closing Caribou set and I was slumped on a chair at the back and ready for bed. Crawling home past Crazy Horse I heard the thump of my beloved Theo Parrish and paused.... but it was all too much, I was ATP'd out. I'll catch him next time he's in town.

Lessons learned: a spreadsheet would not be a bad idea next year, hipsters can't dance for shit (hilarious, they really can't!), and don't bother buying BAKING ingredients at a festival just because you're excited about there being an oven - you won't bake. You just won't.

 Happy friends joy. No baking here.

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