Introduction/Caveat: I’ll Be Your Windbag
If it looks like there’s anything organized or thematic here, it’s faked: besides a little irresistible grouping, I transcribed/translated my notes chronologically. It’s also written with full awareness of how folks or, at any rate, I, tend to read festival reviews: non-linearly, with my own filters in mind, looking to reinforce my own live experiences, checking out how the band, who put out an album I love, holds up live. This intro being the only umbrella before the torrent, I should mention that summarizing a festival based on its musical content is about as unrealistic as expecting a reader to peruse an entire festival review by a free-associative, detail-oriented writer who just can’t shut up sometimes.
With that in mind, a little about the overall logistics of the festival, which was located at Pier 36 in NYC. There were two stages, one indoor and one outdoor, the former of which the schedule seemed to lean toward, especially late in the evening. Although the weather was nice, this wasn’t a huge problem, as the outdoor venue was all cold, hard concrete, while the indoor venue was a freakin’ huge warehouse-esque space, fully carpeted with some nice, couch-y spaces in the back. Overall, the spaces seemed large and pretty empty, especially during the underpopulated daytime: I’d vote in favor of some artwork or something around the edges so no one had to feel too cruddy about Blanck Mass being boring.
Only once did I notice the sound between the stages interfering (standing right at the threshold between Dirty Three and Dirtbombs, because I liked how they sounded in combination), and especially after mid-afternoon, the festival schedule wouldn’t allow for it: 45-minute blocks were flush up against each other with no overlap, a method that I used to hate because I’d felt like I was in a flock of mindless sheep, but which I came to appreciate for the simple die-hard-dom equations it provoked (“Jose Gonzalez is OK, I guess, but lord help me if I’m not as close to Dulli as possible”). There was a breezy dock and a boat that screened films, none of which I saw (titles ranged from classics for those who, I guess, just hate all the music playing like Harold & Maude and Brazil to more obscure titles). There were some pristine bathrooms indoors and a long row of I-can’t-walk-an-extra-20-yards johns outdoors; a scantily-stocked merch room; a sign marked “Press Room,” with an arrow pointing to a shower room (nasty joke?); stands selling drinks every 10 feet. All in all, I’ll forever rail against rules preventing anyone from bringing their own food, without really pointing my finger at ATP in particular.
I also, for the sake of journalistic integrity, attempted to at least stop in on every show, as such putting my body through the wringer and probably losing any vestige of journalistic integrity. Enjoy the autoecophysiological research, y’all!
Friday: On Taking a Convex Mirror to Noise and the Difference Between Collaboration and Remix
Comedians weren’t the worst soundtrack to loosen people up before the music on Friday evening, but they were even harder to enjoy from the periphery of what seemed like a needlessly clogged line than the outdoor musicians must’ve been to gateside rubberneckers throughout the festival. Even when I could discern Hannibal Buress’ words — something about Miss Piggy being a frogfucker — it would be unfair to pretend I was in step with him.
“Alright, Janeane — don’t get into the liberal commentary stuff. It just makes you angry and it isn’t funny.” This was Janeane Garofalo murmuring to herself mid-set, and if those words seem counter to everything you understand about Garofalo, know that she didn’t really resist the impulse (at one point she said straight-up, “I cannot understand why anyone who’s a person of color, a woman, LGBTQ, et cetera would ever be a member of the Republican party”). Besides, she was funny, as least as much so as, say, Keith Olberman was when I saw him give a ‘talk’ at Cornell. But the wildly different contexts in which Garofalo and Olberman present themselves go to show that, at least on the liberal end of the spectrum, slightly humorous political commentary with a big, cocktail-party personality isn’t the rock-solid genre that it could be.
Lightning Bolt’s famous live show melted everyone’s faces off. It was my first time. Brian Chippendale was wearing a mask that held his microphone on his mouth in a way that reminded me of the lesser-known performer Gull (insert plug for that guy’s live show here), and his voice was filtered and delayed and reverb’d to hell. The duo performed in their populist center-of-the-crowd arrangement (which meant that even though their set elicited some of the most obvious moshing of the weekend, all movement had to calculatedly evade the drum kit) and mounted a large convex mirror at an angle above them. This had an interesting effect: rather than anyone outside a certain radius fidgeting and attempting to catch a glimpse of the performers, we were all transfixed on the same flickering disc. An analogy to Lightning Bolt’s music sprang to mind: their insane attention to detail and technique might border on prog-metal riffage if it didn’t all somehow cohere fluidly and hypnotically. I was amazed, grabbing a beer mid-set, at how bright and psychedelic the music became when it filled the empty space.
Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer canceled their Friday show at such late notice that all the printed programs and even signs around the venues didn’t register the change. I was happy enough to recover with Edan’s classic all-vinyl vault-digging turntablism, which took me back to the era of Beauty and the Beat, before Girl Talk broke and Edan was making a subtle and convincing case for the integration of hip-hop, funk, soul, 1960s psych, world music, and other esoterica — harsh juxtaposition wasn’t nearly as important as strange, soporific unity. I was a little bummed that he didn’t stick to his guns throughout: the end of the set was denser with obvious post-Girl-Talk crowd-pleasers like “Once In a Lifetime,” “Get Up I Feel Like Being a Sex Machine,” and — wait was that — a detuned Star Wars theme?
Tyondai Braxton managed, at least until Mirrored, to occupy a Nico-Muhly-esque no-man’s land between classical and indie — and, like Muhly, he may continue to occupy it because of a certain lightness about whether there’s even a line there at all. But I can barely imagine anyone remaining totally relaxed when playing alongside Philip Glass; to quote one audience member, “You’re Philip Glass!” So I wasn’t too surprised when the first two pieces of their set, “Étude No. 1” and “Étude No. 2,” saw Braxton’s accompaniment, heavy swelling waves of guitar over Glass’ piano, as pretty cautious. Which isn’t to say it wasn’t a neat textural counterpart to Glass’ style, but its careful lining-up of chords also didn’t prepare anyone for the onslaught of the lengthy closing piece “Étude No. 10,” for which Braxton took to a brain-slicing synth and proceeded to let loose, alternating between classic repetitive minimalism and some hella-dissonant sound-shapes. The degree of tension and release felt like a welcome addition to Glass’ piece, and even though Glass wrote the damned thing I couldn’t help feeling his piano just didn’t have enough heft to balance out Braxton. The announcement of this collaboration concurred with several remixes of Philip Glass’ work, and the idea of a remix, a cover, or a loosely interpreted performance simultaneous with its ‘original’ gives a sense of the dynamic at work. All told, the performance was captivating, but in terms of the tricky chemistry of collaboration there was a thread missing.
I deeply regret only catching the first four or five songs of Frank Ocean’s set, which was enough to make us miss our 1 a.m. bus back to Jersey anyway. For whatever petulant reasons I never gave myself fully to Channel Orange, but I was fairly sloshed at the time; he had me at “give you my bandana? Are you fucking crazy?” Anyway, he struck me as an incredibly warm and honest person, closing his eyes and meandering around the stage for the outros of what suddenly seemed like extraordinarily short songs, and the air seemed just like humid with the emotional intercourse of the performance. It was totally clear why people love this guy.