2012 has been yet another momentous year for The National. Despite not having released an album since 2010’s sublime High Violet, interest in the Ohio-formed, Brooklyn based five-piece’s grandiose, searingly emotive sound rages as feverishly as ever.
Through the year, the band continue to make their presence felt in the political realm. As outspoken supporters of Obama’s campaign, they’ve played many free shows in support of his campaign and even appeared as the opening act for a rally in Des Moines, Iowa. That their timeless track Fake Empire was subsequently used in a Mitt Romney campaign video, therefore, provided one of the most crushingly, almost surreally ironic moments of the entire process. The opportunity to openly denounce Romney and this stunningly inappropriate error gave the band a perfect platform: “The song they used – Fake Empire – was written in response to the mess that was made the last time Republicans were in the White House. Mitt Romney wants to take us right back to those same failed ideas that caused the mess in the first place”, came the bold statement on the band’s website, americanmary.com. It continued: “if you missed the video, it shows people holding Romney signs saying ‘I believe in America.’ We believe in America too – and not just some portion of it.”
Meanwhile, songs from the band’s forthcoming sixth album, scheduled for release next year, were causing considerable waves. Both Rylan and I Need My Girl, that first aired at the back end of 2011 are breathtaking glimpses into the band’s future, imbued with a striking sense of honesty and simplicity. As the year approached its end, the bands continued work on their record was interrupted by the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy. With the hurricane’s brutal path passing so close to the band member’s homes, elements of the apocalyptic visions which were a thematic feature of High Violet became tangibly real.
As 2012 comes to a close, The National are heading this way for the auspicious honour of curating their own All Tomorrow’s Parties: Nightmare Before Christmas weekender at Pontins, Camber Sands. They’ve got a hell of an act to follow. Memories of last year’s equivalent event, curated by the monumental trio of Les Savy Fav, Battles and Caribou are so good they actually hurt to recollect. Flying Lotus, Hot Snakes, Factory Floor, Pharoah Sanders; the list of artists on offer was mind-blowing. And that’s not to mention last weekend’s takeover of the very same holiday park by Steve Albini’s legendary bastards, Shellac. Let’s hope they’ve had enough time to scrub the layers of bad attitude off the walls.
But there are no concerns whatsoever that The National are more a more than capable trustees of ATP’s good name. And when Crack shared a word with bassist Scott Devendorf , it was clear they’re approaching this task with the utmost care and respect.
Speaking to Crack, Scott reflected fondly on his previous experiences of ATP. “Explosions in the Sky were kind enough to invite us to play ATP in 2008, at Butlins, Minehead”, he recalled. “I remember being impressed with the relatively small size and accessibility of the festival, in proportion to the large number of bands I’d wanted to see, and was able to, just by walking around.”
He was also pleased to recount some of his own memorable ATP tales. “We enjoyed some outdoor beverages with some old friends, attempted to play tamborine with Broken Social Scene, and the next morning on our way out of Butlins our van nearly collided with some friends who appeared to have been awake for days, coated in body paint with a freshly shaved-bald head, on their way back from the beach – lovely!”
The roster of acts presented by The National is full of familiar, and brilliant sparks. With a bit less travelling to do than most, Wild Beasts play their masterful third album, 2011’s Smother, in its glorious entirety. Fellow Brooklynites The Antlers, drone-driven Japanese noiseniks Boris, the brilliant Kurt Vile and the Violators and Seattle chamber ensemble Kronos Quartet offer just a glimpse into what is a startlingly varied array.
But Scott is quick to encourage attendees to drag themselves away from some of the more established acts in the mix. “We are in love with our whole list, of course, he says. “I’m personally attempting to see it all, and apparently it’s possible. But here’s a few to check out if you haven’t heard them before: Yellowbirds, Suuns, Ethan Lipton’s No Place to Go, Perfume Genius, The Philistines Jr, This Is The Kit, Buke and Gase, Youth Lagoon and Hayden.” If previous ATPs are anything to go by, you’re likely go home with a head full of new favourite bands, as well as a bagful of previously unheralded of records
And of course, one of the most consistently gripping aspects of ATP is the way the headlining band’s tastes permeates the entire site and atmosphere. From the programmes, to the TV in your chalet, to a range of off-the-beaten-track events and experiences. “There are a bunch of great films being shown in the cinema” enthuses Scott, “and some really good books to check out, along with all the music.
And in the case of The National, immersing ourselves in their world in the build up to two glorious hours in their presence on Sunday night – as well as popping up around the festival for various surprise appearance across the weekend – sounds far too good to resist.
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The National’s Nightmare Before Christmas takes place at Camber Sands, December 7th-9th
Words: Geraint Davies