ATP Week - A Brief History with Barry Hogan

ATP's founder discusses its intentions...
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Barry Hogan is the founder of All Tomorrow’s Parties, which set its stall out with its first weekender of eclectic indie rock and eccentric electronica back in 2000, following the previous year’s template-setting Bowlie Weekender, and hasn’t looked back since.

Previously a booker for a variety of other acts, and involved in the company Foundation, Hogan formed ATP as a reaction to the nature of the work he found himself undertaking, switching to a path where his own tastes could be indulged while also operating a successful business model.

ATP has expanded from an annual weekender to embrace further festivals home and abroad (Los Angeles, New York, Australia, Barcelona), standalone shows in London and elsewhere in the UK, and launched a record label in 2001. Read our Beginners Guide for more information.

And over to Barry for the answers to Clash’s ATP – A Brief History questions…

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Was ATP an idea that long preceded its realisation, or once the concept was there did the wheels turn pretty quickly?
I wanted to do a festival for a few years, and when I started ATP there wasn’t many alternative events around and to be honest. All you had was Reading and Phoenix, and I guess Glastonbury in those days. I always went to Reading and only ever watched like three or four bands and left feeling empty a lot of the time. So I thought about doing an event where likeminded people came and watched twenty or more bands they loved. I always thought that would be so much more appealing, and I was fortunate that I promoted Belle and Sebastian, and that they gave me the opportunity to put the idea into motion.

You’ve a background in gig promoting – do you think ATP could have worked without this experience, perhaps by getting others involved? Could that have diluted the brand, and ultimately take it in a different direction from where it is now?
I started my own company called Foundation, which later became ATP Concerts, with the sole reason to only promote bands we liked or bought records by. I had worked in clubs like Dingwalls, booking bands and having had to work on shows and book the likes of The Lighthouse Family and Placebo. That only encouraged me to put on stuff I believed in, and I think the stance of turning down hot acts for artists such as Smog or Godspeed You! Black Emperor when they weren’t very well known was definitely the early ethos behind ATP.

ATP grew out of the Bowlie Weekender, ostensibly at least. If Bowlie had not been the success it was, would the roots of ATP still been laid in 2000?
Would the chance still have been taken, even if ‘year one’ fell short?

Difficult to say, but I had definitely been trying to do something along the lines of an alternative weekender and I have to confess I was looking at different spaces so the idea of the holiday camp was a stroke of genius on the part of Stuart from Belle and Sebastian and their manager at the time, Neil.

The first proper ATP, in 2000, was curated by Mogwai. Could you have asked for better first-timers? The line-up that came together set an impressive precedent I’d say…
Yeah, that line up was so amazing. It was all coming together nicely and then, in December, four months before the event, we asked Sonic Youth if they would play. I was surprised they would even consider the event, and then when they confirmed I knew we were onto something special. If you look back on that line up, there are some gems on there including Godspeed You! Black Emperor, The For Carnation and even Sigur Rós, who played for £500 back when they were making good music.

In 2004 you moved to incorporate multiple curators, at the ‘Director’s Cut’ events. What prompted this move? A simple desire to include more artists you like, or by this stage were you being asked by acts if they could come aboard for the experience?
This was to celebrate the fifth birthday of ATP, and it was like a retrospective of all the curators we had. So it was like a celebration, but because there were six different wish lists I thought the line ups would be fresh and original, and would present six different musical interpretations.

Also in 2004 you had a domestic festival that was not helmed by a band/musician, with the Chapman Brothers taking the reins (and Matt Groening in the US, in 2003). What was the thinking behind this? Since then you’ve had other individuals from outside of the music world – has it opened the floodgates of possibility regarding who/what can be associated with ATP?
I just wanted to make the festival different. Our line-ups were seeing some of the same acts being picked by the curators, so I thought: let’s make it more exciting by inviting other folks from other creative mediums to select the music. I saw on some documentary about Captain Beefheart that Matt Groening had this crazy taste in music, and I thought he would deliver something out there and unique. Same too with the Chapman brothers: they were always at decent gigs and they had Aphex Twin, LFO, Throbbing Gristle and Comets on Fire playing the same bill – such a killer line-up, but no one came to it and we took a bath. I would be open to anyone curating ATP as long as they had great taste in music and they represented something we at ATP admire. I wonder if Wes Anderson would make a good curator? We love his films, and he always has great music in them. I am sure it would be killer. For the future ones we have some non-musician curators that will surprise people, I think, but once they see the final product they will understand we do know what we are doing and we’re not trying to openly shock people. We are trying to engage with exciting events, and make each one better or different from the last.

