For years now, Birmingham festival Supersonic has been at the forefront of radical music, hosting fierce artists of myriad disciplines
. This year looks no different. The event, which takes place June 22nd -24th, offers a scattered map of experimental music in 2018, with coordinates that range from gnostic folk through to caustic noise.
Below are just a handful of the event’s highlights...
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Prior to incessant badgering from Current 93’s David Tibet, Shirley Collins had entirely retreated from performance. Her 2016 album ‘Lodestar’ marked her first recording since 1978’s ‘For As Many As Will’, made with her sister Dolly. The gap was caused by a total loss of voice and self-confidence, but since this seeming halt, Collins’ legacy as loving archivist, egoless performer, and borougher of consciousness has become more apparent with each passing year.
‘Lodestar’ was an extraordinary return to recorded music, the age-old songs embellished with volcanic drones, yearning guitar work, and even the chimes of morris dancers. Though the accompaniment - provided by Coil and Cyclobe members Ossian Brown and Stephen Thrower, as well as Ian Kearey of Oysterband - was an inspired fit, inevitably, it would be Collins’ voice that was able to most vividly channel these ancient tales of love, loss, and community.
Her performance at Supersonic looks to be one of the weekend’s true highlights, and with the recent release of her memoir, All In The Downs’ - available via the wonderful publishers Strange Attractor - now is a better time than ever to explore her superb music.
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Yves Tumor is a master of excavating emotion from the unlikely sample, weaving complex narratives through these found sources far more than with his own unintelligible vocals. His work on the stellar Berlin based label Pan has consistently eschewed the easy route, whether it be on his 2016 release ‘Serpent Music’ - which filtered divine themes through the personal - or his gorgeous contribution to Pan’s 2017 ambient compilation, ‘Mono no Aware’.
Supposedly the fevered intensity of his live performance strikes quite the contrast against his sublime recordings, an altered state reached by means of catharsis. Whether his set at Supersonic reflects either of these creative modes is unclear, but it’ll undoubtedly be a thrilling thing to witness, fuelled solely by the impulses of his own singular psyche.
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Camae Ayewa’s creates music that acts as a kind of sonic time travel, a form of militant protest that holds linearity with contempt. Black Quantum Futurism is the collective which Ayewa belongs to, a group that “look into alternative histories, different ways of viewing the future.”
With her music under the Moor Mother moniker, Ayewa may take elements from rap, harsh rock, performance poetry, and power electronics, but uses them to construct a new, highly volatile form out of the shards of these histories. Her recent work with free-jazz ensemble Irreversible Entanglements further demonstrates her creative restlessness, willing to jump between styles in order to open up new conversations.
When speaking to Interview Magazine of how her work translates live, Ayewa has stated that “sometimes I don’t even look at the crowd at all. Then sometimes I want to get them. Things they do annoy me. Sometimes I’ll just leave the stage, and smack a beer out of some guy’s hand, and get in people’s face. Mostly I just want to focus on the feelings that I’m trying to get across.”
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Taking the concept of noise, Japanese duo Group A make the aging genre slinky, elastic, devious. There’s a real sense of play to their sprawling tracks, more of a maniacal grin than the hardened glare that you might expect from a noise project. What makes their live set so necessary is the way breaks down tired expectations of performance.
Group A ensure their show is kaleidoscopic, both members stood in front of a lysergic light show, also known for poetry readings and live nude painting. With so many groups, it’s easy to predict the outcome of their performance, Group A, on the other hand, remain alive, maximal, spontaneous.
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This year's Supersonic will debut brand new material from ‘Pastoral’, the latest album by Elizabeth Bernholz - a.k.a Gazelle Twin - ahead of its release in September. The album comes accompanied with the following statement: “‘Pastoral’ is an album that juggles British identities. A musing on how a sordid past becomes ‘quaint’... and that there is horror in every Idyll.”
