LIVE: SUPERNORMAL FESTIVAL @ BRAZIER’S PARK IN OXFORDSHIRE, 08-10/08/14

ANTA

FRIDAY

Once again, Friday takes me through the same sequence of events as in Supernormal 2012 and 2013. My head, still in the stiff and practical mode of part-time work, is gradually teased into pliability by the weekend’s programme openers. I’m tugged toward the jump-started drag racer of Ravioli Me Away (punk combustion engine, retrofied new-wave chassis, paper mache melody, forceful lung ejection) before I’m sent tumbling by the tidal tilt of The Jelas, whose voices steer up and down like bodies in somersault, with drums spilling out like loose change. It’s rock music for those that acknowledge the potential for conventional melody and knowingly avoid it. I’m dancing by now; badly, like a puppet swaying into the string slack.

After I’ve imposed my hour-long DJ set upon the Disco Tent (the highpoint of which comes at the denouement, as rain sends everyone huddling inside to the tune of Beefheart’s “Tropical Hot Dog Night”), I stick around for King Of Cats. My mind is sloshing by now, as the vocals wail like a baby at the peak of protest and the drums barely earn their right to keep the beat. The music sounds squashed into miniature just how Ween always was – a pop complaint against the trampling expectation of high production value. Gnod guide me outside again, hurtling down an endless krautrock carriageway before becoming scuppered by engine failure; rock engulfed by itself, psychedelic and egotistical, evaporating into its own nucleus of rhythm and synthesiser. Organs and facial features are pushed out like gas particles, and by the time the set comes to a close, there is nothing of Gnod to speak of.

I retreat to The Barn for the first time. Ghosts and magic circulate like incense, as Sarah Angliss stands amidst automatous bells and the glow of animatronic eyes. The red beads of Edgar Allen Crow (a sinister looking taxidermy bird, perched around head height) won’t stop looking at me for the entire set. There is an evil motive, and I sense it but don’t fully understand it – manikins assume life and chatter, although even their most innocuous comments are disturbing when strung upon Angliss’ invisible theremin strings and fake harpsichord. The room is stirred by death and spirits unseen. Outside, Bong offer a much more welcoming pathway into the immaterial. It’s doom metal without the apocalyptic comeuppance; an eternal release, flowing and overflowing, hung in flight for what feels like forever. I forget that plectrums and drumsticks are even required, and I momentarily exist in the illusion the both string and drum-skin vibrate indefinitely.

SARAH ANGLISS

SARAH ANGLISS

My mind is now milkshake. Glatze is setting the disco tent alight, pumping techno, drum ‘n’ bass and polka full of plastic and toy paint. The set opens with a guttural initiation from a modified garden hose, before Glatze and his audience start to bounce upon amen breaks and a ferocious cover of Aphex Twin’s “Come To Daddy”. He catches the mood just right: it’s dark, people are drunk, forcing out the metaphysical mindset of the performances prior in the form of heat and body sweat. Joanna Gruesome’s reverberant noise rock keeps the mood on a buoyant pulse, and their sound feels reminiscent of biting my cheek while eating a stick of rock; serrated, yet charming and euphorically sweet. The synth/drum duo of Shitwife finalises Friday’s process of mind liquefaction with what sounds like Lightning Bolt crammed into a Gameboy cartridge. The music accelerates, slows down, threatens to dismantle, fortifies; a muscular yet unstable onward drive, which occasionally resembles drum ‘n’ bass straddling a magic carpet.

SATURDAY

Saturday morning, I awake buckled from a night on a half-inflated airbed. Melt Yourself workshop seems like a sensible remedy. My whole body is placed through cycles of tension and release – including my face, through an exercise that involves pulling ridiculous expressions for five minutes – and I feel like a jellyfish by the end of it. My body prepped, I dive into a a loose, play-for-fun collaboration between Part Chimp, Gnod and Gum Takes Tooth under the name Luminous Bodies. It’s an inconsequential rock ‘n’ roll release for the most part, with muffled bellows of “yeeeeeah, baby” fronting the charge, yet the sudden appearance of two people enacting a crustacean mating ceremony sparks an excellent impromptu blast of “Rock Lobster” from the band. Bizarre.

