Kutsher’s is an elaborate maze of winding rooms, multiple floors and dark corners much like the Great Northern Hotel from Twin Peaks — though I never found the Black Lodge, or if I did, I don’t remember — or, as Sian Ahern from Sian Alice Group remarked as we chatted beside the lake that the snake-like compound wraps around, the resort where Dirty Dancing took place. Walking around the sprawling structure — its long, internal halls lined with eye-ripping carpet featuring Las Vegas-style bad acid trip patterns and its outer domains of tree-lined paved walkways — is an absolutely mind-altering and absorptive experience.
One’s sense of time changes, a foundational narrative replaced by a feeling of weightless floating and playful non-resolution. In other words, it’s a perfect venue for an event curated by Jim Jarmusch, whose films explore similar existential, time-bending themes. Navigating Kutsher’s is similar to the Lone Man’s confounding journey in The Limits of Control, Ghost Dog’s attempt to apply the Bushido code in an unfamiliar and unwelcoming historical context, or the unpredictable but joyful trajectory of Zach, Jack and Bob in Down By Law.
While I managed to see 12 of the 21 bands performing on Friday and Saturday (with TMT comrade Jay Dryburgh taking Day 3), in retrospect it seems like I spent the majority of the time strolling the compound in the spaces between the two stages: bathroom 1, the 3 bars that sit at the ends of each of the 3 tunnels, the sunlit lobby where people slept and chatted, swimming pools, the cinema that was running Criterion gems non-stop, the hallways that would suddenly transform into performance spaces spilling music into every nook, bathroom 2, the pond where people gazed or paddled out like Rimbaud in drunken boats, Steve Albini’s poker room, bathroom 3, the food area (which surprisingly had several vegan options). The space is so captivating that not even when snug in the grips of the live music could I shake the question: what are we doing here?
While I’m tempted to spend the next five million words writing only on the haunted uniqueness of the space, I won’t. Ultimately, what went down in the Stardust Ballroom and on Stage Two, both dark as a dungeon no matter what time of day, is the golden prize of the weekend. —Elliott Sharp
by Elliott Sharp
Once my inability to use an iPhone map application to navigate the Catskill’s spinning country roads was resolved, we sadly arrived at the conclusion of the weekend’s first set. The Scientists kicked off the Don’t Look Back segment of ATP, for which select artists perform a full album, with a journey through 1983’s Blood Red River. While I missed the group’s raw blue swagger and noir grit, word around Kutsher’s was that they nailed their first-ever US set and provided a rich context for the rest of the opening night’s bill.
After a quick drop off at the Deep End Bar, Mudhoney was taking the stage to dive headfirst into 1988’s Superfuzz Bigmuff. Of all the Seattle bands that snuck into the global music consciousness, it’s a shame that Mudhoney didn’t garner more attention, but perhaps understandable given their unpolished gnarl relative to the more prefabricated grunge-era chart-toppers. The tunes hold up superbly through time, especially given the lo-fi resurgence of recent years. Mark Arm’s graveyard growls and the group’s Artex-swallowing swamp-sludge catapulted the crowd at the Stardust Ballroom into a blind knifeman’s frenzy, successfully capturing the timeless appeal of their smoldering basement show energy. Classic numbers like “Touch Me I’m Sick” had the jacked sharks thrashing about in a lethal pond of fever sweat and feedback electricity.
Iggy & The Stooges
Iggy & The Stooges took the throne next — with original members Scott Asheton and James Williamson and the legendary Mike Watt on bass — ripping through a scattered set from Raw Power with unexpected additions from Funhouse and their self-titled debut. Despite reaching senior-citizen status, Iggy Pop’s stage juice hasn’t spoiled a bit. He moves with such velociraptor speed that his skin trails behind his rapid bones, attacking the stage like a rabid child combating the walls of a playpen, diving into the audience and amplifiers like a torpedo without a target, spitting non-stop fury and slugging muscle. There are few records that can compare to the violent bite of Raw Power, which has remained the ideal for rock albums to aspire since its 1973 release, and the group nailed the vicious assault with Iggy ultimately jeopardizing audience lives by toppling massive amps. Highlights were the anti-hero anthem “Search & Destroy,” which got hands up and bodies grinding, and arguably the best tune to ever feature handclaps, “Shake Appeal.”
