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All Tomorrow's Parties @ Mt Buller
09/01/2009 and 10/01/2009

ATP

I'm from Queensland. I've never seen snow and I was unaware that the 'High Country' existed. The fact that there wasn't any snow on the 'caps' of Mount Buller slightly diminished my experience of ATP. I decided that after driving for approximately 1713.3km's....

....and surviving the cess pool that is Sydney, I'd better let go of my dreams of building a Bill Callahan snowman and reluctantly push my Honda Civic up Buller's Everest-like slope.

A short word on the road to Mt Buller – caravan parks are strange places and I found that sleeping with a hammer under my sleeping bag in places such as Yass facilitated in easing the mind and allowed a deep, comfortable sleep.

Day One - Friday

With regards to the actual festival, someone on the free shuttle from the car park to the 'Village' informed me (by me I mean someone else) that he was going to 'get his party on' (paraphrased). This frightened me a little as I forgot my amphetamines and my singlet. Luckily upon arriving in the Village it was clear that I was pretty much the coolest person there, which meant that everyone else was incredibly fucking lame. Nah, they were alright. Actually, I scientifically calculated a 100:1 ratio of cool:douche at the festival, which bettered Splendour's 30:70 and Big Day Out's 1:55,000. It was extremely refreshing and I didn't once experience any of those uncomfortable festival moments where you feel physical or mental death is imminent. The people make any festival and it's not an overstatement to say they formed one of the best crowds I've experienced at any event small or large, musical or not.

The event itself was very well organised, the accommodation was extremely comfortable and every detail had been thought of. The fact that you could buy your alcohol and groceries from the Village 'Foodworks' says a lot about the organisational approach. However, perhaps the beautiful simplicity of the approach is best encapsulated by the architectural brilliance of the ATP Male Pissoir.

ATP

Oh, and you could take a chairlift to the main stage. Epic frealz.

Actually, if there were one negative with the festival's organisation it was that the food choices were fairly bland and predictable. As a vegetarian it was a little dull eating pasta and sandwiches all weekend, but it wasn't a huge deal.

12:30pm - The Holy Sea

Opening the festival were The Holy Sea, a West Australian band that I have to admit I'd never heard a song by. They weren't bad and their folk-tinged tunes sounded quite typically 'Australian' – lyrical, passionate, wide-open. Moments of their set were really quite impressive and they seemed an appropriate fit to open the festival given the expansive backdrop of the Amphitheatre stage.

ATP

2:15pm - Dead Meadow

Dead Meadow opened the main stage and while their psych/stoner thing was a pretty nice beginning, it never really took off in my mind. To be fair the consensus from the rest of the crowd at the time and afterwards was overwhelmingly positive. However, I'm not a huge Dead Meadow fan and while there were some nice moments their set didn't really hold my attention.

3:30pm - Bill Callahan

Bill's set was exactly what you'd expect from someone who has a vast catalogue of understated and direct recordings. He came out, with minimal fuss and aided by Warren Ellis and Jim White, and performed a swift set of mostly recent songs. His voice sounded incredible on the mountaintop and filled the entire stage. Watching down on Bill as he laid his emotions bare lost none of its appeal despite the large stage.

4.15pm - Beaches

HYPE! This is the first time I'd had the opportunity to hear or see these girls. The four guitarists formed a frontline at the front of the stage and belted out a set of Kim Gordon-like rollicking noise anthems. I thought they sounded fantastic, even if they failed to win over the large proportion of geriatrics at the festival. Fucking get on the wagon.

6.00pm - Mystery Act

Grinderman. WOT?! No way! I was hoping for Pusha T and Malice to step out pile the powder to the muthafucking ceiling. Instead we got a bunch of old cunce whinging about getting no pussy. Of course they sounded brilliant. Cave was snarling and energetic and the rest of the band members were as tight as you'd expect them to be. I was never able to really get into their debut but this was great and was the moment that the festival really started.

