Friday, July 20, 2007

Jet Set Go!

Supersonic Festival, Custard Factory Complex, Digbeth, Birmingham, July 13th/14th 2007.

With the festival running until 3am both nights, a hotel stop is required for your decadent correspondent, and a good deal via laterooms secures a berth at the newly refurbished Paragon Hotel in Alcester Street. The room is small with a barely functioning toilet but has a funky 'boutique' feel, plasma TV, chocolate brown blankets, thick curtains and, most importantly, members of Wolf Eyes queueing behind your quaking hack at check-in. The devil is truly in the details.

Queue in the rain with Cardiff scenester Ben for about twenty minutes but get to The Medicine Bar just in time to catch the beginning of Monarch!'s reign. Their music builds slowly and intriguingly, interspersed with stunning surges of guitar squall and an elfin chanteuse releasing her demons with growls that seem to come from somebody else's body entirely. The result is as dramatic and startling a live performance as Dead Kenny has witnessed during his Parallax View years and a hell of a start to any festival.

Elsewhere on Friday, Fuck Buttons are let loose in The Kitchen, resulting in cacophany, samples, hiss and beats. Some of their songs seem to go on for way too long but they leave more of an impression than Kling Klang back at The Medicine Bar, who seem like Mogwai only less so. Feeling frazzled and sleepy-eyed by the time Wolf Eyes hit the stage, which may possibly account for the fact that your pooped penpusher finds them neither as scary or interesting as had been led to believe. There's a lot of noise, plenty of attitude, an overload of pantomime but an apparent loss of point now the novelty's worn off.

Monarch! having blown your woozy webslinger's socks off the night before, Saturday afternoon is spent trudging the streets of the suddenly sunny Second City for replenishments. A bumper pack from Gap or Next would have been sensible and good value, so inevitably end up in House of Fraser's sale emerging with a Paul Smith pair in West Ham colours instead. Perhaps, though, this indulgence is just reward for earlier escorting a visiting Japanese academic to New Street Station (yes, you're right, she was hot, your garrulous guide may be virtuous but he ain't dull...).

Retail therapy thus completed, head back to the Custard Factory where catch the last quarter-hour or so of Crippled Black Phoenix underneath The Arches, who sound like Mogwai playing tiddlywinks with mid-period Manic Streets Preachers, umpired in a slightly officious manner by Soundgarden, and the result is as intermittently interesting and bombastic as that sounds. Meet up with Ben again to watch Voice Of The Seven Woods who are a bit dull until your bored blogger says so out loud, at which point they buck their ideas up somewhat and start giving it some overdue bollocks.

Back in The Arches, three people are staring at their laptops in deadly seriousness to apparent disinterest from the audience. These are Migrant, who make some nice noises here and there, but perhaps need to lighten up. Back over at The Medicine Bar, Calvados Beam Trio contrive a brand of math-rock considerably less than the sum of their constituent influences, so your fickle furtler leaves Ben with his calculator to make acquaintance with a lovely lady with a harp, namely Serafina Steer who can be simplistically described as an entertaining collision between Kate Nash and Joanna Newsom, so we'll leave the intellectual descriptions to others with more time on their hands.

Back at The Medicine Bar, Beestung Lips are doing what had hoped Wolf Eyes might be capable of: they're tearing your discombobulated dimwit a new arsehole with their terrifying and genuinely confrontational brand of jagged-bottle-up-your-rear-end rock'n'roll. An excited young woman is pushing and pulling your stunned scribe as he tries to make some sense of it all. Little change there, then.

It's back to kids stuff over on the Main Stage as The Modified Toy Orchestra make like Hot Chip let loose in the kindergarten wearing Primark suits. Diverting enough, but the lure of Qui (a band recently joined by David Yow from The Jesus Lizard) underneath The Arches, not to mention the need for some nutritional supplement, pulls us away. Yow's lost his passport but none of his balls during an entertaining and uncompromising set which augurs well for the new album due out in stores imminently.

Chrome Hoof's novelty factor proves popular with the crowd, but strip away their party attitude, silver-foil costumes, erotic dancers and multi-genre fusion feel and you're left with a band who could be playing until Supersonic 2017 and they'd still never hit on anything remotely resembling a proper tune. Back out to The Arches, then, but find Om a bit um, so queue to get back in for Mogwai, watch Serafina Steer being interviewed in a room opposite and spectacularly fail to get her attention (stopping just short of singing 'Hey Serafina!' to the tune of Macarena) while everyone wants a piece of Qui's spaced out guitarist Matt Cronk who always seems to be lumbering nearby.

