Call me Russ L

Supersonic 2007

Posted in Films, Music by Russ L on 16 July, 2007

I’ve said before that Supersonic is my favourite annual event. Though the property developers may be trying to shut down all the venues and cast a pallor of silence across the land, and though 99% of music fans may be permanently trying to be as annoying as possible and suck the fun out of all that is good, Supersonic stands tall. It’s just about interesting stuff that interested people can go and see. Long may it live.

Friday the 13th (scary)

A pint in The Spotted Dog and a couple in The Rainbow saved standing in a queue in the rain but did mean that Bela Emerson was already on by the time I got into The Custard Factory. It was immediately apparent that there were a lot more people here than there were at a comparable time the previous year, and that remained the case throughout the weekend. I picked the wrong door through which to enter The Kitchen, and walked directly in front of several people filming. Doh.

Beautiful Bela, you were so much noisier this time than when I saw you in February, so much more dissonant and violent. Jagged splinters of cello-ing looped and coalesced into a teeth-gritting tapestry of savage splendour. Playing a saw-blade with your bow was a perfect visual metaphor. What angered you, Bela? Tell me who displeased you, and I will travel to the ends of the earth to smite them. But only if you promise to do this again.

Over to The Medicine Bar for another Last Ever Ever Ever No Honest Guv We Really Mean It This Time Ever Ever Ever Finished Finito Kaput Yes I Know We Said That The Last Two Times But This Is Really It Ever Ever Ever Deadsunrising gig. Their chaotic timechangey West Brom metal always pushes the skin back on the sides of your face, but they did (for some reason) seem a touch less full-frontal savage than usual this time. This, however, allowed some sense of just how epic a lot of their songs are, and you don’t normally get that from them live. I’ll miss ‘em. Until their next last gig ever ever ever.

With The Kitchen rammed beyond the point of even being able to visualise the thought of getting in and nothing due to happen in The Med Bar for quite a while, I decided to check out at this point and get ready for round two.

Saturday the 14th (less scary)

It was Saturday by the time I got home, of course. A couple of naps, a trip to Sainsbury’s and a bit of general pottering took place before heading once more unto the breach. It wasn’t raining this time, which was very kind of God.

The unpleasantly named Shit And Shine (I’m gonna start a band called “You Can’t Polish A Turd, Beavis” in response) opened the day on the main/outside stage. A whole buncha drummers banging out a synchronised tribal rhythm brought Neurosis immediately to mind. Initially and for the most part doom with a trance-like ritualistic air induced by the constant duh-dudu-duh of the drums and the lady intoning phrases in Spanish, before speeding up and adding some more almost Motorhead-y riffs (Motorosis, imagine that. Brutal). The initially solemn drummers were by that point flailing away for all they were worth, and it was spectacular. An absolutely magnificent start to the day.

I nipped around the back after this, to have a look at The Arches stage (in a little cleared warehouse on the other side of the railway arches. Is this The Rojac Building?). I quite liked it, for a venue of its size (huge) – it had a bit of ‘industrial decay’ character about it, and one mighty soundsystem. The bar at the back was selling cans of Red Stripe, too, which turned out to be the tipple of the day – although stupidly dear at £3 a can, The Kitchen was charging the same for a pint of Carlsberg that seemed to have been siphoned from the drip tray. Plus you have an excuse to pretend you’re Jamaican when drinking the ol’ Red Stripe, and that’s always fun.

Crippled Black Phoenix (‘Crippled Black Pheonix’ according to the legend projected onto the screens either side of the stage. Oops.) were on while I was in there, but the little bit of their set I saw didn’t really come across as all that impressive. They just seemed like your basic melodic rock band, really, albeit one with long instrumental passages in the middle of their songs. They certainly didn’t sound like the sort of act you’d expect to find at Supersonic. I only watched for a couple of tunes, though. Maybe hidden depths are revealed if you see/hear more for context.

I returned to the outside stage to see a bit of Strings Of Consciousness. They started using their wide away of instruments to create an attempt at a pretty soundscape, but it didn’t really have much of an effect. I gather most of their music is improvised, though, so I suppose that inevitably will happen sometimes.

