. . . and Finally (Supersonic video clips and such)

Supersonic Festival are throwing a little thank you party tonight down in Digbeth, putting this year’s hugely successful festival to bed with a few light refreshments and some dancing. After a year away not only did this year see a bigger, better, fuller programme than it has for the last few but the organisers Capsule have since succeeded in their application to the Arts council’s National Portfolio which essentially secures funding for the next four years. We’ll drink heavily to that. Up top here is a pretty good clip of the Oxbow Choir, partly obscured but sounding incredible – Niko Wenner himself has confirmed there are high quality recordings of this one off performance that may eventually see the light, so that’s something to look forward to. For contrast here also a clip of technology failing dismally to capture the full bore onslaught of Nic Bullen‘s ‘Universal Detention Centre’ performance. There wasn’t a lot to see to be fair although Bullen is mostly obscured by a pillar in the clip. You could even argue there wasn’t that much to hear either, cetainly that translates to phone clips through laptop speakers anyway, it was more a manifestion of sound as a suffocating physical presence. Although that makes it sound a lot less enjoyable than it was. John Matthews, the guy who made both of these videos, has a bunch more on his youtube channel, generally at the better quality end and including a lot of acts I missed on the weekend that I’m slowly catching up on, I suggest you do the same. As far as ‘Universal Detention Centre’ I’m not sure there’s any plan to do anything further with it, Bullen has said he’s retiring this type of performance for a while concentrating more on his gentler electro-acousmatic stuff (And I guess, caveman hate rock combo Rainbow Grave) so this may be your only chance to get an idea of it. Turn it up to 11 and press the speaker against your abdomen or something.

Possibly we can assuage that loss and the unfortunate cancellation due to injury of Art Of Burning Water with their own ‘All Obedient Beasts Worship’. Which takes the loosely similar approach of building a set of noise jams out of samples of their band recordings. It’s free to download and scare the neighbours with. As it’s AOBW there’s at least one great title, this time ‘Feed Me With Your Hiss’. They’ve not put out a lot of information about what happened at Supersonic but happily it seems Grief is now on the mend and although they’ve had to cancel the next few shows, that he’ll recover from his injuries and return to making a racket. Pint?

Oh, also, if you went and haven’t done their little survey about it then you should go do that, only take a few minutes, share your love and so on – click on the cute little sausage doggie here . . .

Compositions For The Young & Old : Supersonic Sunday

“Supersonic, are you ready to Rock?” Yes bab, yes we are. The atmosphere in Boxxed for today’s first set is pretty electric. Local youngsters HAQ123 are playing their first gig to a pretty full and expectant room. They’re so young two of the band are still at primary school. People have brought their own youngsters down to the show and Supersonic’s generally warm sense of communality has tweaked up a notch or two. They’ve an elderly bass player as well but it’s clearly a classic case of ‘in the band ‘cos they’ve got a van’. They’re brilliant. ‘Sabbath super charged on haribo’ is a fair enough description of their feisty punk doom. The faintest glimmers of any stage fright are soon banished by some foot on the monitors, pointing into the crowd, rock ‘n’ roll shape throwing. Their confidence can only grow and what we might see them bring to this stage in years to come is anyone’s guess but for now they’re huge fun and, as I’m told the youngsters say, they smashed it.

Later on The Space Lady, who is older than all of HAQ123 put together, will also charm us with all the warm feels over in The Crossing. Essentially a drug battered old cosmic hippy with an equally aged and charming casio keyboard wheezes through a selection of covers and a few originals. On paper it has ‘kitsch fun’ and ‘outsider art’ scribbled in all the margins but that’s to underplay the sweetness of her voice and miss her personal warmth on stage. By about midway through only the most embittered cynic would not have wanted to hug her or adopt her as their mom/grandma. ‘Born To Be Wild’ and “psychedelic cowboy song” ‘Ghostriders In The Sky’ are the highlights for me. At one point she even sets aside her keyboard picks up a guitar and leads us through a sing along about healing the earth. So throughly won over is the crowd that we do it. It’s like a magic trick, the song deals in the most naive and simplistic of hippy eco platitudes and yet she sings it with such openhearted sincerity, so free of the usual earnest, preachy tone that comes with that stuff that you have to go along with her. Everyone’s having such a great time that we let her do another song and she goes and spoils everything by doing ‘Imagine’. “Damn it Grandma, take yer medicine!”

