Supersonic Festival The Custard Factory, Digbeth, Birmingham, 21-23 Oct 2011
Supersonic - probably one of the most original festivals around. Musicians mix with the
audience, as both get the same – to see challenging new music, and acts who rarely
play live in the UK. The setting is perfect - huge railway arches shelter eclectic food
vendors, and a narrow bridge over an urban river provides a crossing between venues,
which include warehouses and an old library, which ironically plays host to some of the
And loud is the order of the day. Electric Wizard, Wolves in the Throne Room, Skull
Defects (wonderful repeated rhythms, SO loud)…but one of the most powerful sounds of
the whole weekend is the final track by aPAtT (think I got that right), a Sunn 0)) ‘pastiche’
which echoes around the room and shakes you to your core. Serious or an expertly played
Interpreting humour was a big issue for me this year – lots of Scandinavian bands, all
with a weird sense of humour. Circle – great band, very heavy, but are they being ‘ironic’
looking like a hair metal tribute band? Not until the singer stuffs his water bottle down the
front of his spandex tights, do we finally know the answer for sure. Turbonegro – they
dress like the Village People, with sailors hats, bowler hats and handlebar moustaches –
and play like a pub band playing punk anthems. Great fans, biggest mosh of the weekend,
who dress in matching badged denim like 70s Quo-ites. Ironic, post –ironic, or just having
a laugh? And does it even matter? Not just the Scand bands either -the Secret Chiefs,
in monks hoods and a net curtain hijab, play wonderful versions of Dallas soundtracks.
The funniest words came from Pekko Kappi describing the subjects of his eerie folk drones
– as in ‘this one’s about a woman so evil that her husband sent her to hell and she beat
up all the demons’.
Maybe the really big names of last year were absent – and the planned collaboration
between David Tibet of Current 93 and jazz rockers Zu fell through for some reason –
but its those bands we’ve never heard of that make the weekend so special. For example,
Klaus Kinski rocked the library – rampant energy, indie jazz rock, and a singer with a
penchant for self-abuse not seen since the salad days of Iggy Pop. A charmingly quiet
chap afterwards, onstage he French-kissed his guitarist, beat his head til it bled with what
he afterwards told me was a sock full of drawing pins (do all singers carry these, in case
they get the urge?!), then rolled on said pins, finally mounting the amps to walk perilously
along the gantry. Now I didn’t know they could do this, but the backdrop people can type
messages in extreme circumstances – and he was rewarded with a big white on black
blast of ‘Get Down You Dick’!
Those backdrops are another star of the festival – works of art in themselves, in keeping
with the variety of media used in the festival. Its not just music. Occasionally the images
are so striking they detract from the musicians – as when Mike Watts quirky songs were
given a backing of lurid images from old horror and porn movies. Perhaps they were
practising for Drunk in Hell or whoever.
Overall a great, warm experience, made even more special by the volunteer staff,
the enthusiasm of all who play here, and the wonderful duration of the Capsule girls who
organise it – truly a fans festival!