Supersonic Festival 2019
Over the past fifteen years, Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival has been at the forefront of cutting edge and forward-thinking festivals. Hosting a massively wide range of acts that has included everyone from Swans, Mogwai, High On Fire and Napalm Death to Venetian Snares, Shirley Collins, Merzbow and Sleaford Mods, the list goes on and on with each act being unique in their own way. Unique is a word that definitely sums Supersonic up and this years’ fifteenth-anniversary event lived up to the strong heritage of what had gone before and also summed up the special nature that the festival has had since its inception.
With a special opening concert at Birmingham Town Hall first up, Supersonic 2019 got off to a hell of a start with Neurosis and Godflesh playing in the stunning confines of the venue.
With a pitch perfect sound and a tsunami of bass, Godflesh commenced this year’s festival and proceeded to crush the audience with a brilliant demonstration of pure heaviness and a set culled from their stellar career with the classic likes of Sterile Prophet, Anything Is Mine and Predominance blowing minds alongside songs from their last album Post Self. Justin Broadrick and GC Green defiantly brought the noise to Supersonic and the audience responded in kind.
Following a performance as heavy as that is no easy task and not many bands could, being as brilliant as it was, but thankfully Neurosis are up to the task and put on a hell of a show. Simply mesmerizing from start to finish, the band level the venue with an awesome display of sound and they captivated the audience with their brand of heaviness. Bathed in blue light and opening with A Sun That Never Sets, Neurosis played a set that mainly covered the latter stages of their material, with songs from their last album Fires Within Fires impressing alongside tracks from albums like Honour Found In Decay and Times Of Grace and the set came to a spellbinding ending with the epic End Of The Harvest And Stones From The Sky concluding a performance that took everyone who witnessed its breath away and one that they would remember and be talking about for years to come.
After such a pair of staggering performance, it would have been an amazing experience but this was only the start of Supersonic and what a start it was but there was more to come. Heading to the main festival venues in Digbeth, there was more to come on the opening night. Hey Colossus started things off with their dynamic wall of noise and songs culled from their new album, Four Bibles and beyond, the six piece delivered a passionate set that showed exactly what a powerful band they areas they wowed the Supersonic audience. Just as powerful but in a much rawer way, metallers Savage Realm brought their melding of death and black metal with more classic metal stylings to the Warehouse in a set that had more than a few heads banging.
The headbanging continued in The Crossing alongside a whole host of dancing as Big Lad decimated all insight with a very visual and energetic show before Yob finished the night off with a hypnotizing display that focussed on this latest album Our Raw Heart and ended the festival’s first day in style.
As the festival’s second day started late in the afternoon, the hordes descended on Digbeth once again for more musical treats and surprises. Blanket were the first act that we saw and the bands luscious and hazy cinematic soundscapes started the day off perfectly with the epic Immemorial Sea rounding a great set off.
Big Joanie followed with a performance that demonstrated exactly why they are rightfully garnering a lot of praise for their music and live act. Mixing punk anger with catchy pop and soul sass, the band has the audience in the palm of their hand from beginning to end gaining mass applause after every song and whether it was hailing band members Midlands heritage or rightfully condemning the country’s new prime minister, this was a vital and stirring performance that enchanted the entire audience (including a grooving Moor Mother in the front row) with songs like How Could You Love Me going down a treat. Back in The Crossing, Faten Kannans synth led electronics, packed full of dread was both effective and impressive before taking the first trip to the Eastside Projects that housed the impressive Hellmouth stage to see a manic performance Apostille that had to be seen to be believed and a manically dancing audience.
Matters in The Warehouse kept the electronic vibe going with dramatic swathes of noise that kept building and building before it was time to head back to the packed to capacity (one in, one out!) Eastside Projects area to see AJA who gave a very visual and fun set that had everyone dancing and going crazy to the pounding beats and animated shrieks that blasted out from the stage in what was a very visceral experience from start to finish and AJA lapped up the energy from the crowd with glee. A definite star in the making as everyone who witnessed her performance will agree.
Prison Religion at The Crossing delivered a set that was just as visceral but delivered in a different but definitely no less effective fashion with their disorienting heavy beats and vocals transfixing the crowd as the two piece unleashed their audio brutality. As the beats got heavier, the vocals did too and as the audience were suitably pummeled, the whole experience grew more and more sublime.
HHY & The Macumbas back at The Warehouse brought dramatic horns and hypnotic rhythms to Supersonic and their music was an explosion of sound as well as being visually dramatic. The band mixed jazz, dub and world music to create an eclectic and rhythmic atmosphere that had the crowd begging for more. The Body followed at The Crossing and as far as heavy bands go, it’s tough to beat them as they brought their fearsome noise to Supersonic. The crowd just watched in awe as they were beaten into submission with the sheer power of the music and waves of distortion coming forth from the stage. Guitarist/vocalist Chip King led The Body‘s performance with his brutal vocals and was ably complemented with the strength of the bands audio power. Performing their set with the ease of a band in total control, The Body were without doubt one of the highlights of Supersonic.
Hen Ogledd, who feature Richard Dawson were the last band on in The Warehouse and their triumphant, synth heavy noise enchanted the watching hordes who were more than up for a party.
At this point, it was time to head back to The Crossing to see the last act of the night and of the festival (we had to miss the last day unfortunately) but what a way to bow out of Supersonic 2019, and that was with a performance from an artist who played the very first festival, The Bug aka Kevin Martin. After a wait (which just ramped up the anticipation) due to some technical difficulties, Martin’s King Midas Sound partner Roger Robinson started the performance with a heartfelt and passionate poem about the Grenfell tragedy that saw the crowd watching in powerful silence. As he left the stage, clouds of dry ice engulfed everywhere and Moor Mother (clad in a Big Joanie t-shirt) took to the stage to deliver a series of spoken word passages over The Bugs soundscapes that had the audience captivated and looking on in awe and this ably showed how well they work together. The energy levels were ramped up when some familiar Bug rhythms were detonated to the audiences delight with Moor Mothers rapping getting more frenetic as the likes of Skeng and Poison Dart were dropped and the crowds dancing got wilder and wilder.
As Moor Mother vacated the stage to a rapturous applause, she was replaced by an extremely energetic Miss Red who didn’t stop moving the whole time she was performing. Over The Bugs Acid Ragga bombs, she ended the night on a high as the crowd danced, skanked and nodded along with her and The Bug In what was a phenomenal performance all round. With the technical difficulties meaning the show didn’t go as was originally planned, it turned out to be a unique experience and the audience absolutely loved it and was the perfect way to end Supersonic 2019.
This years festival was an amazing experience from start to finish and we are already looking forward to next years event and it showed just how diverse and forward-thinking Supersonic is, was and will continue to be.
Words: Gavin Brown
Images: Matthew Binks