After the epic Supersonic Diary last year, I decided to do a mini visit this year, partially because I knew virtually no-one on the lineup and partly because I’m broke. So I went to the opening night yesterday. This is what I saw.
In the tossup between opening act unknowns, I was persuaded to go and see Freeschool, because apparently they were quite good and they wear sheep masks when they play. We walked into find two laptop-ists (with added percussion) and a drummer playing what sounded a bit like neutered Holy Fuck. Not terrible but not inspiring. I would probably have stuck it out longer than the ten minutes I lasted if the vocalist hadn’t turned up and contributed to the final piece of the chillwave puzzle. Yes, I was inadvertently watching chillwave with 80’s percussion and it was only the limp vocals that kept me from guessing. So I struck out and went to watch Devilman.
I have the Devilman album in my review pile and after watching them live its going straight to the top. Two very hirsute Japanese dudes, one on electronics and laptop the other on bass. They were part of the Small But Hard label showcase that took over one of the venues for the evening and they sounded like a Cypress Hill record playing at half speed. This is of course an excellent thing. Doomy, sludgy hip hop with piercing squeals of noise and samples of screaming that destroyed the upper register of my hearing while the bass was strong it made me cough. There was a worrying moment when electronics guy’s kit failed him but he gave it a whack and it sorted it out. As well as sounding brilliant they had taken the strategically fascinating choice of having a large leather chair on stage with them that remained unoccupied. Until of course they were joined by a an imposing bald man with aviators and a suit and his long haired accomplice who stood around posing and looking like there was a possibility they might shoot us. The bald dude sat down in the chair for the rest of their set and I have to say if I ever need a stage show I might well look him up. Brilliant set and I’m very excited about the Devilman album. Review coming soon.
Up next was Modified Toy Orchestra. As much as I love this bunch of circuit benders, I was a bit apprehensive about watching them live again because I did not like the last album Plastic Planet at all. If you don’t know or can’t guess, they play modified toys (duh) so have a pretty awesome setup of defiled Barbies with glowing eyes and shitty plastic guitars and stuff. Some of the sounds they extract are brilliant (who knew Fisher Price made such a bad ass electronic drum kit) and they play well but none of the new material resonates with me like the tunes from Toygopop. However, if you ever get the opportunity you should go and see them.
We found ourselves in a bit of a limbo for the next hour. The muddy sounding Hey Colossus have a good reputation but they seemed a bit aimless so we left to see Kokakawa. While stood round waiting for it to start I realized that there was a certain uniformity to what the DJ was playing. I also noticed that there was a small group of people huddled near the stage. Kokokawa had been playing in the audience for about twenty minutes. It was kind of noisy, post dubstep stuff from a laptop. Now I don’t regard myself as a particularly visionary type but I don’t see the point of playing a laptop Lightning Bolt style in the audience. What are they huddled round him watching ? Was he doing sleight of hand with his mouse ? Was he twiddling the knobs blindfold behind his back ? I approve of electronic music and there’s nothing wrong with performing with a laptop (Alva Noto at last years festival was superb), but no lights and no stage and a pretty bleak sound added up to a big pile of “meh” for me.
So we went and stood in a tent. The super talented guy who does the artwork for Supersonic was colouring in a massive poster. I had an interesting conversation about Iron Maiden with an air traffic controller. I bumped into a guy who had come to the festival with no prior knowledge of what he was in for, and rather mystifyingly was on a hen night. I watched the vinyl rally for a bit, which is a brilliant idea (attaching record needles to RC cars and driving them over a huge course of old knackered vinyl) but sounds fucking horrible. These miscellaneous events took us up to JK Flesh.
Justin Broadrick’s new project is not a million miles away from Godflesh, Scorn etc. Solo guitar, drum machines, intense volume and heavily distorted and processed shouting accompanied by bleak visuals. If you like his other stuff then you’ll like JK Flesh. I never really warmed to any of it (much as I respect his contribution to defining heavy music) and so we headed back to the Small But Hard showcase. On the way we bumped into one of Daz’s mates who warned us off, saying that “the dodgy rapper just asked me to have sex on a piano”. Now, my respect for the ladies is limitless, but rappers propositioning members of crew on stage sounded too good to be true (especially with the backing of DJ Scotch Bonnet (AKA Scotch Egg)) so I insisted we went.
Sensational (for this was the name of the MC) was wandering backwards and forwards while Scotch Bonnet sat motionless behind the ubiquitous laptop sending out heavy beats for him to rap on. However, Sensational was too busy to rap. He had other things to do like talk to each and every audience member about why he was Sensational, and the fact that it was Supersonic. But his chief objective was to make sure Bonnet never played more than 30 seconds of music before shouting him down to stop, pause and go back. In between incoherent, ego-based rants Sensational did occasionally manage a few lines of rapping, and I suspect that normally he is competent. I respect Sensational because he managed his drunkenness like a pro, by being on a whole bunch of drugs that meant he stayed vaguely lucid and upright, while at no point producing anything like a performance. Scotch Bonnet eventually snuck off stage without Sensational noticing, which you’d think might have given him pause for thought after the hilarious “Huh ?” moment had passed for him. But Sensational is a fucking pro, so rather than do the dignified thing and go and get his stomach pumped, he went and started making beats. Kind of. But Sensational is a forward thinker, so he took it back to the old school and started banging the mic with his hand. I could not identify a time signature, so I think Sensational ( as well as being Sensational) is a jazz ninja too. Throughout this debacle the poor harassed Supersonic dude tried to convince him to leave the stage but Sensational wasn’t habng any of it, and more importantly neither was I, so when he did wander off I proudly managed to instigate a chorus of people shouting “Sensational” to help bring him back on. Yes, I’m that much of a cunt.
So on and on it went. I think twenty minutes after they were supposed to finish, Sensational was finally abandoned on stage to do what he liked. I should have left ages ago but it was impossible to leave. I had to know how it was going to end. What I couldn’t have predicted was that after Sensational started asking if there were any MC’s in the crowd, the laptop dude from Devilman would leap on stage from the audience (there were about 30 off us left) and give us the most startling 10 minutes of improvised vocal madness one can imagine. Shouting, jumping round and doing an amazing non-vocal rapping type thing that sounded like he had a Kazoo lodged in his throat while Sensational pottered round on the laptop. Absolutely, totally and utterly brilliant. He also achieved the impossible (getting Sensational off stage) when he finished so double props. There was no surpassing this as a finale for yet another great Supersonic event, and next year I’m going to do the full three days, which I’m already excited about.