Supersonic Festival 2012
|Venue:||Custard Factory Birmingham|
I'd been waiting all year for this; getting excited about the Twitter rumours flying around, who would play, what special collaborations there would be - rumours that LCD Soundsystem would return (not one of my favourites, granted, but still someone I'd check out) were scotched by that big weepy New York swansong a few months back, and I'd have put money on Sleep playing (Om were in the area a few weeks back, who [along with High on Fire] have literally just put new album out in the last few months) which may have been over-ambitious folly, but seemed like it might just be possible - this was the festival's ten year anniversary after all. What we got instead was an odd mix that was surprising, very well curated, and expertly figured out. I didn't miss anyone that I really wanted to see, and believe me, I made sure to do my research - I missed Ore last year, which sticks in my craw to this day.
Everything starts a bit later on a Friday, with the first acts going on at about 9. We arrived at the hotel, checked in, and did the standard pre-gig ritual - Nando's - before having a slow walk over to the site. Walking through that part of town when Supersonic is on is funny because young, fresh-faced teens (there's a lot of colleges in the area) give way to a lot of black hoodies, long hair, and beards, and the unmistakable smell of weed in the air.
We got our wristbands and popped in to Boxxed to check out the Small But Hard showcase, where Devilman was first up. In the first of his many performances that night, as part of various different acts, DJ Scotch Egg was more sedate than his normal wildman self - perhaps the soothing tones of his bass quelled his usual 8 bit fury - while his compadre accompanied him on the laptop/giant-pile-of-wires combo that soon becomes such a familiar site at this fest. They were a good act, a sort of pulsing ravey digital mess, and we stayed until Modified Toy Orchestra began setting up their demented child-rock epics in the Warehouse. They are a band as arresting visually as aurally - obviously taking cues from Kraftwerk with their suited and booted attire - as they form an imposing line, fronted by more tables and wires, with various bastardised children's toys before them. The toys are modified, hence the name, and play twisted but surprisingly uplifting and fantastic music. I'd heard their name floating about and knew they were a great live act but they were a genuine sensation, and probably the highlight of the night. We stayed in the Warehouse for Hey Colossus, who I'd also heard great things about, but whether it was the effect of the range of Purity ales washing over my brain, or reveries of MTO, I just wasn't feeling them tonight. Maybe on another day, maybe on record, maybe whatever.
We left to have a wander round the site and returned for the act we were most excited for; JK Flesh. One of the things you come to accept about Supersonic is that for a lot of your time, you're going to be watching people set up their equipment. Being such a packed festival, for experimental music at that, there's going to be various set-up times for bands, and Flesh seemed to take absolutely ages, and when he finally started he seemed to me like a bit of a damp squib. It's a shame to say, as I'm a big Broadrick fan, and others on Twitter have said that he was mind-blowing, incredible, and a joy - all I thought was that the bass was WAY too loud, to the detriment of his guitar, and while it sounds like his album would be great, the low end of his industrial dubstep was just too low for me. I say this as a Sunn O))) fan.
I was unfamiliar with PCM, even though I know they have an incredibly long history with Supersonic, which combined with being very tired and needing sleep for the much longer day tomorrow, we left before they began. Sorry PCM. You're still cool guys, you didn't need us there, don't worry. Reviewing the chicken kebab I bought from Flame Baked is outside of the remit of this website so for our purposes, we headed home.
I knew I really wanted to see Dylan Carlson, obviously, so we headed to Boxxed to get a good place. The mellow atmosphere was fostered by the inclusion of some seating in the normally industro-minimalist setting for Sir Richard Bishop, explorer of the far reaches of sound, Rangda and Sun City Girls dude and all-round cool guy. His solo set was impressive, his skills on the guitar always a joy, and the atmosphere was one of love and happiness. His set ended and another began as Carlson, playing as drcarlsonalbion, arrived with two friends (Teresa Melancola and Rogier Small) to play a set of material from La Strega and his Hackney Lass project. He ran through the Hackney Lass material effectively solo, with Rosie Knight's recorded vocal accompaniment via laptop, then Melancola and Small arrived to play through the best of La Strega - his improv around The Fairy Round, Wicked Annabella, and a haunting version of Reynardine were magical. His set was beguiling, ponderous, and then over.
We wandered away, sampled the toasties from the Jabberwocky van, then caught the end of Bohren & Der Club of Gore playing in absolute darkness. It sounded alright, not fantastic, but it never seems good when you just catch the end. I nearly bumped into Dylan Carlson himself as he mingled in the crowd at the end of Club of Gore, but I got shy and instead pretended not to notice him. Yeah, I'm a pretty cool guy.
