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Supersonic 2007, The Custard Factory, Birmingham

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Arriving in Birmingham in time for the second of the two days this festival ran for, the bad weather plaguing these isles dissipated and gave way to a pleasant evening of heavy music. With an impressive line up featuring Jazkamer, Sunn O))), OM, and Mogwai (amongst many others), Supersonic continues to be a special day in the crammed festival calendar.


Opening the proceedings were Shit and Shine. This line up included two bassists, a singer, and six drummers. The day could not have started better. All six drummers played the same beat; the energy of half a dozen kits being pummelled at the same time was immense. They were a thoroughly fun band; the entire crowd got into the groove and basked in the sunshine. After such a joyous start, Voice of the Seven Woods were a bit of a let down. Too many self-indulgent guitar noodlings disrupted the flow of the set. Once the group got into a rhythm they were very good but I feel they were not firing on all cylinders.

After crossing over to the other side of the Custard Factory, it was time for Pharaoh Overlord. They were in fine form: their solid motorik rhythms were made for rocking out and punching your fist in the air. They are not the strongest group on record but live they are in their element. It is obvious from the way they present themselves and perform that they live for the thrill of the riff. Through sheer enthusiasm and repetition they stormed through an absolutely perfect set, it was gutting to see them leave the stage.

Taking a food and drink break highlighted the only sour side to the festival which was the queuing that got worse and worse as the day went on. While the queues for food were not as bad as they were last year, there did not seem to be a big improvement in terms of the amount of food available on site. CDs and t-shirts, although not quite as necessary as food, had queues lasting up to half an hour as there were small and strict capacity limits for the various stalls as they were made set up on small balconies upstairs in the complex. It did not seem to be the wisest place to put a merchandise stall considering the amount of Sunn O))) fans scouring the festival for limited edition items to pounce on. However, as annoying as queuing is, the music was mostly unaffected by all this. Only later on in the afternoon for Mogwai did the crowd issue become a real issue but more on that later.

I was at first reluctant to go see Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses as they have such a silly name. Thankfully my prejudice was unfounded as they were tremendous fun. The band were dressed like a 70s idea of pagans, all silly hats and bad make up. The over the top nature of their name and visual aesthetic (they had The Wicker Man playing on the screens to sides of the stage) suited their music perfectly. The almost fussy but brilliant instrumental din they made was worlds apart from all the other artists I saw on the day. There were elements of Barbez and The Dresden Dolls but with a simultaneously darker and sillier edge. The music got a little samey towards the end of their set but all in all they were remarkable.

Following Miasma's set were David Yow's new band, Qui. Having missed The Jesus Lizard when they still existed, I was excited to see Yow live in any capacity and I was not disappointed. The choppy rhythms and stop-start song structures built up the pressure in the audience but just when it felt like the band would break into a chunky riff they would finish the song. With no release coming from the stage, the crowd boiled over into a messy scrum which was great to see after a day’s worth of chin stroking and head nodding (not that there’s much wrong with that). Yow was a perfect asshole and I mean this in the best possible way, he got the crowd fired up and fed off the frustration. I had a feeling a lot of the audience left disappointed but I definitely felt that Qui were a worthy experience.

By this stage, a day's travelling and standing about was starting to take its toll on my back and I needed a full body massage. Thankfully OM were on hand to do just that. They were without doubt the most impressive part of my day; Al Cisneros' bass was louder than anything else and Chris Hakius' drumming was Thor-like in its power. Playing both songs from Conference of the Birds, they completely wowed the crowd. It was impossible to not get completely caught up in the rhythm and give in to the physical force of the music. Their performance was nothing short of transcendental and I do not use that term lightly. They finished up with a song from their forthcoming album which is more of the same but better.

From here I returned to the main stage to watch some of Mogwai's set, after queuing for a few minutes to get into main area I found that they were late on stage so I ducked into the Medicine Bar to catch the end of Jazkammer. I walked into the sparsely populated room to find Lasse Marhaug apparently in a trance, whacking a piece of metal off a table while his partner in volume (Anders Hana from MoHa! I believe) screeched into the microphone and blistered the paint off the walls with his guitar. Unfortunately I only got to experience about ten minutes of this before they ended but what I did get to hear was terrific. Heading back out to Mogwai and a packed crowd I again only managed to see about ten minutes of action as myself and my friends were hassled out of the area by security due to the venue being overcrowded. From the one song I heard it was obvious that Mogwai were in good form but it was hard to appreciate them when a large man is shouting at you to stand somewhere else when there is no where to go.

Returning to the Arches stage, the wait for Sunn O))) began. This was longer than expected as their start time got pushed back by 20 minutes but they were more than worth the wait. Their set was heavily based around Attila Csihar's superb vocals (and costume changes!) with very little in the way of riffs. Instead the music went from a quiet and elegiac start of Justin Broadrick’s guitar combined with Daniel O'Sullivan's Rhodes piano to a mass of feedback and drone, occasionally the guitars and bass being strummed to shake the foundations of Birmingham like the Blitz. Having spotted Julian Cope wandering the Custard Factory earlier in the day, expectations were high for him taking to the stage and doing “My Wall” from White 1 but those expectations were dashed. It was probably for the best anyway as once the performance started Attila got in the zone and stayed that for the full time he was on stage. Out of the few times I have caught Sunn O)))’s always impressive live show, this was by far the most crushing and cemented their reputation as being doom as fuck.

Supersonic continues to be a fantastic festival but bearing in mind the crowd situation for Mogwai, it would appear that it may be getting a little too big for its current location. Either the promoters, Capsule, reduces the number of tickets available to allowing Supersonic to stay at home in the Custard Factory or they need to look at an alternative venue. It would be a shame to see such a wonderful event ruined by something as simple as crowd capacity. Music-wise, the line up was impeccable and the festival organisers did a great job getting the music heard. Decent PA systems and sound engineers were the unsung heroes of the day, the vast majority of the bands sounded wonderful because of them.

Last Updated on Monday, 23 July 2007 00:29  


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