Photography by Sylwia Jarzynka – Noisy Photography,
The news that Supersonic Festival would be returning this year after a break in 2016 was welcomed with open arms by lovers of forward thinking music across a vast spectrum of genres. It is that forward thinking nature that makes Supersonic so special and seeing as the festival was much missed last year, when it was announced that it would be back in 2017, appetites were whetted from the festivals first announcements and the bill put together by the organizers was very special to say the least. With so much going on, the tricky part would be trying to see as much as you can but that is part of the festivals charm and the amount of things going on is impressive but with a little bit of planning we managed to get a fell of the whole festival and its ambience.
The Friday night started wth an eagerly awaited opening concert in the stunning setting of Birmingham Town Hall with Khyam Allami and Anna Von Hausswolf that promised to be nothing short of spectacular and it definitely delivered in the special stakes as well. After an introduction to the festival by Supersonics founders and 6 Music DJ Stuart Maconie, Allami kicked things off with a short but captivating performance that showed off his musical talent to the full with his hypnotic use of his oud lute lead Arabic musical feast leaving the Town Hall audience breathless for the entire duration of his set. A great way to get the festival started for sure.
After a short break Anna Von Hausswolf and her band took to the stage swathed in darkness with a light illuminating the Town Halls awe inspiring organ (one of the largest in the country) that would play a big part in the power of the performance. Flanked by her band, Von Hausswolf sat at the organ and commenced a set that was inspiring and mesmerising in equal measure. As soon as the singer unleashed her impressive voice, it was clear how special this performance was going to be and the entire set was a joy to watch. With the bands rhythms adding to the atmosphere, Anna Von Hausswolf played the organ while she sang and the results were undeniable, the acoustics in the venue were spot on and the joyful noise that was emitted left everyone in the audience transfixed. Material played from her most recent album The Miraculous sounded immense and showed off Von Hausswolf’s passionate howl at its full power as did the older material that was played alongside it and the balance between between the bands powerful, percussive jams and that celestial voice had everyone watching in awe.
As the set reached its conclusion, Von Hausswolf told the audience how honored she was to be playing and apologized for having her back to the audience most of the time while playing the organ and the band ended their set with a sense of heaviness, darkness and sheer triumph and when it all over, everyone in the venue finally got their breath back and applauded accordingly.
After that tremendously satisfying opening salvo, it was time to hotfoot it to Floodgate Street in Digbeth to get immersed in the rest of the festival at its beating heart. Having moved from its previous home at the Custard Factory complex, the new setup was easily as good and easily navigated from venue to venue (The Crossing, Wild and Boxxed as well as a market place full of record stalls and other slices of goodness) as they were all down the same street and when we arrived to Boxxed with the strains of Hard Times by the Cro Mags over the PA ringing in our ears, eager to see the first band of the night that wasn’t to be missed, anticipation was high.
That first band on the list were Art Of Burning Water but due to unforeseen circumstances, unfortunately their performance was not to be tonight (Khyam Allami was the original bass player in the band so at least their was a little bit of lineage of the band represented at the festival that we got to see at the very least) so instead of Art Of Burning Water’s jagged noise we took in the mighty sounds of local electronic noise outfit Mothwasp in the immersive Wild venue instead (this venue would be hosting an Algorave all night, a brilliant event where the visuals are made up of algorithms straight from the artists music that you can see being played as they play) and the three piece more than made up for it with an intense and inspired performance that evoked a Godflesh vibe throughout with their discordant guitars and hard beats wowing the rapidly filling up venue with those stunning visuals in there as well. These guys have been building up a strong following with their noisy and they if you haven’t already, you are strongly advised to check them out.
