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8 out of 10
As a long time follower and customer of the myriad of music that Capsule (http://www.capsule.org.uk/supersonic) promote with Birmingham, I must admit this is the first time I’ve actually attended Supersonic. Now in it’s 8th year, the festival has grown again bringing us some particularly exciting bands this year. More of those in a few moments though.
I think it’s worth noting that this is one of the most friendly festivals I’ve ever been to. As an outsider, the mix of extreme music, beards and alcohol could paint a rather scary picture but I do honestly believe that on the whole this festival (although catering for the more ’alternative’ end of the musical spectrum) would have something for everyone amongst the approximately 40-50 bands playing over the 3 days.
Another noteworthy point is the location and layout of the festival. Held in Birmingham’s Custard Factory (http://www.custardfactory.co.uk/) you get the run of the whole place with venues including not only the warehouse down the road but an outside marquee, smaller indoor hall and a theatre for films, discussions and various other musical themed media. There is also 2 areas (maybe more?) selling merch from various local and national (Rough Trade) record shops, sweets, cupcakes and there was even a collectors card stall. I was quite a fan of the Cyndi Lauper cards complete with interestings facts such as: "Other kids used to throw stones at Cyndi as a child because she liked to look different".
The main reason we were all attending though was obviously the music. Napalm Death, Swans, Hallogallo and Melt Banana headlined along with the exciting news of the reformation of Birmingham’s own Godflesh as the final headliner. As a follower of newer band Jesu, I was quite interested to see Godflesh perform live on the 2nd night.
So, with the scene set and myself and a friend headed into the festival. The first band we saw were "Gum Takes Tooth" (http://www.myspace.com/gumtakestooth) mid-set as we walked into the outside marquee. The duo consist of a drummer and singer/electronics/keyboard player who are wired together via the various effects and drum kit. This results in a sound where every beat played on the kit can be manipulated into something else. Ingenious stuff. They blasted out noise one minute to absolutely blinding bass driven grooves and beats the next. Extremely catchy music and I was impressed enough to buy a CD straight away after. Following on from this was Birmingham grind metallers "Fukpig" (http://www.myspace.com/fukpig13). Playing a non-stop blast of crust/grind/punk in the late 80’s style, they feature members of the acclaimed Mistress and Anaal Nathrakh. A truly extreme slice of music which got the crowd riled up into a rather large group of happily grimacing faces nodding along in appreciative unison not to mention the obligatory "pit" breakout during several of their songs. After Fukpig, we popped over to "The Old Library" to catch "Demons" and were greeted with the Purity Ales bar allowing me to get a pint of "UBU" (http://www.puritybrewing.com). Things are going from good to better I think! Demons play a particularly dark brand of noise which I have to admit wasn’t for me. I finished my UBU and we wandered outside. It was at this point I realised the time and regrettably had to call it a night as my last bus home was due very soon. This of course meant I missed Napalm Death who I hear were very good.
Saturday’s line up brought a few more gems our way. The music was spread over a longer amount of time so we took a more leisurely approach to seeing bands. On the flip side, this unfortunately meant our intake of alcohol was far greater resulting in very hazy memories and illegible notes! First up for us were "Stinky Wizzleteat" (http://myspace.com/stinkywizzleteat), a local band I’d been lucky enough to see before opening up for Eyehategod. These guys were very good indeed and dished out some heavy, heavy riffs supported by a guttural vocal and some rather nice grooves. One of my bands of the weekend I think. Another gem of the weekend for me was "Tweak Bird" (http://www.myspace.com/tweakbird). These Illinois, USA based brothers play some amazingly catchy music using only a guitar and drums with the odd vocal melody thrown in for good measure along with a spot of saxophone here and there. A strange combination you might thinking but the result was one of the most fun and interesting things I saw all weekend. They were very ’stoner rock’ in places I thought and I liked them so much I bought their latest album!
