Call me Russ L

Supersonic 2008 – the belated blog post

Posted in Music by Russ L on 4 September, 2008

I began writing this on the day after Supersonic, and was sat in front of the computer wondering just how I was meant to cope with the nonsensical situation of living in a world in which there aren’t people trying to blow your brain out of your ears with basstones in a post-industrial arts complex. I didn’t and indeed don’t like this here world. There was a time, prior to 9pm on Friday the 11th of July, when Soup’n’Sonic wasn’t happening. We’ve since had to go back to that dark age. It ain’t right. Maybe this outright wrongness is why it has taken me two months to post this. Or maybe I’m just a lazy arse. Maybe it’s too early to say.

Re-re-wind, when the crowd says X+X=0 selectah. I’ve left it long enough to realise that I’m not going to get around to writing a proper post about it, so here are the notes I initially tapped out weeks ago in the manner of so many primates bashing at keyboards in an attempt to spell ‘Rosencrantz’. I may, nay will add to or alter them where A) it occurs to me that there is more that reallyreallyreally needs to be said; or B) they don’t make sense; or C) it occurs to me that they reallyreallyreally need to make sense.

Off to The Custard Factory on the 11th I bally well went, then. Larks began on The Outside Stage (which I didn’t really deviate from all night) with Cutting Pink With Knives, my old mucker/comrade/former guvnor Al‘s band playing their last ever gig in Britain. They do a sort of loopy grind come synthpop (Trencher with the silliness turned up to eleven is not a good comparison at all, but I can’t think of a fat lot else), with a large amount of running around and a pile of wacky stage banter that was initially annoying but grew more likeable by the end. Really fun start. I hope ‘throwing your guitar into the air and catching it’ is an event in the 2012 Olympics.

This was the fifth time I’d seen Rolo Tomassi and by far the best. They sounded downright epic at times. Savage then ethereal, turning on a sixpence between the two. A couple of new tunes did both seem very similarly structured on first listen, but still good (of course). Best set of the Friday.

PCM’s dancefloor wrecking d’n’b was next. Ace. Karl from Bolt Thrower joined them as per couple of years ago, and although he once again proved to be more of a cosmetic touch than a big addition to the music you can’t help grinning at him. Big salute to the woman doing jumpstep-stylee dancing.

Dalek were the highlight of Supersonic 2005 for me, conjuring up the sound of the apocalypse as the sky above got darker. Their noisy abstract hip-hop didn’t seem quite as good as that this time and even ended up feeling a bit one-paced at times, but they were still storming. DJ Oktopus’ strutting chicken walk up and down the back of the stage was also hugely impressive.

That was it for the Friday for me, then. I was yawning my little head off and wanted to be half-awake for…

Saturday~! Frolics a-started on The Outside Stage with Cath & Phil Tyler and their lovely bluegrass/folk/sacred harp. Beautiful and intense with some interesting lyrics, they made a great start to the day. Cath’s pregnancy bump apparently objected to proceedings at times but she soldiered on with her very dry wit. I also liked the fact that while she was singing she stood like the Prince Regent taking acting lessons in “Blackadder The Third”. Extra vocal power from BUFFALO STANCE.

Over to The Medicine Bar thence to see the last half of Alexander Tucker’s set. Well, not ‘see’, as such, or at least not for a while. It was very busy. Eventually I managed to get from the bar to a point where I had a view of some of the stage, but I was still in the next room. Between this and the “pinned up against the shutters at the back while trying to watch VOTSW” incident last year I have concluded that it’s not worth bothering to attempt to see anyone in the Med Bar on a Saturday at future Supersonics. Alexio was great, anyway, as far as I could tell. His steadily building themes seemed gentler/proggier than the last time I saw him, and less rocky/noisy (perhaps even a bit folky during parts) but still wonderful. I don’t know whether or not to attribute that to the fact that he had a band with him on this occasion. Lovely stuff nevertheless.

It was over to Space 2 (formerly The Rojac Building/arches warehouse) for The Courtesy Group next, and I really wondered about whether playing on a big stage would work for them. The answer was yes. Oh good god yes. Their Beefheart/Fall/yesyesyesnocomparisonsreallyhelp mania was amplified rather than dwarfed, the sound was clear and the bass had the volume that I realised it could always have done with every time I’d seen them previously. They played quite a few new songs if I recall (A Good Thing. Much as I love them, they do seem to have been playing the same stuff forever now), Al acted the giddy goat as usual, and they were amaaazing.

