Capsule's best festival to date? We think it might be - certainly the Saturday of this year's Supersonic was as fine a run of music on a solitary day as we can remember in a jolly long while. Which means there is no room here to wax lyrical about awesome turns from Remember, Remember, Earthless, Marnie Stern, Jarboe, the guy from Rough Trade doing a spectacularly awful job of selling the Topman idea, and many more. Don't hate us for it. Here are DiS reviewers Abi Bliss and Andrzej Lukowski's highlights. Pictures by Katja Ogrin.
Um, so when did Drum Eyes become amazing, then? Not to express anything other than total delight at DJ Scotch Egg and his er, ways (heck, on Saturday he give DiS some pistachio nuts – those things aren’t cheap), but the man’s reputation is rather predicated on being somewhat wayward. His band is tight though, one flowing omnigroove that moves between flame-wreathed stoner immensity and searing electro-blooping with nary a pause for breath. We are in danger of actually dancing, which is more than you can say of some of Shigeru Ishihara’s actual sets as a ‘DJ’.
Oh Sunn O))), Sunn O)), Sunn O)). I wish – wish almost pathetically – that I could look the reverent masses in this room straight in their stern eyes and say “that was wonderful”. But, urgh... touring debut album The Grimmrobe Demos - especially considering how far they’ve come with this year’s Monoliths & Dimensions - doesn’t feel enjoyably perverse, it feels weirdly conservative, ducking the challenge of a complex new album in favour of a sop to the hardcore fans (which admittedly is pretty much all their fans). Beyond a lower budget for dry ice, it’s hard to imagine how anything would have been any different a decade ago: same robes, same poses, same note(s), same Cliff Richard-rivalling sexlessness. Ho-hum.
Were a stranger unfamiliar with either Supersonic or Venetian Snares to have wandered into Aaron Funk’s two hour closing set, they’d probably have concluded the whole thing was a joke: partly because of the smirk that plays across Mr Funk’s face, partly because the Outside Stage has now essentially become one very large but very good-natured mosh pit, but mostly because of the insane number of BPMs being crammed into his gabba/breakcore extravaganza. From the inside... well specific memories are blurry, but it feels like it expertly stays the right side of simply being an avant-experiment in beat ratios. Whatever: we are moshing; we are happy. (AL)
Rocking the murderous druid look in a headband and long, dark dress, Rose Kemp frowns with glee as she thanks the more punctual of Supersonic’s punters who have gathered to catch her afternoon spot. "It’s fucking brilliant, Supersonic, isn’t it?" she scowls, before filling the dank, concrete venue with another harrowing slice of last year’s Unholy Majesty album. You can still hear the folk music running through Kemp’s blood – the haunting fifths and lilting ornament learnt at her parents’ (Maddie Prior and Rick Kemp of Steeleye Span) knee, not to mention the sheer clarion power of her vocals on songs such as ‘Milky White’. But she’s long since left the green fields of hey nonny nonny for somewhere darker. ‘Dirty Glow’ twists and writhes with sexual scorn of Dry-era PJ Harvey, her guitar swelling and crashing as she cackles and exclaims. If Kemp invited you to join her among ancient standing stones at the wan sunrise of a chill winter solstice, you’d go. And you’d weakly whimper "fucking brilliant" as she took her stone knife and stabbed you through the heart. (AB)
To anyone familiar with San Francisco duo Tartufi’s music, it’s virtually praise enough to simply say they manage to accurately play the songs from their recent Waves Of Birds And Wires album. Seriously, working out how the hell to pull off the record’s 13-minute centrepiece ‘Engineering’ must have surely taken weeks. Yet Lynne Angel and Brian Gorman break it out as the first thing, its gargantuan ascent from pounding tribal noise to the Beach Boys drowning-in-a-lake-of-tears finale of that “hey Johnny” refrain utterly immersive. The two are in constant motion as the song transmutes into new form every 30 seconds or so, switching between keyboards, drums, loop pedals, innumerable mic treatments, workers dancing about a fantastical life-support machine. (AL)
