When Belle and Sebastian curated the Bowlie Weekender music festival at a holiday camp in Camber Sands, Sussex in 1999, it unleashed an appetite for a different kind of music festival. Harkening back to the days of summer camp by the seaside, only with the campers being the coolest musicians you could possibly imagine instead of that nerdy guy you had to share a bunk with during the summer it rained every day, the concept was just too great to let die out after only one event. And so, All Tomorrow's Parties was born.
Held first in the original seaside camp at Camber Sands and then moving to the larger Minehead, All Tomorrow's Parties is like summer camp for rock stars. It's a music festival that shuns the lure of corporate involvement, focusing instead on intimacy between musicians and festival goers. Each year the festival is curated by a different musician who fills the lineup with the musicians they want to see, a sort of personal playlist of the curator. And with all the musicians staying at the camp, it is as famous for the stories of after-parties at the chalets or on the beach as it is for what happens onstage.
Tomorrow (November 9) is the release date for the DVD of the film, All Tomorrow's Parties, and I suspect there will be more than a few excited music fans clamouring for a copy.
It's a documentary with an intriguing twist. Based on amateur footage submitted by over 200 musicians and festival-goers, and encompassing ten years of annual All Tomorrow's Parties, the film can feel a little frenetic at times. WIth no narration and no clear chronological structure, one is sometimes at a loss as to what exactly it is they are seeing. Often depicted in split screen, All Tomorrow's Parties is a collage of concert footage from ten years of festivals interspersed with scenes from the chalets where the musicians stay for the duration, arty shots mixed with travelogues from the fifties, interviews merged with party scenes. It must have been a bugger to edit.
At many points during the film, I found myself groaning, "I really want to see Nick Cave/Portishead/the Yeah Yeah Yeahs/etc in concert!" There are some truly surreal moments captured on film in this documentary - Daniel Johnston inside his chalet room singing through the window to the crowd assembled outside, a rapt crowd air-drumming madly along with Lightning Bolt while a bored looking group of suits looks on from the periphery, Grizzly Bear leading a joyous singalong on the beach at dawn, David Cross confronting his heckler outside the venue after he was forced off-stage, the Boredoms hosting a dance-off, impromptu daytime singalongs on the chalet balconies, Akron/Family leading a joyous dance party that blurs the line between performer and audience. These sublime moments provide adhesion to what sometimes appears to be a disjointed series of images and occurrences.
There is no real narrative structure to All Tomorrow's Parties, so if you like a documentary that follows a conventional chronological path, this film may not appeal to you. If however, you appreciate serendipity, love the thrill of discovery that comes with wandering around a folk festival during the workshop sessions and stumbling upon a strange and sublime musical pairing that you will probably never again see in your lifetime, then I suspect that you will be enthralled by All Tomorrow's Parties.
I found that I needed to watch this film a second time, just to experience a few of those compelling moments once again. Regardless of your preference for narrative style, one constant of All Tomorrow's Parties that you cannot help but be awed by is the music itself. With performances by Belle And Sebastian, Grizzly Bear, Sonic Youth, Battles, P
ortishead, Daniel Johnston, Grinderman, David Cross, Animal Collective, The B oredoms, Les Savy Fav, Mogwai, Slint, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Gossip, GZA, Seasick Steve, Iggy and the Stooges, Fuck Buttons, Shellac, Patti Smith and John Cooper Clark, this documentary is an indie music lover's wet dream.
DVD and download available Monday, November 9/09 at http://ourtrueintent.com/
For more information and historical background, click on the booklet below: