August 12, 2009
Butlins was a gas
My experience of watching Jonathan Caouette's All Tomorrow's Parties concert film wasn't too different from that of Brannavan Gnanalingam here at Lumiere: not enough bands, too many fans, and too much cheerful-ironic Hi De Hi-era footage (it helps to know that the ATP festivals take over British holiday camps during the off season). It seemed like the attention-deficit editing of found and messed-up film that worked so nicely for Caouette in the mind-bending Tarnation was just getting in the way here. I agree that only showing us a few seconds of a Slint comeback set seemed criminal, and there wasn't much more of Shellac and Mogwai, and those acts that did get to run longer showed us the film that could have been: Grinderman, Portishead, the Gossip, Battles, Belle and Sebastian. But as Caouette's aim surely wasn't to disappoint, maybe there's something else going on here. The camera captures Thurston Moore in a rant about decorporatising music, deprivileging the record companies, returning the power to fans, dismantling those barriers. Your basic punk rock ideology, in other words. Caouette drops the audio of the rant into the film at least one more time. He also gets a few historic grabs of Patti Smith and Iggy Pop saying the same kinds of thing -- rock, the kids, the record companies -- as disembodied visionaries speaking within the ATP festival's in-room TV loop. Both appear 30 years later on the ATP stage, but their old ideas are way ahead of them. Caouette's vision of a festival, built out of the mountains of footage handed to him, is a kind of punk-inspired utopia: the fans matter as much as the bands and music can break out spontaneously anywhere; it doesn't have to be managed, distributed or packaged. Micah P Hanson could play on the lawn, or Daniel Johnson. In that sense, the key ATP performance in the film is probably the blistering one by Lightning Bolt, playing outside during the day, surrounded by a small group of fans with one mad, sweaty guy getting right up in their faces.