Birmingham’s Supersonic has been running for two deacades…. following the three year wait most festivals had to contend with they return stronger than ever in July 2022. They offer a range of the most eccentric, experimental and heaviest bands from around the globe. Along with this offering are several workshops including doom yoga, cultural talks and dj sets from resident artists. The uplifting message of unity and inclusion they strive to portray is scene throughout the performing artists and workshops and the sense of community that is built through this ethos is like no other. It’s not always just nihilistic doom and gloom!
The first band of the festival are the breathtaking and bewitching collective of violinist Rakhi Singh, electronic composer Vessel and the drone choir Nyx who’s coven of four experiment with haunting vocal techniques and electronics, its the perfect opening ceremony for what is bound to be an emotional and inspiring weekend of experimental music both ambient and heavy. Akin to a beautiful and formidable soundscape written for a sinister horror movie with ceremonial like chanting and droning incantations alongside the melodic and dissonant violin and jarring electronics.
If you didn’t see Grove’s Junglist cover of ‘Sound of the Underground’ you fucked up! A moment of magic in a fantastic festival set: placing the Bristolian vocalist and producer amidst the dark electronics of Friday’s line up made so much sense. Despite being a funny and affable presence on stage, there is venom in songs like ‘Fuck Ur Landlord’ that the crowd takes to heart and makes their own.
Chile’s Föllakzoid provide the weekend’s first dose of electro psych as dusk transitioned to night. Their sinewy compositions influenced by South American spiritualism slowly swell over time, bringing a healthy slab of Krautrock experimentation to the dance-floor.
The marriage of synth & guitar continues through Matters’ set, taking cues from both post rock and the esoteric fringes of dance music, matching each passage of music with abstract visual collage.
The Bug has a unique way of dragging every corner of the music world into a filthy basement to party together to the pulse of aggressive techno, and with his album Fire he’s brought the worlds of UK Grime and ragga in on the act. Joined in the headline slot on Friday night by veteran Grime MC Flowdan, and backlit by the smoke and blood red lights of the stage, they demand the audience submit to volume and rhythm, who freely obey.
Power couple Nadja (they’re married! Awww!) start at a very forgiving 3 pm but what they play is far from it. The Canadian duo of multi instrumentalists comprise of Leah Buckareff on bass, Aiden Baker guitar and drum machine with intermittent vocals from both. It’s a satisfyingly heavy set of drawn out droney shoe gaze and sludge with elements of post punk and the ambient quality lulls the audience into a false sense of security before the alarmingly filthy industrial dirge kicks in. The sheer aural intensity and weight of the music is appropriate preparation before their doom as fuck duo counterparts Bismuth.
Vocalist/bassist Tanya Byrne and drumming powerhouse Jo Rawlings from Nottingham engulf the vast venue with their expansive and heart wrenchingly emotional and abrasive environment focussed effect laden doom drone. Vocals are bellowing, subtle and especially forlorn juxtaposed against the sonic upheaval. Rawlings skill-fully plays his kit with thoughtful restraint and a bludgeoning caress, drawing out the timing to create space throughout the attacks. To add to the heart in throat rising emotions Byrne makes her way off stage to the crowd to end up howling into her mic on the floor before returning for a climactic and explosive close. The mighty Bismuth prove once again that they are truly a force to be reckoned with.
Fronted by swaggering Eugene Robinson from Oxbow (who strips off half through their erratic set) Buñuel from Italy are up next. The incendiary quartet erupt into an unapologetically abrasive and dissonant post punk/noise rock set which even borders on sludgy metal. Somehow being both heavy and slow, quiet and frenzied it’s a unique kick up the ass for sure.
Contiuing the rock n sleaze are Bloody Head who have an encouraging rumble of hype ahead of the festival, and the Nottingham noise rock four-piece do an impressive job of motivating the crowd into a bounce along at seven in the evening. Their Sleaford Mods styled vocal approach feels a little deliberate, but they already seem to have landed a fanbase for it.
