SuperSonic Festival, Friday 13th & Satuday 14th July 2007, Custard Factory, Birmingham, UK
I came across SuperSonic Festival by chance, but chance in this case took the form of a series of logical musical steps: a massive consumption of French electro vis a vis the Fluokids made a natural segue into 26-year-old New York City electro grime-techno DJ & producer Drop the Lime (DTL).
When I saw DTL was performing at a then unheard of festival in Birmingham this summer, I picked up a ticket, deciding I would do the festival solo if need be. The line-up information provided me with the impression that the weekend programme was eclectic to say the least, a giant mashup of djs, bands, experimental musical mentalists and it was all taking place under the auspices of a former custard factory. Brilliant.
What I wasn’t expecting was the fact that part of this year’s festival would be a homage and symposium to Metal. As in Heavy. An aspect of the Midlands (West Midlands to be exact) I never considered much was that it was kinda the birthplace of heavy metal and all its beautifully strange progeny. For the past five years, the festival has been curated and produced by Capsule’s Lisa Meyer and Jenny Moore, who are “Birmingham’s most innovative art and music promoters, with the ears of true fans and a DIY commitment providing a regular flow of cutting edge, vital new music + art”.
Friday 13th July Line Up
So here we were, Friday night, and the sun was only just starting to set across the city. My friend Niall and I travelled up together from London Euston. We arrived, dropped off our stuff at our budget hotel and took a taxi to the industrial section of the city not far away. After walking up the cobble-stoned road and heading towards the Custard Factory banner billowing in the wind, we joined the queue. And it is then that we made friends with three Birmingham natives, Dave-Becky-Adam.
“You came all the way from Brighton just to come to this festival?” Becky asked. I nodded. Niall elaborated – “It seemed like a cool thing to come to.” It was. A lovely group of people, Dave-Becky-Adam were our friends for the remainder of the festival, nipping us out to a local pub for cheap pints and shots of Sambuca. Let’s get this party started.
Friday’s line up sprawled across two stage areas – the Medicine Bar and the Kitchen. The Medicine Bar was the live music stage, and the Kitchen featured DJ and live electronic music sets. Friday was, for all intensive purposes, the electro-tinged aperitif. It goes without saying that I spent most of the night in the Kitchen. Fuck Buttons (see below) were a two-man law unto themselves, performing with the aid of a keyboard-filled suitcase and a day-glo toy loudhaler. I wasn’t overly impressed to start and was further perturbed that everyone around me was close-eyed, swaying and looking like they were experiencing a communal holy wank. However, Fuck Buttons ambient music-making did grow on me and I got into the subtle vibe. For a bit.
Towards the end of the Fuck Button set, I wandered off. I was standing in the back of the Kitchen talking to someone when I saw him. Drop The Lime. “Hey look, it’s Drop the Lime,” I said to DTL. Okay, I was a bit drunk by this point (five cans of K cider, 8.4% of total badness, on the train might explain a little of that) and I do have a penchant for making an ass out of myself with DJs, which they either really love or really hate. I think in this case thinly-veiled confusion was the reaction. Bless.
DTL looks like he does in his picture, but is much cuter than that. “Would you like some cider?” I asked DTL. He looked at his guide for assistance; the guide shook his head. DTL smiled and said, “No thanks.” For a moment, he looked at the crowd and then returned his gaze. ”I’ll tell you what I want: I want that crowd to dance.”
And like the fool I am, I proceeded to jump on stage at the start of DTL’s set. The packed room quickly roused themselves out of their opium-induced slumber. It was an art school rave minus the glow sticks. It was hands in the air and a serious competition for dancing space on the stage (where I was). For the rest of the weekend, I was known to strangers as “oh, you’re that girl dancing on the stage!” DTL came in hard, fast and dirty, less “Good Inside”, more “Hear Me Monster”. DTL was followed on by a dj set from fellow American, Oakland boy Kid 606. He’s more or less on the same bass-heavy tip as DTL but has more of a fucked up utilitarian militaristism to his 4-4.
Top: DTL, Bottom: Kid 606
The night, both my memory of it and my non-memory, was capped off with some drum n bass from Birmingham’s own PCM. I have a memory of being randomly snogged by some boys, then being dragged away by Niall. “You said you were hungry. Let’s go.” As we left the Custard Factory in search of food, Niall started talking about how good the drum n bass was.
“Really?” I said. “What drum n bass?”
“The drum n bass we were dancing to.” Oops.
I bought a chicken burger and fries, then we caught a taxi. I refused to share my fries with Niall. I asked Niall what he thought of the festival so far. “It was good but there weren’t enough birds. I liked it, but I didn’t know what I was watching.” I pointed out that it might have been because he was drunk. “Oh yeah.”
Saturday 14th July
Woke up at about 11am totally hung over and drinking small plastic cupfuls of water that I got from the sink tap. Nasty. I heard a small moan and looked up. Niall was sleeping on the top bunk and I could see him wince as he shifted. “Are you alive?” I asked. “Just about,” he said.
I managed to pull body, mind and soul together to go downstairs. Niall descended first. In the lift, I met some guys who looked like fairly nu-skool techno and metal ravers. “Were you guys at the festival last night?” All six nodded. A red-haired guy in a black zip up nylon jacket and glasses squinted at me and cracked a smile. “You were that girl dancing on the stage!” We discussed the music. They were all having a good time.
I found Niall sitting at a bright yellow table, clutching a can of Coke and looking very unhappy. I sat down and looked around. “What’s up with the all-you-can-eat breakfast?” I asked.
Niall frowned. “They finished about half an hour ago.”
