FREAKY FRIDAY: was made up of work all day (although it wasn’t exactly an industrial image of me sweating amidst huge factory machinery, this was ‘work’ in the sense of helping people to write essays on sociology) and then the busy train journey down from Stockport to dirty massive Birmingham and the check-in to the usual Digbeth hotel with its stiff pressed white towels and grubby little kettle and portable nineties-style TV in the tiny room. With an air of unbridled liberty I went for a sinful chicken kebab down the road as is customary for the Friday Supersonic-goer called me and then necked quite a bit of cheap blended whiskey back in my little room from a plastic bottle labelled ‘Fanta’. Then I pretended to myself to have a kip and then I went and got my ‘Press’ wristband and hence straight in to the Custard Factory, unlike last year where a lengthy and excitable queue stretched out onto the high street.
More than a hint of ‘Nathan Barley’ manifested itself within minutes as I watched a few minutes of the vinyl rally event under the big brick arches. Grown men from affluent social backgrounds who work in the media and live in regenerated areas of London and who almost constantly play on laptops and mobiles were grinning with self-conscious intent whilst observing someone drive a radio-controlled car around a labyrinth of old records. To look at the joy on their faces anyone would have thought they’d have won a voucher for a tit-wank off Nigella Lawson instead of merely watching a toy car bump into some records on a fuzzy screen. Each to their own Adam, you old and sour yet absolutely correct curmudgeon…
Grabbing a pint for £3.50 plus £1 for the commemorative plastic pint glass, I scuttled/lurched to the big Wharehouse to see the first heavyweights of the weekend. High-volume South London stalwarts Hey Colossus made a busy stage with seemingly hundreds of guitarists hunkering down to slice fingers on strings in order to make delicious rackets. The set leaned heavily on the last album ‘RRR’ (a superb platter incidentally) with a cornucopia of quasi-dub noise presented in a tasty sonic buffet of assorted riffs and snatches of distant vocals and bum-quaking bass. HC come over like a fevered collective that suck up the little individual madness’s of each player and then funnels it out of a big pipe right into your ears and onwards to your pulsing brain and then out your shitty bum. Coupled with the whiskey and ale and smoke this was shaping up to be a lovely Friday night. Hee hee – I love SS.
Between sets my hunger awoke again. £4.50 for a burger the size of a child’s fist? Yes I’m afraid I gave in, but then when you’ve had a little chug or two you pay don’t you? That’s how these buggers operate – they CAPITALISE on the weakness of the stoned. Some right-on types should to do a food stall next year, but just serve bread with soup like they used to do at Reading festival twenty years ago, and charge a quid each. They’d be swamped with hordes of grateful spliff-suckers. And the other stall owners would attack them and stamp their bread rolls into the ground. But the people would defend them, and in the process over turn the stalls and distribute all the food between them for free, like a small socialist revolution. And then the West Midlands police would dash in and beat everyone up and then the festival would end early in a welter of violence. Bloody hell.
Justin Broadrick, aka JK Flesh, aka industrial pioneer son number one of the West Midlands, was hungrily greeted by a packed Wharehouse stage eager to eat beats and brawn and that’s exactly what we got stuffed down our greedy noise holes. Justin, with his hood up (‘Conan-style’) and his guitar strapped on, hovered over his laptop like a latter day druidic conjurer, wrenching out sickeningly oppressive riffage over monumental electronic percussion. This was one of the moments I had anticipated, having been enjoying the bloody fucking ACE ‘Posthuman’ album now for a while. Basically we are talking Godflesh-tastic metal precision that hammers down on your sorry head fused with post-dub-step aggro – utterly merciless. This was as good as watching Godflesh here two years ago. The music was redolent of all the themes that Mr.Broadrick has dwelt on since the eighties – power/abuse/corruption/violence/exploitation/paranoia and other assorted cheery concepts that when baked in an industrial-sized metal-encased pie make for the most grande experience. ‘Idle Hands’ was in particular one fucking enormous head-banger of a tune – how my spine tingled as JKB crunched into that big filthy riff.
I cannot remember walking back to the hotel at all, but in time-honoured fashion I got there by instinct alone, and I awoke at dawn without a headache and ready to fill my belly with pink bacon and budget-priced hash browns and beans, which I duly did, amidst assorted band members in the illustrious Paragon dining hall.
SATURDAY: I walked into Brum city centre for a cashpoint. Let me indulge a theme I first touched on last year. It was hideous. The soaring new-builds gave me a rising swell of nausea and claustrophobia, and as ever I felt that I had been flung back to a hyper-real version of the 1970s. Flimsy buildings that were erected cheaply in mere weeks and old Rastamen at bus stops and shoddily fronted Irish pubs with smoking pensioners lurking on the doorsteps and terminally ignored market stalls and filthy white transits and rows of police vans parked around the side of Digbeth Police Station evoked childhood memories of the midlands as badlands where justice was sparse, opportunities for common people never materialised and dreams died coughing in the gutter.
