the much loved Supersonic festival celebrates its return next year, having mostly sat out the terrifying 2016 shitshow because doing this stuff isn’t easy, with a two night launch party in Digbeth. That difficulty is something of a hot topic this week as the Tusk people announced Safe As Milk in Prestatyn, hoping to rescue the good ideas from the ATP wreckage. Meanwhile Hogan’s shuffling zombie corpse has lurched back out of the closet just when you thought it was dead and announced Transformer, an unlikely bill in a venue currently receiving widespread scorn after near disastrous shows by John Carpenter and PJ Harvey. We miss the first night of this launch party in Wolverhampton watching PJ succeed against the odds in another shockingly ill prepared venue. All of which serves to drive home just what a difficult and brilliant job Supersonic has done year after year drifting around similar disused industrial spaces and making them work so well. We shouldn’t take it for granted and it only looks set to get harder. So next June, come along. Tonight is in the relatively cosy confines of Centrala, a café in an old industrial unit that’s just opened up the second floor for live events.
As we ascend the stairs a resoundingly final chord sounds and we arrive just as Rainbow Grave take their instruments off and leave the stage. Pity, I was looking forward to them, but there’ll be other times. Kuro are a violin, upright bass and electronics drone duo. It seems to take me about five minutes to get over the fact they’re not Nic Bullen yelling nihilist bile at me, but once I focus in on what they’re doing it’s good. The sound is roughly like if John Cale’s viola on ‘Heroin’ was the whole album. There’s only a minimal amount of screeching, they aren’t about in your face noise, more wrapping you in a warm but slightly scratchy blanket of sound. My mind wanders a bit, partly the point with drone I guess, it’s not like I start worrying about whether I left the gas on or anything, still, I think I enjoy it more when I’m paying attention rather than letting them send me back into my thoughts. Never know what you’ll find in there, place is an unholy mess.
Downstairs, one of Ex-Easter Island Head is doing a short performance for prepared guitars – he’s got a couple on a table with knitting needles jammed in the guitar’s strings, bells and quiet little portable radios making the strings vibrate. Rearrangment of the various elements creates a pleasing and delicately shifting sound piece. It’s a bit precious perhaps (it’d be easy to take the piss) but nothing here is even all that new of an idea and many more possibilites remain to be explored. There’s a second performance a bit later but by that point there are a few too many people talking at the other end of the room to really listen to it.
Bismuth is a chemical element, a ‘post transition metal’ which may be relevant to their sound. Another duo, this time drum and bass. More drones, this time in doom metal flavour. Tanya has a bewildering array of effects at her feet, I think one chunk for the vocals and one for the bass. Kat Bjelland screaming “Cat-a-tonic!” drawn out to 15 mins. It’s that kind of noise assault where the volume and power of it recedes to become the dark water in which you’re floating. As I ponder the void in my heart I begin to realise Rainbow Grave were our only chance to see anyone actually perform a ‘song’ this evening. I’m ambivalent about this of course, because nothing matters.
Concerns, voiced mostly by Reelfoot, that repeat viewings might somewhat take the shine off of Rattle’s magic act are swiftly put to bed by their performance tonight. They’re somehow better than when I saw them over the summer, they seem tighter, more focused and driving. Or they might just be less tired from trying to put up a broken tent in a field. I’m still charmed by how they never fall to just playing the same beat and the near telepathic rapport that makes their swooningly off-kilter music happen. There’s definitely something a bit secret world/idioglossia, a bit ‘Heavenly Creatures’ about it. Probably with less Mario Lanza and murder involved but it isn’t clear. I guess they have songs just about, there are occasional vocal parts anyway but it’s so abstract and oddly structured, certainly not milkman humming or Lanza material. We’ve never noticed before but they only have the one bass drum, always assumed it was just two kits facing one another. Maybe sometimes it is.
Stinky Wizzleteat are a filthy, appalling, wilfully ugly racket and I’m not in the mood. I give up, like a coward. As a similar fate befell the totally different Tomaga when appearing after Rattle I suspect there may be some sort of curse in play (stage whisper “WITCHESSSS!”)
Last up Giant Swan are fast becoming something of a sensation on the back of their live shows and so far very little recorded output. They too are a duo – if you were looking for more evidence of the financial constraints upon artists and promoters the fact that the majority of the bill is made up of two piece acts and most of the full bands are local is a harsh poke in the face with fiscal necessity – but we aren’t here for that, shut up man, you’re harshing my buzz. Giant Swan are a side project from two guys in a band (The Naturals) who appear to have hit on a magic formula. Most likely you’ve seen or encountered similar things before, early Holy Fuck for example, (or surely you watched the video of their set from Supernomal? do it DO IT). Live, improvised, electronic hoo-hah on temperamental hardware, it’s not revelatory so much as they just do it really well, with clear love and enthusiasm. Tonight they come out swinging with some banging techno from get-go and for the lion’s share of the set, indeed they’d have killed it at local techno mecca House Of God – no question. How much they are aware of this and how long they can sustain it seems now to be the dilemma because, on the surface at least, there seems to be something of the idiot savant about them. By which I mean it feels like they fell naturally into a way of making music outside their usual thing and so what they do feels light, free of restraints and expectations or genre moves that you might get with something like Karenn for example, an act whose identity is more predetermined. How, or even if, they can maintain that spontaneous and contagious sense of joy is tonight’s countdown conundrum. The audience has thinned considerably, is it techno-phobia? leaving before an unknown quantity? Or is everyone just pressed together because beard strokin’ is done for the night and we’re all just ‘avin it? Because now it’s just massive fun, a pretty non-stop-full-on set only winding down and losing its way a little at the close but stopping just short of calamity. Splendid.
Downstairs Sausage are bringing the processed meat jams. Rubber masks, old hits and a sampled voice saying ‘Sausage!’ – I don’t know about art but I know what I like y’know?
then we go out by the canal and our supersonic mum gives us sparklers because it’s bonfire night and because of course they would, because supersonic is brilliant.