Supersonic Festival 2018 – Sunday – Review

Supersonic Festival 2018

Birmingham, The Custard Factory

June 24th 2018

The sunshine is blinding, it’s a beautiful day. Fighting Boredom are at the last day of Supersonic Festival 2018. As usual we are questioning how today can be as good as Friday night or Saturday, but knowing Supersonic it’ll be even better.

Sunday has turned up the sunshine by more than a notch. We start today’s proceedings in Sparkbrook for a curry and by coincidence, the England game on the big screen. At the next table two men are perusing their Supersonic timetables. Great minds and all that.

The first act today was a toss up, we plumbed for Daniel Higgs. Mainly because he was in Lungfish, pretty good reason we thought. He sits, with a banjo and tells stories, occasionally accompanying them with the banjo. He has a great big bushy white beard and handmade tattoos on his hands. The sun is streaming into the space as he sits and talks to us, filling the space with music and thought. You can tell that these musical creations are his and his alone. The time patterns are strange and the flow is disjointed but it works. This is his life and he is sharing it with us. The feeling is of the vast space in the U.S their mountains and woods, a natural, organic vibe is washing around the room.

The banjo bubbles like water over pebbles, when he plays it on its own for an extended slice of time it is timeless. When he picks up his notebook and reads, he doesn’t just pass on what he has written, he analyzes words and phrases to see what he could have meant, he talks about screens, the past and future, he cycles ideas and music. It’s a gentle, fragile way to start the day.

Mark Korven is best known for his horror film soundtracks, the latest being The Witch. He has created a machine to use to make the sounds he needs to accompany the films, it’s called The Apprehension Engine. It sits on stage on a table next to a mixer. Mark walks on, smiles at the audience, gives us a wave then stands at his machine. There’s a low dark sound, interspersed with creaks and groans. The room is very quiet and the sounds are subtle, slowly building up as he uses a bow to create strings that stab at you. Bass notes get stronger as they draw out and elongate. Notes bend and fade into the hum, the sound turns muffled and unclear as a low growling starts. It makes you look over your shoulder and then a stabbing sound makes you jump. He creates a drum sound by playing the machine with his hands and looping the results.

The dry ice and blue lighting make him look like an organist sat in a Gothic castle in the darkness playing for the children of the night. There’s a slight technical hitch and a mouthed ‘sorry’ to the crowd and then the music starts again. The beauty of this performance is that the horror film is being constructed inside your head, we all know how soundtracks work and this just makes you think what would go with the sounds. It’s turned slow, deliberate and very creepy. The sound to me now gives me an image of some infernal creature rending and eating something I don’t want to imagine. It switches to images of robotic armies marching to war and the bombs whistling down around them. There’s a claustrophobic feeling of impending doom, of someone following you just outside your vision.

