From its tentative start in 1999 through to its spectacular crash in 2016, the festivals known as All Tomorrow’s Parties were a moveable feast of special performances and interactions, pioneering a curatorial approach that has since become wholly absorbed into the industry as a cliché. In a recent oral history of ATP by Daniel Dylan Wray for VICE, co-founder Barry Hogan describes wanting artists to curate the festival like they were making a mixtape, and this documentary, compiled from crowdsourced footage over several years of the festival, is an admirable representation of that sensibility. Directed by Jonathan CaouetteIt, it’s convivial, well-lubricated, and bittersweet, like remembering a long-lost friend while lifting a drink in their memory.
Stories from ATP are legion. You could crowdsource another oral history from the subscribers to this newsletter alone; the documentary pays ample attention to the dilapidated holiday camps where the festival was hosted, peeking inside worse-for-wear chalets with curtains that look more suitable for wrapping bodies than blocking the sun. ATP’s well-deserved reputation for bookings that ignored genre and rejected predictable momentum is visible as they bounce between the likes of Saul Williams, Gossip, Shellac, the Dirty Three, and Animal Collective, with Daniel Johnston performing unamplified outdoors, Eye from Boredoms seemingly playing a lightbulb, and Roscoe Mitchell shouting out the Minehead seagulls. A couple makes out while Seasick Steve thanks Portishead—who he doesn’t know anything about—for inviting him. David Cross bumbles through a stand-up bit on Jesus that draws a heckler, who he later confronts on-camera, with the guy defending himself because Cross was “dissing the J-man.”
Importantly, it’s not just the performers onstage who get screentime. ATP had no VIP areas, and this doc likewise doesn’t really differentiate between moments of musical beauty happening onstage or off—whether it’s a gurning fan playing the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Maps,” a spontaneous band forming in the chalet, or multiple festival-goers bashing pots and pans as they head towards the beach at sunrise. There are also archival clips of Iggy Pop, Patti Smith, and Jerry Garcia that resonate with the festival’s collaborative and democratic aesthetic, the last of those three dreamily declaiming his preference for parties that feature “no headliners—just music.” One of the doc’s cinematographers, Vincent Moon, has spent the better part of the last decade documenting sacred musical rituals around the world, but ATP doesn’t feel so far off.