Apr 03


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chalet / coming away from it all, large key-ringed key in hand, unlock the bulky Yale door and snap the light to find the footy on. Strange coincidence, stitch in time, remembering where this is from; the signal reaches even here, where everyone’s out on a limb. Eavesdropping on the real world. Their language isn’t ours, now we are here: their pundit rhetoric seems sweetly quaint, the journey of the ball around the sunlit pitch feels distantly significant at best. The whole thing feels excessive, surely more than anybody needs tonight: who needs this weekend ritual on a weekend like this? (But I do: what else am I doing back here?) 10:30’s usually a late night start: here it’s just part of the flow, halfway through, plenty of time to go; the party won’t start for 2 hours yet. Always the party: suddenly agreed on Friday night then whispered through the ranks, blurted to anyone whose name you know: we’re having a party, Saturday night, #*. OK? OK. The point about the party is it’s halfway through the whole. The party always seems a squib at first, one or two quiet characters, but then it blooms with crowds, folk you know leaning against the cupboards, tables, dressers, on the sofa, sitting on the floor like flower children, standing in the doorway of the kitchen blocking light with silhouettes, by open banal shelves where the glass and china’s emptying to carry all the drink. The music can’t get loud enough to match the people’s real time noise. The drink is ranged from many cold things in the fridge to more elaborate ingredients, potential combinations on the side, the Bombay Sapphire blue and the plug that seems to top it, lemonade and mugs and plastic glasses maybe, what people are doing with vodka and Irn-Bru that seems a good idea at the time, and I’ll have some of that. Yeah.

unattached / The press reckon that ATP’s ‘the hardline festival / the place for those who know their noise / the home of the avant-garde’. Easy error, to think a festival’s clientele can logically be defined by its line-up: to see congruence and congregation, tribal gathering and enthusiastic homage. But no-one I know as I gaze round the bar takes the package that seriously. They’re here for the rest, not the music, though the rest never gets theorized, its specificity never extracted from the cheaper versions (a pub, a beach, a train ride) you could buy elsewhere. OK, we’re outsiders: anomalies a bent history’s generated since 1999. We are time-warpers, failing to follow consequences of what we know: that this thing isn’t what it used to be, that no act next door is about to start strumming ‘Judy and the Dream of Horses’. (And when they did, I wasn’t here.) But we can’t be the only ones, not all these young hundreds can buy the dead electric horse they’re flogging upstairs. Consider Glastonbury: no-one now thinks its every attendee is a crystal dealer, a crusty or a member of the headliners’ fan clubs. The music, it’s understood, is an element, part of the show, a facade of the famous, a broad enough church to satisfy some. That must be ATP too for many: I don’t believe everyone queueing at the bar thinks the same of the bands as do the bands. Music so central yet peripheral, raison d’etre and right nuisance. The best band at ATP is the one you missed.

tide / The music nearly makes me think I don’t like music. Or, it convinces me I like other music, more than I do: so when anyone does something that seems tuneful on stage I’m startled to applause, like it’s artillery fire in the war I’m always losing. ‘Acoustics’ we’ll take as read are bad, but I don’t mind the cartoon crocodile framing some serious act going about its solemn business; just wish they weren’t so darned solemn. Some good rock musicians take these stages, but few good jokes fall from them. Communications are down: singing to the mysteriously converted they don’t have to preach; they just make like the music’s everything. The music’s everything, but it doesn’t speak for itself: how many times I’ve walked back into the bar seeking new phrases to frame that complaint. Someone gives you a tape of songs you’ve never heard: all you can do, you’d think, is listen. But somehow you always want, more than anything, the titles of the songs: they bear a major burden of cognitive assurance. You don’t get those here, and you’re all the more at sea, ten minutes from the oscillating waves. For such a length at a time people bash instruments and stare at each other as though in meaningful rapture, cranking up the volume so it bounces dark red off the ceiling, while the girls come and go to and fro the shining bar along the corner and its bad lager and coloured bottles. Ten minutes this has been going on: we could have been at the beach by now.

sand / I look at a three-year-old photograph. Bits of wooden palings and rough grass lead over a pocked dune path, down the crest and out of sight to where the beach begins. It stretches far from the camera, traversing several shades of brown and yellow, darkening then fading up a hundred yards, a stripe of brown again, a strip of gold, and onward goes the ice-cream pattern to the sea. That’s a dim grey-blue belt across the picture’s middle: above it amorphous sky, dazed out of purpose and idea.