A ticking, scratchy sound of a mind unraveling and scratching claws of something trying to reach you, trying desperately to get through to you. He finishes with drums and the thought of a predator chasing you down, strung out with tension and a thought that thanks God it’s not you running. There’s a huge crescendo of noise and he finishes, saying thank you and smiling. A fantastic performance.
Gum Takes Tooth are outside, the sun reflects down into the courtyard from the windows above and it’s still bloody hot. They start with a hum, echoing and throbbing away, it grows into psychedelia, a layered and lush sound, alive with colours and totally overbearing. The vocal is small and distorted and as the sound slides into electro gets louder but then the music takes over again. This is all about ebb and flow, it’s tidal, ever moving and trying to catch up with itself. The bass and drums drive it forward and that slows to a deliberate repeating rhythm which then syncs into a synth attack, speeds up and becomes druggy, muddy and spaced out.
This is a result of the band spending two days in the moog lab, I’m pretty sure they don’t sound like this usually and so it’s pretty special to watch. The music nows gives you the impression that you are underwater, trying to wade forward through sticky mud and getting dragged further down.
It’s like they have taken the blood of Hawkwind and injected it into something newer and further on along the musical road. Psychedelic muffled trance with stabs of static slowly speeds up into a full on rave, people are dancing all around me and the feeling is euphoric, as high as a kite. Another brilliant performance.
We go to see who is performing at the Modern Rituals stage and catch the last three songs by Laura Cannell who we saw last year, she plays recorders and her fiddle as she calls it, the music is age old, and captures something inside you. She talks about rituals and how hers is to go into derelict buildings with her fiddle, then play and record in the spaces.
She introduces Charles Haywood who announces that he is going to play a thirty minute snare drum roll. Which he proceeds to do so for around fifteen minutes. I’ve seen stranger and more unexpected things at Supersonic but not many. 
In the courtyard the procession of creatures built by the resident artist Dennis McNett is in full swing with a giant wolf waving his hands and conducting all the other creatures dancing and moving to the drum beat in front of him. 
After the surreal procession and even more surreal drum roll it’s good to get back to something you can really take a bite out of and Gnod never disappoint. They walk onstage, shuffling into their instruments and the stabs of guitar start straight away. Their sound is angular, the guitars have sharp edges, the bass and drums come in and my skull is shaking. It’s funky, loose and amazingly loud. There’s a post-punk public image feel to the music. As it cycles around and shifts up and down. They know how to hit a groove and then entrench themselves in it. It’s a huge, huge noise but it’s also coherent. They change to a bass heavy driven lurch that drives on and on. They know how to work a groove. It’s straighter on the edges than straight up psych but there is an element of that in there. Think of a mixture of Albini spite, hardcore feeling and grindcore’s attitude. 
The precision of the noise drowns out the vocal that struggles to rise up but that’s the beauty hidden in the sound, it’s all exactly where it’s supposed to be. The pulverising and brutal music is quite wonderful. They know where they are going and work with each other to create even more crescendos of music.
They slow down to a perfect monster of sound and music. It just seems to be getting even harder and stronger. They groove like a monster on steroids and are heavy as concrete setting over you. They end with a maelstrom of noise, and they were brilliant.
Next door in the courtyard Tirikilatops are waiting. Right, there is a man in a huge skull mask, a clown sitting at the back who appears to be either making balloon animals, playing on his phone or occasionally pressing a button on the laptop on his knee, and a pretty Korean singer who is wearing all the day-glo in the world. The two at the front never ever stop bouncing, dancing and being as enthusiastic about the gig as they would if they were playing Wembley Stadium to thousands. ‘Hello! We’re Napalm Death!’ they shout and then with an explosion of pink, neon and balloons they launch into the squelchiest synths, daftest drum patterns and funkiest pop bass of the whole weekend.  This is way beyond my field of musical experience and to be honest, it’s completely brilliantly bonkers! They should be massive pop stars.  At any given point the singer is wearing an inflatable dolphin on her head, waving a giant banana at the crowd, teaching the crowd Korean and never even for a second ever standing still. The crowd are joining in, dancing like maniacs and everybody is grinning and laughing. It’s fantastic and it fits in perfectly. K-Pop a-go-go!
Now is the point where we had to decide on whether to go and see Shirley Collins or stay and watch Wolves in the Throne Room, again the strength of Supersonic is to put two completely different artists from opposite ends of the musical spectrum on at the same time and you actually want to see them both.
We decide on Wolves in the Throne Room. The guitarist comes on with a fistful of incense to bless the stage. the smoke rises and they come on, the intro echoes and flows as they get ready to explode. A bell rings, keyboards rise and the low quiet start fills the room. Then massive slabs of guitar riffs march up and down, the bass and drums power in and it’s all of a sudden at fever pitch, an immense wall of sound. This hits me like a tree falling, it’s utterly brilliant. They are astonishingly powerful.
They drop it back and then build up the atmosphere and tension with crescendos of guitars, the bass hums and tiny sounds echo over the top of it, the bass goes right through me and this is the calm quiet moment. The guitar comes in and it’s high and crystal clear. The brutal power is razor sharp and focused, I haven’t seen anything quite like this before. All of a sudden I’m thirteen again and Metal has me again. It’s what my musical tastes started with and suddenly I’m full circle, shouting at the stage and moving to the power.
They slow and build again, that’s their strength, the amount of power they have and the moments and periods of restraint that make you listen and spin their web around you. This is music for dark nights in dense forests, for rain clouds and bleak crags, it’s for the moments when all you want is to disappear into sound and emotion.
The music is crystal clear, it’s unstoppable and when they go quiet it lulls you into a false sense of security before they bring up slow, measured doom that feels like waves crashing into cliffs. When the drums kick off the guitars don’t feel like what I know as thrash, they just meld to the bass and drums without any effort at all.
They toast us with bottles of wine and burn more incense that just smells like woodsmoke. The music carries on and I am really having trouble describing just how good it is. The merging and speed of the wall of sound almost turns into white noise as it focuses even more it’s almost a massive drone.
They finish with more slabs of pulverising metal and slices of restrained gentleness.
I am stunned, I recover my hearing two days later.
Supersonic Festival 2018 is another triumph for Capsule. Wonderful and as ever, it’s not enough. Can’t wait until next year. In the meantime there are records to be bought and new bands to investigate, are souls are replenished for another year.

Daniel Higgs

Mark Korven
Gum Takes Tooth


Wolves in the Throne Room

Daniel Higgs has a Bandcamp page.
Gum Takes Tooth’s website is, they have a Bandcamp page and are on Facebook.
Mark Korven’s website is He is on Facebook and Tweets as @KorvenMark.
Gnod’s website is They have a Bandcamp page, and Tweet as @GnodGnetwork.
Tirikilatops have a Bandcamp page, are on Facebook and Tweet as @Tirikilatops.
Wolves in the Throne Room’s website is, they have a Bandcamp page and are on Facebook.

All words by Adrian Bloxham, all pictures by Martin Ward.

Adrian Bloxham

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