Well, I’ll Be: ATP Power Couple Speaks!

In a photo we “aggregated” from our good friends — and colleagues, did we mention that we’re colleagues — at  the Asbury Park Press, ALL TOMORROW’S PARTIES/ I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR founders Deborah Kee Higgins and Barry Hogan survey all that they’ve summoned into being on the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury boards.

The wagons have rolled on out of town, leaving just a few stray posters and marquee letters; a last handful of postcards blown like tumblin’ tumbleweeds against the shuttered concession stands of an October weekday boardwalk scene.

Well, that plus the incredible stencil-and-spraypaint creations of guerrilla graphics superstar Shepard Fairey; alternate-universe album art images that still adorn such salty and long-abandoned structures as the Sunset Pavilion north of Convention Hall, and the east wall of what used to be FastLane nightclub on Fourth Avenue. Those punk-icon portraits and exhortations to OBEY will be hanging around for some time — subject to the whims of Mother Nor’Easter, natch.

Oh, and then there’s the major national media coverage in such outlets as Rolling Stone, Spin and the New York Times — to say nothing of the gavel-to-gavel photojournalistic coverage provided by our Facebook pal and Shore-life chronicler Mike Black (a slideshow sampling from Mike’s busy week appears right here).

Nearly 48 hours after the conclusion of the historic All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in Asbury Park — a three-day thrillathon of alternative music, superstar art, classic film and razor-ribbon writing that’s kind of like getting the Olympics, or at least the Breeders’ Cup — the temporary offices inside the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel are packing up and closing down. Subtitled I’ll Be Your Mirror, the Stateside adjunct of the Euro-born “Festival for Grown Ups” brought a lot of exciting things to town for those of the 25-to-50, maturing hipster demographic — a fanbase that, as our own Juicy Jenn Hampton put it, “still wants to see something they’ve never seen before, and who don’t want to have be outside.”

The excitement took the form of breathlessly anticipated top-ticket concerts by Jeff Mangum (performing the golden hits of Neutral Milk Hotel for the first time in eons), Portishead (making their first East Coast appearances since 1998) and Public Enemy (reuniting and recreating the classic Fear of a Black Planet LP) — not to mention sets by Swans, The Pop Group, Steve Albini‘s Shellac and many others, going on inside Convention Hall and the adjacent Paramount proscenium.

But wait, there’s more — guest DJ sets by Awesome Tapes from Africa and Peanut Butter Wolf at  Asbury Lanes; Edan the Dee Jay and a Lapham’s Quarterly Literary Stage at the Berkeley; an appearance by director Robert Downey, Sr (introducing Putney Swope at a Criterion Cinemas screening space) — and the September 29 opening of REVOLUTIONS on the boardwalk; an acclaimed and musically minded installation by Fairey, who seemed without question the biggest rockstar in attendance in the days leading up to the big show.

If the very visible Mr. Fairey represented the heart and soul of the festival to the passerby public, the brains of the operation reside squarely with Brit-based Barry Hogan and Aussie-bred Deborah Kee Higgins — a pair of passionate conceptualizers (and, more important, actualizers) who founded All Tomorrow’s Parties as an alternative to the alternative; a more sophisticated, sit-down, artist-curated affair that runs counter to the sweat and writhe and porta-potties of the Glastonburys, Warped Tours and Coachellas of this world, and eschews most of the more obvious “headliner” acts in favor of fervently followed cult attractions, rarely seen musical hermits, even special reunion sets that are destination attractions in themselves.

As the host venues for the first of these fests, Hogan and Higgins chose such faded UK resorts and “Holiday Camps” as Camber Sands and Butlins at Minehead, places of majestic seediness that found their Stateside sister sites in places like the Borscht Belt Catskills getaway Kutsher’s Country Club in Monticello, NY (where ATP did its dirty dancing for three years, 2008-2010) — and Asbury Park, NJ, where I’ll Be Your Mirror made its eagerly awaited debut this past weekend.