Still buzzin’ from my haribo-HAQ-high I make it into the shed to see what grampa’s been building in there. Pierre Bastien creates his own amazing mechanical musical machines and teases some unique sounds out of them. The pairing with Tomaga is a genius one because the results are often not that far from their own explorations. It’s a gently captiviating set. For all that they’re machines he gets some remarkably organic sounds from them. The general feel is of a soundtrack to a lost Oliver Postgate series, maybe an aborted spin off show for The Clangers’ Iron Chicken. Lovely stuff.

The market place has a small stage tucked in the corner and flanked by shimmering cabaret curtains. It’s an oddly ineffectual performance space, a transient audience using the tea room, mooching the merch stalls or heading past to elsewhere but it hosts DJ sets and talks and such over the weekend if you grab a table near enough to pay attention. we’re gathered around debating whether it’s too soon to start drinking and listening to The Sunken Hum Tape Splice, which is Natalia of Woven Skull mixing four tape decks of found sounds and field recordings. It’s a multi-coloured ambient patchwork, there’s sounds of nature, a gloriously feisty american evangelist and a sweetly burbling child that turns out to be Natalia herself. It could do with being a bit louder but then, as the name insists, it works beautifully as an always changing, surprising, background of sunken hum. As I cave to the call of the bar I catch Mohammad finishing one monolithic slab of drone and leaning into another. En route to my frosty refreshment I pass a patron remarking “If they were playing anywhere but here they’d get fucking bottled”. He may have a point. I do love a bit of drone but, perhaps aware of the lack of onstage drama in their performance, they’ve taken to wearing cowls and wizard hats that seem to undercut rather than underline the weight of their sound. It’s like a poundshop Sunn O))). I’m also curious as to how the name has failed to cause them any grief yet. Essentially though Mohammad is not for arms folded, back of the room, ‘impress me then’ types or dilettantes popping to the bar, it requires commitment. Get in there and get lost in that giant sound or don’t. There’ll be no hooks to pull you in.

To be honest Snapped Ankles are wearing even more ridiculous stage outfits, although happily not quite as much as last time I saw them, when it was even hotter and I feared they would collapse from the heat at any moment. By rights their ‘Jack In The Green makes pulsing electro out of logs and moss’ stick-schtick should make me really want to throw bricks at them for being useless hipster twats but their music’s not bad. On today’s evidence it’s not captivatingly great either though, so let’s call it a score draw.

Casual Nun are a strikingly hirsute, double drummer powered, heavy psych-punk beast of a band. They’ve only been around two or three years but they’re really getting into their stride now. They claim inspiration from the hairier, freakier end of krautrock and similarly wild Japanese sonic warriors but the double drum churn still makes me think of The Butthole Surfers. Not the pantomime clowning and parody songs but the deranged heavy psych freak outs of stuff like ‘Jimi’. Since I saw them last summer they’ve put out a couple of records and obviously spent time honing and sharpening their sonic weapons because they are SO much better now, and they were pretty good then. About a third of the way into the set they shift up a couple of gears and from there on in it’s just immense. They’re a highlight in a festival of highlights and leave having secured themselves a raft of new fans.

Which sadly you can’t say for Princess Nokia. Beforehand excitement is tempered by a worry that hip hop artists have, well, a bit of a history of taking a half assed approach to live performance. With heart sinking, head shaking recognition we realise this turns out to be the case. She hasn’t brought a DJ, a local one is doing her best with no rehearsal playing Nokia’s recordings for her to rap over. Not working with backing tracks or loops, just straight up playing the records vocals and all. It gives weird sibilance on the S sounds and Nokia a chance to drop out on some lines although she’s bang on it, to be fair. The flipside of that is there’s no room to stretch, move or freestyle anything when you’re constantly hitting the same flow as the record. Karaoke has more room for expression. Princess has other ways to express herself though. ‘Tomboy’ is fierce and we’re collectively shrugging and rolling with it but a couple of tunes in she decides that what the programme calls an ” ambitious artist who creates a universal language that will talk to all kinds of people” is not so keen on the age range and ethnicity of the crowd she can see from the stage, that we don’t know what she’s talking about. A little hissy fit sours the mood and pointlessly gives away all her power as a performer. It’s possible she’s feeling as tired as we are, she picks a fight with the DJ, she doesn’t want to be here. Those among the crowd who stick with her try to warm the mood as things wear on but Nokia eventually leaves mid song and someone has to come on and let the DJ know she won’t be back.