After it became obvious that they weren’t getting any more interesting, I gave up and headed into The Med Bar for Voice Of The Seven Woods. Lord o’ mercy, it was busy in there. I was stuck right at the back, pressed against the shutters by an uncomfortable density of other people. VOTSW were an electric band this time (it was just an acoustic man when I saw them/him in February), playing middle eastern influenced prog-rock. It’s a really familiar sound (although no reference point comes smoothly to mind), but a good one – the soundtrack to some Turkish drug-den where beautiful exotic ladies pass around hookahs and clouds of sweet-smelling smoke float through the air. Sadly, my significantly less opulent surroundings were the gig room of The Medicine Bar with 7,123,381 other people sandwiched in (that’s just an estimate. I’ll check the figures later), and it was beginning to make me feel sick. I saw about fifteen minutes before having to bail out, which really was a shame.

I briefly returned to Strings Of Consciousness and found that they’d progressed onto a heavier and more industrial-ish bit, but it still wasn’t really going anywhere. In the name of having a sit-down and finding something to do, I went and did something slightly out-of-character: I went into The Theatre Space to go and have a look at the fillums.

I’m glad I did. Film isn’t really my medium and I don’t often get a lot out of it, but I did quite enjoy the series of short pictures I saw courtesy of 7 Inch Cinema. When I entered they were showing a thing where people on pushbikes had things thrown at them to the tune of The Damned’s “New Rose,” and then subsequently gave us a chance to have a look at: a trippy thing where paper swans, people, clocks and other things swirled around (the colours seemed a bit faded. Could have been a good sensory overload otherwise); “Powers Of Ten” (“A film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe, and the effect of adding another zero” – an absolutely amazing seventies short documentary. Go and watch it on YouTube now. I was glad when people applauded at the end, so I could join in. My initially instinct was to clap, but I didn’t know you actually did that for films until everyone else began to); some sepia-coloured footage of a gang of blokes standing round a tree and singing a blues/spiritual; a video for an indie band’s song involving a little plasticine fella creosoting a tree instead of the fence around it and getting dismembered as punishment (I didn’t like that, it seemed a bit cruel); the video for Modified Toy Orchestra’s “Freeno And Olaf” (in which a soft toy elephant and a soft toy chicken travel over huge distances to be with one another. I love this so much. I’m not being silly when I say it brings a tear to my eye. I can’t find the video itself online, but here it is projected onto a big screen behind them); “A Storm And Some Snow” (did exactly what it said on the tin); “Amazing Tiger” (really sweet animation-with-toys. A circus tiger escapes from his cage but goes to see the elephant before he runs away, and nearly gets caught as a result. He escapes, though); and a scratching demo (involving records being literally smashed onto the turntable).

After emerging back into the light (blinking a lot) and then generally faffing about for a bit (I would have liked to have seen some of Calvados Beam Trio being as they’re a really good band, but I’d written The Med Bar off as a no-go area by this point), it was time for Tunng and their folk come space-rock on the main stage. Surely they’re one of the finest bands of current times, but alas they were having some technical difficulties to begin with (Glastonbury mud in the firing wiring, it seems). It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, though – they may have looked very embarrassed, but the sudden and unexpected interjections of pumping synth bass gave us a new perspective on them. The Tunng club mix, if you like. Halfway through it all seemed to settle down, and their usual gently anthemic glory re-asserted itself. They’re playful and bright but at times also slightly creepy; lots of fun but always interesting too. A wonderful band.

By this point a couple of problems were writ large and it seems worth suggestin’ a suggestion for next year: More toilets (the portaloos from 2006 were absent) and more bins (surely more economical than having people wandering around picking litter up all day), please. If there’s a similar increase in the number of punters next time without a corresponding increase in facilities, we’ll (at best) be alarmingly close to an infrastructure collapse.

Modified Toy Orchestra were next on the main stage, performing at their third Supersonic in a row (“Our spiritual home,” said they). I really do love this group, and it was edifying to see them and their toy-based electronica/synthpop enjoyed by so many at this gig. I’ve said this before, but they really work on so many different levels – grooving, catchy, technically clever, novel, arty, and fun. One of the best sets of the day, and I was happy to get my second blast of Freeno And Olaf in a few hours. I do wish Mr Duffy would stop trying to make it sound all smutty when he introduces it, though, with his talk of “forbidden interspecies love”. It’s a beautiful thing and deserves to be treated as such. I may well write a letter of complaint, in fact.

