Supersonic Festival 2011 Review: A first timer’s experience.
Due to celebrate it’s tenth birthday next year, Supersonic festival has gone from strength to strength, providing a programme that mixes the best in music, art and culture.
Following our interview with the organisers, we were also allowed to attend and cover the festival. Here is Editor Cynthia Franklin's account of what it was like to attend the festival as a first timer.
Films/Documentaries watched: A Man With A Video Camera, Home Of Metal Documentary
Before I attended I only knew a small handful of the lineup, as a newcomer to the more experimental side of rock, ambient and metal, I was very excited to expand my musical horizon, luckily for me, Supersonic festival was the best place to do that.
Before I start enjoying the music, I have a walk around to explore the festival vibe and surroundings.The first thing I notice is that there is not one predominant age range here.
Parents with kids, young adults amongst seasoned punks and metal heads, make for a setting where I don’t feel any pressure to behave or dress a certain way.
I even bump into several Supersonic regulars in the smoking area, including a gentleman who has attended the festival every year since it’s conception, a fact that gets me even more excited about the day that is to unfold.
Through prior research to the festival, I’m intrigued to check out Teeth Of The Sea, so I head to the Boxxed venue and they are a great band to start my festival with.
(Apologies for the lame mobile phone pics, our camera went to digital heaven)
Their sound is a perfect mix of dark, post-rock, psychedelic hardcore, with intoxicating buildups and a drummer that pulls the most glorious facial expressions. Raising a pint to the crowd and bashing instruments together, Teeth Of Sea put on a show that gears me up for more musical intensity.
Before I head over to check out Kogumaza in the Old Library stage, I grab a good sized £3.50 cider, the bar service at this festival is beyond fantastic.
Not only are you served quick but staff are extremely friendly and conversational in quieter times, and still smiley or least giving of an appreciative nod when bars are busier. (Don’t just take my word for it look at these facebook comments
Once in the Old Library, my heightened mood is slightly deflated as Kogumaza’s sound check seems to take longer then usual, Nonetheless they treat us to a sound which uses minimal elements of drum thumps and hazy guitars.
By this point of the festival I notice that intense visual displays behind bands are a running theme. this is most appreciated, as the visuals not only compliment the artistic feel of the festival, but add further atmosphere to the sounds we witness.
Before heading back to the Boxxed venue, I grab some food from the stalls with prices ranging from £2 for cup of noodles, to £5.00 for an Angus burger, I decide to try the food on the Italian stall.
I eat in the covered and heated seating area, talking to other festival attendees as we compare bands that we have seen, and they recommend further bands that I should check out.
Something that I find myself doing a lot at Supersonic, as people in various areas are happy to sit with people they do not know and discuss the festival as it happens.
Next it’s Lucky Dragons, fans of the subtle tones of Zero 7 would love their alluring and empowering sound, their artistic shows are famous for their audience participation, this time it’s a sound-shaping experience, where with the use of a camera and two very large stripey transparent sheets, audience members enthusiastically move the sheets around, creating a odd but visualy creative experience.
The atmosphere that Lucky Dragon create seems to appease much of the crowd, with many people listening to the sounds with their eyes closed taking it all in.
By this point I’m in the mood for something a lot heavier so who else to take me to that level then Wolves In The Throne Room!
Is there ever a more manly sight then the hairy men of Wolves, thrashing and bashing with a sound that literally shakes the whole body! They are almost transfixing and with a spot right at the front next to the speakers, I feel a bit pathetic mentally admitting to myself that I could have done with earplugs offered at entry. Shame on me!
From the word go Wolves send the crowd in a uniform trance of bodies rocking forward with metal horns and power fists a plenty. Truth be told I knew nothing of Wolves until a good friend recommended that I check them out and after the set I’m a new convert.
After experiencing such a variation of sounds throughout the day, Electric Wizards set shows that there is no shame in the simpler approach. Their sound is thrilling, their presence a joy and their set is well received as they treat us to ‘Dopethrone’, ‘Withcult Today’, ‘The Nightchild’ and other selections that captivate the room.
Before Zombi I see some hilarious antics by the toilets involving men attempting to sneak into the female toilets, due to higher number of males then females at this festival, men be warned! You will have to queue much longer for the toilet and for some men as I saw, the need to do a number 2 was most overwhelming!
Zombi round off what has already been a stellar day with a sound almost impossible to summarize in one sentence, I would like to say horror-prog-space-synthesizer with bass layered rock but then I know the dedicated Zombi fans out there would agree I’m only scratching the surface with that description.
Back to the hotel for a nightcap and rest for the next day!
Yesterday was solely about the music for me, eager to experience other parts of the festival and give the hangover some healing time, I decide to keep band visits to the later part of the day, and soothe my cats-scratching-at-a-tapestry headache with art,cinema and exhibitions.
I first have a browse in the market place, a FANTASTIC hub full of independent material to buy.
Items on sale include CD's, records ,fanzines and other handmade items from independent distributors and record labels. This is rounded off perfectly with the tea room at the back selling a childhood yummy delight of cakes and confectionery with tea and coffee as well.
After a pint in the 78 bar (which is a great place to catch some football for you sports fans out there) I head to the theatre to watch some shorts, and music docu-films.
The first film I catch of the day is Esko Lönnberg’s Man with a Video Camera, in this film-about-a-film Lonnberg attempts to capture the madness of Finnish rock band Circle, displaying to the viewer what goes into their creativity, alongside Lonnberg’s own story of childhood and his love of the art of documentary.
The film is very bare, extremely honest and a bigger joy to watch when I realise that I will in fact get the chance to watch this mental band live, as they are set to play the festival later on that night!
