Photo Gallery: All Tomorrow’s Parties 2011 in Asbury Park

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Held for the past three years in a remote, ramshackle Catskills summer resort called Kutsher’s, America’s own version of the British All Tomorrow’s Parties festival was a somewhat different affair in 2011. Although the musical line-up was just as incredible as ever — Portishead curated and headlined two of the three nights, and Jeff Mangum also performed twice (read more about that here) — the event found a new home in Asbury Park, the New Jersey beach town that’s most famous for launching Bruce Springsteen’s career.

We can’t say we didn’t miss the intimacy and seclusion of Kutsher’s, but the new location proved to be a fantastic alternative nonetheless. Along with three days of excellent and challenging music that catered to the crate-digger set, we bowled, strolled the boardwalk, sampled the offerings of a remarkable (and fully playable) pinball museum, walked on the beach, played mini golf, and warmed ourselves in front of a bonfire. Most importantly, we reconnected with a deep-seated love of music that’s constantly tested by the Internet’s exhausting and trivializing hype cycle. A gallery of highlights from the festival — including Portishead, Public Enemy, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Cults, Deerhoof, Swans, Shepard Fairey, and many more — is after the jump.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Cults opened the festival at retro bowling alley/music venue Asbury Lanes. We’ve always been on the fence about their girl group-derived sound, but by playing up their singles’ icy undertones and avoiding cutesiness, they won us over.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

As we mentioned in our post about Jeff Mangum’s show, it was hard to appreciate Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy after such a long-awaited, emotional performance. Still, something about the big stage set-up, the warm lighting, Will Oldham’s dramatic delivery, and, of course, the Americana-tinged sounds reminded us of The Last Waltz.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Shepard Fairey was ubiquitous at ATP. He designed all of this year’s promotional materials, had an exhibition up on the boardwalk, put up a number of pieces on buildings surrounding the festival, and even did a DJ set to close out the weekend. On Friday afternoon, we caught him putting the finishing touches on a piece that pays homage to such icons as Joey Ramone and Ian MacKaye.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

In a rare appearance, reunited ’90s math rockers Chavez brought their complex compositions to the Asbury Park Convention Center. They seemed to be having a great time onstage — they even played the first Chavez song ever as an encore — and the crowd was definitely feeling it, too.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

The Asbury Park boardwalk is a strange and fascinating place. Although there’s a beautiful theater and convention center at one end, and the boardwalk itself is lined with apparently thriving shops and restaurants, the area also has its share of ruins from more prosperous times, along with newer construction projects that have been abandoned.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

We were only slightly familiar with Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog before ATP, but their Saturday-afternoon set was one of our favorites. Ribot, who has played guitar with everyone from Elvis Costello to Tom Waits to the Black Keys, showed off his virtuosity in a wildly diverse collection of songs that ranged in style from jazz to rock to blues to experimental noise.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Noise-rock supergroup Foot Village consists entirely of four drummers who perform facing each other. Their combined percussive power — and shrieking vocals — create an intense, tribal experience that feels like an invocation.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

The act billed as Silver-Qluster was a special, one-off collaboration between two pioneers of electronic music: Simeon of Silver Apples and Krautrock hero Hans-Joachim Roedelius (Cluster, Harmonia). It was a real treat to see these veterans together, and they seemed to be having a fantastic time, too — Simeon even threw in a few Little Richard vocal samples toward the end of the set, and his eyes lit up mischievously as it played.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

They may be piggybacking on the ’80s in a big way, but at least The Horrors have chosen to bring back the best parts of a hugely uneven decade for music.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

If you’re into triumphant returns by underrated acts of the past, ATP is basically heaven. Politically minded, dub-influenced post-punk band The Pop Group broke up in 1981 and reunited nearly 30 years later for a reunion tour. They seemed thrilled to be back — and weren’t even a bit rusty — in a rare performance Saturday evening.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Michael Gira’s legendary No Wave/proto-industrial act Swans played in a seated theater, but Gira soon challenged all of us Americans to get off our fat asses and swarm the front of the stage. When hundreds of fans obliged him, panicked security guards went a little nuts. But that hardly put a damper on two solid hours of delicious aural assault.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Aside from Mangum, the big draw of the weekend was a pair of headlining performances by festival curators Portishead, who were making their first East Coast appearance since 1998. The band did an incredible job translating its meticulous studio creations for a live audience — Beth Gibbons’ expressive voice, in particular, was in top form. On Saturday night, she crowdsurfed, and on Sunday, both Chuck D and Simeon joined them onstage.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

A Shepard Fairey piece at the far end of the boardwalk.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

We started off our Sunday with Deerhoof, who overcame some technical difficulties to deliver a manic, gleeful performance that did a better job waking us up than any shot of espresso might have.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Pioneering drone doom ensemble Earth aren’t as into dark pageantry as their acolytes — Boris, Sunn0))) — but their lengthy, barbiturate-paced compositions managed to lull us into a trance-like state nonetheless.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

It was nice to see El-P back with his early-’90s crew, Company Flow, but the performance was marred by low energy levels and muddy sound.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Many devotees describe ATP as a sort of music-geek summer camp. This year, we had the nightly bonfire to prove it.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

We admit it: Ever since Flavor Flav became a VH1 reality spectacle, we haven’t had much interest in the continued adventures of Public Enemy. So, we weren’t expecting much from Sunday-night performance — but we left wondering why we ever doubted them. Chuck D and his crew were at the top of their game, expertly winding up the crowd and delivering rhymes with perfect timing. Even Flav proved he’s still the best hype man in the business. Oh, also? The music blogosphere did a collective spit-take when Public Enemy decided to pull a fan onstage — and that fan turned out to be Twitter shit-starter Christopher Weingarten, who also happens to be the author of the 33 1/3 volume on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

Photo credit: Sean Ruch

Last but hardly least, we enjoyed a lengthy performance by Montreal Thee Silver Mt. Zion. Their sprawling, politically charged orchestral pieces felt especially powerful in the midst of the Occupy Wall Street movement; frontman Efrim Menuck dedicated a song to the 99 Percent and allowed the audience to engage him in a discussion of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose upside down photo was placed at the front of stage.