Headliners Mogwai were Mogwai and if they're not careful they could turn into Mog-why???!!!. The music is pretty enough in parts, but there's not enough genuine substance and epiphany to bolster a set of this length, leaving even hardcore fans feeling a little underwhelmed. Maybe, like Wolf Eyes, they're just a band that's run its course, ending not with a bang but a tinker. Do bump into Pete Ashton at this point, however, who is in engaging and informed form in his official blogging capacity and flickring presence, and advises of a rare prior sighting of the owner of the Russ L brand on the festival site.

It's now getting quite late, have bid Ben adieu, but it's not over until the mad French bloke stops banging the drums, so circle in on Duracell a one-man act who programs his drums to generate old-skool game beats in a brilliantly barmy fashion, sweaty lunatic bravado that deserves a hearty bravo! But it's now 3am, there's no sign of Eternal, so your dazed dunderhead heads his satiated way home...

Related links:

Parallax View at Supersonic 2005.
Pete Ashton-collated Supersonic 2007 Collective Memory.
Ben's Supersonic 2007 review.
Russ L's Supersonic 2007 experience.
The Fuck Buttons verdict.

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11 Comments:

Anonymous Russ L said...

It's a brave individiual indeed who goes to Supersonic in search of a 'proper tune'.

6:39 AM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Maybe so, but in the cases of Beestung Lips, Monarch! and Qui there were ample sonic compensations and laudable nihilistic attitude to spare.

In the case of Chrome Hoof, however, if you took away the visual feast, they just sounded like a trying-too-hard mess, and a decent choon here and there wouldn't have gone amiss.

Elsewhere, people in search of a proper tune at Supersonic would have found some success watching Serafina Steer. Which goes to show fortune favours the brave, even if, to paraphrase 'Forever Blowin' Bubbles', fortune's always hiding in The Theatre Space.

2:04 PM  
Anonymous Russ L said...

(Hopefully having it noted in advance that I'm not arguing with you here and saying you're wrong, just speaking on the subject) I'll rephrase - it's a brave man who goes to Supersonic thinking a 'proper tune' is exclusively synoymous with 'ample sonic compensation'.

Having taken away the visual feast of Chrome Hoof I'd say that it's the primarily the groove they have and secondarily Krautrock-esque build/intensity that provides their sonic strength. Plus they did have a few songs your milkman could have whistled, too!

I absolutely would agree that there's a bit of a trying-too-hard air about them (in my blah I mentioned that they're not quite as charismatic as they seem to think they are). I think (in this case) they'd work even less well if there was an air of 'not trying hard enough', though.

Tunng, incidentally, were in my view the best lovely-old-song band of the whole thing. Shame you missed 'em.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Russ, I don't think our views on Chrome Hoof are that far apart really, but those whistleable tunes must have happened in the middle of the set when I wandered off to sample Om.

As for Tunng, saw them at Summer Sundae last year, were strictly 'okay' I thought, sat down throughout the set then had a go at the audience for doing the same. Serafina Steer and Beestung Lips were much better alternatives, I reckon.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous Russ L said...

One of us liked them and the other didn't. I would suggest our views on Chrome Hoof really are quite far about.

I do like Beestung Lips. Alex The Drummer is a sweetie.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Yeah, but *apart* from the fact you liked them and I didn't much, at least there's some consensus on the trying too hard bit. Scraping the barrel a bit but let's accentuate the positives and spread some peace and love into the world, man.

Which you seem to have started with your soft spot for Alex The Drummer. But if he's a sweetie is he hard-boiled, soft-centred or chewy in the middle? The Taste Tsars demand an answer!

12:20 PM  
Anonymous Russ L said...

An extra-strong mint, I reckon.

6:02 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Oh, if only you could meet a Gobstopper :D

9:28 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

The stuff on Chrome Hoof's MySpace page is quite decent - though it was researching Monarch! that really impressed me. Enjoyed Beestung Lips, but primarily as a visual spectacle - I'm not sure there was an awful lot in the way of a 'proper tune' about them either...

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Russ L said...

Nothing can stop this gob when it's talking rubbish.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

Russ, I had a sinking feeling that might be the case.

Talking of sinking, how's life in Abingdon-Under-Sea, Ben? Are you viewing ChromeHoof's MySpace via periscope?

One glug for yes, two glugs for nope, etc.

9:12 PM  

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