With Factory Floor, Shellac, The Pop Group and Sonic Youth

For revellers at ATP’s inaugural Strange Days event, that inevitable sense of frustration that so often comes from a New Year’s Eve spent grappling with sweaty crowds, AWOL friends and throbbing bass was largely absent from the proceedings. Of course, there were high expectations all round, as people donned their party hats in preparation for the biggest blow out of the year. But no one was disappointed.

Current hype darlings Factory Floorget the evening off to an ear-splitting start, pummelling industrial synth beats, keeping volume levels well above the danger zone. Warm up reigns are then handed over to the enigmatic Mark Stewart and his recently reunited Pop Group. A steady throng forms by the stage, but the turnout is nonetheless disappointing as people appear to be saving themselves for the headline acts. The Pop Group’s dubbed out post-punk is still an indomitable force however, Stewart’s deranged shrieking reverberating within the cavernous walls of the Apollo, guitar licks ricocheting with glee. Dancing feet are worked up into a pulsating rhythm, as bodies jerk to the fierce sound of ‘We Are All Prostitutes’. And so the night begins.

Steve Albini’s legendary production skills are unrivalled but tonight confirms his unyielding musicianship and his ability to monopolise his surroundings. Having only ever watched Shellac play smaller venues, it was interesting to see how their sound would translate in a venue as grandiose as the Apollo, but the roaming space fared them well. Shellac unfurl their uncompromising squalls of noise and as urgent, weighty guitars work the crowd up into a frenzy, perilous moshing commences and the venue is brought to life once more. Classic tracks like ‘The End of Radio’ showcase the band’s penchant for instrumental minimalism and sarcastic witticisms; comic undertones are prevalent, Albini on top form as per. Overall, there is a kind of organised chaos tonight, a sense of spontaneity and improvisation to Shellac’s performance, but all within the remits of a tight, sonic unit which shows no signs of disintegration just yet.

It’s ten to twelve and people are jittery, enlivened by the prospect of noise rock luminaries Sonic Youth’s impending performance. Party popper in hand, a skater rock version of 'Auld Lang Syne' proceeds Thurston Moore’s New Year countdown and streams of gold glitter descend from the eaves. It's quite the way to see in 2011, it must be said. Launching into the more obscure ‘Brother James’, Gordon, Moore and co throw the rule book in the air; although there’s the nod to 1987’s Sister, classic hits are largely absent from the first half of their set. But no one cares, leaping into their fourth decade of music making with the virility of an angsty teen, here stands one of the most prolific bands of our generation and they are going nowhere fast. Kim Gordon’s dazzling stage attire and her graceful ability to swap between guitar and bass prove that she is still one of the fiercest women in rock.

Having always fought so fervently against the grain, it wouldn’t be right for Sonic Youth to bow down to conformity and churn out hits purely for the expectant New Year’s crowds. They do exactly as they wish, effortlessly teasing out tracks from their 2009 album The Eternal. Booze flowing, everyone is in good spirits, spurred on by adrenalin and thunderous noise. Craftily saving a smattering of party treats for the end of their set, ‘Kool Thing’ and ‘Cross the Breeze’ are greedily devoured by gig goers. And despite the absence of mega hit ‘Teen Age Riot’ tonight, we are left more than satisfied. Ears ringing, sweat drenched and puffy eyed, the crowds dissipate, sprawling out onto the streets of West London keen to take the good vibes somewhere else. Here's one New Year's Eve party that certainly won't pale into insignificance but will instead cling to our memories for years to come. An unforgettable night from a truly unforgettable band: all hail Sonic Youth.

Words by April Welsh
Photos by Helen F Kennedy
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