Manning the command center at the Berkeley, scouting out the quirks and quaintitudes of the greater Asbury area, dodging drenching downpours and sticking around through the highs and lows of the sprawling multi-platform event (an event that came under some criticism for its arguably pricey passes, and lack of local representation on the band bills), the power couple remained plugged in, in charge, and charged with enthusiasm before, during and after the weekend wingding — including a special October 3 “bonus” concert by Mangum geared to fans who couldn’t raise the cost of a day-pass bracelet.

Despite being based just a couple of blocks from all of this action, upperWETside came late to this party (family obligations, the bane of the VERY grown up, came first) — catching up to Deborah and Barry on their very last afternoon in town, for the interview we were after all along: an exclusive discussion of their Asbury Park experiences, a first look back at yesterday’s Parties and a quick glimpse ahead to Tomorrow’s. Flip the record over for more…

In a photo we “aggregated” from our good friends at the NY Times — ahem — Deborah and Barry do like American Gothic out front of Kutsher’s, the Borscht Belt dirty-dancing Catskills resort the ATP festival called East Coast HQ for three years.

upperWETside: So, how about a cheerful little postmortem on the extended weekend that was? Was it as good for you as it was for all the happy hipsters who came to town, booked rooms and bought three-day passes?

BARRY HOGAN: More ticket sales would have been good, to be quite honest, and we definitely could have done with a little less rain for the weekend. We had a few hiccups, of course, but by and large it was a good event, the bands were all amazing, and we are really happy with the support that we got from everyone here in Asbury Park — Tom Gilmour (the city’s official Director of Commerce and Good Times), Madison Marquette, the police, the fire inspectors, everyone.

DEBORAH KEE HOGAN: They also made it possible for us to expand everything beyond the official three days, with the art opening on Thursday, and with the Monday concert at the Paramount. We put that show on sale as the same time as the festival passes, just as a single show ticket, so that people would have one extra chance to see Jeff Mangum; not feel ripped off by having to buy a pass if they just wanted to see Jeff.

Walk us through the process of how All Tomorrow’s Parties came to find snug harbor in Asbury Park…there’s obviously a vibe here that’s shared by the old Holiday Camp locales in the UK, as well as by Kutsher’s; that elegant seediness and fallen grandeur.But was there another factor that really tilted the decision to make this your East Coast home base?

BARRY: There were many reasons I suppose, and many years since we first became aware of Asbury Park. The first time we came to have a look around was in 2003 — our friend Josh from Other Music in New York City said that if we ever did any festivals on the East Coast, there was this great place with buildings like Convention Hall and the Paramount. The promoter John D’Esposito, if you’re familiar with him, showed us around at the time, but we just never get around to looking into it more closely.

Then a few years later, a friend of ours, Jonathan Levine the art dealer, had a birthday party at the Asbury Lanes — and when we saw that place for the first time, we fell in love with it. We thought it was the most fantastic venue to use; to build a whole event around.

DEBORAH KEE HIGGINS: The Lanes really put it over for us; it inspired us to seriously check out Convention Hall, the hotel, and the whole surrounding area.

The Lanes is my corner bar! I know that Jonathan Levine is friendly with the people there, and that he represents Shepard Fairey, so you could see the synergy kind of evolving there over the past year or so…

BARRY: Jonathan was instrumental in getting Shepard Fairey involved with the event, which has been great for all concerned…great for art lovers, and for the local people.

I don’t know if you guys are familiar with the phrase “advance man,” but back in the days of the traveling sideshows they’d always send a guy out ahead of the circus wagons; he’d come into town in the days before everyone else arrived to drum up interest, hand out flyers, tell stories of the wonders on display.

Well, to my mind Fairey was just the perfect advance man for the festival. Between his outdoor work and his gallery show, he was very visible and very approachable all week long…he must have had his picture taken with more people than Ronald Reagan’s cardboard cutout. And thanks to him the event had a visual identity; a very definite LOOK in addition to a sound.

