All Tomorrow’s Parties was, essentially, established as a response to the success of the Bowlie Weekender in 1999, when Belle And Sebastian curated three days of eclectic indie-rock performances at Camber Sands Pontin’s holiday camp. The first ATP took place the next April, its curators: Mogwai.
The Scottish (mostly) instrumental rockers took the reins and pulled in a bill featuring a wealth of household names – Sigur Rós, Snow Patrol, Super Furry Animals, Sonic Youth – alongside some of the best niche artists on both sides of the pond, including Labradford, Wire, Shellac and Aphex Twin. And we could easily go on, all the time amazed by the assembled cast: Arab Strap, Hood, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, …Trail Of Dead, Stereolab, Mice Parade, Clinic, Ganger, The Delgados…
Sorry, slipped into some sort of dream, there. Clash caught up with Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite for a wee chat about curating the first-ever ATP, returning to curate a day at 2004’s Directors Cut weekends, and playing a handful of other events too.
Strange, thinking back to 2000… you were still a relatively new band. And look how far you’ve come…
Yeah, it is… We never really thought anything much would happen when we formed this band, so it’s all been something of a bonus.
How did you wind up curating the first ATP?
We did Bowlie, and when ATP was getting organised for the next year we offered to play because it looked really good fun. We had a great time at Bowlie – there were a lot of our friends’ bands playing, and just a lot of great bands in general, and there was a great atmosphere. Barry (Hogan, ATP founder) was doing the next one, as ATP, and they asked us if we’d play. So, we asked if we could choose the bands, and surprisingly Barry was happy to let that happen.
And you had something of a free reign in terms of who you put forward to play?
We had a few bands come and play again, who’d played the Bowlie weekend the year before, and the rest weren’t all chosen by us, but the vast majority we selected. And it was a really good time, y’know. Our second record was out…
Wow, that really does lend some perspective.
Yeah, definitely! When we played Bowlie, that was the week that (Mogwai’s second album) ‘Come On Die Young’ had come out, so it was a long, long time ago. We were a new band, so that makes me feel quite old now. So the festival was really, really good, and we were so lucky to be asked, and subsequently other bands who have been curators have asked us to play their events. My Bloody Valentine asked us to play in New York, and we curated a day when they did the Director’s Cut event. We had a bit of a fight with Barry to book Turbonegro. They threw fake blood at a lot of scared-looking indie kids, it was amazing. Barry had to admit that it was pretty memorable.
I think the first one, in 2000, definitely set a precedent, and established a template of sorts in terms of the type of band that plays ATP…
It really was just us writing a list, and then submitting it to ATP. I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing our own trumpet, but I know that us having Shellac play in 2000 was a big thing for them. They’d not played a festival before, and they really enjoyed it, and have had a great relationship with Barry ever since. They’re over all the time now, but I don’t think that would be the case had we not asked them to play the first one. ATP has brought Shellac to a much more… It’s hard to explain, but I think without ATP Shellac would probably just play once or twice a year in some bar or something. So I know that’s one band that ATP has made a big difference to, and Shellac have really embraced the spirit of ATP. Like, Steve (Albini, Shellac vocalist/guitarist) plays all the kids at the festival at poker and stuff; they’ve become the in-house band, that sort of thing. I don’t think you could tire of watching them.
Too right. Did you see them at Release The Bats?
I didn’t, but I heard about them. Steve was dressed as a mummy, right?
Sure was, head to toe, glasses balanced delicately. It was pretty funny…
Yeah, I bet, but their music has a lot of humour in it. Like, it can seem quite serious, but some of what’s going on can be quite funny.
You had some pretty serious bands play the 2000 event alongside Shellac…
Yeah, we had Sonic Youth, and the Super Furry Animals…
Any that you never thought you’d get?
We never thought we’d get Wire – that was the big coup. A band that was never huge, but that was so important to us, was Labradford, so to have them play was a dream come true. And getting to have Sonic Youth was amazing, obviously. Erm… (laughs) I remember one amazing thing. Sigur Rós were playing, and someone got the times wrong because of some long soundcheck or something. The time they were meant to play, Bardo Pond were playing, so there were like three and a half thousand people watching them! That was absolutely brilliant.
So do you think you’re responsible for ATP being what it is today, almost as much as the company itself?
I think Belle and Sebastian need to take some credit, too, because they did an amazing job with Bowlie. It was so innovative, and I actually remember the band complaining at the time because they thought Bowlie would have got them the cover of NME, when the magazine went with Paul Weller. But then again I see The Prodigy are on the cover of NME now… what is happening to the world? It’s so weird… It’s not really new music, is it?
Not so you’d notice. Have you ever been to ATP just as a punter?
The only one I have been to that I wasn’t playing at was the Autechre one. I went down for all of that. It was amazing. I find it hard to completely relax at ATP when we’re playing it, so that was probably my favourite event. I saw Sunn O))) for the first time, having never heard them before, and they literally blew my mind; I could not believe how amazing they were. And also seeing A Guy Called Gerald, and Public Enemy, it was fantastic. Jim O’Rourke did a really weird laptop set that weekend, which I don’t think he’s done since.
