Thursday, 9 May 2013

London report: ATP I'll Be Your Mirror Fest

If I told you I saw The Locust, King Khan & The Shrines, Dirty Beaches, Anika, K-Holes, Mick Harvey and Yeah Yeah Yeahs all in one day, you'd label me mad. Surely that is a bill that cannot actually happen in real life. Think again.

Half business trip, half pleasure weekend, Gary and I hopped over to North London over the weekend to attend one in a series of All Tomorrow's Parties' events called I'll Be Your Mirror. They are one-day festivals curated by a chosen artist - in this case the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Although ATP have been rumoured to discontinue the series due to poor ticket sales, the events themselves stand out like no others. If the artist has good taste - YYYs: good taste they have - the line-up is unmatchable and in typical ATP fashion, the setting rather special.
'Ally Pally' balcony view

Alexandra Palace is an old exhibition / recreational hall the way they were concepted and built in London during the 19th century. I lived in Crystal Palace for over six years and of course there is no Crystal Palace in Crystal Palace, since the original structure fell victim to a fire many years ago. But when you walk on the palace foundations in Crystal Palace Park, you always imagine the grandeur and splendour that took place there once. Alexandra Palace, still being fully intact, gives you a glimpse of past public recreation. Some features distinctly remind you of church elements (colourful glass panelled round windows, an organ) but at the same time you feel like you are in a palace in a park setting, which you are. To stage a music and film fest here is a magical concept.

Business called us to arrive early at the venue and we immediately started to panic. Half an hour before the first band, Anika, was to go on the smaller of the two stages, the halls of Alexandra Palace were deserted and we would have not been surprised to see tumble weed roll by. However, all was well when I finally made it to Anika's set half way through her stage time and found the room being well filled and people appreciative of Anika's music. I was positively surprised by how well her new band managed to fill the gap left by the absence of Beak>, who have parted ways with Anika recently. Another great performance. I only had time for a few songs but those truly convinced.

Back in the main hall, K-Holes were the poor chosen ones to fill the first slot on the big stage. I was not farmiliar with this band previously and I seriously wonder why. Punky wavey music with a charismatic front woman, a saxophone player and a kick ass band, these young ones are right up my street. The sound in the big, more or less, empty hall was unflattering to the band but I could tell this was a good rock'n'roll group up on that stage. Cannot wait to see them in a small sweaty venue in future!

The two stages were staggered in a way that you could catch at least some of every band you wanted to see - with this line-up that was a godsent. A culture shock awaited us back on the small stage: Big Freedia had his New Orleans bounce hip hop and some ass shaking to go with it in store for the audience, who were up for it. Fantastic stage costumes and an in-your-face attitude worked well for a festival warm up act, though my attention span is clearly too short for 45 minutes of the same beat. Shame on me. Thumbs up for Big Freedia.
Prince Rama's grand entrance

Passing through the main hall, we caught the first couple of Prince Rama's songs. They were walking through the audience with a big veil on and a host of photographers following them around. An entrance if I ever saw one! Musically however, their psychedelic dream dance couldn't match some of the other amazing artists on the bill for me. Or the setting just didn't work for them. Time for some soul gospel rock'n'roll.

If you have read my King Khan & The Shrines review from earlier this year, you know that the King can entertain a crowd. But could he pull off a Yeah Yeah Yeahs festival crowd? We came unprepared for what awaited us! Mr. Khan was upset about the recent death of Jeff Hanneman like so many of us and managed to make this a special show dedicated to Slayer - we got a gory, sexy Reign In Blood story and a Slayer riff here and there. Very fun. Most of all though, the King was in story telling mode and one tale was funnier than the previous one. While we danced wildly to The Shrines' upbeat garage'n'soul, we were crying tears of laughter in-between songs. When King Khan theatrically took off his socks and threw them into the audience, I honestly thought I was going to choke from laughing so hard. Best fun I have had in forever! And surprisingly suitable for an early festival act. 
King Khan & The Shrines
Dirty Beaches

The small Panorama room really worked for some bands. Not only had King Khan got the audience in stitches, Dirty Beaches managed to mesmerise us, too. Having seen him at Kater Holzig and then at The Maze, I just could not imagine a festival performance would do this project justice. Another surprise for me there and a scolding for being so apprehensive when I know at the bottom of my heart that these are some of my favourite musicians! The atmosphere was actually very intense, increased by the new darker material of Dirty Beaches. It was just another great show from one of the greatest. Go watch him at Teenitus Festival later this month and experience the intense magic.

