There are a lot of little things that go into making ATP New York unique among summer music festivals. The curated lineup of artists. The intimate crowds of no more than a couple thousand like-minded rock nerds. The fact that the festival technically takes place just after summer, when the weather’s a bit more comfortable. And that it’s held at the charmingly retro Kutsher’s country club in the “Borscht Belt” of the Catskills, and not, say, a sun-scorched patch of mud in the middle of Tennessee. One other touch that might get overlooked: the auteur promoters behind All Tomorrow’s Parties consistently churn out some of the coolest concert posters since the psychedelic golden age of the 1960s. This year’s offerings are no exception.
Designed by illustrator and “monster creator” Pete Fowler, the posters’ pop-art take on comic books colorfully play up the superhuman elements of this year’s ATP lineup. From Iggy Pop, the man with the body of a heroin junkie and the stamina of an Olympic decathlete, to Raekwon the Chef and GZA the Genius, members of the real-life Justice League the Wu-Tang Clan.
All photos by Harry Shuldman. Check out the rest on his Flickr page.
In what has become a tradition for ATP NY, which turned 3 this year, the first night of the festival is all “Don’t Look Back” sets, where bands play through one of their classic, or at least cult-classic albums in its entirety. Australian garage-punk quartet The Scientists opened a night heavy on reverb and feedback, breaking in the Kutsher’s soundboard with the stomping fuzz of Blood Red River, their second LP. Seattle grunge pioneers and Sub Pop veterans Mudhoney followed, with singer Mark Arm gushing what a thrill it was to be in “the sweet spot of a Scientists/Stooges sandwich.” Playing their debut EP Superfuzz Bigmuff, named in honor of the band’s two most utilized effects pedals, Mudhoney did their part whipping the pit crowd into a frenzy. During “Halloween,” a Sonic Youth cover and one of the band’s first singles, repeat stage-divers seemed to test the band’s patience. Little did those pit kids know, they’d soon be the proverbial Montreal Olympic swimming pool to Iggy Pop’s Greg Louganis.
Iggy Pop dove into the crowd no less than a dozen times during the Stooges’ manic run-through of their aptly titled Raw Power. Fans piled on top of one another—some helping to push Iggy back on stage, others trying to twirl his Poland Spring-drenched hair. Iggy went through at least one six-pack of the half liter-sized bottles during his set, each time taking one sip and showering himself with the rest. It's easy to imagine his leathery torso absorbing the water, hydrating him and fueling his superhuman punk antics until the end, when he suddenly disappeared behind the stage, with a nervous-looking security guard trailing behind him.
Between the Stooges and the night’s closing act, Black Sabbath disciples Sleep, ATP featured another excellent comedy lineup, curated by Syd Butler of Les Savy Fav. Todd Barry delivered a fine half hour of his signature low-key musings, and Hannibal Buress, who just released a fantastic standup debut a few weeks ago, perfectly summed up one of the more irritating eccentricities of some of the oddballs roaming the Kutsher’s grounds. “I don’t mind the handlebar moustaches,” he said. “But when we’re talking, you can’t be acting like you don’t have a handlebar moustache.”
A mixed bag of abrasive experimentalism (Text Of Light), music for a hobbit’s funeral (Fursaxa) and nondescript minimalist techno (Fuck Buttons) dotted the ATP Saturday afternoon lineup. Those nursing hangovers took to exploring the hotel’s amenities or enjoying the pleasantly hurricane-free weather, and resting up for a more upbeat evening lineup. Steve Albini’s noise rock trio Shellac played a fun-but-truncated set, having to trim out much of their humorous crowd interactions and beloved Q&A sessions for a rushed 45-minute slot. There was enough time for a great version of their droning rock rant “Radio," where Steve Albini declared the power of his snare drum to be heard light-years out into the galaxy—but little else. Better that than nothing, as Shellac—billed as the ATP house band—say they will now play at ATP events exclusively. Austin-based instrumental rockers Explosions In The Sky played one of the more high-energy sets of the day—one drummer and three electric guitars blazing, leaping acrobatically around the stage. Sonic Youth closed the day out with equal exuberance, opening with a trio of songs from Daydream Nation. “Candle” into “Teen Age Riot” into “The Sprawl," with Thurston Moore embracing the bravado frontman role, a tall thin blur flailing himself and his Fender Jazzmaster around the stage.
Anyone who’s ever heard Damian Abraham from Fucked Up call into The Best Show on WFMU knows what a gentle giant he really is. Soft-spoken and polite, it isn’t until he takes the stage with his band that the fun-loving Hulk is unleashed. His death-metal roar over danceable punk riffs works though, and audience members find themselves laughing, not recoiling, as he jumps into the crowd and screams in their faces, before smashing a coke can into his forehead. Fans bring him treats, like a bag of Cookie Crisp for thrashing open and pouring onto the crowd or a plastic bag for a mock asphyxiation when he isn’t wrapping the microphone chord around his head. It might seem like he came determined to out-crazy Iggy Pop, but Fucked Up fans know it was just business as usual.
Fucked Up were one of the crazier highlights of the third and final day of ATP New York, curated by director Jim Jarmusch. The variety of musical styles throughout the day—the space-metal of Wooden Shjips, surf rock from Girls, a couple of Wu-Tangers to close things out—echoed the diversity in Jarmusch’s own varied filmography.
The Wu-Tangers in question, Raekwon and GZA, represented another kind of diversity, namely, the disparity between terrible and transcendent live hip-hop. Raekwon’s set, introduced in a bizarrely unexpected cameo from Ron Jeremy, was one of the most hyped performances of the entire weekend. Almost a year to the day since the release of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, the album feels classic. The beats and old-school kung-fu film samples are lived in after a year in many an iPod’s heavy rotation, and the crowd was ready to rap along to it. But drowned out by the bass and with lyrics garbled by too much participation from the hype-man, the Wu favorite-heavy set was energetic but musically mediocre. Later on in the evening however, those that drifted off during the first 20 minutes of Boris and Sunn O)))’s endless buildup were in for a pleasant antithesis to Rae’s set, and a terrific end to the festival. Rae and GZA were both liberal in their reclamation of other Wu-Tang members’ verses, making ODB’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” or Inspectah Deck’s opening verse from “Triumph” (“I bomb atomically/Socrates philosophies and hypotheses can’t define how I be droppin’ these…) their own. But while Rae and GZA could both electrify with these well-known lines, GZA continually challenged the crowd with freestyles and deep cuts from his '90s classic Liquid Swords, and its underrated quasi-sequel Legend Of The Liquid Sword. “I’m lookin’ at some of you motherfuckers,” he would taunt, with love, “You can’t even look back, you so fuckin’ scared!” GZA stretched his set a good 25 minutes beyond its scheduled ending time too, reciprocating pleas for “One more song” three or four times, and talking his shit the whole time. “You still don’t know. Y’all in the Andromeda galaxy right now,” he said. Even Raekwon, standing at the back of the stage with the DJ for the last half of the set, copped to being there “just to watch.” Watching a genius at work. The Genius.