Thanks to the powers granted by my mighty Tiny Mix Tapes Press Pass, I spent the duration of the best performance of the first two days on stage, lingering just feet away from the action as Sleep explored the epic Holy Mountain and select cuts from Dopesmoker. As the smell of blazed leaves drifted around the space, original members Al Cisneros on bass (OM) and guitarist Matt Pike (High on Fire) took the platform with Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder. The slow-grinding sludge of the locked-in bass and guitar riffs, and Roeder’s patient minimalism behind the kit, had heads nodding and necks snapping for a near two-hour set. Despite following the mad energy of Mudhoney and The Stooges, Sleep’s was definitely the loudest set of the evening. Cisneros’ bass was pummeling, making guts spill out from the relentless drone, his monotone voice telling stoned tales of wizards fighting glorious battles in other worlds. Returning for an encore, Pike mentioned the possibility of an acoustic tune, but technical difficulties thwarted the mysterious urge. Instead, they slipped into another extended murk-session of pure low-end warlord space-travel blues. Leaving the ballroom after the first night, the music buzz was like a combination of crack and heroin, a perfect (and legal) nail-biting trance for stumbling through the halls alongside Kutsher’s ghosts.
by Elliott Sharp
Thurston Moore and Jim Jarmusch panel discussion
Back at Kutsher’s by 11 AM the next morning, the first drop off was a panel discussion by Thurston Moore and Jim Jarmusch, which was supposed to be about film, but wasn’t really about anything. Unfortunately, Jarmusch’s microphone was so low it was impossible to hear much of what he was saying. The two pulled bad questions from a briefcase and at one point the referee muttered through his microphone that they meant to remove that particular one ahead of time. The question: “Hummus?” They should have removed more. In response to the profound query “Where do you get your ideas from?” Jarmusch responded, “From a bodega around the corner from my apartment.” Those expecting a robust discussion contextualizing the band selection or the relationship between film and sound were in the wrong place, though it’s only fitting that Jarmusch would leave the biggest questions unanswered.
Text of Light
Those in need of an avant-garde fix were provided their weekend poison by Text of Light, a trio featuring Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo, guitarist Alan Licht, and saxophonist Ulrich Kreiger. Against the backdrop of schizoid film projections made by Stan Brakhage, they skronked through a set of dense, brain-burning noise that left no breathing room and nowhere to run. The tingling sparkles of feedback were piercing and, in conjunction with the cut-up imagery, induced catatonic spins and marvelous concussion wounds. Their heady, outlier set was definitely the “what the fuck” moment for many an audience member too comfortable with the aging rocker aesthetic of the other acts.
I had never heard Tortoise prior to their afternoon performance, which proved to be one of the more impressive of the first two days. Unlike the banal post-rock routines that they paved the way for (such as roster-mates Explosions in the Sky, whose evening set was predictable and unimpressive) and the straightforward rock standard of their fellow ATPers, the group brought superior musicianship, sonic diversity, and a complicated compositional flare. Their elaborate, dance-friendly tunes were delivered with spectacular precision, and even when they verged toward more smooth-jazz terrains with songs like “Prepare Your Coffin,” the Krautrock-inspired momentum and guitar-damage thoroughly engaged. Their labyrinthine intricacies allowed the top-notch sound system and engineering of the ATP team to really shine for the first time of the weekend. (Note: Four days later, I saw Tortoise play in Philadelphia and had a less stimulating experience. Perhaps the group was having an off night, but I’d bet that it was the radical difference in sound system quality.)
While I question the decision to place Tortoise ahead of Hallogallo in the lineup, my reasoning is only grounded on a trad chronological approach and the unquestionable influence of the latter on the former. This was the second time I’ve experienced Hallogallo since Neu!-founder Michael Rother assembled Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Tall Firs guitarist Aaron Mullan to re-explore the short but sweet Neu! canon. Both times the trio has hit the target, yet two complaints have consistently arisen throughout the project’s 2010 tour. First, the innovative, experimental noise elements that the late Klaus Dinger brought to Neu! are absent, though Shelley does impressively maintain his signature motorik rhythms. Second, despite how it’s sold, Hallogallo doesn’t play much Neu!, instead venturing into Rother’s later Cluster and Harmonia discographies. With the latter projects, Rother moved closer to cosmic atmospherics and tranquil moodscapes, which certainly played a large part in the Neu! aesthetic but were more fully articulated in Rother’s later work. It was these aspects that Hallogallo mostly explored, revealing the thick influence Rother’s compositions have had on micro-genres from post-rock and new-age to chillwave and drone.