I groaned. “We’re on the set of Holly Oaks,” I said, unnerved by the early 90’s décor. “Look,” I hissed. Rows of Batchelors potnoodles, Walkers crisps and Cans of cokes lined the café. Barf.
“We need to get out of here.” Niall nodded and looked like he was going to be sick.
We managed to make our way out of the hotel and descended towards China Town. We ate at a Chinese café, had some smoothies, got our names written in Chinese script, checked out the Latin American festival near Town Hall, and then went to see “How to Improve the World”, a British 60 year art retrospective at the local gallery, which was actually worth seeing. It wasn’t the big names that impressed, but I did love watching two of Gilbert & George’s 1972 films “A Portrait of the Artists as Young Men” and “Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk”. I also liked Jeremy Dellett’s 2004 mind map “History of the World”, which links Acid House with Brass Bands. For the next two days, I was plagued by Niall’s trumpet versions of Pendulum’s “Fasten Your Seatbelt” and Josh Wink’s “Higher State of Consciousness”.
Saturday was what Niall and I referred to as the heavy metal day. The line up, which was now accommodated over four stages, featured up-and-coming and more established bands, with a particular slant on the bass heavy and speaker smashing of the indie world. Cool. We arrived at 4.45pm, a bit tanked up already on vodka-spiked energy drink, and straight away we ran into Dave-Becky-Adam. Niall apologised to Dave for yesterday, who had bought him a pint, then Niall proceeded to walk off.
We went to the Medicine Bar for drinks. Along the side, there were still mile-long queues up two flights of stairs, the same as yesterday – at first, I thought they were for the toilet; I later found out they were people waiting to buy records from the record stalls. Drinks were bought. Onwards to the music.
My first band of the afternoon was Crippled Black Phoenix at the Arches Stage. The 8-membered band were heavy metal, but with a cellist. Their sound was melodic and serious, buttressed largely by the three ten-foot walls of speakers that surrounded them on stage. The last song featured raspy vocals and a closer-to-god moment where literally all the guitarists and bassists were turned to the walls of speakers, then suddenly dropped the song into a canyon-sized break. The heavily-tattooed guitarist gets lost messing around with loop peddles, the song disappears, and then one by one, each of the band members drift off stage, leaving the keyboardist sustaining the last note.
I wandered over to the Medicine Bar Stage to check out two Birmingham bands back-to-back: Calvados Beam Trio and Bee Stung Lips. Calvados were an energetic three-piece who fumbled and played with music for music’s sake, seeing where an improv took them. Bee Stung were a four-piece band, who were very different to Calvados: shouting thrashy troublemakers with a lead singer who looked a bit out of place with the band, but hey, he was the one with the voice. I think I saw this band with Dave, who opted out of the moshing idea, quite sensibly.
At around 9pm, Dave-Becky-Adam and Niall departed to the pub, but I’d just run into my an old friend, Charley, who used to own and run an independent record called “Charley’s Orbit” back in 2000 so I declined and caught up with him. He and his partner Jo were living in Cornwall, still involved with bands. Charley tipped me off on a few bands to check out (Qui, SUNN 0)))). After getting reasonably fed up with the suited, pink-shirt boys with toys (literally) Modified Toy Orchestra, who seemed a bit gimmicky and bland to me, I drifted into the Arches to check out QUI (see below). I found Charley up at the front, standing with another Brightonian, the owner of a clothing shop called Get Cutie. Charley explained that Qui was the brainchild of David Yow, of Jesus Lizard fame. I left after about 10 minutes though – I couldn’t stomach Yow’s shouting directly at you. It felt a little like going to see “Jerry Sadowitch the Musical” (that is, if they ever made it).
Being sans friends, who were still at the pub, I would have been totally bored bonkers if SuperSonic hadn’t also cleverly featured the 7inch Cinema, which was more or less like a dark chill out room. As luck would have it, I had planned on going to see “The World of Ian Helliwell” at 9.20pm anyways. Ian was another Brighton person and renowned filmmaker. As I slid into the seat, I was treated with artfully-worked porn and Super 8 celluloid. After about 15 minutes, Niall plonked himself down on my chair. “Hey.”
“You missed the porn,” I whispered.
“What porn?” he said bewildered and slightly jealous.
I have few memories of the next two hours, from 10pm to midnight. I vaguely remember buying some coffee with the guys and I think I went to see OM. But I can’t be certain. I can remember I was with Dave and we were walking back from the Arches and a band was on. We might as well have come back from visiting the moon. “Who’s that?” I asked, squinting at a band in the (short) distance. “Mogwai,” Dave replied. “Are you sure?” He laughed. “Yes.”
Mogwai played from midnight to 1.30am. They were amazing. They sound like how you’d expect them to sound, which is amazing. How do you describe a sunset or staring up at the stars in a warm summer night out in the country? I don’t think you can. I first started listening to Mogwai when I was going out with Joe, who was an Oxfordshire indie boy. It seemed every other gig we went to was either influence by them or sounded like them.
The night seemed to end in a messy confusion of goodbyes, and though Niall and I vowed we wouldn’t take a taxi with the hotel being so near, we were both so smithereened that we fell into the first one that would stop for us. When we got back to the hotel, I ate two bags of Doritos, complained to Niall about god knows what, then passed out.
SuperSonic was a fantastic experience, and like my friend Charley, who goes once a year just to see friends, I will probably end up doing the same.
Super Sonic Festival is presented by Capsule [www.capsule.org.uk]
You can even check out the sets from the event on Last FM: www.last.fm/user/supersonic_fest
Pics, video & commentary: [http://www.createdinbirmingham.com]