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All Tomorrow's Parties: Mogwai and Modest Mouse caught live

All Tomorrow's Parties: Modest Mouse l Photo by Lucy Johnston

Review by Ann Lee

FIRST Woodstock, then Glastonbury and now All Tomorrow’s Parties – yep, these are festivals so good that they made a film out of it.

At this year’s ATP vs The Fans, Tarnation director Jonathan Caouette and his camera crew are very much a visible presence as they scour the festival for interesting snippets to capture for the forthcoming feature film. And there’s no shortage of celluloid-worthy moments at this annual event curated this time round by the fans themselves with roughly half of the bands performing picked using people power.

Described as the festival for the more discerning music fan, ATP swaps half-flooded tents for clean chalets and an attempt to appeal to all for a musical taste which is indier than thou. Fresh off the train and ready for some festival fun, the first few bands are perhaps a little too sedate and downbeat although it’s hard to deny the superlative quality of acts like Mogwai.

Unfortunately, the Scottish outfit – one of the definitive post-rock bands – are playing on the Pavilion Stage, situated in what is essentially a shopping mall-cum-big top.

In this vast vortex of bright white light littered with fast food signs, the sound disperses quickly making each band sound like they’re playing in a giant tin.

No matter how enjoyable the wonkily robust alt folk of Modest Mouse (pictured above), the beguiling harmonies of Bat For Lashes or the post-punk tunes of Echo and the Bunnymen are, the effect is too disconcerting to make it any more then a pleasurable excursion rather than an enthralling experience.

All Tomorrow's Parties: Mogwai l Photo by Lucy Johnston

Disconcerting too are Mogwai (pictured right) but only for their absolute beauty as they gradually immerse the crowd in a warm bath of delicate sound. The subtle inflections and changes in their music are breathtaking in their complexity – pulled off with an ease that is astounding to watch.

Upstairs it’s a different story with the dark confines of what appears to be a bingo hall just the right side of dingy.

The perfect setting for Notwist with his sweet vocals and lo-fi reggae-infused melodies as well as Grizzly Bear’s spine-tingling psych-folk with layer upon layer of harmonies built up to thrilling effect.

Daniel Johnston appears to be on a roll. The normally gig-shy recluse is scheduled to play just one show but spends the weekend putting on impromptu gigs for those who missed out on the first. On the Reds Stage hunched over his guitar and then a keyboard, he is the epitome of childlike concentration looking as if he is focusing with all his might on getting through each song as quickly as possible. But there is a hushed poetry in his simple songs, heartbreaking in their starkly vivid lyricism even though he seems unnerved by his enraptured audience.

One man who could never be accused of shying away from his audience is Japanese electro genius Cornelius. Paying careful attention not only to what they listen to but also to what they see, he lays on eye-popping visuals and a glorious kaleidoscopic cacophony of lights.

His inventiveness means that no two songs ever sound the same as he bounces merrily along to kitsch lounge pop, crunchy electro and freeform jazz. Finally, the party has well and truly arrived. If only every weekend could be ATP…

This review applies to the ATP of May 18-20, 2007. Photos by Lucy Johnston.