You often catch the artists wandering around the site, and if like me you are incredibly impressed by everything, it's easy to get a little star-struck. I was touching distance from both of Zeni Geva for much of Friday, and I nearly crashed right into Merzbow as I left the toilets - thankfully not while I was tucking into a chorizo toastie. His set, which came after Club of Gore, was incredible - there were Twitter rumours of a collaboration, and I was fingers crossing for either Dylan Carlson or Ruins Alone, but instead it was Niko and Eugene from Oxbow. While it was interesting visually, the contributions from Oxbow were barely audible over Merzbow's gigabytes of hatred, sounding like the death-song of a digital wolf - it was incredible, and the first of a few noise sets that were completely phenomenal.
We departed to investigate the marketplace, got some cake, and generally had a nice time before returning to see Zeni Geva absolutely destroy. I never thought I would ever get the chance to see them live, yet there they were, standing before me, slowly laying waste to my innards. It was a good crowd, though not one that completely appreciated what was before them, but a fantastic end to the evening nonetheless. Ears buzzing, we navigated the midnight streets of Digbeth to our abode.
This was the most exciting day for me - Ruins Alone, KK Null, Ore, Lash Frenzy, Ufomammut, Goat; who could present a better and more comprehensive line-up? The first act I saw was a total surprise, and almost threatened to overshadow everything that came after it - the inimitable Richard Dawson. I'd never heard of him, and when we arrived he was standing solo on the stage, no guitar, just mic and voice. He seemed like a stand-up comedian when we arrived as he was mid-story, until he broke into song and this incredible, warm, thick, textured, powerful voice broke through and seemed to soar over everyone's stunned silence. His song stopped, applause, another short story, then another song, on guitar this time. It was all very informal, endearing, almost heart-stopping at times; he was a sensation, and probably one of two new (to me) acts I will remember after the festival (two picks from last year were Slabdragger and Selfless).
Mothertrucker, who followed Dawson, would be the other act I would take away - they are a heavier, sludgier Earthless, sweeping away all pretensions normally associated with this free-form, relaxed sounding but tightly structured cosmic jamming by having an interest in the absurd, and a great sense of humour. They'll be playing a near-empty pub near you soon, and you should try your damndest to get to them.
We left a song from the end of Mothertrucker to get a good place for Ruins Alone, who was in the Old Library, which packs out very quickly. With each passing year, Tatsuya Yoshida's playing gets tighter and faster and heavier, and he is justifiably a legend in the Japanese hardcore underground. His set was blistering, incredible, it was everything really. Astronomical.
KK Null appeared once Tatsuya had cleared up and proceeded to lay waste to the room. While they are very different, it's difficult not to compare Null with Merzbow, as they are both so iconic in their field. Null is nowhere near as harsh or atonal as Merzbow, as there is occasional snippets of bird-song, percussion, dynamics, while Merzbow presents a harsh and constantly evolving wall of noise, with no pretensions towards melody or concessions in any way. There's definite movements, and in that way it's more like classical music, but for two respected artists in such a specialised field of music, it's interesting just how different they are.
After a while Ore emerge from the back, sit, and begin carving out slabs of sound from their giant tubas while KK Null has a quick change, then emerges and proceeds to drown them out with pure noise. While the collboration was interesting to see, in reality the mixture didn't suit either ingredient - Ore are much more subtle and contemplative, and seem rely on ritual and solemnity in their performance, while KK Null is energetic and intent on slapping, then stroking, the room with bursts of noise. Great in theory, but underwhelming in practice.
I'd wanted to catch Lichens but it clashed with Ore and KK Null, so we headed to the Warehouse for Lash Frenzy. I had never heard of them before, and we had no idea what to expect when we arrived to find drummers and guitarists all over the place, around which the crowd were invited to walk freely. The smoke machines began pumping out thick fog, through which you could just about make out a smallish orchestra on stage, only two or three members, and two drum kits. The music began, lights started flashing, and after about forty minutes of pure noise, evolving as you moved around the venue, through fog and flashing lights, I felt completely immersed and elated. It's less a band and more a sound installation that relies on site specifics and visuals to create an incredible experience, like something from a David Lynch or Gaspar Noe film. It was completely incredible, and my highlight of the entire weekend. Apparently they've played around Birmingham before, and I'd advise you to try and experience the magic of Lash Frenzy at some point if you can.
After the orgasm of Lash Frenzy, Ufomammut began their cosmic sludge, and something just wasn't clicking. Maybe it was their aping of stoner titans Sleep, or maybe it was the comedown after the peak of Lash Frenzy, but it just didn't work for me. Goat burst onto stage after Ufomammut finally wound up their meandering heaviness, with pure Swedish afro-punk joy. It all felt a little bit colonial - affluent white teens playing voodoo-afro-punk-beat sounds, like a slightly more racially dubious Vampire Weekend, with a hell of a lot more sexuality, psychopathy and grit, but they put on an enjoyable show and really got the crowd moving.
After Goat finished, I couldn't take anymore. Sorry Oxbow Orchestra, sorry Body/Head, sorry everyone else, but I needed sleep after a sensory pounding from what is surely the best experimental music festival in the world right now; you need it in your life.
Posted: Tue 23 October 2012 Total Views: 911Views Today: 0