BAGS OF FUN: As ATP turns 10, we ask founder Barry Hogan how it feels to still be promoting the most credible festivals and parties around
Next month All Tomorrow’s Parties celebrate their tenth birthday. It’s a big deal because they put on what are without a doubt the best festivals in the UK, probably the world, and have been doing so since 1999, when they took on the running of Belle and Sebastian’s ‘Bowlie Weekender’ and turned it into an annual alternative knees-up. Since then they’ve expanded to incorporate three festivals a year (four this year with the birthday do), individual concerts, their Don’t Look Back shows, where classic albums are played in full (The Stooges playing ‘Raw Power’ supported by Suicide playing ‘Suicide’ next May, anyone?), and a label, ATP Recordings, which puts out the extraordinary likes of Deerhoof, Fuck Buttons and Alexander Tucker.
Read back through the events archive on their website and you’ll be taken aback that such a thing can actually exist in a random, dispassionate universe and probably feel a little sick at the sheer amount of talent on display, not to mention the fact that you missed most of it. Anyhow, there’s still time to paraglide into December’s shows (the tickets are long sold out), or sign up to the returns list and we’d recommend that you do as, at ten years-old, ATP is still every bit the precocious musical genius and black sheep of the festival fold, making Glastonbury and Reading look like drooling nursing-home vegetables by comparison. We caught up with Barry Hogan, who at 37 still runs the festivals with his wife Deborah, to find out how they’ve managed it.
Loud and Quiet: 10 years, how have they been? And what has ATP achieved?
Barry Hogan: “I would say on the whole they’ve been pretty good. We’ve had plenty of setbacks but been fortunate to have presented so many amazing artists. The list is pretty long but so rich. We’ve had acts such as Slint who were broken up before playing ATP to the likes of Iggy and the Stooges, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Portishead and Boards of Canada. When we started in late ’99 there weren’t any other alternative festivals. All that existed was Reading, Glastonbury and Phoenix etc. I think we have done well to offer an alternative to those bigger events. I’d also say that we were the first of our kind and we seem to have influenced lots of boutique festivals that exist now. I am just happy we have retained our integrity and remained true to the original concept of presenting music we believed in.”
LQ: How have you been able to keep that integrity (ATP remains unsponsored), have the suits come knocking?
BH: “We have had people offering us sponsorship but I don’t feel we need to introduce that after 10 years of not having it. We don’t go round making adverts like Hop Farm stating ‘we have no VIP areas or corporate branding.’ They were making out like this was some revolutionary idea of theirs, yet we have been doing all that stuff for 10 years. ATP belongs to the musicians and the fans so the bands and fans can hang out together as one, so everyone is equal. If other promoters think it’s important to dilute their events with some shitty phone company underwriting it, then good luck to them, that’s not my bag. I just want to put on events where we present music we believe in without any compromises.”
LQ: Where do you see it all going in the future?
BH: “I think we will continue as long as we get stimulated by what we are presenting. If we lose that we will stop as we put 100% into each event, like it’s our last.”
LQ: What do you think has happened to alternative music this decade?
BH: “I think there’s a really healthy underground scene now. Bands have more opportunity than 10 years ago and it’s good that people are able to discover new music with the help of myspace etc. It means people are more proactive and lots of good people are presenting nights and releasing records.”
LQ: While the twin joys of file-sharing and online streaming have made music more accessible and less localised, for a promoter who pioneered gigs in which classic records are played live (anyone who suspected ATP of indulgent, retrograde navel-gazing here should’ve gone to see Sonic Youth doing ‘Daydream Nation’ at the Roundhouse in 2007 to be persuaded otherwise), has the digital age had negative implications for such a large unit of music?
BH: “Don’t Look Back is celebrating the album as an artform because the downloading era means people are more and more going after individual tracks. But, saying that, I think it’s also encouraging artists to make solid albums that don’t have too many filler tracks on.”
LQ: Any particularly solid albums you’ve come across this year?
BH: “Yeah, I love the new OM record, ‘Wylt’ by Black Math Horseman and also that soundtrack compilation that Warren Ellis and Nick Cave did called ‘White Lunar’ – that’s insane how good that is. The tracks they composed for the forthcoming movie ‘The Road’ are also amazing. I know we released them and people will think I am biased but ‘Tarot Sport’ by Fuck Buttons and ‘Climb Up’ by Apse are also two of my favourite records this year. Other records I liked, old and new? ‘In Prism’ by Polvo, The Beak> [Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and his new, no-overdubs project who are playing the 10th Birthday shindig], Sleep’s ‘Holy Mountain’ and ‘Critical Beatdown’ by Ultramagnetic MC’s.”
LQ: What criteria make a great band?
BH: “I think the obvious criteria for bands is to make great records. Take a band like Built to Spill, they are on their 7th LP. I love ‘There is Nothing Wrong with Love’ which was made in the mid 90’s but they are still making great LP’s 5 albums later. They play great shows and are a pleasure to deal with, so to me that makes for a great band. There are plenty of bands who make great records but are complete assholes. We have a no assholes policy at ATP. You can play once but if you act like an asshole, then we won’t ask you back.”
LQ: Slight diversion, but we’ve read you were quoted as saying Elliott Smith used to hate you. Why’s that, out of interest?
BH: “It was over an email. My girlfriend at the time sent an email to Elliott’s girlfriend where she pretended to be me on my account and she was being harsh over something. We were friends with Elliott’s girlfriend and she got emotional over the context of the mail and Elliott came home to find her in tears. He then launched at me on email saying I had upset his lady – I hadn’t, my girlfriend had! So it was a weird situation. Months after the interview where I said that, I resolved the situation with Elliott. All was cool and he was scheduled to play at our ATP LA 2003 event but he never got to play as he tragically passed away.”
LQ: What do you do apart from book bands?
BH: “I collect vinyl toys by James Jarvis and Kaws, and art by Mark Ryden and Camille Rose Garcia, I love films by Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch and TV shows like The Wire, Seinfeld and The Sopranos but I work so much on ATP that I don’t get much time to do other stuff.”
LQ: Great. Finally, what’s the value of ‘leftfield’ music?
BH: “its between £6.50 and £6.99.”
Originally published in issue 12 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. November 2009