Atomic Sunrise Festival (partially found footage and soundtrack of British music festival; 1970)
The Atomic Sunrise Festival was a music festival held at the Roundhouse in London from 9th-15th March 1970. This festival proved historic for the music scene, including for the presence of David Bowie as part of the Hype, as well as featuring the earliest recordings of the bands Genesis and Hawkwind. The event is also considered a critical moment in the birth and rise of glam, prog, and heavy rock.
Following the events at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival on 6th December 1969, the event infamous for the murder of Meredith Hunter and three accidental deaths, the band The Grateful Dead withdrew from that gig and one planned in March 1970 at the Roundhouse. Needing to replace a week of cancelled Grateful Dead concerts at Roundhouse, an event entitled "Atomic Sunrise" was established.
The festival was held between 9th-15th March. The acts were pooled from Roundhouse's Sunday Implosion gigs, as well as Judith Malina and Julian Beck's The Living Theater in New York City, with three bands performing per night. Among acts included The Hype, Genesis, Hawkwind, Quintessence, Graham Bond, Third Ear Band, Kevin Ayers, and Arthur Brown. This led to the event being billed as "Seven Nights of Celebration" in a "Living Theatre Environment". Black Sabbath was also scheduled to perform, but withdrew primarily because of the presence of Bond. The show would prove a big success, providing the start of the transformation of some acts from unknowns into big names, and becoming a pivotal moment in the rise of glam, prog, and heavy rock that would dominate much of the 1970s.
The Hype was formed a few weeks prior to Atomic Sunrise. Its origins came when Bowie signed up guitarist Mick Ronson to work alongside Tony Visconti and John Cambridge. Their first gig together would be on 22nd February, as a supporting act for Fat Mattress. Initially, the band's future appeared bleak when their first live performance was negatively received by the live crowd. However, having performed on John Peel's The Sunday Show, and having signed a contract with Mercury Records, The Hype was booked for Atomic Sunrise, where they would perform on 11th March. The Hype notably dressed in Lurex and superhero capes, with Bowie becoming Rainbowman, Visconti as Hypeman, Ronson as Gangsterman, and Cambridge as Cowboyman. In an interview with Melody Maker, Bowie stated he concerned that the superhero costumes might not be well-received by the audience: "We’ve had these costumes made by various girl friends which make us look like Dr. Strange or the Incredible Hulk. I was a bit apprehensive about wearing them at the Roundhouse gig because I didn't know how the audience would react. If they think it's a huge put on the whole thing will backfire but they seemed to accept it which was nice."
The Hype's Atomic Sunrise appearance marked the transformation of Bowie from an acoustic star to one synonymous with the electric scene, something Bowie had planned since his initial success in 1969. On the same day as Hype's performances, glam rock group Genesis was present as a support band. Back then, it was an unknown group, who had recently parted ways with Charterhouse manager Jonathan King and had lost its contract with him. Prior to Atomic Sunrise, Genesis made its live gig in September 1969 for a birthday, but despite appearing in small British venues, the group was unable to secure a long-term record contract. On 11th March, Genesis would perform at Atomic Sunrise, but its unknown status meant only around ten people were in-attendance during its acts. Nevertheless, it did enable the band to play songs that would later appear in its second album, Trespass. The film of Atomic Sunrise marked the earliest known surviving footage of the band performing, as well as the only featuring the four original members. Overtime, Anthony Phillips and John Mayhew would be replaced by Steve Hackett and Phil Collins respectively, while Genesis itself rose in popularity after signing a contract with Charisma a few weeks after the festival.
Finally, Hawkwind was also in its formative stages, yet as noted by The Independent, the space rock group was already firmly within the counterculture scene, taking acid and turning up amps for its music. Just like with Genesis, the footage of Hawkwind at Atomic Sunrise is unique, as it is the earliest and only footage of the group with its original line-up of Dave Brook, John Harrison, Dik Mik, Terry Ollis, Nik Turner, and Huw Lloyd-Langton. A year later, with the band having released its first album, Hawkwind, Harrison and Lloyd-Langton would leave the band, being replaced by Del Dettmar, Simon King, and Robert Calvert.
