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Day 1 of All Tomorrow’s Parties’ I’ll Be Your Mirror festival in New York City cast a wide populist net with Frank Ocean as the bait. Day 2 was The Afghan Whigs’ time to shine as reunited rockers and concert curators, and they pretty much exceeded expectations. Day 3 was ATP for ATP’s sake—many returning favorites, many uber-experimentalists, a long menu of extended instrumental aggression and swaddling atmospheres. Sunday suggested that attendees already had to be in ATP’s pocket, otherwise performers might really have to ingratiate themselves to new fans or pull them in by force.
The Psychic Paramount opened Pier 36’s main stage on Sunday, and the best way to describe them to newbies is to rearrange words written about them by Sam Hockley-Smith of The FADER: confrontational, but not difficult to listen to. These dark New York musicians arranged guitar, bass, and drums into rollicking fever dreams, a form of post-rock with math-y time signatures, prog triggers, and shivering metal sensibilities. They are the power-trio equivalent of something weird happening here. The crowd to watch them wasn’t large, but they responded enthusiastically.
One artist breaking away from a group doesn’t necessarily mean the artist breaks away from the old sound. Bristol, England’s Benjamin John Power is a new and perfect example of this. His main stage ATP set was his first American gig under his Blanck Mass moniker, and for the first half of it he ran through computer and mixer alike crashing, crushing, clashing waves of synthesized sound and bass with enough rumble to make your throat vibrate. It lifted liberally from the same drone electronica texts as the duo that launched him, Fuck Buttons. Sometimes, though, great sonic art needs space into which it can expand, and yells of approval increased as Blanck Mass introduced more arpeggiated, tuneful keyboards and clearer beats. That’s the stuff we remember being played during the London Olympics, mate!
The name The Magic Band should put a puzzled look on your face, because either you’ve never heard of them before or you think you’ve heard of them before. Maybe they’d jump off the page faster with the addition of the name of their late frontman, the wildly creative and complex Captain Beefheart. The Magic Band touch another signature category of ATP festival gets: influential senior citizens. On the FDR Drive stage, the quintet punched through vocal and instrumental cuts from across their catalog—Trout Mask Replica of course, and other deeper releases like Clear Stop. Watched by a healthy mix of old fans and young admirers, The Magic Band represent the missing link between the crazed California experimentation of Beefheart’s compadre Frank Zappa and Delta blues and jazz bandleader stomp a la Dr. John.
Speaking of California, the Left Coast also easily inspires a range of pastoral electronics from lush ambience to kickin’-it-lazy hip-hop. Jimmy LaValle has led his San Diego outfit The Album Leaf since the late 1990’s, splitting the difference between those who call their work digitized post-rock and those who call it acoustic ambient. One of the few artists to rejoin IBYM after last year in Asbury Park, LaValle brought to the main stage some new projections and new music from the Forward/Return EP. It’s much more polite and sedate stuff than what acts like Emeralds and Blanck Mass brought to ATP, but he also has violins and glockenspiels and drum kits for more thorough experiments in rhythmic noisemaking. There’s talent and there’s skill, and The Album Leaf clearly have both.
There’s a modicum of skill but questionable talent, however, with Los Angeles trio Autolux. They don’t just look the part of whiny scene kids, they sound like it whenever they open their mouths to sing. In the dark and chill under the FDR Drive, they couldn’t muster enough physical motion or true gothic ennui to make a dent in a decent sized nighttime crowd. (Alright, maybe drummer Carla Azar did, although she was obscured by clouds and lights onstage.) Smatterings of applause? Not a good sign. How they’ve managed to play multiple ATP festivals, let alone open for alt-rock godheads like Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails, defies common sense.
Formed from the detritus of early 1990’s punk and its offshoots (namely Frumpies and The Nation of Ulysses), The Make-Up thinly veiled their inherent aggression and crypto-politics with positive attitudes. Their garage rock draped as such in the messages and natty threads of so-called gospel, they paved the way for vastly inferior suited hard rockers from The Hives to, heaven help us, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies. Egged on by other ATP favorites Les Savy Fav, they blessed the festival with their reunited presence for their first shows since dissolving in 2000. Ian Svenonius led the revival on ATP’s main stage, kicking at the air and surfing on fans and photographers to spread not the word of God, but rather the word of a god. Probably Pan, or Aphrodite if you’re really naughty. Maybe Dionysus, considering the whiskey tasting scheduled by ATP just after their set.
Sunday night’s headliners, Canadian ensemble Godspeed You! Black Emperor, pretty much have ATP to thank for renewed interest in their work, and their own interest in making new work. GY!BE were dormant until they played and curated ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas in 2010; full tours and studio rumors blossomed afterwards. It’s easy to plant the post-rock label on them, but GY!BE aren’t just about the jam. Twenty minutes of music at a time aren’t jams, they’re damn near statements. Lit by their signature projection loops and surrounded by an ocean of amps, pedals, picks and other sound modifiers, they found new and frightening ways to mimic the low-end growl of a moving rocket and the noises of science-fictional space outside. Their music is that of the dread that never ends—the train that never quite reaches your damsel in distress, the optical illusion in which you live, the soundtrack to the lab experiment gone wrong. Godspeed You! Black Emperor exist to fuck up your shit, and tonight’s New York audience were more than happy to submit.
All photos by Adam Blyweiss