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PREVIEW: Supersonic 2017
Eoin Murray , June 13th, 2017 15:45

Jenny Hval, Zonal and Anna von Hausswolff are just some of the anticipated highlights at this weekend's Supersonic

Back after a year's break in 2016, Birmingham's Supersonic festival is returning bigger, bolder and more experimental than ever this weekend (June 16-18).

Having originated in 2003, the festival, which takes place across a variety of venues around Digbeth, has consistently strived to deliver expansive, strange and unique line-ups featuring a host of acts you'd be hard pushed to find in such close proximity anywhere else.

There is something of a Twin Peaks surrealism to the programme of Supersonic this year, something that gives the impression that Digbeth is going to become a coven for revellers to the supernatural and often unusual, dark and dizzying performances on the bill. What a joy it will be to be the thrust into this otherworldly realm put together by the curators of impeccable taste where live shows, interactive activities, installations and talks all blend to create an atmosphere that is as welcoming as it is odd and unpredictable.

This year's line-up is bursting at the seams with quality acts from Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs, Pigs to Ex-Easter Island Head to Colin Stetson. We've rounded up just 10 of the predicted highlights of the weekend as a way of whetting your appetites and giving you a rough idea of the strangeness and revelry to expect. For tickets and full details about the festival visit their website here.

Jenny Hval

Saturday – The Crossing – 22.10

Spectral dark art wizard Jenny Hval, should she require an introduction, has weaved dizzying performance art, avant-garde pop and razor sharp conceptuality into her work for what is approaching two decades now. The sonic equivalent of laughing with a mouth full of blood, last year's Blood Bitch on Sacred Bones was an opus of dense, throbbing production and visceral, bodily motifs that, despite itself, was achingly beautiful and as painfully addictive as unrequited love.

Her fever-dream live show at Supersonic is set to be one of the weekend's highlights, with her siren-song like vocals and unpredictable choreography being certain to linger in the memories of everyone present. tQ will also be hosting a live interview with Hval on Saturday afternoon at 17.10 at the Market Place so do come along to that.

Have a read of Hval's Baker's Dozen where she talked through her 13 favourite albums here.

Electronica Wizard

Saturday – Wild – 00.30

No no, you did read that correctly. Electronica Wizard are a group about which we know absolutely nothing apart from the fact that they are armed with an arsenal of synths and other doodads with which they will be performing the music of Doom Metal mainstays Electric Wizard. Be still our beating hearts.

According to their suitably veiled bio, this is where the idea came from: "A freak bolt of lightning struck a small coven of witches sharing a bong around a small portable record player, electrifying them to death.  This burnt offering tore open a portal to a strange alternate dimension from which emerged a phalanx of unholy minstrels wielding terrifying electronic instruments and possessed of a sick,  unquenchable thirst for covering classic doom tracks."

What more persuasion could you possibly need? Anyway, there's no music of theirs available online so you can just listen to Electric Wizard's seminal stoner masterpiece Dopethrone above and imagine the synthscapes having more pride of shelf if you like. This is going to be a set of behemoth proportions.

Check out tQ's interview with Electric Wizard's Jus Oborn from 2014 here.

Princess Nokia

Sunday – Boxxed – 21.40

Be it as Princess Nokia, Wavy Spice or as just Destiny, the output from New York-based rapper Destiny Frasqueri has been consistently fierce, immediate and utterly unrestricted.

From her 2014 and 2015 mixtapes Metallic Butterfly and Honeysuckle to 2016's unofficial 1992, the Princess Nokia alter-ego has allowed the performer to deftly tackle ideas of identity, feminism, queerness and both her Yoruba and Boricuan heritage on crisp sonic backdrops with production styles veering from trap to alternative hip-hop to more traditional acoustic instrumentation.

Not long after her slot at the MIA-curated Meltdown fest, her performance at this year's Supersonic promises to be an unhinged and frankly messianic affair. But check out the crowd-surf heavy set from Corsica Studios last year above if you don't believe us.

Richard Dawson

Saturday – The Crossing – 20.30

As you may have guessed by now, Richard Dawson is a favourite of the Quietus. His new album, Peasant, is a captivating and touching epic venture into avant-garde folk that confronts themes of raw humanity and the trials of survival as an individual and as a family in a world that is persistently merciless. Weaving the record’s lyrical themes through the narrative backdrop of the pre-mediaeval North Eastern kingdom of Bryneich, Dawson presents the circular trajectory of history, giving the conveyed messages an even greater relevance, and a startling heft.

The Newcastle artist's live troupe features long-time collaborators violinist Angharad Davies plus Johnny Hedley and Matt Baty of Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs. One of this weekend's absolutely necessary sets.

Have a read of a recent interview between Dawson and Michael Hann here.