How did you approach the 2004 Directors Cut event, where you only had to book one day?
I think that we went for some extremes – like we had stuff like James Orr Complex and Cat Power alongside Isis and Converge. Did Cat Power play our day? I think she played, and it was really quiet. We also had Growing, and I think that was one of their first shows in Europe. They’re one of my favourite bands in the world. I wish I could remember who we booked…! I remember Converge were amazing…
I’m pretty sure the first two bands I saw that weekend were Part Chimp and Todd…
Probably… That would make sense. I remember Hood played first at the 2000 one, which makes them the first band to ever play All Tomorrow’s Parties. So that’s something of a claim to fame. They’re one of the best British bands of all time, but hardly anyone’s ever heard of them… it’s terrible! Laurence [Bell] at Domino loved them, but they never got the breaks, and it does have a lot to do with luck. Hopefully they’ll have their time in a few years, when people rediscover them.
Do you think the different curators angle worked well? It’s been used again since…
I think it worked really well, the differences between the curators – everyone brought something to the same party. And also, at the event in New York, there was a real spread of types of artists. I think that is one of my favourite ATPs, where they had Bardo Pond doing a Don’t Look Back* show for ‘Lapsed’, and Tortoise doing ‘Millions Now Living Will Never Die’. It really was brilliant, and our show there was the best show we’ve ever played at an ATP. The atmosphere was so great – so many people were there and desperate to see My Bloody Valentine, and to see Dinosaur Jr in their original line-up.
(* ATP’s Don’t Look Back events present a band playing one of their albums from start to finish.)
Is the atmosphere different at the US event, compared to its British daddy?
The crowd is pretty different – I think American crowds are generally just a lot better behaved than British crowds! I don’t mean in a sort of bullying sort of way, but British people tend to get pretty wasted at festivals, and in the US the crowd was quite respectable. The reactions to the bands were great, and the live rooms were great too. Not the accommodation – those rooms were so horrendous I slept on the bus! But the main live room is amazing. It’s held at this dilapidated holiday camp place, but it’s got this great Scooby Doo ghost town feel about it. It’s definitely good.
How did you feel when the domestic ATP upped sticks from Camber Sands to Minehead?
Oh, I like the rooms better!
The live rooms?
No, the ones with the beds in! Minehead is good… the venue we played, the big stage in the tent, that wasn’t my favourite, although they don’t use it anymore. I wasn’t totally into that.
You performed at the 2007 ‘Versus The Fans’ event, where attendees got to vote for who played, a set-up being repeated this May. Were you a fans pick or an ATP pick at that?
I think we were a fans pick, actually. I think the fans demanded we came back! Mogwai, again! It was good, and we were just really happy to play. I remember seeing Battles play that one, round about the time people were properly getting into them and excited by them. They’re a really great band. My wife puts on concerts and she had them support Four Tet years ago, and we all hung out. They’re really great guys, and amazing musicians, so I’m delighted whenever I get to see them.
Given the band members’ backgrounds I bet they’ve some stories…
Well, two of them are younger than me, but Ian [Williams] and John [Stanier] are quite a bit older. They sort of have all bases covered. They’re really funny, and always up for partying! I have a lot of time for them.
You mentioned enjoying Don’t Look Back shows, but you’ve never played one for ATP. You must’ve been asked…
Yes, we get asked all the time. And the answer depends on what member of the band you ask! Me, I’m up for it – I’ll play anywhere. But a certain member or two of the band won’t play a show where the audience knows when to have a break for the toilet. But I would play one today. We did get asked by another festival to do ‘Young Team’ last summer, and that was quite a lot of fun.
I guess the fans’ pick might be ‘Come On Die Young’?
Well, that’s the one Barry always asks about… I think we’ll wait ‘til we get a big tax bill. (Laughs) No, actually, I would like to do it… I just need to convince the members who don’t, because we’re quite democratic and no individual has the final say.
What do you think performing at a Don’t Look Back event means to the participating bands? Do you think people see it as a sort of badge of honour?
I guess it makes people think about the records in a different way, the way they fit together. I’ve not always agreed with the records Barry has had featured, to be totally honest, but it’s not like you can ever ask a band to do one of their bad records. (Laughs) I think he’s neglecting to ask Northside to do ‘Chicken Rhythms’.
Not so sure about that. But anyway… ATP is ten next year – who would you love to see play such an anniversary event?
To play it? The ultimate band that we wanted, but we just couldn’t convince, was Codeine. We were just a little too young to have seen them, but they were a massive influence on us, and on a lot of bands we really like, like Low. So they’d be amazing. Codeine doing ‘Frigid Stars’ for a Don’t Look Back show would be just unbelievable.
Worth the train fare?
I think so. I would probably walk, all the way from Scotland.
What about someone a little ‘bigger’?
I would love to see The Cure play it, someone like that. That’d be amazing, someone ridiculous… Like, imagine Guns N’ Roses?! That’d be amazing. And I know Barry’s a big Jane’s Addiction fan, so I’m sure they’ll be asked one way or another, if they’ve not been at some stage already. Unfortunately, these bands don’t come cheap!
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Find the official ATP website, with details of forthcoming festivals and associated live events and label releases, HERE