Supersonic 2009, 24th-26th of July (inclusive): I will recap this via three categories, I think.
~ Nisennenmondai (Saturday evening): Nisennenmondai did some sort of “Alice…” kinda thing where they’re tiny but start playing and it’s like they’ve eaten an “Eat Me” and grown by about four hundred miles. Either that or they just sounded really big. The best set of the festival, anyway, and they got the reception from the crowd to prove it. They live somewhere between Battles and Can with maybe a twist of Lightning Bolt too, creating a driving and constantly building instrumental sound. The nutty drummer makes a great contrast to the other two more demure types.
~ Theo (Sunday afternoon): Joint-second-best. Your man (on his Jack Jones) guitars for a bit, loops that, then slings the axe over his back and drums for a bit, before looping that etc etc. Eeeeeveryone is using loop pedals nowadays (I heard an ice-cream van layering it’s choons the other day. Or maybe I just wanted to, I forget) but it’s the quality that’s important, and this lad created a wonderfully intricate-and-detailed but still high-energy mathsrock business.
~ Earthless (Sunday evening): The other joint-second-best. They weren’t as Southern as I was expecting (I reckon I may have become confused between tracks on the Brumcast preview podcasts, although I’m not sure who that means I actually was thinking about. Someone I didn’t see, anyway). I’m hesitant to call them ‘stoner rock’ as others have, and will instead go with the “brutal psychedelia” appellation that a wise man suggested afterwards. Or something. Loooong songs with lots (and I really mean lots) of widdly-wah guitar, but all serving the purpose of taking you on an adventure into the heart of a rocking sun. Or something.
~ The catering situation: The food/drink provisions for the hungry/thirsty masses this year was better than one might ever have expected. The Hogan’s Organic Cider Crizzew were selling pints of their lovely apple beverage for £3 (dear, obviously, but not really all that obscene given that we’re at a festival-type-affair), and Purity (your young funky fresh real-ale that doesn’t market itself towards old men like other breweries who are all SQUARES anyway) had nearly-a-pint bottles available for £3.50. The generic kegged lager and cider from the main bars were £4 per pint, and thus only purchased by certain kinds of mor-ron, or perhaps those particularly and overwhelmingly committed to lager and lager alone (these probably aren’t the same thing, but may be). The Hogan’s was really nice though, you honestly should’ve tried it if you’re one of this lot who seem to be unhappy about having paid more for things that weren’t as good. The Thai food stall was nice if expensive (it doesn’t matter precisely what it is, if it’s served in a polystyrene tray then £5 is expensive for any kind of food. This was of course a lot nicer than practically anything else you’ll ever get in a polystyrene tray), and I can officially reveal to the world that a “100% Cornish BBQ” is in fact a burger/barbeque/etc stand that additionally-but-separately sells pasties and clotted cream. They don’t put them on the barbeque grill. They’re not certain kinds of mor-ron.
~ PCM (Friday night): UK drum’n’bass all in your face. A touch funkier and less head-wreckin’ than usual, I thought, with some squelchy rave-synth sounds that I don’t recall them using quite so much before. Great fun. I’m glad they didn’t use Bolt Throwerman again this time – that was fun at first but the novelty has run its course.
~ Tartufi (early Saturday evening): Hard indeed to describe, but worth the effort of checking out if you get the chance. Noisy pop, perhaps, marrying frequently-changing song structures to some really catchy hooks, and assortment of different instruments, loop pedals (yes, yes), and a ridiculously broad sound. Apparently they’re American. I thought someone had told me they were Belgian. They were probably on the verge of going into the ‘joint second best’ category with Earthless and Theo, but let down ever so slightly by occasionally trying a bit too tough to be ‘epic’ for their own good. Only occasionally, though.
~ Iron Lung (Saturday evening): I was amazed to learn that the band I saw supporting Municipal Waste in Dudley (“Doodley”, as they had it) last year are considered by many to be legends/really important. Quite good, anyway – fast shouty hardcore/grind (‘power violence’, if you will. Truly the most fantastic genre name this side of ‘krunk’), with inhumanly tight and precise stopping/starting/rhythm-changing. The singer-come-drummer is clearly a frustrated stand-up comedian, bless him.
~ Thorr’s Hammer (Saturday night): I wasn’t expecting a lot (oh, cynic), but I enjoyed them. Doomy huge riffs met a pleasingly happy onstage attitude, in contrast to the pomposity that so often attends this sort of thing. Runhild Gammelsæter (a dream of a name for a metal singer, it has to be said) was downright giggly, bless her heart. And also, yes: huge riffs.
