Music Features

ATP: My Bloody Valentine's Nightmare Before Christmas

It’s been four weeks since I visited Minehead, Somerset for three days of miserable weather, unhealthy food and oppressively loud shoegaze music. Now that the dust has settled and the tinnitus has subsided, it feels like an appropriate time to look back on the My Bloody Valentine-curated Nightmare Before Christmas and share my thoughts and photographs from the event. 

Adam Franklin
The prospect of another helping of My Bloody Valentine sparked my interest in this event, but it was the addition to the bill of the reformed Swervedriver that had me entering my credit card details and recruiting my chalet companions in a flash. I’ve already gushed enthusiastically about this Oxford quartet on No Ripcord before and to the band’s immense credit, this set managed to match my lofty expectations. Focussing chiefly on their glorious 1991 debut Raise, the Swervies blew the crowd (mainly thirty-something males, it has to be said) away, even slotting in a surprise cover of Guided By Voices’ Motor Away. In a festival that featured its fair share of box-ticking performances (more on that later...) Adam Franklin et al were a revelation.
My Bloody Valentine didn’t exactly embrace their role as curators, but they did play on three consecutive nights so I’m prepared to let that pass. I caught all three sets and felt Saturday night was the most polished performance. They’re still prone to the odd false start but when everything clicks into place – ironically the non-album tracks like Slow and Thorn tend to work out best live – this is a band capable of unmatched brilliance.

My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields
My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields © David Coleman 2009
Sonic Youth’s set leaned pretty heavily on 2009’s The Eternal, which I rate highly, so I was pretty much in awe for the duration of their Saturday night set. A personal highlight for me was when Thurston Moore leaned over the stage, directly above my hovering SLR camera, to thrash out some particularly menacing guitar chords. I could have taken the shot of a lifetime but I predictably choked. As I viewed the clutch of blurry images on my camera’s LCD display I realised my mistake – I’d inexplicably switched to auto-focus a few seconds before Thurston’s move. It was a foolish schoolboy error even by an amateur’s standards, but it didn’t take the sheen off an impressive gig and I still got some respectable photos.
Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore
Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore © David Coleman 2009
My only experience of Le Volume Courbe prior to the festival was a quick – and ultimately dismissive – trip to the band’s MySpace page. I made a snap judgement about their ability and never gave them a second thought. On the basis of their charming set here, though, I was completely off mark and really need to stop making rash judgements based solely on short, low-quality audio clips. Check them out.
Le Volume Courbe
Le Volume Courbe © David Coleman 2009
Having taken an aural battering from some disgustingly loud bands and overindulged at a chalet party on Saturday night, I’d pretty much lost interest in music by Sunday evening. As I nursed a diet coke, however, my spirits were revived by Brooklyn’s The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. I still pretty much despise their unnecessarily sappy name, but these kids sure can play. Sugar-coated shoegaze with a sweet pop centre was the ever so slightly cringeworthy description that popped into my head as I listened to the likes of Young Adult Friction and Come Saturday, but I’m sticking with it. Great set.
Now let me see... nearly getting into a fight in Pizza Hut immediately springs to mind, although it could have easily been transformed into a highlight if the proposed duel had actually taken place; I can’t recall actually winning a fight before (not that I take part in many) and the belligerent fool who wanted to ‘take things outside’ was about as physically threatening as Stephen Pastel.
Primal Scream. I only caught the last fifteen minutes of their set but heard from a number of reliable sources that they were dire from start to finish.
A lot of people enjoyed The Buzzcocks but I thought they were an embarrassment. I know this will sound like an exaggeration but I actually fell asleep while leaning against a steel ladder during their set. I was shattered after a 200 mile drive to Minehead but still...
It seems a little harsh to name two pretty respectable bands in this section but I really didn’t rate A Place To Bury Strangers (too monotonous and muddy) or The Horrors, who were the biggest disappointment of the festival for me. Primary Colours is a very strong record, there’s no doubt about that, but there’s still something about these guys that doesn’t sit right with me. They’re pretty damn photogenic, though. I got a great set of photos from the band’s set and this shot of Faris Badwan was my favourite from the entire festival. An overused quote about cameras and lies springs to mind...
The Horrors
 The Horrors' Faris Badwan © David Coleman 2009
A Box Ticking Exercise:
Amongst the highs and lows, there were an awful lot of sets over the weekend that simply ticked the necessary boxes, offering nothing more or less. Guilty parties were:
De La Soul. Nice guys and solid performers, they delivered a few seminal hip hop anthems but an extended plug for their website at the end removed a layer of sheen for me.
Yo La Tengo. For a band that can blow your mind one minute and bore you rigid the next, this set trampled along in the middle ground an awful lot. I enjoyed Stockholm Syndrome, though.
Yo La Tengo
Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan © David Coleman 2009
Lightning Bolt. “It’s not you, it’s me...”
The Pastels. Nothing To Be Done fizzed, but the rest sounded strangely flat. I know this is ATP but The Pastels will never be a main stage band. And no, I don’t want to go outside to settle this, Stephen...
While there were some outstanding moments, this wasn’t exactly a vintage weekend. The dreary surroundings didn’t help to lift the mood but I can’t help but think that My Bloody Valentine failed to inject enough variety into the mix. I would have liked to see more hip hop, more electronic acts, some quieter bands and less Primal Scream. Nevertheless, any festival with sets from Sonic Youth, Swervedriver and My Bloody Valentine (x3) is going to get my seal of approval.
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All photographs are copyright David Coleman 2009. Please ask permission via the site contact form if you wish to use them elsewhere.