ATP Australia – The Clash Review

ATP's first-ever Australian festival covered...

Clash heads to the southern hemisphere for the first-ever ATP in Australia, held at the Mount Buller Ski Resort in Victoria, on January 9-10.

On the bill: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Dirty Three, The Saints and many more.

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Chairlifts. That’s what festivals need to guarantee happy punters, at least if the first Australian All Tomorrow’s Parties is any guide.

Okay, so offering the crowd a line-up of seminal acts, a handful of under-the-radar surprises and stunning mountain top views helps. But, really, it’s the chairlifts.

Whether being carried over the crowd while Fuck Buttons are whipping up a maelstrom on the main stage, taking in the scenery on the way down during Robert Forster’s lush set or spying festival curator Nick Cave and family gliding overhead closely followed by Warren Ellis and crew while Japanese loons Afrirampo spread glee across the mountainside, it’s an experience like no other.

In truth, the entire weekend – spent in a ski resort during summer with weather good enough to require sunscreen during the day – is for the vast majority of festival-goers an experience like no other.

ATP may have failed by some considerable distance to meet their target for ticket sales but, when word spreads, they’ll surely struggle to meet demand next time around.

With the line-up of music, film and art chosen by Cave and the Bad Seeds, Australian music new and (mainly) old features heavily, laced with eclectic acts from across the globe.

The latter includes the aforementioned Fuck Buttons’ awe-inspiring electronic assault, two sets from LA’s Dead Meadow and former Swans lynchpin Michael Gira’s stripped-down performance on the second stage to a backdrop of the Great Dividing Ranges.

For many, the weekend’s highlight is the two Japanese girls making up Afrirampo, who combine manic enthusiasm, fearsome riffs and much humour, whether donning a Nick Cave mask, singing about sunglasses or indulging in a spot of amateurish performance art in which they interpret ATP as meaning: “Afrirampo. Top of the mountain. POWER!”

Cretan violinist Psarandonis whips the second stage crowd (including several Bad Seeds) into a Mediterranean dancing frenzy, Silver Apples’ Simeon proves that though the body may age, the spirit need not, while Jason Pierce’s gospel choir-enhanced, fully electric version of Spiritualized melts hearts and blows minds in equal measure, from the spaced-out ‘Shine A Light’, through ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, We’re Floating In Space’ (complete with original Elvis ending) to a frenzied ‘Come Together’.

Existing fans walk away delirious, while those for whom this is a first experience leave on a mission to explore his back catalogue. Cave must be questioning the wisdom of placing them immediately before him on the bill.

With the local acts, there is many a trip down Memory Lane. Former Birthday Party guitarist Roland S Howard appears happily haggard as he mixes old songs and new, including one he announces “that scares me”, while Melbourne’s Primitive Calculators reform for a rare appearance that’s rather more welcome than that of The Reels: if frontman David Mason’s bright purple suit isn’t warning enough, their first few songs confirm the feeling they are best left down Memory Lane.

Also testing patience as a frontman is The Saints’ Chris Bailey. Combining look-at-me pompousness with a truly abysmal tan trenchcoat, he couldn’t contrast more with lost-in-the-music guitarist Ed Kuepper; neither manages to look the other in the eye throughout.

Thankfully the Brisbane proto-punks deliver a blistering set that ends the first night of the festival on a high and allows many to forgive Bailey his (probably quite intentional) foibles.

The ubiquitous Warren Ellis pops up everywhere: in peoples’ photos; running uphill between shows; in various bands including, of course, the Dirty Three. Former ATP curators, here the band performs ‘Ocean Songs’ in its entirety, with Ellis as whirling dervish on violin leading the crowd on an emotional journey.

He also waves his shakers in fine style when Grinderman turns out to be the not-so-mystery mystery band. There seems to be a desire among certain sections of the Australian music-loving audience to criticise anything Cave has done in recent years, Grinderman included, but there can be little denying the power here of tracks like ‘Honey Bee’ and ‘No Pussy Blues’.

When the Bad Seeds appear for the main stage’s closing show, a surprisingly polite Cave takes great care to thank everyone for coming (“I wouldn’t have driven so far,” he says of the four-hour trek from Melbourne) while delivering several songs from last year’s acclaimed ‘Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!’ alongside fiery classics from ‘Tupelo’ to ‘Red Right Hand’.

Pedants might question the need to return for a second encore of ‘The Ship Song’ given the first had ended with a disgustingly feral ‘Stagger Lee’, but perhaps he is as caught up in the beauty of the site as his guests.

Throughout the village the accommodation, drink, sports, food and mood on the mountain lends itself to an atmosphere of general civility in which families wander happily among porno moustaches and people in fancy dress.

That said, there is still room for the likes of Passenger of Shit.

The purveyor of “erotic SPEEDCORE happy TERRORCORE” – a lone man with penis mask and laptop, signed to Shitwank Records – exhilarates / scares people in equal measure in the late-opening bars with a mix of screeched abuse, Toytown melodies and distorted jackhammer beats, pushing some to form an impromptu orchestra on the venue’s antique cowbells and one pour soul so far he starts dusting the entire room with his hat until removed by security.

It’s the sort of challenging act unlikely to crop up on many festival bills and, in its contrast with the serenity of the site, suggests that with the Mount Buller event the ATP team is moving ever closer to achieving their perfect festival.

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