~ Zu (Saturday night): I only saw the middle bit of their set, but it was bloody ace energetic jazz-rock sort of stuff, although that doesn’t really do them any justice at all as a description. Saxamophone, saxamaphone, with turbo-charged rhythms. I wished I’d stopped with them a bit longer, actually – in retrospect it would have been worth missing the start of Corrupted.
~ Corrupted (Saturday night): Dooooooom. Corrupted are one of those bands who are considered legends those who A) have heard of them, and B) are the sort of people likely to consider them legends. They sounded huge with a capital Hyoo. On the verge, perhaps, of overdoing it a touch with the post-rock style jangly guitar build-up bits (they never felt like anything more than a build-up, that was the trouble. If I’d been wearing a watch I would probably have checked it at times) but I suppose that when they kicked in the light & shade thing really did work. They did sound absolutely corruscating when hitting it, too. Bosting stuff and no doubt it’s an “Ah, yes, I saw Corrupted once…” tale to tell the doomster grandchildren.
~ Nancy Wallace (Sunday afternoon): I only arrived in time for her last song-and-a-half, but her voice & guitar and the (very attractive) violinist combined to make an absolutely lovely folksy sound.
~ Zzz (Sunday afternoon): A mix betwixt Depeche Mode, Suicide and Dead Or Alive. The chaos/noise bit they briefly had a stab at was absolutely and entirely unconvincing, but other than that they were great keyboardy fun.
~ Khyam Allami (early Sunday evening): Played traditionally-styled Syrian music on the oud (a bit like a lute? It makes that jruangly type of sound I associate with Middle Eastern music. “Jruangly” is a word I’ve just made up to describe that sound that sounds like “jruanglllle”). He seemed surprised but genuinely really happy to be well received, which was quite nice for all concerned. Then, he covered “Black Sabbath”. On the oud. Awesome.
~ The Memory Band (Sunday evening): Apparently they were playing “The Wicker Man” soundtrack, although I wouldn’t know since I’ve never seen it (yes, yes, we know, heresy and so on). Very effectively creepy nursery rhyme-ish folk, from my perspective.
~ Head Of David (Sunday night): Intriguing: their sound seemed to me to be closer to what would often be called noise-rock than what would often be called industrial, in spite of the fact that it was actually closer to the sort of panel-bashing rhythms that you’d associate with industry than it was to anything like free-form noise. Interesting semantic dissonance, ar kid – yow can tell they’m proppa folk from the Black Country like we.
~ Caribou (Sunday night): The last band, for me. They sounded absolutely nothing like the gentle psychedelia found on the recorded bits’n’bobs I heard, and were instead more like some energetic post-rock thing hopping up into big rhythmic drum freakouts. Good fun but I only saw a bit before needing to leave. A whole weekend o’tiredness was beginning to settle on me.
~ People: This is uncharacteristic for me, I realise, but I give shouts to the actual audience – firstly I didn’t have to negotiate too many unpleasantly dense crowds (no idea how many folk were there, but they were spread out a lot more nicely than they might have been) and secondly I bumped into a lot of lovely bredrins and sistrins who I hadn’t seen for ages/don’t see very often. Aaaw.
~ Boids: There was, of course, “There Are No Others…” (Or maybe there wasn’t. Weren’t. My head hurts. I suppose there was a titular absence of others, so “there was” is permissible) (see here, whichever way up) (anyway: BIRDS~!); there was also the bird-shaped-cushion I bought from one of the merchandise stalls to take back to Louise. I named him ‘Poultry’. He was later re-named ‘Percy’.
~ Bunny Bissoux’ “Petting Zoo” pictures: Really cute. I absolutely love the lion that you can see at the bottom-central-left here. I’m still claiming responsibility for giving Capsule the idea to have this made, too, whether or not the actual artist knows a thing about that (I suspect she probably doesn’t).
~ Sunno))) (Friday night)))): When you can barely breathe for dry ice you know it’s time for Sunnoparenthesisification. Or a Sisters Of Mercy gig, perhaps. One of the two. I only watched a little bit before wondering off to see Scorn, admittedly, but after the intro tape had ended and their performance had started (figuring out the precise point at which this happens is not the easiest feat) they went “Buuurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” for the ten minutes or so I bothered with. As, obviously, is their custom. I think they could be interesting as a kind of endurance test if they actually were as loud as popular legend claims that they’re supposed to be, but on neither of the time-and-a-bits that I’ve sent them has this been the case (at least a couple of folks whose stuff I’ve read from the Collective Memory seem to have been carrying portable decibel meters and reckon that this hit that 130db-ish plane-taking-off range. I am as deaf as a post, admittedly, but that really doesn’t sound even approximately close to right to me))).
