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Review: ATP Nightmare Before Christmas

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This year’s festive edition of the long-running ATP festival series had three curators to handpick the line-up, each handling the proceedings for a day.

Les Savy FavThe ringmasters for Friday were Les Savy Fav; the last people to timidly kick off their own party. Taking the stage before 6pm for their first of two slots, it took the Brooklyn five-piece no time to warm up before balding, bearded and effervescent frontman Tim Farrington was hanging upside down from the Red stage rafters to sing his part of the band’s breathless punk rock. Upstairs on the Centre stage, the elfin Marnie Stern got in a busy session of guitar shredding, although her reedy vocals were buried under piles of the relentless, progressive drumming. Still looking as preppy and fresh as the day they first stepped off Floridian beaches, Surfer Blood put on a polished display of buoyant indie rock.

Oxes, meanwhile, could barely stop exuding testosterone throughout a blitzing set of hard rock. If they’d have acted any more virile, we’d have an immaculate conception on our hands. Future Islands have a gentler brand of synth pop to work with but were bolstered by the impassioned chest beating of gruff frontman Samuel T. Herring. And the punk duo No Age kept the speaker stacks turned up till midnight; their fierce set of rough diamonds briefly interrupted to let some feisty teenagers sing a Black Flag cover.

Finally, Les Savy Fav re-emerged in front of glitter and sheen for their headlining slot. Farrington was now bulging through his sparkling morph suit (belly and beard first) after taking a lap through the crowd. To end their set, the jubilant band treated the night as if it was New Year’s and counted out their encore with recent hit ‘Let’s Get Out Of Here’ and a landslide of silver balloons flowing off the stage.   

Day two saw off-kilter rockers Battles taking the curating reins. Japanese instrumental rock troop Nisennenmondai turned in a bland series of sludgy numbers early on, and ambient duo Walls started off in a similarly unaffecting manner, but in contrast, their music eventually blossomed and flourished throughout the performance.  Newcomers Washed Out were another band whose music simmered along without ever offering substantial thrills. Fortunately the dense, taut rhythms of Battles were something more beguiling. Although the trio didn’t inspire the level of feral euphoria that Les Savy Fav had bought about, their relentlessly smart, throbbing tempos kept an almost metronomic pulse running through the crowds.

Flying Lotus picked up the late night duties from Battles, but lost much the lustre found on his magnificent 2010 album Cosmogramma somewhere amongst a mire of overindulgent clattering bass. With his own strange original contributions meshed into a DJ set, Matias Aguayo intermittently wove piles of his vocal loops amongst exotic Latin American songs to create something quite unique.

On Sunday, a programme chosen by Canadian dance maestros Caribou was in place to assuage the woes of long-time revellers. Ageing veteran Pharoah Sanders showed why lounge jazz can be as cripplingly dull as it can be self-indulgent, and just as Washed Out had plodded along with almost dizzying malaise on Saturday; kindred spirits Toro Y Moi had a murky set which bordered on disorientating. Although the jazz offerings of Sun Ra Arkestra weren’t always musically compelling, the sheer number of unexpected madcap interludes by the robed ensemble kept things spicy. Junior Boys were a little reserved, and didn’t even touch their stellar single from earlier this year, but still put on a brave show considering how ill lead singer Jeremy Greenspan was.

Late on, Kieran Hebden, the man better known as Four Tet, played with his decks and let the organic pitter-patter drift out from the Centre stage. As with Flying Lotus, one man twiddling with tech doesn’t make for the greatest of visual spectacles, but more often than not Hebden conjured up danceable stretches with spellbinding ease.

So finally, Caribou took to the stage close to one in the morning; a rather stupidly timed slot considering many festival goers were on their last legs by that point. Performing in an extended capacity as the Vibration Ensemble, the stage was packed with members of Sun Ra Arkestra forming a brass section and Hebden on decks. But really this arrangement was a slight distraction from Caribou’s own blissfully stark dance music. Songs as great as ‘Odessa’ are rarely going to be aided by extended sax soloing half way through.

Although the standard tightly knit Caribou unit (Dan Snaith, bassist and his two drummers) may have been preferable, the extended line-up did go to show how the great set up of ATP festivals can ally likeminded musicians for one off spectaculars. It just resulted in a slight miscue this time around.    

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