Back in the big room with the grown ups Oxbow have found a way for noise rock to age gracefully. It’s no small achievement. For tonight’s show they have pulled together a local choir, with conductor, who range across the back of the stage as Eugene prowls its lip shedding his dapper outfit and rolling his shoulders. Ten years in the making ‘Thin Black Duke’ sees them add classical nods, strings, piano and allsorts to their dense, literary rock swagger. You can almost feel the dread hand of prog itching to get in but they’ve shut its fingers firmly in the door. There is no indulgent bloat, the songs are taut and keenly crafted, and the choir is beautifully integrated into the music making it all the more effective. It’s a masterful performance, not a note out of place but still living and breathing and dynamic. All this and fronted by the most authoritative, take no prisoners stage presence of the weekend. Seriously, you wouldn’t mess would you? Even some of the choir look astonished/nervous to see him in full flight. Incredible end to another incredible Supersonic weekend. Let’s not leave it so long this time.

Is it hot in here, or is it me? : Supersonic Saturday

As any fool know, the sun always shines on the Rotunda, but it doesn’t often beat down quite as hard as it does this weekend. Limp Pink Whinging Brits are a late addition to the weekend’s eclectic and extensive bill. Today’s line up is one of the most amazing I think I’ve ever seen but even without the heat it looks set to be an exhausting marathon of musical greatness. Buckle up buttercup, there’s a lot to get through. Kicking off with an expanded Ex Easter Island Head (their Large Electric Ensemble drawing to some extent on the same pool of Islington Mill musicians as Anonymous Bash). 16 treated guitars laid on table tops and played with mallets. Conducted by one of their number, the band are still and focussed. They dress uniformly in black. It’s very much at the point of a bunch of experimental rock musicians becoming an avant garde chamber orchestra. It would be easy to mock the precious fastidiousness of the performance were it anything but a practical necessity and the resulting music less beautiful. They play a glowing minimalism that nods to Nyman and Reich. Regarding a conversation yesterday, you could probably build something similar out of loops on a phone app and yet the subtle flam and shifts of having a large group perform it give it a breathing organic quality that would be missing. It’s a fine way to start the day

Haress play a slowly unfolding atmospheric set suited to the muggy warmth in the room. Shimmering, interlocking guitars unwind leisurely through the haze. Makes you wish you were sat on a porch staring out at the blazing sun beat down as the day slides by, rather than standing watching a group of seated, motionless musicians. The desert blues from the welsh borders, lovely stuff. More evocative of starkly british landscapes, Laura Cannell‘s music pitches me into a lone, melancholy walk through windswept cliffs and rainwashed hills to the shore of a deep still lake to watch the sunlight moving down the side of the valley. The birds that crowd her tracklists make only scarce appearances. Maybe that’s the point. It’s impressive if sometimes hard to love, I’m ok with watching a woman switch between playing the violin and two recorders but I can see why it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

Saturday evening and I finally venture into Wild and see what’s going on there. “We’re a black femininst punk band, that’s kind of our thing.” Big Joanie draw on a lineage from The Slits up through C86 and riot grrl and play a pleasing post punk rumble. It’s more lo-fi and communal than in-yer-face-identity-politics, thoughful more than furious. “Are you dancing?”, “No, I’m staying in and reading Bell Hooks”. I don’t mean that as a bad thing either. Although it might explain why their closing cover of TLC’s ‘No Scrubs’ is a genius idea that falls just slightly flat in reality. Or it might be the heat in here.