In eight more shots the beach is ground, horizon slices midway through the image: yellow, blue, yellow, blue. Figures half-deliberately arranged stand against the line and cast long emphatic shadows. A stocky amiable man in blue and black, his gaze back at the camera always identically, wryly patient. A girl in pink, black and blonde, far from the metropolis.

basic / queer indulgence of the avant-garde: ‘just rocking out’. Every twenty numbers a headliner changes gear and starts playing it simple. An hour or more of utter dirge and drone from Sonic Youth, a set so legendarily bad I needn’t embellish its reputation, is punctured when they head into an up-tempo blast, rhythmically tight, musically muscular. The kids know it and love it: it’s knowing if nothing else, this sudden recourse to simple things. Ditto Yo La Tengo, shamelessly encoring with Blondie and Ramones, transporting me to the Sunday night band I saw a decade past on the outskirts of Norwich, bashing out pub rock for 45 pub minutes then making ‘Johnny B. Goode’ sound like pub fun. The thrill’s a con: any band anywhere could do this riffalong stuff so long as the drummer stays in time. It only sounds good now because it’s them – because these guys are meant to be past rock’s simpler pleasures, but wow look they can still do this and rock’n’roll is here to stay. If this is what they want to play, why not do it an hour earlier? Because it takes 60 minutes of gruel and grime to make a straight-ahead one chord bash sound this interesting. Cheap tricks: and Cheap Trick, whatever else about them, don’t bother pulling them, they just thrash out from the start and don’t stop till they stop and I must need a drink of water cos I’m seeing two of their monstrous lead singers at once.

versus / pulverized in darkness by noises you can’t stand: a world of endless hopes always dashed, the notion of a band you might enjoy curdling into more ennui in the shadows, waiting for the latest ramble to end or just turning around and heading back to the light and human noise. The only consolation is the insult auction, reporting back on the latest disaster: even worse, maybe, than the previous act, or last night’s, or last year’s, yes, I do believe that whatever I said last year this festival is actually still going downhill, my god. The dialectic of dislike, the debt to displeasure, dyspepsia’s small rewards. Staunchly Ewing has maintained that taste includes negation: that we are our acts of disliking as well as what we love. He’s doubtless right, and you can find ink enough here to fill a poison pen and draw a thick outline around yourself. But this must be a pretty petty brew: a long way to come to make a new list of enemies. The uses of negativity, when there’s no other means of propulsion; but it’s a dirty fuel to run on. I’d stop, if only the DJ at the other end of the bar would turn off this thumping and honking and play something that 90 per cent of the people in this room would instantly love (I can list you 50 tunes right now: look, here goes): it’s easily done, but he won’t do it, and that’s why I hate him (and the engines whir again).

team / But – turning pages over, finding snaps it’s hard to credit that I framed: their balance, focus, jutting jagged angles. Protagonists in central roles: a Scot with curling lip and lazy eyes against the sun that whitens half his face, down by the high wire fence at which we’d gather to watch him dribble and drag back. An editor whose zine (tennis and pop) draws near its finest hour slowly recovering from illness, here wanly gazing from a shadowed balcony, here smiling a jest at the sunbaked ground amid the crowd we’ve rejoined. A former child star showing he can play a D; I don’t know if he’s subsequently learned another chord. Eight players in two rows of five and three, decked out in stripes of black and white on harsh grey concrete, thick wristbands and all. I kept one. I still have it somewhere. I never washed the sweat away.

light / The morning world, the shop across the road beyond the level-crossing barrier: footballs light as hot air, buckets and cards, cars passing left and right, up and down coast. A pot of mild honey you take back to coat bread with in front of Focus, of all things: an hour when the real world’s voice seems more germane. The people, coming, going everywhere, the kids diagonal across the quadrant green, intents and meanings in their heads, in a second or third day’s clothes. Walk between the chalet blocks and into new scenarios, just like all the others: grid of possibility, life, potential: to think of all the thoughts and feelings generated here in one hour let alone 72. It goes to waste: but that is life. Gang of lads keeping a football up: open doors, eyes looking back from windows; spectators on the upper storey. The limits of the camp, the wire fence beyond which wilderness seems to spread. The afternoon, back and forth seeking something you can’t name while the place sleeps, wakes, pulls itself together, starts to stir again and set about the drink again. You are somehow left alone with the white clouds, the blue sky, a life stretching that way and this, vanishing points. The high mesh around the stony field’s uneven shape. (One Simon Reynolds / There’s only one Simon Reynolds.) The cars that rush beyond the bouncing ball’s to and fro, the skids, lunges and grinds into concrete. (Tony Parsons, Julie Burchill, Ian Penman, Steven Wells: the beating your boys took.) Beyond it all the paths across the dunes and grass, to where the beach spreads suddenly below. Maritime shine, littoral air that exposes us to each other. The back-road down which I returned one morning, as the whole thing wound up and back at base the duffel kids queued to return redundant keys, playing ‘In A Different Place’ with a plectrum I suddenly dropped, and never found again.

the pinefox

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