Friday is an intense & pace-making start to the Supersonic weekend

Supersonic 2010 review

By Robert Knowles | Published: Mon 1st Nov 2010


Friday 22nd to Sunday 24th October 2010
The Custard Factory, Gibb St, Birmingham, England MAP
Last updated: Tue 19th Oct 2010

At first Supersonic may seem to be a bit of an uninspiring name for a festival, akin to calling a dance festival 'Sub-bass festival' or even a folk event 'Slinkystring festival'. But having spent three days listening and watching acts, some very familiar, some very unfamiliar - and some escaping the concepts of familiarity entirely! - it is starting to make a lot of sense.

What the name is referring to is the organisers' dedication not just to blurring genre divides, but also in blurring the modalities of art itself, be it visual, audio or performance. I've seen and heard some very different things this weekend, some good, some bad; but the very fact they've been within the same event is worthy of praise in itself. Here is just a few of the acts I caught.

With song titles such as 'Britain's got Fucking Aids', and 'Belief is the Death of Intelligence' Fukpig clearly have a lot to say for themselves. And as you would expect from members of Anaal Nathrakh and Mistress they screamed, strummed, and blasted it with tangible ferocity.

The very beginning was impenetrable, whether it was due to the levels being slightly off or me just adjusting to the level of noise, but once I began to pick out the discordant wail of the lead over the crushing bass in 'The Horror is Here' I began to feel invigorated by their blend of black metal and grind. The songs burst into being as suddenly as they died and maintained a violence from start to finish that gave them a punky charm. 'Mother Nature’s Tears' was the extreme of this, a thirty second long and extremely satisfying burst of anger.

At first the crowd didn't seem to share my enthusiasm, or they kept very quiet about it. The front man also didn’t think this was good enough, so he charged into the crowd and single handedly started a circle pit. Satisfied with his handy work he clambered back on stage. This was the catalyst and the crowd stayed focused from here on in.

Next I ventured into The Old Library. Though structurally quite old looking, the flawless white paint that covered the walls and ceiling gave it an eerie timeless feeling. Devilman had already begun when I entered at the back, and from where I was standing it sounded like pretty typical dubstep. Granted there was a live bassist, but having seen the likes of Rusko doing the same trick, this was nothing to get excited about. The crowd seemed to be enjoying it, though, so I pushed to the front to get a better look.

As I got closer the sound completely opened up. Nuances in the high end that just weren’t audible from the back started to come into focus and the heaviness of the bass made much more of an impact this close the speakers. The sound was a bone rattling industrial dubstep interwoven with a rich backdrop of psychedelic textures.

As well as DJ Scotch Egg on bass – more famous for the utilization of his gameboy as a musical instrument – and experimental dub producer Gorgonn, we were also treated to a vocalist. A slight figure in a long black dress, looking like something Tim Burton would dream up, provided an ambience of screams while moving and twisting inhumanly to the music. The effect of all this was mesmerising, and the crowd was struck. Unable to decide whether to pull their hoods up and step along, or engage in a circle pit, they were forced to do a strange combination of both.

One of the jewels in Birmingham's lustrous crown of Metal, Napalm Death return to their hometown to headline the outside stage as a loud reminder of where the extreme music scene came from. As expected, it was fast, loud, aggressive and extremely sweaty. The band members have had the best part of twenty years to perfect their sound, and it has paid off. They were as tight and energetic as any of the younger members of the scene: the vocalist Barney Greenway paced across the stage continuously and violently shaking his head from side to side so that his guttural roars just seemed like an extension of his overall aggressive demeanour; the guitarist, Mitch Harris, shredded his guitar while arching back to howl into his reverb heavy mike; and the bass and drums (Shane Embury and Danny Herrera) thudded through the chests of everyone under the canvass roof.

The set list may not have pleased everyone. It spanned their whole career, from the short intense outbursts of 'The Kill' from their first album 'Scum', to more recent and perhaps more accessible songs such as 'Time Waits for No Slave'. The style changed a fair bit throughout and as a result original fans may have been less pleased with the latter – in fact, I remember hearing someone shouting "play something faster!" For me, it was exactly what I was expecting, and for that reason didn't provoke much of a response. Placed in context of the weekend during which I witnessed some of the most experimental music out there, I found the set slightly uninspiring, a little dated and, dare I say it, boring.

However, much of the crowd seemed to be having a sweaty, grind and booze fuelled blast, and like I said at the beginning, the very fact that these metal pioneers were playing on the same day as some of the more avant-garde acts they arguably paved the way for is testament to what makes supersonic special: its inclusiveness. Friday was an intense and pace-making start to the weekend.
review by: Robert Knowles

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