By Joseph Brannigan Lynch
Updated July 27, 2017 at 03:18 PM EDT
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Credit: Abbey Braden
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The roving international event All Tomorrow’s Parties took place Sept 11-13 in the Catskill Mountains, and it was essentially a perfect weekend. Curated by The Flaming Lips and nestled within The Shining-esque Kutshers Country Club in Monticello, the event, featuring the likes of Animal Collective, Sufjan Stevens, Nick Cave and of course the Lips themselves, provided one mesmerizing set after another. Below, a few highlights:

Nick Cave made a surprise appearance Friday night by joining the Dirty Three (whose Warren Ellis is a member of his Bad Seeds) and apparently he also gave a hotel-room performance to six incredibly lucky fans the next day.

Saturday officially began with indie-pop maestro Sufjan Stevens, who went easy on audiences by playing his gentle Seven Swans album from start-to-finish, because he said it worked well as “an early-afternoon hangover special.”

Black Dice, who followed a few hours later, were markedly less considerate toward anyone with a headache. Its three members embarked upon a 45-minute electronic noise freakout, playing so loud you could actually feel the bass vibrating the tips of your eyelashes. When a sampled guitar riff made an appearance during their set, it was almost sad to be torn from their absorbing underworld and reminded that structured music exists.

Saturday found Bradford Cox pulling double duties, performing first solo as Atlas Sound and then later with his group Deerhunter. The Atlas Sound set was a disappointment—he spent as much time fussing over tech issues (he joked he was worried his guitar sounded too close to Dave Matthews) as he did playing songs.

That self-deprecating humor and nervousness were entirely absent when he stepped onstage with Deerhunter later that night. A propulsive run through Microcastle’s “Nothing Ever Happened” was the highlight of their set—after a few minutes it became less a song and more a Neu!-styled sonic assault. That made it especially sad when Cox announced the band was taking some time off and this would be their last live show “for a long time.”

Animal Collective were the transcendent stars of ATP, however — drenching audiences in the warm electronics of their latest album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and even surprising fans by recasting a few older songs in the style of their more recent material. Aside from cameos by a real guitar and a drum set, the three currently active members used synthesizers and a dense collage of samples and looped vocals to bring ATP audiences some of the warmest experimental pop in recent memory.

The crowd’s reaction to this new direction—one heavily indebted to Panda Bear, the AC member who also played solo Friday night—illustrated that the band is evolving from fringe critics’ darlings to a group that deeply affects an expanding audience. When “Summertime Clothes” began to play, the response was similar to someone putting on “Livin’ on a Prayer” at a frat party—raised arms, bouncing bodies and “wooooh!!”sof approval.

As the set drew to a close, the focus was not on the three men onstage but on the dancing crowd, whose bodies surged to the inviting beats and harmonious tape loops. It was almost like a rave, but for people with good taste in music—some sort of avant-garde party with Brian Wilson harmonies and disco colors.

Well done, ATP.

More from EW’s Music Mix:

Animal Collective

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