An Oral History of All Tomorrow's Parties

In honor of next weekend's fete upstate, some wistful reminiscences and trash talk

Starting September 11, the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival hits Kutshers Country Club in Monticello, New York. More than 35 of indie music's heaviest hitters, alt-comics, and card-shark cult heroes—along with at least one Flaming Lip in a plastic bubble—will be descending on the Borscht Belt resort, a vintage vacation spot (roughly a 90-minute drive from NYC) that is more Dirty Dancing than Dirty Projectors. Evolving from the decade-old U.K. event, ATP is a festival like no other: a three-day boutique event limited to 3,000 tickets, an egalitarian getaway with no VIP areas or corporate sponsors, and an intimate summer-camp weekend where music geeks commingle before cozily crashing on one of the adjoining hotel's many beds.

This year's ATP—its second in New York—features an entire day of bands hand-picked by headliners Flaming Lips, a comedy stage curated by David Cross, the reunion of the mighty Jesus Lizard, Boredoms playing with nine drum kits, and Sufjan Stevens's first American show in two years. Creating this massive DIY undertaking isn't simple, but luckily, there's formidable scene-cred surrounding ATP organizers Barry Hogan and Deborah Kee Higgins, a show-booking power couple who originally bonded over their shared love of Slint.

Barry Hogan (ATP organizer): I started the company that became ATP. The goal was only to promote bands that I bought records of. And everybody was like, "You're crazy."

The Flaming Lips, only somewhat reachable via e-mail
J. Michelle Martin-Coyne
The Flaming Lips, only somewhat reachable via e-mail

Steve Albini (frontman, Shellac): The thing that instantly seemed different about All Tomorrow's Parties was the degree of respect that the patrons and the bands were treated with: privacy and a bathroom, a normal, regular bed to sleep in, indoor venues with proper PAs, electric power that worked and you couldn't get rained on and electrocuted. It just seemed like an incredible leap forward.

Brian Schwartz (manager, Dinosaur Jr.): I went with Dinosaur Jr. to a few ATPs in England. The venue in Camber Sands was very similar to where I grew up, to the hotels in the Catskills. If you were in London, the idea was that you went to "holiday camps" to get out of the city and have an affordable vacation with your family. They seemed pretty rundown and economically depressed, very similar to the way the Catskills is now. So I started talking to Barry and Deborah and said, "I think you guys gotta come see where I grew up."

Deborah Kee Higgins (ATP organizer): I fell in love with [Kutshers] immediately.

Hogan: I think half of Florida moves up there. Deborah described it as Cocoon meets The Shining.

Schwartz: When you grow up there, all you have is these hotels. I'd be a 17-year-old kid and would go to these hotels for "singles' weekends" and drink and pick up girls. I'd shoot my BB gun at the Hasidic bungalows. Drive our cars super-fast through the gates and get chased by security . . .

Hogan: That area suffered with rock music in the '60s and '90s—with that famous festival. The minute the words "rock 'n' roll" were put into print anywhere, the local community were like, "Oh, Jesus!" They thought it was just gonna be Limp Bizkit fans coming up and smashing the place up.

Mark Kutsher (owner, Kutshers Country Club): You have to say to yourself, "What type of crowd am I gonna get? Is everything gonna be in one piece when all is said and done?" It crossed our mind—we're not disconnected from the world.

Hogan: I had to explain to them that our crowd is the people who will look at the back of the CD, and wonder who produced it.

Kutsher: We took them at their word, and it was exactly what they said. The crowd was a really nice crowd. I got thank-you notes from local gas stations and local restaurants. It really created an extra benefit within the community. People noticed it and felt it.

Hogan: They were so enthralled by it—they were like, "You gotta come back!"

Friday, the first night of the festival, features 'Don't Look Back,' an ATP staple wherein bands play a classic album in its entirety. This year's iteration includes the Feelies, the Drones, the Dirty Three, and New York's own Suicide playing their self-titled 1977 electro-bummer landmark.

Hogan: The whole thing with "Don't Look Back" is these artists always complain that it's too much work for them or doesn't fit into the album cycle. They're all fucking lazy—they should get off their ass and do it. Public Enemy were really resistant to it. I know Chuck D was saying, "This is a promoter's dream." And in the end, they got so into the idea that they went and toured it around the world. . . . It started a trend where millions of acts are going out and doing it. Like, really tragic bands like the Mission and Ned's Atomic Dustbin doing albums. I mean, come on. Can you imagine Wayne Hussey at age 50? Reckon he still wears the makeup?

Higgins: It's celebrating the album as a form when the album is gonna be lost.

Hogan: I think Suicide were kind of resistant to the idea at first. I think they felt no one would really take that much of an interest. But then they saw the other artists that have been doing it.

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