A closer look at what’s on offer at experimental festival Supernormal for 2019.
After taking a year out in 2018, Oxfordshire’s Supernormal Festival returns next week with an experimental approach to the festival format, focused on arts, music and unconventionality. Focused primarily on the underground, the event aims to stand out from your average festival and offer something that prioritises creativity over commercialism and imagination over profit – instead of striving for mainstream acceptance, it gives a voice to those on the fringes of the creative landscape. The small-scale festival succeeds in promoting a different way of doing things, eradicating the usual reliance on hierarchy and popularity to create a space in which artists and their audience come together to celebrate innovation and diversity, whilst pushing the boundaries of art and music.
This year, Astral Noize are thrilled to have the opportunity to go along and catalogue the event, taking place between the 2nd-4th of August in Braziers Park, and in anticipation we’ve put together this preview of the stuff you simply can’t afford to miss if you’re hitting up this year’s Supernormal.
Fuelled by Buckfast and vegetables (‘Kale ‘Em All’, anyone?), Glasgow’s Acid Cannibals are likely to inject a raucous bolt of energy into proceedings. Their signature blend of Motörhead’s gruff punk, MC5’s rollicking energy and Orange Goblin’s infectious grooves is the sort of made-for-partying music every festival needs – ‘Are We Metal’ the band ask on one track, the point likely being who the fuck cares? With an uncontrollably fun and thoroughly creative sound as well as the ability to impart insightful droplets of wisdom like ‘50,000 Nos Cans Can’t Be Wrong’, they aren’t to be missed.
What does punk look like in 2019? The answer might just be Cocaine Piss. The Belgian band’s sound is a feral concoction that melds noise rock atmospherics with garage rock production, channelled through the lively energy of raw punk. The result is an unbridled sound that simply buzzes with energy, the kind that works fantastically on record (see Passionate And Tragic) but is certainly made primarily for the live environment. Also, if ‘Eat The Rich’ doesn’t prove to be the anthem of this generation, then we’re all doomed.
What happens when you stick Big Lad/Death Pedals/Johnny Broke’s Wayne Adams in a room with metal legend Iggor Cavalera and ask them to create something primal? The answer is Petbrick, a psych-noise outfit who’ve already played with the likes of Full Of Hell and The Body and at alt-metal mecca Roadburn despite a relatively short lifespan thus far. The duo’s live show is a transcendent experience, and with them having recently announced their debut full-length I, due in late October, their set at Supernormal will be an exciting chance to see some new material and catch them before the venues inevitably start to increase in size.
Suzanne Treister: HEXEN 2.0
It might be the weird and wonderful music that first drew Astral Noize to Supernormal, but as an arts and music festival there’s much more going on than riffs and synths. Established artist Suzanne Treister will have an exhibition at the fest, with a conceptual focus of emerging technologies and the relationship between them, society, alternative belief systems and our potential future. It will explore the scientific research behind government programmes of mass control as well as parallel histories of countercultural and grassroots movements. The Supernormal site says: “Based on actual events, people, histories and scientific projections of the future, and consisting of alchemical diagrams, a Tarot deck, photo-text works, a video and a website, HEXEN 2.0 offers a space where one may use the works as a tool to envision possible alternative futures.” Interesting stuff.
This Leeds outfit are the sole practitioners of a strain of mutated psych-punk that fizzes with an unsettling energy. Boasting walls of disconcerting distortion, palpitating rhythms and incomprehensible vocal caterwauls, the band are one of a kind, and it’s well worth taking the time to let them assault your ear drums as best they can.
Cocaine Piss, Acid Cannibals, Godspeed You Peter Andre, Petbrick – the list of names appearing at the festival are anything but supernormal, but Horsebastard surely take the crown of weirdest name. This ultra-fast grindcore outfit boast a particularly turbulent brand of extremity, with most of their tracks struggling to surpass the 60-second mark. They’re fun, heavy and absolutely bonkers, so be sure to saddle up for some equestrian blasts.
Noise-hop veterans Dälek (nothing to do with Doctor Who I’m afraid) have been dishing out their own signature brand of experimental hip-hop for over twenty years now (save for a four-year hiatus) but their latest album Endangered Philosophies showed no signs of the creativity waning. If you’re a fan of old-school flows and inventive lyrics then Dälek aren’t ones to miss, but whilst the band pay homage to the genre’s traditional sound, there’s also shades of shoegaze, industrial, post-punk and more hidden within their music.
Who wants to be a mermaid when you could turn into a seal instead? Inspired by the seal-to-human shapeshifters of Scottish folklore known as selkies, Sealionwoman radiate the mythical aura of their subject matter in dark folky compositions driven by Tye McGivern’s double bass and Kitty Whitelaw’s soft vocals. The atmosphere may be bleak but it holds an otherworldly quality that makes it thoroughly captivating – go see ‘em to be transported into a mythological world far more interesting than our own.
