This is the fifth consecutive year with a full All Tomorrow’s Parties festival here in America, but after proper ATP encampments in the Catskills and 2011’s I’ll Be Your Mirror activities in Asbury Park, New Jersey, the respected promoters and their brand have taken serious critical blows. Financial restructuring in the UK, relocating IBYM 2012 deep in hipster civilization (Pier 36 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side) and a shifting and shrinking lineup—these all threatened to rub the luster off of 2012’s ATP USA before the gates even opened. But even with all of these issues, it does ultimately come down to the music, doesn’t it?
All photos by Adam Blyweiss
In addition to traditions welcome and old (Criterion repertory film) and hopefully new (a whiskey tasting), IBYM’s lineup once again featured comedians. They were wedged onto the festival’s second stage on Friday, a structure itself wedged under the FDR Drive. Despite a small lineup fixed for some time, the performers themselves seemed hastily thrown on stage one after another, in front of a decent-sized crowd that was only slightly less chilly than the oncoming fall weather.
The short narratives of Hannibal Burress (30 Rock, The Eric André Show) were the most consistently laughable. Kurt Braunohler (IFC’s Bunk) was abstract and awkward; headliner Janeane Garofalo was the best-received but prone to take many tangents away from her comedic or political points.
So now we ask, who are these guys pretending to be some sort of rock power-duo? Kicking off the weekend’s proper music on the Pier 36 main stage was the real motherfucking deal, Providence’s Lightning Bolt. More committed fans may be able to discern one LB song from another when performed live, but otherwise—good gracious! This sturdy bass-drums duo filter instruments (and in the case of drummer Brian Chippendale, his voice) so they take on characteristics of everything from death metal to free jazz to jungle. It’s shattered, shattering music reflected in their stage presence, which is really a lack thereof—they play front and center on the floor, crowd surfers threatening to bowl over cymbals and photographers while more thoughtful fans stand close enough to reattach unplugged distortion pedals. Really harsh stuff, it nevertheless easily converts the neophyte.
Edan the Dee Jay (when he’s not Edan the backpack rapper) had the unenviable task of filling a huge gap in Friday’s schedule when Lee Ranaldo canceled a performance art piece due to technical difficulties. Edan appeared to have a nice sized group in front of the stage at all times, even if he started out with Middle Eastern rhythms and progressed through a large chunk of sometimes-mixed music before he hit anything recognizable—the funk classic “Tighten Up” and some Michael Jackson, then Talking Heads and James Brown. He does get serious props for spinning 7-inch singles, a responsibility normally reserved for the big kids of turntablism like DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist.
Performance art wasn’t omitted, though. Philip Glass and Tyondai Braxton may have been sent onstage for only a criminally short time, but that might be chalked up to the brief period they’ve worked together and not a scheduling quirk. In their 30 minutes they best—and first, really—drove home the feel of this as not just any festival, but ATP’s form of grandly understated/overstated weirdness. The young, former Battles veteran and the patriarch of modern American composition plunged the audience into three new etudes. Glass’s Steinway work was supported on the first two by Braxton’s guitar, run through countless filters and coming out sounding like an orchestra. The third and longest piece saw both players eventually banging messy keyboard swords into complementary musical plowshares.
And then lastly there’s Frank Ocean, suddenly thrust far out in front of his prior titles as just a songwriter and just a member of Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. With a crack team of musicians who looked like they borrowed The Roots’ suits, Ocean’s cool-customer R&B leaned heavily on Channel Orange material but also pulled from his leaks and mixtape tracks. Yes, he’s played with all of Odd Future before; yes, he’s toured on his own; yes, he just did Saturday Night Live. However, playing for a crowd who had just witnessed frenetic art-punk and experimental classical, and commanding that room in spite of rock-star lateness and questionable sound—it may not be what ATP initially planned, but it may have been Ocean’s true arrival as headliner material.
All photos by Adam Blyweiss