Supersonic 2012 – Here’s To Another 10 Years!

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It’s hard to believe that almost two weeks have passed since we were all frantically rushing around the Custard Factory, putting the final touches to the various wild man posters around the site and screwing in the last few records to the Vinyl Rally’s MDF floor before hordes of music fans rushed in to bask in the eclectic and adventurous sounds that Capsule had loving curated this year – and what a lineup it was! There was truly something for everyone, as Friday ran the gamut between JK Flesh’s absolutely punishing industrial dub, the surreal electronica of the Small But Hard showcase, the free-wheeling cosmic riffery of Hey Colossus, the toy tinkering soundscapes of Modified Toy Orchestra, and of course, the triumphant return of drum’n’bass dark lords PCM to the Supersonic stage.

Saturday brought even more surprises, from the gentle folk strains of Dylan Carlson’s new material to the unholy combination of Merzbow and Oxbow’s Eugene and Niko, a full-on audio explosion that wiped clean the mental state of everyone in attendance. I also have to give praise to the incredible drummer that accompanied Masami Akita’s astonishing feedback theatrics, augmenting the sonic devastation with some jazzy splashes, tribal belligerence and even some well timed blastbeats without ever failing by the wayside of Akita’s incendiary slabs of twsited sonic debri, which is no mean feat! A rare UK showing from Bohren & der Club of Gore was utterly captivating, enveloping the Boxxed venue in a dense, melancholy atmosphere and transporting the audience into the starkest of film noir settings for the entire duration of their set.

Meanwhile, Drunk In Hell’s molasses thick sludge onslaught and Zeni Geva’s vitally intricate sonic attack provided a satisfying ammount of musical filth to wallow in, forcing heads to bang and mosh pits to errupt. Zeni Geva may only exist as a two-piece now, but that hasn’t hindered KK Null and Yoshida’s fury at all, with Null especially firing off an arsenal of bewildering noise outbursts alongside his standard riff warfare via a series of baffling pedals. The icing on the cake was undoubtedly the astonishing avant-electronica of Hype Williams; bathing the entire Warehouse in a thick, eerie fog, the enigmatic duo proceeded to fuse together dub, noise, jazz, musique concrete, electro and garage influences into an uncategorizable and unforgettable performance. As Copeland’s beautiful tones danced across the bizarre volley of sounds emanating from Blunt’s corner of the stage, in which gullet-rattling dub basslines collided with squealing trumpets and reverb drenched car alarms, it was hard to shake the feeling that we were witnessing something of a musical revolution!

In keeping with Supersonic’s inclusive ethos, even youngsters were catered for with this year’s kid’s gigs, in which we bore witness to the heartwarming sight of a room full of children grooving along to the expansive psych voyages of Flower/Corsano Duo – and who knows? In 10 years time, some of these children may be taking to our stages themselves to blow your mind with their sonic wares…

Sunday boasted perhaps one of the most spectacular running orders in Supersonic’s illustrious history, with all manner of heavy weights awaiting today’s eager audience. Gnod’s triumphant set in Boxxed was astonishing, the over-powering throb of their sublimely heavy krautrock-isms gradually reconfiguring the pulse of each listener, unwittingly tuning into their psyche and forcing them headfirst into a cosmic thrill ride the likes of which would make even Timothy Leary baulk at the sheer intensity of it all. Elsewhere, Justice Yeldham revealed to us all the mind mangling sounds that lay dormant in a single piece of glass, Lash Frenzy created an imposing and lucid arena in which achieve total sensory overload, and the mighty Ufomammut invited us to accompany them on a voyage deep into the heart of their latest two-record opus, ‘ORO’. Once these guys peak there’s no force in the universe that can restrain them, and the riffs are flowing thick and fast (or should that be slow?) tonight. Whilst both the ‘ORO’ records are impressive in their own right, combined they are a true force to behold, and to witness this incredible odyssey in the flesh is an awesome experience!

A tough act to follow indeed, but mysterious Swedish voodoo merchants Goat were more than up to the challenge. Taking to the stage in colourful robes, ritualistic gaments and erm, a golden robot mask, the band’s vibrant psych-rock/afro-beat concoction instantly whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Racing through all of their ‘World Music’ debut (including instant classics like ‘Goatman’, ‘Let It Bleed’ and ‘Run To Your Mama’) but allowing their songs a bit more room to breathe, the Swedes kicked out the jams with an infectious energy and by the time the extended version of ‘Det som aldrig förändras / Diarabi’ brought their revelatory set to a close, you’d be hard pushed to find a single member of the audience who wasn’t sporting an enormous ear-to-ear grin. Incredible!

Finally, the Oxbow Orchestra provided an enthralling end to this year’s celebrations, reinterpreting some of their classic songs and even treating us to some choice cuts from their upcoming full-length ‘The Thin Black Duke’. Their performance was at once intimate and gripping, but without losing any of the potent intensity that has made the band such a force to be reckoned with over the years. This was due to be Supersonic 2012’s final performance, but it seems you, the audience, had other ideas, as an impromptu and sublimely hypnotic drum circle erupted in the beer tent just outside. As the ringing in our ears began to subside, the communal and strangely rhythmic clinking of pint glasses against benches and a sea of warm smiles was a perfect finish to this year’s festival.