Down with the Patriarchy – Up with Orgasms
Want the punk scene to be a safe, inclusive and respectful environment? (and if not what the fuck). So do the Love Sex, Hate Sexism Collective, who will be running a two-hour sex positive workshop at this year’s Supernormal. The collective began as a response to the amount of sexual assaults taking place within the DIY-punk scene, and they work to help raise awareness of sexism and sexual abuse in the alternative community whilst simultaneously promoting healthy sexual attitudes. The aim is to build a safer community through intersectional understanding – a worthy cause, and it’s great to see Supernormal giving them the chance to spread their message.
Over more than twenty years of exploratory songwriting full of mind-bending experimentation, Italy’s Zu have all-but demolished the imaginary boundaries sitting at the edge of genres like jazz, noise, rock, punk and more. With baritone sax, bass guitar and drums you’d be forgiven for expecting more typical jazz, but the band’s sound borrows just as readily from punk and thus enters an avant-garde realm that’s heavier than it’s often given credit for. The band defy easy categorisation, but their appeal reaches across the music-to-cave-in-your-skull spectrum.
This duo marry expressive violins to soaring guitars to weave transcendent and cinematic soundscapes that hold true power. The band claim to explore “the threshold between dawn and dusk, self and other, where unfettered territories are sensually intimated in fecund sounds that teeter between lightning and thunderclap.” Regardless of whether that makes sense to you or not, Agathe Max and Luke Mawdsley’s otherworldly incantations are nothing if not beguiling, so be sure to catch the band to experience the majesty for yourself.
Three-Sided Football – A Clash of Art, Philosophy and Sport
Football, the classic world-renowned sport. Everyone knows the rules – two teams, two goals, two halves. Throw that out the window and imagine what would happen if you turn the rectangle into a hexagon and add a third team and a third goal. Mayhem, presumably – but there’s more to it than some wacky fun. The sport was invented by Danish artist Asger Jorn back in 1962 as part of the Situationist International movement. Jorn saw football as a reflection of class struggles, and with a three-sided version, sought to draw a light on the complexity of society and encouraged cooperation. With one slight change, the whole thing becomes an exciting alternative version of a game we all know.
Fresh off a show at this year’s Supersonic Festival, which hosted the likes of Neurosis and Godflesh no less, London outfit Henge will descend on Supernormal armed with overwhelming drones and transcendent post-metalisms. The band’s music is a lumbering beast that’s heavy but atmospherically-inclined too, the sort that makes for one hell of a live show…
Listing influences like Adventure Time, Black Sabbath, Minecraft and Clash of Clans, Birmingham-based trio Haq123 aren’t your average metal band. With members ranging in age from eight to “well over eighteen”, the band are “supercharged on Haribo” and ready to take over Supernormal with a sound that’s certainly different from anyone else on the bill – or any other for that matter. Their latest video even stars the nine-year-old drummer’s hamster.
There’s a tendency for some folk rock to lean more towards the former descriptor than the latter, and whilst that’s not a bad thing, it’s refreshing to hear a band who delight in providing doomy riffage as well as some folky charm. London-based five-piece Crumbling Ghost are reminiscent of Black Sabbath as much as they are Hexvessel, with psychedelic flourishes often worming their way into the mix as well.
The Slice Is Right
Making Pizza isn’t usually one of life’s more politically-motivated activities, but with The Slice Is Right every single slice becomes the product of political philosophy. In this activity, each team will draw a card which instructs them on how to make their pizza – how would it emerge if every votes on the decisions, or if everyone simply does their own thing, or if one person makes all the decisions alone (imagine if that person likes pineapple, ew [pineapple on pizza is god’s gift to man – ed]). Is there an ideal way to make a pizza that pleases the largest amount of people? Who knows – let’s find out. Maybe we’ll solve the world’s problems at the same time. Probably not. But hey, at least there’s pizza in it.
If you’re after the heavy, here it is. Bloody Head’s raw sound plays out like a rough hardcore drawl that resembles sludge without ever fully becoming it. The band find room for groove amongst the rotten dirge, but it’s with their discordant energy that they keep things truly exciting, as they lurch their way through hefty bouts of leaden-footed metal and punk.
In a scene rife with not only casual sexism but also sexual violence and the normalisation thereof, it’s always great to see a band take an overt stand with music that’s sure to make sexists hot under the collar. These Oxford punks will be serenading Supernormal with a lo-fi brand of hardcore that confronts those sexists head-on, but hey, if songs about mansplaining (‘I Am Man, Hear Me Bore’), male entitlement (‘Gone Off Steak’), offensive joke-tellers (‘White Cock’) and men who “prefer the natural look” (‘Slap’) don’t interest you, then there’s also a song about giant potatoes.
In keeping with Supernormal’s fascination with all things weird and wonderful, Hen Ogledd’s music is dizzyingly experimental, seamlessly jumping from one style to the next, gleeful in its own wonkiness. The band’s eccentric strain of poppy psych-folk dominates their third and most recent album Mogic, which revels in its own unabashed innovation. It may be a far cry from the heavier stuff Astral Noize is known for covering, but the band found time to throw a Venom cover on the album, so they’re alright in our books.
Words: George Parr