Echoey sound ruined Black Lips for me on my way to dinner with The Shrines, then pre-performance hang out with The Locust look-alikes (the attention to detail on the suits of these fans is surreal). Then, the big one: The Locust performing again after an absence of over four years. With my best friend in the band and a business relation as well, there is only so much I can say here that does not sound bias, so excuse me if I sound over-excited. However, also bear in mind that, despite all afore-mentioned connections, The Locust have been one of my favourite bands for more than 16 years. 
The Locust
In the weeks leading up to this, I had told everybody that there was no way they could perform for longer than 20 minutes. I was convinced of it. I have seen drummer Gabriel Serbian throw up and near faint on so many occasions I could not envision them to hold up the performance for longer than that. But we were given 40 minutes of spazzy nerd brutality with hardly any breaks, except for when parts of the drum kit fell over. Fanatical fans were close to fainting in front of the stage, having gone that wild during the first three numbers, while the band was just churning out song after song. The Locust are one of those groups that, in general, people either get or they don't. However, on this occasion, I believe that the whole main hall, which primarily consisted of non-Locust fans, was impressed by the performance, the attention to detail, and especially the sound. We left with smiles on our faces and took a break out on the balcony, where we were presented with the most stunning view over London.

We caught some Jon Spencer Blues Explosion but it didn't compare to their remarkable Festsaal Kreuzberg show. Back on the small stage of the Panorama Room, Mick Harvey was giving his rendition of Serge Gainsbourg songs, a project Mr. Harvey is currently on the road with. Serge Gainsbourg is a big deal in my family. I remember the day he died and my step mother crying the whole day. For a generation of French alternative lifestyle people, Gainsbourg's genius embodies art and rebellion like no other artist has done for them. Having grown up with his songs, I truly discovered Gainsbourg for myself when visiting Berlin in 1997 and picking up a bootleg of his recorded collaboration with Brigitte Bardot. I treasure Bonnie & Clyde to this day and it finds its way on to my record player regularly. The songwriting is so strong that even an untrained singer like Bardot can shine.
Outside of France, Gainsbourg has always seemed greatly underrated to me. Therefore, Mick Harvey, himself known for over 25 years of Bad Seeds duty, giving Serge this deserved attention immediately found my appreciation. However, live it did not actually work all that well for me. Though Mr. Harvey has done a fine job with the arrangements, a chunk of the music was played from backing track, while his voice just cannot match the sexy coarse French voice that I have come to admire. Of course the tunes are songwriting pearls that work in any setting, but I was disappointed at the actual delivery. I felt that there could have been more of a top rated band to support this project and the singing maybe needs some assistance from either additional voices or an effect here and there. I swayed to some of my all time favourite songs but could not sustain the entire set. 


It was time to get prepared for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Talking of all time favourites, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are right up there. I cannot think of another contemporary band that is this talented, this stylish, this pop and at the same time über-cool, and most of all, this likable. Everything about this band screams art and yet they touch the masses. I love every song, every performance. So I knew what was to await me, I knew I was going to love it - and I did not come away disappointed. I think that is not ever going to be a possibility with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. We watched three songs front of stage, then we climbed up to side of stage and watched the remainder from there. It was a great way to watch as it allowed us to see how excited and emotional the audience gets. So many people knew every single lyric and sang along at the top of their voices, others stretched their arms out in the hope to touch Karen O. And the entire room danced. Absolutely wonderful. I myself was most of all touched by the fun the band obviously have playing. Once you get to this stage, you could well get bored of your own material or of the act of playing night after night. But YYYs quite obviously enjoy every second of it, smiling and laughing while performing and nerding out with their equipment. 
magical YYYs

A perfect end to a perfect day. I have not had this much fun in one day in a very long time. Back at the hotel, I was still infatuated by Mr. Nick Zinner's guitar play, still laughed at King Khan's jokes, played the Locust set over and over in my head, got goosebumps thinking about Dirty Beaches' sexy performance, wanted to research K-Holes. On my way back to Berlin the next day, my only consolation for this being over was the premise of another Yeah Yeah Yeahs show the next night. But that is another story that is being told to you soon.

P.S.: Catch most of these acts in the near future in Berlin. Check out our calendar for listings.

The Locust impersonators

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