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Three Songs No Flash

Supersonic 2010 In Review: Digbeth For Victory With Swans And Godflesh
The Quietus , October 29th, 2010 04:37

Last weekend Toby Cook, Roby Haynes, James Holloway, Matt Evans, Luke Turner and John Doran lolloped over to Birmingham to round up the best of the mayhem from Supersonic. All pictures thanks to Maria Jefferis/Stu Green/

Ever since I have known my Quietus co-pilot John Doran he has, once a year, made a pilgrimage to Birmingham, and come back a changed man. In the past this was once in part due to a near-death experience on Coventry station platform, but mainly due to the Supersonic Festival which, he would inform all-comers, was possibly the finest musical bash on the planet. Mr Doran is, as usual, entirely right. Supersonic is something of an eye-opener as festivals go. Tucked into the Custard Factory, a collection of old industrial units and knackered caverns down a bleak road in Digbeth, Supersonic is not full of nodding men pulling nonsensical musical theories out of their sweaty arses, but a bunch of open-minded, curious people losing their minds to one of the most diverse line-ups you'll hear at any festival. It's been years since I went to a festival and, on the first night, had my mind melted by five groups I'd never seen before, much less heard of. And this just went on and on, all weekend. Supersonic is a place to discover new music away from hype, scenes, blog witterings and bullshit. And, refreshingly, most of the acts this past weekend were from Britain, Europe or Asia – proving that this is a fantastic time for experimental and fringe-culture music that doesn't just come from America. So sit back, brew yourself something aggressive, tune into our Supersonic Radio Show on Rhubarb FM, and cast your eyes over the reportage from myself, John Doran, Toby Cook, Stu Green, Dave Bowes, Matt The Guanoman Evans, Rob Haynes, James Holloway and Maria Jefferis.


For every Italo-Japanese acid-dubstep-electro-folk-drone duo that plays bowls of custard with a Border Collie, there's a Fuckpig. Four angry, angry gentlemen from the Midlands, in gas-masks and balaclavas, playing noise filled yet surprisingly riff laden grind that'll make you shit gravel for a week. Judging from the crowd, a lot of people opted to miss this; can't think why? [TC]


This typifies just why Supersonic is one of the best festivals around. You ask: "What's going on in there?" You hear: "I dunno, I think it's that Scotch Egg bloke, but with really grimy acid dubstep instead of a Gameboy, or some bollocks." But it's nearly midnight in October, so you go in anyway just to get warm and end up taking things you probably shouldn't, dancing like you probably shouldn't, and enjoying a true festival highlight. [TC]

When DJ Scotch Egg is involved with a performance it's going to be interesting, even if he's toting a bass guitar rather than his trusty Gameboy tonight. He's definitely not in unfamiliar territory though as he looks truly at home here, prowling across the stage while working funk-noise magic. Then there are his companions: most easily noticeable are the two yakuza, one seated at the rear of the stage and the other brandishing a katana; and there's Dokkebi Q, whose mastery of noisy beats is now legendary at Supersonic and who deliver a vocal assault as bizarre as it is wonderful. The supreme danceability of the music coupled with the pantomime continuously unfolding resulting in some spectacular memories for everyone present. [DB]


To a degree Napalm Death would seem rather an ill-fit for a festival that is, for want of a better phrase, quite artsy fartsy and the number of people in the audience who appear to be appreciating grindcore ironically (fuckers!) would appear to back this assumption up. But this is Napalm, and it's a safe bet that they couldn't give two shits; Barney actually seems to get away with referring to the crowd – as well as his band – as "art wankers", and whilst the group's socio-political message seems to be appreciated ironically too, the sheer ferocious velocity of Napalm as usual wins out. On a personal note, in the future the excellent film montages that accompanied the groups set could probably do with becoming a permanent fixture. [TC]


Birmingham trio Stinky Wizzleteat are out to prove that there are more important things to a band than being able to say their name without sniggering. There's evidently a military level of dedication to rehearsal as the two instrumentalists - a drummer and a guitarist - explode into the sort of spasming riffage that would have Dillinger Escape Plan purring their approval. The singer, looking like an extra from Mark Wahlberg's Boogie Nights, lunges straight into the crowd and generates a joyous, chaotic pit which ricochets around him thereafter for the duration of the show. In the midst of this a doll-like young woman in a pink dress dances gracefully amid the human projectiles, holding a pink umbrella as she sashays gracefully around looking like a hologram projection from an entirely different event. It all adds to the strange brilliance of the performance. [RH]


The vast seismic disturbance generated by Italian duo OVO can be detected from quite some distance away across the festival site. Within the outdoor tent, a mountainous drummer in a Mexican wrestling mask batters away at his minimal stand-up kit, while a masked woman with waist-length tendrils-like dreadlocks screams and roars over the cataclysmic sounds of her bass. Tectonic plates of sound can be physically felt billowing and buffeting the audience, and innards vibrate alarmingly. When the singer takes one of the snaking strands of her matted hair and begins playing it with an amplified violin bow it starts to feel like we've dropped into a J-horror scene. A deafeningly memorable experience. [RH]


