Jesse Jarnow

all tomorrow’s parties, today.

The most stunning thing about the decay of Kutsher’s Country Club, the site of the American edition of All Tomorrow’s Parties, is perhaps its sheer attention to detail. In every corner of its 1,500-acre spread, something askew: peeling paint on a windowsill, an abandoned skating rink (the Kutsher’s Teenareena, per the signage, replete with Olympics logo), an out-of-order tag on a pull-out bed, a flooded baseball diamond, a stairwell with non-chronological floor numbers, a fire door off its hinges next to a forgotten and overflowing room service cart. One friend got stuck in the elevator, the car stuttering 250 times between the fifth and sixth floors before righting itself. We took the stairs for the rest of the weekend.

The result is one of the most singular places one can imagine seeing music. The fact that the Stardust Room, the site of All Tomorrow’s Parties main stage, is also a great-sounding, well-designed space–with gentle tiers, a spacious floor, and a twinkling moonscape on the wall–is gravy. Amid the decay, though, it also felt a bit like abuse. We wandered Kutsher’s freely, removing the cover of a jacuzzi, discovering a working sauna in the women’s locker room, totally unsure where we were allowed to be. In the basement, we found a stash of Paul Anka and Helen Reddy eight-track tapes in the winding, cluttered hallways beyond a room of ancient exercise bikes and stairmasters.

And the music? A peculiar continuum of nostalgia and indie noise of the moment. Headlining on Friday, Iggy Pop–63 and ripped–pulled his version of the James Brown cape routine: constantly diving headlong into the audience, only to be grabbed instantly by his own security guard and yanked back. There was a lot of crowd surfing and stage diving, for that matter. Hard to say where that act falls in the nostalgia continuum, but it’s back with a vengence. The next night, also featuring a host of stage interlopers, Sonic Youth–in their classic quartet lineup, with Mark Ibold still on Pavement detail–played a set entirely of ’80s tunes. Much like their Prospect Park gig over the summer, the concept scans uncomfortably, but was/is bitching in practice, with fierce improv, drawn-out transitions, and the usual explosive arrangements. Thurston Moore’s solo Sunday set, in the 1:45 pm bloody mary slot, hit the spot, too: three new tunes, played on a 12-string acoustic, followed by a Northampton Wools improv with Bill Nace.

The pleasures of ATP go on and on: a surprisingly incredible DJ set by hip-hop inventor Kool Herc late night at the poolside bar, filled with deep cuts, killer transitions, overlaid beats, and a few classics; the ear-blowing wall of sound belonging to the Sunn O)))/Boris supergroup with power chords cascading from amp stack to amp stack like minimalist blocks of orchestral sound; a mellow pick-up hardball game hosted by Shellac’s Bob Weston in a pasture abutting the flooded baseball diamond, bordered by a brook, and a shady knoll for spectators; the room-clearing obliteration of Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht’s Text of Light; Wooden Shjips’ surf-kraut jams. Besides the occasional six-flight stair-climb, there were few downsides. (The second stage is too low, impossible to see the musicians except from the front row.)

Even the lack of internet and Twitter access was kind of nice. I got my news from the New York Times for the first time in years (and remembered my great uncle Herb’s sage summary of their sports section: “yesterday’s scores tomorrow”). Hell, if I’d had Twitter access, I probably wouldn’t have written a blog post.

No corporate sponsorship, good vibrations, and arguably the most fun music festival in the world.

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