7.45pm - Fuck Buttons

I had heard that Fuck Buttons had an impressive live show and their set was certainly that, in my mind infinitely exceeding the effectiveness of their sound on record. Out in the elements in the open-air their noise battles seem more significant, more fascinating. Standing across from each other at either sides of a table the Buttons thrashed out an energetic set that seemed to explore the space between our selves and everything else. Anyone in the crowd who wasn't converted would have been after this. Extremely impressive.

8.30pm - Silver Apples

Of all the oldies playing at ATP, Simeon of Silver Apples is one of the oldest, but unlike the rest of the oldies, his age seemed to affect his music. His space-psych explorations seemed a lot less interesting than on record with Danny Taylor. Unfortunate really, as their small catalogue is an impressive one and had the potential to be a highlight of the festival.

9.15pm - Dirty Three

I may be slightly biased in reviewing the Dirty Three's set, as Ocean Songs is one of my favourite albums. Still, this was an absolutely stunning and vital performance that encapsulated what was so interesting about the festival itself.

In my mind the location of Mt Buller added something to the festival that wouldn't have existed at a lesser venue. To me, the interplay between the music and the surrounds affected more than just the senses; the backdrop was a symbol of a very, maybe even uniquely, Australian style of music. Experiencing the freezing temperatures during summer whilst looking out over the stage toward the harsh and sparse terrain of the 'high country' was a particularly unique experience. This was a performance that was as pained and affected as the environment that surrounded it.

If there were an underlying theme that united many of the bands at ATP it was that they make music that is inseparable from the environment that creates it, and in an Australian context, perhaps no band symbolise this inseparability quite like The Dirty Three. Despite it being cut short due to time constraints (something that could've been solved if Mr Ellis shut the fuck up for once!) Ocean Songs possessed the same power that it did ten years ago and provided the highlight of the festival by some distance in my eyes.

11:00pm (approximately?) - The Saints

Let me get it out of the way. I thought this fucking stank. I'm sorry. Just about every other person at the festival seemed convinced that this was a great performance, but I just found it cringe-worthy. When did Chris Bailey turn into an exaggerated Bono caricature? Was this U2 performing at Wembley or a dirty punk band from the dirrrrtiest town on earth – Brisb-fuckingcuntbitch-bin? Light shows! 17 encores! Chris Bailey bowing to the crowd every thirty seconds! Lucky Mr Kuepper was there otherwise Bailey would've been out there until 4am, I'm sure. They hardly shared a glance, not surprising, Kuepper was reliably brilliant but Bailey swayed the band towards stadium rock territory. One big fucking wank. A shame.

Day Two - Saturday

ATP

12:30pm - Hunter Dienna

Was only able to catch a snippet of this. I wouldn't say I was blown away but they used the male/female vocalist thing quite effectively to create some fairly dark textures. Quite decent from what I saw.

1:45pm - The Stabs

This was my first chance to see The Stabs and I thought they were quite intriguing. They sounded like fairly angry young men, and were sometimes, vocally, at least, reminiscent of Witch Hats. The music itself was energetic, dirty and laced with grunge. Really very good.

3:00pm - The Small Knives

Nice little folk-tinged ditties that were friendly enough, but maybe felt a little limp to the unaccustomed. This may have kept my attention for a longer time if I were more familiar with their music, but I'm not, and I think I may have slowly felt my morning coffee wearing off.

4:15pm - Michael Gira

Damn I wish all acoustic-based music were this powerful. While we have to deal with the John Butlers and Axle Whiteheads (...you got me feelin' like a satellite...) force-feeding us their tasteless bowls of soggy bread, this makes the acoustic guitar worthy of present existence. Gira had the entire audience completely captivated by his direct and powerful performance. The Swans songs were particularly engrossing, but the entire performance demanded attention.

4:45pm - Robert Forster

Unfortunately I was only able to catch around half of St Robert of Brisbane's set. He looked and sounded as immaculate as ever, performing a mixture of his own tracks and some Go-Betweens classics. His voice was at once vulnerable and confident.

