Supersonic Festival is “unstoppable in servicing those fueled by a relentless need for authenticity in music and honesty in performance”.

Supersonic Festival 2019 // Birmingham (UK)

The landscape assaulting one’s mind as the words “alternative music festival” are thrown on the table has been spoiled by brand designers, business people and other career-minded individuals who dream of spreadsheets, Sunday afternoons at Ikea and trendy restaurants. The result: fertile ground for instagramers, scenesters and people who enjoy being offended. Out of trend, likes and shares, and some sort of forced-pseudo-eclecticism, line-ups arefilled with self-proclaimed artists who, in fact, are but mediocre performers. Transparency and integrity are scarce here. But, fortunately, there’s another universe far away from these places of make-believe.

John, Paul, George and Ringo, in Liverpool. Ian, Bernard, Peter and Stephen, in Manchester. Anthony, Terence, John and William, in Birmingham. Who? Allow me to rephrase that for you: Tony, Geezer, Ozzy and Bill, in Birmingham. The same godforsaken industrial Birmingham that gave birth to groundbreaking artists whose influence we can only estimate is home to a festival that by now has achieved cult status.

Supersonic is far, far away from being the quasi-dystopian marketeer’s wet dream some so-called alternative festivals seem to be. Unstoppable in servicing those fueled by a relentless need for authenticity in music and honesty in performance, this Birmingham institution has been bringing actual forward-thinking art to its audience for the last 16 years, and 2019’s line-up was no exception.


Leaving the Town Hall almost in tears, with a huge stupid smile on my face, after Neurosis closed their set with ‘Stones from the Sky’ is something hard to explain very few will understand. I challenge anyone to name someone better suited for the role of headliner than the Oakland veterans. This band is the embodiment of artistic integrity; their performance, one of the most powerful discharges of honesty and raw emotion one will ever see on a stage.

The Bug

However, being grateful and respectful to an audience doesn’t mean, necessarily, being gentle towards it. Some may ask what the hell is Kevin Martin’s, The Bug, deal with all that sub-bass and volume. I don’t know, maybe he is trying to prove one can get used to almost anything. Martin’s performance, with all the technical issues he had to deal with, seemed to draw some parallels with ‘real life’. Things started badly, but Martin kept going for it. With the help of Roger Robinson, Moor Mother, Miss Red and a super-encouraging crowd, the show was still effective; in the end, a testimonial of perseverance in the face of adversity.

The Body

Someone who also seems to know a thing or two about one’s ability to take a beatdown is The Body. The duo proved to be something different from the very beginning, and their ability to dwell in the darkest, loneliest and most desperate corners of the human mind only finds parallel in their chameleonic and prolific personality. Unapologetic sonic harassers, The Body masterfully convey de bleakest states of mind in the most grotesque and filthy of manners, while, surprisingly, also being able to reach degrees of elegance and beauty that hardly match the two furry (but quite friendly) beasts behind the moniker.


Equally disciples of sonic exploration, Dälek are more than used to bringing theirnoise-drenched approach to rap music to audiences that are more familiar with free-jazz or guitar-based music than anything else. At the start of their gig, the crowd wasn’t fully formed or particularly engaged, but it didn’t take long before the room was packed with people completely surrendered to the duo, struck by the depth, the texture and the overall experimental approach of their sound. One of the most relevant acts in today’s music, Dälek played an intimate, incendiary and super-professional gig. It’s a crime their name isn’t more well-spread, but as Will Brooks himself puts it, ‘My heroes are barely mentioned / And perhaps obscurity is where I’m destined / But while I’m here I continue to speak in absence of fear / Formulating ideas indifferent to social norms / Willing to explore more / Consider yourselves warned!’


Now, writing reports is always an unfair task, for many artists and staff (a word for the friendly senior ladies guarding the side doors at the Town Hall) are left out due to article length issues. In short: Godflesh played a particularly solid set. Portuguese sonic adventurers HHY & the Macumbas hypnotized the crowd and might as well have been this edition’s revelation for many people — the same could be said about the psychedelic post-punkers Matters. The wild and youthful energy of Big Lad, the friendly posture and incredible creativity of Hen Ogled, the subtle dreamy landscapes conveyed by Faten Kanaan, the punishing assault of Prison Religion, the beauty of Anna von Hausswolff’s music paired with her contagious performance, the good people and talented artists and crafters at the marketplace, and so on…


In conclusion, urban areas tend to be not much more than an embarrassing reminder of what we, as a species, have come to be. But, there must be an upside to it, right? The arts aren’t just an escape. They’re a way to belong, a way for one to feel less alone and find his or her pack among a scary crowd. Supersonic succeeds on this matter, providing not only a medium for talented artists — veterans and emerging —, but also a safe harbor for individuals of all sorts. Many years have gone by since Michael Gira started the journey of his life with Swans, and if there is something to be learned there, is that there is a kind of truth to be found in the intangible; there is life, compassion and sense in sonic abstraction. It’s the “sonic truth” Thurston Moore was telling us about on ‘Where Does a Body End?’, the documentary about Swans by Marco Porsia. It’s what gets us through the days.

Words and photography: Ricardo Almeida
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