Dylan Carson The BugPhoto: Dylan Carson | The Bug © Martin Ward

Supersonic Festival 2015

Digbeth, Birmingham

13th June 2015

The second full day of this year’s Supersonic Festival looked to be an excellent selection of music and performance, the curious audiences have returned and Capsule have organised another fantastic festival. Louder Than War’s Adrian Bloxham and Martin Ward continue their journey into interesting and challenging sound.

It’s harder to park on Saturday, there are people around, looking at all the groovy hip things that are flowing around Digbeth. Back for another day of music, performance and art. First band on in the much airier and lighter Boxxed are Woven Skull. The sunshine streaming in through the skylights makes it bright and open in the venue as the band come onstage, they look like a bunch of no good long haired hippies, which of course is never a bad thing. They are all sitting. The sound builds slowly with bells and drums, it’s slow burning but powerful, there is a disconcerting undercurrent. There is a definite Prog feel and to top it off they have a Theremin! It’s Theremin addled doom folk, slow burning but powerful. Confusingly there is a drone underneath which makes it sounds like music for an ancient pagan ritual. It flows into a frenzied, mental jam, that conjures up visions of fire and moonlight, which. when you realise that they first started playing in a cottage that is very close to a fairy battleground it makes perfect sense.

We catch some of TOMAGA’s set. Which begins with delicate sounds, the beat of a heart, electronics and a drumstick being run around the top of a cymbal. It is a very small but very absorbing noise. The slow motion visuals add to the effect. They are disorientating, a feeling that lasts even as the music picks up pace and moves forward quicker and harder.

Circuit Des Yeux is an odd sight. it’s one woman with high waisted light blue flares and a bowl haircut which stands out here – quite an achievement here at Supersonic. It begins with a folk strum and descends into noise. It all hinges on the guitar and vocal, deep and rounded. The sound is not derivative at all, it seems to come from nowhere you can think of but is oddly and weirdly very now. The vocal has a strange, vibrating effect on it and stays the focal point for the performance.

We stay in Boxxed to wait for Dirty Electronics with Nic Bullen. They slip quickly from dirty distorted beats into full on nightmare noises. The noise crackles and pops like a skipping damaged record playing at the wrong speed through a faulty hi fi system that’s been wired up wrongly. Beats get faster and then melt back slowly. They fade to a buzz and then digital feedback stabs straight into your temples which gives way, even as you are trying to process the sounds, straight back to bad beats. I can feel my body vibrate to the submerged sound of the bass. It’s a hellish noise but quite brilliant. Then Nic picks up the mic and lets rip, an intense frightening and sublime moment. Echoing everything he built in the first place and how it has evolved into the frightening monster of sound we are hearing now. What a collaboration.

The Memory Band are performing a Supersonic commission in partnership with the British Library Sound Archive. They have worked with selected material from the sound archive to produce a new work called Children of the Stones. It uses archival recordings, natural and industrial sounds, traditional melodies and original field recordings alongside the musicians themselves to produce music. The score they have produced is a very British sound. Regretful in places and always mirroring the bleak landscapes that are projected behind them, pictures of ancient standing stones and moorland. The snatches of old sound are voices, birdsong and in one case someone probably long gone back to the earth singing an age old ditty. The music is built around them, carrying the stories captured in the sounds on into the songs. The feeling you get is of green rain swept hills and dark bogs, very beautiful and ancient. It’s sad and forlorn one moment, but jaunty and upbeat next, there are hints and tales of hardship but tales of joy too. A wonderful performance.

Eternal Tapestry hark from Portland, Oregon. The music they make is complex and sweeping, weaving slow noises together with a positively prog rock feel. The sound gets more frantic as the set progresses, the drummer is all over the place, no simple time keeping here. In fact the way the rhythm section and the organ interact and swirl around each other reminds me of classic Deep Purple of all people. They get more of a drone going in the background and the vocal becomes low and flat but then it subtly shifts into a spaced out funky feel that is almost seventies stadium rock fare. An intriguing and interesting set.

Liima (Efterklang + Tatu Rönkkö) are a fantastic prospect, the band meet for a week, improvise and then perform the results. A truly spontaneous and unique event. The music comprises of delicate beats and high electronic noises, almost twee and sweet sounding. They are very laid back, and very cool. A distorted bass adds to the feel. They are slow, steady and rounded, with an intensely polished sound. The vocal has a European accent which again adds to the music. There’s a beauty to the music that reflects straight roads, green fields and order.

You never know exactly what you are going to get with a Six Organs of Admittance show. Even before Ben Chasny adopted the Hexadic system to compose music the range of styles that he has recorded were huge, usually reflected in the live performance. This time we start off with doom laden drums and guitar, slow, sparse and wide open, allowing the music to breath and flow around the crowd. It moves to a jazz feel with the musicians feeding off each other and changing almost intuitively. The explosion of sound that is building up happens and it’s a thunderous, metallic jam. From this they move to hardcore thrash, back to jazz and then powerful melodic rock songs. Ideas are almost thrown out at the crowd who lap it up. Another band that are perfect for this festival.

Supersonic wouldn’t be Supersonic without a healthy dollop of metal, Liturgy provide the dollop this year. Choral voices merge with a droned vocal as things progressively get louder. It’s thrash metal, thundering drums, thrashing guitar and a high drawn out vocal. Not my bag at all but the rest of the crowd are getting fully into it.

We leave the metal behind and go back to the marketplace. An integral part of the Supersonic experience, there are tables with crates of new and old vinyl, cds, tapes and books. There are art exhibitions and sales. Record labels sell their bands wares and people are bustling around absorbed in it all. There is one stall selling bubble-gum cards, old magazines, prints and badges amongst other very desirable items that draws your eye every time you walk through. Next to this is the cake counter, so you can drink tea and eat cake while listening to the utterly bonkers djs that inhabit the corner of the room. There are people with masks and hair made from ripped material, a full turntable orchestra that sounds fantastic but we only catch the end of it and my favourites, two guys dressed in metal tee-shirts and denim cut-offs with goblin masks who seem to play whatever they find in their carrier bag with no cohesion whatsoever.

Back in The Crossing Flamingods are taking forever to get ready. When they do start they use tribal, rhythmic drums and pile the music around them. The drums however take over completely. Theremin spaced out sounds over the top and Eastern sounding guitar and other stringed instrument. Still spaced out and out of this world, its true future music, they have 60’s psych roots and a sci-fi and futuristic world music.

Then it’s time for The Bug vs Dylan Carlson. The stage is red, washes of red light shine through the fog of dry ice that threatened to engulf the hall completely. There’s a stack of equipment on the right hand side of the stage, rounded off with two bass bins bigger than the average front porch. The Bug lurks there, a shadow behind his kit.

Dylan Carlson is a mere shadow on the left, standing silhouetted with his guitar. The music is a merging of the long deep guitar sounds from the Earth man and the electronic noise of the Bug. They intertwine and surround each other and then the beats kick in, dirty and hard they are slow, steady and grinding, a perfect foil for the guitar. The bass rattles your teeth, there are interludes of almost quiet when the guitar comes forward only to fall back into the monstrous percussion. It’s just about perfect for Supersonic.

Dylan leaves the stage to a huge applause and Flowdan steps up, his vocal riding the massive skull shaking bass lines and huge swathes of electronic sound. The sound gets dubbed out and echoing and then kicks back into smart, distorted beats and that bass.

What a way to sign off Saturday night.

~

Supersonic Festival can be found on the interwebs here: www.supersonicfestival.com, you can find information on all the bands reviewed on their lineup page. They are also on Facebook and Tweet 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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