Category Archives: Supersonic

Supersonic Festival, Birmingham, 11-13 July 2008

The sonic yaw of rock from a grounding in heavy metal, pushed through by the driving rhythms of twisted techno and dirty drum’n’bass; falling back on transcendental peace and harmony – still with a niggle of discord…

One characteristic of Brummies is that they’re an eclectic and varied bunch who refuse to follow one direction. The Capsule Girls (Jenny Moore and Lisa Meyer) and their festival Supersonic, certainly epitomise this.

At this three day festival the Custard factory’s bars, courtyards and warehouses are full of so much variety, they all appear to pull together. We’re not talking a corporate homogenous dirge; but an independent constantly shape shifting multi-faceted beast.

Friday

DJ Scotch Egg has invaded the Factory Club for the evening with his brand of Gameboy operated glitchcore. He’s brought with him similar artists from his Osaka town of origin. We find out during the night that part of the reason for getting his mates over is because of the imperative need to get more gigs. The motivation for this it turns out, is because Scotch Egg has to work more if he wants to earn his visa and stay in his current home in Brighton. The room is packed so we pop in and out throughout the night and watch various crazy Japanese bods in varying states of fancy dress playing with various consoles. Creating music which is on one hand a sonic, scattergun delight and on the other, is a mixture of feedback, distortion and trains shunting.

On the ‘drained-pool’ main stage outside, PCM are at full pelt with the place sinking into deep and dark drum’n’bass. PCM are pretty much Friday night regulars at Supersonic and whilst the bar crowd are inside glitching to Drumize we’re having a proper dance. The music is taken to intensity when Karl from Grindcore legends, Bolthrower growls and wretches down the mic.

Meanwhile the Factory Club has given way to Ove Naxx who puts more of a punky spin on things using the female lead singer’s sheer multi-coloured delight. It’s like CSS’s Lovefoxxx but with less sloganeering and more random intensity .

We head outside again in time to catch Dälek. This is the second time they’ve appeared at the festival, though last time the set was cut short when Birmingham City Centre had to be evacuated in post 7/7 paranoia. MC Dälek dominates; supported ably and passionately by muscle bound henchman (like an extra from the film Brick) and programmer Oktopus. MC Dälek’s mesmerising word patter swirls around a sea of fuzz and pulsing beats.

We catch another glimpse of DJ Scotch Egg, on his own for the finale and pop back to DJ Rupture and Jah Dan Blakkamoore but still reeling from Dälek, we decide instead to call it a night.

Saturday

We get down to the Custard Factory to catch a few tracks by The Owl Service. They delivered a touchingly retro-folk set with no electronic add-ons. We drifted off into the Theatre for some 7 inch cinema and listen to a lecture by Nicholas Bullen; wonderfully eloquent former member of Napalm Death. Bullen provides a potted design history of Grindcore aesthetics, explaining how the artwork was connected to the movements position as the bastard son of heavy metal and punk. It was fascinating but the seats were comfortable and the room was the perfect temperature to doze off – despite the images of holocausts and dismembered corpses projected onto the screen.

Efterklang went some way to enlivening me. For the un-initiated, this Danish nine-piece are like a super breed of Sigur Ros with Polyphonic Spree’s clan mentality. At the end of a staggering set of brightness and exuberance, the band leader asks us to go on the Efterklang mini-tour. This involves popping into the Library room and getting a poster, then head to the Theatre (and following a quick nap) watch a film by a band member which was a hyper-visceral remix of Un Chien Andalou and other modernist films.

We grab some food and cake from beneath the archways and then I’m lucky enough to interview MC Dälek. This takes up a fair bit of time and next fellow New Yorkers and friends Battles are on. As MC Dälek points out the band also played here also a couple of years back and now they’re the toast of the math-rock world. It just goes to show how ahead of the curve the Capsule promoters are.

Sunday

The day begins with the epic shoe-gazing of local post-rockers Einstellung. There couldn’t be a bigger contrast for the next act, Max Tundra who walks onto the stage and asks “Do you like roooccckk Supersonic?” before launching into a bizarre blend of homemade R’n’B and fun with electronics. He’s like a more likeable Har Mar Superstar with a semi serious Conchord.

Much of the afternoon is spent in or around Space 2. Which seems to be playing host to sludge rock with a double bill of Spanish doom monsters Orthodox and Asva. I get the point with this gloomy noise but I think you have to be in a certain mood and even a certain age to actually like it. It reminds me of the kind of menacing chords which used to set the scene at the beginning of a rock epic. Except that this is the only element of sludge rock, repeated slowly, for two hours.

