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Interview: Barry Hogan (Founder of All Tomorrow’s Parties)

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    barry hogan credit roger ki 260x208 Interview: Barry Hogan (Founder of All Tomorrows Parties)All Tomorrow’s Parties creator and festival promoter Barry Hogan has a penchant for making peoples’ dreams come true. He’s the best kind of record nerd: a guy who uses his utter infatuation with obscure sounds, thirst for strange backstories, and strong grasp on indie rock’s expansive history to bring joy to like-minded audiophiles by the thousands. His All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals have reunited loads of bands and created a vehicle for the live performances of dozens of cult records by acts nobody thought they’d ever hear from again, let alone see live.

    This year, Hogan brings ATP’s latest installment to the US. A non-holiday camp ATP spinoff festival, aptly titled “I’ll Be Your Mirror”, will take place in Asbury Park, NJ, from September 30th to October 2nd. And, this time, Hogan has really outdone himself. Prayers of seeing one of music’s most deified, and easily most reclusive, songwriters in concert will be answered. Along with live-circuit rarity Portishead curating and playing at the shindig, Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum will perform two separate sets at the festival. Some will call it a miracle, but Hogan is no god, just a guy with great taste bent on creating great events for those who care as much as he does. This year is proof of that.

    We caught up with Hogan to discuss his powers, how it all works, his aversion to Blur, what it took to drag Mangum out of his annex, why Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye would be out of place at ATP, and why his ATP festivals tend to never suck. His gentle tone and delightfully unpretentious answers helped shed light on the true spirit of Hogan’s ATP vision. In a 30-minute phone conversation, it was easy to figure out what ATP is and always has been about: taking great care of the folks who will do anything in the name of their record collections, including the artists.

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    As always, you guys have a lot of stuff going on this year: Jeff Mangum, Portishead, Animal Collective, Battles. All of the lineups are just amazing this year. How do you decide which artists you get to curate, and what does that process usually entail?

    It’s generally just everybody who has ever done anything for us is an extension of my record collection. So, it’s just me picking out records and saying, “Hey, why don’t we get someone like Jeff Mangum to perform something new from Neutral Milk Hotel.” Or, we’ve had film directors as well, like Jim Jarmusch, and we love his films. And Matt Groening from The Simpsons. Sure, like everyone else, we love The Simpsons. Saying that, though, they are all people that I read somewhere that they sort of have good taste in music. I mean, we do have to kind of ask people in advance sometimes if they can get an idea of what they are thinking of. But, so far, along the way, we’ve been fortunate with the people we’ve picked. We haven’t had any terrible lineups. Some better than others, but, you know, on the whole, they all fit within the same aesthetic of what we are trying to do.

    atp+logo Interview: Barry Hogan (Founder of All Tomorrows Parties)

    Yeah, they are always so amazing whenever I see them listed, and, unfortunately, I never have been able to go. It always seems like somebody behind it, the curator, really put a lot of thought into it, and there are always these left-field artists that I am really interested in figuring out how you got them.

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    Yeah, well, I guess we are very persuasive. The one thing is, you know, when you get the kind of artist, say Jeff Mangum, or Slint, that kind of thing, or My Bloody Valentine… all these bands kind of reformed specifically to do shows with us, or reformed specifically for ATP. And it needs to be presented to them in a way so that it’s not just performing for money, and it’s not just about who is doing a show. It’s about presenting it to them in a way where they’re kind of selecting lineups of bands that they endorse, that may have influenced them, or things that they are supportive of. It’s good. Some of them get more excited than others, but we’ve kind of reformed everybody we’ve wanted to see, really. I mean, there’s a handful of bands we haven’t got yet, but I think there’s not as many as there were about five years ago, because we’ve kind of done them all [laughs].

    Have there ever been any artists that you have just been dying to get, but you couldn’t get them to commit to it?

    Well, we’d always love to have Kraftwerk play. We’ve never had them. We’re massive fans of Kraftwerk. We’ve never asked them to curate. I don’t know if that would be something that they would be into, but maybe that’s the way we should approach it, but yeah. Or Neil Young would be great. We could get him to do something — as long as he plays with Crazy Horse, though. That’s the best band. I saw him once; it was okay. But, it was just like… I just think when he’s with Crazy Horse, that’s the natural shape for him.

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    And you never approached either of them about it, right?

