All Tomorrow's Parties

April 4-6, 2003, Camber Sands, UK
Zoviet-France were a low key opening with random rumble and drone rising from abstracted ambience to half realised attempts to scale walls of noise. They were more varied and engaging when I saw them with Ryoji Ikeda a few years back. Here they just seemed to be coasting along blindly and we might as well just have stayed outside with the car engine running and our heads on the bonnet. The Fall were back on form hearing nosey telephone thingamebobs listening in and losing tempers with friends. They had an able new bassist and the young goth wife of Mark E. Smith diddling about on keyboards. The most vivid imaged etched from day one is of the Dickensian spectre of Smith looming through the chain mesh at the stage side. I got into blind drunk can't-find-my-way-round Smith mode so was totally trashed by Public Enemy. I do however recall that they played a stormin' Rebel Without A Pause, they were a lot of fun and like most anyone with even half a functioning sense of reason, Chuck D dislikes world-leader-pretend George Bush intensely.

Somehow I found a hangover cure the next day with my head in Pita's PA as he stood in red jacketed racing stillness at his laptop, coaxing huge swathes of digital distortion from which rose funny little buried three note melodies. Farmersmanual were disappointing compared to recordings I've heard, but still the kind of glitched abstraction that makes a good organic lager drinking backdrop. It was hard to give a damn about them though, and why they needed so many as five laptoppers to do what they did seemed a mystery. Disjecta's processed guitar drones actually worked much better further from the stage as background ambience, and my new frind Eva's main criticism of the event was that there was too much stuff like this. It was no problem for a hardened experimentalist like me but veterans of the Shellac curated event last year were often heard to complain of a lack of guitar bands and associated energy. That's not a criticism that could be leveled at the bouncey hand waving high jinx of rappers El-P and Murs. They got a big cheer for denouncing warmongering stooge Bush, and were so fuckin' on one that you couldn't help but get carried along by the rush. Yasunao Tone looked very happy to confuse the techno heads with some random cut up abstract noise, and Hecker's studious almost non-existant stage presence and post-Gilbertoid bee buzz proved to be the most room clearing performance I witnessed. His set was close enough to sounding like he was playing back his recent Mego CD to beg the question of why he'd actually bothered to turn up - nice work if you can get it! Earth cancelled so appropriately Sunn O))) were moved to burn bright in their position, a slow riff grind of apocalyptic doom that won legions of new fans. Their mind altering armageddon mogadon skullfuck was most certainly the highlight of the first day and afterwards Aphex Twin just seemed like mediocre crowd pleasing mouldy old dough, albeit pleasantly foot tapping mouldy old dough.

The best day by far was Sunday. Lovely humourous rapid cut ups from Jim O'Rourke brought a cartoonish feel to the air. His ability to sense humour in avant soundscapes should not be underestimated. If you ever get the chance to see such exceptionally life affirming artists as Coil or the Magic Band, it would be worth traversing a continent for. A new Coil set was presumably what I would expect to eventually be reformed into Music to Play in the Dark 3, with only The Dreamer Is Still Asleep in a drastically reworked form as finale to nod to old glory. They put on an awesome and powerful performance which to me seemed like a ritual of anti-war magic, with a bearded Balance waggling a long sleeve camply as the green univarse light show altered minds and etched a spinning wormhole in so-called reality. I was quite overcome and tears streamed down my face. These were not tears of sadness or joy, but a body bursting beyond its threshold. On sale after their set was a new CD titled A.N.S. which is the follow up to Time Machines and is equally exquisitely hallucinogenic. Bernard Parmegiani's De Natura Sonorum raised the largest applause noise to crowd size ratio and it was pretty cool to be able to wander around the half empty hall in and out of the rushing elegant peaks and troughs as usually electroacoustic concerts are seated affairs. The Magic Band just owned the place as soon as they walked on, cool mofos to a man. Opening with Rockette Morton's Trout Mask bass solo, they cut a dash through some instrumental renditions that it'd be hard to believe could've been better back in the day. The sound was perfect, courtesy of Shellac bassist Bob Weston. Guitarist Gary 'Mantis' Lucas was obviously named such by the Captain due to the stance he pulled as he worked those difficult shapes into our eager ears. When John French stalked out from behind his kit to take on a Beefheart persona and sing a bellyfull o'psychedelic blues, it was a moment I dreaded just in case it all relapsed into kitsch karaoke clowning, but nothing could be further from the truth. As he told the tale of the farmer who pitched the devil from now to now with The Floppy Boot Stomp, it was obvious he'd lived so much of this seminal music that he'd become a different person, and one who could deliver a more than convincing full on hoodoo hoedown in the Captain's boots. Towards the end of their joyous set there was a false fire alarm and the room had to be cleared. I might've found me a woman to hold my big toe until it was time to go, but nowaday's a woman's gotta hit a man. A few more songs to a drastically diminished crowd had me leaping about like a kid waving apples down the front and after the inevitable fiery finale Big Eyed Beans From Venus the only reasonable response was to stand in front of the Mantis shouting, "We love you!" The Magic Band were so great I tripped out to their show in London the next day, and who should I bump into walking the nice streets of Wimbledon? None other than Malka Spigel, wife of WIRE guitarist Colin Newman. Clearly I was about to witness lightning striking twice!