The weekend-long fete known as All Tomorrow’s Parties isn’t a festival so much as a retreat—an extremely awesome retreat. There aren’t any VIP areas, for example, or scantily clad woman handing out cans of Red Bull, but there is music—really good music, scattered throughout the creaky corners of an old Catskills summer resort. Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, and The Flaming Lips head the bill this year, but the mastermind behind this reverie is Barry Hogan, a fast-talking British promoter who brims with nervous energy. He’s been behind the event from the start: He organized 1999’s Bowlie Weekender—curated by Belle And Sebastian and held at a vacation resort in Sussex, England—which eventually adopted the name All Tomorrow’s Parties, and he arranged for the festival to cross the pond from England last year. In advance of this year's iteration, which begins Friday, September 11, The A.V. Club caught up with Hogan to talk bad concerts, dream bands, and something called the Ocropolis.
On the origins of All Tomorrow’s Parties
Belle And Sebastian approached me and said they wanted to do an event in a holiday camp, because [frontman] Stuart Murdoch used to work at one. The idea was to pick bands they were friends with, and bands they liked. And the response was crazy—everyone was like, “We want to do this.” It was originally called the First Annual Bowlie Weekender, and then afterwards, despite all the success, Stuart didn’t want to do it again. But it was too good an idea to let go, so I asked him if I could continue it with their blessing. I renamed it All Tomorrow’s Parties. I wanted to focus on the fact that there was a curator—someone picking the music—as opposed to some newspaper or radio station telling us what’s trendy and what’s not. It was kind of like making a mix-tape.
On more commercial music festivals
Places like Live Nation, they can’t get enough of sponsorship. They’d sell their mothers to put on a concert. That whole thing—it takes away from what the music is about, when all you see is this corporate sponsorship. And then you get all these people from sponsoring companies saying, “If you’re going to play on our stage, you have to fit with what our company is about.” I’ve seen contracts with people where they say shit like that. And I thought, I don’t want to compromise, I just want to put on what I think is good music. If people don’t like it, they can go somewhere else. I wouldn’t say it’s anti-commercial, but we’re putting on what we believe in. It’s not our intention to say, “This is underground and cool,” because that’s kind of pretentious.
On blurring the lines between fans and bands
You go to other festivals and people are paying crazy amounts to go and hang out and stand next to Drew Barrymore. What kind of shit is that? I want to go and get drunk with the bands I’ve always admired. You come to ATP, and there’s a game room where you can play cards with Steve Albini. Bands are wandering around to see the music. Everyone at ATP has one thing in common: Certain bands or records have changed their lives. I’m not trying to make out like it’s a hippie love-in or any of that bullshit, but there’s a sense of community.
On a previous interview in The Village Voice, in which Hogan addresses Echo And The Bunnymen, Lou Reed, Kraftwerk, and Neil Young
I would have had Echo And The Bunnymen, but they went and [played a concert devoted to] Ocean Rain by themselves. Which is not even their best album; their best album is Heaven Up Here. We had the idea [to stage such a show], and then they went off and did it themselves without us. So I thought, “Fuck you, you can’t even sing the notes anymore.” They’re shit now, anyway. And nothing against Lou Reed, but I asked him about doing Berlin and then he went off and did that on his own as well. You know that idea of bands performing albums in their entirety—we started that in England. The trouble is you give some people the idea and they go off and take it. So there’s nothing I could do about it. As for Kraftwerk and Neil Young—we’d love to have them. But we can’t afford them!
On Oneida’s day-long project on Sunday, called The Ocropolis
Oneida has a studio in Williamsburg called The Ocropolis, and they’re basically bringing up all of the equipment and trying to recreate their studio in a live setting. It’ll be like a revolving cast of musicians. It’s going to be going on for 12 hours, and I think they’re even willing to let fans get involved. We had to create a third space for it, but it’s definitely going to be interesting. And since it’s going on all day, you can pop out and see the Boredoms, and then come back into the world of Oneida. Or you can go play strip poker with Steve Albini or something.