As there is so much more I want to see at the festival I can’t stay to watch the whole film, but I make a mental note to track it down, and from the 45 minutes that I did watch, I witness and absorb the creative freedom Circle allow themselves to explore, the moral I take from the film is that sometimes it’s more detrimental to try to subdue your inner nutcase.
Time to eat and here is a fact that all those intending to go to Supersonic need to know, take advantage of the on site newsagents because they are awesome!
I pop in to purchase some cigarettes and spy a Cornish pasty, not only do they allow festival goers to use their kettle and hot water, but they stay open for as late as they feel they are needed. Now that truly is answering the call of duty.
After a pasty in the newsagents, I head to the Zellig centre where I pop into the Grindcore cut & paste exhibition, which contains material that once featured at The Home Of Metal exhibition.
Apart from running Supersonic festival, Team Capsule are also in charge of the highly successful Home of Metal exhibition,which celebrates and educates on how Birmingham and the surrounding Black Country became the birthplace of Heavy Metal.
The exhibition at the festival celebrates Napalm Death and the cultural zeitgest of the time, we see pictures of 14 year old Nicholas Bullen and Miles Ratledge along with the fanzines they read and created, we also see original posters, flyers and cassettes that were handed out at the time.
We see the anti-capitalist newspapers that circulated around that era, original Crass posters, and we are also privy to the gig posters of bands that influenced Napalm Death during the early gigs at Digbeth civic hall.
Filled with knowledge and an introduction to the 1980 grind-core scene, i finally decide it’s time for some music.
I don’t have a great start with bands on Sunday, it’s not that I don’t rate Barn Owl as an act, I just wasn’t in the mood for their sound right at that moment, after staying for a bit I decide that they are worth me having a dedicated undisturbed listen to when I get home.
That's not to say their appeal was not obvious at the festival however, you can see it in the large crowd gathering very quick and very eager.
Having not visited the Old Library much I head over to check out Astro, I’m clearly missing something here as many gather to hear his white noise sound, not wanting to be judgemental and ever eager to try and at least sample new music, I stayed for ten minutes longer then I should have.
But the fact that I didn’t enjoy Astro highlighted another great quality to Supersonic festival, it gives you that opportunity to explore music on a more experimental level, a chance to find out more about what you like, don’t like or could grow to enjoy in later years. A chance you may not get at festivals who choose to play it safe with their line-ups.
Bit miffed at not enjoying any bands yet, I decide to see what’s occurring at the Boxxed venue, which incidentally proves to be my best decision of the day as I discover my next favourite up and coming act.
Iconaclass proves that anyone who believes that a hip-hop act can’t appear at a metal festival is sorely mistaken.
Originally known for his work as Dälek, MC/producer Will Brooks’ sound is heavy, his beats are intense and his gritty lyrics make a sound that feels like a secret side project involving Public Enemy, Jedi Mind Tricks and an evil Heavy Metal mastermind.
The crowd is even more inspiring, damning the stereotype that hip-hop only attracts a certain age and background, I see a mixture of all kinds of people, nodding and rocking to their own pace.
I did not catch the name of DJ but the audience is included in a live recording which is greatly received.
With such an international lineup, I feel it’s my duty to pop back to the theatre and watch the Home Of Metal documentary. The Bruce Forsythe of metal Noddy Holder takes us through this documentary, that is not only a great taster of the fantastic material put on at The Home Of Metal exhibition, but also a proud celebration of the birth and development of heavy metal, as a movement and music genre.
After that it’s back into the Old Library stage to watch English band Drunk In Hell, from the first note they connect with the crowd, press photographers are just as eager to take photos of the crowd as opposed to just the band. Aggressive, emotional and primitive, after a stellar set I need fuel, time for food!
(My one criticism of the festival is the distinct lack of cash points, the one in the newsagents runs out pretty quick so I have to leave the site and pop over to the coach station up the road. Not a major inconvenience, but my one suggestion for improvement)
After an amazing £5 hot pork and stuffing bap (gooey sloppy goodness) it’s back into Stage 2 to watch the spectacle that is Circle.
Supreme creative madness mixed with extreme musical talent, it’s phenomenal how the band manages to touch on all rock genres, with a front man that possess a Zeus mighty voice, all the while dressed in an outfit that looks like the wardrobe lovechild of Judas Priest and The Scissor Sisters.
My personal highlight of the performance is the crowd reaction, it’s a joy to watch many a judgemental facial expression mould into a massive smile surrounded by the sweaty-I’ve-been-dancing-my-tits off afterglow. There is something about Circle’s presence that begs everyone to let go of their inhibitions and just have a good time.
I feel it wouldn’t be fair to say that Circle are a good warm up for headliner Tubrongro, but rather that both acts in their own right, are the perfect closing combination for a phenomenal weekend.
In between bands, DJ’s throughout the weekend spin the best tunes, and I’m especially enjoying the DJ in-between Circle and Turbonegro, the sight of punks and metal-heads dancing to Donna Summer’s I Feel Love will forever bring a smile to my face.
When Turbonegro take to the stage it’s a predictable but welcome performance, with a set-list that fairly compliments all the chapters fans of the bands have come to know and love.
As I watch the set I think about the festival event just gone and already begin to make plans to attend next year. I feel frustrated that science has not found a way for me to duplicate myself so I could have enjoyed all aspects of the festival.
It doesn’t surprise me at all that Supersonic will be celebrating it’s tenth birthday next year, and I can predict many more birthdays to come. I leave the festival with new bands to catch up on and a greater taste of wider genres to sample.