Grey Hairs are melting before our eyes. Supersonic, as you are aware, is an amazingly eclectic, wide ranging festival with acts from all over the world playing all manner of adventurous sounds. Ironic then that one of the bands we are most excited about seeing this weekend are a garage band from just 50 miles up the road. So it goes. Things can be mysterious that way, like why is “I thought it was a line, but it’s a circle” such a fantastic lyric? What does it even mean? Grey Hairs might appear to be a fairly standard issue punk/garage band but the key thing to note is that they are really, really good at it. The songs are tightly wound and bursting with tension. By Supersonic standards they’re practically non stop pop smashes. I can quote you lyrics for a start. Despite the heat they play an complete blinder. Doubters are converted, believers are thrilled, sweat flows. Chris appears to be playing two guitar parts at once which is quietly impressive rather than vulgarly flashy. Even right at the close as they hammer down on that last riff there’s a little showbiz wrong footing as ‘The Chin pt 2’ features an unexpected bass/ vocals switch over. Absolutely killer.

Scarcely a moment to bask in the joy of that it’s off to see Richard Dawson. Turns out he’s one of those marmite appeal artists, hard to believe but there are people who don’t love him. Not many here though as he packs out the hall. Such doubters might be pleased that he’s got himself a shiny new red guitar, perhaps imagining he might ring a more gently tuneful sound from it. Mightily, he manages to get pretty much the same abrasive, randomly squeaking and buzzing sound as he did before. Launching his remarkable new record ‘Peasant’ he’s playing with a band, who all appear to be having a fine time. Except Jonnie. Jonnie broke Richard’s beloved old guitar and his fall from grace makes up most of the set’s comedy interludes. I reckon they get through about half of the new album tonight. If Dawson seems slightly ill at ease with leading a band he shouldn’t worry, it works wonderfully. ‘Soldier’ is particularly glorious and its anxious refrain plays in my head for days after. The band takes a break for a solo vocal reading of ‘The Cruel Ship’s Carpenter’ an old murder ballad he says he got from Mike Waterson. As usual it’s an emotionally powerful moment and simultaneously ties him to deep tradition and illuminates the quality of the originals it sits perfectly alongside. He drags a gaggle choir from the crowd to join in with the amazing ‘Ogre’ and then tops that with a widescreen stomp through ‘The Vile Stuff’. By turns moving, hilarious, hallucinatory and confounding it’s an absolute tour de force of a song, a great close to a brilliant set.

The overlapping, clashing sets are really coming thick and fast by this point in the evening, sending us scurrying back and forth from one stage to another. Their recent record is two giant slabs of swoony ambience and subtle atmospherics but Italian power trio Zu are raging full force onstage. Blaring, skronking, squawking amazingness exactly as you’d have hoped. Excellent. Meanwhile back in The Crossing Jenny Hval and her band are engaging in some rough and ready prop based theatrics and dressing up. There’s a step ladder on stage. No horse head goth up it eurovision style though. Jenny wanders the stage with bulbous textile offal draped across her shoulders and wonders aloud about venues and property prices in a stream of conciousness monologue. Amazingly she gets away with it. She has a calm and charming voice, speaks slowly without affectation, she probably could start reading the phone book and that’d be just fine. It’s unclear how scripted and how free form it is but she concedes as she wraps it up that “it could probably use some editing”. They go into ‘The Secret Touch’ and you have to agree little more focus on the great songs she has to draw on would be nice, but it’s a minor quibble.

Wild is packed to the back and probably hotter than it’s been all day for Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. They’re on fire. Huge pile driving Sabbath riffs on a wave of roaring noise, their particular thing is quite narrow but it’s a good thing and they do it well, stretching it into twisted shapes over crushing repetition. Reckoning the chance to see them again will be ’round sooner I head off to catch a bit of Raime. They’re a good deal less spartan than on record, which is probably for the best. Still recognisably them but rougher, looser and more rocking. It’s still pretty unapproachable though, uneasy and dystopian.

