Review: Supersonic Festival @ The Custard Factory, Birmingham – 30-31/05/14

Supersonic Festival bears the tagline, ‘For Curious Audiences’, a phrase that fits the bill perfectly with an intriguing and hotly-anticipated line-up squeezed into two days. It’s a slightly smaller and more intimate set-up than previous years, but no less exciting. 

The Custard Factory and the newly refurbished Alfie Birds set the scene for the festival curated by the much hailed Brum-based promoters, Capsule. The music ranges from esoteric death core gabba acts like Ryan Jordan to the DIY punk ramblings of Sleaford Mods. Within this range lays a sublime mix that pushes the boundaries of modern music to the level where superlatives are not sufficient in describing what was about to come. But here goes any way.

San Franciscan duo Matmos are masters of sampling sounds from obscure sources such as amplified crayfish nerve tissue, the pages of bibles turning, liposuction, chin implant surgery, rat cages, tanks of helium, a cow uterus, human skulls, snails, laser eye surger, latex fetish clothing, Polish trains, insects, life support systems and a five gallon bucket of oatmeal…to name a few. They are audibly mesmerising and viciously entertaining in the way they utilise instrumental hip hop with elements of Space Invaders style electro. The visuals are captivating with a projected face on the screen behind them that nonsensically utters foggy lyrics and ambiguous words.

Doom sludge death metal act Opium Lord offer a sickening and twisted performance that summons the devil within to ensure a powerful, extreme and unforgettable performance. The devil’s guitar, demon’s drums, psychotic bass and the vocal cord-damaging guttural roars from the possessed lead singer resonate with damnation and draw the crowd into the murky depths of oblivion. The Black Sabbath-inspired flatted fifth is death-defying and nihilistic, making it hard to ignore the brilliance of a band that are becoming masters of their genre.

Post-punk inspired vocals reminiscent of Public Image Limited mixed with grimy doom rock and psychedelic electronics are the backbone of the pig-masked members of Evil Blizzard. They sweep the audience into frenzy as the fast paced drumming and repetitive lyrics attack the senses. The masked group have the comedy of Frank Sidebottom, the shock value of Slipknot and the ferocity of GWAR. It is not surprising that Mark E Smith wanted this very entertaining live act to support The Fall on their last tour. 

Sleaford Mods_2014-05-31-01-36-56_0008Sleaford Mods take to the stage as the final performers of the Friday night, their Punk ethic and anti-establishment lyrics smashing the likes of Peaches and The Streets into the last millennium. Singing along to a simple electronic loop, Jason Williamson’s words are thought-provoking and yet hilarious. He spits on popular culture and the banality of modern day Britain as the crowd members nod their heads in unison and agreement. Tracks like Jobseeker and The Wage Don’t Fit are a harsh social commentary that stamp on the hypocrisy and greed of our government. They break the mould with their mixture of pessimism and punk cynicism and have become one of the most highly anticipated alternative acts to emerge from the UK in recent years.

The Saturday kicks off with the ‘alternative’ ensemble from Liverpool, Ex-Easter Island Head. A swarm of guitarists fills the stage and the bleary eyed and hungover audience comes back to life. They play based around various guitar preparations, from billowing harp-like arpeggios to plucking the strings with keys to produce resounding upper register tones. The cacophony of guitars and the slow pace of the percussion reverberates through the crowd.

Sly & The Family Drone take to the centre of the main room and wake up the audience with a dramatic start, thanks to the extreme percussion that is then handed out to audience members so they can add to the aural discord. The abstract but enticing tracks are reminiscent of Lightning Bolt and have the manipulated electronics that Brian Eno should be producing these days. The onslaught of sound and the integration of the performers into the crowd is a must see for anyone that is yet to witness the noise debacle. Stepping away from the gig with split eardrums and a spaced out mind is inevitable for everyone that has seen them live, even the audience members that wear ear plugs. 

Ryan Jordan can be heard from a mile away and the closer to the flashing core of the strobe light the stranger it becomes. The 500bpm drill in a hypnotic, surrealist and visceral display of the intensity of sound and light. The retro death telegraphy and possession trance are pretty accurate descriptions of what Ryan Jordan does, others may call it a loud noise with a flashing light, but the experience was so intense to watch it was worth spending 45 minutes of the day to stand still and pay close attention.

Diving into Khunnt is as pleasurable as it sounds, with long sustains on the guitar and high pitched screaming roars, they have reached a stage in their career where total bedlam seems like the only thing left to do and as one of the last acts of the night this fits the environment well. 

Getting to see all of the artists play at the festival would have been a tall order, and there is inevitable disappointment if you end up missing acts such as Agathe Max and Youth Man to name just two. But the concluding act, Swans made up for this entirely. Emerging from the New York no wave scene in the 80s, their live shows are a must see. They take experimental to an inspiring level and are the most sophisticated and accomplished group of musicians that play a multitude of instruments. The droning guitars and depth of percussion creates a trance like state and nodding your head in submission seems like the best way to end a weekend of phenomenal music.

Words: James Wootton | Photos: Wayne Fox

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