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Supersonic 2018

Martin Longley By

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Birmingham, England
June 22-24, 2018

Running since 2003, the Supersonic festival specialises in musics that press firmly against the limits of cranial perception, whether expanding from deep inside our inner liquids, or fracturing in unexpectedly like a bolt of intrusive alien contaminate. Supersonic sounds can be minimalist and meditational, but most often they are pulsating, scything, crashing or splintering, prompting headbangs or butt-shuffles, according to ratios of guitars and electronic basslines, subsonic or shrieked vocal expressions, suffocating drudge-weight or sprightly cosmic feathering.

Compared to previous episodes, this one was more exploratory, less populated by known names. Back in 2014, your scribe's last visit, there were Matmos and Swans topping the bill, but in 2018, Gazelle Twin was the biggest name, flanked by Wolves In The Throne Room, Shirley Collins and The Ex. Maybe this was a budgetary consideration, like so much in our austere lives, but this ultimately did not matter, as the weekender was glutted with excellent performances, regardless of ticket-selling 'stature.' Plus, over the three days, the multiple rooms always appeared suitably filled with punters.

The heart of Supersonic throbs, as ever, around the Digbeth (former) industrial zone, chiefly hopping between a City College outcrop and the festival's ancestral home of The Custard Factory. Multiple stages existed, though there were, let's say, three spaces where most of the mainline programme unwound.

Fierce women made their mark on the opening Friday, but there were a few older gents to top off the night with their serrated, jolty rockaboogie. A remarkable discovery was Wetware, apparently from New York City, although this duo's profile there is not so high. The concept is an old one (see Suicide): as wall-of-scuzz electronicist Matthew Morandi piled up gouged scurf, whilst the extraordinary uninhibited singer/orator/screamer/slammer/ranter Roxy Farman hectored the gathered crowd, spending most of her time circulating the floorspace in front of the stage, easily clearing a runway, as she careened into bodies, or squatted foetally, amassing a compelling territorial intensity, and appearing genuinely on the brink of dismissing control. This was a powerful performance, even if the actual electronic matter could have been even louder. There are not many acts at Supersonic that prompt shouts of 'louder!' or 'turn it up!,' but perhaps Wetware could have found a bigger 11 on their dial.

Soon following, Moor Mother, also known as Camae Ayewa, being a member of Irreversible Entanglements, offered a similar declamatory vocal prowess, set against a barrage of sliced'n'diced collage samples. This Philadelphian orator held a more static position, vocalising in extremity, actual words rarely decipherable, unless we'd already heard her recordings. Ayewa's accumulation lay not only within her own set, but as a continuation of approaches set in motion by Wetware. Violently textured protest song, although these ditties would be difficult to cover in a Greenwich Village folk club.

The end-of-Friday peak arrived from a guitar-rockin' Dutch direction, though. The Ex approach from a skittish, angular, fragmented trajectory, even if their drummer Katherina Bornefeld provides a light-triggered, jagged funk danceability. The three guitarists, led by 1979 founder member Terrie Ex, frequently coalesced into a buzzing, riffing, flame-on mesh of ecstasy. Unsurprisingly, the band's attuned to regular collaborations in the worlds of free jazz and Ethiopian groove, though this particular set illustrated their core punk proficiency, mostly keeping to a savage guitar-careening course, repeatedly using dense strum-strafe riffing to reach multiple climaxes-and-releases, scattered with abstract string-freedoms.

Saturday began earlier, in the afternoon, with sunlight-streaming into the Custard Factory space, and quieter musical manifestations wisely opening a long stretch of sets. Joasihno specialise in mechanical additions that set instruments playing, lightly touched by delicate machinery, like tinkered clock insides, but spread across the floorspace, given different tasks, and thereby making up a musical pile-rug, homely and home-made in nature, metro- gnomic and techno-organic.


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