Colin Stetson playing the saxophone is hell of a thing to witness. It must surely be the most physically demanding musical performance I’ve ever seen. He seems drained by the end of every number, shaking out his hands and talking to the crowd to regain his breath and strength. The spectacle of a man wrestling an instrument almost as big as him is one thing but close your eyes and the music he’s playing is much less adversarial. Largely leaving aside the sort of full frontal skronk Zu were pushing through earlier Stetson’s playing is often remarkably delicate and supple for such a beast of an instrument. Droning and clanking a bit, but really a thing of tough beauty. From the sublime to the ridiculous then. Black clad and wearing sunglasses after dark Electronica Wizard might very well be a joke that got out of hand – yep, Electric Wizard and Sabbath covers on electronic gear – but they are doubling down on it, pushing it to work instead of playing for laughs and the result is both fun and convincing. Great slabs of filthy distorted sounds plus a pounding live drummer, electro doom could in fact have legs. Robot ‘Iron Man’ legs. I’m completely exhausted and really very drunk by the end of their set but I think they finished on ‘Children Of The Grave’. It was amazing

By the time we get to Zonal I’m about dead on my feet (where’s those robot legs?) and it’s all I can do to stand up in the face of the ridiculous bass warfare coming at me. Zonal is Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick’s new post Techno Animal Project. A fun game to play this weekend has been a kind of Zonal bingo – which of Kev and Justin’s many projects does the band you’re watching sound most like? It’s not as easy as you’d think. Also, what Zonal were going to be like, apart from tremendously loud, was an open ended question. To which the answer is – they’re going to be very much like Techno Animal might be if they started it now. Sluggish hip hop beats, massive amounts of bass and a bunch of industrial drones and clangs over the top. Mix together the recent Bug Vs Earth and JK Flesh records and you’re close. It doesn’t offer much in the way of surprises then, even while being of a reassuringly high quality. Justin seems to be having a great time, swigging on cans and lurching about, bending over to crank a knob round sending another wave of noise crashing over the waves of bass. I can’t help imaging him chuckling ‘snoochie boochies’ to himself as Kev expressionlessly mans the controls. I’d be enjoying it more myself were we not at the ragged end of a long, long day. The dragging downbeats are pushing me into the arms of Morpheus. Night kids.

 

Screaming Into The Void : Supersonic Friday

We leave the calm and cultured atmosphere of the Town Hall behind and wander down to Digbeth for the start of the festival proper. Sadly we are denied a satisfying blast of Art Of Burning Water’s face melting power violence because one of them has hurt his hip loading in their gear, invoking the ‘we might be getting too old for this’ theme again. AOBW have been around a while but they are still one of the younger bands on the bill. So, it’s over to The Crossing to catch Charles Hayward who is certainly getting up there at the top end of the age range and is enjoying an incredible creative period of benign grandfatherly influence on a lot of younger musicians not merely through the records he made decades back but through his physical presence and hands on collaborations with them. For this set he’s on his own though, his remarkable drumming augmented by machines and his own occasional vocals. Watching Hayward play the drums is a wonder and a joy, complete mastery in the service of restless invention. Cheering on virtuosity for its own sake is pretty tiresome but he never does anything just to be flash, alongside the constant forward motion he maintains a sense things could go off in any direction at any moment but not collapse into chaos. Everything is free but he’s in control. The vocals are less awe inspiring and occasionally the songs tip the ‘dread hand of prog’ but then, that’s where he started out. The acts on the Boxxed stage tonight are threaded along one of this year’s strands, a celebration of the 30th anniversary of Napalm Death’s surprisingly enduring and influential masterpiece ‘Scum’. I say surprising as one of those grey beardy types who saw them play The Mermaid down the road all those years ago. While Napalm were prime movers on that scene and kind of the most fun, certainly the most extreme of the bands; it seemed like a musical dead end, pushing a strand of an already inward looking scene to an absurdist conclusion. They recorded ‘Scum’ for a split LP that didn’t happen, left it under the bed and two of its main architects had moved on before a new line up even recorded the second side. When you consider the work they all went on to do later it’s easy to see why they might have felt it had run its course. All three of the trio on side one are here this weekend one way or another. Nicholas Bullen is producing a special performance called ‘Universal Detention Centre’ that feeds samples of early Napalm Death recordings into his boxes of switches and electronic gadgetry and spews huge waves of filthy noise out into the crowd. It is suitably full on and abrasive from the start and, even with apparent technical glitches, does not let up until he’s done. He’s screaming away into a mic for a good deal of it although heaven knows what about as even that’s being processed and added to the roaring maelstrom. It is, I have to say, absolutely magnificent. I’m grinning from ear to ear like an idiot for the entire thing. This is not just any old racket, not the callow teen punk ranting of Nik Napalm. This is the full grown, multi-faceted, shifting and relentless racket of 30 years of disappointment.