Back to the sanity of the Custard Factory and my day started proper with half an hour of Sir Richard Bishop noodling, skiddling and diddling his dexterous digits over his red hot fretboard. Intricate and rhythmic instrumentals filled the space, spiced through with dashes of Dick Dale-esque surf wizardry and flamboyant eastern ragas. This was a treat for any lover of craftsmanship.
Moving on like a sonic gap year student I took in two numbers from Leeds’ Hookworms who didn’t really do it for me. I was expecting Loop and Spacemen 3 to an extent but I got an enfeebled version of Suicide fronted by an organ-playing chappie whose high voice squealed in a jarring manner and a drummer who seemed out of time. Oh I don’t want to sound horrible but I couldn’t connect and maybe it was because I knew that I had a date with Earth’s main man…
Dylan Carlson was indeed staggeringly good. I enjoyed it more than Earth playing in Manchester a few years back actually. Reverb soaked chords struck with poise and every earnest strum for Mr. Carlson has the most immense meaning. A very attractively faced chanteuse (Teresa Melancola according to Beard Rock) joined the newly-wasted-down-to-stick-thin Dylan after a couple of songs (along with a percussionist) and then really upped the spectacle into summat very special. She had a great voice for this kind of brooding folk-gloom and a strident yet utterly eccentric delivery. Incidentally I heard a bloke behind me say “She’s got big tits too”. I thought I would share that little gem with you. Excellent covers by Mr. Fox, PJ Harvey, the Kinks & Richard & Linda Thompson provided a solid quality songwriting basis for Dylan to work his haunting six-string alchemy and to show the crowd that his new Anglophiliac-folk project looks well worth getting into. IMPRESSED.
I struggled in to the Old Library to see/hear two songs by Jarboe. That’s all I could take. I was wasting my time listening to piano-driven material that wouldn’t sound out of place on a free ‘Mail On Sunday’ compilation CD that featured other bland female singer/songwriters. Like a dreadful afternoon in a garden centre with your elderly parents. Like some nondescript guest spot by some nondescript artiste pushed and promoted by her arsehole record company on Breakfast TV with Lorraine Kelly. Like hearing one of Terry Wogan’s ‘tasteful’ selections on the radio. Depressingly bad. I respect what she has done in the past with Swans and others too, but this was not cool. I wasn’t on my own too – a good few others starting to head for the exit after just a few minutes.
Bohren & Der Club of Gore, cloaked in smoky darkness, were ultimately a cinematic experience without film. Clever and portentous stuff, chin-strokingly intense and melancholic, yet unable to move me to stay for long. Festival ADHD had set in early & I proceeded to flit around like a sound-whore until a certain Japanese noise mastermind transfixed me later on. But first was 20 minutes of Rangda – Richard Bishop again with a deft and funky drummer and a second guitarist blurting out studied instrumentals that covered a fairly broad range of influences whilst still remaining firmly in an eastern mode of meditative trippiness. Again my restless mind foamed and wriggled.
Time for Merzbow. I wasn’t really looking forward to this hallowed hyper-prolific doyen of extremity but in truth the whole set was terrifically absorbing. One long blanket of hypnotic and nigh-constant whooshing noise like a passing train from hell that also featured a drummer plus a guest appearance from Niko Wenner and Eugene Robinson (who did his twitchy mewling weeping angsty thing which made a lot of sense). Merzoxbow was born and the hippy-haired angel of Japnoise supremacy asserted his place as numero uno for any true fan of un-easy listening. Like Scorn and Cloaks last year this was another super-successful foray by Capsule into acute noise terrorism.
The magnificently oblique and studio-shy Drunk In Hell ignited a now pissed-up crowd and caused the steroid-quaffing security lesbians to suddenly wake up and wade into the mosh pit with a ridiculously misplaced intention to curb the euphoria of a throng who knew that these Tees-side misfits were the dog’s bollocks and a bit more besides. DIH are the new band who cannot play by the rules and who don’t follow any orthodox progression routes – and they’re not even that new. Ha! One four track demo that is over four years old plus two murky live sets on bandcamp and these insane buggers manage to almost headline Saturday night at the UK’s premier leftfield music festival.
