ATP boss Barry Hogan speaks to eFestivals
talking ten years of ATP, curators, recession, and more
published: Tue 23rd Nov 2010
ATP Bowlie Weekender 2 2010to
Butlins Resort, Minehead, Somerset
last updated: Mon 6th Dec 2010
Barry Hogan runs the All Tomorrow's Parties music festival as well as the related record label and concerts with his wife, Deborah Kee Higgins. Hogan's initial time in the music industry consisted of a mixture of working in clubs, as a venue booker and record promoter, but he soon realised he would need to work independently in order to be able to present music he really felt passionate about. His first live booking with this in mind was Chicago post-rock luminaries Tortoise, and soon an avalanche of similarly underground and underrated musicians would start appearing more regularly in Britain due to Hogan's new concert promotion company Foundation.
In 1999 Hogan helped to promote the Bowlie Weekender festival at a holiday camp headlined and curated by Belle & Sebastian. Due to the success of this unusual undertaking he decided to continue the festival, renaming the event and his promotion company All Tomorrow's Parties (after the Velvet Underground song) and choosing a different curator for each event. The London based All Tomorrow's Parties organisation has now been promoting festivals, concerts and records throughout the world for over ten years and employs around 10 full time staff.
Hi Barry, can you tell our readers a little about how you got the idea for ATP?
Basically it started in 1999, that was at a time when there were no real alternative festivals, only the likes of Reading, Glastonbury, and V. I was approached by Belle & Sebastian, a band that I promoted club shows for, and they asked me to set up a festival that they wanted to do, where they picked all the bands.
Consciously we never said that it was a curated event but that's what they were doing. It was just them picking that they felt close to, things that inspired them and influenced them, and we decided to do it in an out of season holiday camp. That was the pre-ATP event, it was called the Bowlie Weekender and it was supposed to be an annual event, but they decided to keep it unique. So with their blessing I decided to continue the concept, I renamed it and called it 'All Tomorrows Parties' because I'm a Velvet (Underground) fan.
The idea was to just get a curator to pick the line-up and make it an alternative to the main stream things, and I guess we must have done something right, because we've been doing it for 10 years now.
What made you decide to locate it in a holiday camp?
That was quite simple. Stuart Murdoch, the singer from Belle & Sebastian used to work at Butlins, he was a Red Coat, and the original plan was to go to Butlins, but they didn't like the look of us at that point, so we had to settle for Pontins. In the end we finally ended up at Butlins.
What do you think makes a good curator?
It's got to be someone with a good record collection, because the whole thing with curating is it's like making a mix tape for the stage, and you could be in Girls Aloud for example, not that we're a fan of what they do, but they might have a great record collection and make a great curator.
We've had some, like for instance in 2005, we had Mars Volta, where I wouldn't say they were an obvious choice for ATP, but the line-up that they picked was really inspiring. So, it's just someone with a good record collection.
So do you get to check out their record collections first? How do you know they have a good record collection?
(Laughs) Umm, well some of the people who have curated in the past are people we're friends with and we have been back at their house, drunk, and checking what records and CDs they have. But, I think you can kind of tell. For instance, when we had The Flaming Lips, we did them in America, if you look at all the bands they've taken on support with them on tour, that's the kind of thing that gives a good indication. They were bringing bands like Deerhoof, and Bon Iver, and stuff like that, and that's just the sort of thing that's perfect for the audience of ATP. That's why we chose them, because we thought they would have a good record collection, and they did, and it worked out.
You've also stepped away from the music world with people like Matt Groening and Jake and Dinos Chapman are you likely to pick future curators away from the music world?
Yes, the whole thing is that you can keep on getting indie rock bands to curate, but then you set a trap for yourself because they all have similar music tastes, and you don't want to keep re-hashing the same mix tape.
I just felt that if we got some people that we knew who had got some interesting taste in music like Matt Groening, Jake Chapman, and Vincent Gallow it broke it up from what we'd been doing. We'd like to continue doing that and one person I'd like to see curate is Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, The Darjeeling Limited) because I'm a big fan of what he does in his films, and all the music that's in those films is the sort of things we listen to. I think something like that would be great.
