Supersonic Festival 2011

Confidently easing into a second decade...
Cloaks.jpg
Now confidently easing into a second decade, Birmingham’s Supersonic festival feels like it has entered into a curious holding period before it's next evolutionary step. This is certainly not intended as a criticism of one of the UK'S most consistently versatile and interdisciplinary friendly festivals, but more of an observation based on the stalled innovation prevalent throughout exemplary organizer's Capsules favoured subgenres.

Indeed, at first glance, this year's line up isn’t underwhelming per se, rather it appears to be something of a recourse to convention, in as much as one can justifiably use such a description to outline a festival dedicated to melding together disparate strands of avant metal, psyche, industrial flavoured electronics and participatory workshop offerings.

In any case, familiarity often breeds laziness on behalf of the listener, and smoked out doom overlords Electric Wizard exemplify the benefits of getting out of your bedroom and listening to this vintage amplified monolithic riff slurry in it's natural environment. A touring and recording fixture for any downer-blues aficionado and heavy esoteric head since their inception in 1993, they plough through the magnificent genre masterwork of “Black Mass” with such a ritualistic knack for groove that the riffs reverberate like elemental lifeforms, radiating from the ground up, whacking your solar plexus with the kind of leather clad swagger that, curiously, seems like it could only come out of, erm, Dorset.

It's a performance that renders unfortunate Saturday headliners Zombi somewhat mute. Their usual appregio giallo moves result in a comparatively staid set, devoid of the heart-in-mouth cliffhanger suddenness of their finest moments on record.

The previous days performances were infused with a similar sense of dislocation, London's Part Chimp managing to somehow boil down their usually booze fuzzed hyper blues sludge into a dull morass of indistinct mundanity.

Attempting to assess Mike Watt and the Missing Mens inclusion on the bill is particularly difficult for this writer. A truly seminal group in the evolution of my own understanding of the transformative power of punk rock, they lack the intimidatory heft of last year's reformed superdraws Godflesh and Swans, but it would be churlish to deny the instinctive thrill of seeing the man who masterminded some of post-punk's most blisteringly moving moments alongside the late D Boon still hammering away after all these years.

Speaking of hammerings, a trifecta of DJ Scothc Egg, Cloaks and Scorn is enough to have those of us more inclined towards Supersonics exploration of the liminal zones betweene electronica and rave worked into something of a lather. It's a curatorially canny move to line up these artists one after the other on the opening night, each sharing in a very different way an addiction to the mysteries of machine process. Scotch Egg is the most impatient of these auteurs, gloriously babbling through a delighfully hyperactive set of immersive chip based gonzo rave that showcases a commedable advancement of his once glorious yet one dimensional sound.

Cloaks excursion into live territory, using a set of austere hardware is a pleasingly punishing affair but is let down by a PA seemingly insistent on only ramping things up for headline acts, with Mick Harris' Scorn project reaping the benefits by reeling out extra brutal slabs of pulsating bass weight.

One of the more frustrating things about Supersonic is just how much great music you end up missing. Pioneers like Silver Apples and Tony Conrad are both sacrificed throughout the weekend, the disappointingly washed out Wolves In The Throne Room and the inconceivably overrated Skull Defekts somehow flickering onto my radar in their place. Yet a band doesn’t necessarily need to be innovative or even particularly refreshing to steal the show. Bardo Pond, performing early in the evening in space number 2 and having to negotiate theirs and everyone elses hangovers delight, a gorgeously crushing celebration of wistful acid tracer trails and shoegaze psyche. That these old hands stole the show is perhaps indicative of inconsistent yet strangely satisfying blend that comprised this years festival as a whole.

Words by Daniel Baker
Pictures by Tim Malseed

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