After a quick stop off at the crossing to check out Charles Haywards Zig Zag & Swirl percussive genius and what a pleasure that was (it would be the first of two performances from Hayward tonight with a remarkable performance with Anonymous Bash still to come later), it was back to Boxxed to witness Nicholas Bullen, founder of Napalm Death and a true legend in both grindcore and experimental music paying homage to the album that started so many great things in music with its influence still being felt globally thirty years after its release, the mighty Scum with his new performance Universal Detention Centre which features material from the earliest days of Napalm Death. The wall of harsh noise that hits you as soon as Bullen starts playing is impressive and sees him screaming his heart out angrily down the mic and this heady mixture makes the audience both delirious and disoriented in equal measure at what they are witnessing. After so many years it’s great to see that he still has the same passion as he always has and the frenzied attacking of the music was fantastic in an intense and passionately delivered performance. A true pioneer when it comes to extreme music doing what he does best and a it was a privilege to see him doing exactly that.
After that pleasingly intense sonic barrage and an all too brief viewing of Heavy Lifting and Blood Sports noise inducing collaborative performance in Wild, it was time for another eagerly awaited sonic barrage in the form of Tokyos finest Melt Banana in the Boxxed venue. With the venue completely rammed, it took the first blasts of energy from the stage for the audience to explode with the vivacity as the bands music. Melt Banana are insanely fun with their pulsating and catchy beats, manic and razor sharp guitar riffs courtesy of Ichirou Agata and the frenzied vocals of Yasuko Onuki sending the Supersonic audience into meltdown and this was an inspired performance by the duo that left everyone with massive smiles on their faces. Songs like the brilliant ‘Shield For Your Eyes, A Beast In The Well On Your Hand’ went down a storm and the whole set was a riot and barrage of technicolor noise, beats and riffs that immersed everyone in Boxxed in the Melt Banana world. Absolutely glorious, brilliantly energetic and so much fun too, Melt Banana definitely conquered Supersonic tonight.
After that high octane experience, we headed to catch Bitlips bleak but hopeful sample led techno salvo at the Algorave in Wild before heading to The Crossing to watch the return of Charles Hayward for a performance by Anonymous Bash collective alongside members of Gnod, Nebraska Branca and Tombed Visions and the captivating performance at Supersonic was nothing short of sublime. A cacophony of sounds and rhythms abound as each musician with Hayward at the helm gave their all, resulting in an epic soundscape that truly engulfed The Crossing with some inspired visuals too. After so many brilliant performances it was time for one more to end the night and one that matched Melt Banana for sheer energy, PCM have been mainstays on Birminghams underground music scene since the early 90s and showed Supersonic exactly why they’re so highly thought of with a blinding performance that sees their thunderous drum & bass tracks incorporating hard as nails beats that have been specially recorded for them by original Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris for use in this set and the results make their hard music even harder. Their set flies by in a whirlwind of vibrant and head shaking beats and the night ends on an awe inspiring high with some of the hardest electronic music I’ve ever heard, utterly brilliant and it is with that triumph that the first day at Supersonic ends and what a way to end!
The Saturday for us starts with a raucous set from Grey Hairs at Wild that sees the Nottingham group explode onto the stage with their hearty dirge that sounds like the Stooges going head to head with the Jesus Lizard going across tremendously with the Supersonic faithful and shows why they are so highly thought of in the live environment, yes their records are great but live is where the band truly thrive and thrive they definitely did this evening. After Grey Hairs and an all too brief witnessing of Arbouretum‘s impressively dark and folk tinged sludgey rock it was time to watch one of the festivals most eagerly awaited acts in Richard Dawson at The Crossing and he delivered in style. The extremely likeable persona that Dawson emits onstage goes hand In hand with his music and the atmosphere is down to earth as he gives us faithful renditions of his material with the set focusing on his latest album Peasant. With members of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs backing him, Dawson wows the crowd with his passionate songs that are storytelling at its very best and the crowd responds in kind. A magical performance.
After Dawson has finished playing, there is a quick stop at The Wild to see the truly immersive experience that is The Seer, which sees video projections and performers stalking the floor before heading to Boxxed to see the marvellous Zu. The band emerged onstage and simply crush all in their path with a suitably bombastic performance full of steamrolling rhythms with the abrasive use of saxophone elevating the bands music. The pulsating flow of the bands music is intoxicating and the pounding drumbeats work in tandem with the saxophone to create a cacophony of inspiring sounds. This is music at its most raw and powerful and the band are in total control from start to finish.