Who have you been most proud of getting to curate over the years?
I would probably say the Dirty Three, that's my favourite ATP that we've ever done and it was the first show that Grinderman ever played at, and just that whole weekend everybody that played that weekend, the sense of community there, was the whole reason why we started ATP. It was like minded souls into good music, and just going there to have a good time, without acting like drunk fools, and I think the Dirty Three are one of the most underrated bands in the world. That was for us a highlight.
Who has been the best act you've seen perform there?
God, there's been so many to chose from. Some people who have really set themselves apart from everyone else are The Boedoms from Japan, when they played they brought nine drummers with them and they all played in unison that was pretty inspiring to watch. But there's so many from Jesus Lizard to Iggy & The Stooges, to Sonic Youth, it's hard to pinpoint one band in particular but definitely the more obscure things that have taken me by surprise are the most exciting thing you see at ATP.
But, that's the whole thing about a mix tape, you get to discover new things that you would never normally go out and buy, or be exposed to.
Do you think the atmosphere in an indoor ATP event is very different to a camping event?
Oh yeah, definitely, you can have a shower (laughs). I think so, there's nothing wrong with camping events, although I personally don't like camping as I don't like insects. I think the whole thing is an alternative to those kind of festivals like Glastonbury, and things like that, where you can go to bed in a bad, and have a shower, and things like that. It's more civilized I guess. Probably more for the more older more discerning music fan, than for teenagers and what have you, but it's always open for anyone who wants to come.
So, would you say you've got an older audience attending?
Yeah I think so, because there's some people who've been going for the whole 10 years we've been doing this, and been coming to every single one. I think it would be fair to also say that it's not as Cheap as going to a gin in somewhere like London, or Manchester, but it's pretty good value because you get three nights' accommodation, but the whole thing with ATP is it's like a commitment, you have to make sure you've got time off work, and come down to it, and plan in advance. It's not somewhere where we just get walk up and people just turn up and think "Oh, I might go to that today." We don't do day tickets, and it's a whole three day thing, which is good, because it makes people expose themselves to all the music that's there for the whole weekend, as opposed to events like Meltdown where people can just cherry pick the ones that they like and the ones that they don't like they ignore, but it might be something that they'll adore but they never get a chance to see?
What do you find the most difficult hurdle in putting the events together each time?
Well, we're in this kind of weird situation, where although we have a loyal fanbase, if we don't have a line-up that they don't like then they won't come. So we've got to make sure that we get it right with the line-up, and we're trying to work with the curator to make sure the line-up is viable, commercially in some respects, but also try to get everything that they want on there. It can be quite difficult. You do get some curators who come in and say they want to get Leonard Cohen, AC/DC, and Bob Dylan, and yes, of course, that would be fantastic, but we just wouldn't be able to afford any of those guys. So, it's just trying to work out a happy balance of everything.
Any plans to further globally expand the ATP event brand?
We're starting a new series called 'I'll Be Your Mirror' which is a sister event to ATP, and the reason for calling it that, is when the Velvets put out 'All Tomorrows Parties', the B-side of that was 'I'll Be Your Mirror', it's basically ATP without the holiday camps, and it's got the curator and stuff. We're starting that series next year in London, and we're also going to Tokyo, Japan in February. That one is just curated by us as the opening edition, and it's only a one day event, but we're planning to expand on that, and we've got Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dirty Three, The Boredoms who I mentioned earlier, and Envy, and lots of other Japanese bands, it should be good.
You described ATP as being like an excellent mix tape. What's the secret of making a great mix tape?
I just think it's got to have a good flow, if you're going to make a good mix tape, you don't want to make the listener get bored and trail off or fast forward. It's always good to keep them captured throughout the whole tape. That doesn't necessarily mean you have to have 45 minutes of hits, it's got to be continually good music, whether it's big or small bands, and stuff that compliments each other, I think. That's a lot of the things about ATP, we don't have a lot of big headliners, but the bands that we do have on there kind of keep it really solid, and the smaller, obscure stuff compliments the stuff people do know. That's the whole thing to expose yourself to something you'd never normally hear.
