Supersonic Festival 2011: Day 3 (A Tale Involving Ale)

Well, I’m writing this on the train home right now, and it will be posted later tonight when I am home, but it’s time to write about yesterday, by which I mean Sunday, an eventful day which felt like two days, for reasons we shall get to.

Here's me prior to heading out of my hotel cave, into the bitter daylight of a Birmingham October Afternoon.

My first shift started at 1.00PM, so I headed over to the Custard Factory and took a few snaps around the site.

So, I took a couple photos of the site, while I was out wandering. Here's some socialist propaganda.
This was the bridge from Floodgate Street into the rest of the site. Very industrial.
I assume this used to be a canal. Now it's kind of not... Anyway, I took this from the above bridge.
Yo crazy tree man statue! I haven't seen you in a year. What's happening? Really. Huh. Yeah. That's interesting. Oh by the way, YOU ARE STILL AWESOME.

I headed over to the production office for the usual signing-in, then checked what my shift duties were. I was particularly interested because I had to re-schedule Saturday’s shift in order to take part in the Dirty Electronics Mute Synth performance. I was surprised and slightly alarmed to learn that my second shift, 9.30PM all the way through to 2AM was in the Space2 bar. I had of course never worked behind a bar in my life. More on that later.

My first shift was a five hour stint on box office again, so I reported to box office manager David on Floodgate Street. After shuffling some stuff around, and informing early arrivals that we were not opening till 2PM, we got to work.

These chaps were a understandably little miffed they had to wait till 2.00 for gates to open, after arriving at 1.30. But they were perfectly reasonable and nice about it, and they were first in line so first in.

It actually turned out to be an easy shift that went by fairly quickly. It helped that I was able to sit down for most of it, and chat with Rachel, David, and Ioannis. Rachel joked that next year they should rename it National Beard Weekend, and later a guy tried to enquire about a “student discount”, and upon discovering none was available, a “beard discount”. I joked that if you don’t have a beard, you’re not allowed on festival grounds. I also bumped into a couple of my fellow Mute Synth workshop attendees which was nice. Also, I saw the arrival of MC Dalek and his new project, which was kind of cool.

I checked my phone’s weather app, and found out that sunset was around 5.55PM, five minutes before the end of our shift, and the sun happened to be directly in line with the street we were on. Unfortunately it was a little too cloudy to enjoy, but the colours were okay. Then before I knew it, I was done on box office. Myself and Rachel took off.

I popped back into the production office and informed the volunteer organisers that I had never worked in a bar before in my life. They offered me an out, but I said I would give it a shot. After-all, I seem to have recently adopted a policy of saying yes to trying new things. One of the bar managers took me over to the Space2 bar so I could sign the appropriate paperwork that would qualify me to tend bar, and give me a brief rundown of the drinks on sale.

I headed over to enjoy the tail end of Barn Owl, which was pretty fantastic, though obviously I would love to catch a whole set next time I see them.

There's an interesting metaphor that Philip K. Dick once wrote, involving an owl. Look it up. Anyway, here's Barn Owl, Barning, and Owling, and generally Barn Owling it up on stage.

After Barn Owl, I opted to cross the bridge back to the new stage Boxxed, where iconAclass, the new project from Dälek, were getting ready to roll. Pretty similar to Dälek, but with less of a dissonant noise influence, the set opened with DJ Motive spinning and cutting his decks like a mad man, before Dälek himself walked out and whipped out his trademark angry word flow. This festival needs more underground hip-hop like this.

Tower block crushing beats and angry lyrical flow. That's iconAclass for you.

Tony Conrad came next, and his performance consisted of himself, on modified violin, and various stringed “things” attached to a table. With a single light shining up at him, he bowed and droned and overtoned away for a while, lulling me into a genuine trance-state, which I then suddenly awoke from by almost collapsing for no apparent reason. I stumbled forward, bumped into a guy, got very disoriented for a moment, took a drink, and then suddenly realised I needed to go to the bathroom, which I did, and from where I could hear Mr. Conrad exactly as clearly out on the venue floor that I had just recently nearly collapsed onto.

The haunting image of an avant-garde violinist's projected shadow looming large behind him.

