Supersonic Festival 2023: A weekend with the weird and wonderful – Sunday 3 September

Words by Ray Vincent-Mills / Pics by Alice Needham, Connor Pope, and Andrew Roberts

It’s the last day of Supersonic Festival 2023, and I yawn my way into the art gallery Eastside Projects – where a dozen bodies are knelt into a yoga pose and a peaceful air, led by DO.OMYOGA.

I tiptoe my way past, into a side room, where 77 Boa Drum is being screened – the documentary when Japanese experimental music group Boredoms facilitated a show with 77 drummers in Brooklyn. It’s somewhere between a classroom and a gig, as drummers (quite literally) bounce off and learn from each other. Afterwards is Constellation Kino where releases from the label are accompanied by experimental visuals, digital art, shorts, and movement pieces.

I bob back into the main room, relaxed and inspired, and stumble into the Stuart Maconie Freak Zone quiz where the BBC Radio 6 presenter announces: “Don’t search us without putting ‘music’ at the end of it or you’ll see things you can’t unsee.” I giggle my way out of the gallery and pass Dead Wax, where Shovel Dance Collective are facilitating a workshop on writing a ballad to the often grimy but beloved streets of Digbeth.

I mosey my way into The Mill and head into the Marketplace, where queer alternative collective Outcast Stomp are hosting an experimental life drawing class, resulting in colourful scrawls oozing with life and expression.

After a while, I leave The Mill and head over to 7SVN where singer songwriter and instrumentalist Josephine Foster is performing. I sway to her beautiful songbird like vocals with notes of hope, whimsy, and melancholy – perfect on a sunny festival Sunday.

I bounce up to the foliage filled rooftop where Freak Zone are doing a takeover with club bangers and classics. I then head to The Mill to catch violinist Jessica Moss, as she builds a textured and dark performance with a loop pedal and sporadic vocals.

Looking around I see a cluster of people are sat cross legged on the ground; I frown, remind myself I did 30,000 steps yesterday, and join them to see what the fuss is all about. I close my eyes and let the music wash over me and truly immerse myself in Moss’s dark, introspective, and sublime set, which ends with swirling wolf howls. I stand up teary eyed as I overhear someone say: “It’s the worst thing to go out into the sunshine after that.”

But into the daylight I go, heading back to 7SVN, where I’m then submerged into a room of handmade signs, a couple of heads by Brum based artist Tatvision, and a gigantic tapestry with all the names of bands that have performed at Supersonic over the years.

To my left a group of ‘disciples’ equipped with bells chant all the names. To the right is a group of people passionately strumming guitars. Behind me an enthusiastic goggle wearing blue haired person behind me joins in incessantly. Ahead of me, the procession is lead by a tall man with white facepaint and a megaphone moving back and forth. I can’t help by grin at the sight of it all, the zany celebration of this beloved festival. I think I may have just joined a cult… updates pending (turns out I was half right, it was the Supersonic Mass).

Afterwards, I catch Shovel Dance Collective – a folk group of varying hair lengths – who move from humble moving harmonies to cacophonous bursts of infectious juvenile sounds. “A reminder that folk music was created by the working class those who made the wealth of the world,” declares one of the seven musicians on stage

Back at The Mill, 75 Dollar Bill are occupying stage with effortlessly cool grooves from a duo that make me want to put on a pair of outlandish sunglasses, light a cigar, and saunter down the street.

But there’s no time to lose on this jam packed Sunday line up, and I dart back to 7SVN where Silver Moth deliver a performance that adds shimmery ambient tones to noise rock.

Alongside the experimental music, Supersonic also presents a thought provoking array of workshops and talks. Back in The Mill, The Membranes founding member John Robb and Sony Music’s Julie Weir are having a conversation about the history of goth.

Julie asks John what he thinks about the progression of goth in the age of social media. “If you’re standing in a forest standing in a circle, in a way you’re back in the 17th century, it’s no different than a gothic painting,” he Robb.  I hum in thought and think of this as a reminder Supersonic is not just a festival, but a history lesson in the foundations of what brought this festival to fruition.

