Supersonic's care at picking acts makes for an exciting and inspiring weekend

Supersonic 2011 review

published: Tue 1st Nov 2011

Barn Owl

Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October 2011
The Custard Factory, Gibb St, Birmingham, England MAP
daily capacity: 2500
last updated: Thu 29th Sep 2011

The Old Library on Sunday featured an interesting juxtaposition of the faithful classic, and the avant guard. Selfless gave a stunning and brutal performance of pure, back to basics grindcore with all its political potency, speed and aggression. The vocalist summed it up nicely when he said towards the end of the set: "We're going to play a few new tracks now, then some old classics, and then some more new ones. All of which should take around two and a half minutes." It was great to see a home grown Birmingham band representing a distinctively Birmingham sound and culture.

Fire! came later representing the more experimental and futuristic side of things. With a solid foundation of hypnotic repeating basslines, the all star Swedish line up layered up drones and heavily effect laden guitar in a series of intense, extended jams. The really distortion heavy moments where the layers gave way to what can only be described as noise, were a little too much for me, but it was interesting to watch nonetheless.

Space 2 was for the most part awash with beautiful sounds on the Sunday. Barn Owl, and Eternal Tapestry brought in the ambient, improvised soundscapes, while ENVY took the post hardcore genre to some dramatic emotional heights.

Barn Owl
Barn Owl are particularly worth taking note of for always pushing their sound further. Last year they played the Theatre stage and stuck strictly to ambient music. This year, however, they took an entirely original approach, crossing genre boundaries within each song. They would start by slowly building up a beautiful tangled landscape of interwoven melodies, until their creation became span out of control: a giant wall of undulating sound. Then, slowly but surely, they would begin to reign it in, consolidating the sound and pulling it down into a low drone, at which point they would slowly push the song to its conclusion through a series of doom like chord progressions. It was seriously impressive to see a band made up of two people make such a titanic sound. The Boxxed stage once again took on the experimental dance side of Sunday's music, starting off with some delicate tech influenced beats from the audio visual collective Modulate. It is a shame these didn’t get a later time slot, for the sound was a distinctively small hours affair, and felt strangely out of place in the light of day.

Iconaclass was the highlight on this stage, though. Better known for his work as a member of hip hop pioneers Dalek, MC and producer Will Brooks brought his distinctive East Coast rapping to his shoe gaze/hip hop productions, played out by DJ Motiv. The sound, like that of Dalek, was dark, intricate and intelligent. His productions had a washed out psychedelic aspect which begs for comparison to the likes of My Bloody Valentine, but there was also a strong theme of returning to the roots of hip hop. Testament to this was the nostalgic performance of Eric B and Rakim's Microphone Fiend.

Back in the Theatre Space Dario Argento's 70s cult classic 'Suspiria' was an extremely fitting choice of cinema for the festival. A series of dark, dreamlike sequences put to the chilling and deliciously retro soundtrack by Goblin.

Headlining Space 2, and marking the end of the festival, was Norwegian rockers Turbonegro. Though they have a distinctive sound that combines hard rock and punk, often described as "deathpunk", these came across as a rather flat and uninspiring end to the festival. The charisma and spectacle of the band members themselves, especially the lead vocalist, made them not uninteresting to watch, but the music itself felt a little too middle of the road when compared to the boundary pushing sounds on display throughout the weekend.

Regardless of this disappointing finale, Capsule deserves a lot of praise for Supersonic Festival. In the film Blood Sweat and Vinyl, shown in the Theatre Space on Saturday, the head of Hydra Head Records Aaron Turner described what was so special about independent record labels: the integrity, consistency and quality of sound on offer is such that you can pick up an album by a band you have never heard of and know that, because it is a part of this label, you will probably like it. A similar thing can be said about Supersonic. Many people coming to the festival, myself included, will be doing so mainly for the sake of, or only knowing of one or two bands. But because Supersonic take such care in picking quality acts that are new, exciting and inspiring, then you can be sure that if you go and see a band you have never seen before, more often than not they will blow you away.
review by: Robert Knowles

photos by: Robert Knowles

Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October 2011
The Custard Factory, Gibb St, Birmingham, England MAP
daily capacity: 2500
last updated: Thu 29th Sep 2011

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