Writers Mark Roberts & Richard Bari / Photographer Jack James
The Sunday 10 July of Supersonic Festival starts for me (Mark) at 1pm at Centrala for a talk on The Art of Collaboration, unfortunately something has gone wrong, and it’s delayed so I see what’s going on downstairs instead.
I speak to Joseph Frascina, 32, from Redditch, to get a take on his workshop that is underway – ‘Cut That Out! Posters of Protest’. Frascina explains the group “are making protest posters using limited resources and showing that limited resources and limited means doesn’t necessarily mean limited ideas.”
I look over the table to see posters beginning to take shape using scrap magazines, card, and paper. I also talk to Pablo Jimenez-Moreno, 36, from Banbury who has attended the workshop.
He says, “I wasn’t planning on it. I came to see the lecture. It was something spontaneous. I think I have always been attracted to protest in some kind of way, even though I have never been active.
“But the visual effect of protest and visual art, that is the main interest, the impression it can have on culture.”
I’m sad to have missed the talk but I’m pretty sure Richie’s catching one in an hour.
Radio 6’s Stuart Maconie kicks off my Sunday proceedings by sitting down with Radwan Ghazi Moumneh at Centrala.
A renowned producer and musician in his own right, Moumneh performs under the alias Jerusalem In My Heart. Not only is he billed on the line-up, but he has also been invited to share his expertise as a co-curator for this year’s Supersonic festival.
The two speakers hit it off right away and Moumneh delves into his musical background and development.
As the child of Lebanese emigrants living in Canada, his defining influences came from two completely different worlds. One his parents were trying to preserve in their home and one he was finding with his peers.
Moumneh recalls stories of buying punk cassettes in Oman, hearing Arabic music for the first time, and performing Sonic Youth’s ‘Dirty Boots’ at a school talent show – a moment which solidified his love for performing.
“That’s why I’m here today,” he says. That punk attitude follows him into his visceral, one-take, quick recording method.
As the conversation moves forward, Moumneh delves into the story behind his Jerusalem In My Heart (JIMH) project.
The aim: to visually and sonically “show” the state of Lebanon – “the state that literally blew up”.
Using his sound and the films of Erin Weisgerber, the counterpart in JIMH, they are ready to deliver an emotionally driven set later today.
I wonder if the whole team will be able to catch it. I saw Mark leaving Centrala as I arrived.
After sauntering around Centrala’s exhibition space I head over to The Mill for A.A. Williams. A big ‘A’ backlit stands monolithic in the centre of the stage. The band takes the stage and I can’t see my notebook for the life of me, but I also can’t complain because the atmosphere is perfect for what begins.
Her beautiful harmonies cry from the void, dark sustained chords with a romantic chromaticism in their progression produce sounds from a gothic past. It’s a welcome respite from the sensory onslaught of the day before.
A.A. Williams is dramatic, ethereal, passionate, and enveloping.
There are quiet moments of purity in this set, more like the soundtrack to a film rather than a set by a band. A.A. Williams relies on dynamics consistently, a conceit that works to staggering efficiency. The vocals extend and harmonise in unexpected ways, with influences that seem to come from older more traditional forms of English music.
Her songs have Floydian and Radiohead influences with one tune reminding me of the song ‘Lucky’ by the latter. Every track is incredibly heavy in its guitar tones but has a softness to it, like a velvet lined Iron Maiden.
With a new-found love for this band, I leave and head over to J Zunz at 7SVN. They are another atmospheric onslaught. Noise be thy festival and Noise it shall be. I feel like I might collapse.
J Zunz opens with a droning bass that is expectant, luring one into its ever-building sound. An electric jaw harp mixed with noises that would not be a miss in the Wii Sports soundtrack, if they did an adult only version.
Cyberpunk sounds cross into the mix and emanate inwardly, a relentless trancelike beat holding it all together. All encompassing, all enticing and building, I’m reminded of The War of The Worlds for some reason.
Suddenly it stops, a small voice thanks the audience and we’re into the next song.
The fem vocals create mantras over the tunes that are barely intelligible from where I’m standing. The hi hats tremble and I wonder if the vocals are even in English. Growling from the fourth-dimension bass, at this point, it sounds like Optimus Prime knocking one out in the channel tunnel.
The heat might be getting to me, and the end of this set comes with quiet relief but at the same time a thunderous feeling within.
I think Richie’s about to catch Farida Amadou at The Mill
Farida Amadou takes the main stage in The Mill, and a backlight shines down on her as she sits beside her stacked bass amp. Within minutes, she embarks on reinventing the conventional functionality of a bass guitar.
