Birmingham’s amazingly diverse festival of ‘adventurous’ music, is 10 this year and had a great party! There was custard – it’s in the old Birds factory – and lots of cake, and more…Hard to pick highlights when the genres veer from metal via electronic and folk to totally unclassifiable, but here are some of mine:
Jarboe – in the wonderful high-ceiling whiteness of the Old Library (shhh!) the ex Swans and Skin singer performed stripped down songs with only backing singer Renee Valentine Nelson on piano. Jarboe’s voice…at 60? is still amazing, capable of so much pathos, plus vocal tricks that make you think ‘how did she just do that’? She looked stunning too, in black cocktail dress, long wild blonde hair storm tossed as she sang. She spoke infrequently, to joke about a Southern Baptist feel on one track, and to apologise for words wrong on a Swans number after a long tour. An artist to savour on cold dark evenings by the fire…
Pathos of another kind from Oxbow, this time in a cavernous warehouse with, stunning blue lighting. The Californian duo were backed for this special performance by an 10 piece orchestra, which included the doom tuba and horns of Ore duo Sam Underwood and Stuart Estell. They reworked their back catalogue, songs of passion and sadness complemented by the classical backing, alternately powerful and ethereal. Singer Eugene looked like a Stax soul singer, and delivered painful and ecstatic verses as if in the throes of an exorcism, gradually removing more and more of his Saville Row smart suit and tossing it aside.
Perhaps the most well-known performer was Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth. She performed as experimental guitar duo Body/Head, with free noise artist Bill Nace. Very low-fi, her vocals strong and mostly indiscernible, but she has such a stage presence. Lots of teasing and powerful guitar, against a ultra-cool black and white video backdrop of a couple in a trendy apartment. Kim also contributed Reverse Karaoke, a yurt full of recording gear where you could make your own CD; art with a good use at least.
Friday night is ‘dance’ night, with the PCM reunion, featuring ex Pop Will Eat Itself guitarist Richard an undoubted highlight; their wild dark drum n bass live in full effect. New Berlin label Small But Hard took over another warehouse. Based around the amazing DJ Scotch Egg, (now known for some reason as Scotch Bonnet) and his talented friends, it comes across as a real family concern, from the lovingly crafted cassettes to the many onstage collaborations.
Devilman were a bass heavy delight, featuring Mr Scotch and Taigen from the excellent Japanese psych/metal band Bo Ningen. One of the few negatives of the whole weekend was the cult rapper Sensational, once associated with the Jungle Brothers – capable of original work on record, but not a great idea to try to bum drinks of your fans then get so out of it that you cannot perform. Still, at least he turned up; Daddy Freddy, the worlds fastest rapper, preserved his title intact by missing his slot with the Bug completely. Still, they did have Flow Dan from Roll Deep and the lovely Israeli reggae rapper Miss Red, so they coped.
On a personal note, I was delighted to be the impromptu guest of Jo, from Cambridge’s imaginative Bad Timing nights, at an Alice in Wonderland tea party to celebrate the 10th anniversary. Suitably Supersonic, it took place on the top floor of the old factory, super sunny Brum cityscapes below, with tea cups full of champagne and tea pots of new Purity Brewery beer.
Several guests wore Hieronymus Bosch masks and did not move for an hour. These were the Out crowd, who went on to ritually distribute festival-goers good wishes on rice paper into the River Rea as it flows through the site. Just your average tea party then; DJ X of PCM won pass the parcel, and Stuart from Mogwai joined in on kazoo to sing Happy Birthday. So, raise a teacup to many more years of bizarre eclectic art and music lovingly curated by Lisa and her gang of Supersonic volunteers.