“It’s the amount of music still out there for me to discover that gets me out of bed every morning.”
Twitter years, 140 characters thoughts. This is what came out of my phone about a month ago and reached the twitsphere after I attended the Scout Niblett concert at the Nightmare before Christmas ATP curated by Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
This is also why going to these festivals make perfect sense even when you go to zillions of gigs all year.
I love the sensation of stumbling upon someone you didn’t know existed and feeling you will from now on, it’s priceless.
Then the question. How it comes that despite being a long time fans of PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Bonnie Prince Billy, Steve Albini, I didn’t come across Scout Niblett in the past 10 years?
I love raw, coarse, minimalist guitars and I didn’t hear about her at all.
I write, read, listen to music 24/7 and never, I say never, I was caught by any of these songs. It is something I can’t understand, but instead of solving a pointless mistery I enjoy the pleasure, see the sunny side and go back to the opening tweet.
The amount of music recorded since Internet is countless, it is impossible to follow everything, but it is refreshing to know it is there.
As a new planet of a remote galaxy or an ancient treasure hidden in a sunken galleon it waits to be discovered.
I do love to discover new artists I like.
One of the things I like of this is to be able to approach the entire discography without being biased by the previous albums. It is like all the albums came out at the same moment.
So ignorant I was, that, at the ATP merchandise stall I bought the first two Scout Niblett albums, the only ones they had, thinking they were all she recorded (and the guy selling them, who clearly heard about her less than me, confirmed and grabbed my 20 pounds).
Back home I put Sweet Heart Fever, the debut, and I am, the somophore, in my CD player and realized that some songs from the show, still playing in my mind, were missing.
A quick surf on the web and I couldn’t believe she has recorded five albums. For the same reason that I find impossible not to know her. Amazon fulfilled my compulsion to collect everything of the artists I love. Few clicks and I ordered all the albums.
While waiting for the three more recent records to be despatched, I put the repeat on and loved unconditionally the debut, Sweet Heart Fever (2001). A career that opens with So Much Love To Do is destined to be brilliant. No doubts. When a song sounds so beautiful with just a simple chord progression played on an electric guitar, it is because it is a great song, simple.
There’s more, Dance of Sulphur for example, or Big Bad Man. But the song that I cannot stop whistling is the opening riff of Check Out The Matter, less than two minutes, a bare, effective riff that the Dresden Dolls, PJ Harvey, Cat Power and even the White Stripes could kill for.
I Am (2003) is less so. Difficult for me to say why it doesn’t click the same way of the debut, when songs are minimalist, the structure is pretty much the same, just her guitar with sometime a host drummer, the reason can only be the songwriting isn’t as brilliant.
CD despatched, so I immerse myself into the rest of her albums.
Kidnapped by Neptune (2005) signs the first change of label (which explains why these albums weren’t available). From Secretely Canadian to Too Pure, her third fatigue, doesn’t move much from where she has always been, but sounds a bit more upbeat. The title song is one example. In some tunes Scout’s singing reminds me of Alanis Morissette. Saying this with a positive attitude, I loved and still consider Jagged Little Pill a landmark record that would be a cult if it didn’t sell too many copies. Listen to Alanis’ hidden track, Your House, then Niblett’s Pom Poms.
This Fool Can Die Now (2007) is the fourth and my favourite of all her albums. The first two songs, with Bonnie Prince Billy sharing vocals, Do you Want to be Buried with My People and Kiss makes probably the best pair of song to open an album in the entire decade. Kiss is quickly become one of my all time favourite songs. The lyrics are also one of the most insightful lyrics I read.
The album, thanks to the collaboration with Will Oldham expands her style exploring some alt.folk musicscapes without losing the grip, provided by Albini that is at the mixer as in any other of her works.
2010 brought The Calcination of Scout Niblett, her third label change, Drag City, her fifth and latest album to date and, most important, I came across her.
Still recorded by Steve Albini at his Chicago studios, Calcination… is probably the most minimalist of her very minimalist records. The guitar gets essential as her orange fluorescent vest that she seems to wear all times.
Cherry Cheek Bone distorted feedback, turns into a quick Zeppelin-esque s riff to introduce the chords that introduce Scout singing Hallelujah. Everything you need to state a great song.
And this is probably the song that caught my attention at the ATP show and never went away.
From that Saturday the music of Scout Niblett entered my CD player and I still find it difficult to find a replacement.
I missed her intimate gig in London she is first of the artist I am tracking to catch her again as soon as she materialises within 100 miles from where I am writing now.
To photograph a small festival, like ATP, is hard work.
If you are obsessive like me, it’s even harder than a big festival. Reason is that in a place like Glastonsbury or Coachella there are so many stages and they are so far that you must make choices. It is not possible to photograph but a selection of the line-up on a selection of places.
The ATP is a 3 stages festival (with a fourth sometime), which are within 2 minutes walking distance the one from the other and is organized with a scattered scheduled so in principle you can shoot most if not all.
It depends if you are there for the photography, the music or both.
If you want to photograph it all, be ready to a no-stop routine of live music from about 2PM to 2AM over the three days.
It is tiring, whatever you like it a lot or you are paid to be there, it’s hard work, not pleasure. It is totally different from photographing a gig and enjoying the show with a beer after shooting three songs. Even different to shoot a gig in its entirety.
It is essential you are plenty of batteries and memory cards, you don’t want to find yourself in the middle of the best set with a full card and having to go through your shots to delete bad images to make space. If you use burst shooting it is even more essential.
Even time between sets is short and not ideal to control your results.
Coming from a film past, I don’t tend to shoot too much, still I came back home with some thousands of images after the three days. I know photographers shooting 500-700 images for 3 songs set, consider about 25-30 bands to cover, you do the math.
Which is the reason why doing a festival on film is very expensive, even considering a couple of films each band multiplied for 25 bands it’s around 50 rolls which means ~200£ without considering the processing (and the time to process all those films). This answers the one who asked why I was shooting on digital.
Furthermore no one in the music press appreciate the retro look of analogic photography enough to cover at least the expenses.
A laptop to download pics is useful, but you’ll be able to use it around 3AM when everything is finished, if you are not exhausted.
Lens wise isn’t different from a gig, apart from the fact that at least one stage tend to be bigger and higher. Don’t forget your telephoto and a crop sensor camera may be of help.
The ATP main stage where these Scout Niblett pics were taken was high and needed a 70-200 90% of the frames. Light was beautiful though.
The other two stages are OK for a classic 24-70mm if you are allowed in the pit.
Bag. Get something comfortable, resistant, quick to access and water (beer) proof. After 8 hours with several kilograms of hard gear on your shoulders you’ll know why padded bags are very useful.
Necklace to slide your pass into, a glue able to be sticky for three days in a sweaty environment hasn’t yet been invented, if you miss the pass isn’t easy if not impossible to get a replacement.