Of course, I’m only scratching the surface of Supersonic 2012 here; beyond the numerous delights of this year’s musical lineup, there was a whole plethora of extra-curricular activities. The sight of a fresh-faced individual feverishly clutching at a copy of their own recently pressed Kim Gordon collab on their way back from the Reverse Karaoke installation become a pleasingly common sight over the weekend, and the procession of startingly costumed members of the Outcrowd throughout the festival site on Sunday was a source of much ceremonial excitement. The ear mutilating sounds of Lucas Abela’s Vinyl Rally were a definite highlight, featuring one of Lucas’ most ambitious track layouts to date. Volunteers hastily scrambled alongside the track as Lucas himself sat within the makeshift nerve centre of the rally, tinkering away whilst the assembled throng routinely found themselves astonished by the sheer spectacle of it all.

And of course, there’s the massive contribution that you yourselves paid to the festival, by arriving in your dozens and flooding the Custard Factory with enthusiasm, joy and good vibes. This year’s edition of the festival was one of the finest of the past 10 years, a truly excellent way to celebrate a decade of passionate experimental arts programming – here’s to another ten years!

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An Interview With Oxbow’s Niko Wenner

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Oxbow is a band that should need no introduction; their bold and uncompromising penchant for experimentation has placed them at the forefront of contemporary rock and resulted in a startling sound that no self-respecting music enthusiast can ignore. This year marks the beginning of yet another new chapter in Oxbow’s long and storied history, with vocalist Eugene S. Robinson and and guitarist Niko Wenner teaming up to play Niko’s arrangements and orchestrations with a variety of classically trained string and brass players as the Oxbow Orchestra, news that has sent ripples of excitement through the Oxbow fanbase worldwide. Niko managed to take some time out of his busy schedule to give us a little more insight into how this idea originated, what we can expect from their upcoming album, and some potential collaborative performances at this year’s festival, both scheduled and impromptu…

Supersonic: What can we expect from your set this year?
Niko: It’s a rare and great thing. I’m very pleased that Supersonic has again made it possible for us to make explicit aspects of Oxbow music that, live, are often only implicit. OXBOW ORCHESTRA will bring to the stage new music yet to be recorded, live premieres of recording arrangements, and special music created just for this event.

Our recordings begin our songs. Our live performance solution to the music on our recordings – mass-persona, mass-musical/sound information – is often simply “volume.” To sound like twenty guitars playing at once, turn up the one. Unlike our band gigs, Oxbow recordings have always exploited the performance of larger groups. From the Kecak-inspired chanting and clapping by a Symphony of a Thousand on the recording of “Daughter,” to the massed overdubbed guitars of “Pannonica.” From the string quartet and multi-tracked guitars and rock-band of “Bomb,” to the Hammond B-3 organ, male choir, piano, guitars, et al., in the musique concrète texture of “Acker Sound/Read All Over.” The live-in-the-studio nine piece drone orchestra of “Shine (Glimmer).” The scored string quartet plus woodwind quintet of “Mr. Johnson,” and adding rock band to that nonet:  “Frank’s Frolic.” The aim has always been for an orchestral texture.

Our next studio album ‘The Thin Black Duke’ will feature brass in addition to strings, which suggested the OXBOW ORCHESTRA live line-up. I’ve wanted for some time to bring my friend from Paris-based band Heliogable (and bandmate in Bellflower) guitarist Philippe Thiphaine into an Oxbow performance. Oxbow has by tradition always made a new set minutes before we begin to play. The opportunity offered with the Orchestra is too special to leave quite that much to chance. A great deal of care has gone to arranging and orchestrating music both new and old for this special format of strings, brass, and additional guitar.

There should be surprises for all.

How did the idea for the Oxbow Orchestra originate?
Being asked to perform at Supersonic’s ten year anniversary is an honor. Dan and Greg can’t be here unfortunately. So my desire to create a performance that would arrive at the same transcendent place that Oxbow aims for, but through different means, drove some soul searching. The solution: A chamber music version of Oxbow songs new and old. And from this OXBOW ORCHESTRA was born.

Who else are you looking forward to seeing at the festival this year?
Merzbow; ORE and KK NULL; Ruins Alone; Sir Richard Bishop… I’m excited for everything. Everything I already know and knowing that things I don’t already know will be great too.

If you could pick any artist on the lineup this year to collaborate with, who would it be?
One? Merzbow. And, we have indeed arranged a last-minute collaboration.

If you were curating Supersonic, which three artists would you most want to have on board?
György Ligeti is dead now sadly. Of those still living:

1. Ornette Coleman.  Because I realized twenty years ago when pondering who – if I somehow could –  I would time-travel to experience performing that he’s one. And he’s still performing now!

2. Mathew Shipp.  Because he makes music that is like directly listening to a brain at play and at work, without the filter of “language” (à la cognitive scientist Steven Pinker).

3. Elliot Carter.  For his music of course but also so that I could shake his hand. I was too shy to do so when standing next to him in an empty foyer during a break in a performance of his first four string quartets in San Francisco. Not incidentally, a life-changing concert for me.

Which items would you say are essential for festival survival?
A curious audience, daring artists, and the support to join the two.

How would you sum up Supersonic festival in five words?
One, two, three, four GO!

…or maybe better…

Jenny and Lisa create bliss.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Oxbow?
Quite soberly and sincerely, I feel like we are stronger than ever and in mastery of our strengths, in ways I’d barely dared to hope we could achieve when we started. Truthfully, these are partly benefits of simply “not giving up,” tenacity, irascibility, not anything special. In any case IF we can continue, stay alive long enough, inch Allah and gods willing I think the future looks good.

Specifically, our next full length record ‘The Thin Black Duke’.

Niko Wenner

The Oxbow Orchestra will be performing at Supersonic Festival on Sunday 21st October.

 

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