Live: Supernormal Festival @ Brazier’s Park in Oxfordshire, 10-12/08/12

SLY AND THE FAMILY DRONE

For all of the eclecticism that scatters Supernormal’s programme across visual art, exhibitions, poetry, football, food, comedy and of course, experimental music in a plethora of forms, there is an underlying aesthetic and atmosphere that renders the whole experience incredibly cohesive. There is a deep devotion to the “alternative” artistic streams, but never does the festival appear to force itself into strange places for the sake of it; Supernormal feels as though it’s sprouted out of its enthusiasm for the left-field, with the weekend’s line up and activities acting as a natural product of such a genuine mindset.

Speaking of natural, the whole setup feels hand-crafted and ecologically sound – showers heated by wood fires, food reared on nearby farms, urinals comprised of a few panels and hay bales, and stages that essentially take the form of wooden sheds cut in half. Couple that with a capacity of circa 500 (with many of these places taken up by the artists themselves) and Supernormal feels remarkably cleansing and spacious. Quite a contrast to the metal structures and burger grease that so often plague the festival format.

FRIDAY

So having picked up a drink from the delightful pair of children running the ginger juice stall, I take to the second stage to witness Workin’ Man Noise Unit provide the festivals opening throws. Burly riffs chug beneath a consistent screech of noise and feedback – both energetic and somewhat laboured – in a pummelling and monotonous tribute to the toils of the 9-5. Fantastic stuff.

Fat Bicth retain the intensity but turn Workin’ Man’s angular steelwork into jittery bits of elastic, with rattling stabs of low, low-end guitar caught in a quick-footed brawl with dissonant leads. Sometimes everything collapses into Jandekian meandering, which only adds extra punch to the dirty, satisfying brutality reprise.

My distortion quota fulfilled for the time being, I retreat to The Barn; a small space tucked out of reach of the booms of the two main stages. Here, Supernormal is able to comfortably explore the sounds and activities of quiet concentration rather than of energy and catharsis, with Twenty-One Crows conjuring sombre folk mantras around a non-existent campfire, and rhythm gently applied in the sways of accordion breath and soft finger-plucks.

Back to the main stages, and Joey Fat are threading spoken (and shouted) word through meticulous, rhythmically skewed post-rock. Comparisons to the likes of Enablers are inevitable early on, but Joey etch their distinctive character after a few tracks; more repetitive and less theatrical in some respects, and a little grittier for it.

It’s worth noting that the sound has been impressive by this point – particularly with a large majority of the music taking place outdoors – and so it’s a shame to see Undersmile fall victim to a few technical difficulties. The band are nonetheless ferocious and hugely enjoyable when permitted full force, with doom riffs crumbling out from feedback and resonant strings, and a fantastic vocal duet that drawls the woozy chants of the undead.

Ramesses keep the tempo to a crawl, and are lucky enough to be blessed with the strongest live sound the festival has had all evening (if a little muddier than desired in the early stages). The band’s momentum is formidable – each riff judders with sheer weight and deep-set conviction, offering an aptly ominous soundtrack to the sky’s descent from a rosy pink into an unforgiving black.

SATURDAY

Plurals conjure a beautiful haze of noise to accompany my bleary emergence in the early afternoon, with clarinets, guitars, vocals and electronics somehow sounding like a chorus of jet engines in culmination. Dynamically, the music is constant and unchanging – a sort of blissful occupant of the air, wholesome and stabilising, deterring the discomfort of silence.

PLURALS

My band of the weekend then follow: a band with a small but stellar back catalogue of recorded material already, Kogumaza prove that the live setting is the ideal home for their monotonous mantra verse. The relationship between tone and rhythm is absolutely captivating, with drummer Katharine Elra Brown steering refreshingly clear of the bass-snare 4/4 that so much “hypnotic” music slumps into, and instead opts for grooving, rolling thuds of soft mallet, carrying the guitars through momentous waves of peak and trough.

With Kogumaza’s personnel having just enough space on the stage between the three of them, Hey Colossus deserve kudos for cramming a mighty seven onto the same platform. Their music is an explosive disregard for such space constraints; both chaotic and deeply together, throwing limbs ecstatically in all sorts of directions while simultaneously abiding by a mutual rhythm; a series of slow and fast grooves, relentless hammered home through sheer energy and volume.

HEY COLOSSUS

SUNDAY

Experimental collective Bang The Bore evoke more of an ongoing, ever-changing situation rather than a fixed performance. Musicians come and go – sometimes utilising actual instruments, sometimes rattling and scraping metal poles or tapping on instrument cases. Clarient, mic’d metal funnels, modular electronics, field recordings and acoustic guitar scatter themselves around The Barn as an all-enveloping mood that beautifully obscures, both in terms of location and roles, the boundaries between listener and performer.

BANG THE BORE

Sly And The Family Drone continue the aesthetic, but in a much more raucous manner. Gathered in a circle in front of one of the shed stages, it seems only inevitable that the band’s drum-centric noise attack will bleed outward into the audience that surround them. Listeners become participants as the band members hand out cymbals and drums, as Sly see a glorious opportunity in the naysaying noise critique that is: “anyone can make this stuff”.

The band are exhilarating but exhausting to experience, so the chance to sit back and let The Cosmic Dead sweat it out on my behalf is most welcome. Ultimately, the band ascend to where psychedelic music has already frequented many times before – astral electronic oscillations, motorik rhythmic propulsion, swirls of reverb and wah pedal – but their stage energy is enough to suggest that this is exactly where they want to be.

In contrast, Queer’d Science stand out on their own. Hyper-effected guitar turns strums into bleeps and bloops, while stuttering, snare-heavy beats bring to mind Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale at his most excitable: all in all, it’s a warped form of punk music for a virus-ravaged computer hard drive, topped with the weekend’s most seething, hate-spitting vocal performance.

QUEER'D SCIENCE

Bilge Pump close out my weekend on cheeky lyricism and jerky time signatures; its well humoured but undeniably well composed too, with each amusingly mundane lyrical observation coupled with a beautifully choreographed bass-guitar sync up. Catchy in places, boggling in others, the tunes come flooding out like a snappy and quick-witted conversation, pitting scratchy and dissonant riffs into arguments with intricately shaped basswork, while oozing the positivity and gratitude for the audience that has rendered Supernormal such a warming and enjoyable event throughout.

BILGE PUMP

 

Supernormal Festival website – http://www.supernormalfestival.co.uk/