So once again I appear to be ‘a day late and a dollar short’ as my man Flav likes to put it but there’s a good deal of overlapping things to say about Supernormal and I must admit it all gets quite too much to think about, so I go sit down for a nice cup of tea and a cake and put it off for another day. However,
tomorrow tonight sees the repeat of the most recent Panic & Carousels (7pm on basic.fm) featuring a sizable cohort of bands from this year’s line up so it seems I can delay no more. Perhaps we should begin where we find ourselves then, for Supernormal is a well mannered and agreeably civilised affair where one can pop to the big house of an afternoon to enjoy tea in china cups with cake and a look through the newspapers. It is not yet besmirched by the staggering incontinent ket-head brew zombies that are such a tiresome feature of the general festival experience and as a result has fairly low-key and amiable security. Taking place largely in the one field with camping at one end and a couple of stages at the other it’s small but spacious. It is, all in all, a wonderful thing, somewhat akin to a large village feté that oddly happens to have a bunch of black metal bands playing. Had I turned around to see a donkey upending the WI’s cake table, a hail of meringue missiles spattering the vicar’s cassock, then I might not have been surprised.
I must come clean here and confess that despite being invited by diehard friends in previous years, it was this year’s excellent line-up that really sealed it for me this time out. Which was a mistake of a kind as it generally features a good number of acts you’ve never heard of with intriguing names and you should all come along next year regardless of who’s playing as virtually everything I saw rewarded the attention if not actually making me leap for joy. In a restrained and dignified manner naturally.
Kicking off things on the main Shed stage and strong, early contenders for ‘name of the weekend’ were Mothers of The Third Reich who I only really saw in passing what with all the tent erecting, kit ferrying, friend greeting, drinking and general arriving on site but here’s a taste of the kind of abstract noisy thing they’re about…
a 2 track album yours for a pound on bandcamp, they suggest you make it into a tape. it’s tagged ‘experimental music concrete no wave noise punk black metal jazz and improvised music noise punk United Kingdom’ which may well serve as a twitter review of the whole festival. Over at the other end of things on Sunday night, I make it just in time to hear the rapturous applause greeting the end of Homosexual Death Drive‘s set. Which was a pity. Responses to their performance seem to veer toward either end of the spectrum but they definitely win best name of the weekend – their unique lo-fi merchandise possibly edging it for them. A friend bought one of those chatterbox things off them that schoolkids make. After selecting a colour and a number it recommended I ‘touch my own poo’. They also seem to have produced the most basic/rubbish piece of merch ever, ever, ever in the form of a badge which was just an old badge with a piece of masking tape stuck on it and homo death drive written on in biro. What a thing of beauty and joy to behold. Here then, for your consideration, is about the only tune of theirs you can find on the internet. Called ‘Temple Of The Butthole’ it starts out like The Clangers and goes all kinds of wrong
I’m quite sad to have missed them, especially as I came over from watching Physics House Band, their ineptitude might have provided a soothing corrective. Surely aptly named, Physics House Band are like some kind of sterile musical equation, they can really play their instruments and boy, they are not about to let you miss out on that, no sir! They start out sounding like early Yes. And regrettably they actually get worse.
Anyway, let’s go from the beginning shall we? Once settled in and suitably refreshed the first band I really get to see are one of the best of the weekend, the mighty Evil Blizzard take the Shed stage by storm and make themselves a lot of new fans in the process, I’ve written about them before so i won’t go on but they look even weirder out in the daylight, they sound fantastic and while we’re yet to see how very brow-furrowingly seriously some people will be taking themselves over the course of the weekend they are also a lot of dumb FUN! Somehow having enlisted an army of children of the damned to their cause. Wearing blank mannequin masks that say evil across the forehead, they invade the stage towards the end of the set. Evil genius.
Next up Shit and Shine manage to squeeze three drummers onto the tiny stage and play one track for the whole show. It is suggested to me that ‘With them, it depends if they can be arsed or not, I’m not sure they could’. So to the reformed Terminal Cheesecake then. It certainly seems timely, sounds and ideas explored 20 years or so ago by them and others seem to be firmly back on the agenda throughout the rest of the weekend. Oddly, I wasn’t a big fan back in the day, put off by the crap name and the artwork on ‘Bladdersack’ or something. It’s not even all that crap but I never liked it and back then when you couldn’t hear everything on the information superhighway you sometimes had to make purchases based on words and images as much as music. They also had a terrible habit of using drug references as titles. As a youth at school I was soberly informed, over spectacles and down a long nose, that sarcasm was the lowest form of wit. Stoner humour however looks up to sarcasm like a child at the bottom of a deep well looks up to the light. That said I was pretty excited to see them join the bill. Perhaps if I had been a bigger fan I’d be more annoyed that Gary Boniface has been replaced by some skinny whippersnapper from Gnod, or perhaps I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. Perhaps kicking a beachball around at the back of the crowd wasn’t the best way to immerse myself in it. They make an entirely enjoyable noise but my opinion of them seems unchanged, a good band, an interesting one but not one I truly love. Unlike their label mates Silverfish who I adored, now there’s a band that should get back together…
Saturday morning I can put up with only a half portion of Tomaga‘s admittedly pleasant noodling but it’s a bit like watching a rehearsal and I’m as yet insufficiently caffeinated so I press on. Good Throb arrive in short order and make a righteous scrappy lo-fi punk rock racket of which I have to approve, ‘Culture Vulture’ is on the show and here’s another single from them
Dead Sea Apes are in the familiar loud psych/sludge noise/whatever vein of a great deal of the music this weekend and they have a good sound but, well, it’s just a bunch of guys jamming. Yes. Jamming. That bad. I miss the start of their set and when they announce their last tune I think ‘Right, here we go guys – hit me with your best shot’. It has a bass solo. the words DEREK SMALLS are flashing behind my eyes in massive bright orange letters and not because I had too much coffee either. Art Of Burning Water on the other hand play a short set that’s mighty loud and entirely untroubled by any meandering directionlessness. New to me but apparently about 10 years old they play a ferocious metal edged hardcore, that takes me back more than 10 years to rode-tinted youth. They’re great and get extra points from me for the ‘Streetcleaner’ T-shirt, here’s their most recent effort the splendid ‘This Disgrace’ – they promise the next EP will be ‘even harsher’ gracious.
