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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 80 - 04/16/03

All Tomorrow's Parties, Camber Sands, England, 4.-6.04.03

This year's ATP did not start well for me and my friends. On the Friday I was up at 8.30am ready to go food shopping, and then pile into the car for a long journey down to the south coast. We were barely out of town before a hideous burning smell came from the engine - the alternator was knackered.

By 3.30pm we were just about ready to start the drive again, having picked up a new alternator to be fitted at a garage in the middle of nowhere with a mentally-challenged Alsatian called Jake. But we were on the road, the sun was out, and we had Interpol on the stereo. It was about 8.30pm before we finally arrived in Camber, and it was already dark. Thankfully we hadn't missed any of the acts we'd been looking forward to, so checked into our chalet, dumped our stuff, and went along to check out Public Enemy.

After a long, hot, frustrating day, Public Enemy were hip-hop catharsis in excelsis. They sounded great. The predictable references to Bush and Blair cropped up to keep everything hotly political, but it was the straight-ahead crowd-pleasing attitude of Flavor Flav that kept the good-time tempo at full whack. And Chuck D remains the greatest voice in hip-hop, deep and resonant. I would have even fonder memories of the set if I hadn't met my friend Rich afterwards who told me he'd just been chatting to Jim O'Rourke outside. Bastard.

Once I'd shed my green skin I was back to the main stage with my dancing shoes on and a new lease of life. A Guy Called Gerald was up next, peering out from behind his laptop and decks like a shy lamb. His shredded nerves showed as some of the mixes proved embarrassingly shoddy, but when he hit the bullseye there was no denying the ecstatic atmosphere. An extended finale of "Voodoo Ray" and "Pacific State" had the roof off and it felt like the festival had begun in earnest.

Later that night we popped downstairs to see what the Autechre boys could cook up under their Gescom guise, but were sadly disappointed: just some bowel-quaking bass smothering some interesting sounds. I've read in interviews that Autechre prefer to play in darkness; presumably it's so the crowd can't find their way to the exit with bleeding ears...

Saturday was bright and sunny, so we went straight to the beach to appreciate the other main draw of the festival: the lovely location. After a few hours of kicking a football around and catching light sunburn, we stopped off at the pub for a sneaky pint to evaluate the previous night's entertainment, only to spot A Guy Called Gerald on the way to the beach just as we were slagging off his mixing skills.

I dragged people along to Pita in the early afternoon, just in case this Jim O'Rourke collaborator could pull off sublime electronic music too. He may have done in time, but the lure of the sun proved too much. It's hard to listen to introverted, challenging electronic music when you can be outside having fun

It wasn't until early evening that we ventured back indoors for a spot of average hip-hop with El-P. The rest of the evening held very little other than drifting between stages, catching some pleasant electronica in the process courtesy of Bola. The atmosphere of the festival was very much characterised by this wandering: not being overly familiar with some of the acts, and not having a handy guide to the music like that provided by Shellac the previous year, it was very much a case of just stumbling around, hoping to catch something interesting.

That night we made a point of getting a quick kip before Aphex Twin at 2.30am. He was on great form: no gimmicks, just his special blend of acid house, gabba and electro keeping the crown jabbering around to his perverse beats and bleats. It was a slightly disappointing set from the perspective of someone wanting to hear something a little different, but it hiccuped along brilliantly. I would have stayed for the rest of the night and gone downstairs for the SkamDJs from 3.30 until 6am (!) - who I'm told were excellent - but I was struck by the crippling ATP fatigue borne of days in the sun, alcohol, and music that's on just too darned late.

Sunday, oh Sunday - how I loved thee. Let me count the ways: Jim O'Rourke, LFO DJ set, and The Magic Band. I wasn't sure what Mr O'Rourke would perform, but anyone familiar with his album for Mego would have been right at home. His 45-minute set had three movements, each more sublime than the last. The first third was a disorientating, chaotic slice of music concréte, with electronic chirrups and coughs stumbling along with chimes, clangs and other found sounds. This gradually became overwhelmed by a thick, satisfying drone, Jim dancing from foot to foot as he tweaked knobs and lit and re-lit the hastily-rolled cigarette hanging out of the side of his mouth. Then, just as the drone had started to lull the crowd into a beatific slumber, a violin sang through the murk and introduced the finale: a distant, reverb-laden loop of a pretty Japanese folk tune. Everything gradually decayed - and then silence. Jim shyly shrugged and sloped offstage to ecstatic applause. Continued evidence of this man's genius.

I never imagined I would enjoy the DJ sets at ATP as much as I did, and LFO's set was a case in point. Out of nowhere I found myself dancing like a loon to his deftly-handled set of squelchy electro-house. Not much to say other than I couldn't stop getting down. A sweaty surprise.

At the front barrier for The Magic Band there were two boys that looked no older than 14, smoking a joint the size and shape of a horse's leg, and self-combusting with excitement at the prospect of seeing four old, fat men play their special brand of blues. In the midst of laptop glow, deck scratching and pounding beats, it was genuinely bizarre to see a band pick up guitars and play live music. But damn they FUCKING COOKED. I can't believe quite how amazingly brilliant they were, but it was just great. All the spidery, fizzing guitar lines, bulbous bass and shuddering drums, topped off with John French's admirable approximation of Van Vliet's growl, made it a quite staggeringly accurate and exciting rendition of the priceless recordings. Hell, returning to the albums now makes them sound lifeless in comparison; but then that was part of Beefheart's design, to make all the instruments sound flat and dry, painting a canvas of parched tones. Played live all the instruments were so loud and so vibrant that I can't help wondering how much The Magic Band brought to the sound: Van Vliet is always attributed as the genius, but these guys can fucking rock. Awesome.

Sadly the set was interrupted by a fire alarm just as they were about to play "Moonlight On Vermont", but we won't dwell on that. A truly beautiful and bizarre way to end the festival.

Copyright © 2003 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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