Supersonic 2008

Don’t want to write a supermassive review here, just a quick summary of my awesome weekend down in Birmingham for the annual Supersonic Festival curated by Capsule.


I left school on a friday…

Rolled into Birmingham on the Friday about lunchtime, checked into the Premier Inn (who provided a most pleasant and spacious room) and then proceeded to sit around for about 7 hours waiting for the show to start.

Got to the Custard Factory in time for Rolo Tomassi at 10:00PM, a wondrously energetic band featuring youthful boys and a girl jerking about spasmodically making music vaguely reminiscent of Dillinger Escape Plan.

We then took a break to sit under the big treeman statue while PCM did their somewhat dull hard dance thing.

We then returned to the Outside Stage for Dalek, one of the coolest hip-hop contraptions currently hipping and/or hopping. It wasn’t the most visually exciting performance, but the duo’s noise-oriented beats and wordy intelligent rhymes shone through. Plus, they played Ever Somber and Culture for Dollars, two of my favourites.


After a restless sleep and some breakfast, followed by more sleep, we headed back for Saturday’s events at 4:00, kicking off with Black Sun in the warehouse they now call Space 2. Some good old doom pounding ensued.

Another break for air before Guapo, whose performance I wasn’t entirely enthralled by for some reason. I like Guapo, but compared to sister-band Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses who played last year, I found it a little bit dull and lifeless.

Next up, Thrones, the one-man band of the man who is Joe Preston.  Probably the biggest disappointment of the festival here, Joe admited not having practiced or rehearsed in over a month, and not having any of his own equipment, he stumbled around improvised droning and half-baked attempts at some songs. Disastrous frankly.

Fortunately Oxbow were next. Oxbow are something of an acquired taste. The first reaction is usually confusion, as Eugene, a large muscled black man, starts undressing to his underpants. But it seems in the past 12 months or so, many more people have acquired the taste because their excellent performance went down a storm. She’s a Find was a particular highlight. And it was just nice to see the full band this time rather than the acoustic duo I had seen twice last year (including at the 2007 festival).

Another break, before I shuffled off to the Factory Club for Oren Ambarchi, an Australian prepared guitarist who made weird and incredibly bassy droning sounds for half an hour. His sub-bass rumblings helped massage my aching spine and cleanse my musical palette.

It was then back to Space 2 at quarter past midnight to catch Battles, who have been rightly hailed in the music press as a kick-up-the-ass to modern popular music. The drummer is positioned stage-front with his ridiculously high cymbal stand, and proceeds to direct the hypnotic action with his precision pounding. The guitars, keyboards and bass then dart all around this solid core in jerky odd rhythms that SHOULD NOT WORK, but boy do they. Playing multiple fractured melodies all at once, nonsense-vocals and above all else a sense that it could all fall apart at any moment. Highlight of the Saturday.

We caught the last half-hour or so of Harvey Milk, who, while enjoyable in and of themselves, somewhat suffered by comparison to the preceding Battles. Shame really. Still, a nice night-cap before we called it a night at 2:00AM and headed back for a much-needed sleep.


Sunday kicked off for us at 3:45 with Orthodox, a band I fell in love with having heard a track from their first album on a Southern Lord sampler. Epic Spanish doom, crushing and muscular, yet dynamic, with a full half of their time-slot occupied by the half-hour epic Geryon’s Throne.

This was followed by Asva who were actually the first so-called “drone doom” band I heard, and are easily my favourite of that genre. They played a couple of long pieces from the new album (which I had been unable to get hold of – eventually bought a copy off drummer B.R.A.D. at the merch table after Earth) and just generally blew everyone away. Organ textures mixed with the world’s heaviest bass and a drummer who spent more time not playing than playing. Utterly bone-crushing.

Earth followed, this being the fourth time I had seen the band (as a sidenote, the fifth will be tonight – which reminds me, better go get a ticket). They played a selection mostly from the latest record, with a special performance of the title-track The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull joined by Trey Spruance and Milky of Asva. Excellent as always. Mr. Mycousin at this point returned to the hotel, feeling sick, although it later turned out he just needed a really big shit.

Popped through for Red Sparowes, but since I had seen them in Glasgow on the Thursday prior, I decided to get some food.

Headed in for Kikuri at 9:15, and was treated to some horrendous but thoroughly enjoyable noise from Merzbow and Keiji Haino, including the surprise treat of Merzbow drumming – who knew? Merzbow rubbed some kind of a plank while Keiji scraped various stringed instruments in a wholly non-musical manner while shouting.

Finally the hour had come for Gravetemple, who performed the usual SunnO))) like drone, but less focus on the sub-sonics. They were joined half-way through by a drummer who played at ridiculous speed, making the music both glacially slow, and whip-snappingly fast at the same time. Unfortunately, Julian Cope who was slated to play with the band could not make it. Also, they didn’t live up to the full Sunn O))) experience, but alas, we can’t have everything.


And that then, was that. Made it back on the Monday, to sleep off the effects and enjoy my freshly purchased copies of Asva‘s long awaited What You Don’t Know is Frontier and MelvinsNude with Boots. As a side-note, I did not take my camera, realising that my live music photography is sub-par, and decided to simply enjoy the music and the event. But hey, you don’t care right?

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