awesome acapella rendition of old murder ballad from Richard Dawson. Not on his ‘best-of-year’ new album but absolute hairs-stand-up-on-your-arms greatness. Even with the mistake.
awesome acapella rendition of old murder ballad from Richard Dawson. Not on his ‘best-of-year’ new album but absolute hairs-stand-up-on-your-arms greatness. Even with the mistake.
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.
An excellent interview with the greatest living Geordie has shown up on, of all places, the Vice website.
“When I tell him that watching him play live guitar instrumentals often makes me think of the power of heavy metal – even though the show is just one person and an acoustic guitar – he calls heavy metal “honourable” and reveals that one of his great musical epiphanies was when his sister played him Iron Maiden’s debut album for the first time: “It was the start of everything.” He adds: “Sometimes I catch myself doing a ridiculous Iron Maiden move with my guitar, but then I remember: there are no ridiculous Iron Maiden moves.”
No new releases this year from Richard Dawson this year – surely in part because he just doesn’t seem to stop touring (I’ve seen him six times this year myself). Weird World / Domino have just reissued a couple of his pre-Nothing Important albums though.
And then there’s this, a lovely little short film showing The Greatest Living Geordie on tour in conversation, about Paul diAnno, blurred lines and singing in an American accent.
Supersonic is just about the best isn’t it? Are we all agreed? Can we dispense with the opening paragraph of brief history/description then and just get on with it? I think we should…
Unable to choose between Free School and Ravioli Me Away we conspire to cleverly miss both in a frenzy of rain avoidance, beer drinking and wristband acquisition. This means that nominal headliners The Pop Group (certainly the big name draw when tickets first went on sale) are our first band of the weekend. Perhaps we aren’t in the mood just yet because they aren’t really raising the roof. No, it’s the sound. The sound is bad. We move to the centre near to the mixing desk but it’s still muddy and the sound guy appears to be off his cake. Mark Stewart looks a bit like Morrissey as played by Simon Day, the lighting is stark and moody. He’s a big lad and he casts a long shadow, as does the name of his band. He’s also well aware of the importance of what we call things and how it affects how we see them, probably has a lyric or two about that. So why reform The Pop Group? It seems like the time? Sort of, but they also seem out of time, outrun by it. There’s no doubting his belief in what they’re doing now, and I’ve heard they’ve been brilliant but tonight it’s just not connecting. Obviously as something more than a nostalgia turn there’s new material but they suffer the familiar problem of it not being quite up to their legendary early stuff. Still, ‘She Is Beyond Good And Evil’ is the tune I find playing in my head all week afterwards…
Over in the ‘new’ venue The Crossing, a wonderfully equipped space belonging to South Birmingham College, late addition Ela Orleans is onstage already doing her thing. Her ‘thing’ being a kind of blurry, off kilter, experimental pop music. She calls it ‘movies for ears’ and composes for theatre and film as well which perhaps helps her steer clear of over familiar cinematic clichés in her own songs. The set up is familiar, black and white film projections, a table full of wires and boxes, a laptop, a single performer. She’s not actually tiny as she first appears though, her kit sits atop an oversized table allowing her to perform in comfort. I don’t know who is responsible for this strikingly obvious development but musical knob twiddlers should rejoice and chiropractors surely curse them. Like her songs her performance repays the amount of attention you give it and although I like her, it’s not quite casting the spell on the hall that it needs to, we’re not quite as lost in her soundworld. This is unfortunate but presently another slight young woman is about to stomp out on the same stage, crush those clichés of live electronic music, grab the crowd by the throat and take the festival by storm.
Gazelle Twin is astonishing, a revelation, a hot, sharp blast of newness and greatness. All the hype, all deserved. Honest. We’ll confess to not having even heard of her before she topped last year’s Quietus ‘best of’ list either but I’m happy with that as it seems she has morphed steadily into her current strange form. Creating a very striking image from simple clothes and bold colours, the stocking mask an old but still incredibly powerful trick submerging external identity to pour out the interior. ‘Unflesh’ really is a great album and she comes out and performs it in a totally commited and physical way. Save for a few vocal effects pedals the knob-twiddling is delegated to a guy in the back and she leaps about the stage a bewitching mix of performance art, modern dance and aerobics class. The set just builds and builds, real, raw emotion pouring out of someone who we can’t quite make out but who has us all transfixed, the mask making her creepy and universal at the same time somehow. I can’t help thinking of The Knife as a leaping off point, not that it really sounds like them but more that she has adopted similar tricks and techniques in realising her own unique vision. This is what you come to Supersonic for – to have someone you hardly ever heard of blow your mind, excellent.
