Live: Supersonic Festival 2010 @ Birmingham Custard Factory, 22-24/10/10

FRIDAY

Demons (featuring Nate Young of Wolf Eyes) sounded fierce but a little uneasy in their early stages, but managed to themselves into a spitting and crackling beast in time for a formidable second half, with ominous white noise surges bringing round a delightfully violent collapse.

Devilman fared much better once accompanied by vocalist Taigen of Japanese rock outfit Bo Ningen. His presence seemed to galvanise the group into more electrifying grooves – a vast improvement on the tired and flabby dub of the set’s early stages.

Once Napalm Death found their footing, they were absolutely brutal. Whilst a muddy sound muffled the punch of the set’s earlier songs, each track to follow hit with more conviction and clarity than the last. Tracks from their debut 1987 Scum, right through to last year’s Time Waits For No Slave, featured in this obliterating spectacle, complete with a ruthless mosh pit that threatened to swallow the crowd whole.

SATURDAY

Saturday’s selection began with Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides. The duo spent the first ten minutes laying down a white noise blanket for the flute to sing siren-like over the top, whilst choked vocal fragments and the muffled gallop of cloth on toms eased themselves into the jam. Unfortunately, drummer Kelly Jones seemed spoilt for choice with various percussive toys to play with, opting to flit impatiently between them and spoiling the flow of what could have been a gorgeous set.

Eagle Twin had me captivated the moment the crumbling guitar tone juddered out of the amps, oozing with the formidable, mids-heavy sound I associate with many artists on the Southern Lord roster. An all crashing, slow grooving and absolutely sublime performance, packed with the finest riffs from their The Unkindness Of Crows LP.

Whilst Gnaw’s Alan Dubin was overwhelming from the off – rocking unstably back and forth and spewing his trademark hellish screams – it seemed to take a while before the rest of the band were “there” with him, providing a rather feeble backing for the opening twenty minutes or so. Thankfully, Gnaw began to sound how they should after this – creeping riffs trying to eat their way out of constant streams of noise.

KK Null vs Lash Frenzy was an obliterating and somewhat disorientating mixture of smoke, flashing lights and sheer volume. The audience were overloaded and utterly hypnotised, with Einstellung’s contribution as Lash Frenzy providing an aptly furious Skullflower-esque torrent of guitar abuse. It was the perfect complement to KK Null’s ferocious electronic hurricane and helped to craft one of the weekend’s definite highlights.

The highly anticipated return of Godflesh was a triumphant run-through of the early “classics”. This was pretty much a chronological set from Streetcleaner up to Selfless, and then wrapping up with a glorious rendition of “Slateman”. Justin looked surprisingly comfortable blasting out the music of his angsty and distant youth, with genuine aggression behind his tortured guitar distortion on tracks such as “Mothra” and “Tiny Tears”.

Melt Banana was a frenzied mash of grind and punk done the Tokyo way, in arguably the most energetic performance of the festival. Particularly pleasing was the section of “short songs” – noisy, 20-second bursts with a cutesy “thankyou” in between each one from the gorgeous and charming Yasuka Onuki. Immensely enjoyable.

SUNDAY

Bong christened Sunday afternoon with spacey distortion phase over canyon-sized drifting groove. Unfortunately, the Shahi Baaja cut through far too much, exposing its melodies as needless and gimmicky noodling and marring what could have been a most mesmerising set.

What I actually expected to be non-stop catharsis from Jailbreak actually turned out to a rather dynamic display, complete with Heather Leigh Murray’s angelic croons splayed over muffled stretches of calm and fluid drum improvisation from Chris Corsano. All of this made the climactic sections of distorted power all the more intense.

Leaving audiences stunned and drained must be a formality for Tatsuya Yoshida by now. His set as Ruins Alone was beautifully worked, more than compensating for its brevity with the intensity and musicianship packed into every single second.

James Blackshaw proved that, despite the host of accompanying instruments on his last album All Is Falling, he is more than capable of transfixing audiences purely with the crisp and heartfelt sound of his 12-string acoustic. Quick-fire finger-picking matted into an ambient blanket in a serene and powerful performance.

Master Musicians Of Bukkake started out like a thumping, eerie ritual under a sweltering middle eastern sun. Khyam Allami could easily be a staple member, with his Iranian lute slotting perfectly into the floaty, mournful sound of the Master Musicians.

Barn Owl’s audio/visual set in the theatre space was essentially guitar ambience for reverb, E-bows and loop pedals, and I failed to sense too much depth beyond that. This was severely disappointing considering the quality of their recorded work.

Zeni Geva delivered a stark contrast to the solo performances of two of its three members (Yoshida of Ruins, Kishino of KK Null), with these metallic and sludgy slabs of progressive hardcore. Destructive noise spurts fizzed over bass-heavy guitar and Yoshida’s clattering, tempo-shifting beats.

Swans provided an absolutely mammoth finale for 2010’s Supersonic Festival, with a relentless, drawn-out version of “No Words/No Thoughts” cueing up a selection of both new tracks and reworked classics. “Sex God Sex” was a notably frightening beast, with Gira’s bellows of “praise the lord, say his name” leaving audience’s stomachs to turn with a mixture of terror and awe. It was an absolute delight to see a band in a state of such intense focus whilst really, really enjoying themselves. Here’s hoping for more shows soon.

Skip to content