The boutique music festival ATP happened this weekend and while you can’t argue that it wasn't a million times more pleasant than the Cronulla Riots with bands that is larger festivals like Big Day Out, it still remains an unsettling experience knowing you’re surrounded by thousands of balding and erect record collectors. The festival itself took place in an entertainment center that doubled as a gym, wedding reception hall, and indoor mountain climbing hotspot. The smaller stage was located in the wedding area, which seemed like it could have hosted every Italian middle-class nuptial in Melbourne since 1983. The main hall resembled a emergency center for Hurricane Katrina but was surprisingly a comforting room where you could disappear into the darkness and watch the parade of ageing men onstage grapple with heat exhaustion in a bid to relive their glory days. And there was glory. Einsturzende Nuebaten delivered an at times surprisingly riveting performance, as did old Tex as he led Beasts of Bourbon on one final victory lap before they fulfill their destiny of playing Crown Casino every Thursday night.
The Dead C provided one of, if not the most punishingly harsh performances of the festival. Pushing into their twilight years but still blasting free rock and rabid deconstructed guitar noise, they were received by the placid audience about as well as a husband asking his wife for anal on Christmas day. The excruciating, brilliant performance harked back to their Harsh 70’s Reality days, and while Godspeed! You Black Emperor made a flaccid attempt to conjure up the sound of the apocalypse in the next room, the Dead C kicked out a set resplendent in its own ugliness and Neanderthal noise.
The number of barely legal young women enjoying, or pretending to enjoy for the sake of their scum record collector boyfriends, was a sight to be marveled at. As was paying 4 dollars for a coke, or the artist the festival organisers hired to paint portraits with his cock. The Drones were also kind of a marvel. Proving they aren’t just a soft pub rock band with bush poetry as lyrics, they played one of the more unrelenting sets of the festival.
Like the Dead C, HTRK provided a hedonistic and self-indulgent set. And this is not a criticism. HTRK’s music is like taking four Quaaludes and not being able to lift your arms, or if you’re a rapper, drinking a bottle of codeine and not being able to harness even the limited vocabulary of Lil’ Wayne. The music is languid, lethargic and slow, and their contorted electronica served as its own narcotic in the insufferable heat. Nigel Yang (Guitar) and Jonnine Standish (vocals) play with little regard for the audience, yet it is not pretentious. Nor do they create an aura of exclusivity. HTRK are not a band for the masses and yet in front of a thousand people they played one of the highlight sets of ATP.
The real winner of the festival was the fact not once did I see someone letting themselves ‘go’ to the rhythms. There was no one fire twirling to the beats, no builder’s laborers smoking meth and starting fights, no Australian flag swimwear. While all the aforementioned qualities perhaps should remain absent at the next ATP, after two days seeing bands that I’d long romanticised the idea of seeing, I left the festival a little bored. Seeing Pere Ubu rehash an album I once loved proved as tedious and predictable as catching crabs from St Kilda streetwalker. I left before My Bloody Valentine played because fuck it, I was in buttfuck Altona and didn’t want to get stuck in a crowd of tripstacy ravaged MBV fans enthralled by Kevin Shield’s ability to use a whammy bar.
The problem for me was all weekend, everyone I spoke to was convincing one another that this festival was the apex of music this year. However I can’t help but feel that 80% of the bands were 20 years past their prime and ultimately playing to an audience that would have given rapturous applause regardless of what happened on stage. Had Einsturzende Nuebaten decided to just Bukake a young girl instead of playing Yu Gung and Blume, I am sure the crowd would have given a standing ovation. Fuck it, I would have joined in. How often do you see Blixa Bargeld cock in hand? But instead we got Blixa Bargeld, laser pointer in hand and laptop in front of him on the floor orchestrating the performance like it was a boardroom meeting. But instead we got Blixa Bargeld, laser pointer in hand and laptop in front of him on the floor orchestrating the performance like it was a boardroom meeting. Point being, maybe we have to get over the fact we weren’t in 1983’s Berlin to see Nuebaten or in Cleveland to see Pere Ubu. It’s 2013 Melbourne and we have HTRK, New War, Lost Animal and a myriad of other bands, which all seem to have more creative purpose than the reunion circuit bands like Crocus and Ubu and Crime and the City Solution do at this point in time. Whilst ATP and The Drones definitely got it right with Nuebaten, Swans, Dead C and HTRK there were more than a few performances, which proved only to be a trite rehashing of the glory days. My advice: Don’t look back.