I've never been to Birmingham before. It's the home of heavy metal, the home of Black Sabbath, Napalm Death and Duran Duran. It's also a fucking boring ugly piece of shit city. The Selfridges building is so amazingly shit it actually fucks with your eyes to the point where it's impossible to look directly at it. You know a place has problems when the guide points you to a pen museum as a top place of interest. There's a redeeming feature though, the Supersonic Festival. I went. It was great. Listen (read).
Don't leave London in a van on a friday afternoon unless you want to spend five times longer than necessary getting to Birmingham. We arrived ages after Dokkebi Q were supposed to do their soundcheck, which sounds unimportant until you factor in that they were in the same van as me. First thing I did upon getting out of the van was get straight back in because it was fucking freezing. Then I went to the pub next to the Custard Factory and immediately felt at home seeing as it was full of all the same people that are at every gig in Dalston. Makes sense really.
So, two pints and a burger later, the festival starts its oddball friday night line-up. After checking a bit of Cutting Pink With Knives I got to reinforce my opinion of them as being a bit rubbish and annoying and decided not to care at all that it was to be their last ever show. I mean, they weren't totally shit but it's no great loss. The majority of the rest of the evening was spent at the smaller second stage, which was hosting the Osaka Invasion Crew. Whosever idea it was to put DJ Scotch Egg in charge of a stage for a whole night is a brave idiot, but it turned out better than I would expect. His latest project Drumize (previously Baka) played decent, cartoonish prog-something, maybe krautrock, man I dunno but they were entertaining enough whatever they were doing. Next up, fellow van-mates Dokkebi Q put the whole thing into party mode with their quirky but never less than solid dub, supercaner Go constantly tweaking and refining their sound while Kiki laid her versatile vocal skills over the top. Knees did bend, heads did nod.
Bogulta followed with their first UK set and damn it was good. Super-spazzy ultra-fuzzy bass and a drummer whose style could best be described as falling down the stairs style. Some kind of demented drunken master, repeatedly thrusting his junk at the audience and never really seeming to know exactly where the kit was but still sounding not a million miles away from Zach Hill which is a damn good place to be. A damn rubbish place to be, on the other hand, was back at the main stage, where Dalek were doing their thing that everyone goes on about. Seriously, I don't get it. I love a lot of hip hop, I love a lot of electronica, I love when people try to do something different, but I think Dalek are just shit. Boring shit. I just don't see the appeal, it sounds like music for teenagers who think they're dark. They're not dark, they're just rubbish. And they look like shit to boot. All tits and caps.
So I went back to the second stage and watched Ove Naxx, who was fun, at least, even if I'm not really down with his boxing glove on a spring kinda sound. Then when Scotch Egg was on while DJ Rupture took to the main stage I spent a long period sat down waiting for something else because I didn't want to listen to either. Seemingly everyone there agreed with me halfway because no-one was watching Rupture. It was odd. I felt kind of sorry for him. Then I remembered that he was playing boring and obvious played out shit and I stopped.
I passed the time waiting for Maruosa to come on by eating another burger then I watched Maruosa then I went back to the van and fell asleep immediately. Maruosa was as insane as usual, writhing around screaming, a man possessed. I was as sane as usual, laying there sleeping, a man at rest.
I walked around for four hours trying to find gherkins in Birmingham. You can not buy gherkins in Birmingham. I'm not joking. I settled for these mini-cornichons from Sainsburys which actually turned out quite well with the pastrami but that shouldn't detract from the utterly unnacceptable attitude that Birmingham shopkeepers have towards gherkins. Fuck you Birmingham. And fuck your shopkeepers.
So after eating my breakfast closer to dinnertime I drank half a bottle of wine and fell asleep then I got up and went to see Black Sun who were kind of shit but doing ok, pretty standard metal band, not really doing too much wrong, until the drummer, before the last track, pulls out a plastic gun and starts pretending to shoot the audience and his fellow band members and himself while - get this - holding the gun sideways and making gun sounds into the microphone without even a hint of irony thereby killing any modicum of respect I had for his band that silly idiot man. Their t-shirts say 'you won't like it' on the back and they're spot on.