Steve Albini wrenched himself out of the poker room for long enough to lead ATP veterans and former curators Shellac through a pounding set of disgruntled classics rather than the extended question-and-answer session which normally accompanies their performances. Albini’s jagged guitar licks and the foundational force smacked down by bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer provided the first dose of fuel following the previous night’s fire, which was slowly dying due to the interesting but not so blood-curdling second day sets. During a rendition of “End of Radio” from 2007’s Excellent Italian Greyhound when Albini screamed “this is a real goddamn emergency” he could have just as plausibly been speaking on the mellow state of Saturday’s affairs, as he was the communicative dilemma of a deranged disc jockey.
Having not gotten Shellac’s memo, a large segment of the audience at Stage Two was floor-sprawled on their backs for Papa M’s set. Fronted by Dave Pajo, a former member of Slint and Tortoise who released an acoustic album featuring Misfits tunes in 2009, the group delivered one of the most delicate sound-experiences of the weekend. Performing as a trio, a lush sound-tapestry of acoustic instrumentation, efx, and field recordings flittered about the pitch-black room like drunken lightning bugs.
Sonic Youth took the Starlight Ballroom stage after midnight to unleash an ear-shattering set that reinforced their position as the ultimate warriors of indie rock, still reigning supreme 28 years after their debut album. As always, Sonic Proof’s membership had their hands well-oiled for the occasion, with Shelley, Moore, and Ranaldo having already performed in various capacities throughout the day, so they were ready to zoom as the full-moon wolves surrounded Kutsher’s. They dug deep into several classic jewels from the early Sonic Truth discography, punching out tracks from Bad Moon Rising, Daydream Nation, E.V.O.L., Sister, and Confusion is Sex. Their stage presence continues to be unrivaled: Shelley slamming the kit to bits with his barbaric fists, Ranaldo twisting uncontrollably while charming unidentifiable screams from his axe, Gordon dismantling rock’s patriarchal prison with vocal androgyny and cult-trance bass runs, Moore towering at 7-feet tall like a transcendental shaman who exudes cool with every shriek, screech, bomb, and dissonant lick he spits. The crowd followed Gordon along as she articulated the most unholiest of acts on “Cross the Breeze,” eager to take part in the satanic love session; tension mounted with the nightmare tale of “Shaking Hell” and its claustrophobic guitar patterns; and when they slammed into a frantic version of “Death Valley 69,” the audience lost its mass mind completely, soaked in the ecstatic panic that only Sonic Youth could create.
Walking out of Kutsher’s there were dozens of people asleep in the lobby, laid out on the floor and sofas. How could they sleep through a Sonic Youth set that was unquestionably the strongest of the night? They must have been worn out from the Avi Buffalo set earlier in the day, I guess.
by Jay Dryburgh
I arrived at Kutsher’s after Sonic Youth shred and went, but it was clear by the still-filling parking lot and steady stream of heavy lids in the lobby that the weekend tarried the masses as much as a two-lane highway delayed me. Elliott’s description is pretty spot-on; my only overriding memory of the grounds is the aged shade of pink softly blanketing the walls. And while the layout is serpentine, it is compact, and every commute between stages naturally rubs against any number of novelties (Ron Jeremy?), attractions (a giant portrait of Steve Brule), and solid people watching.
By the time I settled in, Kurt Vile was a few songs into his set, draped by his own locks and a stiff layer of fog that pumped halfway up the raked corridor leading from Stage #2. The former War On Drugs guitarist sounded good — in fact, I didn’t have a single complaint about the system all day — but by Day 3, it took an extra measure to draw the crowds from comfortable resting spots along the heavy dark curtains lining the converted ballroom.
Punk rockers Fucked Up promised to be just that. After stripping down to a pair of mesh shorts by song number three, their frontman Pink Eyes dove into the crowd, mic cord taut behind him as he roamed the floor with a crowd mobbing him like chickens in a feed lot. It was a beautiful demonstration of controlled mayhem. A few bros jumped on stage with him as he reascended, and he summarily engulfed the fans in a bearhug huddle and pressed the microphone to their mouths. Before it was over, Pink Eyes had smashed a can against his head, showered several rows with Count Chocula cereal, and waved an American flag in his skivvies. Oh yeah, and his stagename is now more apropos than ever: the famously straightedge leading man admitted to the crowd he’s started smoking weed this summer.
With GZA rescheduled until later, I took the opportunity to peep the Vivian Girls back at the second stage, but again found a disengaged crowd. It was a tough setup for the ladies; they were physically spaced yards apart from one another and the wide room didn’t force spectators to pack in densely. They weren’t playing to themselves, but the setup once again allowed onlookers to lurk in the sides and the back, which gave their set a half-empty feel despite strong sonic execution.
