To get to Pier 36 from Brooklyn, one must cross the Williamsburg Bridge and make a left. It has been used to store bananas, in the ’80s served as a dock for a prison barge that inmates referred to as “The Love Boat,” was home to the NYPD’s drug-busting TNT squad, and–in the ’90s–played host to art auctions. This weekend, the venerable All Tomorrow’s Parties festival takes over, hosting in Manhattan for the first time. Expect three days of peace, love, and several dozen bands on two stages ranging from Frank Ocean to a first-time collaboration between Philip Glass and Tyondai Braxton.
The NYC installment comes at a perilous time for the festival, which moved from Asbury Park due to low ticket sales, and recently reorganized their London-based business. But, sales aside, founder Barry Hogan and wife and partner Deborah Kee Higgins are ready to carry on — British installments for December are sold out, for one thing. We spoke with Hogan.
Did you have seminal festival experiences growing up? Did you go to Reading or Glastonbury?
The very first year I went to Reading was in 1988. Fields of the Ephalim played. Iggy Pop played, but he was doing all that “Cold Metal” stuff. Not the best of Mr. Pop, shall we say. We were 16, and me and my friends really liked The Wonderstuff, which was before they came over here [to the U.S.] and became a terrible pop band. We waited all day at the front of the stage to see them. One of the bands that was before or after them were the Godfathers. They’re pretty intense. Their fans used to get really drunk and drink bottles of cider and urinate in them, put the lid on, and throw them at the stage. And sadly I got hit in the back of the head with one of them, and knocked out. Just as the Wonderstuff were coming on, I was getting dragged out. There was blood all over. I got, like, six stitches. My mum had always been like, “if you go to one of those festivals, there’s gonna be trouble.” I didn’t let on that I went. I was wearing hats all week to lie low so she couldn’t see my stitches.
Did experiences like that have a hand in ATP becoming a sort of anti-festival?
What influenced me really is that I was, and still am, a fan of the Beastie Boys, and they always used to play Glastonbury. They did that on the Check Your Head tour, and I went to that. I camped. I don’t like camping. Camping’s not for me. I’m a city mouse. And the toilets, like this metal frame and a hole and there’s no seat and it’s dark and it goes down into a pit. I was like, “this is terrible and camping is terrible.” It was raining. The Beastie Boys and all the other bands looked really small because the crowds were big and the sound was shit. I kept thinking there must be another way. Like, wouldn’t it be great if there was good sound, you saw 20 bands, and it was a like-minded community? Then I saw the Tibetan Freedom Concert, and started approaching agents, but festivals weren’t really a big then, and a lot of them were like “eh.”
That’s changed quite a bit.
When ATP started, there really weren’t any alternative festivals. There was the Phoenix, which was sort of an alternative Glastonbury, but nobody really went to it. There were smaller things. It used to be the section in the independent newspaper would have two or three columns to list them, now it’s like a 20-page booklet. Everybody’s going for the same bands. We have suffered a bit on the back of it. We went from Pontins to Butlins, where Pontons was 3000 and Butlins was 6000. We’ve found that it was a bit of a struggle. We’ve gone back to the old camp, and it seems to be a winning formula. They’re all selling out. People are really into it. It’s very intimate.
Why did you end up moving from Asbury Park to New York?
There were various reasons. When we initially announced it, it was doing really well, but it lost momentum. Sales just weren’t really getting there. There were various logistical issues with the Convention Hall. Certain acts we were working with that just couldn’t get it to sound right. We were planning to come to New York in 2013, but the way the sales were going and the logistical issues we were encountering, we thought “why not just move it this year?” This is the place we’re intending to stay. I know we’ve moved around a lot. We moved from Kutsher’s simply because there aren’t enough beds there to make it cost effective. Once the beds sell out there, it’s like a slow burn to the end, and it never really gets there. The people up there were lovely, and if they ever renovate it, we’d be back in a heartbeat.
And now you’re considering getting sponsorship for the first time?
In order to do stuff like Kutsher’s or Asbury Park you really need to have some heavy-hitting band that hasn’t played in a long time and people are like, “fuuuuuuuuuuck, I have to go see that.” So, we’ve actually gotten to the point where–to maybe get some of the ticket price down–we’re thinking about it. We never consciously ruled it out, but then it got to the point where every other festival was like “This or That presents…” and the name of the festival was changed to the brand of the thing. It wasn’t something I felt suited what we were doing. I think if it’s used in the right way, it can be fine. I mean, a lot of the bands who play on our festivals, their music is in adverts. They’re like, “you can’t get sponsorship!” “But you’ve done Calvin Klein ads!”
Who was on [curator] Greg Dulli’s wish list that you didn’t end up getting?
He wanted to get Prince. He said we should ask Prince to play for $1,000 and no more, and he was telling me about this time that Lorne Michaels was trying to get the Beatles and he went on and asked them to play for $1,000 or something, and said we should apply this to getting Prince to play. I did make an offer to Prince for $1,000, but I never heard back. You never know! There’s a week yet! Greg wanted Cheap Trick. He wanted Dave Chapelle. But Dave Chapelle’s a hard man to track down.