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.

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The weekend is finally here people, time to gorge your tired mind on beer and vacant entertainments full of subliminal messages that control your actions via a variety of sicky glowing screens. Do you remember back in the days before the interwebs when it was just TV doing that? Not even HD flatscreen TV but those teeming phosphor dots? No? I’m old, we had a black and white TV when I was a kid. The young people of today are missing out on the valuable formative experience of staring at the static of poorly tuned tv, discerning alien messages in the rolling hail of electrical ants racing across their retina. Anyway, here’s a post with three youtube clips in it. Sorry. The cause of all this nostalgic disquiet is a short new clip from raging Brummie punk trio Youth Man who are possibly too damn young to remember a world before wi-fi. They have at least opted for the old school stop frame clay animation to promote their new record. It’s great and it’s only a minute and a half long so watch and enjoy.

If you’re anything like me that put you very much in mind of Lee Hardcastle’s incredible Pingu/The Thing mash up THINGU. If you’ve not seen it before you’re in for a little treat. Even if you have I find it still surpises on repeat viewings. In the past it’s been removed from youtube on a regular basis but now has the apparent approval of John Carpenter himself so hopefully it’ll stick around a bit longer.

Speaking of the actual director of ‘The Thing’ John Carpenter, the wonderful Supersonic Festival people have recently bounced back into action and announced a live performance by Carpenter in Warwick at the end of October. Just in time for Hallowe’en!!! Here’s the last track off his recent ‘debut’ album Lost Themes. The music is great and the visuals are sharp. No claymation unfortunately.

 

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Supersonic 2015

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…

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Friday

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. 2015-06-13 00.01.45She 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.

Supersonic Gazelle

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. sausage

Saturday

“…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.

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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.

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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!

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Sunday

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.

2015-06-14 17.11.44

 

sausage dog

 

 

eurovisionary

circle copy

circle / hey colossus / opium lord                                                 hare & hounds, Birmingham, May 21st

Their countrymen PKN may have been cruelly put out of Eurovision at the semi final stage but Circle are over here burning the flag for Finnish punk-metal-kraut-prog freeform insanity, and certainly holding up their end of the bargain on the stage costume front too. First up though, local sludge/doom champions Opium Lord. They make a fine enough racket, blending familiar elements into their own thick, dark brew. In contrast to the headliners they’re a t-shirts and jeans band, they’ve a great, restrained drummer and possibly the most Brummie frontman I’ve ever seen. Unassuming to the point of selfconciousness, when he’s not singing he shuffles about the stage, he even gets down off it and amongst us as if the lights and the eyes are burning him. None of this is a problem, he’s pleasingly short on the sort of face pulling, shape throwing, audience pointing nonsense that often makes metal bands so ridiculous. But then there’s the singing. While he’s far from the worst offender it’s that throaty growl/screaming style that can get a bit cookie monster and, although I can cope with a bit of it, I’ve never really got along with that myself. Not for me then, but they do it well.

One pretty swift turn around and it’s time for Hey Colossus. Who’s your favourite one? Currently the best rock band in the land by our estimation Hey Colossus are on fire at the moment. In Black and Gold is clearly their best album yet, fierce and more focussed than previous and they’re already busy on a follow up. If you have still, wilfully, not listened to it here is the bandcamp stream again. Seriously, get on that. Tonight they’re awesome. For a band that live miles apart and rarely get to rehearse they seem ridiculously well drilled, again the three guitar parts locking together into a formidable juggernaut. Now, some people I know have the same problem with Sykes’ vocals as I did with Opium Lord. I guess it’s a matter of taste. He sings with a lot of echo and effects on his voice but he also uses it in a wide variety of ways from speaking to screaming and, y’know, actual singing too and he’s in fine form this evening. He also generally eschews the showbiz frontman type shenanigans, back often to the crowd a tall man on his tiptoes half the time, toward the end of the set he finally takes the mic from the stand and gets into a bit of leaping about and it’s all the better for seeming entirely natural. Checking they’ve any time left they end again on ‘Sinking Feeling’ making more sense than ever as a closer to the set. Go see them. Buy their record. Buy the Henry Blacker one too – it kicks ass.

So, here come the crazy art-metal vikings from the land of ice and snow, what have they brought us from their ice castle? Circle have been around for years but largely passed me by until now, they have a fine live reputation in these parts thanks to a couple of appearances at Supersonic in previous years, (tonight kicks off the run-up to this year’s festival in three weeks time) but I missed them so I’ve been trying to get up to speed on youtube and soundcloud. Quite the task. They have a full and wide ranging back catalogue to take on, lurching from time to time toward the various elements that make up their own hard to pin down sound. I’m having trouble again with the vocals on some of the older recordings but the instrumental stuff is impressive. If post-rock hadn’t become a meaningless and dirty word signifying endless crescendos and occasional string quartets it might actually be of use to describe what they were up to – pulling rock to pieces and sticking it back together in their own idiosyncratic ways. Also, just as Hey Colossus now have Henry Blacker, Circle have a long running, more straightforwardly rock, little brother band in Pharoah Overlord. Circle’s new album is called ‘Pharoah Overlord’ and Pharoah Overlord’s new album is called ‘Circle’ suggesting that perhaps they have finally come back together as one. Only they play Raw Power festival this weekend under both names. Probably just as well I can’t understand the words, some Finnish, some in a made up language, there’s already more than enough confusion happening. Apparently “On Pharaoh Overlord, Circle explore the smouldering terrain of their kindred spirits to find the means of transgressing the border of parallel existence with their idols (that is, Pharaoh Overlord) with the intent of merging into one abstract entity of sonic flesh. There is no sobriety like loss of identity.” Well, quite. What exactly they sound like is hard to describe, before they take the stage I’m talking to friends who saw them a few years ago and even they aren’t sure what they were like, just that they were good. So, are they any good then? Yes. Yes they are. A loud, groovy, relentless, shifting, assault. Their ridiculous stage outfits gleefully revel in rock band cliché – studded leather belts, flying v guitars, shiny spandex, a riot of colour and beards and hair. and fluffy legwarmers. and adidas tracksuits. Much like the audience then. On the other hand their music seems hard to pin down because even as it draws on kraut,punk, metal, psych and so on it rarely falls into the trap of doing what has been done before. They once described themselves as “like Judas Priest crossed with This Heat” which pretty much nails what I’m trying to say here. Mind-blowing, fantastic and kind of indescribable but if, like me, you want to know where to start with them I’m enjoying the new album and it seems like as good a place to start as any…

the pic of Circle was taken by The Prince Reelfoot at threadfest the following night. he’s very proud of it. The band seem not to have changed their clothes…