Supersonic also installed a set of skate ramps for the weekend and I go and spend some time over there. Having had enough of moving my head to the right and left, I decide to pop down the road to Vivid Gallery and catch the last thirty minutes of an exhibition based on the work by New York sound artists Fluxus. I only really knew about Yoko Ono and smashing pianos before I went to this exhibition, this set of art installations really show the collective’s playfulness and is packed with sparks of ingenuity.

Deciding I’ve drawn more visceral experience than any Sunday supplement could possibly offer, when I get back to The Custard Factory complex to catch Yukio Fujimoto giving lectures on his sound installations in Theatre. Again I’m staggered by his sheer passion for asking people to actually listen to sound. One installation consisted of two drain pipes and a deck chair on a rooftop in Japan. The tubes merely act to distort and amplify the sound around and it’s a delight to hear.

The inquisitive mind still questioning, I hang around for Brian Duffy’s talk. He is the main man behind Modified Toy Orchestra and ZX Spectrum Orchestra. He guides us through a series of circuit bended car boot Speak And Spells and one twisted Hula Barbie.

It’s time to put the preaching into practice with the next highlight, his band ZX Spectrum Orchestra playing on the main stage. Their geekery proves a smash for any retro-bod who wasted their childhood playing Codemaster games.

Our evening closes on Harmonia serving a perfect Sunday night chilled set – they still excite our ears but sooth and calm our mind with tones that heal our frontal lobes.

Supersonic is all senses fulfilled; all perceptions challenged.


Supersonic Festival (22nd July 2006)

Spurred on by my Sónar I did the same with the Birmingham equivalent.  

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Now settling comfortably into its fourth year, Supersonic is regarded seriously as the
UK’s answer to Sónar. Like Sónar, its programme walks the thin line between genius and tosspot. The fun of the festival is that you’ll see something new and never be bored.
 For me, I much prefer to love or hate something rather than be indifferent. Supersonic isn’t Keane coloured wallpaper. 

Friday Even at 9:30pm when I arrive at Supersonic, it’s so hot that the Factory courtyard is the best place to hang out. I find myself standing roughly in the middle of the two venues (The Kitchen and the Medicine bar) and make my own mash-up. A combination of the high intensity Napalm Death style metal of the bizarrely named Mistress and a twisted ‘Dancing Queen’ by DJ Cheesemaster. 

Let’s extrapolate the metaphor to describe Cheesemaster. When you think of cheesy music in general, it’s usually a mild and slightly plastic cheddar – say a chunk of Will Young or a Cliff Richard tribute band. Cheesemaster is the musical equivalent of a miniature camembert that has been left to ripen in Cliff Richards Y-fronts during his leather-trousered Christian stage (to ward off suitors – or something). Perverted yet pure – and as you might expect, not to everyone’s taste. Cheesemaster is part of the Brighton Wrong Music collective. Throughout the evening in The Kitchen venue, various members parade the stage with their stinking brand of cut-up, mashed together shouty, glitchcore, paying blatant disregard to the roster. Five minutes after Cheese, there’s a monster on stage in a rain-mac whilst someone who looks like – no actually is – my next door neighbour playing with his laptop. I pop in to hear the Queen getting a Chris Morris style treatment by being spliced into saying she likes it up the arse. He kept that quiet. Someone else comes on the stage and does some gabba / techno / electro and various mashed up cottage cheese songs about, I dunno, abortions or something equally ‘shocking’ to boys with no life experience. 

Back in the Medicine venue, PCM – with special guest, Karl from Bolthrower -, is a real treat. Suddenly the assorted collection of metalheads and metalhedz make total sense. The rhythms of D ‘n’ B aren’t that far from the double kicker patter with the bass drive not being that far from the shearing sheet of guitar abuse. Karl Bolthrower is totally at home grumbling unspeakables about ‘My Lord’ and ‘You never listened mother’ (or something). Meanwhile, in Wrong Music, Moronic Dance Music Association have taken the stage and the adjacent dance floor. The lead guy is dressed as a Nazi General with a painted black and white minstrel face – See it’s funny, you see he’s a moron, look at him, look at him dancing and shouting down the microphone… Actually four drinks in, it is quite funny, especially because the venue has big glass doors. I can quite easily laugh at him, knowing that I’m separated from the minstrel and the pit of sweating white spazzing converts by an inch of toughened glass. 