after that we pick up our collective jaw from the floor and trundle back to the more familiar grubby warehouse of Boxxed for the familiarly grubby sounds of Sex Swing. Apart from having a crap name their other main problem is not being Dethscalator (the remarkably visceral noise punk mess two of them used to be in and whose break-up still seems like a shocking waste). On the upside they aren’t a pale version of their old band, they’re a different thing entirely, a droning, grinding, lurching beast. An earth-bound form of space rock, the photo of a poor entangled beast that accompanies their one online track so far seems to perfectly visualise their sound. They have a saxophone and I know this upsets some people but it’s fine and good, really, it is. Waves and blasts of honkingly great baritone sax. It also causes some folk to attach the word ‘jazz’ to them which seems a little wide of the mark although it’s unclear how much improvisation, if any, is going on onstage. Sex Swing are exactly the sort of slightly formless expressionistic racket you expect from an experimental music festival and they do it very well. Great things (or a swift demise) are expected of them. We’ll be paying close attention.
“…is Tiswas, never a day to miss ‘cos…..”. Eternal Tapestry turn out to be the tedious hippy noodling I feared rather than the pleasingly pastoral psyche they could be. Six Organs Of Admittance are more straightforwardly ROCK! and much less annoyingly twiddly than I remember – if this is what Chasny’s new Hexadic system of composition means then I’m all for it, although I didn’t go to his talk and haven’t bothered reading into it as I firmly expect it to be annoying twaddle. As ever, I failed to make it to any of the talks which is a pity but despite being discreetly programmed to avoid much overlap or clashing of stages the festival is still quite exhausting to attend. Maybe we aren’t match fit.
Holly Herndon brings all the shiny new tech and high brow ideas about what it all means to the ergonomically correct table and smiles sweetly at us like she’s selling us lemonade and cookies. Inkeeping with her schtick she communicates by typing messages that scroll out on the screen behind her. This works well and she brings up the festival’s facebook event page and starts clicking on various people’s profile pics, my own included. This raises a smile and a cheer in our party and amongst various people’s mates throughout the crowd. Whether it’s meant to show our interconnectedness or be a stark warning about how exposed we are in the online environment isn’t clear, maybe it’s both. These selections don’t seem to feed into the weird back projection which looks like a primitive video game environment and you sort of hope is therefore being fed with information and shifting and changing in real time rather than just a film playing out because to be honest, it’s crap. It shouldn’t matter that much but that’s kind of her thing right? Still, ideas about the digital landscape to one side because the music isn’t dry and conceptual like that, Holly remembered to bring along some bass thump to ride under her pretty, glitchy, bright electronic smears and dabs of sound. In what seems a very old school way – if you stop thinking too much it all makes sense. She’s bloody great.
Liturgy meanwhile are a massive disappointment on just about all fronts. I’d originally expected some comedy value hipster black metal but then they went and made a truly odd/mental and experimental second record and it suddenly looked like they might be an intriguing prospect. In the event they are neither amusing nor bracingly forward thinking. Considerable technical prowess is brought to bear creating a blank wall of noise and as best as we can tell, that’s it. There’s a tall and remarkably drunk guy in front of us dancing wildly and clearly getting a lot more out of it though, so perhaps we’re missing something. No corpse paint neither, goddamn hipsters.
Dylan Carlson Vs The Bug is a curious thing, a wonderful but odd thing. This is the first time they’ve set up this as a live event having failed to make it happen for various reasons before. Dylan is looking incredibly dapper. I can tell you this, as I did him, because I saw him outside beforehand, onstage you can’t see anything for the dry ice. The music they make is a kind of semi-industrial drone, loud and textured. It’s something other than just the sum of their parts. It’s great stuff but it seems the wrong time for it, the crowd feels anxious. It’s saturday night and everyone knows Dylan is eventually going to leave the stage and The Bug is going to bring the noise and that knowledge slightly overshadows what they’re doing, turning it into a ludicrously extended intro. Those of you thinking “isn’t that what Earth do anyway?” go straight to the back of the class and think about what you’ve done. But, yeah eventually Flowdan looms up out of the fog to start yelling at us and the two of them bring down the pure fyah and all of that stuff. It is phenomenally good. Raucous, danceable and noisy as all hell, a totally overpowering live experience and a perfect saturday night headliner. Louder, Louder, LOUDER, LOUDER!