A little bit of Qui‘s set came next, over at The Arches Stage. I’m a bit annoyed, really – I found their Unsane-come-Shellac shizzle a bit dull, but that’s by the by. Old Man Yow (of Jesus Lizard fame) is meant to act the giddy goat when you see him. There’s no point to him otherwise. I’m told that he was charging about like a man unhinged at some point during their set, but it didn’t happen while I was watching them. Bah.

Chrome Hoof were the band that I was looking forward to the most out of the ones that I wasn’t already a fan of. This only intensified as they were setting up. “Wow, they’ve got a bassoon!” “Wow, they’re wearing bacofoil!” (It wasn’t actually bacofoil as it turned out, more like silver glitter-ball material. Or maybe an homage to Birmingham Selfridges, who knows. The only none-silvered individual was the singer, who was wearing what seemed to be rune-inscribed cross between a robe and a maternity dress). I really don’t know why anyone hasn’t tried to create Krautrock-disco-metal (or something) before, but I’m glad they have now. Spectacular, and lots of fun. I do get a hint of a feeling that they’re not quite as grooving as they seem to think they are and the frontwoman not quite as charismatic as she seems to think she is, but by any sensible measure they were fantastic.

It seems that after this there were too many people in the main area and re-entry was limited after you left, but keeping half an eye on the entrance and picking the moment made sure there was no problem. It’s not really surprising – outside stage headliners Mogwai were by far and away the ‘biggest’ band ever to play at Supersonic. I only ended up watching a bit, though. The sound was worse for them than it had been for anyone else all day, but even beyond that they just didn’t seem to have the impact that they had when I saw them at The Wulfrun last year (either melodically during their melodic bits, or woooaaarrrghIroarlikeatigerandeatyou-ly during their woooaaarrrghIroarlikeatigerandeatyou bits). I was half-thinking at the time that maybe part of the problem was that every second band currently extant are attempting to be Mogwai being Slint, but that was just as true in 2006. It just felt like something was missing.

I cut out and nipped around the back to catch Arches Stage/entire festival closers Sunno))). Despite the Official Biggest Supersonic Headliners Ever, there were a fair few attendees for whom SunnOhBracketBracketBracket were the real main event. Apparently they were bolstered by Justin Broadrick of Godflesh/Jesu and Attila of Mayhem for this gig. I dunno – it could have been The Sisters Of Mercy on stage, given the amount of dry ice floating about the place. For the majority of the time I could just see a vocalist bloke – initially in a black cowl, which turned out to have a long blonde wig underneath (no, me neither), and at the end a (presumably different?) bloke in a red cowl. Occasionally a hint of a hand, guitar neck or hooded head of one of the others appeared menacingly from amongst the mist. It did look bloody cool, that has to be said.

The sound , sadly, was not the physical trial it’s meant to be. For those unaware, Sunn0))) for the most part play long rumbles of feedbacky bass, twisting with microtonal variation. Shrieks and screams over the top melt in. It’s always reputed, however, to be a hugely powerful and punishing physical experience. It wasn’t. I’ve heard/felt bass as powerful as most of this set (i.e. a shortarse like me could feel it distinctly in his legs and ooblocks, and a little bit in his chest) at loads of different venues before, albeit not as constantly, and I was near the speakers. It got a bit stronger (i.e. I could feel it strongly in my chest and a bit in my throat) for a ten-minute-ish stretch that started about twenty minutes before the end (if that makes sense), but it really wasn’t even remotely close to the sort of thing I’ve heard about. It brings new meaning to the oft-used phrase “I wasn’t feeling that band”. I literally wasn’t feeling them enough, in this case.

So there we go. Without wanting to sound even slightly negative, this was probably the least of the three Supersonic festivals I’ve been to, but crucially it was still a ridiculous amount of fun and surely better than whatever else you to which you might want to compare it. Thank you Lisa & Jenny Capsule, thank you bands, and thank you everyone else involved. Now I just need to kill time for a year until the next one.

P’Ashton be compilin’ links to all the blog posts and features and reviews and photo collections and videos and such here.


