‘Festival’ could be interpreted as a slightly patronising term for Super Sonic Festival because its ambitions go well beyond the boundaries and resemblances of the summer festivals we have all become accustomed to seeing. Yet, festival also suggests a celebration that Super Sonic certainly does pursue; if you have ever been in the turbine hall at the Tate Modern and looked around thinking ‘this would be a first-rate venue’ then you are close to the ethos of Super Sonic. It is a true opportunity to not only be stimulated (albeit a little forcefully at times) and see someone you know well but also to walk into a room and hear something totally unlike anything you have heard before, ever. This is what consciously having your mind broadened feels like; on entry you are given some optional ear plugs that you so blithely put in your pocket with a smile thinking ‘I won’t need these at all..’ only to receive an aural battering for such arrogance from MotherTrucker or Dope Body. Super Sonic draws on the essence of creativity through its willingness to start again each year and push its own format to bring diverse music together.
The venue for Super Sonic is the Custard Factory in Digbeth. I have been familiar with this place since Erol Alkan etc were frequenting but it always seemed like there was a lot of potential there. For Super Sonic the whole venue is divided up into several venues ‘Old Library’, ‘Boxxed’, ‘Warehouse’ and the cinema ‘Theater’ there was also a market place where you could pick up vinyl and CDs of performers – Small but Hard records had a stand there also having had a showcase on Friday night that with considerable regret I missed – I did pick up a copy of the Devil Man album though which I’ll put up soon – it is a noisy behemoth. Something that does need stating is how well the venues and line-up were managed – so often festivals run into problems when they try to do too much and Super Sonic went with quality over quantity, there were still over twenty different acts on each day, but everyone I saw ran like a charm, everything I saw was on time and had no technical hitches. The crowd was an interesting cross-section of music lovers also which is indicative of the eclecticism of the event – there were metal fans, noise fans, electronic fans, ambient fans, visual artists, hipsters (there’s always one, no getting way from that) but everyone came together to celebrate innovative music. To reference Steve Albini, its a true indicator of how much can be achieved by normal people and this was a refreshing cultural experience as well as musical. Something I really liked about the festival as a whole what the extent to which people danced and received challenging work, I saw ‘Clifford Torus’ before SOA in the Old Library and they were initially terrifying but gradually it was possible to get closer to what they were doing: slowly mining the depths of psychedelic and noise, breaking them down bit by bit, drawing it out. The light shows/screen projections behind most of the bands was a good addition also making each performance distinctive visually. Clifford Torus are an experimental noise rock band who can be heard/read about at www.cliffordtorus.blogspot.co.uk. I didn’t catch the whole set but what I did see was intense but incredible. The main draw of Super Sonic for me was ‘Six Organs of Admittance’ who I have wanted to see for a long time – I think the last time Ben Chasny came to the UK was about 4 years ago and he played in a café in Cornwall which was a challenge to get to and generally not publicized. But, somehow, the organisers of Super Sonic had cajoled SOA to make an appearance here this year whilst touring with Chasny’s other band ‘RANGDA’ (also including Richard Bishop and Chris Corsano). SOA has always been a genuinely progressive, psychedelic project ranging from the dark, noisy textures of ‘Dark Noontide’ to the meditative trances of ‘You Can Always See The Sun’ and Chasney has never been afraid to change direction and constantly avoid even coming near the realm of folk-pop that has become so huge recently. The last couple of albums ‘Ascent’ (2012) and ‘Asleep on the Floodplain’ (2011) have moved towards heavier, noisier work that SOA’s earlier releases reflected. But, what made this live performance a little more special was the addition of Ben Flashman and Utrillo Kushner from ‘Comets on Fire’.SOA performed in the Warehouse venue which was one of the larger stages and it was great. What was notable though is that this was all electric, if you – as I had – expected acoustic work, this was not to be the case today. As soon as the band came out Chasny opened with a massive psychedelic work out that became crazier, noisier and more frenzied as it went. What is note-worthy is that he did not employ the use of a pick for this either, he played with all four fingers and his thumb so this really was incredible. Anyone who has listened to SOA or Comets on Fire knows very well that Chasny is one of the great guitarists of now (and the last decade) but to see it in action was still amazing. The opener built and built and then Chasny threw it into the hippie, groove heavy hook of ‘Waswasa’ that he returned to in between larger solos. There was little vocal work in the set as a whole but what there was he put in here. The next song drew in the rest of the band which made the sound huge. Utrillo Kushner’s drum work bought everything together so well, the snare drum was a distinctive feature of every song and with Flashman’s hypnotic bass lines produced a canvas for Chasny to work over the top of. Again, there were more hooks in here and these were genuinely original and non-seqitur, helped by Chasny substituting five notes for every one. This approach continued for a hour but it felt like no time at all, they must have played four or five different songs, maybe more, but once you were under their spell there was no escape. Something I really liked about this performance – as previously mentioned – was that you saw people dancing, yes, dancing to this freaked out, complex, improve heavy, noisy guitar playing and it was so cool to see SOA’s work received in such a way.
More to come on Super Sonic.