Supersonic Festival 2011 Report From Grant Hobson

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Author’s Disclaimer : This is a purely subjective review based on the acts I saw, and that didn’t include all of them, so apologies to all of the acts that I didn’t catch.

Over the past eleven years, the Birmingham-based Supersonic Festival has grown in size, duration and reputation. Housed in the old Custard Factory, an industrial space in the Digbeth area, it’s proven to be a suitably atmospheric location for showcasing many of the major names in extreme music. Last year’s saw performances by the reformed Godflesh and Swans as well as Melt Banana, Napalm Death, Nissenenmondai and Necro-Deathmort. It’s that eclectic, yet complimentary line-up of acts that has enhanced it’s reputation and made it compulsory for all devotees of (largely) loud, left-field music.

This year proved to be no different. Spread over three stages, a theatre and several performance spaces, the three afternoons /evenings saw workshops, discussions, films and exhibitions rubbing shoulders with acts like Electric Wizard, Secret Chiefs 3, Zombi and Turbonegro. As well as the acts there were bars, merch stalls, food, coffee and the Supersonic staple – cake.  Lots of lovely cake.

The weather stayed mild making queuing for entrance on the Friday a lot less of a chore than it could have been. It’s to Capsule’s (Supersonic’s organisers) credit that the facilities operated smoothly and ran well throughout the three days. Security were polite and a genuinely relaxed vibe permeated proceedings. It’s factors like these that will ensure punters return. You leave the site with the impression that this is a festival genuinely run by fans for the fans. In these cold corporate times, that can make all the difference.

 

On Friday, Slabdragger and Appat respectively opened the festival. The former with the their titanic, monolithic riffing, the latter with their Dada-influenced Beefheartian-skewed pop. Part-Chimp battled through broken strings to provide a rousing finale to their life as a group. That Mike Watt tweeted praise of them is proof enough of their power. They will be sorely missed. Mike Watt‘s a legend, end of. Playing with fire, wit and passion, his Missingmen raced through Watt’s new CD “Hyphenated-Man”with no gaps for breath, leaving the gathered crowd stunned. It’s also worth mentioning that he took time after his set to talk to fans and answer questions – an absolute gent.

 

Secret Chiefs 3 lived up to their status as Friday night’s SPACE 2 headliners with a blistering pinballing around prog, world-folk and soundtracks (a beefed-up “Halloween”). Why Trey Spruance’s band isn’t massive is a complete mystery.

Football delayed this writer’s early attendance on Saturday, but Bardo Pond seemed to go down a storm. Antilles’ Kraut-Psych sound impressed on the Boxxed stage and local shouties Backwards played a fricitious set in the Old Library to considerable acclaim. There were high hopes for Wolves In The Throne Room‘s set, but restlessness set in and an early evacuation was unavoidable. Pharaoh Overlord‘s “hypno-improv-stoner-rock” moved both bodies and minds. Whether having Electric Wizard follow Wolves was a good idea, or over-egging the extreme metal pudding is open to debate. Certainly they were popular, they were loud and they really, really, like Satan. Which is nice. The Zombi pair ended the Space 2 Saturday with a throbbing set of synthrock tunes designed to put a bit of pop pep into fan’s steps after the sludge of the previous set(s).

Ever imagined two tubas playing Doom metal? Ore kicked off Sunday’s events with a surprisingly effective thirty-minute piece of drone. I enjoyed that more than Wolves. Modulate provided bleeps, beats and pulses to an afternoon crowd. Eternal Tapestry impressed with their Hawkwind-esque vibe and the rare experience of talking to the assembled masses. A Q&A with William Bennett proved to be enlightening prior to the showing of Vice’s harrowing “Guide to Liberia” which Cut Hands soundtracked. Astro fell-out with his soundman resulting in a truncated set of effective psych-noise. The KARP movie was well-attended but the Cut Hands set demanded attendance. The weekend’s highlight for this writer, Bennett’s “Afro-Noise” allied to disturbing colonial footage of African trance ceremonies produced a lot of frantic head-nodding and shuffling as the persistent beats took hold of the crowd. That WB finds the stuff so damn funky that he can’t stop moving himself inspired further movement from the mob. Fire! With Oren Ambarchi didn’t catch and Silver Apples seemed less than shining to these ears, but again, both were well-received by the crowd. A drive back up the M6 and an early start meant that Envy were the last act seen. Their impassioned quiet-loud-quiet set brought to mind aspects of both Mono and Boris, but with added fury. I can’t report back on Circle or Turbonegro, but both had their fans and Twitterati hymned the performances of both acts.

Overall, another successful weekend of great music. Will I go again? Yes. Any complaints? No. Supersonic is a great place to meet people, talk music, enjoy a few (locally-sourced) Real Ales and have your head-turned by artists that produce music to inspire, engage, enrage or terrify.  Capsule put their heart into this festival and it shows in spades. Thank you.

Photo Credits: Grant Hobson

Video Credits: damienmull


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