LIVE REPORT: Bring To Light
, December 19th, 2013 10:20
At the inaugural edition of the new weekender from Supersonic festival's organisers, Nancy Bennie witnesses an unexpectedly dancefloor-ready turn from Dinos Chapman, shirks a lifelong hatred of folk music and doffs a cap to the Library of Birmingham. Photographs courtesy of Katja Ogrin
As a native of a city I may be biased, but Birmingham has done a lot for the world. Its squalid bogs and towers inspired the landscape of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and, during the seventies, it became the concreted ‘Detroit of England’ which galvanised Justin Broadrick to pioneer industrial metal. There was also that sentient, superhero-car called Brum. But let’s not focus on the far-away or recent past - alongside these aforementioned institutions another name should be added to Birmingham’s ‘Star Walk’ that genuinely lines its crippled pavements. And that name is Capsule. They are the small but dedicated team behind the mighty Supersonic Festival, an annual masterclass in extreme musical wonderment and as reliable in their curation as a fresh pack of Jaffa Cakes.
However this year is a little different. In the usual Supersonic slot, a much smaller event called Bring To Light is scheduled, mostly set in Birmingham’s shiny new Library but with less bands, and less ‘bigger’ bands at that. However, such is my trust in Capsule, only a lunatic on the scale of Pinky (of Pinky And The Brain fame) would skip this. Nestled amongst the factories of Digbeth, the first night’s venue is the sticky-floored Rainbow Warehouse, which offers an almost-romantic view of the city’s metallic skyline. Pint of tap water in hand and nods to familiar faces complete, I’m all set for three nights of irreparable ear damage.
If Roger Hargreaves’ spherical sunchap Mr Happy developed a taste for obsidian-coloured metal, then Deafheaven would be his band of choice, for they are the chirpiest-sounding black metal band to grace our non-fictional, human world. Rather than stick to one specific aesthetic, the Neige-influenced group drench themselves in shimmering Mogwai dynamics and woozy shoegaze (as demonstrated on this year’s Sunbather LP), which is in no way a bad thing, but has polarised the opinions of some hardcore metal ‘eads. The fascistic fist-posturing, leather gloves and slicked back hair of frontman George Clarke proves a little distracting but, looking beyond that, his choking-on-a-wine-gum scream is undeniably impressive and the plodding post-rock moments are subtly mesmeric - pretty even. Although Deafheaven’s sound is a confused, labradoodle mish-mash of genres, whatever it is they do, they succeed at it.
The county of Lincolnshire’s signature meat dish – "chine" - is a disgusting, cured pork shoulder stuffed with parsley. Its no wonder, then, that blue-collar posterboys Sleaford Mods, who hail from the county, are angry. Intimidating frontman Jason Williamson is George Michael to beat-maker Andrew Fearn’s Andrew Ridgeley. The former voms out a half-rap, half-argument with himself over simple but gritty bass lines which the latter controls. Sample lyric from ‘Urine Mate’: “Now just ‘cause I look a bit different to you, handle it and go back to your crew. ‘Cause without him you’re shit. One on one, cunt, handle it.” Williamson’s often funny, politically-charged verbal assault could come from the withered mouth of John Cooper Clarke, if he grew up on the crime side of Staten Island and violently confronted his local council over austerity cuts, with prime slithers of chine. Their shtick apparently started as an accidental “piss-take” but the rage on display here is very much the real deal. Sleaford Mods will probably be either the future of music or exceptionally sweary future foreign ministers.
Dinos Chapman, along with his brother Jake, is no stranger to controversy in the contemporary art world. Just a few of their disturbing works as the Chapman Brothers include ‘Like A Dog Returns To Its Vomit’, ‘Fucking Hell’ and conjoined, naked child-mannequins with erect dongs for noses. Which makes it all the more surprising when Dinos’ AV set of positively bomping electronic tinkery is light and airy, not in a bland, flavour-free fairy cake way, but like the barbs of a floating feather gently jabbing you in the eye. In its live form, his debut album Luftbobler is a blend of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Still Walking’ spines, Selected Ambient Works 85 – 92, a punishing bass blast here and there and the psychedelic wanderings of a man (most likely Dinos himself) in a rabbit suit. Even the staunchest of wall-huggers in the room can’t resist a cheeky toe tap and Dinos’ pulsating drips of sonic exploration are perfectly timed for a nearly-midnight bop.