Dethscalator start off slowly, they just amble up and start playing. Dan, their ‘singer’ doesn’t even take the stage. I’m a little concerned they’ll disappoint for a couple of tunes but as they get into the swing of things and pull a crowd around it really starts to rock. I hear them called grindcore by someone but really they have less structure than that, they’re like a hardcore band with all the genre clichés dropped, more like the sodden sway of Jesus Lizard or something. Terminal Cheesecake’s new vocalist appears covered in glitter and crowd surfs his way towards the stage. Not to be outdone Dan gets up there and sings on his back carried up on the hands of the crowd. He mumbles something about the golf tee that comes with the record and offers ‘This is the last song but it’s complicated. So give us a minute’. They’re one of the highlights of the weekend.
Mugstar are something of a pleasant suprise. If I’ve ever heard of them before I’m sure I’ve dismissed them for having a useless name and for the terror struck in my heart by the very idea of a scouse psychedelic band but they impress live. As do Hookworms in a very similar fashion it has to be said, much better than on ‘Pearl Mystic’ for my money although I’m still not all that keen on the vocals. Both bands will be playing at Liverpool Psych Fest at the end of the month alongside headliners Clinic. Sadly, no Hawaiian shirts, although I’m wearing mine anyway, they play in the familiar scrubs and they’re great, a lightness of touch and quickness of mind after all that tasty sludge. Pop even. They lean heavy on the ‘Free Reign’ album bringing their full range of sonic toys and tricks to bear but I’ve no complaints about that. They dig out ‘Evil Bill’ near to the close and come back to encore with ‘Walking With Thee’ and inevitably ‘The Second Line’. They bring the day to a joyous close.
Sunday kicks off with the quite curious spectacle of GunCleaner out blinking and burning in the sunshine. One of the only act this weekend playing from laptops and boxes rather than instruments their techno tinged industrial racket seems all out of place in the pleasant summer sun. Like a goldfish out on the hearth rug. They do however provide a glorious experience as theatre. Towards the close of their first number, (a ranting preacher over a load of drone in the familiar, but still enjoyable, fashion) a mate of theirs walks up from the back of the crowd and proffers two cigarettes which they take and delightedly spark up. It may just be random but I dearly want to believe this is some kind of in joke set up beforehand, a fractured echo of James Brown being draped in a cape and guided from the stage, a way to make two blokes tinkering with switches worth watching. I also like to think the sweet older lady in a cardigan taking their picture is one of their mums. That even shaven headed industrial noise mongers have their mum show up to the gig and fuss over them “do that one about Charlie Manson son, I do like that one”. Later, when a heavy beat kicks in they both start to bob to it while still hunched over their garden table of kit, causing an uncanny resemblance to a pair of jockeys on invisible horses. The music isn’t bad either. Such a breadth of entertainment is sadly not on offer from Dan Hayward’s New Hawks, I’m all for a bit of folk/country type business, perhaps more so than a lot of the others in the crowd but honestly, they are tedious. Formless, overlong songs that don’t seem to be telling stories or bringing much by way of musical interest either. I think I may be missing the bone dry humour in his assertion ‘we have a new triple album out here with a bunch of our friends on it, this is from side five’ but it turns out I’m not. Over enthusiastic reviews have compared them to Lambchop, which is more than generous even considering how dull Lambchop have managed to get in the past few years. Alerted to the fact they are showing Mr. Benn in the cinema tent, as if by magic, I’m gone. A little later and a few refreshing ciders on and Comanechi bring it from the get-go with the tits-out punk rock business. The festival programme/guide thingy suggests they are ‘kaleidoscopic pop’ which I can’t say I picked up on – perhaps I was distracted by the hat made of fruit. Where Good Throb say play a clean and scrappy, high-end kind of punk they have the heavier low end punch that conjurs the word grunge and vague memories of Babes in Toyland or early Hole. Not too much though, and it’s certainly a fierce and disreputable performance. All girl Argentinian trio Las Kellies on the other hand are completely cool and above it all in that looks-like-we’re-hardly-even-trying, cigarette dangling kind of a way. They have their own sonic recipe concocted from familiar art-pop and indie rock ingredients. It’s sweetly good natured sounding stuff and seems to fit the pleasing afternoon sunshine before we stumble off into the nighttime and the drunken spectacle of Bowie-oke.
Supernormal then, it’s a great little festival and next year you should come along, music aside everything else about it is pretty great too. I even got myself a lovely little badge with a drawing of a log on it. It made me so happy. Yes, well, before that though you should listen to Panic & Carousels tonight at 7pm on basic.fm which features a hearty chunk of great music from some of these bands.