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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So, it’s kind of like a negotiation between this wish list and what you think will work?
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?
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.
It seems pretty obvious, but I’m going to ask anyways: Where did the idea for the first ATP at Butlins, like having it at that resort, come from, and was it difficult to settle on Kutsher’s when you tried to bring that to the US? Are the cultures different enough to affect that decision?
Well, the concept of doing it at a holiday camp, because… I don’t know if you know, but ATP started out in’99, but it was originally an event called Bowlie Weekender, and it was basically curated by Belle and Sebastian. We promoted Belle and Sebastian’s shows, and they approached us to host this event in a holiday camp, because Stuart, the singer, he used to work in a holiday camp, and he basically said he wanted to do an event where he got all of his friends and these bands that he liked and put it together. I helped him develop it and put it together, and it was supposed to be like every year, and then they, after that one event, they decided to keep it as a unique thing. So, with their blessing, I said, “Look, even though you helped me develop it and put it together, I would like to continue it, but I’m going to rename it.” And I’ve obviously called it All Tomorrow’s Parties. The thing about Belle and Sebastian is that they never really focused on the fact that there was a curator. They were just saying, “Belle and Sebastian are playing,” and they kind of picked the bands. But, I saw that that was one of the most important aspects of the event. So, I focused on the fact that every time we did it, we had a new curator. That’s kind of where doing it in the holiday camp came from.
And what was that called? That festival?
It was called Bowlie Weekender. It was spelled like b-o-w-l-i-e, as in eating a bowl of soup, a bowlie. It’s named after a haircut in Scotland, a stupid name. I then was approached by Brian Schwartz, who manages Dinosaur Jr, and he came to ATP with J. Mascis and Dinosaur, and he said to me, “Look, there’s this place in upstate New York called Kutsher’s, an old Jewish family resort, and I used to go as a kid. I think you should come check it out, because you would probably be into using the space for ATP New York.” So, we went to look at it, and I think there are great differences between Butlins and Pontins, that we use in the UK, but it still had the beaten up charm, and that was one of the appealing things in it. And we did three events there, and they were really great, and I think everyone looks back on those events and has fond memories.
I have actually been to Kutsher’s, for like a decade with my family, and I have been dying to go to those ATP shows—cause it was like a childhood memory to me. Like the concerts were in the synagogue where we would go for high holidays, and just to see my favorite bands playing where I just sat, that would be incredible. But, I could just never go, and it was so sad. Do you think you will ever do those again at Kutsher’s?
Uh, the thing is that it never made economical sense for us to do it there, because the capacity against the expenses… it just didn’t work. To be honest, the ticket prices needed to be like about $500 to make it work, and then you had to buy accommodations as well. And that was just too expensive. So, we decided to develop this new series called I’ll Be Your Mirror. To one of our underground All Tomorrow’s Parties, the flip side was I’ll Be Your Mirror. So, we thought this is kind of the reverse. It’s basically ATP but without the holiday resort. And it’s the focus on the curator, and the bill, and that type of thing. We’re doing a new one in Asbury Park. And Asbury Park, the convention center at Paramount Hall, that was where I originally wanted to do ATP New York, on the East Coast. But Kutsher’s was great, you know. And I think it definitely set up what we wanted to do. Would we go back to Kutsher’s? Yeah, maybe. They need to kind of renovate it, because every year it seems to be just falling apart, worse. The people who run it have been in good nature, and Bella, the manager out there, she is fantastic, we love her. But, for ATP to continue doing an event in America, we have to move on, sadly, because it financially wasn’t making sense for us. We lost money every year.
We’ve kind of touched on this, but, from what I’ve heard, the festival is very communal, and attendees are all hanging out with the musicians. It’s just this kind of collective feel, like Bradford Cox and Jim Jarmusch playing piano in the Kutsher’s lobby. Is this something that you envisioned, or did it just kind of happen that way? Did you want it to be this communal thing, or did it kind of just morph into that by way of it being at these holiday resorts? Also, are there any good stories you can think of?
Let me think… To answer your first question, yeah, we did subconsciously want that to happen. Because, at ATP, we don’t have a VIP area, so it’s not like all these dickheads from cell phone companies and drink sponsors all saying, “Hey, come into my private area, and hang out, and be special, and be more special than the people out there, even though they paid money and you didn’t.” Like, L.A. celebrity bullshit. We kind of kiboshed all that and said, “All of the bands are equal like the fans, and everyone gets to hang out.” And you get artists, like, of really high caliber, like Nick Cave, and he is able to watch bands like Suicide and stuff and not be harassed by people in his face. People might stop and say, “Hey, Nick, it’s good to see you. Thanks for coming to play. Can I have your autograph?” That sort of thing. But no one really getting in his face, and he was able to maneuver around the site.
