I can’t think of too many documentary film intros that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Whoever did the sound for Jonathan Caouette's All Tomorrows Parties, a film chronicling the famous UK music festival, is a genius and should be hired for any music-related documentary going forward. Opening the film with a performance from the progressive rock band; Battles not only works in getting the audience hooked right away (their sound is loud, loopy, thumping & rhythmic) but they're sound best represents the kind of music that plays at ATP (progressive, the make-up of the band is multiracial, they're somewhat experimental and make use of both; analog and computer-generated music equipment). Anyone who makes the audio in a GZA performance sound just as good as The Mars Volta deserves all the recognition in the world (for those of you not familiar - GZA's music is gritty, drum machine-oriented hip-hop while the Mars Volta is more loud, noisy, King Crimson, early Genesis influenced). I'll avoid the comparison to Woodstock, which so many critics have a difficult time doing when it comes to this film. The music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone and all the other artists who performed at Woodstock will always remain timeless and affect the lives of everyone. But their music still comes from & defines a generation that is not our own. Generation Y and pretty much all of Generation X weren’t directly affected by The Vietnam War, Revolution, Black Panthers, or an abundance of assassinations & resignations of presidents, world leaders, various political figures & cultural icons. Sometimes when I see someone my age (31) or younger passionately singing the lyrics to a John Lennon or Gil Scott Heron song I kinda wanna tell 'em to shut up. There's plenty of great music that bests represents our Generation (desensitization, 9/11, how much Bush sucked, advances in technology) and that’s what the ATP festival represents. Although the roots of the festival do come from the original Woodstock and it isn’t the only prominent music festival around today that makes an attempt at booking progressive acts (Coachella, Pitchfork, Rock The Bells, etc) - ATP takes it to another level through curated lineups and eclecticism. How often are you gonna see Daniel Johnston, David Cross, Sonic Youth, Vincent Gallo, Psychic TV, Wu-Tang, Portishead, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs & Nick Cave (which pretty much makes up the music on my IPOD, minus a few artists) on the same bill?!? Furthermore - how often are you gonna see all those artists on the same bill get universal acceptance by an open minded audience? I don’t know about you but I've been to quite a few shows where different genres of music were mixed together ultimately causing a rift in the audience. What immediately stuck out to me in this documentary was how accepting the ATP audiences were to every genre of music & performance that was placed in front of them (minus David Cross who gets booed off the stage in one hilariously heartbreaking scene). I guess due to the fact that ATP is based out of the UK, a nation rooted in & influenced by so many types of music (ska, rock & roll, reggae, punk, new wave, etc) explains why the audience is so open minded.
Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth)
Over the years ATP has made the transition to other countries like America & Australia but at its core - this festival is very much a UK-based entity. Just when I thought there wasn’t a whole lot left to do with the music concert documentary genre (backstage footage, screaming concert goers, musician interviews, etc) Jonathan Caouette made it interesting again. All Tomorrow's Parties, named after a song by The Velvet Underground, is a music festival primarily set on a camp ground in East Sussex, England where various artists ranging from Matt Groening to Belle & Sebastian curate the lineups and essentially make real life personal mix tapes for the audiences. Caouette brings the same beautifully chaotic style that we saw in his feature film debut; Tarnation to this documentary and draws influence from the Beastie Boys documentary (I F*ckin Shot That!) buy using footage from the festival goers & the musicians along with his own. The film shifts in & out of footage from camera phones, super 8 cameras, camcorders and the more traditional documentary footage shot by the director. All Tomorrow's Parties also uses a lot of random found footage from the 70's that mixes & syncs in with festival footage (via split screen) giving the documentary a very cinematic Pink Floyd/Alice In Wonderland Vibe...
Naturally alternative and/or progressive rock music as well as electronic music (or a combination of the two) are the most explored genres in the film but Caouette shines light on spoken word (Saul Williams & John Cooper Clarke) as well as Jazz (Roscoe Mitchell). There's plenty of memorable, funny & intimate moments like David Cross confronting someone from the audience who boos him, Portishead coming out of Hiatus, Saul Williams walking alone with a camera in his face reciting a poem to himself and Daniel Johnston serenading an impromptu audience outside of his hotel room (one of the unofficial rules of the festival is that the musicians & festival goers stay in the same hotel on the same camp ground together). All Tomorrow's Parties falls in line with other recent movie documentaries like; It Might Loud, loudQUIETloud, Kill Yr Idols (which heavily features both; Sonic Youth & The Yeah Yeah Yeahs), DIG (one of my personal favorite documentaries) & Noise (Olivier Assayas' often forgotten-about documentary on the Festival Art Rock which also features Sonic Youth). Actually, Sonic Youth seems to be the go-to band to be featured in any progressive music documentaries these days - Kill Yr Idols, The Devil & Daniel Johnston, Noise, etc. All Tomorrow's Parties only clocks in at 80-something minutes when it could have easily been an hour longer in my opinion. ...Ok maybe an extra hour might be overkill but the history of ATP goes back to the late 90's. Just think about all the performances & curators that have been documented since the festival's beginning. Don get me wrong - the film does an amazing job at capturing performances from just about all of the staple bands who make the festival what it is but there's so much more that coulda been added to the film (specifically the rare performance from Boards Of Canada). Quite a few critics complained of the performance footage being cut too short but given the 80-something minutes Caouette had to work with - I'd say he did an excellent job. I saw All Tomorrow's Parties ONCE three years ago (I included this in my top 10 of 2009) and it’s managed to leave a lasting impression on me all this time. This is one of my personal favorite combinations of music & film to come out in recent years.