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News about UCLA Music Events
LA Times, 2002-03-13
- Marc Weingarten



A Festival That Pops With Edge

Pop Music* UCLA's ambitious All Tomorrow's Parties fest, curated by avant-rockers Sonic Youth, embraces the underground.


March 13 2002

The music business begins its annual exodus to Austin, Texas, for the South by Southwest music conference and festival today, and this year members of the slumping industry will descend on the Texas capital in the hopes of finding some signs of creative rejuvenation.

But if they're seeking the leading edge in music, they should head to Westwood instead.

Starting Thursday, UCLA will kick off All Tomorrow's Parties, a four-day festival of venturesome music that whipsaws from slightly left of center to truly subterranean. In its depth and stylistic sweep, All Tomorrow's Parties (the name is the title of a Velvet Underground song) is arguably the most ambitious music festival in recent Los Angeles history.

Curated by New York avant-rock pioneers Sonic Youth, All Tomorrow's Parties features a handful of familiar names (Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus, Wilco), a clutch of bands expanding the purview of experimental rock (Bardo Pond, US Maple, Unwound) and some veteran mavericks (Lydia Lunch, Royal Trux's Neil Michael Hagerty, jazz pianist Cecil Taylor).

There will also be reunions of the great late-'70s New York quartet Television and Memphis pop band Big Star (with cult hero Alex Chilton) and such events as a tribute to the Stooges featuring Mike Watt, J. Mascis and original Stooges, Ron and Scott Asheton. All told, 50 acts will perform for about 12,500 ticket-holders, primarily in 1,800-seat Royce Hall and 2,300-capacity Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

The festival was originally scheduled for last October but was postponed after the events of Sept. 11. That resulted in about $40,000 in lost revenue, according to Barry Hogan, who founded ATP two years ago in his native England. "We had paid for advertising and had put deposits on bands that we couldn't get back," he says. "But it will all pay for itself in the end."

Hogan and UCLA have spent roughly $250,000 on the performers and an additional $150,000 on marketing, promotion, security and the stage gear.

"UCLA is used to dealing with jazz artists and dance events, so we had to bring in PA systems and lights," says Hogan, who temporarily moved to Los Angeles from his London home to help organize the event. "Because you can buy a wristband for both venues, we also had to hire security to secure all the exits. That didn't come cheap."

According to Hogan, the expenses will be covered by the time Sonic Youth closes the show Sunday evening. That concert has been sold out for weeks, and Friday and Saturday are on the verge of selling out as well.

That's heartening for everyone involved, given the challenging roster that Sonic Youth pulled together for the event.

"We were asked to make a wish list, and we had pages and pages of bands," says Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore. "We showed it to [UCLA], then figured out how to crystallize it into [four] days."

Underground music fans may feast on Sonic Youth's lineup, but they have David Sefton, who became director of UCLA Performing Arts in the winter of 2000, to thank for bringing ATP to Los Angeles.

When he was director of contemporary culture at London's Royal Festival Hall, Sefton came up with the idea of inviting artists to create festivals built around the music in their own record collections: One "curator" could pick all of his or her favorite songs and the artists to perform them.

The Meltdown Festival, which began in 1994 and has featured Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave and David Bowie among its curators, became a huge critical and commercial success in London and inspired the first All Tomorrow's Parties, held in East Sussex in 2000.

ATP organizer Hogan appropriated Meltdown's artist-as-booking-agent strategy, offering such rearguard performers as Scottish band Mogwai and Chicago ensemble Tortoise as guest programmers. This week's ATP is the first to be mounted in the U.S.

"Bringing in All Tomorrow's Parties opens up a totally different world to UCLA, one that it has never engaged in before," says Sefton, 39. "The university has never attempted anything on this scale, with multiple venues running at the same time." Sefton's mandate as the head of UCLA's performing arts office has been to bring a sense of adventure and unpredictability to the program.

A former rock critic and assistant director of the Unity Theatre in Liverpool and London's Millfield Theatre, Sefton has striven to create memorable events at UCLA such as last year's tribute concert to folklorist Harry Smith and January's pairing of singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter with writer Anne Lamott.

"This is a dream job in a dream location," Sefton says. "There's an incredible openness in town to this stuff, a real lack of cynicism. I get a level of excitement from people that's genuinely rewarding to me as a programmer."

He's not alone in that thinking. Concert promoter Paul Tollett, whose Goldenvoice firm stages the annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio (the third annual edition will be held next month), calls Los Angeles the country's best market for this kind of event.

"People are way more open to music here, and it just works great," Tollett says. "We have the most creative multi-act festivals in the country here."

At UCLA, there are other plans afoot. It was Sefton who hired Elvis Costello as UCLA Performing Arts' artist in residence last year, though regular patrons are wondering when, if ever, the rock luminary will begin making his presence felt.

Thus far, Sefton concedes, Costello has not been involved in any decisions regarding programming, though that should change come this summer with an as-yet-unannounced project.

"I kept the brief very loose with [Costello]," Sefton says. "He's had an album to record, but there are several major plans in the offing. It may have gone quiet, but it hasn't gone away."

In the meantime, there are 50 acts to enjoy this weekend. "I showed the lineup to all my friends, and they were like, 'You've gotta take me, man,'" says Ron Asheton, the former Stooges guitarist who will travel from his home in Ann Arbor, Mich., to perform on Friday at ATP. "Even my ex-girlfriend called and said, 'I'm going with you.' I said, 'Oh no you're not!'"

All Tomorrow's Parties, Thursday through Sunday at UCLA, Westwood. Three-day ticket (Friday, Saturday and Sunday), $100; Friday-Saturday ticket, $80. Thursday only, $25; Friday or Saturday only, $50; Sunday only, $35. Check www.UCLALive.com for updates. (310) 825-2101


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