Supernormal 2016 then, another glorious weekend of sunshine, experimental music and freeform art happenings that lived up to the high standard of previous years. Supernormal is a utopian exemplar of what a small festival should be. It’s friendly, the bands are great, or at very least interesting, and you never feel like you’re being gouged over food and drink as a captive revenue source in a soulless money making enterprise. The whole thing is run on a shoestring and guided by art and music over all. Tents up, hands shook, cans open Graham Dunning and his marvellous Mechanical Techno contraption opens proceedings on the Red Kite stage. You’ll probably be familiar, video clips of him doing this have been sailing about the internets for a while, but using a fairly simple set of modifications he piles up customised records on a turntable and uses them to physically build up some techno. It’s easily graspable as a concept and fun to watch but it’s also a bit like a plate spinning act without the jeopardy. Someone near me in the crowd remarks that he’s just showing how easy it is to make techno. Personally I’d argue the opposite because, although it’s recognisably techno and it thumps and squeaks along, it lacks most of the tension and invention that make for good techno. It’s like waiting for an infinite number of monkeys with guitars to write the riff from ‘Back In Black’ only less fun. Especially if they were all dressed in little velvet school uniforms – now that’s an act! Although the animal cruelty aspect would be a worry. Let’s go and do or see something else.
And so we went. Wandering about and taking things in I guess – I don’t remember much of friday afternoon. We gave up on Vibracathedral Orchestra because the barn was packed out. They were setting in for a two hour slot so I thought we’d go back after they scared some people away but forgot or maybe saw something shiny elsewhere. Soon the dark comes, and with it Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs. They’re immense and ridiculous. As I mentioned the other day, the good people of IMPA TV captured a lot of the festival for your enjoyment, I’m not going to post them all but here’s the PIGS’s set. Obviously it loses something in the translation to a laptop screen, I’m not sure it’s possible to turn it up loud enough for one. Huge waves of roaring psych riffs and Matt screaming his heart out. They don’t noodle, meander or piss about. It’s pretty reductive as it goes, bludgeoning the crowd into the field under a hail of Sabbath sludge, and that’s why it’s great. Like their name they’re repetitive, stupid and brilliant. More hot sounds from the North East over in the bar with one man garage rock sensation Girl Sweat. Actually a big lad, with hair like a girl I guess and certainly sweaty, is rocking some dementedly distorted slide guitar backed by cheap ‘n’ nasty drum machine and synth. He’s not kidding around either, he’s bringing the lo-fi, hi-energy party jams. Shake your asses you goddamn beard stroking pseuds – that kinda vibe. It’s glorious. Chaotic, infectious and invigorating and pulled off with 100% conviction. You can’t get away with half assing this sort of thing and Girl Sweat properly delivers. He reminds me a bit of Quintron or what it might be like if Hasil Adkins played the B-52’s.
As much fun as I’m having lurching about I also wanted to catch some of Ian William Craig over in the barn so I skulk off before an apparent stage diving injury finale from Girl Sweat to catch some of his set. It may have been an error at that stage of the evening. Ian William Craig is a trained opera singer who sings with striking clarity and beauty into his machines and distorts his voice into drones and shifting, evocative ambient soundscapes. As far as young men with a table full of gear in front of them and effects on their voice go the two could not be more remote from one another. I’ve enjoyed his recordings and what I saw was impressive but I was completely in the wrong frame of mind to fully appreciate it. Mothwasp are doing something intriguing in the new Vortex space but they live in the same place as me and let’s be honest, I’m probably not going to get a lot more chances to see MDC, certainly not in a little field. They were great too, they weren’t bloated or old or worn sounding but still sharp and fierce and punchy. There was a fair amount of storytelling between the songs but well judged and sincere and it struck me that it’s folk music now. MDC are one of the originators of American hardcore and for a lot of the crowd the band have been around longer than they have and that sound is in the DNA of so much of the music we love that’s come since.