I journey down to the Brazier’s House terrace to find Benedict Taylor’s viola caught in a heated, three-way discussion with violin (handled by Hákarl) and saxophone. Sometimes the improvisation lingers over the ugly, like a palm pressed into an open wound. Elsewhere, the sax is sent aloft by the breeze, perched upon the string dialogue like a ripe summer leaf balanced on a wire. Back on the Shed Stage, Charismatic Mega Fauna are asserting themselves as the antithesis of such precision and moderation: warped sexual assault statistics are pummelled under stick and foot, with all three members laying their catharsis upon a single drum kit. Yelped voices and vibrant playsuit colours project forth, as the group tip between skeletal punk, thunderous tribe and the brink of total collapse.

I take a fleeting afternoon nap, then head over to the Nest Stage to watch Henry Blacker strip rock back to its inner mechanisms: bass clunks, vocal snarls and the fizz of hydraulic guitar, culminating in an onward motion that carries me along with them. Flamingods seem to propel outward from within Blacker’s spring-loaded minimalism, bursting into a thick lattice of international percussion and omnipresent energy. Voices and guitar loops glide overhead like predatory hawks, kept moving by the incessant rebound of exuberance. This kinship with the earth and its spiritual nucleus is also shared by Horse Loom over in The Barn, albeit in the form of an wandering arboreal pilgrimage. His acoustic guitar skews and quivers like a countryside pathway, while his voice skips upon it with a strange mix of jubilance and solemnity. The set is woven into cohesion through charmingly shit jokes and soft, nostalgic decay: rosy, colour-saturated melodies in gradual fade, lovers drifting away.

FLAMINGODS

FLAMINGODS

The full extent of Horse Loom’s amicability becomes startlingly clear when pitted in contrast with Mob Rules, whose unforgiving flavour of hardcore comes across like tar sinking through a sewer grate. The distortion is the same sort of greyscale vomit that Noxagt hurl up, while the vocalist’s eyes narrow upon me with an expression of utter disgust. What did I do wrong? I can’t help but feel guilty and intimidated as I’m dragged behind the Mob Rules vehicle, which trundles forth in gear-mangling reverse. Surrealist karaoke trio The Gluts – complete with handmade masks made out of dishcloths – make for a suitable antidote to the bitter taste. Songs about spaghetti carbonara and supermarkets (complete with some super dance moves and vocal rounds) become the smiling, gentle exterior for serious observations on climate change, water scarcity and vacuum-sealed consumerism. The mid-set dithering and melodic triviality is all a façade, and The Gluts’ real-world intentions quickly reveal themselves.

The evening is approaching, and the performances become thicker and more imposing from here on in. Palehorse mix the flat vocal impact of hardcore with music that alludes to mechanism and material; two bass guitars encircle eachother in a helix pattern, with one emulating saw serration and the other mimicking magma flow. Esben And The Witch arrive as a psychedelic smear, whose smoke wisp of melancholy is constantly attempting to evade the churned up saw blades of guitar and gnashing percussion. Sly & The Family Drone are impractically billed to play about 100 paces back from the stage as soon as Esben comes to a close, which would have involved an intrusive sound check blasting right through their set. As such, the crowd (myself included) press into Sly and their equipment a good 25 minutes before the set can actually start. The band quickly re-assert themselves in the centre and proceed to push back outward into their audience, with numerous drum kits lurching in rickety unison and tape noise sent forth in streams of analogue drear. As powerful and energising as always.

SLY & THE FAMILY DRONE

SLY & THE FAMILY DRONE

Nonetheless, I need to rinse myself off. I duck into pitch black of The Barn, which has transformed into an elevatory portal under the command of Part Wild Horses Main On Both Sides. My written notes are sporadic and abstract for this one – epiphanic, hieroglyphic-looking squiggles materialised in the dark. I underline “displacement” several times. “Silhouettes and noise”, “bubbling water”, “flute diving like blue whale moan”. “Airborne percussion wades through the crowd.” There’s a page on which I’ve written a single sentence, which brings the experience back in a sudden jolt. “The stage is everywhere and I feel indistinct”.

Part Chimp put me back together in an instant. I’ve seen them once before – at Supersonic Festival back in 2011 – and the guitar tone lodged itself in my memory, vivid like a photograph. It’s the sound of jumbo jet engines pitched an exact octave apart; a total, merciless rock ‘n’ roll body slam, over and over again. There’s a sense of menace to Part Chimp but also an immense swell of ecstasy, and their riffs part the darkness like an 1000-watt strobe light.