21 Responses

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  1. […] Longer Reviews Drowned in Sound Russ L […]

  2. throughsilver said, on 16 July, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    I was going to ask if you were off to this, actually. It looked well good from the ads, and I actually half thought about going down there. Crippled Black Phoenix, in case you weren’t aware (but probably are) are something of a UK indie supergroup, in as much as they feature a bloke from Mogwai, a bloke from Iron Monkey (drummer par excellence Justin Greaves, though sadly away from the kit), and some other people who do other things. The album is pretty good, if slightly generic. If you’re after anything particularly ‘post-‘ anything, I recommend the new World’s End Girlfriend album first and foremost.

    And apropos of nothing, my Super Sonic wishlist would have consisted of Wolf Eyes, Kid606, sunnO))), Om, Moggers, Zeni Geva, Jazkamer and Shit & Shine.

  3. Ben said, on 16 July, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Good work on being so prompt with your review, Russ! I should be getting my own up in the next couple of days. Both Kenny and I were saying it was a shame not to have met you – we saw Pete who told us you were about. Ships that pass in the night… There’s always next time, I guess.

  4. Russ L said, on 16 July, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    Sroothilva – Yeah, I do know about CBP. People from loads of interesting bands. And Gonga.

    Zeni Geva didn’t play (I think their whole tour was pulled). They were off the bill for quite a while before, though, so I assume you’re working from an early version of the flyer.

    Ben – Pete led me on a search for y’all after everything had finished, but you’d absconded. Never mind, another time. I’m really looking forward to both your and Kendall’s write-ups of this.

  5. throughsilver said, on 16 July, 2007 at 9:09 pm

    Yeah, I’m working off an ad placed in The Wire, so I’m guessing it originally got produced in about 1923.

  6. Russ L said, on 16 July, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    Has Supersonic been advertised in The Wire in previous years, do you know? I’m wondering if part of the reason for the fulsome attendance this year is a bigger media campaign.

    There are lots of links to Youtube videos of it if you follow that link at the bottom of the main post, by the way. You can put those on and pretend you were there.

  7. peteashton said, on 16 July, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    It’s interesting comparing your report to the one in Drowned in Sound. I’m not saying one is better than the other but it occurs to me, once again, how good you are at this lark.

    Was good to meet up properly finally. No idea when or even if my report will emerge but the whole thing was an audio-visual sweetshop for me. Marvelous!

  8. Pete Ashton said, on 16 July, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    “Has Supersonic been advertised in The Wire in previous years, do you know? I’m wondering if part of the reason for the fulsome attendance this year is a bigger media campaign.”

    Pure speculation, but I think Capsule doing a lot of “outreach” work over the years at things like Sonar and ATP has had something to do with it. I noticed a lot of people had traveled fair distances. A hell of a lot in fact. This was the sort of international event that the big cheeses in the city should be putting on, though it really only came about through hard work on Jenny and Lisa’s part.

    And yeah, the “Media Sponsors” page in the program did look rather significant, though again I think this has more to do with their networking than a “media campaign”. There’s a wider buzz about Supersonic these days and it has a strong reputation. It is, as they say, on the map.

  9. Russ L said, on 17 July, 2007 at 9:06 am

    Well, all these things and more, of course (hence “part of the reason”). I just wondered if there had been significantly more advertising than usual. ‘Media campaign’ was a wanky phrase to use, I’ll admit. I don’t know what came over me.

    Regarding the increase in population there, it’s interesting that some folk on The Communion board have mentioned that they think Supersonic may have ‘outgrown’ The Custard Factory. This makes some of the things you mentioned to me on Saturday doubly interesting…

    Also – aw, shucks. Yer nutter.