Back in the big room Xylouris White look to be turning slowly into each other and by extension some sort of art-folk chuckle brothers although their stage presence is much less grating. Jim White is another captivatingly capable drummer who stares and smiles into the crowd, all the while playing fluid, rolling drums like he doesn’t even have to think about it. Has anyone started calling this post-folk yet? Let’s hope not, that sort of thing requires a slap. There’s something elemental about the music they make, it’s ancient and modern, wide screen but very human.

I have long been wary/terrified of Melt Banana. Their records often seeming like a screeching, insistent punishment for some unclear transgression. The fact they are playing the kids’ gig tomorrow, while making a small degree of sense, has also caused me some disquiet. Last year they toured and released a split with Napalm Death  although sadly they missed out on the fun to be had from a full on collaboration. What would be your choice of duet for Yasuko and Barney? ‘Something Stupid’ maybe? ‘Islands In The Stream’? It could work, check out their pleasing, if slighty too gentle, take on ‘We Will Rock You’. All my long held concerns about them are blasted away by the hyperactively thrilling onslaught of the live experience. Through a roaring pa, shaking the air around you, they sound so much bigger, the patchwork of noises so much richer and more complex. To be brutally honest Yasuko also sounds less gratingly chipmunk like. She bounces around the stage gleefully waving an illuminated multi-coloured chaos pad that looks like those old ‘Simon Says’ games. Tapping it sets off all manner of alarms, explosions and waves of noise. Simon says…Kawaii Grindcore Go!

A pattern is developing of uncontrollable grinning in the face of teeth rattling noise in a gutted warehouse alternating with more cerebral beard stroking delights in the comfortable fully equipped environs of The Crossing. This year there’s a third venue (Wild) squeezed in between them but I don’t actually make it in there tonight at all. Not just an extra stage but a fuller programme means there’s a lot more overlapping and clashing than before, there is always something to be watching and no way to do it all, leading to the familiar festival trade offs. So as we return to The Crossing Charles Hayward is back on stage, this time leading rag tag improv crew Anonymous Bash. Featuring bits of Gnod and grown out of a residency in their Islington Mill lab they’re a kind of limitless experimental multi genre sprawl held together by Hayward’s amazing percussion and experienced guiding hand. This can go either way I guess, last time I saw them they were a fantastic, joyous, communal party and everyone on and off stage was having an absolute whale of a time. But the ‘dread hand of prog’ has not been banished. Wearily conceding that tonight they sound quite a lot like Gong, we bail out and head elsewhere. In other circumstances we may have given them longer to pull it together but there’s all the fun happening elsewhere.

Not to worry because over in Boxxed local drum & bass monkeys PCM are closing things out with the usual assault of clattering beats and weird noises. Exhilarating and punishing in equal measure it puts that big dumb grin straight back on my face. As their part of the ‘Scum’ celebrations they’re throwing in some bonus grindcore samples and have got Mick Harris (inventor of the term ‘blast beat’ if not quite the actual beat) to record some new drum parts for them to work with. The last five to ten minutes of their set pushes this ferocious drum battery to glorious heights and forms a perfect end to the first day. Saturday is looking both incredible and really, really long.

A few days later, former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband will interview the current Napalm Death line-up on BBC Radio 2 and confess himself a huge fan. The world, or at very least the UK, is melting.