5:30pm - Harmonia

The Krautrockers pulled a surprisingly large crowd, including what appeared to be a particularly cult-ish fan base right in front of the stage. It was pretty special seeing three men with an average age of 60-odd causing such a reaction (ruckus?). Their set was a highlight of the weekend as they just dropped track after track of their seriously catchy (and danceable) brand of Krautrock. No fuss, they didn't even appear to know what the time was, they just checked the clock on their laptops and thought they ought to leave, much to the dismay of everyone as the last quarter of their set was brilliant.

6:45pm - Rowland S Howard

Only caught a snippet of Rowland as I had to race back to the lodge to cure my severe case of sunscreen eye. He sounded great from what I heard, was a shame no Birthday Party reunion eventuated though.

7:15pm - Laughing Clowns

In stark contrast to The Saints, Kuepper and the Clowns laid down a no-nonsense, tight, dynamic set that explored great deal of their catalogue. Kuepper sounded like a pro and the rest of the band seemed genuinely delighted to be reunited again. The high point was an extended rendition of their most well-known song – Eternally Yours. Seeing a sea of grey hairs jigging along, many in a complete rapture, was brilliant. The only lowlight was that they didn't play Knife in the Head! But seriously, it was great to see a band that deserves so much more appreciation than it has ever received finally receiving a whole, fat, grey-haired slice.

8:00pm - Psarandonis

I'm not going to pretend to know any more about Psarandonis than that Warren Ellis loves him and he is a particularly old Cretan man. Apparently he is a master of the 'lyra'. He performed accompanied by his son and some other fellow, and very quickly had the entire crown entranced. I'm not really sure what he was doing or what he was singing in his gruff voice, but it sounded a bit nice to say the least. Quite lovely indeed.

9:00pm - Spiritualized

Spiritualized's set was surprisingly no frills. I mean apart from the Afro-soul back-up singers and the impeccable light show, it was quite simple. Down to earth would be completely the wrong cliche, but you get my drift I'm sure. It's often said that Spaceman has one trick…which is probably true, but it's a pretty nice trick and their set was extremely enjoyable. I mean, psych-space-anthems, really, will that ever not sound great at a festival at night?

10:30pm - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

I didn't want to admit it, but, really, this festival was all about Nick and the Bad Seeds to a very large portion of the crowd. And was their set ever not going to completely rule? The first indication that it would be special was that the opener – Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! – had about 99% more dirt thrown over every filthy riff. Each and every song was full of raw energy and power. Nick again demonstrated that he is one of the greatest of all frontmen, and the Bad Seeds against demonstrated that they form one of the greatest band sections of all time. They barely took a breath for the entire (almost two hour) set. For a band to possess recording longevity is one thing but to be able to throw out epic, energetic and downright dirty performances well into their second decade is something altogether more impressive. Watching the performance was like experiencing one final mental and physical purge. Like one mighty full stop. Nothing left... perfect way to end the festival.

The resounding consensus was that this was one of the great festival experiences anyone had the pleasure of undergoing. The music, the people, the atmosphere couldn't just be created or conjured up. There were no gimmicks, no bullshit, just a dedicated crowd who were all required to make some sort of serious effort just to attend (Nick joked that he wouldn't have done it ha) and some of the best and most interesting music on offer anywhere in the world. It really was a privilege to attend, and hopefully poor attendances and (I'm assuming) fiscal returns don't rob us of the opportunity to experience it again in 2010.

Filed Under
Articles
Fuck Buttons
The Holy Sea
Dead Meadow
Bill Callahan
Beaches
Grinderman
Silver Apples
Dirty Three
The Saints
Hunter Dienna
The Stabs
The Small Knives
Michael Gira
Robert Forster
Harmonia
Rowland S Howard
Laughing Clowns
Psarandonis
Spiritualized
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
All Tomorrow's Parties

 

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Comments

Hernandez

Great review!

It really was the best festival, Only bad thing about it was the sometimes over zealous security but all in all it was an amazing experience.

Hopefully they have it next year, loved it sooooooo much.

1 decade ago

gemdilem

wow.. what a beautiful backdrop for the stage... looks amazing...

great review!

1 decade ago

Sean

i heard nothing but great things about Buller.

1 decade ago

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