Magnetophone were a bit of a cipher to me, back over on The Outside Stage. A bit dancey at times and a bit psychedelic at others, but in spite of watching nearly all of their set I didn’t feel like I got a distinct idea of them. I quite enjoyed them though.

It may have been at this point that I had a green Thai curry from one of the food stalls, or it may have been later. It was surprisingly nice for food-in-a-tray, whichever way up.

Efterklang are a band you need to see if you haven’t already. If you have, you need to see them again. Best set of the festival. That’s all I have to say on the matter.

Space 2 again after this, for Oxbow. I’d got the idea that they were a bit more outre than they actually are. More-or-less just basic rock, really (some Helmet bits, some Zep riffs) but reasonably good stuff. The geezer didn’t half go on about the fact that he couldn’t get any wine, though. That got boring after not particularly long. Most of the other accounts I’ve read of Supah-sonic seem to go on about how inteeeense Oxbow were; I dunno. While listening attentively to the music all weekend, I was doing a lot of texting (the astute will figure out why) and quite often not watching the stage as much. Physical intensity may well have passed me by at times.

(Actually it may have been at this point I had my green Thai curry. Really not sure).

Fuck Buttons in Space 2 next, the third time I’ve seen them but the first in a big venue that allowed the stadium techno half of their sound to shine through as well as the more customary glitchy noise half. The live percussive bit will probably never be as good as first time I saw them, but it was quite fun. I was very tired by this point and my attention was drifting in and out; the interesting thing is that during my more-awake moments they didn’t seem at their best, but they did feel quite hypnotic while I was slipping away.

Finally, the lovely Battles (still in Space 2). They were definitely sounding more ragged than on either of the previous times I’d seen them, but glorious nevertheless. Grooving and poppy yet still twiddly and choppy. You already know them, though.

On Sunday, it seems, all draft everything/anything had run out. Uh-huh. It wasn’t long before most sensible-sized bottles (we’re basically looking at Magners. It was £3 for a big bottle of that or £3 for a much smaller bottle of whatever else) ran out too. Uh-huh.

Einstellung opened The Outside Stage. This turned out to have been the third time I’d seen them (I really thought there had been more than that, for some reason), and possibly the best (there seem to be quite a few bands like that over the course of the weekend). The larger scale helped their big driving Krautpunk songs sound epic.

I somehow get the feeling that Transitional (in Space 2) may not like the comparison, but Godflesh really seemed writ large to me. That dark drone and industrial sort of thing was good, but really begged the obvious comparison.

Max Tundra (back at The Outside Stage) was ace! And completely unexpected! Synth-pop with bits of all sorts of other stuff. Like Justin Timberlake meeting Mike In Mono with ravey bits and proggy techno bits and lord knows what else. He was a great entertainer, too.

I switched back to Space 2 again after that, to hear the last bit of Orthodox. Muscular doom: nothing unique but decent enough, and the drummer was a beast, hitting the cymbals with his hand after dropping a drumstick. Their cover of ‘Black Sabbath’ wasn’t dreadful but would probably have been better off as an instrumental.

I got all confused after that. The Theatre Space times had changed, and then turned out to be delayed on top of that. It was too complicated for this Russ of very little brain. I ended up watching some of Parts & Labor (instant lost points for the name. Being American is not an excuse for American spellings) on The Outside Stage while waiting. Husker Du homage, anyway, nothing jaw-dropping but some songs seemed kinda catchy.

Once ingress to the Theatre Space was eventually achieved, it was time for a couple of talks. Japanese artist Yukio Fujimoto‘s turn really seemed ill-conceived at first, as he narrated over videos of installations he’d created in the past… with a faulty mic. Eventually, though, he got every one to gather round near him in front of/on the stage (“the sound is very small”) and played tunes with pocket calculators. Magnificent tunes. With pocket calculators. It was wonderful.

