Writer Emily Doyle / Photographer Alice Needham
On 5 August, the team behind Supersonic Festival brought Steve Von Till of Neurosis back to Birmingham, with Shropshire folk-experimentalists Haress supporting.
It’s not the first time the Supersonic crowd have descended on the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. The sight of an audience in well-worn metal band t-shirts filing into one of the building’s carefully engineered performance spaces doesn’t get old, however. Tonight’s show takes place in the Recital Hall, a suitably intimate setting; even from the back bleachers you can about make out the whites of performers’ eyes.
The crowd are still being ushered in as Haress begin to play. They’re a firm favourite with local drone fans, having not long ago opened for Godspeed You! Black Emperor over in Coventry.
Haress’ sound fluctuates along with their line up. Finger picked melodies from guitarists Elizabeth Still and David Hand form the centre. On this occasion their telepathic interplay coalesces around the pulse of a shruti box and enigmatic percussion from David Smyth.
At points the metallic sounds of brass bells and what appears to be a small meat grinder punctuate the reverie. Still’s vocals weave through the cyclical arrangements, leading the audience in a sing-a-long with the help of some handily planted lyric sheets.
Last time Steve Von Till performed in Birmingham it was fronting Oakland post-metal outfit Neurosis, when they played the Town Hall back in 2019. Tonight is a gentler affair. Von Till matter-of-factly tells the audience “We’re going to play about eighty minutes of music”, and does just that.
The set pulls mainly from the lush ambience of his latest album, No Wilderness Deep Enough. Von Till begins with just a microphone, two synth players, and a double bassist conjuring the soundscape. His distinctive growl sounds surprisingly at home over the gothic expanses, mellowing at points to a crooning baritone.
Von Till takes a seat at the piano for one song, then picks up a copy of his poetry book Harvestman for a short reading against whooshing synth ambience.
There is a strange juxtaposition of rich double bass and slightly uncanny synth strings. He’s an understated bandleader, and the set has the feel of an extended jam session where he adds a little guitar here, nods one of the synth players to come up a little there.
The resulting sound is a novel take on the gothic dirge, plucking Von Till’s vocal from the sludge of Neurosis and laying it bare against sounds that wouldn’t be out of place on one of The Cure’s later records.
Von Till closes out the set with an ominous rendition of ‘Known but Not Named’ from his 2015 release A Life Unto Itself. The chorus drenched guitar envelops the room.
It’s a mellow affair as Supersonic shows go, but with the chaos of the festival itself just a few weeks away maybe that’s not a bad thing.
Steve Von Till + Haress @ Royal Birmingham Conservatoire 05.08.23 / Alice Needham
Supersonic Festival ’23 comes to Digbeth, Birmingham from 1-3 September – for more information and links to online ticket sales visit www.supersonicfestival.com