Next up were "OvO" (http://www.myspace.com/ovobarlamuerte). This for me was one of the weirdest yet strangely drawing bands of the weekend. The Italian duo consist of a female guitarist/vocalist and percussionist. The music was....well...it’s hard to describe. In places the drumming felt like it was going to floor me (which is a good thing) and the heavy almost droning riffery accompanying it had my head nodding along. At the same time though, it was completley baffling in places....especially when singer Stefania Pedrett started playing her dreadlocks with a bow. On the whole I enjoyed what I saw (especially the drumming!) it but I came to the conclusion this was something I’d watch live but probably never ever listen to outside of that format.
On to headline band of the day "Godflesh" (http://www.myspace.com/godsflesh). The influence of this band spread far throughout the metal scene and this would be their first appearance on stage in over 10 years. As I stated above, I myself have seen mainman Justin Broadrick perform on a number of occasions in his later incarnation "Jesu" but this is my first encounter with Godflesh. Playing in the vast hanger space, this seemed to me to be the perfect setting for their industrial tinged metal. The stripped down riffs, played at a leisurley pace had me nodding along with a smile on my face. This is crushing music which was raising the bar when the likes of album "Streetcleaner" was released all those years ago. A real treat for fans old and new I think. With that it was time to run for the bus again.
My friend and I met up on Sunday mid-afternoon for the final instalment of the festival. It saw us return with a little less sleep and some mild hangovers but that wasn’t going to stop us grabbing one final slice of music. That said, we did seem to spend our time just wandering around without any real agenda on this day. My personal main aim was to see Swans play but on inspecting the timetable it wasn’t to be. My last bus was over an hour before they would even set foot on stage. This I think was my only ’gripe’ of the festival. If you are bound by work or public transport timetables, it makes it very difficult to see some of the headlining bands. A tad frustrating as Swans latest album is something I listen to regularly and tales of their crushingly loud live sound was something that I really wanted to experience. Reviews I have read do seem to indicate I missed out not seeing them. Oh well. With a dip into Mugstar’s (http://www.myspace.com/mugstar) great blend of building riff/electronic laden rock and Hallogallo 2010’s (http://www.michaelrother.de/en/) treat of the music of "Neu!" it was time to head home and gear up for another week at work. It all went so fast.
As a first time visit to Supersonic, this was for me one of the most varied and interesting festival experiences I’ve had outside of All Tomorrow’s Parties and all in my own home town as well. Definitely not for everyone’s tastes but then with so much music to choose from you’re bound to find something new you like. I’d recommend the festival to anyone wanting to broaden their horizons musically. Capsule have created and maintained something which brings together a number of music communities and fans alike all under ’one roof’. A one of a kind achievement.
FRIDAY 22ND OCTOBER
DEAD FADER / DEMONS (W/SICK LLAMA) / DEVILMAN (W/DJ SCOTCH EGG) / DRUMCORPS / FUKPIG / GUM TAKES TOOTH / NECRO DEATHMORT / PCM
SATURDAY 23RD OCTOBER
GODFLESH + MELT BANANA
BLUE SABBATH BLACK FIJI / CAVE / CLOAKS (exclusive solo DJ set) / DOSH / EAGLE TWIN / GNAW / GNOD / KING MIDAS SOUND / LASH FRENZY vs KK NULL / LICHENS / OvO / PART WILD HORSES MANE ON BOTH SIDES / PEOPLE LIKE US / STEVE TROMAN & DAN NICHOLLS DUO / STINKY WIZZLETEAT / TWEAK BIRD
SUNDAY 24TH OCTOBER
SWANS + HALLOGALLO
BARN OWL / BLACK SUN DRUM CORPS / CHROME HOOF / DETHSCALATOR / BONG / FACTORY FLOOR / HEALTH & EFFICIENCY / JAILBREAK FEAT. CHRIS CORSANO + HEATHER LEIGH / JAMES BLACKSHAW / KHYAM ALLAMI AND MASTER MUSICIANS OF BUKKAKE / MOTH LITE / MUGSTAR / NISENNENMONDAI / PETER BRODERICK / PIERRE BASTIEN + MALE INSTRUMENTY / RUINS / VOICE OF THE SEVEN THUNDERS / ZENI GEVA