33 hours of footage was recorded at the festival, though it remains unclear as to who was influential in filming it. For years, speculation emerged that Yoko Ono was involved. This even led Genesis management to explore Apple Records vaults to see if any footage was available. However, Ono is confirmed to have had no role in filming or indeed the event itself. Meanwhile, Adrian Everett had also heard about Atomic Sunrise footage in the late-1970s, and set out to claim it. He eventually located the footage in 1990, but it was held against a film-processing bill totalling thousands of pounds. Had Everett not purchased its contents, it would have been destroyed just hours later.
Everett had secured the 33 hours of content. However, the film did not contain the original soundtrack. Thus, harnessing clues within the footage that a song was to begin, Everett would splice music to the film, utilising the help of the festival's sound man. Regarding the original soundtrack, the only possible surviving audio is a 20-second snippet of Genesis' Twilight Alehouse that was aired by Earth News Radio during a 1978 interview with Peter Gabriel. Its presenter Lew Irwin stated that the snippet was acquired from Discontinued Records, a company within Glendale, California that collected and sold copies of out-of-print and bootlegged recordings. While the audio is alleged to have been from a live Roundhouse event, Genesis' Ant Philips claimed the band was not professionally recorded live outside of an individual present one time at a Roundhouse gig with a hand-held camera. While this claim heavily implies that the Roundhouse recording in question was from Atomic Sunrise, it does not fully confirm it. Regardless of its status, the rest of the festival's soundtrack remains missing.
As for the film, Everett worked overtime to try and establish a first cut. However, he experienced two setbacks; in the early-1990s, a financial recession saw him lose his financial backing, thus halting progress for the next 20 years. Secondly, neither the BBC nor Sky were interested in airing the footage. Nevertheless, Everett regained his motivation to release the contents when some performers like Ronson and Mayhew passed away. There are also rumours that Everett refused offers from the likes of Genesis and Bowie, the former because they did not provide a significant financial offer. This likely stemmed from Everett refusing a £1,000 offer for the footage, as he never intended to sell it. He also rejected Bowie's offer out of concern that it might deter other potential participants.
In 2010, Everett would upload a few clips of Atomic Sunrise onto YouTube. Eventually, an hour-long first cut was screened at the Roundhouse on 11th and 12th March 2013. His plan was to generate enough publicity so that he could received funding for the movie's release on DVD, as well as to publish a book. However, he did not receive the funding required. Nevertheless, the entirety of the film is finally set to be publicly released via a stream on 22nd September 2022, more than 52 years after the event. Some clips were released a few months prior to promote the stream.
- The Independent providing substantial detail of Atomic Sunrise and the film that was originally showcased in 2013. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Forbes detailing the Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Atomic Sunrise Festival detailing the importance of the event for certain acts and glam rock. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Flashbak detailing the event and providing photos of it, as well as Bowie's comments surrounding the costumes The Hype wore. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Bowie: Loving Alien detailing The Hype's formation, and its unsuccessful first gig. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Genesis-Movement detailing Genesis' performance at Atomic Sunrise, and the rumoured surviving audio clip. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Genesis-News detailing Genesis' formation years. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Ultimate Classic Rock noting the changes in Genesis' line-up over the years. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Ultimate Classic Rock detailing Hawkwind's original members and who left by 1971. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Atomic Sunrise Festival debunking myths including the claim Ono was involved in filming, and that Everett demanded money to release it. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Atomic Sunrise Festival noting the videos Everett would upload in 2010. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- David Bowie Glamour promoting the upcoming stream on Twitter. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Atomic Sunrise Festival promoting the film's release in 2022. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22
- Louder reporting on preview clips being uploaded to YouTube in preparation for the stream. Retrieved 2nd Sep '22