The room is oppressive, full of viscous smoke and scouring noise, zoetrope figures and diffuse strobes. A formless, physical onslaught strikes from all sides. The assailants' numbers are uncertain. Wandering through the oppressive murk, we encounter a flailing bassist in one corner, a man playing a tuba hidden behind a pillar. There are more. Maybe. Somewhere in here, Japanese eardrum-abuser KK Null has joined forces with local sound artist Lash Frenzy (aka Andrew Moscardo-Parker) and friends to gift us with the most disorienting, nauseous experience of the weekend. [ME]


Live King Midas Sound are stripped of everything that had some suspiciously treating them as if they were an acoutrement for the coffee table. Gone are the stripey trousered, lentil curry vibes; the lingering eco-sermons have been wiped away and what is left is deeply affecting. Kevin Martin marshalls an industrial noise, that bears only rhthymical resemblance to their album Waiting For You, released on Hyperdub last year. Musically this sounds like one of his harsher outings such as The Bug or Techno Animal and as such makes them an interesting contrast with Godflesh who will be on the same stage later on today. Instead of haunting, teardrop soaked r&b, we have Throbbing Gristle, Tackhead, Speedy J and Pan Sonic; all enhanced with bomb drop bass. Roger Robinson, judders as his eyes roll up into his skull, seemingly being overtaken by the noise, his falsetto taking on a threatening edge. Hitomi prowls around the stage emitting feline noises as search lights swoop and strobes burst into life. Truly, this Meltdown is a revelation. [JD]


Manchester psych-rock collective Gnod believe in hitting a groove and staying there. Today seven strong, they generate a consuming mantra, a shamanistic melding of Hawkwind, Can, Happy Mondays and numerous more spiritual cultures. Time passes, and as the time for main stage headliners Godflesh approaches much of the audience begins moving reluctantly off. By this time however Gnod are locked into their most primal groove yet, the drummer beating an alternating snare and tom in much the same fashion as a Neanderthal with a pair of rocks, everyone else stupefied in a deepening trance state induced by hitting the same note over and over and over. It's hypnotic and exhilarating, but as the minutes pass the Godflesh reunion looms larger and the Quietus posse reluctantly take their leave. Gnod continue, quite literally lost in their own world – it would come as no surprise to discover that they are still playing now. [RH]


Seeing the relationship that helmsmen Gentry Densley and drummer Tyler Smith (incidentally, one of few you're ever likely to see who's kit doesn't need to be mic'd up) have on stage is truly something to behold; the seemingly psychic connection between the two allowing not just the huge sludge laden grooves to physically suck the audience in to a frighteningly involuntary head-nodding worship, but also permits the passages of seemingly free-form, jazz structured counter rhythms to be executed with scientific precision... y'know, the same sort of science that discovered psilocybin. [TC]


It's probably already in the offing, but Cloaks filthy dirty dubstep sounded like Sunn 0))) vet Stephen O'Malley's side project KTL taking a hip hop direction to sound track a Gaspar Noe film. Cue the sound of a 2000ft dalek shitting 1960's tower blocks onto the partially finished Olympic site in East London. Inspired. [JH]


Chicago's Cave look about as wet as they come. Their vocalist could be mistaken for Justin Lee Collins after a brown rice diet and they bickered politely with the engineer about their sound. Surprising then that their subsequent relentless assault of krautrock inspired stoner drones were so giddy and driven by such a fucking ace drummer. [JH]


Alan Dubin is terrifying. He'd make the worst children's TV presenter ever so it's lucky that he is fronting Gnaw, uncompromisingly dark and yet oddly accessible beast that it is. They endeavour to combine pseudo-industrial grooves with the spirit of fear itself and judging by this performance they have succeeded, making a noise which strikes as harsh yet not off-putting. Actually, the opposite is true; there's a faintly hypnotic element to it, that car-crash appeal that strikes some morbid chord within us all, primitive and base. Hopefully another album won't be long behind this performance. [DB]


On a cold, rain-sodden night in October; in the wake of growing civil unrest at increased taxes and public sector cuts imposed by a (mostly) Tory government; in a warehouse, in a factory, in their home city of Birmingham. You could argue that there's no more perfect a setting in which to experience the soul crushing and mechanised despair of Godflesh. Someone it seems forgot turn the volume up at first, sucking some of the power from opener ‘Like Rats', yet by the time ‘Christbait Rising' and ‘Streetcleaner' rolled around the residents of Coventry were no doubt concerned that the Luftwaffe were on their way back. After years of steadfastly stating that there would never be a Godflesh reunion, any doubts that Broadrick's heart might not be in it are totally, utterly dispelled tonight. Real one percent music it might be, but what a one percent to be part of. Roll on Roadburn! [TC]


