Rejoice friends! If the endless rain doesn’t wash us all into the filthy sea then Supersonic festival will be upon us in less than a month’s time. An undoubted pinnacle of underground music’s calendar, this year it will be celebrating its twentieth birthday. They grow up so fast. Perhaps there will be cake. There’ll certainly be samosas, and dancing, a little sing-song too I don’t doubt. Naturally there will also be a hearty portion of crushing noise and invigorating musical experiments. It’s going to be quite a party, come ready. If you’re still dithering about that now is the time to commit.
This year the names in big font are crushing hometown giants Godflesh, bringing their excellent new Purge album, long running US artpunkers Deerhoof who may or may not be singing in Japanese as on this year’s Miracle Level, and Mercury prize nominated drone-folk superstars Lankum who are just at the point of breaking through to a higher level and are going to leave the assembled in tears come Sunday night. Other Echoes and Dust favourites pepper the bill including Hey Colossus, also celebrating twenty years, longstanding friends of the festival Oxbow, mighty NZ doom duo Divide & Dissolve and boundary-pushing leftist black metallers Ashenspire. All of which promises to be amazing but one of the great joys of Supersonic is being blown away by something new to you, so we’ll take a quick peek at some of the other corners of the programme here.
Those of you solvent enough to be arriving by train should encounter a huge animatronic bull on the concourse of New Street Station. He’s called Ozzy now, by popular decree. Visit him, snap a selfie, pay homage to Birmingham’s musical gift to the world. There is little doubt that Capsule, the organisation behind Supersonic, and their Home Of Metal project have played a significant part in making this happen, helping the city to finally take some pride in birthing an internationally beloved and still vital musical form. When they started out in 2003 if you’d suggested naming a significant piece of public art after the singer from Black Sabbath the response would have been “don’t be daft”.
Metal is only one element of Supersonic’s musical menu though, and generally it appears in its most twisted and malleable forms. A perfect example of this is the Sabbath sample that kicks off Backxwash‘s God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It the first of a trilogy of heavy industrial hip hop albums concluded by last year’s His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering that seem likely to make up her set. Something of a coup for the festival this will be the first ever UK performance by the Montreal based Zambian noise rapper. Anticipation is high for some fierce and cathartic horrorcore mashing up post rock and metal textures with gospel and classical samples. She’s collaborated on Algiers’ most recent album, has Pupil Slicer guest on her own and is a fan of Godflesh, so she ought to fit right in.
Also bringing some African noise-hop but on a more uplifting tip MC Yallah and Debmaster come tearing out of Nyege Nyege’s Kampala compound with a powerhouse blend of beats and rhymes. ‘Miniboss’ Yallah raps in Luganda, Luo, Kiswahili and English, making comprehension next to impossible but her charm, energy, and swift ‘n’ supple flow are more than enough to put the feeling across. Debmaster brings sparse futurist arrangements of deep bass and ever changing beat patterns. On this year’s Yallah Beibe they strengthen their sound, sliding through dancehall, trap and industrial moves in an exhilarating fourth world collision.
Being an experimental queer black metal duo, Ragana are arguably the sort of thing people expect Supersonic to be chock full of, although that’s not really the case. Switching places during sets because they both prefer to play the drums, Ragana stretch extreme metal’s moves channelling them towards witchy anarcho-feminist ends. While they’ve ploughed a DIY furrow for a decade or more they’re sure to be trailing their new Desolation’s Flower album which arrives via home of despair The Flenser in October. Likely to shake your bones.
If you weren’t already having a good time DJ Bus Replacement Service will sort you right out. Masked mischief on the wheels of steel from Doris Woo banging out a delirious mix of dancefloor mania. Inspired by the glorious madness of breakcore legend Shitmat and the lunatic rave energy of Bangface she has no time for pseudo serious techno chin stroking. Equal parts banging and ridiculous her sets favour a brain melting, idiot grinning, pop cultural overload. Let go your chattering brain, submit to the sensory disorientation. You’ll feel better.
Lankum are not the only ones involved in reinvigorating folk traditions of course, Shovel Dance Collective join a couple of other acts returning from last year when they played an early set that swung between occasionally earnest introductions and moments of real beauty. Since then they have released the remarkable Water is the Shovel of The Shore, a themed collection of water songs in four long suites skilfully blended with field recordings of the Thames. Whether the river sounds will feature remains to be seen, but we do know there will be a new ‘Ballad of Digbeth’ set to be composed as part of a workshop earlier in the day. Perhaps the river Rea will make an appearance. While the festival has moved venues many times over the years Digbeth has always been its home. The oldest part of the city, it’s here because of the river once known as the ‘Mother Of Birmingham’. Although largely hidden and culverted, long-time festival goers will have crossed it by footbridge at some point.
Shovel Dance Collective are an avowedly political undertaking but it’s a politics of subjective experience not slogans, a reframing of old stories for their continued resonance. A similar approach guides Matana Roberts‘ extraordinary Coin Coin project. Inspired by their travels in the American south they blend jazz, sound art approaches and storytelling into multilayered visions. A projected twelve-part series, Chapter Five lands in September dealing with the story of a woman in their family history who died following an illegal abortion. A timely subject, Roberts’ approach builds a world around the painful stories it tells; a remarkable abstracted patchwork of sound.
While they share Shovel Dance Collective’s fondness for more arcane (and even home made) instrumentation, Slovenian ‘imaginary folk’ trio Širom take traditional music’s raw sonic materials and head in the opposite direction to historical excavation. Improvisatory and borderless they produce dream-like instrumental music that moves out beyond language into the natural world. A mystic space of rivers, rocks and forests that it’s tempting to think of as ancient; but mountains and forests are still there, we still go out and feel small amongst them. Širom’s music seems to tap that experience more than any particular idea of place.
If all this talk of folk and jazz explorations makes you a little uneasy well, you’re probably in the wrong place but a couple of damned noisy midlands guitar bands ought to balance things up. Blind Eye are a team of hardcore lifers fronted by an apparently first-time vocalist, not that you could tell. Powered by Heresy drum legend Steve Charlesworth they play pissed-off but melodic hardcore blending elements of various styles with agreeably punchy results. (Charlesworth can be heard alongside Justin Broadrick and others reminiscing about the battered old pub that nurtured Napalm Death and grindcore on Home Of Metal’s excellent At The Mermaid podcasts.)
Lastly here Total Luck are a trio of noisy local kids. Garage punks lured by the dark charms of noise rock they’ve proved their mettle via a couple of Gnod support slots and are sure to deliver an over excitable racket to kick off proceedings on Friday. Come celebrate twenty years of a most remarkable thing.