INTERVIEW

At the final ever UK holiday camp ATP, Daniel Dylan Wray met with founder Barry Hogan

ATP

At thirteen years old, ATP has become something the English alternative music world first became familiar with and then, to some extent, took a little for granted. Its uniqueness has perhaps been replaced with a sense of expectancy and routine. However, walking through the Pontin’s holiday camp at 5am, there’s still something about the place that no other festival has come close to capturing. Strolling past the rows and rows of chalets, each one with their own playlist blaring out, some opening their doors to strangers, others with curtains tightly pulled and the doors deadlocked, there’s a vibrancy that’s both exciting and mysterious. Part lost, part drunk and part high, I must walk the grounds for nearly an hour on my own, drinking in the icy morning air.

ATP was always put forward as being a ‘mixtape’ of a festival, in which the line-up is there to impress, surprise and perhaps even teach. But an extension of this is the fan culture that comes with it. Window after window I walk past, party after party I stumble into, simply walking around the site is your very own shuffle playlist in itself.

Some have criticised the predictability of line-ups over recent years and with the amount of events and festivals that are put on (sometimes four UK weekend-long events in a year) it’s hardly surprising there has been some crossover but, without meaning to sound all BBC ‘Glastonbury moment’, ATP has been about more than just the line-up, and as it takes its final bow at Camber Sands on 1 December 2013, an irreplaceable fan culture leaves with it.

On site, I meet up with ATP founder Barry Hogan to reminisce over the best and worst of times and what the future holds for his live promotions company and record label. “It feels a bit like when you were at school, waiting for the summer holidays to come,” he tells me. “Those six weeks just seem like an eternity. Our next festival is in Iceland and isn’t until next July. Myself and Deborah [Higgins] have been married eight years and we haven’t had time for our honeymoon because we’ve been doing this so it will be good to do something and take a break.”

The first question to pose is an obvious one – why call it a day now? “You know, we could probably have a band like Yo La Tengo curate and I’m sure it would be great but there’d no doubt be a bunch of bands that have already played and it would start to get a bit repetitive, so I thought why not draw a line in the sand and then have people reflect with fond memories instead of, ‘oh, that shit that just keeps going.’

“I’ll be honest,” says Hogan, “they [Pontins] haven’t made it easy. There’s been a change in the management and they’re starting to do stupid things like charge the fans for bedding and towels and things.” Hogan too has seen a surge in other alternative events, many utilising similar formats. “When we started there were no real alternative music festivals,” he says, “now everybody who buys a CD from Rough Trade is a promoter… I think when we started doing the ‘Don’t Look Back’ shows in 2005, it would be fair to say it encouraged an epidemic of people doing it. We’ve done about 60/70 albums, some better than others, but it just seems that everyone is doing a classic album thing or curating festivals where the festival says it’s ‘curated by’, but it’s not always curated, it’s just a festival. It’s like you get greengrocers curating apples these days. I think people abuse the word. I think people dilute it.”

Closing the final ever weekend is a band Hogan has been after for some time. “It’s nice to get LOOP to play because we’ve been chasing them since 1999,” he says, “and they always said no, but I take it that when a band says no to me, I keep trying. It was the same with Pavement and My Bloody Valentine – it always pays off, the only one who it didn’t with – who we’ve asked every year and they always said no – is Kraftwerk and it kind of broke my heart when they did the albums retrospective at the Tate. And when the Pixies got back together and then broke up again, in that in-between stage, we asked them to do ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Doolittle’ and they were like ‘we’re not really a band at the moment’. Then they got back together and did it on their own. I was like, ‘fuck you’!” he laughs.

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Although billed as ‘End of an Era’, Hogan says, “It’s definitely the beginning of a new one. We’ve been asked to do stuff in Poland, Turky, Denmark, Brazil, Chile and Argentina – there aren’t enough months in the year.” Next year will also see an indoor London festival, like an extension of ATP’s current ‘I’ll be Your Mirror’ event, except it’s a joint venture with Pitchfork and Primavera, named Jabberwocky. Details are clandestine at present but cheap tickets is the premise, with it being either a 2 or 3 day event. “We should be looking to the future. We’ve got enough nostalgia under our belts.”