If Dinos got heads nodding, Shangaan Electro that follow are a full-body boogie attack of superspeed MIDI keyboards and machine-gun drums straight out of Soweto, accompanied by a stage-filling troupe of freakishly fast dancers. Ringleader, producer and hypeman Nozinja’s viral dance-sensation is a modern-day ‘Macarena’, except that unlike Los Del Rio’s monsta hit, the dance moves of the Shangaan Electro clan are so rapid and limp-limbed they’re pretty much impossible to replicate. Two songs in, I am suffering with stitch pangs. Yet song after song after song, they continue to bust a groove without breaking a sweat, wiggling each contorted joint about as if it were ablaze. Nozinja somehow enraptures the bearded crowd to chant “189! 189! 189!”, referring to the bpm he is so very pleased to reach, clearly gladdened his movement has gone overground. Exhausted (or perhaps a just a bit too adipose-heavy), we leave on a high after a dazzlingly diverse opening night.
A very different environment is our Bring To Light home for day two. The brand new Library of Birmingham’s magnificently high ceilings and solid walls trap and expel each decibel beautifully and also has (gasp) comfortable armchairs which, for a big fan of sitting such as myself, is quite the revelation. The multi-million pound building also shares a space with those going for pre-show drinks at the Repertory Theatre next door, spawning a surreal, chalk-and-cheese-string mixture of fully-monocled types and Pig Destroyer enthusiasts in the same booze queue. Quadruple-choc muffin purchased, I head to the backest row of the delightful chairs and stay there all night, albeit for subsequent trips to the pastry table.
After a bad encounter with douchebag ceilidh-dancers many years ago, I vowed to henceforth besmirch all folk music at any given, even inappropriate, opportunity. But now, in late 2013, folk-metal comedian and all-round bloody lovely chap Richard Dawson delivers a true stand-out moment of hairs standing on end, which permanently alters my hatred of folk. Just him and his instrument onstage (and a pot of flowers he frequently tucks into), Dawson effortlessly switches from a cappella cooing and gentle guitar flickers to semi-acoustic, semi-metal riffs. His unfuckwithable siren-shout, so glorious on ‘Black Dog In The Sky’ and many others from the flawless The Magic Bridge LP, feels like being showered with warm shards of sunlight after years trapped in an igloo with Pingu’s miserable dad. Immediately relocating to a crumbling crag in the beautiful north east and living amongst the goats to see Dawson play more often suddenly seems massively rational. The night before, I directed him to the nearest available toilet which, after this performance, will be a life highlight.
Robedoor, the low-end gristle duo from Los Angeles, are made up of Britt Brown (co-founder of the Not Not Fun label) and Alex Brown (a cheesemonger). They stand opposite each other, bent double over their fairy light-lit gear which discharges layer upon layer of sludgey keyboard throbs, thunderous foghorns and the translucent vocals of a friendly cadaver. Having replaced live musicians with machines, I am initially lulled into thinking this would be an easy ride, a gentle spin on the noise tea cups if you will. But no, their crushing g-force is a right smack in the chops and, furthermore, is unexpectedly groovy, as sex-stinking drums linger throughout. Despite the pitch-black stage and pleasingly numbing static, their set glows with radiance as much as it growls. It’s sort of what R. Kelly might play whilst locked up in a windowless dungeon after an alleged molestation charge.
