ATP's Nightmare Before Christmas

A seaside horror show of a most-musical variety
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On paper a meeting of minds marginalised by the passing of time and the shifting of musical trends, this year’s Nightmare Before Christmas curator pairing of Melvins and one-time Faith No More squealer Mike Patton promised the truly underground from the outset.


What perhaps wasn’t anticipated was the accessibility of so many of the chosen participants, and the joy they’d spread through a chilled-to-the-bone Minehead Butlins.

Arriving later than expected on Friday, after some transportation headaches, Clash bundles into its chalet and straight back out again to catch Torche. And what a way to open our NBC experience, and lay siege to our senses – tinnitus is established within minutes of entering the venue’s ‘second stage’, Reds. The Florida doom-metallers, featuring exes of Floor and Cavity, are performing as a four-piece for the final time, as guitarist Juan Montoya takes his bow, and the crowd’s into their bombastic but hook-laden cacophonies from the outset. Legs appear above heads, as crowd-surfers mix themselves into a true party atmosphere, selections from the band’s superb ‘Meanderthal’ album pummelling the assembled many and leaving them twitching with glee. A clattering climax sees arms aloft and cheers bellowed mightily – what a way for Montoya to make his exit.

The Locust entertain the ‘main stage’ audience – Centre Stage – with their splutter-core anthems, short on length but high on impact, prior to the arrival of one of the bill’s heaviest hitters, Isis. The California-based avant-metal outfit hammer home selections from their most-recent LP, ‘The Absence Of Truth’, but the most vocal reception is reserved for ‘Oceanic’ cut ‘The Beginning And The End’. A classic track from a classic album, it ensures Clash descends into a blur of red wine and export-strength lager with a very sore neck.

Saturday morning brings headaches and regret – somehow we managed to miss Meat Puppets the night before, not to mention White Noise. It happens, though – many of the best ATPs we’ve been to have been ones where the bands have played something of a second-fiddle at times to all-smiles indulgence, and simply hanging out with friends we don’t see often enough. First up on the live band front is Mastodon, here playing as a trio after guitarist Bill Kelliher’s hospitalisation with pancreatitis. His absence barely affects the Atlanta titan’s flow, though, as they plunder their catalogue for selections including ‘Blood & Thunder’ and an awesomely dizzying ‘Bladecatcher’.

Belting down to Reds, we spend 20 in the company of Christian Fennesz’s undulating dream-scapes – and immediately wish we’d got there sooner. No matter, because our newfound sense of serenity is violently shattered by a Melvins and Fantomas double-header, albeit one with an underwhelming Butthole Surfers in between.

As co-headliners, of sorts, Melvins and Fantomas represent the big draws at this year’s NBC event – and the lines outside Centre Stage prior to their performances (and the Buttholes, it must be said – that they did little for us this time around doesn’t mean many weren’t having a cracking time getting outside of their skulls with Gibby Haynes and co.) indicate their level of appreciation. With Big Business’ Jared Warren and Coady Willis long-established as honorary Melvins members, King Buzzo and Dale Crover deliver the heavy-heavy sound and rattle teeth throughout Butlins. Specifics are lost in the fog of rumbling, brutish volume, but Clash recalls something about a bubble-haired warlock bearing down upon us… Actually, that might have been a nightmare we had on Sunday morning after noshing down on too much cheddar…

The Patton-helmed Fantomas are here to perform their ‘Director’s Cut’ album of 2001 (eagle-eyed attendees will have noticed the festival’s film programme tying well to the tracks covered on said record), and pack Centre Stage as their lynchpin quivers and flails while producing his characteristic vocal ticks. There’s no Dave Lombardo in town, so Crover keeps time on the kit – but you’d have to listen really closely to notice any difference. With Crover’s Melvin’s colleague Buzz on guitar duties, it’s a partial reunion so soon after their own set proper has finished, and the vibe in the room is one of great respect and admiration for the group’s wonderfully wayward re-workings of themes from flicks including ‘Spider Baby’ (did you see it? How weird was that?), ‘The Godfather’ and ‘The Omen’. And then…

Then it’s drinking, again, as Clash finds itself in the company of a couple of members of Isis – don’t tell our mates or owt, but it’s a pretty exciting encounter. After collecting ourselves and reining in those fanboy tendencies, we’re back for Rahzel’s panto party-pieces – the acclaimed beat-boxer’s Centre Stage set is akin to slapping random on a glitchy jukebox, as we get all manner of covers delivered in the former Roots man’s inimitable style. While he’s not as developed a live performer as fellow human instrument Beardyman, who uses technological trickery to transform his beats into full-blown floor-fillers, Rahzel’s technique is beyond criticism.

Lydia Lunch is fronting a Thurston Moore-featuring Teenage Jesus & The Jerks in Reds, Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos tub-thumping with no little force. The songs are, of course, sketchy and raw, as suits their no-wave roots, and expressions remain solidly stern throughout. But the ‘event’ nature of their performance ensures it’ll live long in even a booze-battered memory. Martina Topley-Bird’s Reds set is higher on covers than anticipated, so represents something of a break from the more-intense bands the festival has on offer; originals mix well with interpretations of efforts by Kate Bush and The Beat. Saturday’s closed with a visit to Squarepusher, complete with live percussion (we’d have loitered longer, but new LP ‘Just A Souvenir’ hasn’t yet clicked in the his last did), before a peek at Fuck Buttons (plus mates) DJing in the Crazy Horse bar. Our feet guide the way back to our chalet when eyes and ears have had their fill.

Sunday is all about one act: Monotonix. The Israeli garage-rockers have an envious live reputation – fire is expected, but doesn’t materialise – and just about make good on all the pre-performance buzz. They start as they mean to go on, setting up in the crowd; before long vocalist Ami Shalev is dangling from pipes that run across Reds’ ceiling, balancing atop a kick drum raised upwards by many a friendly hand. He throws himself this way and that, every time risking injury but somehow always avoiding cracking a breakable part of himself on a fixture most solid. They end by leading a procession outside, leading to panic spreading across the faces of the bulky security guards. But there’s nothing to fear here – the trio’s infectious energy spreads, and we all have a great party feeling glad it’s not us up there, hanging by his legs, about to plunge to the floor…

Before and after Monotonix, acts come and go, their impression dulled by the three men in skimpy shorts from Tel Aviv. Not that they’re not great – Dalek are everything their fans expect them to be, heavy as hell on low end and eerie on atmospheric swirls; Leila struggles with gremlins in the works but ultimately does a decent job of bringing her ‘Blood, Looms & Blooms’ album to life; and Kool Keith is Kool Keith in the way that only Kool Keith can only be Kool Keith – bonkers, brilliant, colourful, joyous.

Which just about summarises a fantastic NBC, put together with love and care by Patton, the members of Melvins and, of course, the powers that be at ATP. Roll on next year’s events…!

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