By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Michael Levine
TRYING TO PIN DOWN SOME SORT OF VIEWPOINT or philosophy behind UCLA's All Tomorrow's Parties music festival is a bit of a head-scratcher, so you know they've gotta be on to something. An outgrowth of David Sefton's annual concerts at London's Royal Festival Hall, which throw together radically eclectic mobs of musicians, poets and visual artists from the high and low scenes, ATP (after the Velvet Underground song of the same title) will attempt to seduce Los Angeles with that experimental/accessible aesthetic at UCLA March 14 through 17.
In recent festivals, Sefton called upon such progressive luminaries as Chicago's art-rock kings Tortoise to curate. This year, here, as UCLA's new director of performing arts, he's asked rock/art heavies Sonic Youth to do the choosing -- which has resulted in a tangle of mostly adventurous types, ranging from drum & bass prankster Aphex Twin, Japanese noise mutineers Merzbow and Boredoms, and new-jazz scientists Cecil Taylor and Mats Gustaffson, to the more user-friendly Eddie Vedder, indie-rock icon Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, loungy popsters Stereolab, sex rapper Peaches, new wave legends Television and revered pop cultists Big Star. (For complete schedule, see Calendar Concerts listings.) Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore made a special point of including crucial poets such as John Sinclair, Gerard Malanga, Ira Cohen and Lydia Lunch, each linked with the music underground scene over the last 30 years.
Moore explains what the band had in mind.
"We were just asked to put together a wish list, like, 'If you wanted to do a festival with any band you wanted, what would you do?' And I was like, 'That's easy,' and we put down like 3,000 bands. The only sort of guiding factor was, there's a budget, so you're not going to be able to get Dylan and . . . you know. That was okay, there were plenty of bands we really wanted, who we could get. But we had to be conscious about people coming to the thing -- if we booked just unknown underground bands that we liked, I don't think we'd really sell many tickets.
"As it happens, there's a lot of high-profile music that we do indeed like, be it Wilco or Eddie Vedder or Stereolab. Then, you know, Cecil Taylor and things like this are pretty heavy hitters, so that'll encourage a lot of people to spend a hundred bucks for a weekend of music, which, for the amount of bands playing, is a pretty good deal. You know, you'd spend a couple hundred bucks to see Don Rickles at the Sands . . . Actually, we were trying to get Don Rickles."
All Tomorrow's Parties' lineup, as selected by SY, was purely intuitive and highly subjective. It makes me wonder who didn't make the final cut.
"There were some composers that we wanted to present," says Moore, "but the environment at UCLA isn't really set up to present them properly. People like [French musique concrète composer] Luc Ferrari and [electronic orchestral minimalist] Phil Niblock were gonna come out, and a lot of them have music for large ensembles, and I couldn't stick them between Cat Power and Smog -- it's not fair to them. We were hoping to bring out other disciplines -- it would've been great to have Merce Cunningham's dance company do a piece, but again, that's a lot of money to get something like that."
Looking at their choices is sort of like psychoanalyzing your friends by examining their taste buds. Overall the program highlights musicians who approach music as an art form, whose ambitions can't be contained within the traditions of rock or pop. The inclusion of more easily digestible artists like Vedder or Wilco betrays a subtle cross-referencing within the band's eclectic aesthetic -- though Moore prefers a simpler explanation.
"The idea is to have music that may have a lot of success in the mainstream that we generally do like. You ä know, Neil Young -- he's a mainstream artist, we'd love to have presented him, and he was willing to do it, but he was committed to touring with CSN&Y. Eddie's an old friend, and our relationship with him transcends whatever sort of spotlight he might have as far as, like, 'rock celebrity.' We were asked to tour with Pearl Jam for one summer, and Eddie would sit down and play some acoustic solo-guitar music, and it was great, just beautiful songs. We thought it would be a little unwieldy to actually ask Pearl Jam to do something, because they're such a huge band, and they would cater to so many ticket buyers who would only be interested possibly in seeing them and not going to see, y'know, Unwound."
The festival, then, will be an opportunity to see Vedder performing nonPearl Jam songs (with an accordion player and a drummer), which oughtta be enlightening for Pearl Jam fans and non-fans alike, a crossing over of audiences from one music to another that exemplifies Sonic Youth's own un-snobbish attitude. At their best they've demonstrated a fertile feel for how music serious and unserious isn't mutually exclusive.
"We've always crossed over ourselves," says Moore. "[SY collaborator] Jim O'Rourke is a prime example. He recorded Wilco's last record, he's very good friends with them, and the drummer of Wilco is the drummer in his band, and he turned me on to them. I found them very genuine, and interesting musically, and I dug it. They're cool people, and I like what they're doing. Almost everybody playing is somebody we've had interaction with.