Having attended many festivals up and down this fair isle of ours over these past few years, one of the most eclectic and exciting has to be Birmingham’s Supersonic. Held in the similarly diverse art house The Custard Factory, it lies deep in the Digbeth area of Brum, quite an industrial setting for a festival completely indoors. No time here for sunbathing in the long grass, or queuing at the over-priced cider bar – this festival runs on passion and the outer reaches of music and art. I can’t think of any other such event where you can enjoy the delights of folk, funeral doom, prog, avant-jazz, electronica and grindcore in one weekend.
The award winning company responsible for such a unique event is Birmingham’s own Capsule. They have been promoting the best music and art in this part of the world for nearly 10 years and their belief in the creative and experimental is paramount.
This year’s festival, the seventh in its history, has one of the best line-ups of any out there this year. With headline performances by such luminaries as Italian prog soundtrack masters Goblin, the deafening extreme noise of Japanese originals Corrupted and the reformation of Head Of David – only their first outing in 23 years! – this unique festival continues to grow in style.
From the off we are treated to a throbbing set from folk-drone priestess Rose Kemp; her tunes grind along a dark winding path of doom and dirgey chord progressions, her influences seem to range from the darkness of Sunn 0))), Earth and Melvins to Kate Bush and Tom Waits.
From the cavernous dark shed (Space 2) we progress to the outside stage, once a large square swimming pool thankfully now empty and pretty busy with anticipation for one of this writer’s favourite acts of the weekend, Flower/Corsano Duo. They burst aloud, their immense sound drifting between them. Multi-instrumentalist Mick Flower creates a sonic basis from a lap steel for experimental jazz drummer Chris Corsano to play between; he in turn exists within its space, creating sporadic, experimental drum fills. This all feels a million miles away from another multi-instrumentalist occupying the smaller Factory Club next door: Graeme Ronald’s post-rock band unfold before our eyes, in front of beautiful 1920s projections of female musicians. Remember Remember create a more gentle sound than some of their post-rock competitors. A seven-piece from Glasgow, their Steve Reich-esque beauty lacks originality, or there could be just too much to take in.
Supersonic’s amazing musical spectrum continues unabated with the jazz, prog and some could say kraut-influenced Diagonal. Hailing from Brighton, they are an intense band of epic proportions. Tartufi hide pop music under a mesh of looped, intricate guitar and drums and are followed by the ritualistic drone of Master Musicians Of Bukkake, from the far reaches of the West Coast underground. Decked in matching red Jodorowsky style outfits, MMOB offer a spiritual awakening from the cackling beast of a vocalist. Jeez it’s heavy.
The organic techno of the wonderful Nisennenmondai is by far one of the highlights of the festival; Year 2000 Problem, as their name translates, mesh together tribal drumming and chunky, fierce looped guitars. These three unassuming ladies from Tokyo create a PiL/ESG-style rhythmic instrumental noise that is also extremely psychedelic. Marnie Stern is quite a different prospect altogether, a big player on the festival circuit this year she mixes the noise of screeching guitar avant pop with high-pitched squeals.
Roman band Zu have the whole place at their feet. They not only completely kick everyone’s arse wide apart, but also put our dancing shoes on for perhaps the first time. Dark, monolithic and yet still pop, they play avant-jazz freak-outs that, although sound aggressive, don’t totally hold together. The mind-melting Growing kill next. They expand the organic electronica at this year’s festival; along with acts such as the similar styled Fuck Buttons they fuzz their way through your soul and come out the other side leaving you numb.
In recent years it has almost become unfashionable to set your gear up actually onstage. Lightning Bolt have always been the main exponents of this, but tonight mustachioed Israelis Monotonix and their infamous live act wreaks havoc, destroying the audience as the three-piece band up-sticks and set up wherever their fancy. It makes for an incredible spectacle, but their songs, if you can call them that, are kind of uninspiring.
So, Supersonic is definitely not for the faint-hearted or half-arsed music fan. It’s created for you from all angles of the musical spectrum… except that of the mainstream. Doom on 2010!