One glance at Kutshers Country Club and, as ATP founder Barry Hogan said, you definitely felt like you were in a "cross between The Shining and Cocoon." Wall-to-wall windows lined labyrinthine hallways, giving a creeping sense of voyeurism to the place rather than that pastoral, in-the-woods breath of air you would expect from getting out of the city. Located in Monticello in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains, the sold-out festival would host three days of shoegaze, post-punk, and most importantly, My Bloody Valentine's first show in the United States in 16 years, which would take place on the third night on Sunday, September 21st: the day the group curated the lineup of bands.
"Kitsch"ers Country Club, as we began to call it, was once a happening hub for Jewish family reunions, and also the site where Dirty Dancing
was filmed. Past the salmon-covered walls and ahead of the pond seemed a good spot for hauntings (in fact, we passed a haunted house on the way upstate). But perhaps even more jarring a sensation was seeing the country club inhabited by legions of hipsters and music fans--yet there were no MySpace banners. No radio stations. No promotions. Could it be a weekend filled exclusively with sonic bliss?
Summers in New York, as I have learned, are a festival. In Kutshers at ATP, I was walking past what looked like a Mary Kay or Avon counter run by two middle-aged ladies with entirely too much makeup on. They were offering free makeovers all weekend. Around the corner there was a tiny arcade and the festival art store next to the hotel's gift shop, where the locals clearly had their jaws dropped at this historic stampede of a crowd. But see, it was clearly strange for the attendees as well, many of them coming from a Jelly NYC-produced Brooklyn summer stacked with Topshop sheds advertising what would ultimately become the '80s signature showpieces on the streets of Williamsburg in the fall. This was a crowd that would race to see 500 bands pillage New York City next month during the CMJ conferences and showcases.
If you ask me, ATP's egalitarian spirit, free parking, and intimate setting was just what New York needed in a post-Jelly NYC, pre-CMJ season.
Day One: Looking Back At Don't Look Back
The first day of the festival featured the "Don't Look Back" series consisting of bands playing epochal, noisy albums in full at Stage 1. Stage 2 brought comedians Patton Oswalt, Eugene Mirman, Maria Bamford, and Joe Derosa in the evening. Patton Oswalt described Kutschers Country Club as "a fart that just gave up." There was a Criterion Collection-curated film schedule offering as well, but that was the last thing on my mind.
1:30pm - I walked in and saw Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth coming out of the elevator. I wasn't exactly used to this, so after staring at him for 10 seconds with my mouth gaping open, my first instinct was to text half my phone book. "HOLY THURSTON MOORE!"s ensued.
2:46 - I grabbed my first drink at the Deep End, Kutshers' in-house bar that made me feel like I was inside a spaceship. I met Wishy from the Isle Of Mann in England, a commercial fishing town (with no music scene, as Wishy said), and news of the best new bands passed through word of mouth.
Outside, it felt like summer camp, but more fashionable. Butterflies were gliding almost as quickly as the infinite wells of drink being repopulated by a behemoth beer truck parked alongside the pond (press pass, adorable bartenders, you have my thanks). An ATP veteran, Wishy told me stories about the Leeds and Reading festivals in the U.K., that they don't come anywhere as close to the intimacy ATP provides. This was Wishy's first time in New York, in America, and ATP was the only reason he was here (that and the Statue of Liberty).
4:30pm - The festival's music gloriously unfolded with '90s space-rock band Bardo Pond's droning druggie album, Lapsed. Singer and flutist Isabel Sollenberger jammed harder on that flute than Jethro Tull! They set the bar for volume, which would only get louder as the festival progressed.
6:00pm - The Meat Puppets were one of Kurt Cobain's biggest influences, and the Kirkwood brothers reunited at ATP with drummer Derrick Bostrom to plow through the cowpunk craziness of their epic second release, Meat Puppets II
, famous for having three of its songs covered in Nirvana's MTV Unplugged
recording. There were a few slip-ups and missed licks, and I could tell the band was frustrated, but they shook the walls regardless. Bassist Cris Kirkwood scurried over to our side of the stage and asked, "How's it sound? Haven't played this sh*t in YEARS!" before letting out a howl of a headbang and assuming his vocals, fearlessly.
7:30pm - Finally, a place to stash my stuff! I met our friend Whitney Geden, who arrives from Boston, and Christo Buffam, the most recent guitar addition to Brooklyn's surf-goth gazers the Vandelles. The molding in our hotel room was so retro it was laughable.
9:15pm - Thurston Moore played Psychic Hearts
, his first solo effort apart from Sonic Youth. Given the short time in which the album was written and recorded , Moore wasn't the most prepared performer of the night, trying to keep up with his own music stand. He was still Thurston Moore, though. So we cut him some slack. Plus, "Queen Bee & Her Pals" was an instantly amazing track.
The rest of our group showed up, Jinsen Liu and Karina Dacosta of the Allston, Massachusetts shoegaze threesome 28 Degrees Taurus. There was too much fun to be had at our little open bar, so we missed Built To Spill and have a dance party instead. We ate bad nachos and watched as a magazine photog drunkenly spinned records. Jinsen famously passed out in the hallway.
Day 2 - Curated By ATP
1pm - I woke up to the sound of bottles clinking. 28 Degrees Taurus had arrived with fresh beer!
The afternoon was spent running back and forth from Stage 1 to Stage 2 to catch Apse, Growing, and F**k Buttons. Buttons had impressed me at their McCarren Pool show this summer when they opened for Liars; however, their extended laptop synth studies paled in comparison to the upcoming Shellac and Lightning Bolt explosions.