But, you can go bowling with Sonic Youth, or with Raekwon, or show up eating burgers with the Deal sisters. And, I think it’s great that if you’re into that type of music, and you’re able to talk with bands, not necessarily idolize, but someone that blows your mind that you love, and be in that environment where you’re made to feel equal. I think the whole thing about ATP is that it’s all about democracy, and it’s not about egos. We try to tell people, you know, that if you have an ego, why don’t you leave it at the door, because we’re not about that.
So, the stories, I’m trying to think. I’ll have to get back to you on that.
That’s alright. So, we have been over that it’s not happening at Kutsher’s this year, but we will be getting a world-class I’ll Be Your Mirror, which is going to be incredible, curated by Portishead with Jeff Mangum. Do you have any updates on anybody else who might be joining on that lineup? Or any hints at what to get excited for? New features that you will be introducing to the festival?
Well, there’s going to be other things. We are going to make use of Asbury Lanes, which is a bowling alley. It has a venue there, and it holds like 250, and that’s going to be, like, a space we are going to use every day. We are also looking into doing an art exhibition with a pretty well-known artist. I can’t say this now, but next week, we will be revealing the artist and also some more artists and DJs, all of that sort of thing that’s going on. Yeah, it’s going really well, the I’ll Be Your Mirror thing. And I think it will be like a festival. Some people might say, “Oh, it’s not like Kutsher’s.” But, it’s kind of developing on from Kutsher’s. Kutsher’s is great, but the problem is that its charm of, like, how beaten up it was, wears thin after a while, you know what I mean? But I think we just wanted to find a location that made it more viable for us, and it’s really close to, like, Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it’s easy to get to Jersey, and people could come for the day or could come for the whole weekend. It’s easy to get accommodations. I think it’s good, a lot of history in that town, and the people there are so supportive, and I think it’s kind of a getaway from other places. So, it will be an event people will be into. We’re giving it a shot.
I mean, it sold out almost immediately, didn’t it? The three-day passes?
The three-day passes sold out, but there are still single-day tickets. No, that’s the one thing that everyone says: This happened before. The three-day passes sold out, and then everybody thinks the whole thing is sold-out. I don’t understand how anyone thinks that. I mean, there are still single-day tickets, but they are going fast. But, it’s not quite sold-out.
Okay. That’s good to clarify. I think it was the confusion with the Jeff Mangum performance that got everybody kind of—confused.
Yeah, I mean, what it was was that there were the three-day passes that guaranteed you getting into the Jeff Mangum show, and that sold out, but then there were single-day tickets if you wanted to see Portishead still available.
Note since this interview took place, another set of three-day Passes which include an additional show from Jeff Mangum have gone on sale.
I guess the final question would be, you have this record label, you’ve got festivals in Japan, Australia, UK, US… What do you hope to do next? Do you have any ideas for upcoming curators or where you would like to take ATP in the future?
Well, we have some stuff in Japan, and we did an amazing event there, and we would like to kind of expand on that. Other countries? I mean, I have always wanted to do something in, like, Paris. We love Paris. That would be good. Maybe more stuff in Australia or even maybe the West Coast of America. There’s only so many places to go. One person I think we would love to ask to curate is someone like Wes Anderson. We are huge fans of his movies, and all the music in his films are fantastic. So, I think that is someone that I think would make for a great curator. Whether he’s available or interested is anyone’s guess. But, I’d think he would be cool.
Any ideas for expanding the idea of ATP?
Yeah, we have always talked about maybe trying to get an ATP venue, not necessarily to host a whole festival but to do shows and stuff, because too many venues are run by corporate fools and their sponsorship deals and stuff like that. And I think it would be good to sort of, like, do something that bears the ethos of ATP, which is about the music, and treating fans with respect. I think that would be good. Maybe have a café attached to it to get some good healthy food in them and to see some cool music. I think that’s something to work towards. It’s getting harder and harder in the music business now, because everybody is losing money from selling records, so they’re now trying to play live to boost their income. And the market is kind of flooded, so I think maybe that will affect us in the long term. But I think there is always room for music venues. I think that would be good. I would like to do that, but it’s just finding the time to do it, because we are so busy with what we have going on.
Feature photo courtesy of Shorefire.com.