Last weekend Mrowster of Pig State Recon and I went to All Tomorrow’s Parties at the Butlins camp in Minehead. His write up is a decoction of our heated conversations over the past week, and I couldn’t have put it better myself.
I’d heard of these holiday camps when I first moved to the UK and had the misfortune of watching the E4 reality tee vee show Wakey Wakey Campers, where vacationers are subjected to the rigors of a 60’s era style camp. The sound bite argument of the show explained that post war Brits were so used to their lives being organized around war-time existence that leisure was particularly challenging.
I’d heard of these music festivals curated by the archivist of hipsterdom, Thurston Moore. It seemed like a lot of money to be reminded of things I lived through the first time. But for this weekend with the Melvins (kinda ignored the Mike Patton element of the weekend, not being a fan) I broke down, forked out the ample poundage and packed my bags.
We stayed in a chalet, a euphemistic name for what my friend called an ‘Ikea showroom play house’, except that makes it sound cute and fun when really it was a bit grim, with the paint chipping on the walls and the wire springs in the cots pinching you in the night. But the chalet was relatively clean and warm. We made our own food which was lucky because the one time we broke down and had their “traditional breakfast” it was absolutely miserable: powdered eggs, lukewarm tinned beans and a mealy tomato cooked by a heat lamp, served up by smiling and helpful staff. (No amount of customer service can really make up for stingy ingredients and hateful cooking). I can only imagine the people who paid £35 for the meal plan were probably eating at the big-top’s Burger King every night.
I knew going to the festival I was agreeing to visit my old ghosts. The original line up of the Butthole Surfers, Lydia Lunch’s Teenage Jesus and the Jerks as well as the Damned appeared and with the exception of the Damned’s shambolic-yet-modish performance, it was like watching these acts in a hipster vitrine. As Lydia scrubbed her guitar strings in time to her whiny yell, the kids in front of her enacted a slam pit with ritualistic accuracy. I never thought she had much to say, even when I first heard her 23 years ago, but James Sclavunos on drums gave it some of that primal energy that I remembered from the time (even then, I was 10 years too late for no wave) that rock and roll still had this caustic power, an incendiary medicine for suburban kids everywhere.
Watching it I also realized this is no longer the case, the medicine no longer being necessary– obsolete in the face of new technologies like the internet and the Xbox, things that the generation after me must take for granted. Music would no longer give you an IRL tribe or an AFC life force, because no one wants those things. Now music can be collected, archived, indexed, downloaded. It was impossible to communicate to some of the younger music tickers there what the original context of this music was– traded on mixed tapes, discovered on vinyl as a fortuitous mistake. It was all word of mouth, all newsprint zines, all corner-record-shop back then. Would Lester Bangs own an iPod?
I’ve never been a big Butthole Surfers fan, but I did realize at the time of Hairway to Steven (one of the greatest record titles ever), they brought a particularly abject and nihilistic flavor to the acid renaissance, something I perceived at the time as being more honest than hippie psychedelia, even if I didn’t like it. Someone much younger than I complained of being disappointed by their conventional approach to rock n’ roll. I think he was expecting something rancid and harrowingly non-song from Gibby? He said glumly, “They even had a set list!”
I wanted to somehow explain that in ’87 they were indeed emotionally raw and shocking, but that would make me…old. What is the Butthole Surfers relevance in a world where Goatse is a common catchphrase? There is no hipster cred to be had in explaining to the twenty-somethings that where the spectrum-of-revolt was concerned, we green back then, in every sense of the word.