At ATP: Nightmare Before Christmas

Having spluttered and cursed our way up the A39 for an impatient hour, inches from a bumbling silver Punto, we arrive in Minehead for ATPs Nightmare Before Christmas later than planned. But we remain buoyant, even when presented with our chalet: a dim showerless box reminiscent of an American motel room of the type frequented exclusively by serial killers and adulterers in 1970s road movies.

When we finally make it to Reds we witness Baltimore’s OXES deliver a handful of ‘respectful mosh-pitters’, a wilfully ironic cover of ‘Wild Thing’ and a “new one” that falls apart in amusing fashion when even the band themselves are unable to master its obtuse time signature. No Age follow and, with faithful ferocity, suck yours truly into an intensely satisfying mosh pit, the joy of which is only partly tarnished when a fresh faced young chap informs me that my exhausted, sweating face makes him feel old. I’m not quite sure how to take it. No Age also throw open an invite to the crowd for vocal assistance on a cover of Black Flag’s ‘Wasted’. “I need to change my shirt,” he complained when I drunkenly accosted him later on. “People keep recognising me and coming over to chat.” Fame, eh?

Other highlights of the day: Hot Snakes blasting through a brilliantly paced, frenetic set, and an indescribably spectacular, emotional and ecstatic show to close the night from Les Savy Fav.

Day two starts with a swim (and more importantly a shower soundtracked by Death Grips’ ‘Klink’. Where else but ATP?) and a tempting teaser of an early opening set from the day’s curators: Battles. Walls and Washed Out follow and are decent enough but it quickly becomes apparent that, from here on in, this ATP is to be defined by percussion. It’s unsurprising of course, John Stanier of Battles - perhaps one of the most celebrated percussionists alive - having a hand in saying who plays today.

Closing the night, Battles deliver an absorbing, tightly controlled, far more disciplined set than earlier in the day. Highlights include killer renditions of ‘Leyendecker’ and ‘Ice Cream’, plus extended, warped versions of old favourites such as ‘Atlas’, now brilliantly reworked with a children’s choir singing the refrain at its core.

Finally, we return to Centre Stage for the expanded eleven-piece Caribou Vibration Ensemble, replete with mad scientist (James Holden hopping around a modular synthesiser hooked up to one of the drum kits), a skronking, honking four-man horn section including legendary Sun Ra octogenarian Marshall Allen (playing at one point what looks like a sci-fi duck whistle), Keiran Hebden (Four Tet) to contribute electronics, and two drummers, facing each other at the centre of the throng. There are far too many highlights to mention, but it feels perfectly apt that the final set of this ATP features a complex network of percussive experts weaving each of their unique beats, rhythms, synths, programs, samples and sounds together as one, and that this mind-blowing Nightmare Before Christmas should end with a glowing, blinding burst of ‘Sun’.

Words by Jon Hillcock
Photos by Duncan Elliott

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