Do Melt-Banana even exist? So astonishingly perfect is their jerky dayglo ultraspeed sci-fi punkitude that surely there's a cosmic hoax involved. The current MB live experience begins with 20 minutes of frenetic electronic squelch and splutter from Melt-Banana Lite (Agata and Yasuko). Fun, but just an appetiser. The full band are utterly peerless in terms of energy, skill and invention. The now-customary set-within-a-set of eight-second microsongs is as intense as is absurd. And they seem to delight in playing ‘A Dreamer Who is Too Weak to Face Up to', Cell-Scape's most impossibly speedy tune, faster and faster with each gig, as if they're trying outrace time itself. If anyone can, they can. [ME]


Tick tick tock tick. Sunday is no day of rest as in the outdoor space Pierre Bastien conducts his very own industrial revolution with a methodology thats reminiscent of a suitcase portable Einsturzende Neubauten. He stands behind a table covered in contraptions and gizmos, many made of Meccano, wheels spinning at varying rates, belts rolling between them. Bastien plays a trumpet with a mute in the end that sometimes also feateres a pipe that expels air through a glass of water. Small cameras installed within the devices give insight into their intricate workings. The result is music thats kittish mechanical jazz, the automaton sounds of Gyratory System even further deconstructed, without ever feels self-conscious or affected, or the toyplay feeling cutesy. [LT]


With original drummer Tatsuya Yoshida (also of Ruins/Koenjihyakkei) back in the pummelseat after a 20-year absence, KK Null and Tabata's super-smart hardcore outfit has never sounded more energised. Yoshida's skittering ADD style brings a giddy, hyperjazz element to ZG's caustic riffage, fleshing out the deep vein of oddnesss that runs through songs like ‘Implosion' and ‘Dead Sun Rising'. Brains meets brutal. [ME]


Back again after showers of adulation in 2009, Minimalist motorik disco played by polite Japanese ladies. One ferocious drummer and a complete refusal to incorporate anything like an actual song. All build, no arrival. Ideal. [JH]


Each year the different stages at Supersonic take turns to be the punishment zone; with this year the debilitating decibels going to the outdoor swimming pool stage. And fortunately this is where obstreperous London wrecking crew Factory Floor are playing as some sort of anti-warm up to HalloGallo2010. They start in a pleasingly minimal Raster Noton style before Nik Colk's vocals come through in echoing and incomprehensible lizard screech. Dom Butler, slowly brings the electronic pulse of the song into techno clarity. Nik, who usually prefers to bludgeon, pound, bow or drum her guitar as if mocking anyone using it for the dainty purposes of shredding, picks out a guitar line that wouldn't sound out of place on Cabaret Voltaire's Microphonies and Gabe Gurnsey executes ever more fearsome rolls and fills on a kit bolstered with electronic triggers and syn pads. While some of this is reminiscent of very early Sisters Of Mercy, Throbbing Gristle, Underworld, AFX and even Emeralds, it's the way that these building blocks are being smashed together that is producing something entirely new. [JD]


Instead of dabbling with the imagery of eastern mysticism like Om, Bong don't mess about and deliver some fully fleshed out raga for the doom crowd. The resulting lap sitars plus 'Earth'-like drones pleasingly do exactly what it says on the tin. [JH]


A packed Library awaited the Hoof, the wiser members remembering to scarf their substances in good time leading to an odd mix of admiring metallers and fried gurners come stage time. Surprisingly, the 'Hoof have matured comfortably into their role as the UK's premier discometal facestomp with their show feeling like a homecoming after their last appearance in 2007. Tracks from Quietus favourite Crush Depth were given more nuance than the Pre-Emptive False Rapture stuff they brought out, favourites all. They know it too, lavishing more attention on their newer tracks while playing stalwart 'Tonyte' with a nonchalant urgency that left all but the most speed-fried in the audience struggling to keep pace. [JH]


A twitter wag noted that due to his neckscarf Michael Rother "looked like a Thunderbird" and yes, it's true he does. Rother gentlemanly presented a selection of tracks by Neu!, Hallogallo, Harmonia and his own solo material with backing from Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and Aaron Mullen of Tall Firs. Exactly as you'd expect, but only moreso - the NEU! material had me blubbing - and with a simple lesson from Rother to the large proportion of the weekends bands who owe him a huge debt; be polite yes, but play your Motorik REALLY REALLY LOUD. [JH]


Many folks here have been waiting a long time to see this band. Another few minutes won't hurt. For ten minutes, a single feedback tone and a lone percussionist soft-striking tubular bells are all we get from Swans. Anticipation glands are at the limits of their tumescence by the time Michel Gira et al. arrive and stretch the intro to ‘No Words, No Thoughts' beyond all reason. Slashing guitars punctuate, sounding impossibly vast. It's another ten minutes before Gira opens his mouth to preach the portentous and profane. Disregarding the weight of expectation, Swans live in 2010 are genuinely extraordinary – their sound pristine, expansive and lacerating, reaching ecstatic peaks of exquisite pain. [ME]