When people first heard Pharaoh Overlord’s – 6 in 2020, – featuring members of Finnish band Circle and prolific gloom lord Aaron Turner – their first thought was that the band’s metronomic disco-doom was very refreshing, actually. Their second thought was this is never getting played live, owing to the inclusion on every song of Turner’s vintage post-metal vocal gristle. Well how about that! All three came together to play the album in its entirety in one of the highlights of the weekend, sharing between songs that their friendship had actually begun at the festival several years prior.
One of Supersonic’s true talents is finding heaviness and experimentation in the most unexpected of crevices, but that doesn’t mean the curators shy away from tapping into Birmingham’s storied metal heritage. So it was that on Saturday evening Thou play a full set of the finest Louisiana sludge. Heavy music can be at its most impactful when it sits alongside contrastive styles, and it’s true here – by the time the first notes of ‘The Hammer’ are played everyone in front of the main stage is hypnotically swaying along.
After two solid days of avant-garde and experimental artists, Old Man Gloom’s set feels like a victory lap, pulling as ever on their chemistry as musicians, friends, and festival veterans. This explosive supergroup is derived from Converge, Cave In and Isis and their on stage energy -especially from the unstoppable Steven Brodski and imitable Turner – is electric and contagious. After another too long hiatus while they write their latest release Seminar VIII: Light Of Meaning on Profound Lore records (and then the world going to shit) it’s wonderful to see them touring again playing Supersonic for the first time.
Opening with the thunderous ‘Procession of the Wounded’ they storm through an enormous catalogue that weaves joyfully in and out of crushing doom, sludgy post hardcore and electronic minimalism, and (whisper it) a bit of cock rock, as feedback rings out over the close of ‘To Carry the Flame’ the band is smiling as widely as the audience. Though ears are ringing from the monolithic volume the crowd are both open mouthed and ecstatic to have born witness to this monumental experience.
It’s been fascinating to see A.A. Williams expansion by degrees as a live act, presented here with a full band to bolster established songs with additional volume and layers, giving them a post rock ebb and flow, and generating excitement for their upcoming album As the Moon Rises.
Montreals Big Brave remain an act that has you looking up good quality earplugs as soon as their set finishes. The volumes during their set are satisfyingly high, and Robin Wattie’s ability to cut through the amplification & feedback with her voice gives their doom an uplifting, borderline anthemic quality that hits everyone in the gut in the Antiques Roadshow slot on Sunday evening.
Jerusalem in My Heart is an audio/visual collaboration between Montreal creatives Lebanese born Radwan Ghazi Mounmeh and analog filmmaker Erin Weisgerber. Mounmeh plays a traditional buzuk which he loops and layers over electro textures and recorded dialogue. Poignant and wavering melismatic singing combined with more abrasive vocals uttered in Arabic. The glitchy electronics and hand manipulated visuals projected from a handful of turning machines also make for an incredible and refreshingly unique experience which is visceral, vulnerable and highly experimental.
From Melbourne Australia Divide & Dissolve continue to explore themes of colonisation and climate catastrophe via levels of reverberation designed to judder your rib cage and jolt your compassion & understanding. An indigenous duo comprising of Takiaya Reed -saxophonist/guitar/live effects and vocals of Black and Cherokee heritage alongside Maori Sylvie Nehill who plays drums and live effects. They use the calm between the eart shattering songs to speak in brief on the themes of their music and their mission statement ‘decolonise and dismantle white supremacy.” Far from feeling indulgent it bolsters the music that comes after, the audience unified in understanding exactly why Divide & Dissolve’s music and voice ring out so loudly.
Circle, a six strong Finnish group who formed back in 1991 are a regular staple of Supersonic. This year they are collaborating with fellow veteran, the self described ‘dark humoured bard’ Richard Dawson. It’s not this groups only collaboration of the weekend either as three of them make up the equally eccentric Pharoah Overlord. The perform eco focussed songs, Judas Priest gone Krautrock with a bit of Hawkwind and the deliciously dark addition of sinister blackened vocals make for an incredibly creative and heavy amalgamation.
It’s hard not to be cast into a maniacal dancing mode with their infectious energy (even while trying to photograph them in the eerie green light!) After performing what is best described as a human pyramid the relentless throbbing bass and drums build to an absolutely triumphant climax, overall they are both dreamy and nightmarish but a fantastic head fuck to conclude the fantastic weekend.