Saturday gets off to a roaring start with Black Metal High Impact Aerobics. A much anticipated genius idea and exactly what it says on the tin. These two mentalists in full corpse paint and, erm, uniquely customised black lycra are busting energetic moves in the scorching sunlight to a full on black metal soundtrack. I’m stood at the back concentrating more on black coffee, waving the odd arm about and laughing like an idiot but there is a pretty decent sized crowd who if not exactly ‘taking it seriously’ are expending an undignified amount of effort between fits of the giggles. FEEL THE BURRRNNN!!! It is a truly brilliant thing and they should do it every year. Despite this bracing kick off to proceedings and a civilised level of caffeination it still seems alarmingly early for Guttersnipe. Jesus Christmas but they make a hell of a racket. I’m going to suggest Lightning Bolt as the only
usable point of reference I could come up with. Watching them it strikes me they’re what people who wouldn’t come to an experimental music festival and have but a vague idea about noise bands imagine Supernormal is like – What is happening? are they making it up as they go along? is this written? how? can they even play their instruments? is it even music? what’s wrong with everyone? anyone could do this etc. That last one is the key. You couldn’t do it, I couldn’t do it. There may be people on site who’d give it a fair crack but there is something singular and personal about it. It has curious structures, frantic and odd rhythms, the drummer is wild, it certainly sounds cathartic too. In fact it is, by the end of the set I’m feeling ready for the day and in an uncommonly good mood, onwards!
double drum fun with Casual Nun
Inevitably to the bar, to see Casual Nun. They’re neither casuals nor are they nuns as far as I can tell. The obvious attraction here is that Mat used to be in the mighty Dethscalator. Always something of a two edged sword that sort of thing but they aren’t Dethscalator nor are they a pale new version, they’re less abstract and fractured more of a *ahem* classic rock thing if that’s not too damning a description. Two drummers. Always love two drummers and nice for a band with a fairly swaggering macho sound to have a girl at the back bashing away. I guess, like everyone and their granny on bongos these days, they play a type of heavy psych. There are huge dirty riffs that cycle through and some fairly wild and freaking guitar leads but they seem less soggy than a lot of others, there’s more forward motion and bite to it. More rock, less psych. That’ll be down to the drummers I expect. pint?
Probably should go a little easy on the pints, busy day ahead and all. I was looking forward to returning ‘mavens of motorik magnificence’ The Early Years but for the most part they leave me underwhelmed. Maybe they need darkness and smoke, maybe they need to be louder or maybe their subtle and gently building storms are a little too subtle in the face of the prevailing ‘everything, now, louder’ aesthetic that’s generally abroad in the field. Mostly it just washes and swirls past with occasional really good bits. So it’s on to Bowie Vs Prince Karaoke and our thankfully low key turn on the ones and twos. The karaoke thing has been a succesful feature of Supernormal for a few years, usually a drunken late night mess and while it’s not really my thing I have to say I think this year’s may have been the best yet – earlier in the day seemed to deliver better efforts from the performers and there was no shortage of participation from the crowd on the emotional sing-a-long front either. Naturally we cleared the tent as soon as we started but that’s generally how it goes. Turtle Yama played a surprisingly short set of off kilter electronica and I got to see about five mins of Gum Takes Tooth during our second slot. Seemed pretty damn great, an impression confirmed by other reports but overwhelmed I feel by the mighty performance of Giant Swan. We already posted this the other day so scroll down a bit but they were amazing, the big joyous surprise of the weekend – go see ’em if you get a chance.
The Ex were just stunning. A career parallel to MDC, forged in the fires of late 70’s punk and politically engaged but while the Amercians have stuck with their initial sound The Ex have constantly changed and evolved to become the singular machine we see today. Their sound is their own, they even seem to have their own fluid yet jerky rhythm. While they still sound loosely like a spiky, angular post punk band they’ve welcomed in jazz and african music folding it seamlessly into their own recipe. Thierre can make his guitar like african thumb piano and more crucially seem entirely natural and at home in the setting of one of their songs. Have I mentioned they were brilliant? They play with such seamless interconnection it’s almost like a clockwork wind up band. ‘Maybe I was the Pilot’ and ‘Cold Weather Is Back’ stand out in my memory but it seemed like one glowing amazing song and it only seemed about 10 mins long, one of those sets that seems to be gone all to soon leaving only a burning after image of its brilliance.
