ATP New York 2009

The Flaming Lips curate the latest iteration of the import fest.

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STAR POWER The venerable Flaming Lips assemble a dream lineup

STAR POWER The venerable Flaming Lips assemble a dream lineup Photograph: J. Michelle Martin-Coyne

More than 45 years after the Fab Four landed in the United States, Beatlemania is sweeping the nation again on the shoulders of a fresh batch of reissues and a mop-topped edition of Rock Band. But beyond the Billboard purview, a more contemporary-minded bunch is giving thanks for another British Invasion: that of All Tomorrow’s Parties. Founded in 1999 by Barry Hogan as an alternative to large fests like Glastonbury, ATP has ballooned into a worldwide phenomenon. Since 2002, ATP has overseen events in Los Angeles and participated in Chicago’s Pitchfork Festival; ATP New York took wing last year at Monticello’s Kutsher’s Country Club, 90 miles northwest of NYC. There, as has become customary for these events, a beloved record-store-geek band—My Bloody Valentine—curated a day’s program. This year, the final day’s lineup was determined by the headliners, the Flaming Lips.

Reached by phone on tour, the Lips’ lead singer, Wayne Coyne, couldn’t be more effusive. “The very first time we went to the Roskilde Festival outside of Copenhagen, it was 1986 and we were like, 'Fuck, I wish this stuff happened in America!’ ” he says. “I look at the [ATP] schedule and I’m just like, Wow. It’s just like one of the greatest musical events there could be. I hate to say it, because we’re involved, but if we weren’t, I’d want to fucking be there.” Buzz Osborne—who fronts Melvins, a group that plays the second day this year and helped curate an ATP in 2008—puts a different spin on it: “I think it’s about the best festival, because they don’t try to do 30,000 tickets the way Lollapalooza would. If you want to hire a band that’s going to help you sell 30,000 tickets, it’s going to be shit.”

So who, exactly, isn’t shit? Friday sees a night of singular bands playing seminal albums in full (an ATP tradition ironically termed “Don’t Look Back”), including the Feelies and Suicide. Also playing that first night at the throwback—and by most accounts dilapidated—borscht belt resort are the Jesus Lizard, Iron and Wine and Panda Bear. The second day confirms the event as a who’s who of the indie galaxy with sets from Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens and many more. Sunday belongs to the Lips. Coyne tells us, “Frankly, I’m not sure if [ATP is] always happy with the curators’ choices.” (Coyne & Co. have chosen acts like Boredoms, Caribou and Super Furry Animals; see “Kisses all around,” below.) “We could have picked a lot of weird shit. Luckily, we just picked bands that we really liked.”

As if the Oklahoma band’s psychedelic freak-out live spectacle of explosions, confetti and Coyne’s “space bubble” weren’t enough (comparing it to a Kiss extravaganza, he calls it “the Flaming Lips Show”), a new album is on the way. Full of dark, gnarled trips, Embryonic is an experience Coyne likens more to rock than pop: “It didn’t dictate such a structure that would be what we call a pop song, where there’s a verse and there’s a chorus. It won’t be a shock to people, but it will be a little bit of a strange experience.” He continues: “We would fucking jam around and find these cool grooves, riffs and freaky distorted things. [Longtime producer Dave Fridmann] would put a reverb on it, and it didn’t really sound like us in the recent past couple of records, but there were elements that sounded like us, say, in 1988 or 1989.” Relatively new fans of the Lips need not fret, though. “I’ve never really been a fan of bands playing too much of their new material,” Coyne says. “We’re playing a couple of new songs, and then a version of our greatest hits.” Sounds great, indeed.

Kisses all around

Wayne Coyne had some nice things to say about the bands the Flaming Lips picked. (Example: “If you can’t hear a band like Deerhoof and be excited, you’re fucking crazy.”) Writing to TONY, the groups return the favor.

No Age’s guitarist Randy Randall recalls: “The first time I heard the Lips I was in high school and my friend Niaz put on Clouds Taste Metallic. That record was a huge influence on me.”

Boris’s singer-drummer, Atsuo, who recently saw the Lips, waxes excited: “They were awesome. That huge balloon was amazing. I would love to have one.”

Says Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Tobacco: “Zaireeka changed the way I thought about music. I was ripe for the picking, and that album picked me really hard.”

Menomena’s Danny Seim writes: “A friend gave me The Soft Bulletin and I hated it for the first two listens. But if I fucking despise a record at first but am still somehow compelled to keep listening, it will eventually become one of my favorite records of all time.”

And Deerhoof’s John Dieterich chimes in: “The Flaming Lips’ show has grown so much, and I remember just looking around and seeing tears of joy all around me. It’s hard not to get swept up in that feeling.”

ATP New York 2009 takes place at Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, NY, Fri 11--Sun 13; see atpfestival.com for details. Embryonic is out Oct 13.

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