Hungry for more music, back at The Mill stage I wait for the next artist scheduled, Montana Roberts, who we are unfortunately told contracted Covid and won’t be able to perform. They are replaced with Marc Wagner and the band Seoul, with repeating synths and ghostly vocals.

I go back to 7SVN where Jessica Moss now teams up with heavy hitting neighbours Big|Brave. The room is packed as they play a set filled with guttural guitars, bellowing drums, and the gorgeous darkly angelic mix of both female vocalists.

Back in The Mill (I’m building up my steps for Sunday too) the Marketplace is filled with funky jams, whilst the rooftop is host to vintage bangers. On stage, The Seer have replaced Širom, bringing with them a backdrop of a crystallised plane filled with lightning bolts that transitions into Blair Witch style footage of a masked figure running over water.

The set feels carefully curated as she pours a bottle of crystals into a bucket, then slowly and deliberately floats across the stage. I think about the DnB filtering in from upstairs and attempt to tune it out.

Afterward, I go straight to 7SVN where people are excitedly discussing the Sunday night headliners (and Mercury Music Prize nominees) Lankum. The room is the fullest it has been all weekend, as the Irish quartet captivate the audience with their blend of rock and folk.

One of the performers talks in between songs about his excitement to be here: “even the fucking security are cool, imagine”, he shouts, before sharing the fact Birmingham has the largest number of Irish expats in the UK.

As Lankum play it truly feels like cultures are being bridged, celebrated, and shared. They go from sea shanties with gusto that ebbs, into choppy staccatos and lyrics about hangovers and belonging. I notice this is the act for the lovers at the festival, as couples kiss and sway – as a group of strangers excitedly Irish dance at the front of the crowd. The set feels poignant and unifying, and I feel lucky I got to experience it.

Back at The Mill, Algiers open up with existential hip hop with soulful vocals, and an enthusiastic synth player acting as the hype man. One of the most versatile acts of the weekend, with a blend of gospel, rock and roll, hip hop with samples from late drill artist Pop Smoke and Backxwash.

A man turns to me eyes sparkling: “He’s got a fantastic voice, so, so beautiful.” And he was completely right.

Back in 7SVN, the final set of Supersonic Festival 2023 comes from Avalanche Kaito – hailing the stage with magnetic energy, as the German duo allow the frontman, griot, and multi-instrumentalist Kaito to tell his story, which includes elemental themes of soil and sky.

I think of how much of a privilege it is to be graced by a griot (who would traditionally be spreading their poetry and music across West Africa and not Digbeth) and experience Kaito’s story in such a dynamic and performative way. Whoever curated the festival line up really knew what they were doing putting the group last, as they encapsulate the festival’s themes on breaking boundaries and crossing borders in music and in the self.

All of a sudden, Kaito whips out a Peul flute. “Just when you thought flutes couldn’t be rock and roll,” I say to someone, who in turn insists flutes have always been rock n roll.

Kaito moves like he emptied his bones backstage and filled his body with guitars and drums, as he scuttles across the stage elated and in a childlike fashion. It’s a pure joy to watch as he gets the crowd going with guttural shouts of “ARE YOU READY?” – only performing when he’s satisfied with the response. There also comes a truly beautiful call and response with the crowd, as people dance and headbang their way until the end.

As the dust settles, it’s clear to me that Supersonic is not just a festival. It’s a love letter to experimental and hardcore music; a place of sharing, learning, and breaking down whatever limitations people may have about music.

It’s even clearer to me that Supersonic is a space for everyone, intricately curated in a way to highlight artists I don’t know how I would find even if I wanted to. Over this extra special weekend, my ears have heard things I’ve never heard before.

70,000 steps, 25 bands, and one speechless writer later… I meander into the afterparty at Dead Wax where Starship’s mid 80’s anything ‘We Built This City’ is playing. Indeed we did I think, and a whole lot more, and I blow the metaphorical candles on the 20th birthday cake of our city’s very special Supersonic Festival.

Supersonic Festival 2023 – Friday 1 September / Alice Needham, Connor Pope, and Andrew Roberts

(Artists featured: Algiers, Avalanche Kaito, Jessica Moss, Josephine Foster, Lankum, Shovel Dance Collective, Silver Moth, Supersonic Mass, The Seer)

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