With her last record, 2014’s ‘Unflesh’, Bernholz’s conceptual rigour was made alive, tactile, anything but dry. ‘Pastoral’ seems set to continue this facet of her music. First single ‘Hobby Horse’ is all frantic percussion and warped gutter rasp, her instance to “ get the fuck out of here”, defies the tilt towards cosy nationalism. But where ‘Unflesh’ dealt with the anxiety of one's own flesh, the themes of ‘Pastoral’ appear altogether more external, tackling Britain’s collective psyche as opposed to just her own.
In truth, however, the music is only half of it when it comes to Gazelle Twin, and you get the sense that the ideas tackled on ‘Pastoral’ will galvanise most clearly when translated live. This performance, then, is the perfect preparation for what will likely be one of the year’s very best records.
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Brazilian group Deaf Kids are an act who seem wisely suspicious of genre loyalty. On 2016’s ‘Configuração do Lamento’, they flit wildly between the amped-up turmoil of hardcore, intricately layered polyrhythms, and a bizarre passage of surrealist tonal fuckery, akin to Nurse With Wound on his 1982 record ‘Homotopy to Marie’.
Deaf Kids are one of the heaviest things going at the festival, a group whose unbridled approach pummels together some of the most extreme musical forms, but arrives at a sound more ecstatic than confrontational, infatuated with delirious release.
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In an interview with The Quietus, Faka describe themselves as “a counter institution that is meant to shelter everybody who is alienated by mainstream culture”. The scope at which Faka operate is impressive, spanning photography, academic talks,and queer club-nights, all contextualised within the “cis-hetero-topia of post-colonial Africa.” Above all what Faka propose is a sense of radical pleasure.
Despite the fact that there are only two Faka EPs available, the duo are already formidably self-realised, fusing styles like gpom with forward-thinking pop music. Their live show looks to encapsulate their varied interests, defiant, yes, but also communal.
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In terms of longevity, Dutch post-punk group The Ex have vastly outlived their peers. That’s also in terms of quality mind, as where many surviving post-punk acts have retreated into a kind of funk-punk cul-de-sac, The Ex have remained forever shiftless.
From collaborations with improv legend Han Bennink to drawing straws to decide who would play what instrument, the band have consistently put themselves in unfamiliar situations for the sake of their music. They have also defied the typical infrastructure that surrounds the music industry, having no label, roadies, or managers, which enables them to approach everything on their own terms.
At this year's Supersonic, The Ex will also be playing the festivals annual kid’s gig, which the festival dubs ‘big sounds for little people’, an event that “aims to introduce children to experimental music at an early age.”
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Organised by Laura Cannell, Modern Ritual pulls in a number of disparate figures. But these are figures with a shared impulse; to explore the use of ritual in the modern world. The performance comprises of two writers and three musicians. Jennifer Lucy Allen (The Wire, The Quietus) explores the history of the foghorn - with a live foghorn accompaniment - while Quietus co-founder Luke Turner delves into the multifaceted relationship we have with our woodlands, and draws on his own experience to move past the idea of nature as a twee excursion.
In terms of the music, Hoofus forges a kind of electronic music that is wholly nebulous, operating in the hinterland between the manmade and the natural. Charles Hayward (This Heat/Chamberwell Now) is performing a gargantuan 30-minute drum roll. While Laura Cannell takes the recorder, an instrument with commonly bygone connotations, and approaches this early music with an adventurous, exploratory, and inspired spirit.
Modern Ritual is the kind of peculiar event that demonstrates why Supersonic is such a crucial festival, offering a platform for brave new dialogues to open.
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Tomaga (Lucifer Rising Live Re-Score)
Kenneth Anger’s short film Lucifer Rising is a cornerstone in experimental cinema, an ingenious, Aleister Crowley inspired, occult psychedelia. Experimental duo Tomaga will be performing a live re-score of the influential film, their improv heavy sound likely to twist the already strange work down previously untrodden paths. This is a collision of worlds that feels entirely well suited.
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Supersonic festival runs between June 22nd - 24th.
Words: Eden Tizard
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