Sometime between sets, Karina and I ran into each other outside and saw Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai sitting by the pond with a beer. He proceeded to hit on us.
8:15pm - I'd never seen Low, the slowcore band from Minnesota. They were equally haunting and quiet, stretching out notes to unimagined heights. They even played a spooky Christmas song.
Pre-partying for Shellac in the hotel room, we missed Les Savy Fav's singer crowd surfing on a ladder!!!!
11:30pm - The rest of the night was the reason I won't be able to move my head for a week. Shellac was all roaring, angular bass with blacks and grays hammering through their amps. Steve Albini took the award for #1 badass of the fest. Not only was he hosting a poker room,he was rumored to be spotted walking around the hotel in a towel on Night 2.
My hair was down. The bass was insane. I seized the moment with a grunge helicopter, which I hadn't done since the first time I heard Soundgarden in high school. Observe!
12:45am - Providence, Rhode Island noise band Lightning Bolt never plays stage shows: At ATP, they set up their kit and amps on the floor and had a group of people sitting under their drums in order to guard the set from (complete) destruction. Pushing my way to the front of the crowd, I was picked up and tossed to the other side of the floor. Eventually I kicked my way up to the front, landing in front of vocalist and drummer Brian Chippendale, who was annihiliating his drumkit while transmitting his vocals through a neon vocal mask.
By then it was 5am and we'd danced way too much at the Deep End bar. Goodnight!
Day 3: Curated by My Bloody Valentine
We may be rock stars, but we need food too! So we took a spiraling, rural drive to the local diner and carried our recharged souls back to the venue for a final day of sonic- immersion therapy. We hopde to not be killed by zombies on the way, or Jack Nicholson.
Cocteau Twins founder Robin Guthrie played a languid set full of waves and calming, impressionistic visuals at 3pm. I think I heard manatees (but not in that childbirth-on-icebergs, cinematronic Sigur Ros kind of way).
5:15pm - Something harder than the roaming soundscapes was absolutely necessary. I ran to Stage 2 for some Lilys shoepop craziness, then back to Stage 1 to see EPMD. The '80s East Coast hip-hop group gave shout-outs to everybody from Biggie Smalls to Kevin Shields.
Then I went exploring outside. Artists were being interviewed on the pond. People were picking berries. I saw children and adults and adult children on the playground. I couldn't help myself...I slid too.
The evening descended, and Mogwai's "Hunted By A Freak" was a beautiful highlight complemented by the blues and yellows beaming onto the stage--but afterward all I could think about was My Bloody Valentine. "I am onto you, Kevin Shields," I thought. "You must be hanging around somewhere."
And there he was. He looked exactly the same as the only pictures of the band until the recent live shots taken at the European reunion tour. He seemed amused, bored, happy. Tired, introspective. I couldn't read him.
"Hi. HI. KEVIN. HI KEVIN IT'S TALEEN."
I suddenly wished I had drugs to offer him. Something.
I asked him whether they will be playing any of the Valentine's EPs (aside from "You Made Me Realise" of course, the song the band is known for extending into 17 minutes of terrifyingly beautiful destruction at the end of their set).
He was very nice and very courteous. Everyone, Kevin Shields is a quiet guy!
C'MON, WE WERE ALL WAITING FOR THE FANGIRL MOMENT.
I carried this prized memory with me to Stage 2 to watch Brian Jonestown Massacre, the second-best set of the entire festival. Parts of the show left me feeling like I was listening to a jangly "Best Of Brian Jonestown" compilation, but they played "Vacuum Boots" and jammed for just the right amount of time. One thing had changed, though: I hadn't remembered frontman Anton Newcomb--notorious for his drug usage and psychotics --as this collected in my post-graduation haze seeing them a year ago. I think he must have been very content to be there.
On my way down the hall I noticed the amount of headphones being given out had quadrupled! The moment really was going to come...
My Bloody Valentine: A Dazed Reflection
A golden hour, sometime after midnight: While Shields' perfectionism in creating the follow-up to Loveless led up to years of endlessly scrapped and unreleased material, the reunion tour was his chance to revisit the albums the band has been worshipped for since the '90s...the stuff that influenced an entire generation of noise. And this time, with an amazing soundsystem and a cult following.
It was clearly My Bloody Valentine's goal to feed the entire room with white lights, thundering ecstasy and shining, shimmering pink noise. The set opened with "I Only Said," and continued with swooning picks from the entire Valentine discography (yes, the EPs too!). Kevin Shields was reserved, historically busy with the tremolo. Debbie Googe was grooving hard and heavily on the bass and Colm Ó Cíosóig kept his perfect quadruple beats, always an asset supporting some of the sonic blur of the band's reverse-reverb effect. Bilinda Butcher, whose voice was still crystalline smooth, was the star of the show.
Somebody peed in their pants because they refused to leave their spot in the venue. Another allegedly attempted suicide right before the set, then exposed himself (couldn't he have waited until AFTER he saw the band?). There were a couple spiraling circles around one another, doing spins and twirls (not unlike Belinda Butcher, awash in white noise contrast, in the band's music video for "Soon"). Somebody (surely not this writer) had their entire being pressed into an amplifier on the ground floor during "Soon."
And then the 17-minute finale of "You Made Me Realise" arrived, thunderous distortion of pure, complete noise which would leave imagined high frequencies (pink noise) dancing atop the spectrum of sound in the listeners' ears. Everybody was left free to hear his or her own symphony. It was, to be blunt, LOUD. I don't remember anybody leaving. I had my eyes closed the whole time.
Thank you, ATP.