SUNDAY

Sunday starts with news that the Nest Stage has been knocked out of action due to the overnight storms. The day’s lineup is renegotiated between the remaining stages in no time, and while I manage to miss Ramleh in the reshuffle, I can only commend Supernormal’s instantaneous reaction. My afternoon commences with Thought Forms, whose two guitars sound like five for the way they misbehave. There are little whirlwinds of feral delay and too much everything, although the songs are strong enough to punch through: semi-spaced blazes of water ritual and summertime. Lutine are equally potent in their evocation of this time of year, as my head wanders into medieval garden parties and morning strolls through field of corn. Keyboard and tabletop guitar act as gentle melodic vessels for the twin voices in delicate mirror image, and the whole experience bears a lightness that feels hung from the Barn ceiling.

I spend the next 10 minutes stalking the house terrace in search of Field Sports / Fold Music, who have retreated into one of the house living rooms due to the threat of further bad weather. The cursing of the wind continues to seethe through the open door, as the improvisation rises like shadows upon the walls; synthesiser tones cling like spider webs in the corners, bowed strings lay flat upon the surfaces like carpets and drapes. When performed outside, the music looks as though it inhales atmosphere and ejects it immediately. Indoors it lingers like smoke, thickening, caged and agitated in the small space. Drums shuffle in the corner and acoustic guitar pings quietly to itself, and I feel the restlessness of the room – spiritual, social and otherwise – amplified and rendered tangible.

FIELD SPORTS / FOLD MUSIC

FIELD SPORTS / FOLD MUSIC

Similarly, Kemper Norton is a visibly anxious performer, which only adds an alluring ambiguity to a singing voice that feels weighty and history rich (particularly during a hypnotic harmonium cover of Prince’s “Let’s Pretend We’re Married”). Elsewhere, strange techno pushes a fountain of chimes, voices, raindrops and amoebic tones into the air. Water feels like a constant element of my own experience, and when the rhythm disappears between drones and the sampled crackling of fire, Kemper Norton’s song sits upon the stillness like a leaf floating on a lake.

I’m distracted by a strange rustle of audio impulse while on my way back to the Disco Tent, and decide to investigate The Shed Sound Space for half an hour. The set could well be three hours in by the time I arrive. Perhaps only five minutes. Either way, I definitely feel like the performance has already embarked upon numerous tangents of logic that wasn’t present for. Guitar and sax prop up a blues groove that feels held together by masking tape, as a cymbal retains loose, feather-light jazz tempo. There is no pause for retrospect or motive analysis, the Shed exists to explore the act of doingwithout the constraint of civilised rationale. It takes me a moment to remember that I was en route to watch Richard Dawson, who begins by telling stories of how his Dad’s descent into baldness involved his hair follicles transforming into beams of light. He recounts stories of abused workhorses and his own teenaged mishaps with alcohol, through a voice pressed up against its own limits; he strains, hoarse and loose as though grappling with an argumentative hangover. This vocal temperament travels down into his plucking fingers too, as his guitar playing channels the sour, bar fight blues of Beefheart at his most volatile.

CINDYTALK

CINDYTALK

Cindytalk summon in the dusk, with the echoes of salvaged folk acapellas clinging to a hurricane of broken objects, half-assembled drumkit and guitar treacle. The noise sounds like a natural disaster teasing down a building frame, dismantling into a state of loss and shadow ritual. I feel like I’m levitating off the floor ever so slightly, and take the opportunity to ingest Phil Minton’s Feral Choir while my guard is down. It’s a hostel of unwanted body noise courtesy of 20 Supernormal volunteers: splutters, sneezes, gags of disgust, dentist-ready “ah”s. Minton himself is a spew of recycled audio waste, twitching between old man wails, beatboxing dragons and chipmunk laughter. One of many excellent manifestations of the festival’s free-spirited participatory buzz.

My residual ounces of energy are slogged out of me bythe final two acts. Anta sendinstrumental hard rock pulsing through the smoke and lights; impeccably played, but clearly choreographed around motions that feel good above everything else. It’s a collision between humungous low end of Pentastar-era Earth and Black Sabbath, sent spinning by the synthesiser twirls of King Crimson. I head to the Shed Stage one more time to complete my own self-obliteration. Khunnt punch me in the same spot until it goes utterly numb; doom laced with a mantle of feedback and self-implosive noise. I stumble back to my tent, drained and hollow. Once again, Supernormal Festival paces itself just right.