Then, after I successfully avoided Alexander Tucker and The Owl Service (because they sound like boring talentless shit and boring twee shit respectively), The Courtesy Group ambled on to the stage to play everyone their average wannabe Nick Cave type shit. Fucking YAWN. I was pretty drunk by this point and decided to get some cake so I went and got some cake and it was great. There's this constant hinting in all Supersonic related promotional literature that there's really great cake there and it's true, there is. I had a big bit of apple and cinnamon and it was great. Cinnamon makes me kind of horny.
Eventually, a good band came on, prog-rocking freakout freaks, Guapo, who are damn good and damn good fun. They sound like they rock because they do, and their instruments sound good because they can play them really well. This is a band who are a good band. This band is good and I like them.
I didn't go see Justice Yeldham because, well, I saw him recently and I don't imagine he's got much else to offer seeing as he'd run out of ideas halfway through his set last time. So I waited for Thrones to come on. This man, Joe Preston, he is a legend. This was one of my most anticipated acts of the weekend and if the sound hadn't been a total shambles it probably would have been quite a time, but the sound was a total shambles and so it was just kind of ok, bit annoying, quite dissappointing, vocals too loud, guitar sounded like shit. Maybe he missed soundcheck or something, I dunno. Frustrating. I'm not sure exactly what happened after this but probably I drank some more drink until Oxbow came on.
Oxbow, man. Damn. Eugene just starts out as King Kong in a suit, then quickly becomes King Kong in some tatty blue underpants, masturbating. Oh dear I think the acid part of the 2-CB was kicking in and it was all a bit much. I was stood a good ten or fifteen metres from the stage and was still significantly worried by him. He looked like he'd be able to jump pretty far if the mood took him. Jump on me and maul me and shake me into a pulp. He looked like he might transform into some altogether different beast at any moment, like horns could sprout from anywhere, or he could suddenly start prowling on all fours like some Gozerian demon ready to eat your face whilst fucking you in the heart. I had to leave to go see Noxagt, which was a blessing, and I turned to Kiki who'd been stood next to me throughout the set and I said 'hey I'm gonna go see Noxagt' and there was just a really old little woman standing there. An 80 year old little woman just standing there looking up at me. I ran away and I think a little bit of piss came out.
Noxagt have a new guitarist. Man I love Noxagt. The tight, heavy, jazz inflected rhythm section under this new noise guitar handler works all mechanic organic like a JCB over-run with vines. Perhaps not quite as good as they have been in previous iterations but still way better than most all of their peers, this set knocked me sideways so hard the next thing I knew I was standing in front of a different stage looking at Wooden Shjips who may as well have been tie died and draped over a washing line. I could barely look at them I think they were using prisms instead of amps.
The stuff was working then.
Something happened and I was watching Battles who looked like a bunch of assholes. Talented assholes, though. The drummer had his crash up ten feet in the air like a dick, but he was amazing. The dudes around him were playing guitar and synths and anon at the same time I mean hammering on with the left hand and keystroking with the right just a ridiculous way to go about things but they have a real good sound like a weird lagging sound that falls behind itself always tripping up like the guitars are running for the train the drums are driving and it works and it's dance inducing which is the weirdest thing. They do all look like assholes though. I left and watched Harvey Milk who are amazing and played for about a week, rocking on, smoking weed, rocking on, smoking weed. The guys look like they met at a garage and just decided to fuck about. I nodded a bit, sat down a bit, nodded a bit, sat down a bit, went to sleep in the van.
Obviously I woke up feeling like a million bucks. A million bucks people had used to snort their drugs through. Me and my gang of fucking excellent friends went looking for breakfast and ended up in this Polish community centre eating giant sausages and three types of salad. It wasn't what I needed at all. Transitional started the day's music as it was destined to go on, really down, really loud, really fucking dark. A concrete wall of industrial noise from two guitars and vocals all forced through a trough of pedals. It sounded like tanks hunting for victims. It didn't sit well with the sausage. I loved it all the same.