The evening ends with “ambient-stoner” trio Kogumaza, who, despite the limitations of just two guitars and a hi-hat-less drum kit, reach a volume close to Part Chimp-proportions. Having previously played with über-coiffed poindexter Glenn Branca, Kogumaza channel his droney and sprawling spirit, but improve upon it with more clear-cut song cycles. Their repeated riffs and sparse drum patterns are astonishingly rousing, and capture the chiming wallop of a super s-l-o-w Bitch Magnet or Low, if they were fifty times heavier, and not Mormons. Their set lollops along like one long pork-skin snake, rather than separate song sausages, stuffed with trance-inducing dronefuzz. A mightily pleasant surprise that would leave only half-deaf savateur Professor Cuthbert Calculus dissatisfied.
Feeling heavy-eyed on the Sunday, I re-enter the library amid an illuminated twilight, signalling the inevitable end of Bring To Light. In a reclined position on an oversized beanbag, I begin by watching my fearless chum Lauren lend her own cerebral waves to Masaki Batoh’s Brain Pulse Music. In what could easily be a scene cut from ‘Look Around You’, a contraption of spokes, wires and fighter-pilot goggles sit atop her head. Batoh, wearing a white doctor’s coat, flicks a few switches and, soon enough, Lauren’s brain “speaks” via a series of wincingly harsh bleeps and bursts. In proper Paul Daniels-mode, Batoh flashes his subject squares of card featuring images that range from a battery circuit to Hokusai-esque landscapes, causing irregular gaps of silence between her brain squawks as her mind processes the stimuli. Our showman intensifies the madness, joining in with Lauren’s synapse-song by screaming into himself, clanging an array of traditional Japanese wood blocks and puffing on flutes. Aside from my inner-mum worrying about Lauren’s sanity, Brain Pulse Music is an intense lesson in sound through science. Merzbow’s guide to gastro-intestinal trumps can’t be far away.
During the next act, I wonder why some things suit togetherness better than being alone. For example, Hale with Pace, Turner with Hooch, Toejam with Earl, battered with sausage, and Hoddle with Waddle. If you ever wondered whether power electronics and horrorcore-lite would be a match made in extreme music heaven, look no further than the L.A. abattoir-rap of Clipping. MC Daveed Diggs eloquently spits over rhythmic sound collages that are splattered with bursts of white noise and nipple-crippling dentist drills, as if Dälek shot the shit out of a glass cabinet, and then did a little rap about it. Although this is predominantly billed as ‘rap’ they certainly don’t pussy around in the noise department and are indisputably harsh on the ears, like a deranged, hip-hop Whitehouse. It’s uncertain if their fizzing dissonance always gels with Diggs’ flow, but unlike my sedentary self, the crowd are on their feet and a-hollering which, after two days of Capsule-endorsed pummelling, is nonetheless commendable.
And finally, Preston’s mysterious and Mark E. Smith-approved Evil Blizzard look set to rob a Kwik Save for its remaining No Frills Baked Beans as they enter the stage, standing tall in boilersuits and mutant vizards not dissimilar to the rotting face of the Grand High Witch. Those afraid of John Wayne Gacy’s killer clown should now leave. Their mangled, psychedelic chugging is propelled by not one, but a quartet of bass guitars and the delay-pedalled wails of a singing drummer, like a Lancashire Levon Helm accompanied by four Derek Smalls. The screen behind them infinitely replicates the group into a terrifying, never-ending, Sierpinski triangle and, when it surely can’t get any trippier, a theremin made solely from a doll’s head is paraded and plucked, as if it were the crown jewels resting on a scarlet cushion. As hilarious as they are nightmarish, Evil Blizzard’s closing stomp-along set is a fittingly bonkers way to end the weekend itself.
Capsule’s uncompromising events have frequently saved me (and most likely many others) from severe internal tumult. Bring To Light is no exception – a bombardment of the revolting and the sublime which has furthered my pride in their work. I can now only wait for the next instalment of Supersonic which (fingers crossed) will arrive next spring. Until then, happy memories of this startling weekend and Brum repeats on CBeebies will keep me content.