Supersonic Opening Concert

Anna Von Hausswolff,  Khyam Allami    –       Birmingham Town Hall, 16 June

Supersonic Festival is a unique and extraordinary thing and it’s great to have it back again full force this year. Three days of mind bending, heart pounding, ear clattering joy stretch out before us. I’m excited and already tired just thinking about it. The weekend opens with a special gig featuring Anna Von Hausswolff playing Birmingham Town Hall’s huge, almost 200 year old, pipe organ. I think it’s fair to say I’m not, thus far, overly familiar or much enamoured with her work, having been mildly diverted by what I’ve heard but not as enraptured as some of my friends. I’m also dumb enough that the vague similarity of her name is enough to conjur mental images of David Hasselhoff unifying Germany with a keyboard scarf around his neck, a state of affairs only heightened by how seriously she appears to take herself. Still, as a proud Brummie I’m keen to see an interesting and acclaimed young musician play that big old Town Hall organ and more than ready to be won over. Also the Town Hall has seats, the advancing age and need for comfort of a section of the crowd being one of at least three key themes of the weekend introduced by this evening’s performance. First up Khyam Allami comes out and plays the oud for about half an hour. It’s not exactly kicking things off with a bang being a quite still, atmospheric and meditative set but it is really very lovely. In what I fear is a desperately crass comparison Ry Cooder’s ‘Paris Texas’ with an eastern rather than western feel is the rough area we’re in, I think, it’s hard to tell out here, nothing but heat and dust for miles. There’s a lot of that feel of wide open space in the music and while I know so little about the oud I have to check the programme to see what it is, it seems he is improvising on a set of themes and moving fluidly from one to the next. He plays almost without stopping although there are occasional moments of contemplation before pressing on. I really enjoyed it.

 

Before Von Hauswolff begins there is a lengthy pause in darkness in which people have coughing attacks, talk too loudly, babies cry and phones ring causing widespread laughter and just about anything that might cause impatient shushing is got out of the way. Is she tiny? She looks pretty tiny down there at the controls of that thing. The initial sound of the organ is great but as the set rolls on it fails to sweep me away with it. It’s like that time I played Dead Can Dance at the wrong speed. She’s brought her band with her which may have been a mistake. The drums have that slightly dislocated feel in the hall, like a school choir that mysteriously has a drummer in back. The others drone sadly away on keyboards and guitars perhaps aware that if they stopped, went over and just pressed down another key or pedal on the organ it would sound better than what they were doing. I’ve not seen them before to compare but it comes to seem as if they’re just playing their regular set with the bonus of a massive pipe organ in back rather than responding in any way to the opportunity it presents. This suspicion is finally borne out by the fact she abandons it altogether to play guitar on the final track. That said, there’s a nice moment of contrasting scale when she turns around to face us and play mouth organ, which has the added advantage of stopping her singing. Now, Anna clearly has an impressive voice but for my taste she’s always pushing too hard at the end of it for comfort. I guess we can say that the marmite appeal of some artists is one of those other weekend themes I mentioned, fans before the event all agree it was amazing, I tried and failed. The third of what will become recurring ideas this weekend is the ‘dread hand of prog’, as much as there are moments that recall Mogwai, there are also times in the set when I would not have been surprised to see skaters in heraldic livery float out upon the stage below Rick Wakeman style. A question of degree perhaps. Later, in the highlight of the set, the drums come thundering into their own, huge clouds of stormy organ build and I think “this is more like it, this is pretty damned good.”

and then I think “Oh, this is like ‘Heart Of The Sunrise’ by Yes”

and although that’s a pretty good tune, all the kids know that they should ‘Just say no’ to Yes

hyper-zonal

We’re pretty excited about Kevin Martin and Justin Broadrick’s new project launching at Supersonic . . .  Joking aside, Kev ‘n’ Justin have made so much remarkable music together and apart over the last 20-30 years it makes my head hurt to think about it and my ears feel old and beaten. Their various aliases could probably fill the whole festival bill and they’re going to be kicking off another one Zonal. Having officially ended Techno Animal, Zonal is whatever comes next although so far there’s no hint what it might be I can’t help think it’ll be loud and intense, even if it’s ambient. Last time he was at Supersonic The Bug played live with Dylan Carlson for the first time launching the now world beating The Bug vs Earth project. A bonus tune here from the album features, guess who? JKB putting some vocals over ‘Snakes Vs Rats’ for ‘Dog’. By the time this performance rolls around Justin will have just put out a second album from his own trans atlantic collaboration with Sun Kil Moon, while his JK Flesh stuff has abandoned the guitar altogether for dysfunctional industrial techno. So, probably not like any of that. Maybe they’ll try their hands at electro swing or something.