Brian Duffy’s talk, meanwhile, was as fantastic as you’d have imagined. He spoke mostly about some of his projects he’s created (and/or continues to work with), but is a hilarious bloke and so clever that P’Ashton was moved to purchase this domain afterwards. It was all entertaining and interesting; I forget the name, but one of my favourite things to hear about was the telescope that responded to light with sound, and the ensuing performance that pointed them at the sky to capture the music of the spheres. The quantum explanation of what happens when he circuit-bends toys was magnificent, too (in brief: he solders bits of an electronic toy together and it now makes new and different noises. The manufacturers didn’t plan for these noises to be made, and he didn’t specifically set out to create them. Since he obviously hasn’t and couldn’t add any more information into the universe but has seemingly conjured some up from somewhere, it must be a collapsed probability waveform. Beautiful). Amazing stuff.

To Space 2 after this, for Earth. As legendary as they may be in the eyes of some, I found them duuuuuuulllllllllllll. Simple arrangements, repeated over and over in slow motion, and… no, that was it, really. Occasionally they seemed to threaten to hint at evoking dusty prairie plains and the like, but never went as far as doing so. The first act all weekend that I found nothing to like about.

I gave up on them after a while (I did try, y’know) and – with only The Disgraceful Red Sparrowes due to play on the immediate horizon – left The Custard Factory for a bit to go and get some kebab ‘n’ chips.

I returned in time for Fucked Up in Space 2, who really seemed like just your basic punk/hardcore band. This year’s “Not bad as such, but why they were booked for Supersonic?” group. They were moderately catchy at times, but nothing you couldn’t have seen at any random gig at The Market Tavern while it was still open. Folk elsewhere seem to have spoken/written about the singer and his leaping-around-larks; in the interests of fairness I should probably say that the last two sentences of my thoughts on Oxbow may well apply here too.

I think a spot of general aimless faffing about went on at this point, before going to hear a bit of The Oscillation on The Outside Stage. I heard the very end of their set supporting Chrome Hoof at the tail end of last year, which caught my attention. On seeing a bit more of them they seemed less psychedelic than I was expecting- more sort of psych-come-powerpop-come-baggy. Not bad. Not great either, but not bad.

A spot of Kikuri (no link, sorry) in Space 2 seemed apt at this point. They’re made up of Japanesenoiselegends Merzbow and Keiji Haino, although I’m not so sure how different they were from every other noise thing knocking around. Some likeable individual moments, though, and at least they were as LOUD as thing sort of thing could so often do with being. I might even go so far as saying that they had the volume that SunnO))) could really have done with last year.

The last act for me (so tired. So very tired) were ZX Spectrum Orchestra, on The Outside Stage. “Geek Pride~!”, they gleefully affirmed. Alas, I felt a bit left out. I’d like to be a geek, but don’t have the technical knowledge. I’m just a nerd. Each individual bleep from their 8-bit monster machines, anyway, took them several hours to code, but I’m glad they did. The tune created by making the computers say letters/numbers/command lines was genius in particular (“I 1 U 2 move. D I S C O”).

And then I left. It was amazing. It remains the best annual event going. Hurrah for Capsule and Supersonic.

There’s a collective memory over at CIB, with links a-plenty to all sorts of punditry and picturation.

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6 Responses

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  1. […] Supersonic 2008 – the belated blog post – Two months after the event, self-proclaimed lazy arse Russ L posts this very in-depth blog post about the weekend. ‘Re-re-wind, when the crowd says X+X=0 selectah.’ […]

  2. […] Russ L […]

  3. Pete Ashton said, on 5 September, 2008 at 1:20 am

    The distinction between nerd and geek has always fascinated me. There’s something inherently nerdy and geeky about it.

    I think Brian would accept nerds into his Geek Pride movement. It’s probably a bit like LGBT stuff. GNFW – Geeks, Nerds, Freaks and Weirdos.

    Hmm. I feel another domain purchase coming on…

    (Great review, btw. All the better for letting it mature like good wine.)

  4. Russ L said, on 5 September, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Ta. It turned out to have a lot more in it than I expected it to.

    I’ve just got everything else over the last two months to get around to writing about, now…

  5. Pete Ashton said, on 6 September, 2008 at 12:14 am

    Realised today I’d missed out dorks.

    Geek, Nerd, Freak, Dork – GNFD Pride.

    Still not completely sold on freaks though. Too wide a class.

  6. Russ L said, on 6 September, 2008 at 8:02 am

    Let your freak flag fly, as a wise man once sang.

    No, I agree actually. ‘Freak’ could mean anything.


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