Supersonic Festival 2010

With Swans, King Midas Sound, Hallogallo 2010...

Waking up in a city to the clanking sound of steel bashing against concrete only seeks to reinforce why Birmingham is the home of metal music. Capsule’s Supersonic festival has evolved from this backdrop to consistently provide one of UK’s most anticipated Festival lineups. Fans of dubstep, krautrock, free-jazz and doom metal were all catered for on a bill which promised to both rupture the ears while stimulating the mind through its diverse selection of music, film and specialist talks.

The weekend catapulted to its traditionally raucous start, evident as soon Gum Takes Tooth took to the stage- complete with resplendent headscarves. Their calculated no-wave noise and frenetic drumming built purposefully from sparse driving beats into overpowering basslines perfectly edged the crowd towards unholy manglings which they were to be exposed to over the weekend.

Wolf Eye‘s Nate Young guided the opening night towards total implosion with his unique brand of mind-twisting noise while one man breakcore behemoth Aaron Spectre fuelled the fight with a seamlessly blended brand of blast beat production with DC hardcore riffage to cull the crowd towards insecurity. Napalm Death sought to bring matters to a close on the Friday, reaffirming why they are one of Birmingham’s most influential acts. Belting out a relentless onslaught of grindcore and politics they made Brummies everywhere proud with their destructive sound and stage presence.

Saturday started in an altogether more relaxed way but Lichens‘ expansive soundscapes were well received by a packed crowd. Next to step up ‘pon d’stage was one half of industrial doomsteppers, Cloaks, whose performance threatened to puncture eardrums through the sheer weight of the sub-bass, punishing the audience and the soundsystem.

Legend of the scene, Kevin Martin aka The Bug has a vast array of previous work that has successfully spanned numerous genres and his latest project, King Midas Sound, didn’t disappoint. At odds with the sparser sounding new album “Waiting for You”, King Midas Sound dropped heavy slabs of dub-influenced noise as Roger Robinson and Kiki HItomi provided vocal duties.

To follow directly from two excellent acts is no mean feat, but Melt Banana achieved it, rattling with blistering pace through their set of uncompromising songs. With a sound that is as impossible to categorise as it is vital, Melt Banana stand out as one of the most important purveyors of experimental music in the modern day.?

The line-up for Sunday was certainly weaker than that of the day before but still afforded festival goers the pleasure of witnessing the timeless Krautrock of Hallogallo 2010 (the full-title to be afforded to this incarnation as Michael Rother made a point of noting during his Q & A session on the Sunday). Rother has previously bemoaned the futility of his attempts to bring Neu!’s recorded sound into the live arena, but backed here by the metronomic powerhouse drumming of Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) and the solid bass of Aaron Mullan (Tall Firs), Rother can no longer harbour those worries. Bordering at times on euphoric techno, Hallogallo 2010 gave a performance that not only cements Rother’s status as one of experimental music’s greats, but builds on that reputation. The mooted suggestions of a possible new album only serve to increase the excitement which surrounds this supergroup.?

To close the festival on Sunday night was a band that many have waited years to see, and there was a palpable sense of excitement as Swans took to the stage. A 10 minute church-bell and drone introduction before Michael Gira emerged merely added to the tension but as the first chords ripped through the air it was clear that Swans were here meet those expectations. The tight, physically-afflicting drums and bass underpinned sheets of pure guitar noise and Gira’s twisted vocal delivery to ensure that the act that the whole weekend had built towards were one of the stand-outs. It’s a certainty that Swans are one of the most influential acts on noise music throughout the world and with a performance as essential as this, it’s easy to see why. Their performance was one of the most intense and awe inspiring of the weekend and powerfully reaffirmed why the Supersonic Festival is one of the most celebrated dates on the UK festival calendar.

Words by Anthony Morrow
Photo by Tim Malseed

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