Squalls of ear-splitting feedback punctuated each song before the deathly motorik dirge kicked in and the big pint-swilling vocalist starts screaming and pleading like a sweating schizophrenic holed up in a foul Redcar bedsit. (One grumble though readers – but where has that wild Ornette Coleman-style saxophone gone that whizzed and shrieked through their sound a few years ago?) One day they may just give the world an album before they die of alcohol poisoning, but maybe that is hoping for too much. Each member is possessed of their own particular demons and none more so than their glaring prowling sneering bassist who held my stare for far longer than was comfortable.
The tracks cracked down on our merry heads like baseball bats studded with rusty nails: ‘Hungry for Blood’, ‘Chick Flick’, ‘Bitch Boy’, ‘Something in the Air Tonight’, ‘Rape Story’, ‘I’m an Arsehole’, ‘I’m Not Laughing’, ‘Gag’ and ‘Walking Abortion’ were spat out like great hateful gobs of metallic phlegm. Maybe they will never record anything ever – and will just become the most legendary CULT noise band to ever stalk this isle. Without a doubt they are the coolest band in the world today and that is an objective fact. See how the middle-class noise connoisseurs of the affluent South bang their well-educated heads to DIH’s excruciatingly fine amp-vomit along with the real smacked-up losers and dirty-vested scrubbers in punky dives up and down dear Blighty. Like many bone-fide and anti-social oddballs before them, DIH have become the darlings of an art scene who recognise credibility when they see it and who covet it like greedy children. Having seen these rabid fuckers before I thought that this may be one of the finest sets of the weekend and I was right. Heeee heeee.
Now Zeni Geva are good, but how could they follow what I’ve just described? They gave it a good shot anyhow, blasting ferociously through their back catalogue, drums pounding relentlessly and KK Null’s giant black guitar sound biting like a malevolent mutant viper demon, but after DIH my mind had started to wander again. I know ZG are an ace band that epitomise the very best in Japanese post-hardcore, and I’ve now seen them a couple of times, but I can remember concluding that they are just as good listened to at high volume at home on the stereo. Top marks to KK Null and drum wizard Tatsuya Yoshida anyway for ending Saturday night on a thrilling quasi-metal high. Like everyone there I was now tired, oh poor little me, and I wanted my bed…
SUNDAY: started with the deafening power of the fire alarm going off at 7am and Jamie next door shouting “Adam – is it going off in your room too?” I confirmed that it was and I was out in the corridor in less than a minute with my boots on and rucksack on my back ready to scale down the drainpipes to safety (old SAS habits die hard). The alarm was a falsie anyway, plus the very few people who were ambling about in their pyjamas didn’t seem to care anyhow.
What a sedate day this was – bright sunshine and a cold snap in the air really made it feel like a Supersonic Sunday. I headed over to the Boxxed stage to check out Richard Dawson, a performer previously unknown to mine ears. And what a lovely surprise – he was frigging brilliant, the frigging nutter! This is one of the truly gorgeous factors that makes this festival a right bloody treat – the fact that people play who you have never heard and who would probably not seek out as listening material in your leisure time but then you check them out at SS and they can turn you on to a whole new little world of enjoyment (or you can decide they are never going to play a guest spot on your home stereo). Think Vic Reeves/Bob Mortimer/Ivor Cutler/ Richard Thompson/Jack Black (somehow) and even Syd Barrett rolled into one compact little man with a bushy beard and tiny cheeky round face, and you are partially getting there.
Dawson proffered old-fashioned tales of skewed fantasy based in and around his native Northumberland set to music that plonked and clopped about like a multi-segmented pantomime horse-caterpillar hybrid with rickets. Whilst waxing on about ‘The Beast of Bamburgh’, Dawson casually referred to the said beast as “…a sort of land-based squid”. Such was the off-kilter pot pourri of his world and it delighted me to observe the slightly puzzled faces of a few in the audience who seemingly didn’t know how to approach something that wasn’t heavy, psychedelic or experimental music. Incidentally this was as psychedelic as anything on offer over the weekend – Dawson’s crazed and brilliantly dexterous guitar playing was a genuine nod to English rural whimsy shot through with psilocybin-fuelled insight, a sort of a musical equivalent of the monologues of Viv Stanshall and the poems of Edward Lear. Anyhow, he received huge applause and deservedly so.
I gave Mothertrucker half an hour of my not too valuable time. Mammoth blocks of sculpted riffology and all very head-noddingly fine. As far as heavy instrumental combos go (and there are a multitude) this was really good but then again, after seeing Bongripper rock out 013 right up to the rafters earlier in April, I don’t think I am ever going to see a more powerful set of wordless riff tracks again. Still, comparisons aside (and without comparisons we have nothing to act as measurement), these mothertruckers got their heads down and ploughed into the pitch-black heaviness like a fleet of big-assed spaceships hurtling towards oblivion.