I go back to the main Medicine venue and am miffed that by watching morons, I missed most of The Bug; a promising outburst of talent. Street rhymes and African rhythms are executed by Bug himself and the overtly energetic MC’s. Still it’s too hot and even though DJ Food is now serving up an interesting and expertly fused smorgasbord of delights, I find myself drifting back towards the glass doors of the Wrong Disco.    Countryside Alliance Crew is Shitmat and a few others dressed up in tweed and performing a hoe-down to a cut-up ‘Last of The Summer Wine’ with yes, you guessed it, gabba. I feel Wrong Disco is too mashed up to actually cause me to dance, these guys don’t have the patience and possibly not even the skill to hold together a decent (in the loosest sense) happy hardcore set. It’s a shame – I want to be pogo’ing like a goon and instead, I’m watching, occasionally laughing but mostly thinking “What’s the point?” I realise what’s missing is the House of God club night’s input into this year’s proceedings. 

Saturday I delay going down to the site today until the much needed rain runs out. When I get there. the large stage in the drained Factory pool is playing host to Hanne Hukkelburg a Norweigan act, typically Scandinavian in approach – like a knitting pattern from an early Cardigan out of Bjork wool. The effect is English eccentricity to the power of 10 with all band members having too much multi-instrumental talent.  Even more humbling is that Hanne announces the band lost all their luggage at the airport so everything on stage is borrowed from “the people of Birmingham.” Not bad considering they had to find two keyboards, a drum kit,  an accordion, a banjo and an old bike. I particularly like the old bike (upturned and mic’d up on the wheels) which makes me think of summer days, freewheeling through the countryside.  

In the theatre space there’s a roadie yawning into a microphone. No wait, that’s the act. Actually it’s quite impressive, looping an electronically manipulated scream as he strolls about the stage pushing more and more distortion pedals with his feet.  The theatre is rammed, so I head for calming coffee and cake world of 7 Inch Cinema. After grabbing a slice of said cake and coffee I watch a rockabilly video, a performance from Billy Childish and a
Manchester performance from Nico. I pop out again and see Knives warm up. They look quite promising but I miss them as I get caught up in the main stage performance of the Modified Toy Orchestra.
 

They should be christened Kraftplay – a be-suited five piece band which delights in playing with modified electronic children’s toys. Their performance is the strongest I remember. A well honed set of top electro tunes, given the extra frivolity by the fact that each band member is holding a plastic toy that has been perverted and plugged into the PA. In between songs various toys are introduced and demoed and soloed by a member. Orchestra leader Brian Duffy demonstrates a plastic drum machine, other members demonstrate a camera and an electric toy guitar. Closing track, Pocket Calculator even has Mike in Mono playing a Casio calculator whilst chanting “I’m the operator, with my pocket calculator.” I can imagine John Peel playing it, then adding “Quite why a telephone operator would need a calculator, remains to be seen.” I stay by the main stage to catch what I hope will be my highlight of the festival – Broadcast. Rumours that they are performing with a seven piece jazz improvisational band, are sadly untrue, though core Broadcast members Trish Keenan and James Cargill have once again got the live performance backup of an excellent drummer and guitarist. It may just be the sound mix, but the ambient electro burbling and monotone trance inducing guitar lines, only just allow Trish’s voice to push above the oomskah, there’s a certain shift towards Nico. There’s certainly less emphasis on Trish as front man, she happily picks up guitars and bizarre sounding instruments which enrich the tranced out psychedelics. In my sound altered state I’m pondering whether all instruments aren’t modified toys. As it gets darker the visuals are drawing me in further, Broadcast favour the old, endlessly stimulating method of projecting directly onto the stage, so the band are immersed in a world of Dream Machines and oil lamps – it gets my mojo working. The last song has a bass sound so heavy I fear that the energy holding my skin together might dissipate.  

After this performance I’ve kind of peaked. I feel I don’t need much more from this festival than it has given me. Besides, as the night continues it seems to be spiralling into death metal territory again. I for one, just don’t have enough actual anger or ironic tongue-in-cheek appreciation to consider it much.  I’m so convinced that Broadcast are all I really need to see that I even abandon listening to Andy Votel’s superb record collection and go back home for a warm milk and a Mark Steel lecture.