Supersonic Festival 2009: The Custard Factory, Digbeth, Birmingham


Our first trip to the festival in the heartland of metal – Getintothis gets supersonically gnarly.

Reading the Twitter feed outside the onsight Radio Rhubarb hub, guests are encouraged to share thoughts and happenings, but urged to distinguish between ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Supersonicfest’.
The reason: Oasis. The irony couldn’t be more obvious.
Where one day experiences at Heaton Park or Wembley Stadium throw up solid, yet supremely safe Britrock, Supersonic Festival is anything but.
Eastern warlords sporting beekeeping headwear playing sitar jams, corpse paint banshees wield droning two-chord guitars, Israeli lunatics use the crowd as their stage while sailing atop of a thousand outstretched arms. And somewhere beneath a mountain of green netting, dreadlocks and what resembles a giant lump of seaweed a portly man bellows about Charlie Manson.
This is but another year in the life of one of the UK music scene’s most cherished events. Emerging from its infancy – Supersonic is now seven – and based within the courtyard, surrounding boutiques and warehouses of Digbeth’s redeveloped Bird’s Custard Factory, the festival has forged a reputation of blending the chin-stroking avant-garde with the finest leftfield artists pop music has to offer while being built on a sturdy slab of extreme metal.
After all, as we’re reminded with talks, exhibitions and theatrical celebrations – the Midlands is the home of heavymetal.
But, similarly to it’s more indie-orientated cousin All Tomorrow’s Parties, what curators Capsule have created is a happening which, while never forgetting first-rate music is the heartbeat, fun is it’s soul.
Typifying this ethos are the exquisitely-named Thorr’s Hammer; a precursor to the all-conquoring Sunn O))) (who themselves sent shockwaves through to Leicester with their Friday night display), as Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson reprise their first exploration into unremitting heaviness accompanied by Norwegian Runhild GammelsÊter.
Comparisons to their doom-laden dayjob abound; GammelsÊter roars like Olaf’s big brother, candelabra beautifully decorating the stage and the music is oily, thick and molten, yet there’s much humour too suggestiing perhaps we shouldn’t take any of this spectacle anywhere near as seriously as some of the metal fraternity are want to do.
In between banter is at a premium, yet when GammelsÊter does speak – mostly in her native tongue – there’s laughs and playful giggles while Anderson and O’Malley make OTT gruffs and gnarly gestures. It’s pure theatre, excessively heavy and wildly thrilling.
The effect is matched, and taken to an altogether more brutal territory by contemporaries Corrupted and The AccÃŒsed. The former a Japanese sludge outfit revel in their excessive noize while the latter Seattle hardcore legends bludgeon riff after riff after riff as dreadlocked Brad Mowen windmills and headslams so hard it’s a wonder he’s not reaching for a neckbrace.
Levels of performance are stretched to the ultimate when the delightfully-named Master Musicians of Bukkake take to Space 2 dressed in flowing red silk robes and beekeeper’s masks while a heap of undulating green emits howls of primal rage. All of which would be frankly silly, were it not for the trance-like jams and spellbinding musicianship pouring from all quarters.
Later we catch up them at the merch stall, and it quickly becomes clear that what on first glimpse may seem like a trivial display of novelty has been crafted down to every last detail with music their primary motivating force.
But it’s not all sonic carnage and wierdisms. Saturday’s timetable is peppered with a wealth of musical magic. Marnie Stern bring sex, riffs and a playful abandon in a set which has the masses smiling and wiggling their arses from start to finish. Kim HiorthÃşy lends Supersonic a slice of The Haçienda to the Custard Factory utilising devastating beats, ecstatic rhythms and old school visuals turning the boxlike Factory Club performance space into a mini superclub. The Growing provide a yin to HiorthÃşy‘s yang melding abrasive guitars with languid textures and terrifying atmospherics which recall the likes of F*ck Buttons and Black Dice.
Elsewhere Glasgow’s Remember Remember combine the post-rock cinematics you’d associate with their Rock Action label mates Mogwai but infuse loops with handclaps, glistening xylophones, dancing violin and a multitude of extras provided by mainman Graeme Ronald and his seven-strong support team. It’s hugely moving, but wouldn’t seem out of place down the indie disco.
There are of course blips. Rose Kemp is simply laughable adopting the rarely-seen zombie with PMT routine screaming uncontrollably while bashing her guitar indiscriminately, Flower/Corsano Duo are largely forgettable andLight Trap are plain dull. But these moments are fleeting and such is the ease to alternate round the venues you’ve never reason to feel downbeat.
Away from dancefloor, there’s much to explore in this alt-muso’s paradise. A photographic studio depicting music’s most colourful characters, an assortment of collage, textiles and art projects are exhibited around the various locations, a small but delightful array of foodstalls (the Thai green curry goes down a treat while the Italian meatballs smell utterly divine) circle the market while upstairs in the tearoom a whole hall is dedicated to merchandise as bands and fans lap up in one big communal mutual appreciation society.
I pluck Fan – the 2009 35-minute one-track release by Japanese mathrock terrorists Nisennenmondai who earlier in the afternoon blow all senses with a 40 minute set of exhilarating power and technical precision. Combining the psyche swirl of The Boredoms and the beat-centric essence of Battles – drummer Sayaka Himeno carries one track with ridiculous rolls for almost the 20 minute mark before bouncing out of her seat sending her sticks flying and the dancing crowd into raptures. It’s fair to say they’re our top picks in a day littered with special memories.
Also high up were Getintothis favourites Diagonal, who revel in the large Space 2 Stage ramping up the noize, mellotron, guitar histrionics and more importantly the chance to dabble outside their already expansive progressive zone.
Another favourite and former record of the week champions Tartufi closed their maiden UK tour with a stunning display of musicianship as San Francisco duo Lynne Angel and Brian Gorman weaved all manner of loops into a tangled mélange of dense structures. All 13-minutes of Engineering sounds, impossibly, even more spectacular live than it does on wax.
Similarly, Italian’s Zu take the frenetic aggression of recent longplayer Carboniferous and inject a slicing, almost techno approach and as the midnight hour the Outside Stage turns into a frenzy of curdled figurines.
But little could match the mess and sheer chaotic carnivalesque splendour of Monotonix‘s Saturday night closing set. Their infamy is the stuff of legend but nothing could prepare for what unfolded.
Setting up in the crowd is nothing new – what is is having the crowd lift you high above their heads while balancing on a drumkit with a three-foot bin over your head while very, very drunk crowd surfers bodyslam into you as you attempt a drum roll.
It sounds exactly like it was: ridiculous, hilarious, exhilarating and highly dangerous.
And that was just the beginning as these three wiry, yet athletic Israelis brought crew, various artists, police and entire Rough Trade merchandise staffers on to the stage as they watched wide-eyed (some behind their hands) at the complete insanity before them.
All the drama is completely dependent on the audience’s willingness to get involved – and boy do they as Levi Yomtov instructs them to hoist him up high above as he swims across the bodies before smashing down to the concrete before climbing up various parts of the venue while later engaging in ridiculous scenarios with various members of an increasingly worse for wear crowd.
It’d be a lie to say the buzzsaw garage rock matched the eyefeast on offer, but nobody cared – as even the security whipped out their camera phones to get a shot of probably the wildest gig Birmingham’s ever seen.
And in the heartland of heavy metal you can’t argue with that.

Monotonix at Supersonic (I’d lower the volume if I were you).
Master Musicians of Bukkake.
Master Musicians of Bukkake.




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