The perennially excellent Gnod are a bloody good time waiting to be had by new heads/ex-heads/heads and even non-heads. More or less playing the same set that they bounced through at Roadburn six months previous, but only even louder and heavier, these Manchester-based jam-folk are bone fide voyagers into deep inner space: electric gypsies who pump and riff their way through expansive krautrocked-out sonic meditation of the most psychedelic order of multi-layered brain-body orgasmic death-rhythm. They should be booked at any self-respecting festival of credibility – heavy enough to please the head-bangers and experimentally left-field enough to placate the Wire readers and damn trippy enough to soothe the rest…
After a gap of a few welcome hours spent chatting and relaxing in the very fine company of various witty and educated individuals who have formed bands or who run labels or write ‘zines (basically the editor of this website and ’Suffolk sludge-mob’ Meadows), I took my place in the cavernous Wharehouse stage to watch Ufomammut triumphantly fulfil their destiny as one of the heaviest and trippiest ever bands to grace a SS stage. The Italian super-trio took their new mega-opus ‘Oro’ and used it as a labyrinthine tool to practically wipe the floor with any pretenders to their psychedelic crown. Such pile-driving riff-fuelled power, such massive cosmic tension and such mastery of the psyche-metal art form Ufomammut have made their own. This was fucking superb – ninety gratefully bloated minutes of sublime interstellar sludge-rock that got progressively heavier and super-fucking-heavier until the stage that supported them suddenly sank through the ground and into a worm-hole vortex beneath and they were hurtled into an adjacent dimension destroying huge floating rocks and even small planets as they passed by into the heart of a new green sun where they became GODS. That’s how it felt to me and I suspect nearly everyone else anyway.
Having been an avid appreciator of the Goat album (‘World Music’) for a couple of months I was really looking forward to their quirky afro-psych-folk work-outs with a hot slavering brain yet also wondering how the hell they would pull it off. And pull it off they just about did – drawing exclusively on their one fine album they put on a show from icy Sweden that featured masked and kaftan-clad musicians and two frenetically grooving and fugging female singers all making enough rhythmic clamour and psyched-up voodoo pantomime to etch an irrepressible smile on the faces of all the assembled throng. Although many felt far too tired and drained to respond thoroughly to the funk-stained beats, they tried with little sways and nods and twitches of the shoulders. ‘Goatman’ received a huge and rapturous response naturally but the strength of the song writing on the whole album shone through a set that put ‘World Music’ through its paces like a rigorous laboratory test of musical robustness, concluding that Goat’s debut is of exceedingly high quality and that here was an ensemble who could go on to become a landmark of rogue Swedish genius. I eagerly await the second album.
So we arrive at the last big band of the weekend and a stage filled by players of string and woodwind and brass and fronted by Eugene S. Ronbinson and Niko Wenner. This was the much anticipated Oxbow Orchestra – basically Oxbow minus the rhythm section and augmented by a twelve-ish piece orchestra. Although I felt a little ragged by now, my attention was focussed. Eugene is always a fascinating performer (and always an obvious darling of the mainly white and middle class liberal art establishment whose love he courts with much deserved success) and spent most of the time seated centre stage, chatting a little to the audience (including a line along the lines of “You don’t know how much I have to restrain myself from keeping my penis in my pants” – I know how he feels) and along with the able and well-drilled orchestra and the ever-genial Niko and his deft and oh so excellently precise and inventive guitar playing, OO ransacked a few of the old back catalogue, including a delightfully dreamy spine tingling rendition of “The Valley”. I’m sure most of the audience would have preferred the actual four piece Oxbow to have brought the house down with their muscular art-rock and I’m sure many would have preferred Eugene to disrobe and prowl the stage fondling his priapic manhood yet somehow this was a more intimate and fitting for the end of Supersonic 2012.
And that is where I end too, for I am tired my friends, tired of typing my fevered recollections up on this old battered typewriter whilst lolling in the opium haze of a hot afternoon in Tangiers with my old buddies William Burroughs and Brion Gysin. I know they’re dead but they still talk to me. I think William (or ‘Bill’ as I call him) would have really dug Oxbow, and in particular Eugene, and would have loved to invite him round to his apartment. Anyway…anyway…anyway…I’m already looking forward to Supersonic 2013, having been to three of ‘em now I realise that this is one of the greatest and most special festivals of the arts in the world. Salutations to the organisers and all the superb bands who truly make it (drum-roll for the appallingly cheesy ending) both SUPER and SONIC. Gracias and good night.
Scribed by: Adam Stone
Photos by: Lee Edwards