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Supersonic 06, Custard Factory, Birmingham, 22 July 2006

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Situated near the centre of Birmingham in a disused custard factory, the Supersonic festival is one of those unique events that I can find little fault with. It is a labor of love set across two days, the first being all DJs and the second being a huge selection of great live music. Not liking the sounds of the first day, I decided to head to Birmingham for the Saturday alone.


Despite Britain's record breaking hot weather last week, the situation for Supersonic 06 did not look good. I arrived at the Custard Factory to torrents of heavy rain, it looked like the outdoor stage was going to be a washout but by the time the opening band, Una Corda, started playing the weather cleared and the rest of the day was perfect. Una Corda were a fitting choice to start the day. They are firmly in the Pelican and Isis realm of metal. Their set was loud and extremely enjoyable, when I heard they had two bass players I was expecting a muddy mess but they used the two basses tastefully.

Next up was Alex Tucker in the tiny theatre space. He was slightly late in starting due to problems with his acoustic guitar’s pickup. A technician took the offending pickup off to be mended but never returned so Tucker did the entire set without the guitar and used an electric mandolin and his voice instead. He played three long improvisations involving looped bowed mandolin and vocals. The set got better as he went on as he got into his stride. During the second piece when he started incorporating feedback from the microphone I was on the edge of my seat. The final piece was a melodic mandolin line looped with Tucker adding layer upon layer of singing over it before using this as a base to improvise over. This was an exceptional performance especially considering Tucker obviously had other things in mind but couldn’t do them without his guitar.

Moving back outside to the main stage to find Michael Gira already halfway through his first song, “My Sister Said,” from his last solo and Angels of Light albums. Although scheduled to play for an hour, he stopped after half an hour. This put a bit of a downer on his performance (as if Gira needs any help bringing people down!) as I’ve been waiting years to see him live; too young to have experienced Swans, too unlucky to catch the Angels of Light. The short set was made up nearly entirely of new songs which will eventually find their way onto the new Angels of Light album. “I am my Brother’s Man” and “Good Bye Mary Lou” stood out as being particularly powerful. “Good Bye Mary Lou” sounded familiar but I can’t find where I heard it before.

After Gira, myself and my friends went looking for a bite to eat and this is the only part of the festival where Capsule dropped the ball. There was a restaurant and a BBQ but the restaurant closed up early and the BBQ had a queue to end all queues. So we went out and found a chipper. We came back full and content but too late to catch all but the end of Final’s performance. The five minutes that I did experience were intense, a massive synth drone that filled the theatre space. With the hot weather and a packed crowd, the air was thick and heavy which added to the intensity of Final’s music. Even in those brief few minutes I knew that I had been on the receiving end of a great performance.

Joe Preston’s solo project Thrones opened with a pile of oozing treacle in the form of “Nostos Algos.” With only a mic, a bass and a drum machine at his disposal he proved to be one of the highlights of an already bright day. His performance was delightfully ramshackle, at times he was in time with his drum machine and at others he was playing to a completely different beat. At no point did it sound shit though, it was just part of the Thrones experience. His bass was fed through two huge bass amps turned up to full which were louder than the PA so it was hard to tell what the drum machine or his vocals were doing at any point. With the heat still going strong in the theatre after final, some of the dirgier, dronier parts of Thrones’ set made me feel sleepy but Preston would keep bringing me around with some ear splitting feedback and surprise samples. The only bad thing about this gig is that I now can’t listen to any of his recorded material as it sounds too weak!

Hailing from Finland and lauded everywhere I read, Circle were my next port of call. They started with a long, thundering song that had some serious Krautrock vibes off it. They won me over instantly with this and judging from all the heads nodding around me, I wasn’t alone. Unfortunately the next song was a major drop in quality and they nearly lost me. Luckily I stayed because by the end of their set, Circle had gotten back up to the level they started on.

Isis were a major disappointment. The last time I saw them I enjoyed them a lot more but since then they’ve become more clinical and soulless. They looked like they were just going through the motions with their synchronised headbanging and the three guitarists playing the same boring riff together. After sticking it out for about three songs I went for a rest and then headed back into the theatre to catch Rother and Moebius. They definitely started off on the wrong foot, their first piece was a bit of a mess and by the time it got going they ended it unceremoniously. A lot of the sounds they used during their set were very dated and some of the song structures were a bit hackneyed. They did hit the mark several times and got into some amazing rhythms. However whenever anyone left the room the sound of bombs dropping outside filled invaded Rother and Moebius’ space.

Those bombs were High on Fire who absolutely slayed. They were pummelling and loud as hell. Despite being a huge fan of Sleep I still haven’t gotten around to High on Fire and witnessing them live made me realise what I was missing. They were the best way to end the night. They certainly put Isis in their place, no foolish posturing from High on Fire, just pure metal. Everything about them was perfect but not in an overly polished sense. The sound was gritty and heavy and so loud that it was stunning the local insect life into paralysis.

Supersonic 06 was a huge success and I’m glad I was able to get over to it. Capsule should be patting themselves on the back for putting together such a great set up. Needless to say I’ll be back next year.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 July 2006 17:12  


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