It didn’t take long for ATP to move into overseas territories, with the first US event taking place in 2002. Was this always the intention, or did the success of the festival lead to avenues of opportunity you never expected in 2000?
Again, I always wanted to do an alternative festival and had visions of it expanding into like a Lollapalooza-style event travelling across the country but without the bullshit egos, shit bands, Ticketmaster or corporate sponsors. So my plan was to try and do one in the US and see if we could build on it.

You’ve now had events in the US and Australia – are there other parts of the world you’d love to see an ATP festival take place in?
Japan would be a great place. If there is anywhere we go next, I hope it’s there. I have never been to Japan and had a bad time. I think the culture of music, film and art that ATP thrives on would work really well in Japan.

Do you think ATP paved the way, to an extent, for niche festivals presenting ‘leftfield’ music to the fore, for a select crowd? If so, are you proud of the impact, or do you feel that the imitators, so to speak, have an impact on your own profile/profitability?
Yeah, I think we are proud of what we have achieved and I remember back in 1998 there weren’t any alternative festivals. I guess there are too many people trying to do it now. Some stand out better than others, and ATP and the ones that represent quality, and that work on a concept, will survive. I don’t think putting on the same bands every year and hoping people will come is the key to longevity.

Is it hard to balance the books sometimes, when you know you could go after Artist A for a festival, but doing so would blitz the budget? Is self control an important part of the booking process?
Yeah, that is always a tough one. I get tempted and want to go crazy on the budget so we can have these insane line-ups, that I know will blow people’s minds, but I really think the key to the best line-ups are the ones that are solid right across the board. It’s easy to pick some big names and then only complete the bill with lesser-known obscure stuff. The ATPs curated by the Mars Volta and Explosions In The Sky had so many mid-range acts that people were killing themselves to run between the stages; they ended up being some of the best line-ups we ever had. That’s why I can never understand the attraction of Bestival. They generally have four good, big acts, but always they have about 100 shit ones. That’s not balanced and it reminds of the Reading events in the mid ‘90s that encouraged me to start ATP.

What artists have curators requested that completely surprised you? Could you get them? Is it fair to say that no ATP is exactly as it initially lined up on paper some months before hand?
Well, Snow Patrol were on a couple of wish lists but they weren’t around, thank god. I know they played the first one but that’s a long story, and that’s when they were pretending to be Sebadoh and not pretending to be Coldplay! I had a recent request for Lily Allen, which I thought would be quite funny. She seems so wrong for ATP, but perhaps because of that it would be a show we would no doubt all enjoy. All line-ups start on paper, and are never the same when the final line-up is delivered. You lose bands all the time when people are on tour or in the studio or their agent is looking for unrealistic money. It’s like having a film script that goes through many re-writes. Some line-ups actually get developed along the way, and turn out even better.

Do you have any true, standout memories from ATPs past? Any key moment, be it a performance or something outside of the live music side of the festival that just made you go: “Yes, this is IT.” Right now, would you change any of it? Perhaps the hours, I guess… Must be pretty busy!
One thing I would like to change is I wish we could take a break a lot of the time, but when is a very good question. Will we do ATP for a long time? Who knows? But we have accomplished a lot and if we stopped tomorrow we would safe in the knowledge we remained true to ourselves and followed the path we believed in.

On that note – ATP must have taken over your life. Is it hard letting go of it, if only for a week or two for a holiday?
A holiday would be delicious! We get to travel a lot with the event but I would love to be able to just sit on a beach and not have to think about it for two weeks. If that happens, that might be when we decide to stop.

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Find ATP’s official website HERE.

Read an exclusive interview with ATP Recordings artist Deerhoof HERE.

Coming tomorrow: an interview with ATP's first ever curators, Mogwai.

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