All Tomorrow’s Parties: The Film
Lightning Bolt jams in a courtyard. Grizzly Bear harmonizes on the beach. Concert-goers play Dance Dance Revolution, and young hipster musicians experiment with theremins, wind machines, and banjos. If you know of—or even had the supreme privilege of attending—All Tomorrow’s Parties (ATP), this likely sounds like a plausible scene.
Named for the Velvet Underground song of the same name, the annual event has been running for nearly a decade, with parties in the UK that have since expanded to the U.S. Originally springing out of Bowlie Weekender, a similar one-off event curated by Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch in 1999, ATP is a who’s who of indie rock, with renowned post-punk, electronic, hip-hop, and avant-garde headliners. One such luminary asks their own favorite musicians to perform, a few visual artists show up, and magic is made.
In the All Tomorrow’s Parties documentary, quaint archival backyard party videos are mixed with footage of Beth Ditto dancing barefoot on stage. Interviews with random attendees who bemoan the “bogus capitalist process” of creating music are juxtaposed with an eerily foreshadowing interview with Jerry Garcia, who predicted a move towards alternate festivals as an answer to large-scale amphitheater productions. The often mind-blowing assemblage of old and new film was recorded by a group of fans over the last several years and finally stitched together for a cohesive documentary release by Warp X.
Admittedly, because so many of the same types of indie white dudes curate the festival each year, the lineup can be repetitive, regularly including Dirty Three, Les Savy Fav, Fuck Buttons, Sonic Youth, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. On the other hand, most music snobs don’t seem to object to the billing. Year after year, buzz about the somewhat elusive parties grows. Perhaps predictably, save appearances by Patti Smith, Karen O, and Beth Gibbons from Portishead, the roster is incredibly male-centric. Nick Cave singing about his “no pussy blues” could be a metaphor for indie music-loving feminists too. Where the women at, y’all?
Call me a feminist sellout; I read a lot of male-authored fiction and listen to bands that tend to be comprised of fellas. Despite the lack of diversity, attending ATP is some sort of aural pipe dream for a gal like me. But then, if you don’t know what Dave from Slint or the Animal Collective guys look like, the intimacy of the festival—let alone the film—may be lost on you.
Still, there’s something to be said for the energy of this film. That so many indie gods and goddesses descend on one space for an inspiring, collaborative weekend is its own sort of infectious, particularly for artistic viewers of any medium. You don’t have to know the stylings of Seasick Steve, even if it admittedly makes for a more informed viewing.
For screenings near you, head to ourtrueintent.com. If you’re a music geek with historical knowledge to boot, this is one not to be missed.