ATP's I'll Be Your Mirror // Alexandra Palace, London // 24.07.2011


Jul 28 2011, 8h48

Sat 23 Jul – ATP I’ll Be Your Mirror curated by Portishead

The weather in England, as most will know, is unpredictable at best. Ironically, the first time we get any decent weather in almost two weeks, I chose to spend the entire day predominantly indoors at ATP’s new sister event to their Minehead weekends; I’ll Be Your Mirror at London’s Alexandra Palace.

It was day two of the Portishead-curated weekend event. Upon arrival the queues to enter were going round the side of the building; not surprising considering the array of acts playing over the course of the day. As I arrived, the floor to ceiling doors of the West Hall were all shut tight. As they opened, I entered a room darker than a David Lynch film with a tense atmosphere building as Godspeed You! Black Emperor were preparing to start the day’s proceedings day with an unconventional two hour opening set.

The screen flickered with the worn words ‘Hope’ as members of the Canadian noise group made their way onto the stage one by one to open the set with ‘Hope Drone’. Regardless of who you came to see this weekend, you had little option other than to become part of the audience and witness some harrowing, incredible, noisy performances from the progressive post-rock veterans. Accompanied by imagery with themes of religion, industrialism and death being displayed on a huge screen behind them, Efrim Menuck and the seated performers managed to create an intense ambience of sophisticated apprehension.

Unsurprisingly, over a two hour period we were treated to no more than eight songs in total – but you can’t put a limit on quality. Ending the set with ‘The Sad Mafioso’, a rampant, escalating sense of anxiety and contentment at the same time paradoxically washed over me. What a start to the day.

It was time to wander around the Alexandra Palace at this point and see whereabouts the other stages were located in the huge hall. Backing directly onto the West Hall was the Grand Hall, which had the second stage of performers. Loosely catching the end of S.C.UM perform to a relatively empty-it’s-way-too-early-to-turn-up room, I managed to get entangled with many other punters into the unpredictable and ever-changing one way systems. A mere teething problem for a first time event of this scale.

Next up were the constantly evolving noise trio Liars, who I hadn’t seen previously and have to admit, their sound wasn’t particularly well translated in the Grand Hall. An echoing sea of noise blasted the audience, yet at times indiscernible and unidentifiable. Perhaps it was my untrained ear, but others seemed to agree this act would have been suited better at the West Hall stage. Still, performing tracks from their back catalogue including ‘What Would They Know’ and ‘Protection’, Angus Andrews’ thom-yorke-school-of-dancing was entertainment in itself.

Beach House took to the stage after, providing light relief with their brand of dreamy, lo-fi keyboard heavy pop. Crowd pleaser’s ‘Norway’ and ‘Zebra’ were perfect examples of the soothing, hazy beauty that helped break up the day in an otherwise noisy-as-fuck weekend. Not that they were in any way quiet, merely less abrasive than most other acts on. I don’t normally bother with earplugs at gigs, in fact I can’t say I’ve ever worn them, however over the course of the day I think I began to lose frequencies I once had and could understand why half the punters down the front had them in.
The day had quite quickly started to progress, so another wander was in order. A quick look into the West Hall and Portishead’s Adrian Utley had an entire orchestra performing an original score to Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 classic film ‘The Passion Of Joan of Arc’. I have to admit, having seen Beach House before, I feel I missed something kind of special going on here. Typically, with any event that hosts so many unusual and individual attractions, I was never going to get round to seeing them all.
Next up were Swans, who seemed to be entertaining the crowd with Michael Gira competing for Andrew Angus as the front-man with the most special dance moves of the day. Coupled with their Conan-the-barbarian meets-Phil-Collin’s percussionist and you have yourself a very special act. A lot of intense noise was generated over the hour set, which often felt like a constantly drawn out ending to a song. I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan, yet I gather I was alone in my lack of interest, as fans from all around intensely banged heads and stomped feet to the NYC patriarchs of noise-punk come progressive industrial rockers. Maybe I need to invest some more time in their back catalogue; although I gather I’ll be lucky if I happen to catch them perform again.

I was genuinely excited for the next act – Grinderman. Being quite a big fan of all things Nick Cave and Warren Ellis related – I was also a Grinderman live show virgin ready to pop my cherry on this memorable day. The Australian quartet took to the stage with all the swagger and intensity I had expected and didn’t for one second let up with their brand of heavy, stoner rock blues with Nick Cave stalking stage presence and vocal delivery verging on new age prophet territory particularly with ‘Let’s Get It On’. The almighty Warren Ellis and his kicking spring-in-his-step style of violin just made me wish I could see The Dirty Three sometime soon (please ATP, make it happen for me). A perfect rendition of ‘No Pussy Blues’ had the crowd singing along “but she’ just didn’t want to” – before opening up like a flooded dam and bursting out with resentment and frustration. A definite highlight for me, if not everyone in the Grand Hall.

Due to logistical complications the last act of the night for me was to be Portishead and not Caribou. I have to admit at this stage, I’m not exactly a big Portishead fan. Not through disliking their material, it’s more a case of not being overly familiar with their entire back catalogue (which only consists of three albums) and having never really made an effort to get familiar. I was pleasantly surprised at this penultimate stage to catch them in the rammed Grand Hall, all keenly observing the huge stage in front of us in anticipation of the curators who hand selected us such diverse, entertaining and talented musicians throughout the day.

The south-west headlining trio were not going to disappoint, with an array of tracks from across their back catalogue that made me realise perhaps I’m a bit more familiar with them than I’d given myself credit for. Performing to an adoring set of fans in front of beautifully worked visuals that aided to the fragility of Beth Gibbon’s voice, the set was a mesmerizing triumph. From hits off of 1994’s Dummy including the massively popular big beat ‘Glory Box’ and beautifully dark, trip hop ‘Sour Times’, all the way through to their 2008 release ‘Third’, there was a balanced mixture of songs that evening that resulted in a chillingly sultry, haunting crescendo of an evening.

A success for all involved, let’s hope I’ll Be Your Mirror becomes a permanent fixture of ATP’s roster of activities.


  • Zoozuni

    Very fair review. As you suspected you missed out on 'Joan of Arc', it was indeed a highlight. I liked Swans a lot but it got a bit much after a while. Portishead played exactly the same set both days but were marginally better on the Saturday.

    Jul 28 2011, 11h02
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