It’s tempting to describe Nisennenmondai in terms of machine-like precision, as the Tokyo trio exude an efficiency and discipline honed through ten years of playing together. From guitarist Masako Takada’s concise, cut-glass guitar work to the way Yuri Zaikawa waits, stock-still, for the right moment to add her steadfast bass parts, nothing is wasted. Only drummer Sayaka Himeno’s flailing hair offers visual indication of all the energy coursing through the system. But that would be misleading: there’s nothing robotic about the three joyously kinetic instrumentals here, songs that rediscover krautrock grooves and no-wave skitter, casting off nostalgia to press forward. Once established, they throw in a few surprises: the second number features a more relaxed guitar melody gliding over the top; the third brings its great, clanging mass to slow and teeter before accelerating away again. Surfing on the crest of an eternal now, each subtle shift of rhythm or riff propels them and the audience onwards without revealing where the journey will end. (AB)
“This is a real fun number! It’s bouncy! It’s called... ‘Cancer’.” Iron Lung have a not-undaunting reputation, what with their penchant for 16 second songs and the fact they describe their oeuvre as ‘power violence’. But this is rather offset in real life by the sludgier tack of last year’s Sexless //No Sex and, more tangibly, singer/drummer Jensen Ward’s hilariously camp banter. It’s not just light relief, or rather relief is exactly what it is and exactly why it’s so effective: his patter is integral, grounding the tension enough to thoroughly freak everyone out when the pair suddenly blitz us with another megaton or two of smart but brutal hardcore savagery. Kind of like your mum making you a nice cup of tea. Then shooting you in the kneecap. (AL)
Huzzah! We do like something Stephen O’Malley is involved in! Perhaps one day we will fit in here! Thorr’s Hammer were clearly a pretty impressive proposition back in their mayfly mid-Nineties existence, but you’d be gobsmacked if the bunch of kids who knocked out the Dommedagsnatt cassette could possibly have had the chops of these seasoned thirtysomethings, who’ve had longer to rehearse this show than they were ever together in the first place. Yes, there are drones the size of whale pods, moving at the pace of a reticent mollusc, but there are choruses, dynamics, a virility that Sunn O))) lack utterly. Much – but not all – can be laid at the vertiginously-heeled feet of Runhild Gammelsæter: trim, charismatic and charming (she blows us kisses; she banters in Norwegian), even knowing what those lungs are capable of she’s still entirely startling vocalist, her small frame visibly rocked backwards under the concussive force of that voice, roaring like the communion of a thousand downtuned dragons. (AL)
For an act billed as ‘The most batshit insane, heavy, brutal doom ever to grace Supersonic’, Saturday headliners Corrupted certainly start gently. Maybe the famously no-interviews, no-press photos Japanese lords of funeral doom had taken advantage of their anonymity and sent understudies in their place, leaving them to gargle nail-filled cookies and explore new subsonic tunings at home. But their set soon achieves its full elemental power, simultaneously building new Himalayas of rich guitar textures yet constantly sinking in on itself with searing magma force. Lyrically indecipherable as ever (and most likely in Spanish), Hevi’s vocals seem burdened with sorrow and regret, like a mythical Titan returning to an Earth spoiled by millennia of puny humans, or if the Custard Factory’s incongruous Green Man statue came to life and found himself faced by the begonia displays in the Bullring. (AB)
If you saw zZz’s dishevelled, tie-dyed, drummer-vocalist Björn Ottenheim in his home city of Amsterdam, you’d probably sidle quietly away in case he tried to flog you half a stock cube. Here, however, he and organist Daan Schinkel really are the men who know where the party is. Powering a relentless offbeat through whirling, Suicide-on-the-waltzers numbers, Ottenheim channels a cavernous, Jim Morrison baritone, singing on as his bandana slips over his eyes and the mic stand twists around his neck. Not to be outdone, Schinkel crouches and sways with each squealing chord, jabbing the keys as though they’re the control panel of a nuclear reactor heading for meltdown. Eventually he scales his keyboard stack, playing the smallest synth from its summit without missing a note. Never were a band more misleadingly named. (AB)
