When someone mentions Birmingham the first thing that springs to mind isn’t Black Sabbath. Nor is it Aston Villa F.C. Not even Godflesh.
So the weekend of madness finally came and went. Both fans and the organisers of the Birmingham festival undoubtedly glad to be back in the saddle and experience some normality amongst the chaos of the past two years. Including the preceding two days, with Boris Johnson finally being smoked out of his grotto at number 10. Somehow, the stars felt aligned.
Firstly, let’s talk about the organisation itself. Over the three days, it’s worth noting that Supersonic is one of the most impressively organised events going. From the new venues, both of which were fantastic spaces, to the sound (pitch perfect all weekend), given the current circumstances, it’s actually a shock that everything went as smoothly as it did.
For the level of work that goes into presenting a festival like this, for the final product to run so seamlessly is a sheer testament to those behind the scenes of Supersonic. They delivered. In a big way.
As did the artists. We could talk about highlights (okay, we will in a bit); however, to a certain degree, it all feels like a moot point. A three day celebration of a festival that has left an indelible mark across the landscape of underground artistic expression, not just in the U.K., but the all over the world.
Supersonic has forever been a gateway for the outlier and after a two year absence, the Birmingham festival was back with a vengeance.
Starting with Rakhi Singh. Backed by Vessel and the cloaked angels a.k.a vocal ensemble, NYX, this was a collaboration of deep-in-the-woods folk drone; a nice entry point into the festival, no doubt. Holy Tongue followed, dispensing some gooey hypnotic psych dub held together by percussion extraordinaire, Valentine Magaletti.
The big sounds are never far away at a festival like Supersonic and Föllakzoid were on hand to provide accordingly, with their galloping psychedelia delivered straight through the gun barrel. Motorik, locked in the groove and trance-y as fuck, while we may have regretted missing Grove, as they say: you can’t win ’em all.
Buckling the walls with monolithic breeze blocks of sound, “assault unit”, The Bug and Flowdan, created the kind of dread-scapes that felt like you were being swallowed up by the void. With Roger Robinson also featuring with his stirring piece from Fire, The Missing, Kevin Martin and Flowdan went on to unleash a post-apocalyptic roar, tearing up all in their wake like some unhinged primal beast. A fitting end to a night where most were well and truly destroyed.
Naturally, Saturday took no prisoners, either, with a bottomless torrent of drone and riffs for hours on end.
Starting with Nadja, whose suitably bleak images and hypnotic sound waves were like being assaulted by a ghost. Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff slowly bludgeoned their audience into oblivion. Beauty and brutality rolled into one.
Regarding the latter, Bismuth’s withering storm of doom stopped all and sundry in their tracks. Then there was Buñuel who handed out the necessary punishment. With hefty bass weight and amphetamine fuelled rhythms, this is music produced on the fault lines. Like a soundtrack at a Hells Angels shindig, with Eugene S. Robinson vaporising all in his wake. This wasn’t just brutal posturing. It’s was just plain fucking brutal.
Which led into Pharaoh Overlord. Aaron Turner hasn’t sounded so liberated as his mirthless barks provided a barbed foil for the rhythm section featuring Circle percussionist, Tomi Leppänen. Disco doom they say? More like outer-church synth metal.
With the day really coming into its own, Thou’s marauding sludge punk is something to behold. With a light show that was transcendental, the Louisiana collective find beauty in places you previously didn’t think existed. Thou go against the grain of just about everything, and seeing them for the first time is like being opened up to a world of endless possibilities.
In that world we are met with the malignant spirits, Old Man Gloom. Like a rolling wash of sheer scorn, Old Man Gloom dismantle the notions of experimentalism with something ungodly. Metal, hard-core, punk, whatever you want to call, this is subversive-hearted maximalism in its purest form. Music with soul, essentially. “One more song, the Gloom’s still strong” barks Nate Newton, as the band launches into To Carry the Flame. Old Man Gloom produce a nerve crushing performance that will stay with us for years to come.
Sunday saw a shift in gear early on, with the Shovel Dance Collective opening the curtain and leading us into their unique world. The old world and, all told, it felt rather exquisite. Meanwhile, with soft lights and folk-laden shoegaze tones, A.A. Williams was the remedy to those nursing hangovers from the early hours.
Something that J. Zunz didn’t really care about, with a sequence of elastic electro drones tailor-made for the dance floor. It didn’t matter that the 7SVN stage was sweltering like a green house, J. Zunz did enough for us to forget about such concerns.
Drawing one of weekend’s biggest crowds, BIG | BRAVE’s tonal blizzards shook to the core with a hypnotic heaviness that basically encapsulates Supersonic. The rolling wash of drone and feedback ending up at the feet of another of the weekend’s highlights.
Yes, June of 44 marked their long-awaited return to these shores with a magical performance. Jeff Mueller, Sean Meadows, Fred Erskine and Doug Scharin masterfully unravelled their mind-bending, well-informed representation post-hardcore and math-rock with something deeply cathartic and pulverising. Perhaps the draw card of the weekend, with various cuts from their famous body of work that sounded just as vital as when they were written over three decades ago. What a band they are.
And the same can be said of Divide And Dissolve. Utilising the art of noise and feedback as a vessel to take us places we never thought were possible, Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill produce the kind of roaring pillars of sound that make them one of the loudest bands on earth. Not that we subscribe to such lists (well, okay maybe we do), but top five loudest bands going around? Divide And Dissolve are most certainly at the pointy end of such lists.
In a lot of ways it was fitting for Richard Dawson & Circle to close the festival. On a stage bathed in green and in support of their debut LP, Henki, Dawson and the Finnish odyssey delivered a spell-binding show, capping of what has been one of the decade’s great collaborations so far.
It was a perfect end to this mysterious holy communion. Already we await with bated breath for the next instalment in 12 months time.
The countdown begins.
For more photos, visit our Supersonic Festival 2022 photo gallery.