The only show I truly enjoyed from start to finish at the second stage was SF’s Wooden Shjips. They were able to find a middle ground for Day 3: high-energy enough to keep the crowd grooving, and trancy enough to work that groove into an easy sway. It wasn’t a flawless set by any means; to me it felt as if the motorik rhythms ran a bit fast during the verse-chorus portions of their songs, but as soon as the foursome stretched things out, they held court with noodly synth lines and melodic bass lines.
I was parched by them, or my mouth was pretty dry by then, either/or, so I stepped into the Deep End bar for a beer. The so-called “fourth Beastie Boy” Ricky Powell was there shooting the shit more or less, taking time between slides of his photos to drop bon mots and life lessons, berate friends and bystanders alike, and offend or amuse anyone who walked by during his rambles. In between stories about getting his dick sucked by three different girls in one night in Cincy (“two girls at the same time, then later one of two sisters!”) and serving a famous 80s movie director’s “arty ass up” in a Brooklyn park, Ricky certainly kept things lively between shots of whiskey and shots of 1980s NYC — even if every other bout of laughter from the crowd accompanied a cringe. To his credit, Ricky might have had a better time at Kutsher’s than anyone else, which is pretty impressive for a dude pushing 50.
Next, I found a spot on the Main Stage floor as Girls’ Christopher Owens soundchecked solo, palored, his big red lips the only distinguishable feature on his gaunt face tucked easily beneath a blue baseball cap. Owens’ story as a homeless runaway from a cult to indie-prominence might be played out as a press hook after the buzz surrounding Girl’s self-titled album, but watching him cradle his guitar against a body obscured beneath a layer of oversized flannel brought said story to life in a strange way. Owens and the rest of his players proceeded to put on the most aware and comprehensive set of the day, easing in with laidback ballads and mid-tempo jangle rockers before bursting into “Lust For Life” and back down again. Predictably “Lust For Life” elicited the biggest fan reaction, but the performance of the song was appropriately understated, a gentle peak nearly buried amongst other gems.
Ron Jeremy introduced Raekwon only an hour later on the same stage, and unfortunately Ron Ron proved to be one of the more interesting moments. The Chef launched into “Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ To Fuck Wit,” but the rest of the setlist fell a little short, and the encompassing hype sessions contrived. “I.C.E. C.R.E.A.M.” and ODB’s “Shimmy Ya” were highlights, but I was expecting more work from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II: where was “Broken Safety”? “Canal Street”? “Black Mozart” or “Cold Inside”? But the New York block-party-feel possessed charm in itself, with Ricky Powell forced his way on stage towards the end of the set and had Rae’s ear for a minute before pushing him away and shaking his head. “Tryin to get in my ear, man, I thought he was the promoter or something!” Rae said. Plus, Raekwon deserves props for putting on a good face and inviting the GZA on for a verse despite some set-time drama on GZA’s end.
The Ice Cream Man
The Ice Cream Man found us mid-twist and handed out munchies as the sun set, and we passed around a table. “We’ve been at every festival across the country this summer,” he told me, “and this is honestly the best.” Tough to disagree considering the quality of the lineup, the good-nature of nearly everyone in attendance, and yes, the no-rules atmosphere certainly didn’t hurt anything either. Scanning the lakeshore, several groups were taking advantage of the liberal policies to ready for Altar’s second-ever performance of their 2006 LP.
Boris and sunn 0)))
The fog pervading Kurt Vile’s set to start the day was back doubly for Altar, hiding the legion of cloaked figures arranged in a semi-circle in front of stack after towering stack of amps. Every once in a while, the haze or the backlighting would recede to reveal sunn 0))) & Boris in tandem, wielding double-axes, a trombone, a cello, and several other instruments I likely missed in the onslaught of decibels and smoke. Most prominent was percussionist Atsuo, stage-right, hammering his gong and toms, punctuating the long drones provided by his fellow collective. I’ve never watched so many people keel over at a show from amplitude. Atsuo climbed to the top of a monitor as the final tones washed away and threw up the metal sign before crowd-surfing in a U-turn and took back the stage. More than anything, it was invigorating to be still standing at the end of the performance, at the end of a day with so many timbres and complex vibrations as a single chord from Altar.
I switched to vodka shortly thereafter, and my last memories include Ryan Schrieber spinning a remix of Ghost Town DJs and a fire extinguisher going off in a hallway. Soon the no-rules rock ‘n’ roll spirit would take over completely and last long into the night. But all that nebulous fun aside, believe every good thing you’ve heard about ATP NY; it’s a class festival built around the performances, where cellphone reception stays away and fans get lost with the curators and artists within the Kutsher’s cloud.
[Photo: Abbey Braden]