PREVIEW: Supersonic Festival
By Lee Fisher on September 27, 2012 in Music
If your tastes tend towards the esoteric, the cathartic or the extreme, you’d have probably started to believe that the UK was poorly served for festival-style events that catered for you (where is our Incubate or Unsound festival?). In the north east we’re lucky enough to have Tusk, a small but brilliantly curated weekend of diverse and challenging acts.
But it’s Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival that is the absolute ‘not be missed’ weekend for anyone who likes their music experimental, skullcrushing and cutting edge. This year is Supersonic #10, and Capsule, the promotions team behind it, have excelled themselves. This year includes the industrial ragga of the Bug, the space-doom of UFOMammut, Dylan “Earth” Carlson’s faerie-folk solo project and the pure white noise and power electronics of Merzbow, plus dozens more acts, all manner of sideshows, art installations, walking tours (The Crossroads of Black Sabbath, no less!) and movies.
And it’s a good year for the North East contingent too, with three fine local acts on the bill – Warm Digits, Richard Dawson and Drunk In Hell. You might have thought that Dawson in particular would find the prospect of performing a solo acoustic set surrounded by so many noise acts intimidating, but far from it.
“It could maybe be a bit daunting playing with a load of big bands, particularly if you’re sandwiched in the middle, but I fucking love it, I like the challenge. I like the contrast too, the contrast of colour, but the energy is often the same – I grew up on metal, Iron Maiden and Slayer man! Generally, I’ve found audiences pretty open to what I do – I guess that might just be the sympathy vote though! I have a feeling that sympathy vote won’t count for much at Supersonic – I’ve got to nail it!”
Warm Digits are also excited by their appearance. “Supersonic is a really interesting one to do because it focusses the more avant-garde and experimental. We both come from experimental music backgrounds but Warm Digits (we hope!) kind of straddles the two – what we do feels accessible enough for quite a big audience, but with enough originality and extremism in there to hold up with an experimental audience too.”
Anyone who has been lucky enough to see Warm Digits live can’t fail to have noticed their insanely precarious stage set-up, which could cause problems in a festival environment, with fast changeovers and unusual staging. But again, they’re up for the challenge. “Insanely precarious” is about right! It’s in the nature of our playing to be teetering on the edge of chaos, and that brings an unpredictability that we quite like. We’ve had the occasional technical disaster but because our music is based in improvisation, we’ve tried to learn to embrace the limitations and keep playing no matter what.”
In this respect, Dawson has an advantage, but is being a token folky a problem? “Nah. I reckon the Finnish lot – Lau Nau, Islaja – are very much folk. And then players like Richard Bishop and Mick Flower seem to me to be coming with a real rich knowledge and feel for a load of different very old musics infusing what they do. And you could definitely say Drunk In Hell were a folk band – in the truest sense.” On mention of the very troubling acapella number Poor Old Horse, Dawson admits that could be a winner with the doom metal fans. “I might well sing it (Poor Old Horse). I reckon it could be a crowd pleaser, what with all the gory details. I really enjoying singing songs alone, without guitar I mean. I’ve been getting more and more of them into the sets, I really like the energy of just blasting it out. Not sure how big the room is we’ll be playing but hopefully we can do some stuff without the mic.”
It seemed natural with a bill this strong to ask who else they were keen to see. Warm Digits are “…excited about Merzbow, The Bug, Tim Hecker, and Richard Dawson – hopefully we’ll get to catch at least some of them while we’re there.” And keeping the appreciation mutual, Dawson is looking forward to “Warm Digits, who are just beautiful – old and new at the same time. I’m hoping particularly to see Ruins, Merzbow and Lau Nau. Richard Bishop too. Jesus, it’s just hitting home writing this that I’m going to be playing at a fest with Ruins and Merzbow. Should be mint, so many artists I want to see – definitely Drunk In Hell, who are pretty frightening – so, so loud!!!!”
Ah, yes. Drunk In Hell. Coming out of Middlesbrough like a scary hardcore behemoth for a second Supersonic appearance, they’re not a band much given to interviews (so you’ll have to keep an eye on their Bandcamp page for all the details on their imminent, limited ‘Pre Cum’ cassette and almost as imminent debut album). But they have got themselves involved in a fascinating project while they’re at Supersonic.
A Plymouth-based arts and film co-op, Imperfect Cinema, whose modus operandi is opening up film making to anyone who expresses an interest, are staging a “Halide-Oxide” Workshop, inviting people to use the archaic equipment on offer to make a film within the festival.
The atmospheric festival setting – Digbeth’s appropriately named, post-industrial Custard Factory – lends itself to what they describe as a “stark, aesthetic that played such a pivotal role in the creation of Heavy Metal.” The footage that results will get used for a visual document but, more importantly, will also serve as a visual backdrop for Drunk In Hell’s performance the next day. So if having your face torn off by blistering hardcore while watching film of your friends filming you throwing up in a warehouse the day before is your particular cup of blood (and it should be) this is a must-see.
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- REVIEW: Supersonic Festival