Do you see festivals evolving over the next decade?
Well, there's a lot of them now, when we started there was hardly any, you could probably count them on your hand. Now, it seems that anyone who has bought a CD seems to think that they're a festival promoter, and they're springing up all over the place. Some people have just got the desire to make lots of money from it, and have no desire, or concept about it. I think what will happen if more keep springing up is some of the existing ones will suffer, which would be a real shame, because a lot of people put in such hard work. But, I think festivals, and a good example is Green Man, have a good concept of what sort of music they put on, will last the course. But, it's really hard to say the market seems to be very flooded at the moment. Fortunately for us ATP has been quite successful, and we just want to maintain what we're doing with that, and see if we can make it to 20 years.
Do you think the recession has dampened the demand for festivals?
It's definitely effecting sales on various things, I don't know if so much on festivals, but I know club shows have definitely taken a downward turn, and I know where bands would come in three times a year to play shows, now that's wearing thin because people have too much choice. If you're in a band and coming over to tour from somewhere like America you can probably two tours per year in England, and then that's it. The bands who are returning three or four times are finding that the numbers are diminishing, and it's just becoming harder and harder.
As I said, there's more choice than ever, and it never used to be like that ten year's ago when bands like Low or Tortoise would come over, it would be once a year, an annual event and everyone would be excited about it. Now you find everyone is returning all the time, and I guess that's because the market with record sales is pretty terrible. So, everyone is trying to make money by playing live.
What advice would you offer budding festival bosses?
Umm, maybe that starting out on your own as a new venture might be ambitious these days, but I would say if you're going to start something, start small, and make sure that whatever you risk you're able to afford. Start slow, rather than starting big, and falling flat on your face. I've seen it happen to so many people, and it is tough out there. I'm not saying that people shouldn't start festivals, but I think if anyone does they should try and make it exciting and different from anything else. That's one of the things about ATP, when it started there was nothing else like it, and all the bands we had we kind of cornered the market. But now there seems to be lots of people working in a similar field, which is fine, that's how things go, but it's definitely got crowded out there.
Do you think more people offering a similar line-up makes it easier for you to bring over acts, if they have something else to appear at as well?
Well, a lot of our line-ups are based on what the curator wants, but I guess if there's more festivals on offer then yes. But it depends on when they are, we try to take ourselves off out of season in April, May, and December, so we're not trying to compete with anybody. But, it is a little tricky for people trying to tag on other events to ours.
And lastly what advice would you offer someone coming to ATP for the first time?
Open yourself up to all the stuff you've never heard before. Just wander into the different rooms and check out the music. For example you might turn up and have never heard of Bardo Pond, but then go home and they're your favourite band and then you buy all their records. Obviously, when we've got the Belle & Sebastian ATP that's coming up with bands like Dirty Projectors and the Wild Beasts playing which are popular and everyone loves them, but I would say there's so many more things on offer like Howlin Rain and Abagail Grey that aren't household names, or all that well know but I think if people check them out, they will be pleasantly surprised I think.
ATP's 10th anniversary celebrations will be taking place in the surroundings of Butlins, Minehead in Somerset. Looking out over a superb sandy beach the site is equipped with everything festival goers could need providing the perfect location for All Tomorrow's Parties to celebrate its landmark anniversary.
Tickets for the Belle & Sebastian curated Bowlie 2 held from Friday 10th until Sunday 12th December are priced at £165 and a self catering room ticket is priced at £175. To buy tickets, click here.
In Between Days will be held from Monday 6th until Thursday 9th December 2010. This year In Between Days is curated by vinyl toy designers AMOS.
Nightmare Before Christmas takes place from Friday 3rd to 5th December 2010. The Nightmare Before Christmas, curated by Godspeed You! Black Emperor is sold out.
interview by: Scott Williams
ATP Bowlie Weekender 2 2010to
Butlins Resort, Minehead, Somerset
last updated: Mon 6th Dec 2010
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