~ Diagonal (early Saturday evening): Erm, I know that I definitely saw at least some of their set but I don’t remember the slightest thing. I don’t recall them as specifically bad, but not making any impact at all can’t be a good thing.
~ Trying to keep the rain from falling into my cider whilst walking between stages on Sunday: A pain in the arse. The weather was OK otherwise, though.
~ Tiredness and aching: Clearly I am a complete and total Jessie.
~ Travelling by taxi: This was necessary for the journeys home on the first two nights. It’s not a cheap hobby.
~ Missing some of the bands that were worth seeing: I signed off Venetian Snares (who I would particularly have liked to see) and Monotonix as being casualties of playing in the middle of the morning, and now everybody seems to be saying they were particular highlights. Bah. I didn’t get around to getting my name down for the list-only Pram performance beforehand, either. Bah.
~ Scorn (Friday night): Not as good as I wanted, but I think that may mostly have been due to me having the wrong kind of expectations – this was more of a ‘minimal electronics’ sort of affair than the thick swamp of dub that I was looking forward to. I spent a fair bit of the set chatting to The Infamous John Matie (I hadn’t seen him for a year) in the other room of The Med Bar and Scorn’s set made ace background music for that, though.
~ Rose Kemp (Saturday afternoon): Whilst it seemed like a theme for quite a few acts over the weekend, Rose Kemp took “sounding very different live to on record” to a ludicrous degree. Her voice was a hell of a lot more shrill than I expected, and accompanied only by big dragged-out doomy chords. At some points this came together to create a hellish sound, whilst at others it sounded like half baked hit-the-guitar-and-howl improvisation. There was also some very extensive swearing and amp-fiddling between songs. Lots and lots of each. It’s nice to have hobbies.
~ “Home Of Metal” talk (Saturday evening): After a fun little documentary about the project, there was an on-stage interview Johnny Doom, Nic Bullen and a couple of Sunno))) blokes. With the mics helpfully turned down really quiet. I left halfway through – I would actually have liked to stay and strain to hear for a bit longer (not being sarcy) but I absolutely did not want to miss any of Nisennenmondai.
~ The Accused (Saturday night): They sounded really Poison Idea-esque on the recorded bits I’d heard, but more like a generic sloppy 80s thrash band live. They did have their moments though.
~ Esoteric (Sunday afternoon): I think I was probably all-doomed-out by this point. They had effective chunky riffs and a big sound, but just didn’t really get to me. The atmospheric sample bits (dripping taps sounds etc) probably would have worked a lot better in less massive venue. Your man’s Prince/Madonna stylee headset mic was a nice touch, though, although there were no dance routines to make the most of it.
~ Arbouretum (sic) (early Sunday evening): I only saw a little bit of their set – 70s folky prog sorta thing. Seemed OK-ish.
~ Jarboe (Sunday evening): Ooh, she’s an enigma, that Jarboe. Or wants to be, at the very least. Hippy-doom this time around, perhaps (ah, it makes sense in my mind), but the way that she appeared to have such great regard for the magical spiritual worth of what she was doing really did get irritating.
~ 65DaysOfStatic (Sunday night): Post-rock with d’n’b styled imitation breakbeats. I liked bits of the bit of their set I saw, but (as a tweet from I-don’t-know-whom that seems to have fallen off the internet said) every song seems trying so very hard to be all big and epic. Their stage manner was very different but somehow related to that of Jarboe – in their case they seemed supremely convinced of their own ability to Rock The Hizouse. Plenty about them to get on the ol’ nerves, all in all, but they did have some fun moments.
* * *
Not quite matching up to last year’s best Supersonic evaaarrr, but still plenty good enough. Next one please. Again again again.
Check out The Collective Memory for a whole bag o’ links to things other people have said.
And lo, Capsule’s annual Supersonic festival at The Custard Factory in Birmingham’s Digbeth (the Irish/arts/disused factories/SILENCE, YOU quarter) inexorably advances upon us like one of those scary street-hooverer-vehicle-things with the big brushes on the front. Scare the bloody life out of me, them bleeders.
SssssSonic, conversely, fills me with joy. This year it is held between the 24th (that would be this coming Friday) and the 26th (that would be this coming Sunday. This coming Saturday will be between the two, in the customary fashion) and – as ever – features a load of bands that everyone else has heard of apart from me. On the off chance that you don’t already know the lot, I’d recommend the preview podcasts that Brumcast have assembled as a starting point: part one and part two will give you an intro to a fair few of the acts a-playing (on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, if you’re looking for the timetables).