First, she lays into a repetitive strumming of all four strings, creating a percussive pluck which, through the power of multiple effects pedals, resonates and floods the whole room. She continues with this theme before picking the instrument up and passing it by her amp’s speaker – sending out a dose of vibrating feedback into everyone’s chest.
Next up, she places a drumstick between a fret and the strings, raising the pitch and tension on the bass. Then by hitting and tapping the guitar’s body, an array of percussive tones are born, depending on the point of contact.
The deep dive into the possibilities of sound and the out-of-the-box approach to the instrument is cool, however the improvised approach becomes very Out To Lunch!! I wonder what BIG | BRAVE will be like.
The heat wave continues, but I don’t have time to take it in before making my way to Upper Trinity Street.
The corrugated steel panels fixed to the exterior of 7SVN shake madly to the chords struck by BIG | BRAVE. The whole building sounds like a big maraca and I haven’t even made my way in yet.
I’ve seen some loud acts this weekend, but BIG | BRAVE takes the prize. As I walk into the venue, I’m met with brutal waves of overridden guitars, bass, and heavy-handed drums – the ear plugs come out. These guys are very heavy. The drummer is smashing down on his cymbals so hard that their stands keep collapsing from the pressure.
Playing his ride vertically for the latter half of a song. The sound of each synchronised downstroke between the band members creates a satisfying, drony sound.
This is only bettered by the intermissions between chords, where singer-guitarist Robin Wattie’s vocals come forth. No growls, or digital manipulation, her voice is almost like a pearl in the dirt. It’s refreshing to hear my first fem-fronted act this weekend. The audience digs them too, with heads bopping away in sedated slow fashion.
Mark would’ve liked this one, but I think he’s headed back to The Mill to get some food. I know BONEHEAD are there and they’ve got some Chinese food, some vegan beetroot burgers, and some cactus tacos as well.
I walk-in on an outdoor set by Shovel Dance Collective in the courtyard in The Mill, who I missed earlier in the day. As I listen in, I grab myself some dumplings and rice.
Shovel Dance Collective reminds me of a rarely visible truth for a lot of lefties in this country, that there is a shared unity and heritage amongst British people beyond imperialism and colonisation.
This diverse array of people provides the audience with a drunken singalong with perfect harmonies interrupted by small laughs. A true knees-up combining politics and class-conscious messages with old British folk.
Truly, this is the most magical part of the festival for me, a moment of participation in an event filled with experiences that are to be quietly appreciated. With that I head off to the rooftop of The Mill to cool down as I am overheating, to finish my day off lying down to the sounds of subterranean post punk courtesy of The Quietus.
I’m not able to make Jerusalem In My Heart. It’s good that Richie’s covering though, after hearing about the talk earlier, I can tell it’s likely to be a poignant performance.
Moumneh takes centre stage at The Mill and sits down amongst a flood of guitar pedals and digital instruments. Behind him, two buzuqs rest in their stands. He’s wearing a suit and sunglasses like he’s done all weekend, but finally the mask of reservation is about to come down.
Without warning, the show erupts into a barrage of heavily distorted sounds which Moumneh growls over in Arabic – the punk influence mentioned earlier starts to creep in. While the audience cannot take their eyes off him, what is even more visually striking is Weisgerber’s projections, covering Moumneh and a white sheet behind him.
Having set up four film reel projectors on a platform amongst the audience, images of landscapes, flowers, and war bleed onto the screen behind the performer. It’s not necessary to understand the language here. The projected images and the physical nature of the music translates everything that needs to be said.
Moumneh steals the show once the buzuq comes out. Moving up and down the scales, he lays down traditional motifs which are lathered in delay, modulation, and reverb.
Two worlds meet here, and they come together in fashion that’s equally beautiful and thought-provoking.
It’s a meaningful way for me to end a festival which has clearly considered every detail. I’d like to stay longer but my nine-to-five call, and so does Jack’s last train.
I think my ears might take some time to recover – it was definitely worth it.
Supersonic Festival, Sunday 10 July – Jack James
For more about Joseph Frascina’s art go to www.josephfrascina.com
For more music from A. A. Williams go to www.aawilliamsmusic.com
For more music from J Zunz go to www.jzunz.bandcamp.com
For more from Farida Amadou go to: www.farida-amadou.bandcamp.com
For more from Big Brave go to: www.bigbrave.bandcamp.com
For more music from Shovel Dance Collective go to www.shoveldancecollective.bandcamp.com
For more from Jerusalem In My Heart: www.jerusaleminmyheart.com
For more from The Quietus go to www.thequietus.com
To find out what’s happening at 7SVN got to: www.7svn.co.uk
To find out what’s coming up at The Mill go to: www.themilldigbeth.com
For more from Centrala got to: www.centrala-space.org.uk
For more from Supersonic Festival go to: www.supersonicfestival.com