DEBORAH: We actually suggested to him to do something with the buildings, as a way to celebrate Asbury Park, embrace this whole amazing place and bring it into what we were doing with I’ll Be Your Mirror. He has such a passion for the music that’s inspired him, you know, the hardcore and hip hop, and this was a chance to express that upon  a big scale, a big canvas, in a place that’s really had so much of a history with music. And all of us were so fascinated by these buildings — we took lots of pictures of the fish and all the architectural details.

So then you were aware of Asbury Park; sort of had it on the back burner for a few years while you did your thing up at Kutsher’s. Was it more or less preordained then, when you decided to move the festival, that Asbury would be the place — or were there other sites in the running?

BARRY: We looked at Atlantic City and considered it for a bit, but even though our plan was to present less of a contained sort of environment than we had in Monticello, sort of spread out beyond a central location, we felt that there was too much of a chance for the general public, people who weren’t in town for the festival, to intermingle with the people who were — they’d be stepping over each other, almost getting in each other’s way. The same sort of thing happened with an event they tried to do out in Vegas.

When we decided to revisit Asbury Park, Madison Marquette was very accommodating — they put so much money and effort into this event. But back in 2003 it would have been a different story — certain promoters had a lockdown on the room, whereas we have a different way of doing things, you know, with the bands as curators. We like to maintain a certain esthetic with the music and with everything else that’s going on around it. Plus, back then you’d be lucky if you didn’t fall through the boardwalk when you were walking on it!

Then you parted ways with Kutsher’s because the whole semi-isolated aspect of the locale wasn’t where you wanted to be by that point?

DEBORAH: Monticello was fun; a lot of people enjoyed it there and Bella (Farquhar, general manager at Kutsher’s) was always fantastic to us, but it didn’t make sense financially to get all those people up there — it was quite a hike for everyone, and very restrictive as far as any possibility of expanding. Here there’s so much potential to expand in the coming years, into places like the Stone Pony, the Wonder Bar, outdoor stages.

Any impressions on Asbury Park you’d care to share, from all these days you’ve been lurking about town? Any new discoveries, shattered preconceptions?

DEBORAH: We didn’t realize there was so much paranormal activity! So many haunted places all around town — the Lanes, the hotel, the Paramount. Kathy, from the Paranormal bookstore, is such an expert on that kind of local history. And there are so many good restaurants here; lots of good food, where Monticello is not so good. We went to places like Plan B

Also notoriously haunted! Hell, even the house I live in was on the GHOST HUNTERS TV show. So you see it’s a genuine ghost town, and for a long while there it was precisely that in every sense of the word.

BARRY: One thing we don’t appreciate is when they tear down some of these great old hotels and theaters to make way for more ugly condo buildings. They’re so badly designed, and when they sit there unfinished it’s worse than having a crumbling but interesting old building on that spot. But we got to see some nice homes — Ocean Grove has some incredible houses, and I realized the Auditorium there is where they filmed Woody Allen‘s Stardust Memories!

DEBORAH: We were fascinated with Ocean Grove because I’m from a place called Ocean Grove in Australia, you know. You mentioned that your father was seriously ill, and so was my mother — she just passed away back in Ocean Grove; I spent all of June there with her.

What’s also interesting is that our Ocean Grove was a ‘dry’ town, just like this Ocean Grove, until my father changed that. He built a pub on a piece of land just outside the town, so my father was the one who brought beer to the people of Ocean Grove.

Well, I realize you still have a million details to attend to, but to ask the one more, inevitable question — any thoughts on continuing All Tomorrow’s Parties in Asbury Park? Are we on track to see the event return next year, or a couple of years from now?

BARRY: We’d love to be able to do it here again, and we could definitely see it growing beyond the venues that we worked with this year; to take in more of the town. Asbury Park is set up well for that sort of thing, and the people here couldn’t have been easier to work with — where in the UK you’re always encountering obstacles with anything you’re trying to do. It’s just refreshing to work with a place, for once, where we could build on what we’ve got.

DEBORAH: All I can add is that if they ever tear down the Lanes, we wouldn’t want to come back. It would be like tearing the heart out of the community!

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