Anyway, after a refreshing break, feeling very weird about this strange incident, I headed back out onto the floor just as Mr. Conrad started doing something I happened to find very exciting. He was pulling what looked like metal-beaded cords dangling from the shoulder-end of the violin, across the fingerboard and the other strings, then bowing these cords, producing sounds somewhat akin to that of a saw cutting into a priceless antique bureau. Beautifully strange, tonally rich sounds, of no traditional musical value. I loved it. I took some video of it in fact, because I wasn’t sure if this was something I’d be able to get on record. Here it is in case you’re wondering what exactly I was so excited about:

See? No? Oh well. I liked it.

Then I popped over to the Old Library for Fire! Featuring Oren Ambarchi. I only stayed for the first half of the set, but I enjoyed what I heard. They sort of noodled around in the upper atmosphere for a while before a groove appeared, which they really wrung for all it’s worth. I then returned to Space2 for Envy, but after a couple of songs, I decided to pop out and get me that Japanese chicken curry I had promised myself the day prior. Very tasty. I headed back in, and before long it was 9.30PM, time to sink or swim.

The Space2 bar manager gave me a brief introduction, but sensibly waited till Envy finished and there was a break between acts, before giving me my actual training. Simply really, alcohol £3.50, soft drinks £1.50. I then learned how to pour a pint of ale, and a pint of lager. I messed up a couple lagers before I got it right, but I kind of got the hang of it. Also, learned how to make a dark & stormy with Kraken Rum and ginger beer, which I tasted a little sip of – very nice. I just got down to it, did my best, and sometimes made mistakes, but I think I did pretty well.

We later found a couple of the cups-tacks were nothing but cracked cups, but not until after selling a couple drinks in them to disgruntled punters.

The lager taps started to slow down and stopped producing a head, and we kept running out of the Kraken, but all-in-all it went fairly smoothly. From the bar, I saw Circle, and then later, Turbonegro, which I had been dreading, because if there was any band on the bill that encourages excessive drinking, it would be Drunk in Hell. Or Turbonegro.

The cure for what ails you is ale apparently. I kind of wanted to try some of the ale out of curiosity, but I did not. Anyway, here's some of the other bar staff at work.

Actually though, for the most part it went pretty smooth. It was harder to hear people’s orders, but I got through it. Unfortunately, after they finished the bar managers announced to the stragglers, £1 per pint of ale. Most of the people were happy about that, but the people who wanted cider were not, and then when we were closing up, and all we had out were half-pint glasses, one horribly drunk woman became disproportionately upset that she would have to take her ale in two half-pints instead of one full-pint. There was a bit of an ugly scene there for a bit, part of why I try to avoid people when they have been drinking a little too much. On the whole though, it was manageable. Would I do it again? If I had a choice, no I would not. I don’t know how people do this for a living.

The white tape indicates lager, the others were cider. Turns out pulling a pint of lager isn't that hard, but in an environment like this, it's hard to maintain the pressure necessary to get proper head. Look at me, talking about lager-pulling like I have any idea what I'm even saying...

My hands got real sticky by the end, and my clothes soaked in ale, but I stayed an extra 15 minutes to help with the tidying up a little. Then I signed out, and was invited to a) A volunteer party on Wednesday, and b) an after-party happening right then in Boxxed. I declined the former due to my having to be back in Glasgow and the latter due to this very train journey I am currently on. So I headed back to the hotel, and got me some sleep in a state of about 97% sobriety. I figure I lost 3% for the sip of the rum & ginger beer combined with nearly five hours of alcohol fumes. And that’s all folks.

Supersonic Festival over for another year, and as always, plenty of people to thank. Everyone in the production office, David, Rachel, Ioannis, Hewell (is that how it’s spelt?), John Richards and the Dirty Electronics crew, Becks, and all the other people whose names I have forgotten, never learned or can’t spell. My brief highlights of the weekend: Secret Chiefs 3, Mute Synth, Bardo Pond, the last fifteen minutes or so of Tony Conrad’s set, and iconAclass. I’ll probably do one final wrap-up post a little later in the week just to cap things off, but for now anyway, my work is done. Thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoyed reading my little account of Supersonic Festival 2011, even if you have no idea what I’m talking about or who any of these artists are. I think the quick-and-dirty photos help a bit. I try to make it more like a diary than a review, because I think that’s more interesting for people who don’t have any grounding in the kind of music I’m talking about.

Cheerio for now.

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