Gazelle TwinPhoto above: Gazelle Twin © Martin Ward

Supersonic Festival 2015

Digbeth, Birmingham

12th June 2015

Billed as being ‘for curious audiences’, Supersonic Festival in Birmingham has always been a place to discover new experiences, sights and especially sounds. Louder Than War’s Adrian Bloxham and photographer Martin Ward have been exploring the multitude of acts on show across the weekend – here’s their first report back from Friday. 

The Supersonic Festival is where I rediscovered my interest and spark for new music. It’s where I came to see Godflesh five years ago and came away wondering where all this noise had come from and how I knew so little about it. So I started reading, and searching and finding sounds that I had no idea were out there, reviewed some of it and am now, hopefully, helping others to find their own new noise.

So, five years further down the road and we are back, ready for three days of mind-bending interesting music and performances. Unfortunately we couldn’t catch it all and some bands were missed, but we did try to capture the majority of the artists on show over the three days. A special mention has to go to my photographer colleague Martin who has risked life and limb to get some of the shots here, particularly challenging were trying not to be landed on by Apostille and breathing so much dry ice during The Bug’s set that he got oxygen deprivation.

Here’s what we saw…

This year the venue had moved away from the Custard Factory and into two venues in Digbeth only about a minute away from each other. The main stage was in Boxxed, a warehouse like space that has been used before, and the market place with cake and tea was in The Crossing, with a spacious large hall that the bands played in. The market place boasted the oddest djs known to man and a huge selection of delectable vinyl, cds, books, prints, fanzines and other assorted things that you just wanted to buy. For the record I bought two cds, both classics.

Opening the festival at The Crossing were Ravioli Me Away. They describe themselves as jazzy post-pop punk hip funk, which sums it quite nicely. The most immediate thing that hits you are the funky, punky drums. They sound jittery and angry and the music sounds fuller and harder than on their album. The three of them are hidden behind sunglasses and hats or, in one case, a full face shield. There is a paradox at their heart, they are discordant but the harmonies work. They look slight but they exude power, they are emotional and heartfelt but the way they move and play verges on the robotic. The sound has a depth that gets to you. The cool veneer is broken by the keyboardist, ‘That’s the wrong sound’, all three smile, ‘A good sound but the wrong one’ a moment of twiddling is all it takes for the right sound to appear, but the smiles have made the performance more human and added to the whole effect. The serious side of their music is obvious, their messages of protest have a humanity to them that makes you listen. An excellent festival opener and one of my highlights of the weekend.

Over in Boxxed Birmingham’s own Free School were doing their disco poppy, electro thing. I have seen them a number of times and they never fail to deliver. All the members wear sheep masks which adds an air of mystery and madness to the music. It’s sweet, slick and sexy. Harking to the days of fun pop like Erasure but giving the music enough of a modern twist to make it sound bang up to date and fresh.

Glasgow based duo Happy Meals play The Crossing. They are slow, sensual electro, layers of sounds building futuristic and cool music. The vocals are dreamy and stylish, their music lets you chill out and drift away on itself. It is slow burning and laid back, but the percussion still moves it forward. The beats are almost a contradiction to the smooth stylish synths and vocals. A beautiful moving sound.

Headliners The Pop Group are funky, ‘Turn Up The Bass!’ shouts Mark Stewart before singing with an echo that makes the vocal almost as massive as him, I don’t mean fat, I mean a giant of a man. It’s so loud that the music is almost drowned out, until they turn up the bass, and it all kicks in and kicks off. It’s like Hawkwind have discovered the massive basslines of dub underneath their outer space howl. It’s like Punk has shrugged off it studded leather jacket and embraced the magic of funked up dancing, it’s like this post-punk group of men even older than me still bloody matter.

The vocal is angry and full, the bass throbs and the drums skitter. The sound is as hard as nails and the opening interludes turn to screaming free jazz and screamed vocals. This may be a group but it isn’t pop. The slow, uneven grind of Citizen Zombie repeatedly mashes you down. Mark Stewart mentions the other bands, especially Ravioli Me Away, who have Mad Truth dedicated to them.
They are as Funky as fuck. It boggles the mind that this came from Punk. It must have turned so many on to funk and Jazz that even the hardcore grew to embrace. I feel that Fugazi must be fans. This sound has influenced much of what we have now. It’s irreverent and cool, they have paid their dues and are keeping on going. A well-deserved headliner that got right there inside my head.

After that, Ela Orleans is in The Crossing. A complete contrast to the Headliners. She has a cool synth backing which stops and starts, adding to the beauty of her voice. The performance feels stylish, the visuals projected behind her adding to the mystery’s hinted at by her voice. It’s just Ela singing with a laptop and effects for backing, but the noise is pure and simple and yet again it gets right inside my head and makes me drift away. When she speaks over the music this adds to the cinematic performance and give you a real sense of watching an artist at work.

Glaswegian Apostille has a table of effects. He examines each bit of equipment and then wraps the microphone cord around his neck, it looks tighter than it should be. Big distorted pounding beats hammer into your head as Apostille yelps and shouts incoherently. It’s slow and steady, completely over the top electro-pulsing noise. There are bursts of stupidly loud feedback with layers of electronic sound. Apostille is shaking and swaying onstage before pogoing around, jumping up onto the table then standing and screaming. He crouches low to manipulate the sound and stays standing up there shouting. The music has grabbed everyone by the throat, it’s a punk rock electro-powerhouse. Angry and defiant, the layers of attitude are repeated over and over again to release a sexy, furious feeling in the audience. Breath-taking.

Gazelle Twin are genuinely and mind twistingly disturbing. There are two of them, the one of them bent double over a keyboard, face covered by a hoody, skinny and slight. But the singer gives you the fear. She too is hooded, but she is also masked, so when she shudders across the stage, swaying and rocking, you realise that you can’t see her face anyway because it isn’t there. Masked to seem like she has no eyes or nose, just a harsh, open mouth. She sings like she is directing madness. It is sinister and dark and the music reflects this, they describe themselves as industrial-pop and that fits well. They have no projections and just three white lights shining towards the crowd from the back of the stage, simple and plain, it is all they need. It’s slow to draw you in, but the demonic dancing and faceless twitching figure grabs hold of you and you are lost. It’s like unwelcome memories of childhood nightmares that rise up in the middle of the night. Strangely compelling but not entirely welcome.

Last band on back in Boxxed are Sex Swing. They seem to take an age setting up and checking their sound. But eventually they start. They have a saxophone that is almost as big as the guy playing it. The sound is a drone with the aforementioned sax howling. Its jazzy hardcore doom, and I like it. The name is fairly far away from what they are, they aren’t very sexy and there’s not a lot of swing. They are aggressive, slow and completely in your face. Pretty nasty really.

And on that note we leave the first night of Supersonic 2015 behind. Ears ringing and smiling.

~

Supersonic Festival can be found on the interwebs here: supersonicfestival.com. You can find information on all the bands reviewed here on SS’s lineup page. The festival is also on Facebook and twitter, as @supersonicfest.

All words by Adrian Bloxham. More writing by Adrian can be found at his author’s archive.

All pictures by Martin Ward.

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