In yet another example of how Capsule care for their audience Sunday is a smaller scale affair with less tickets available and early finish for the unfortunate to make it back home for a monday morning workday of misery. Today it’s just the one venue and all programmed by folk sensation Richard Dawson. Three years ago he opened the day on this stage with a hangover even worse than ours and he’s been at every Supersonic since in some capacity (last year as part of Khunnt). He delivers with a perfect selection of gentler folk(ish) acts to wind down the weekend. Regular Dawson collaborator Rhodri Davies is an improv harp player and very little like you might imagine that to be I expect. Abstract, distorted, shifting. It’s not easy listening but it’s not off puttingly difficult either. Czech street musician Jiri Wehle starts with a few harp numbers too, it’s a little more trad than Rhodri. It’s his first time here and he apologises for his English which, inevitably, is pretty excellent. His songs seem to largely tell folk tales and I’m helplessly reminded of Krtek the animated mole who loomed large in the world of bafflingly great Czech animation we used to get on telly when we were kids. I’m sure I’m doing him a disservice but, to be quite clear, I loved Krtek. Pretty shortly he breaks out the hurdy gurdy and obviously that’s a great thing. Last up Afework Negussie, an Ethiopian now in London. It might just be that the last couple of performers played sitting down but he seems remarkably tall, he plays a one stringed instrument called a Masenqo and gets a remarkable range of sound out of it while singing gloriously over the top – here’s a clip of him playing with The Ex. Humble as ever, Dawson puts himself on in the middle of the bill. He offers he might do some songs he doesn’t so much anymore and so skips his ‘hit’ ‘The Vile Stuff’. The performance is amazing, how he manages to sustain the level of complete commitment to each song he does is a mystery. Only two in and he’s out of breath, spinning a surreal tale about cats to regain his composure, the shift from sweet everyman telling slighty odd jokes to being totally lost in the songs is a curious one but always a wonder to watch. Highlights are just about all of it but ‘We Picked Apples In A Graveyard Freshly Mowed’ is truly lovely and the version of ‘Ghost Of A Tree’ breathtaking. Supersonic then, once again the whole thing was absolutely brilliant – roll on 2016.
Prince Reelfoot here, painfully aware that his DJ life partner Thee Monkey’s Claw has been doing all the heavy lifting round these parts for some months now, especially in the build-up to Christmas. Blame my lack of activity on personal strife, rum and the Twin Peaks Boxed Set.
Anyway, some odds and ends for you.
The estimable Narc Magazine has a shiny new online presence and in an attempt to stem my efforts to turn the magazine into The Wire, they’ve given me a column all of my own to cover the kind of Hickeysonic-friendly stuff that perhaps isn’t a good fit for the magazine itself.
November’s column is here, and featured IX Tab, Hacker Farm, Kemper Norton, Richard Dawson, Fugazi, Crass In Africa, Blown Out, The Art Of Burning Water, Richard Dawson, Loscil, Lviv and Rhodri Davies.
December’s column was a more modest proposal but featured Richard Dawson, Kemper Norton,. Evil Blizzard, Hey Colossus, Karen Gwyer, Nazoranai as well as my P&C friendly end of year chart (my other chart, including all the miserable country and mediocre indie-pop, can be found here) and a Mixcloud selection of some of the best tunes of 2014.
I also spoke to the absolutely bloody lovely Rhodri Davies about his new album, boxed set and launch party. You can read it here.
There’s also a bunch of Narc reviews from the last few issues I’ll post at some point.
Thanks again to Lisa Meyer and the Supersonic crew for letting Hickeysonic play at their amazing Christmas party, which saw me fall face first into a snare drum during another joyous performance by Sly & The Family Drone.
The evening started like this
and ended, many many hours later, like this
Anyway, that’s enough for now.
Have a good new year, buy rekkids, listen to noise, get excited about the new Hey Colossus album and don’t let the fuckers grind you down.
It’s been a little bit quiet on here of late, especially from me for one reason or another (some practical, some personal) but expect a deluge soon.
And while you wait for the deluge, have some of this. A remarkable video for a remarkable song from a remarkable album by a truly remarkable man.