Anna von Hausswolff

Friday – Birmingham Town Hall – 19.45

One of the artists launching Supersonic festival is Swedish avant-garde organist and composer Anna von Hausswolff. Following the opening performance from Khyam Alliami, Hausswolff will be bringing her dark, often-overwhelming brand of droning, doomlike instrumentation and battle cry vocals to the Town Hall on Friday.

With the added bonus of the building's marvellous acoustics and its famous 32-foot-high, 6000-pipe organ, this will be a performance to fling revellers immediately into the storm of the weekend's festivities, all ferocious waves and sublime magnitude. Fresh off the back of her tour with Swans, Hausswolff's penchant for black metal as well as classical composition is expected to bring a similar intensity and may indeed send us all into rapture before we've even begun.

Have a read of tQ's interview with Anna von Hausswolff here.

Snapped Ankles

Sunday – Wild – 18.00

East-London based post-punk outfit Snapped Ankle are bringing us back to nature. Well, sort of. The band's contribution to Supersonic this year is going to be two-fold and will feature a bunch of logs and tree outfits.

On Sunday they will not only be delivering a set of their abrasive, angular but resolutely playful cuts taken from their forthcoming The Best Light Is The Last Light EP but will also be hosting a Human Sequencer Workshop at Centrala. Using homemade "log synths", the band and whoever wishes to join in will orchestrate a synth drum circle exploring rhythmic interplay and traditional bell-ringing techniques.

If that's not your bag, their live sets are a treat in themselves featuring ghillie suit get-ups, taped together instruments and enough metallic rhythm to throw your hat at. Keep an eye on tQ in the coming week for an interview with our new favourite pagan-punks.


Sunday – The Crossing – 21.00

There's something Kafkaesque about San Francisco's Oxbow; something inescapably nightmarish and violent that swallows you whole into its dark, gaping mouth while somehow remaining unnervingly formal. Starting performances decked in suits fit for a governor, the avant-garde rock quartet's shows quickly become something a lot more frenetic and exposed, clobbering together facets of experimental jazz, blues and noise behind Eugene S. Robinson's desperate howls and spoken word.

Having released their first album since 2007 in the form of Thin Black Duke, the band, who formed in 1989 have returned with a new lease of life and with a sense of ownership over entropy. Equal measures Swans, Tom Waits, Slint and with hints of Faith No More, this promises be a cathartic one. On the night the band will be accompanied by a full chamber choir and a host of volunteer vocalists.

Check out tQ's interview with Oxbow here.

The Space Lady

Sunday – The Crossing – 19.20

The mythology of The Space Lady is the stuff of some gritty indie-movie, or a Searching For Sugarman reminiscent documentary. Having spent much of the 80s and 90s as a street musician in Boston, performing on an old Casio keyboard, donning a toy Viking helmet and a headset microphone, Susan Dietrich Schneider's reputation and intrigue as a figure in "outsider music" long went unknown to herself. It was only in 2012 when her late husband Eric Schneider encouraged her to reach out to fans that the magnitude of her renown became clear.

Since, she has embarked on three extensive tours, performing her ethereal, psychedelic versions of classics like Peter Schilling's 'Major Tom' and Stan Jones' 'Ghost Riders in the Sky', as well as a collection of original material. There is something curious and romantic about the story of The Space Lady and in her performance.

As well as playing her slot on Sunday evening at The Crossing, she will also be live in conversation with the Quietus on Sunday afternoon at 17.40 at The Market Place.

Have a read of tQ's interview with The Space Lady here.


Saturday – Boxxed – 1.00

Kevin Martin aka The Bug is no stranger to collaboration. Having this year released the world-beating Concrete Desert with Dylan Carlson of pioneering drone metal band Earth, his capacity to infuse the sludgey, distorted and industrial elements of metal with metallic and motoric electronics is something we have become a tad obsessed with.

It goes without saying that then that we are immensely excited to catch the live debut of Zonal, the collaborative effort between The Bug and Birmingham's own Justin Broadrick of Godflesh. While they have worked together before in form of Techno Animal, an industrial hip-hop project, Zonal promises to be a more forward looking, nuanced and exuberant venture. We can't wait.

Read tQ's interview with The Bug and Earth's Dylan Carlson here.


Sunday – Wild – 19.20

Having only formed in 2012, London sludge metal trio Ghold are nothing if not precocious sorts. With a swathe of releases under their belt including last year's frankly magnificent PYR , the outfit are a force of unrelenting noise, purists to the genres commitment to mess and dissonance. You'll find none of Kylessa's polish or Baroness' cleanliness here. Instead you feast on the rapturous rhythms, brutish guitars and deathly roars from the ratty depths. You'll be so full by the end you'll be queasy and quite possibly a bit frightened, and frankly that's totally fine.

Read tQ's interview with Ghold here.