Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Jack James
It’s 8 July and we (photographer Jack James and I) are so ready for Supersonic Festival that we arrive at 7SVN on Upper Trinity Street before doors. It’s the brightest day Birmingham’s seen for a few weeks, an idyllic way to kick off the three day multi-venue event showcasing alternative, massive sounds from across the UK and beyond.
We stop off for a half because what else are you meant to do when you’ve got 20 minutes to kill, you’re British and it’s summer. I double check the program which is crystal clear and it’s great to see that Supersonic is kicking off with some true Brummie sounds. Blue Ruth isn’t an artist I’ve been able to catch before, but I’ve heard down the grapevine that they make some heavy, atmospheric, electronic tracks.
At 7:24pm we enter 7SVN and my breath is stolen momentarily, it’s got an eerie yet intriguing energy. The big black room and massive black sound system starkly contrast the intense pink, blues, yellows, and purples of the set. At the bar there’s Purity beers and spirits so I opt for one of the one pound veggie samosas, which as it turns out are available on almost every bar throughout the festival.
Blue Ruth appears on stage donning Dickies and cloaked in fitting cobalt light as they finish setting up their sythns. I make my way to the barrier, then it begins.
A deep guttural noise emanates from the speakers and reverberates around the room. After it settles the noise is joined by a repetitive flat snare and Blue Ruth bops gently, switching craftily between syths, cooking up the sound. As the tempo rises and the bass kicks, the lights behind start flashing.
“I keep myself medicated” Blue Ruth cries over the mic. The tempo is racing now, “I’m so medicated.” You can see the music move through them. They throw their neck back and roll it, settling into the thudding force of the track.
“My name’s Kaila, aka Blue Ruth,” they pause, “and that’s how you can refer to me. I really like this space, so I think we’re going to have fun.”
It’s been a whole pandemic since I last went to a festival, but it feels like I’ve finally arrived. Supersonic Fest has gone all out on creative tech and set, pristine sound and – if Blue Ruth is anything to go by – big, interesting music.
The next song, ‘John Wick’ is more melodic and mysterious in its introduction, but it still ends up with a bass line that splices right through me. As Blue Ruth pulls it back and lets the melody run again, my toes are tingling waiting for the drop. But it never comes and the track is almost pretty as it swiftly fades out.
Am I upset about the lack of release, or happy to have been caught off guard?!
The sounds that follow feel like trying to escape a never ending house of horror, the tension just builds and builds, the sounds dancing enraged around each other. I look back into the audience and we’re frenzied. A voice ricochets against the big walls of the venue:
“I’m missing friends I’ve never had / I’m off the booze / I’m off the bag.”
Blue Ruth’s vocals have strengthened over the set and they command the relatively packed room – you can tell they’re flattered by the applause, smiling subtlety behind the mic.
The final sound of the set is heavier, almost doomy but with all the electric energy from before. It’s divine sensory overload and I realise that at some point over the weekend I’ll need to get ear plugs.
Both Jack and I immediately convey how blown away we are by the quality of the sound and Blue Ruth’s unique talent once we find each other through the dispersing crowd. We head over to ‘The Market Place’ which is situated in The Mill across the road and are welcomed by a host of anarchist art, witchy material and sweet disco vibes by Fat Out’s One Stop Transformational Shop and their “hordes of rowdy witches”.
There’s plenty of vegetarian food in the courtyard which is always a plus and the wait at the bar is barely noticeable. Then, back to 7SVN for Bristol based Grove who I haven’t heard of before, but the program says they play a punk-infused, queer inspired dancehall, jungle and bass.
“We’re here to make some massive f*cking sounds for you today”, yells Grove from the stage.
They’re clearly at home, dressed as a contemporary, baggy version of the traditional French clown Pierrot.
The bass thuds out of the speakers and soft percussion layers on top of the sound’s heavy foundations. Grove kneels, arched inwards around the mic and gentle vocal ring out over noise. The beat lulls and Grove dances, swaying sultrily around the stage. Their vocals continue to rise until they’re almost operatic, filling the room.
Then, the bass is back, and the lights strobe bright white pushing the sensory experience of their ever growing soundscape. Grove stands bold with their hand on their hip arching their back in a near perfect C, and looking over their shoulder into the adoring crowd, rapping effortlessly.
Grove talks about energy vampires and energy draining systems before they launch into ‘Blood Sucker’. Next, the vibe really twists as Grove shouts loud into the mic: ‘Fuck Ur Land Lord’. The track begins heavy, of course, and Grove starts to chant “off off off off with their heads”, which is immediately picked up by the audience.
Their last track ‘Ur Boyfriend’s Wack’ sees both the crowd’s and Grove’s energy peak and they whip their long dread around, grooving across the stage, ending their set by jumping over the barriers and dancing with us.
In the bathroom after the performance, I can hear two women speak about how they’ve never felt safer at an event. It’s a serious compliment for Supersonic given the state of things.
For more from Supersonic Festival go to: www.supersonicfestival.com