Next up, Black Sabbath played in Spanish oh no wait they didn't I mean Orthodox played. In Spanish. These guys, these Orthodox guys, they're so... authentic. Throw the horns up. They look and sound exactly how they should. Metal. Old, sludgy, heavy, metal. Breath it in. Try not to choke on the hair. Seriously fun. Moving steadily downtempo, ASVA, a beast comprising various limbs from Burning Witch, Mr Bungle and The Accused, get everyone's heads lolling at about six nods per minute. With a guitarist who genuinely looks like a dungeons and dragons forest guide and a drummer with a disease instead of hair it's not hard to concieve that these guys actually do go all out Aleistair Crowley on the weekends. Wyrd to your mum, they came to drop bongs.
Like a big fat necessary spanner in the works, Fucked Up bowl onto the stage and play the least fucked up set of the day. Hardcore with a sweet outer shell, a big fuck off gobstopper of a band with a self-maiming Big Mac frontman and some italian kid from the movies on guitar. And the big man cuts his head with what looks like a diet coke can. But he always cuts his head. It would probably be more shocking if he just didn't. After Fucked Up I fucked off and fucked about. I was tired, I was in the dead zone. I sat down. I heard Earth from outside of where they were playing. They sounded the same as ever, just a bit distant. But they always sound distant. They sounded fine. Whatever.
The thing that really swung it for me, when I was thinking of going to this festival, this Supersonic festival in Birmingham, was when they announced that Merzbow would be playing with Keiji Haino. That was it. No way I was gonna miss it. A friend of mine once compared these two to an archetypal anime hero and villain pairing. Merzbow all dressed in black with long black hair and a quiet, brooding persona, capable of unleashing a hellish, destructive superpower at any time. Keiji Haino the androgynous, silver haired smirking wrongdoer, elegant, strapped to a six stringed weapon handled with mad precision. Always in sunglasses. In Kikuri they bring this comic book to life with the highlight set of the weekend. While all around them bands headed to the graveyard for inspiration, Kikuri took a detour to the insane asylum, scaled the iron gate, climbed in the window and got the inmates to rape the nurses while they took notes. A really bad trip. Merzbow sporadically bursts forth with brain grating noise while Haino freaks out on guitar and mutant theremin and summons the weirdest, most horrible singing and yelping from the depths of some terrible Japanese torture garden. Weirdo lungs. When He pulls out some fucked up mandolin looking thing and starts plonking away, every twang turns brain matter to jelly, every scream liquifies another vertebrae and by the time Merzbow gets on the drums and starts bashing your skull in you can't imagine you'll be coming back from this one. Total mind ablation.
I felt sick. Thank fuck I hadn't taken any (many) drugs. Thank fuck there was only one act left before this god damn festival was over. One act to drain away my last remaining dregs of mental competence. Gravetemple. Shrouded in smoke, as usual, O'Malley and Csihar and Ambarchi and that drummer guy push you down with their incessent doom and gloom horror show like an axeman's hand on the back of your neck, positioning you on the block. Csihar's maniacal cackling and deep demonic growling is genuinely unnerving and the sporadic frantic drumming sections batter your ears open to make way for the funereal procession of guitar drones. It's an oppressive sound, the sound of death and decay. Throughout the set the audience drops off one by one, first to their knees, then prostrate, forced into submission by deep mental lassitude. It's conceivable that one day the house lights will come up at the end of a show and the entire audience lay dead, their minds tricked into thinking this is the end of everything. But not this time. One terrifying, earstabbing scream from Attila and the festival is over. Well, apart from Harmonia but they're shit nowadays.
I drag myself to the van and get carted back to London in the small hours, lying in the back, the soft rhythm of the streetlights flashing past the window lulling me to sleep. Fellow van-mate Go puts it like this: "Man, that was amazing but it's so much doom. No more doom man. Too much doom. I can only listen to pop now. Put on some Britney Spears or something".