I can’t lie, excitement was running high in the Hickeysonic camp for the return of DJ Shitmat and it was foolish of us. As much as the charm of his schtick was always that he didn’t take it seriously and mixed together a raw blend of nonsense, ragga jungle and soap opera obsessions he’s clearly over refreshed and can’t really be bothered. You can’t really blame him for that, or for wanting to do the more serious musical bits and pieces he’s been doing since but we were well up for some proper rungleclotted mashup biznizz…
Yesterday Glasgow’s ‘psychonautal cosmodelic buckfaustian quartet’ The Cosmic Dead were supposed to play a secret/surprise set in the woods but time and logistics (and possibly bucky) conspired against that happening so they open the Red Kite stage early this morning. I am not bothered enough to get out of bed but fortunately they play loud enough I don’t have to. They sound like Hawkwind. No surprises there then – I’m sure it was more fun if you were stood there getting your hair blown back by ’em but so it goes. Ashtray Navigations are apparently a psychedelic institution, at least in Yorkshire. Passed me by, terrible name and they take a while sorting out gear. When they start playing a couple of things are apparent, firstly despite having seemingly been around forever they look and sound like two people who just met on stage and secondly, all that gear tinkering and sound level tweaking could have been saved and a greater happiness of the assembled achieved by simply unplugging the guitarist. Maybe that’s just me. Mums are a lot more fun, weighty riffs and so on but also actual melodies! in songs! including one about how Widnes has two Argoses. Nice. Back in the packed bar Rattle are doing their uncanny face to face drum chatter thing. It’s less like a magic trick the second time you see it but their music is still beguiling and unique. There must be structures in there but they’re kept hidden from view, making their playing seem almost telepathic. It’s a constant surprise how they seem to avoid starting from familiar rhythms and only periodically build to the kind of full tilt clatter you’d naturally expect from a drum duo. Likewise they broaden out the sonic palette of the kit and emphasise melodic elements without resorting to gimmickry or dragging unusual bits and bobs in to augment it. It’s really hypnotically great. Their new album is too.
After Rattle’s amazing performance poor old Tomaga seem a bit underwhelming by comparison, one interesting female drummer and a bloke with a table full of gizmos not quite matching up. It’s pleasant enough but it also meanders and never seems to take any of the surprising turns or developments you hope for. By the time 8pm rolls around I’m more than ready for the palate cleansing primal screaming of The Lowest Form. A particularly adept and knotty hardcore band their fierce blast cuts through the unsanitary build up exploratory fog and sluggish psych on the synapses. Most agreeable. They remind me happily of anarcho-punk/hardcore gigs at The Mermaid years back. Which brings us rather neatly to one of the enduring stars of that scene Justin Broadrick. From his overstocked wardrobe of musical identities tonight he’s appearing as JK Flesh a project that’s undergone an important gear shift of late. Last year he gave away a kind of transitional and possibly imcomplete record ‘Nothing Is Free’ on bandcamp. This year’s ‘Rise Above’ has seen him drop the guitar and vocals and stake out a clearer identity for this project as an industrial meets techno, filthy clanking noise thing (As opposed to his other styles of filthy clanking noise things). Anyway, it’s all to the good, a new focus and sense of purpose. Justin pulls his hoodie down tight and cranks out a lurching, sinister death disco from his laptop and box of tricks. Dystopian and punishing it’s not a ‘hands in the air’ good time by any stretch of the imagination but, well, it put a big smile on my face. Things are about to get properly weird though.
What is the deal with Wytch Hazel? Where have they come from and why are they here? It seems they have opened a space time portal and stepped through from the mid seventies so completely perfect is their rendering of a particular hippy folk metal vibe. They have Jesus hair and neat beards, cheesecloth shirts and carefully constructed rock songs. They do not appear to be taking the piss and yet the apparent lack of concession to the 21st century is intriguing. We keep going back for further clues, the music is awful but of its kind it’s well done. It’s a head scratcher. In alarming contrast the main stage is being closed out by Melting Hand a supergroup of Terminal Cheesecake, Luminous Bodies, Gum Takes Tooth, Skullflower, BONG, Drunk In Hell, 11Paranoias, Blown Out and Haikai No Ku types who seem to be making it up on the spot. This seems unlikely as they’ve got an album out but they appear, shall we say ‘under rehearsed’? Neil Gnod is front of stage and does, it’s true, look like the sax player out of the muppets. I have a brief comic vision of the tiny shed stage taking off like a space ship in true psych/prog style and rising up into the skies but the band aboard it sound more like they’d have trouble loading their gear in a transit than ready to fire into space. It’s been a long weekend for some of them. I could rant here about how they yet again sound like bastard Hawkwind because they all play in bands that sound like Hawkwind the undisputed lords and masters of this little universe and FFS enough already but I’m tired. So tired. Over in the bar a parallel shambles/performance is occurring. Closing out with B-52’s and Devo covers bands the last couple of years has been fun but this year’s Spacemen 3 tribute The Perfect Prescription seems even more under rehearsed and thrown together than Melting Hand. It’s possible some of them have never even heard the songs before, although the double drummer and Jimmy on guitar are making a good fist of it they rattle through a few tunes and run aground. It’s . . . disappointing and a shame to end on a slightly ‘oh are they done?’ note. Still, I’m told Melting Hand got it together and did ‘Blowhound’ and apparently that made it all okay. Into the night then, happy and drunk we go.