All Tomorrow's Parties
Credits: Directed by Jonathan Caouette
Details: (MA15+), 83 mins, In Cinemas 22 June 2011, United Kingdom, English
Synopsis: In an out-of-season holiday camp on the coast of England, alternative music festival All Tomorrow’s Parties serves up a heady combination of alternative music, crazy golf and chalet-living; all curated by a single band or artist. This post-punk DIY bricolage uses material generated by the fans and musicians themselves, on a multitude of formats and over the history of ATP, to capture the uncompromising spirit of a parallel music universe.
Indie spirit shines through at cult music festival.
All Tomorrow’s Parties is an alternative music festival that happens annually at a seaside British holiday camp: for several days each year underground music fans relocate to a series of quaint cabins and time-defying entertainment halls that once drew their grandparents. Idiosyncratically curated by a different musician or visual artist each time, the niche enterprise has generated international editions (including one in Australia, which was curated by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) by virtue of its uncompromising aesthetic.
In an era when alternative music is a lucrative business – it’s the mainstream with a beard – A.T.P. has prospered by staying small and select. The same creed applies to All Tomorrow’s Parties, the suitably busy documentary about the festival that captures a sense of its sonic intrigue without really delving into relevant philosophies. Directed by American filmmaker Jonathan Caouette – along with “All Tomorrow’s People”, an inclusive credit for the literally hundreds of contributors who supplied footage – the movie refutes most of the standing tenets of the rock documentary.
Caouette’s previous film was the hand-made 2003 documentary Tarnation, an act of autobiography concerned with his relationship with his mentally ill mother. With its hermetic air, obsessive focus and low budget feel it matched the desires of many independent music fans, who eternally see themselves as armies of one defined by choices in taste that acquire deep consideration.
It’s for that audience – deeply committed, disdainful of appealing to the mainstream, taken with careful categorisation – Caouette has made All Tomorrow’s Parties. The narrative is perpetually fractured, creating pieces that need to be identified and tagged. The format jumps from digital video to super-8 to mobile camera clips, with an equal unevenness in sound quality. Few tracks from the bands involved, which reach back to 1999, run their full length, with the songs drifting off into montages or found footage.
Caouette is a little too taken with the contrast between the setting’s traditional use and their current one, opening with a classic British music hall comic before cutting to the quixotic rhythms of Battles’ “Atlas”. It’s an idea he returns to several times, even though without narration or editorial purposefulness that are other questions that are barely raised, let alone answered. A.T.P. boss Barry Hogan is seen answering a news reporter’s questions (and then watching himself deliver those quotes on television), but the film’s guiding ideal is to disorientate and re-align the senses.
“It’s pretty strange, but it seems to work,” observes violinist Warren Ellis, who curated one year with his fellow Australians in The Dirty Three, to a guest, and that about satisfies the inquisitorial side. Otherwise it’s the fan’s experience, with crowded rooms giving way to cabin parties and hesitant dawn anthems after long nights of revelry. In a sponsorship-free setting – now virtually unknown at a music festival – there’s snatches of Sonic Youth and Iggy and the Stooges, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Animal Collective.
If you’re outside this world – that is, if you don’t know why a musician would turn to a camera and simply say, with reverence, “Kevin Shields!” upon sighting a nondescript Irishman – then All Tomorrow’s Parties will do little to usher you in. Those who do will be pleased, because more than anything Caouette has recreated the feeling, so common at music festivals, of being overwhelmed by the sheer expanse of sound. He’s gone for, and generally achieved, the immersive.
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