(review n pix by mwj)

This eclectic, eccentric weekend festival celebrates its tenth year and I join them for my third one-day-only visit over that decade. I think more often these have been on a Friday too, where things are just getting warmed up / weirded out, with me choosing to enjoy the hit of specific acts and the random chaos around them rather than immerse myself in the sensory overload of a whole weekend there. The main draw for me this year was JK Flesh, Justin Broadrick’s harsh beat orientated project that I’d got a taste of/for at Roadburn earlier in the year.
Of course there is much fun to be had in enjoying the slightly surreal noise experience so I met up with an old friend and temporary shelter provider in South Brum before heading in and having a traditional ale and hearty warm-up in The Anchor with more fellow regular attendees. Heading over to the “area” of the event, among the converted factory units and viaduct arches discover that we won’t even be in the main venue of the Custard Factory tonight, rather starting at a separate venue called Boxxed. Thoughtful of them to allow us to continue our conasewering by having a bar set up serving local Purity ales, after stocking up we can try and focus on the music a little. The venue tonight is hosting a showcase for the Small But Hard record label, all manner of techno experimentalism. After a little DJ mixing the main stage kicks into life with Devilman, a Japanese duo of sound and beat manipulation with live dub-heavy bass powering it along too. It’s fierce and hypnotic stuff, quite rigid and martial with an almost industrial element to some of the samples. There’s an excellent integrated projection show, and the volume is impressively pounding for an opening act.

The exploration adventure continues over some temporary (not quite rope) bridge over a canal to lead us to the Warehouse venue that was new the last time I came, but has been changed again now with the stage relocated to the “side” of the hall as opposed to the end where it had been previously. Greeting us there was the Modified Toy Orchestra, on their home turf. Very stylishly and theatrically presenting themselves in their suits and demeanour, either offset or added to the insanity of producing mental sound collages on circuit bent keyboards and toys. Makes me think of Kraftwerk in a primary school. I’m sure there was a cow in there somewhere. Their own visual backdrop is fittingly surreal, it can’t help but raise a smile at the novelty, and maybe sums up why they fit in as regulars at this event. Personally, it’s something to see/hear but not necessarily more than once.

A breather outside to continue the theme by watching some Vinyl Rally-ing – remote control cars with more mental sound effects racing on a looping and twisting track made out of donated LP’s, then next up back in the Warehouse its Hey Colossus. I think I had picked up an idea of what their guitar based experimentalism might sound like without hearing them, but in this naïve state I was well placed to enjoy the live experience fresh. And it was pretty joyful, with some 7 members on stage all the ingredients were there for building some huge walls of noise, with a psychedelic/rhythmic vibe that put me in mind of the likes of Gnod or Terminal Cheesecake. They did vary their set with some lighter, almost ambient pieces but in contrast there was some really satisfying cathartic battering, and interesting to see the contributions of the various musicians. I picked up their last “RRR” album off the back of the show, result.

Heading towards the main event another break outside gives me the opportunity (and honour to me) to meet Nic Bullen, a founder of Napalm Death, who is another regular here with his continually envelope pushing solo sound projects. As ever with these folks who get the extremes out of their systems, he’s a very personable chap, and is off to see his old collaborator next himself. Stripping down before hoodie-ing up, there’s a lot of constrained energy and concentration as the one man army JK FLesh concentrates on his Mac and mixers, adds a brutally stripped down and effected Godflesh-esque guitar line and overlays that with harshly cathartic vocals. It truly is a monstrously bleak onslaught, complimented by the stark black and white tower block state back projection (looking remarkably similar to where I am staying tonight!). But the whole thing is ruled by the beats, insistent and machine like, almost getting into a more techno approach when he puts his guitar behind his back for a couple of tracks to concentrate on the mixing. Exactly the kind of darkly atmospheric sonic abuse I wanted, very satisfied.

In the aftermath a wander over to Boxxed again presents a mad contrast, with the complete car crash of the MC Sensational (far from it) repeatedly attempting to get some free flow flowing over some beats provided by another Japanese sound controller, but failing badly. He even took over the electronics himself but to no avail, it was a live disaster that left everyone bemused and wondering if maybe he’d got his drink spiked or done it himself. A return to the Warehouse sees another constant of the festival in action, with the hard techno of PCM keeping the energies up. Not mine though, as with the awareness it’s all going to continue in a similar vein, we bid farewells and beat the taxi rush to head off to South Central West Midlands once more.

Another good expedition to escape the confines of atrophied genre inertia, Supersonic again proves there’s more to noise.