  10. mr duffy said, on 17 July, 2007 at 4:10 pm

    hi Russ, thanks for the kind words re mto , we work really hard to create the music and instruments we make , so its reassuring when people enjoy the freeno and olaf and my smutty??? remarks, the reference I make to “a love that dare not speak its name” is a reference to the persecution of Oscar wilde which is its self a reference to Plato, and the notion that the supposed ‘norm’ i.e. heterosexual love is somehow superior to any other form of love , and therefore assumes that all other love is somehow smutty or sexual or degraded, the other comment I made i.e., the most forbidden of all loves is a reference to Shakespeare, both are comments about the nature of taboo yet true romantic love ,and never do I make a comment about sex or smut. as a gay man I like to point out the universal equality of “love” as a call for equality, for both oscar and romeo and juliet..the opening to the totally innocent freeno and olaf , sets up a tension in the minds of the “heterosexual” audience “what is this forbidden love, he is talking about, it must be something deviant or perverted?? i.e. any love not the same as mine must be smutty, the fact it is about a very innocent romance is exactly my point,and is meant to be funny!!,

  11. Russ L said, on 17 July, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    Lesson of the internet #381: Never, ever, ever try to make a flippant joke on your blog.

  12. Pete Ashton said, on 17 July, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    That Mr Duffy, he has the big brain.

  13. Russ L said, on 17 July, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    Undoubtedly huuuge. I don’t think his little confounding-of-expectations actually works in this case, though.

    The tension produced is completely different from the stated intention. The audience are watching a band called Modified Toy Orchestra, who make music involving altered toys, and have backing videos involving various toy-related images. The statements at hand are not sufficient to build up a context in which anyone will be expecting anything ‘deviant or perverted,’ irrespective of what any individual sees as constituting deviancy or perversion. He announces the love that dare not speak it’s name; but the audience don’t think “Lummy, I’m about to be shocked and appalled.” They think “Ah, this’ll have something to do with toys, then.” When he mentions interspecies love, they think “Ah, that’ll be two different types of toys, then.” The heart-meltingly sweet video then plays, and everyone promptly forgets about the spoken introduction without having jumped into Daily Mail Reader type at any point.

    Everyone, that is, except one blogger waffling on at the nether end of the internet, who uses it for the basis of a bit of a silly mock-outrage trope to add a bit of levity to a paragraph that would otherwise have seemed unappealingly earnest (Wilde half-pun not intended). It’s a device I over-use in my writing, really, but that’s entirely another question. Although I’m probably not the best person to judge, I really cannot see how anyone could possibly have assumed that the last three sentences of that paragraph were a real viewpoint held by anyone. ”I may well write a letter of complaint, in fact.” Should I change the name at the top of this blog to “Outraged Of Rowley”?

    My facetiousness did not go unpunished, of course. I still have the headache caused by trying to decipher Duffy’s run-on sentences.

    Lesson of the internet #382: Never give ‘em an opening.

  14. mr duffy said, on 18 July, 2007 at 9:57 am


  15. mr duffy said, on 18 July, 2007 at 10:03 am

    where is that sense of humour?? i know i put it down somewhere???

  16. Russ L said, on 18 July, 2007 at 12:49 pm

    I wouldn’t bother looking for it. It’s a liability, if this sequence if anything to go by.

    Whichever way up, let us now be friends again and such. It’s all good, as the young’uns say.

  17. migfreeman said, on 19 July, 2007 at 10:42 am

    powers of one-

  18. Bela said, on 19 July, 2007 at 7:34 pm

    Heh. Thanks Russ. I’ll tell you if you come & say hi next time. I saw Powers of Ten too – first time since I was a kid, so there was also the nostalgia thing going on – how great is that film????

  19. Russ L said, on 19 July, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Bela – I couldn’t come and say hi. My love for you is The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name (Out Loud). It can in text, of course.

    Mig – Very droll. There is actually a film called ‘The Power Of One’ though, isn’t there?

  20. Betty said, on 22 July, 2007 at 1:29 pm

    I think that your review of SunnO))) is one of the campest things I’ve read in a long time.

    … which is meant to be a compliment, I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being camp, or, indeed, that being camp is necessarily connected with being gay, or that there is anything wrong with being gay …

    *backs slowly away from comments box*

  21. Russ L said, on 22 July, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Row of tents, that’s me. I’m not sure I see why in this particular instance, though (I know I mentioned their clothes/wigs, but still…).



    Some of my favourite post-Soup’n’Sonic stuff (all of which can be accessed via a particular P’Ashton Project):

    Ben Swizzle’s words

    Deceased Kenflo’s words

    ‘Freeno And Olaf’ vid

    PILLS~!/The first time a HighVisJacketSecurityMan has ever been cheered, anywhere, ever


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