    We have asked him about doing stuff in the past, but it’s always bad timing, or budget, or something. There are always some restrictions. It’s just a bit frustrating, but I’m sure one day we’ll get them. I said to Deborah, my wife, she runs ATP with me, if we ever got Kraftwerk or Neil Young, then we would retire.

    So, my big question, being a huge Neutral Milk Hotel Fan, is what did it take to get Jeff Mangnum onboard? What was the process like? I imagine you kind of dragged him out of some attic crawl space or something?

    You know, we have been talking to him for years, and it’s no secret that we love Aeroplane. It’s one of our favorite records and stuff, and I like all those previous records as well. But, I always thought that he would be the perfect kind of curator and stuff. From when we started the festival, I just thought he’s the sort of thing I would like to present at it. And I guess, as time went on, we just kept asking every year. Kind of like Pavement, we kept asking them every year. And Jeff came to the one we did, the first one we did in Upstate New York, which is where My Bloody Valentine played, and he had a really great time. And I think, again, he’s someone that wanted to not just come back and do some gigs for money but to do it in an environment he felt comfortable with. And no better way, I think, than doing it around really great bands that he selected and stuff. So, yeah, I guess gentle persuasion and persistence is what really paid off. And I’m so glad that we got to do it, ’cause he’s such a great guy. And also, his curation in England, the stuff that he’s kind of… the ideas, they flow so much and so well. He’s got enough ideas to kind of stage three or four ATP’s. It’s good. We’re really excited about seeing it. And, you know, I’m just pleased for him that he’s able to get out there and do shows again.

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    atp Interview: Barry Hogan (Founder of All Tomorrows Parties)

    Were you aware that he was kind of building up to this? How influential were you in his decision to kind of do this comeback thing, because it seemed like you guys announced this, that he was doing this show for his first public, large-scale appearance in a long time, and it seems after that, he started announcing all these tour dates. Do you think you guys were kind of instrumental in that?

    Well, yeah, I mean, we’d been talking to him since last year about doing stuff, and you know it was kind of like we were still going over the final details. I didn’t know if it was still going to go ahead or not, just ’cause of the schedule permitting, of course. And then, I heard he was about to play that show he did at The Bell House. He did that. And shortly after, I mean, we were already kind of negotiating at that point, that he was going to go ahead, and then the show was kind of spur of the moment. And now I’m glad that he got to do that, and it worked out. It will hopefully turn into a good cycle for him, to play some shows, and write some new songs, and perform them as well.

    Yeah, I mean, you guys could have reinvigorated his whole career, which would be incredible.

    Oh, yeah, I hope so. I just think he’s quite an amazing artist, and it would be great for everyone to experience it. I’m just happy we’re able to present him in both England and, obviously, in Asbury Park. He’s definitely… the thing I’m most looking forward to seeing this year, by far, is Jeff Mangum.

    jeffmangum Interview: Barry Hogan (Founder of All Tomorrows Parties)

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    I’m really hoping to get to that. You’ve described ATP as an excellent mixtape made by the event’s curators. Each year, the lineups always read just like you present them. It’s one of the few festivals that I kind of look at the lineup, and I don’t see any glaring business ploys. Like, “Oh, there’s this band, because they are trying to get these people to come.”  So, how true to the concept do you think that arrangement stays, and how much freedom are the curators given? Do you just kind of say, like, “Make a list for us, and we will see who we can get.”  How does it work?

    Well, we basically say to the curators, “Give us a wish list.” And then, it’s kind of like, if you treat the wish list just as if you were directors of a film, and the wish list was the script, and the curator was an actor, what we’re doing is directing them, and we’re giving them guidance, on, like, how to make the best mix tape, which I guess would turn into the best film. You always get people, like some curators have unrealistic notions. Like they’ll put down, “Hey, why don’t we get AC/DC, Leonard Cohen, and Radiohead, and Ennio Morricone, and all these other people?” And then we’re like, “I love all of those acts, and I would love to see them play, especially on the same weekend. That would be a sick bill.”  But, because of the size of the festival, it’s very intimate; it’s impossible to do that. So, what we need to do is kind of scale it down, and say, “Well, you need to have, well, this many kind of biggish names to sustain ticket sales. But also, balance it out with mid-range stuff.”

    I guess I try to give the curators as much freedom as possible. I always pray that they never pick Blur, because I just have a severe aversion to those guys, and I’d never want to see them play ATP. I think the day that they play is the time to give up. But what I was going to say to you is that we try to give them as much freedom as possible. And a lot of the time, because we’ve picked people we respect and we think they’re great, they do deliver, and they’ve been something that fits the ethos of what ATP is about.

