Supersonic Festival
2004

By Andy Parsons

The recent regeneration and revitalisation of the centre of Birmingham has seen the city finally receive some recognition as rightly holding its title as Britain's second city. Similarly the city's musical scene is regularly associated with the music of Sabbath and Zeppelin rather than the more experimental work of Pram, Broadcast and Plone, but the efforts of local labels such as Bearos, Resonant, Static Caravan and Type Records and promoters like House of God, Default and curators of Supersonic Capsule have seen the experimental underground Birmingham scene take route and flourish under their careful nurture.

Entering its second year Supersonic has expanded from a single Saturday evening to encompass a Friday night where Cylob and Luke Vibert's electronics line up against the techno and breakbeats of Neil Landstrumm and the House of God DJs. Opening proceedings in the Medicine Bar, Chris Jeffs aka Cylob launches into his recent Rephlex material with gusto. From behind his PowerBook the twisted braindance anthems from his Cylob Music System EPs scuttle and soar across the room, the off kilter melodies slowly melting into coherency. Disappointingly none of Jeffs' more electro based material gets an airing, although one gets the feeling that he might have got sick of one too many crowd asking for Rewind.

Luke Vibert sets the tone for his set immediately by cracking open his funky acid stuff and dousing the crowd liberally with chunky breakbeats and chaotic 303 lines. A smattering of material from YosepH follows before Luke unleashes Sci-fi Staircase from his latest magnum-opus Sorry I Made You Lush, its spiralling melody line filling the dancefloor. The set then shifts into old skool mode with Tha by Aphex Twin leading into Radio Babylon, Humanoid, early Nightmares On Wax bleep anthem I'm For Real and the seminal LFO. He rounds off his set with Analogue Bubblebath 1 leaving the assembled masses in the capable hands of the local House of God DJs who unleash a barrage of dark and nasty drum and bass to bring the night to its inevitably messy conclusion.

Saturday sees the event take over even more of the Custard Factory with stalls, art spaces and the appearance of the main stage over the outside pool/courtyard area. The first act to fill it is the deranged poodle rock of V/Vm cohorts Fast Lady. Cranking the joke (a little too far) that is the darkness to 11 and fusing it with their unique brand of humour, their thankfully brief set amuses some, but confuses most. They're followed by an altogether more coherent, stunning performance from Christ who uses the open space of the factory's interior to fill the air with beautiful analogue synths. Drawing tracks from his Benbecula debut and the classic Pylonesque EP, Christ's set is one of the highlights of the weekend, his music having more expression and soul than the majority of the rest of the acts combined.

This is demonstrated immediately as Panic DHH take the stage and give a lesson in everything that is bad and indulgent about gothic metal, despite their electronica leanings. Formed by a former guitarist for Alec Empire, their Nine Inch Nails-style dirge results in many heading to see Warp's latest signings Team Shadetek throw everything they can into their DJ set, providing one of the weekend's enduring images as they drop Usher's Yeah and cause a room full of beards to suddenly question whether they're allowed to like this kind of music. Following this, the interesting mixture of Kreepa's minimal electronics and Black Galaxy's guitar soundscapes proves one of the weekend's surprise highlights with Nick Bullen (formerly of Napalm Death) and Simon Mabbutt creating a set of beguiling experimental music.

The factory's newly renovated theatre space proves to be the perfect venue for watching thoughtful electronic music, with its cinema-style seating leading to the atmosphere of a performance rather than a gig. And it's this setting which suits Swedish all-girl trio Midaircondo perfectly, their gentle melodies, soothing voices and cinematic soundscapes enchanting the entire audience. Seemingly the missing link between Tortoise and Múm, on tonight's performance Midaircondo are on the brink of making a large number of electronic music fans extremely happy.

In stark contrast, DJ Scud inflicts maximum pain by taking out the Medicine Bar's main dancefloor with his inimitable style of digital sledgehammer chaos whilst Zongamin get funky in the outdoors. NY punkfunkers Spektrum then get bounced to the graveyard slot to give Senor Coconut a chance to shake his maracas in the headline slot. Kraftwerk covers aside however it's probable that people would much rather see Uwe Schmidt in any of his multiple guises rather than that of a Latin cover band crooner. Still, you can't help but respect a man who manages to put a smile on your face with his version of Beat It.

On taking their event a stage further from its debut last year, Capsule have done a sterling job in creating a festival which showcases the best that the Midlands can offer in experimental music and draws artists from every part of the globe. Here's hoping that the bar can be raised even higher next year.
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