The headliners are a mixed bag for me: call me crap at liking music if you must, but neither Goblin nor SunnO)))parentheseseseseses))) hold a particularly large amount of attraction. Japanese dooooooooooom-types Corrupted should be good, though, as long as they don’t come across as toooooooooo samey live, and breakcore/IDM/lunacy-merchant Venetian Snares will be ace if he can actually be bothered to get on stage and do a set this time around (word had it last time he came to Brum that he refused to play because the venue had the wrong brand/make of CD player, although I can’t really remember if that’s a rumour I heard or a rumour I started). I don’t really know industrial-rockers Head Of David all that well (there’s half a week left, gimme time) but the bits I’ve heard sound like fun.
Things of note elsewhere, then:
~ Scorn’s dark-arsed industrial dub will be ace, but since he’s on at same time as Sunno)))bracketseseseses))) I’m slightly concerned that he might not be easy to hear. I’m even more concerned that the combined bass of the two acts might be enough to get all of Digbeth shut down forever.
~ I saw rhythmic instrumental Japanese ladies Nisennenmondai supporting Acid Mothers Temple last August and thought they were really very good – the missing link between Can and Battles, perhaps. I also enjoyed the great bit of lost-in-translation-ification from their recent interview in that “Stool Pigeon” freesheet thing – “What’s your new album about?” “It’s about £10.”
~ Earthless were completely unknown to me until I listened to the above podcasts and are still pretty unfamiliar, but I’m liking what I’ve heard so far of their cross between Comets On Fire, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Corrosion Of Conformity and The Edgar Winters Group.
~ When I first saw the name Rose Kemp around, I’d assumed it was a band using a fairly poor pun on “Ross Kemp”. Cruel and unfortunate fate has it that it’s actually an individual’s real name. Poor cow. What’s good, though, is her Jeff-Buckley-in-a-folk-metal-band sound.
~ The Accused – ‘Splatter Rock’ sez they, ‘fun metallic punk ala Poison Idea’ sez me.
~ Bunny Bissoux will be creating Petting Zoo-themed artwork. The artist herself probably won’t be aware, but I’m claiming credit/responsibility for giving Capsule the idea of this. And I’m doing so whether it’s actually true or not.
~ Stuff elsewhere: I’m always slightly surprised that no real fringe festival has ever evolved for Supersonic (given the large audience and full complement of national/international folk travelling inwards you’d think there’s be all sorts of related things going on around the outsides, whether officially connected with the festival or not. Or is that just me?), but even without that there is stuff a-happening. On the way there (well… on the way if you’re coming from roughly the same place as me. If you’re not coming from roughly the same place as me then I won’t rub it in, you probably feel bad enough as it is) former Soup’n’Sonic guest Yukio Fujimoto has his The Tower Of Time installation at Perrott’s Folly in Edgbaston (in which the ticking of 1,111 clocks blurs into supertone white noise as you ascend the tower), and then at Moor Street Station you can see There Are No Others, There Is Only Us (boids and Ben Frost). Once out into Digbeth, Ikon Eastside has When The Scales Fall From Your Eyes (visual exploration of alledged modern obsession with weights and measures), Vivid has Participation – The Film And Video Workshop Movement 1979-1991 (wot film-makers dun in the 80s), and Eastside Projects has Does Your Contemplation Of The Situation Fuck With The Flow Of Circulation ( I’m really not sure, but there are some pretty pictures at that link). If the metal at S’Sonic ain’t quite consistently proper-metal enough for you, meanwhile, Testament are playing at The Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton on Saturday night (about twenty minutes on the train from New Street Station).
~ Surrounding establishments: Make sure you pop into The Rainbow while you’re in that neck of the woods and buy a pint or two to help them raise money for their troubles. The Lamp Tavern on Barford Street is probably the best drinkin’ pub in Digbeth, although most of ‘em round there are good. Manzils on the High Street (head back towards Selfridges from The Custard Factory and it’s on your right when you’re nearly there) is a reasonable place for a curry.
~ Onsite stuff: THERE IS NO CASH MACHINE IN THE CUSTARD FACTORY SO GET YOUR MONEY OUT BEFOREHAND (doesn’t make any difference to me – West Brom Building Society represent – but this is something that seems to be a big deal for a lot of people). If previous years are anything to go by (and there’s no reason why they necessarily should be, so don’t come crying to me if this plan doesn’t work) then there will be big queues and crowds at opening time (9pm) on the Friday, but you can usually pick up your wristband a little while before then if you have a ticket-in-advance. I’d do that and then head back to the pub for a bit if I were you. Let’s not have too many of you steaming into The Lamp, though, I’ll want some peace and quiet.
~ If the weather is anything other than ‘temperate’ and I find out which one of you is responsible then you’ll be for it, mate. Be warned.