To the dark, cosy Theatre Space, where Chris Herbert is waiting to wrap you in a cloak of finely woven disquiet. Sharing Philip Jeck or Fennesz’s love of unsettling crackle and evocative vagueness, here Herbert’s electronica finds a suitably murky companion in Dom Murphy’s visuals. As blurred road lines shift into bubbles on a pond surface, Herbert’s drones summon up the false tranquillity of the urban periphery, where birdsong duets with the low hum of flyovers, and where shifting harmonics that suggest a contemplative solitude are undermined by the spit and hiss of electromagnetic surveillance. Eventually, the screen fills with bright autumn leaves as a dense wash of tones disperses into morning sunshine. But you feel it’s only a temporary brightness for this gazetteer of the mind’s most melancholy corners. (AB)
He’s got the shredding and the doomy chord progressions of many a fellow Supersonic-er. But only Khyam Allami can boast of playing them on an instrument whose shape, according to legend, was inspired by the inventor catching sight of his son’s bleached skeleton hanging from a tree. Beat that, Tommy Iommi. The onetime drummer for Art of Burning Water, Syrian-born Allami is also be a virtuoso on the oud (or ‘ud), the 5,000 year old Arabic lute. As he stitches together traditional Middle Eastern song, Philip Glass-style minimalism and King Crimson grandiosity in a blur of fingers, he jokes about the similarities between his semi-improvised compositions and the louder fare on offer elsewhere. There’s certainly a familiar sensibility about ‘Nida’, whose intricate passages of fluid plucking are punctuated by a single, low, ominous note on the oud’s eleventh string. Turns out he learned it from a septuagenarian violinist in Egypt who, on returning from the mosque each evening, would light up a massive spliff and jam away into the small hours. (AB)
After the basic perfection of Saturday - not to mention two days of fairly steady consumption of fairly shoddy grain alcohol - Sunday feels like harder work. The resurgent Head Of David are the first big 'event' of the day, and they’re pretty heavy going, figuratively as well as literally. Thick, bassy churns and gothic roars choke and smother the huge Factory 2 space, all conducted under disorientatingly blinding flashes of semi-strobe light. The new wavey sensibilty of much of their recorded output feels buried under a level of Satanic sonic treacle: certainly it says a lot when a cover of Suicide’s ‘Rocket USA’ offers something of a moment of relief. (AL)
Caribou is a funny proposition to close the Outside Stage, and 15 minutes or so of overlap with Goblin on a cold, wet night pretty much saps Daniel Victor Snaith and chums’ audience down to an enthused rump. But those who stay find plenty to warm themselves up – the delicate psyche-pop washes are lovely, but it’s the clattering two drum climaxes that really take this someplace special. Between Snaith and the mighty Brad Weber, they could give Chris Corsano himself at least a mild run for his money, except here we’ve got a license to boogie. On a weekend of one-offs and rarities, a Caribou set is hardly going to be on people’s lips for years to come, but sometimes you just need a reliable friend around, and Snaith is that guy. Heck, man’s a doctor. (AL)
Goblin are, of course, absolutely preposterous. Half their songs adhere to a near-identical formula of ominous chimes, followed by big rumbling bottom end, followed by impossibly ornate widdles of power keyboard, one of them is wearing a bandana, and lest we forget, we are in fact standing about reverently watching some elderly men performing the soundtracks to a selection of Italo-horror nasties. Yet they succeed, and not as a curio, but on their own terms: their may be a degree of homogeneity to their work, but a dollop of Floyd aside, they really don’t sound like anything else, and a little repetition works fine so long as it’s effective. Which it is. Maybe their more baroque moments would seem a little daft in the wrong context, but in the blackened Factory 2, underneath disorientating Dario Argentio film loops, these old dudes perhaps take us as close to the heart of darkness as anyone at Supersonic. (AL)