After the aural pounding from Zu, it is back to The Crossing to see the wonderful Jenny Hval who is simply majestic tonight. The first half of her performance is a conceptual art piece for her latest project and is delivered with grace and humour with Hval (emerging from a black cocoon bodysuit) and her band of performers wowing all who are watching with their intelligent take on humanity, sexuality and modern culture with a particular highlight including Hval singing and crying into a cameraphone while her band members film get too as a commentary about narcissism in society and a stirring rendition of ‘The Great Undressing’ and after that the singer continues to deliver a faultless delivery offer brilliant songs, in particular ‘The Plague’ and ‘Conceptual Romance’, highlighting not only how good a singer she is but also how much of a star she is. “This feels like a dream” utters Hval at one point and everyone watching is in definite agreement.
A change of pace follows as we watch the next act, the eagerly awaited Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs who simply explode onto the Wild stage and commence to blow the audiences minds with their riff led onslaught and sonic manipulation of the senses. This chaotic opening is matched for the duration with the bands energetic performance proving hugely enjoyable no having wanted to see the band for a while, I’m happy to report that they didn’t disappoint one bit and were every bit as good as I’d hoped them to be. Songs from their Feed The Rats album sound amazing with power surging onstage, through the speakers, and into the audience. The bands frontman Matt Baty, clad in Newcastle United shorts stalks the stage like Henry Rollins in Black Flag’s My War era and gives a commanding performance tonight whether he’s onstage swigging Buckfast and manipulating sounds with a keyboard or tearing it up on the dancefloor alongside the audience, and it’s telling that both the band and the crowd are having as good a time as each other! The band all play a blinder with so much energy teeming from the stage that it’s infectious and the fact that the band have a brand new drummer makes their performance all the more amazing as they are so tight as a unit, it sounds like they have been performing together forever. An absolutely stunning, powerful and celebratory performance from one of the UKs finest bands.
After that it’s time for another change of pace which comes in the form of Raime at Boxxed and the duos heady noise is colossal with their dystopian soundscapes evoking dread at every turn and their foreboding beats as menacing as you can get. Colin Stetson at The Crossing is our final trip to that stage and he delivers a dizzying spectacle of compelling and forward thinking music with his saxophone played with a fiery passion. Catching a bit of Black Sabbath karaoke before we left was great before aptly, Electronica Wizard took to the stage at a Wild for a mind bending set that saw doom metal classics warped beyond all recognition but still sounding heavy and inspiring. Electronica Wizard are another act not be missed if you ever get the chance.
Boxxed is our final destination for the night and the final destination for Supersonic 2017 (sadly I couldn’t make the festivals final day) and what could be more of a fitting send off than the debut performance of Zonal. Comprising Justin Broadrick (of Godflesh and of course, part of the Napalm Death lineup that recorded Scum, in keeping with the special events commemorating that album) and Kevin Martin aka The Bug, Zonal is the latest and eagerly awaited project from the duo following their work together in GOD, Ice and Techno Animal and even though it was their first ever performance, the pairs history together meant that it was as if Zonal had been going for years such was the chemistry onstage and the formidable roar dominating the speakers. Bathed in red light, the duo came on, detonated the music of Zonal and it was game over. The material Zonal played was truly immense and the audience immersed themselves in the rich and heavy bass that was blasted at them and they proved exactly why they called themselves Zonal with a hypnotic display of beats that saw everybody in attendance zoning in on that glorious bassweight. This new material was perfect for both head nodding and all out skanking with the beats heavy enough to crack skulls and this along with a few choice Techno Animal cuts like ‘Demonoid’ (perfect for cracking skulls as well of course!) redefined heavy. A truly inspirational display from two giants of underground and experimental music and a perfect choice for Supersonic. For everyone watching, this was an extremely special set and Zonal duly delivered in style and the duos debut album cannot come quick enough after witnessing that glorious noise.
This year’s Supersonic Festival was an amazing experience with so much quality acts and so many forward thinking styles going on at a wonderfully organised event. It’s great to have the festival back, roll on Supersonic 2018!