ATP came under the spotlight last year when an investigative article by The Stool Pigeon revealed huge financial debts behind the company. It’s an article that spread enormously and put intense pressure on and speculation about the festival and the business workings behind it. It’s an article that Hogan refutes and has some choice words for. “There were inaccuracies all over the place,” he says. “I mean, we were going through some financial issues, generally because promoting is like going to the horses, but for them to do that was just so stupid. They ended up alienating everyone and I know lots of people who refused to advertise with them [as a result] and I think that’s half the reason that they’re no longer in business. Phil [SP editor], why he did that, I don’t know. I mean we helped them launch that magazine. I mean, you guys know you need to rely on your advertisers and have people who support and believe in what you’re doing. I mean, it wasn’t just us, they upset 4AD, they upset Mute. I mean they tried to make out that we were like Rupert Murdoch or something, setting out to exploit people – we’ve actually been known to overpay bands. We always treat people fairly and bands with the upmost respect. If anyone else was doing this kind of festival, they would get the bands to stay for one night, kick them out and get a new one in and we let them stay for the whole weekend. Every single penny I have earned has gone back into this festival and for them to try and highlight that, they made things so difficult for us it got to the point that we nearly had to stop doing the festival over it, so I hope they’re proud of themselves. I mean look at what it did, their own magazine isn’t in circulation and I know they’ll say differently, that they decided to stop, but I know for a fact people had just stopped advertising in it. We were horrified by it to be honest, it’s full of inaccuracies and it’s one of the worst pieces of journalism I’ve ever read, to quote Facebook comments and Drowned in Sound message board comments, I mean that’s the work of a sixth former.”

Hogan continues: “The way they wrote it and the way they behaved is like the way The Daily Mail behaves when it tries to expose immigration statistics and highlight everyone’s faults, it was sensationalist journalism. They were trying to make a name for themselves and someone even told me it won an award for the best article of the year. It was incoherent, not cohesive and there was no point to it. I don’t understand why they picked on us because we supported them and advertised with them from the start, it baffles me. I told Phil at the time – as he showed it to us before it was published – ‘it’s full of inaccuracies’ and he said, ‘well, I don’t want to run it if its full of inaccuracies’, and I said, ‘why are your running it at all?’, and his response was that ‘people need to know’. [Hogan didn’t go into what the inaccuracies were in our interview]. It achieved nothing. What their magazine was designed for was to be like when Sounds, Melody Maker and NME were around, when there was an indie community and everybody supported each other and all they did to the labels, from Beggars to Mute to Rough Trade, was end up making them [the labels] resent them, which was stupid. It defeated the object of why they started. They may as well have just gone off and worked for The Daily Mail the way they were carrying on.”

The reaction was divisive. Many people rushed to support ATP, including Geoff Barrow who publically wrangled with The Stool Pigeon, while others saw it as an opportunity to attack the festival. “We had a lot of haters hit the message boards to criticise us,” says Hogan. “There are some people who think we’re this massive corporation who don’t give a shit about the fans, but it’s not true. We definitely have struggled over the years but that’s because we set-out with a premise to do a festival that had no sponsorship and that we believed in musically, and it has bit us in the arse a little bit. When you lose on events and you have no sponsorship, it hurts. For example, TV on the Radio: fantastic line-up, no one came.  So, there have been some fans that have turned against us [since the article] but also a lot that have been very supportive, but if people don’t like what we’re doing, don’t fucking come.”

We move onto more anecdotal territory as Hogan recalls some highlights. “I really loved the Dirty Three one,” he says. “It was so much fun to work on, there was so much new music, working with Warren Ellis was great, as far as I’m concerned he could curate every single one. I would definitely say the Dirty Three one was the most enlightening.”

Infamously, ATP had a ‘No Arseholes’ policy, where bands who don’t behave themselves are banned from ever playing again. “Black Lips apologised so we welcomed them back,” says Hogan, “and I feel bad for speaking out against the Butthole Surfers because it painted the rest of the band in a bad light – who are good people – when it fact it was just Gibby [Haynes]. He was a tricky customer; he was pretty full-on and rude to lots of people, including myself. He did some crazy stuff. He was going through some difficult stuff, however, and saying that, I would work with him again and we are talking about maybe doing something. I don’t know if I could handle Killing Joke again, but there’s loads of bands like that, they come and they treat us… there was a band last year that curated, they were huge, and it just wasn’t a good experience and we’ve been doing this since before they were even in a band and they were invited to play, and to be made to feel uncomfortable in your own festival [by them] is just something we didn’t set out to design.

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“We treat people how we would like to be treated; we want them to have a good time and we want them to want to come back. I mean, imagine if I came to your house and I drank all your beer and left a code 6 in your toilet, you’d be like ‘fuck you Barry Hogan, you’re not coming to my house again’. We’re respectful of people, that’s the way I was brought up, so that’s where the ‘No Arsehole’ policy comes from, but it’s kind of a running joke. We thought about designing a poster for the office listing all the bands that were difficult with us. But I’m sure there are bands that could do an arsehole promoters of the world poster and I’m sure I would appear on a few of those. It’s tongue in cheek, really.”