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    And is it ever… like, you mentioned Blur… is there ever a list where there are a few bands on there where you just cringe, and you kind of… steer them away from those acts? Or do you just go with them?

    [Laughs] Well, yeah, there are some times, but then I’ll just be straight with them. I would say, “Do you think this is the right thing for ATP?” Because there is no point in trying to pick… For example, if somebody picked Beady Eye, that new band that  Liam Gallagher is fronting. If somebody picked them for ATP, the audience there wouldn’t be very receptive to them. Their music’s a pile of shit. They’re not going to pick up on it and say, “Oh this is great. It’s great having you!” It wouldn’t be worth it for a band like that to play the festival… and that’s why we are about championing great music… if there is a great band on, then the audience will be receptive to it. But if it’s a band that’s only suitable to big corporate festivals, like ones that Beady Eye or Oasis would play at, then it’s not going to work for us, for our event.

    It might sound snotty or snobby, but it’s not. It’s just the audience that comes each year are discerning music fans, and they won’t accept weak lineups. The lineup has to be great to them, otherwise they won’t buy tickets or come. And that’s the way our audience works. None of our events ever sell out in a heartbeat, and it never sells out just because it’s ATP. It sells out on the strength of who’s playing. So, we have to kind of… every time we do this, it’s a challenge where we have to make sure we have, you know, a strong lineup that attracts people. Some sell better than others, you know. On the whole, it’s been successful, and it does do well, and it’s kept going for 11 years. But, you kind of have to have the right bands to make it work.

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    So, it’s kind of like a negotiation between this wish list and what you think will work?

    Yeah, exactly.

    I’ve been to festivals like Primavera, where you notice that the lineup is just far superior to anything else. Like, I’ve been to Bonnaroo a lot, and it just doesn’t feel the same. With ATP, there’s just this lineup where every band on there is worth your time, and I can’t really explain it.

    That’s because the people at Primavera… We are very close to them. We do an ATP stage, and I also help book some of the main acts on there. But everyone that’s involved at the booking, Fra [Soler], who’s the main booking there, and Gabi [Ruiz], she runs the festival, they are real passionate music fans, and I would say that everything they book on there is a band that means something to them. There’s no, “Hey, what’s happening, and what’s not?” Not, like, “What’s hip on this Magazine?” or “MTV thinks this band is great.” None of that comes into the equation. And I think that’s the future of music. That’s the way it should be. It should be booking stuff because it’s good stuff, not because some, I don’t know, form of media dictates it’s trendy and it’s on again.

    So, we’ve kind of gone over this a bit already, but what would you say was the overall mission when you started ATP, back in ’99, and do you think it has changed at all?  Do you feel you have achieved any sort of goal that you started out with?

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    The original thing was just to try. There was no festivals at that time apart from — in England, that is — we had the Reading Festival, Glastonbury, and Phoenix. There was a festival called The Phoenix that doesn’t exist anymore, which was owned by the people who ran Reading, and Phoenix festival started out that year. There weren’t any small, boutique things, and if you really wanted to see cool bands like Low or Royal Trux, you had to go to Reading, and you had to sit through 100 shit bands to see two good ones. The goal was to try and design something to make you go, “I want to go to this.”

    So, if there were 20 bands that you wanted to see, but with like-minded people in a kind of vintage environment… I wondered if it would ever work. We’ve been fortunate that we were in the right place at the right time. I think we got to work with some of the greatest artists ever, from The Stooges to Ennio Morricone. So, we are really proud of all those types of things. I guess, maybe, we have reached our goal, but I only want to continue ATP if it’s always gonna be fresh. If it starts becoming too stale and repetitive, then I think that’s the time to probably call it a day. But when that is is anybody’s guess. But, at the moment, we are still firing on all cylinders.

    I think you’ll keep going for a while, hopefully.

    It’s hard to say. I mean, there are days where I want to jack it in and just say, “forget it.” But, I guess that’s like the nature of any job. It’s good. For example, this year [I have]the fact that we were able to work with Jeff Mangum, and we’re doing the event with Portishead, and we’ve done stuff in Japan. That’s the sort of thing that kind of inspires me to keep going. And I would kind of like to explore different countries as well. I think that’s the kind of thing that excites me the most at the moment.

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