Birmingham seems to fare less and less well for live music with each passing year and so Capsule’s Lisa Meyer and Jenny Moore (founders of Supersonic) are to be cherished, venerated and quite possibly added to the Queen’s honours list. Future Dames Meyer and Moore continue to forge a unique musical spectacle, filled with genre bending and boundary stretching music, diverse art installations and of course, cake.
Saturday starts with Rose Kemp. As personal side note, Rose is the daughter of folk legends Maddie Prior and Rick Kemp from Steeleye Span, who were the first band I ever saw live, and Rose treads somewhat in her parents’ footsteps, sticking mostly to traditional folk melodies. She is, however, treading in those massive leather, platform boots adorned with studs and spikes for this is folk drenched in the dirge of gothic doom. Striking but only partially successful.
Flower/Corsano Duo are up next and as a real fanboy and a current student of the drumkit, Chris Corsano impresses with his restless, skittery style. To the untrained ear and eye, it might seem a bit random and there’s a kind of free jazz vibe to the duo’s sound but have no doubt, Corsano’s drumming is technical and staggeringly precise. Despite this, the music doesn’t quite take a hold of me, as there’s never anything solid and tangible to grab on to.
Remember Remember sound and even look a hell of a lot like last year’s festival guests, Efterklang. Seven band members use a plethora of instruments (I counted ten) to create melodic loops which are effectively played against a backdrop of manipulated black and white film clips which dance and judder to the beat. All aptly memorable. The same cannot be said of Tartufi, who on paper looked to be one of the best chances of an early festival highlight. Their brand of meandering, droney buzz rock leaves us, well, frankly bored.
Our minds and tapping toes are engaged once more with Thought Forms who sound almost like a fully instrumental My Vitriol covers band. They are one of the most straightforward bands we see all weekend and we’re grateful for their driving, wall-of-sound rock.
Master Musicians of Bukkake take the award for best band name of the festival and with their Mexican beekeeper outfits, they’re in the running for the most interesting fashion display. They are odd and noisy and manic and heavy and funny and most importantly, entertaining. They sum up the Supersonic musical ethos perfectly.
Iron Lung are, as you would probably surmise from their name, brutally heavy. Drummer and lead shouter Jensen Ward seems to possess the metallic lungs after which his band are named cos this fella can make your innards quake with his vocal blasts. Drop in the fact that he can control a drumming tempo shift from a million miles an hour to a sludgy crawl in the blink of an eye, plus the added bonus of his genuinely amusing, festival best banter and you have an early contender for act of the festival.
At the risk of being dubbed a sexist by my two female editors, it’s not very often that you see a remarkable axe-wielding woman (though John Wayne Bobbit may disagree). Marnie Stern’s guitar style is unusual and impressive; her riffs complex and jittery and she owns the crowd from the very first note. Her fingers dance along the fret board as she wails out her playground skipping rope melodies and the whole show is all the more impressive as Stern admits to being fully hungover. In true rock’n'roll style, she just drinks some more and keeps on wailing – ace.
I was expecting a bit more from The Accused. They sound fine and there’s nothing at all wrong with their thrashy, punky, hardcore metal but from their bio and what I’d read about them and their affections for the slasher horror genre, I expected more theatrics. Probably more my fault than theirs. Bobby Previte are the first act of the day who I get nothing from at all. Boring electro drums accompanied by keyboards, like a dark underground version of Erasure. Not for me (though I do have a soft spot for Erasure!).
Due to having to catch the last train home, I only get 15 minutes of Thorr’s Hammer but that quarter of an hour is enough to unsettle me sufficiently. Runhild Gammelsæter’s tiny frame at first haunts with her beautiful, ethereal voice and then scares the crap out of all of us with her thunderous and under-worldly growls. It’s mesmerising to watch her pretty, smiling face contort as she leans back and fires an almighty roar into the air. Where it comes from, none of us know but the smile and blonde hair is fooling nobody – Lucifer’s influence is clear.
Sunday starts with zZz and despite their sleepy moniker, they shake away Saturday’s aches and cobwebs with a grin-inducing set of drum and organ party rock. It’s no great surprise to hear they come from one of the great party cities of Europe: Amsterdam.
A first for me next as I watch and am therefore duty bound to review a performance from a good friend, Chris Herbert. Herbert creates music which is sublimely subtle. Crackling, static loops which gently roll, hinting at melody and rhythm, tantalisingly building to crescendos that don’t arrive. The visuals which accompany the music perfectly illustrate the mood, offering fleeting glimpses of leafy branches and rain dripping all soaked in swathes of blurred colours and hypnotic effects. The lad done good.
Earthless provide the funniest moment of the weekend. They are true stoner rock though thankfully more rock than stone. They wow the crowd with one of the longest songs ever played at Supersonic; a crushing slab of ever morphing riff which powers on past (what we estimate to be) the 20 minute mark. Each time it seems that the song is about to come to a crashing end, we’re given red herring after red herring and it’s a perfect moment for exaggerated air guitar which we duly oblige with. Eventually, sadly, it does end to a barrage of applause.
The last time I saw 65daysofstatic, they were struggling to compete with the noise from the nearby fairground rides, playing on the ‘up and coming’ stage at 2005′s Leeds festival. They hinted at greatness and when their first two albums continued to hint and not establish that greatness, my interest waned a little. They’re still dropping the hints and are noticeably a much tighter live unit but they’re still lacking something to keep them from the higher echelons of this fairly crowded genre. Having said that, when they hit their stride on ‘Retreat! Retreat!’ from debut album, The Fall of Math, they rock most handsomely.
Head of David are very serious. They’re in that early 80s industrial metal legend mould and they’re impressively tight considering this line-up hasn’t played for 23 years. They’re brooding and cold and detached and because of this, they don’t stand out quite as much as a lot of their festival counterparts but they do rock hard and are almost clinically professional.
Supersonic throws out several surprises each year and it left 09′s big surprise ’til almost last: Caribou. Recorded, Caribou is pretty much solely the work of Dan Snaith who sings and plays drums and guitar, on stage however, Snaith is joined by a second drummer Brad Weber and it is Weber who elevates today’s performance into something special. Snaith is no slouch with the sticks but man alive, Weber is something else! When the two of them drum together, it’s a sight and sound to behold and is easily my moment of this year’s festival. Sadly, as Goblin’s start time draws closer, Caribou’s crowd ebbs away but we make an effort to stay as long as possible and are rewarded with a truly great show.
The festival ends with yet another Supersonic coup: Italian horror soundtrackers, Goblin. Their synth infused proggy rock action works much better on stage that I’d imagined and it’s clear that these 50-somethings are having as good a time as we are. It’s a strong and notable closer for what has once again been a fantastic festival.