The big band in question from last year must be The National, right?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about?!” he laughs. “That was not a good experience. I mean they asked us if they could do it; we didn’t ask them and I thought it would be something a bit different for us to do, but it wasn’t to be. I think there’s different group’s within that group that control what’s going on and then you have this manager that plays good cop and bad cop and it’s a stupid situation. We don’t care that they’re massive, I don’t even buy their records, I personally think they’re shit. What I wanted to get from them was that I thought they would have an interesting take on curating. I don’t have to like everyone who curates, although most of them I do, but I walked away from it feeling really empty and that’s not how it should be. Their music is so bland, I think I’d rather watch slush melt than listen to their music. There’s a whole scene of these Brooklyn bands and they’re all fucking trust-fund kids, they need to go and do a Black Flag and lose money and go out there and play toilets. It’s just a hobby to them.”

Barry recalls a few other challenging moments in the festivals history. “I tell people to leave their egos at the door,” he says, “but I remember when Cheap Trick turned up and asked where the VIP section was, and they were like, ‘What? There’s no VIP section?! You mean we have to hang out with the crowd?!’ And I was like, ‘yeah, you fucking do. Get out there!’ They probably wouldn’t even recognise them!

“I remember the Mars Volta came and they refused to stay on site because at the time in California they were huge rock stars and they had kids that dressed up like them and followed them around and they expected that here so they stayed off-site and were bummed that they kept having to walk back to the hotel because they thought it was too far, and they realised they could have just stayed on-site and it would have been so much better. GZA just went to a sports bar off-site all weekend. Ghostface Killah came to catering and they were just like ‘nah, we’re not eating that’, and this is a catering company that caters for people like Coldplay and Radiohead. It’s amazing food and stuff everyone looks forward to but they didn’t like the way it was served, so they requested a buy-out and I just said find anywhere on-site that you want to eat in and they went everywhere and nearly settled on Burger King but they found this pub, at the Minehead site, called The Sun And Moon and we just said let them get what they want. There was about 32 things on the menu and they ordered every single item on there – there was shitloads of food all over several tables and they just cherry picked at it and said, ‘this is bullshit’, and just walked out! He also complained that there was no clock in his chalet and I said to him, ‘you know in England, we have these things called watches?’ and he’s like, ‘yeah, I’ve got a watch’, so I said why don’t you use it?  And he didn’t want to change it from American time to English time and I said to him, ‘you need to get out more.’”

Musicians will make a fuss about their food, but ATP has also come with an added insistence from the curating bands – the lineup. “Slint mentioned Snow Patrol at one point,” says Hogan. “You get some strange ones. Vincent Gallo wanted Christina Aguilera – he was convinced she should come and he should have sex with her. And I’m like, ‘I’m not sure I can arrange that’, and he was like, ‘just ask her’, and I said, ‘which bit? To play or to have sex with you?’. and he said ‘just put it in the offer’. He actually wanted me to put it in the offer to her.”

Before Hogan gets back to his last hurrah at Camber Sands, I ask him a little about the recently deceased Lou Reed – the man who gave ATP (All Tomorrow’s Parties) ­its name, and I’ll Be Your Mirror, too.  Yet it’s more than Reed’s song titles that have influenced the way this festival has turned out. “‘Magic And Loss’ [Reed’s album from 1992]  was what inspired me to do Don’t Look Back,” says Hogan. “I was seeing him on that tour at the Hammersmith Apollo in whatever year that was and he decided to play that album in full, in track order, and it’s a very conceptual and very poignant record about his friend Doc Pomus who died of cancer. Someone said in a slightly poetic way that he started this [ATP] and then he passed away just as we came to the end of the era. There’ll never be anyone like Lou Reed again. Every band that has played this festival owes their career to him and if they don’t, they just don’t realise it yet.”

*UPDATE: At the time of publishing Loud And Quiet 55, our printing deadline prevented us from asking The Stool Pigeon to comment on the objections raise in this article. Below is comment from the paper’s Founding Editor Phil Hebblethwaite:

“There’s almost nothing in our article that isn’t a matter of public record. All we did was gather that public information together in one place and obtain some quotes from his creditors. I accept, though, that Hogan isn’t Scottish, as mentioned in the piece. Also, any claims by Hogan that the article was in any way responsible for the closure of The Stool Pigeon are risible: the story, which indeed did win ‘Best Feature’ at that year’s Record Of The Day Awards, led directly to a surge in advertising. The following issue was the highest grossing in our history and, in fact, helped ensure that I could pay off every invoice I owed within six weeks of voluntarily deciding to close The Stool Pigeon. Not a single person, company or subscriber is owed a penny from our eight years in business.”

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