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"I do feel a bit like Blur trying to crack America," laughs London-born All Tomorrow's Parties founder Barry Hogan, sitting upstairs at Basketball City at Pier 36. Below, long expanses of surfaced flooring will soon be flipped into the latest incarnation of the portable indie-rock festival. Court-side, his wife and partner, Deborah Kee Higgins, consults with the owners of a boat that will park alongside the dock outside for use as the festival's cinema room. The second stage will soon be built under the FDR.
It wasn't quite supposed to happen like this. Relocated from Asbury Park after sluggish ticket sales and logistical bummers, ATP's fifth major New York area festival arrived in Manhattan merely a year early. Having planned to bring their non-sleep-away I'll Be Your Mirror series to the City in 2013, their perpetually thin financial margin of error caught up with the decade-old ATP this summer. A reorganization of the business—technically, a liquidation—followed.
"We never quite hit the numbers," the good-natured Hogan admits of their three years at the beloved Kutsher's Hotel and Country Club, deep in the Borscht Belt, and one amid the seaside pleasures of Asbury Park. "We thought, why not just move it this year?" Outside, it's a beautiful September day. The East River shimmers under a two-bridge-plus Statue of Liberty view. It seems likely that the concept of seeing lots of great bands in early autumn Manhattan is simply a different kind of lovely than a few days spent debauching on the Jersey Shore.
After all, co-curator Greg Dulli and the reunited Afghan Whigs will be there. Ditto for some three dozen other acts, including Lightning Bolt, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the reunited Magic Band, Thee Oh Sees, and (at Dulli's request) Frank Ocean. If the word "curated" is long beyond hackneyed, it certainly wasn't when All Tomorrow's Parties veritably started the trend with their 2000 debut at Pontin's Holiday Camp in Camber Sands, 80 miles south of London.
Since then, on the sharply branded power of good taste, Hogan has built a doggedly indie institution, including regular shows in London, plus ATP Recordings. The label's most recent signees—Brooklyn's Tall Firs—also write and edit the festival's occasional on-site newspaper, the Sunday Supplement, its darkly comic items a perfect complement to the duo's none-more-bleak folk. "They know how to let go for a weekend without wrecking anybody else's buzz," Tall Firs guitarist Dave Mies muses of their readership. Although Hogan hasn't made the schedules yet, Mies guesses they'll be in their traditional hangover slot.
More than anything, All Tomorrow's Parties is a place as equally welcoming to post-hardcore reunions—like Hot Snakes' ATP-initiated victory lap—as buzz-wavers like Ocean and one-off May-December collaborations between Tyondai Braxton and Philip Glass. "It's just a really surreal community that ATP fosters," Braxton says. "At one in England, I met both Crispin Glover and Kim Deal from the Breeders."
"I think if it happened too much, it could be bad," observes Hot Snakes' Rick Froberg. "It's too much like Club Med for indie rock. There's too many festivals, too many packages of 10,000 bands, but this one is really cool." The I'll Be Your Mirror name is apt, reflecting a festival landscape far removed from when Hogan helped Belle and Sebastian program their Bowlie Weekender in 1999.
Hogan is still very much part of the music community he grew from. He and Higgins are cat-sitting for a touring musician while, in turn, Tall Firs' guitarist Aaron Mullan's parents cat-sit for Hogan and Higgins in London. When they return, there will be more festivals to tend to, including two sold-out Nightmare Before Christmas weekends at the original home base in Butlins and a Drones-curated I'll Be Your Mirror in Melbourne. It is a scale that is hardly small, but certainly not big, and still entirely their own.
I'll Be Your Mirror U.S.A., with the Afghan Whigs, Frank Ocean, the Roots, and Philip Glass, takes place at Pier 36 September 21 through 23.