Black Vase: July 2012 Edition
For the past decade, Capsule, an events company in Birmingham, have been putting on Supersonic Festival at the Custard Factory – the Media and Arts hub based in five acres of renovated industrial-revolution era buildings. A fascinating structure that still smells of factory floors, foremen and worker's foment – even though what you're actually smelling is Falafel and microbrewed ales.
Lisa Meyer and Jenny Moore, Capsule's leading ladies, have built the festival from a one-day event on minimal person-power to a three day love-in of global repute, with the world's most genuinely interesting, boundary-pushing, subversive, genre-bending music around. Oh, and there are riffs, too. A metric-fucktonne of riffs.
I was first introduced to the festival by bandmate and Rock-A-Rolla magazine hack, Jack Chuter. I went to volunteer in 2010, working the backstage bar in return for my ticket. I saw Supersonic's 90+ volunteer army work like bastards (and mosh like even bigger bastards to Melt Banana on fag breaks – actually, that might have just been me), all working as a cog to ensure this temporary ark of culture sailed smoothly – all the while, reveling in its unique atmosphere, one of open mindedness and infinite love and all that is fucking glorious about music and art and what happens when people and great music and great installations and films and talks are smashed together and this noise spews out and is the prettiest punch to the face you've ever had. And riffs, I can't mention the riffs enough.
This year, Supersonic have had to start a We Fund campaign, due to losing a large chunk of funding. I implore you to give whatever you can so this event can continue. An even that brought over Battles at a point when people had to be told they had ex-members of Don Caballero and Helmet. Who changed their date to put on a reformed Swans. Who will have Lash Frenzy and KK Null play a harsh power electronics set on the same stage that will later host Efterklang's Peter Broderick playing spiderweb-delicate folk madrigals.
At a time when interesting, independent music, and the events at which it is celebrated, are threatened by the same shitty economy that seems to have no effect on the thundering debt-ridden pop spectacle, help is needed.
This year's line-up is as eclectic as ever, with chopp'd and skrewd oddballs Hype Williams, 'Baltimore's most brutal band' Dope Body, kraut/sludge lager lads Hey Colossus, god of Japanoise Merzbow, and Earth's Dylan Carlson being my picks – but that's the beauty of this particular festival, make a point of going to see those things you have no idea about, it might melt your mind.
I spoke to Lisa, one half of Capsule, about a) how the hell they do it, b) how important it is, and c) cake. I neglected to mention riffs, which was – in retrospect – an oversight.
For starters, ruddy hell. Ten years. Did you and Jenny ever think the event would become this successful when you started Capsule, putting on shows in Brum?
Not at all, our first festival  was just one day and had LCD Sound System, Coil and DJ Food performing over a pool filled with water – we've learnt a fair bit about health and safety since then. In addition we did the whole thing ourselves with a handful of close friends as volunteers so ended up booking the artists, stage managing, cooking the veggie chili rider etc. We now have a team of over 90 volunteers and a core team of 20+ staff over the weekend of the festival and an audience that travels from across the globe. It's amazing that it's grown so much over ten years and we're incredibly proud of what we've achieved and so lucky to have worked with such a varied and talented bunch of people in that time. We're always pushing ourselves to do things differently and improve on the previous year; we never rest on our laurels.
How are you coping at this stage before the festival? What sort of things are you doing?
Post booking the artists it's all about the logistics and attention to detail: making it all happen in essence. From working out multiple travel arrangements and technical riders to carefully programming timetables to avoid clashes. Not to mention this year we have some special events happening as part of our tenth birthday celebrations including a fantastical tea party and Sonic Feast, so there is lots of prep going into these.
How important is Supersonic to the UK noise rock/extreme music scene? Do you feel you play a vital role in helping it to progress? Or are you just facilitators playing a part?
Well firstly I wouldn't class us as noise rock/extreme but rather about celebrating adventurous and new music, we're really quite eclectic in our approach and I guess our role is about championing artists and introducing them to a wider audience. In addition it's about creating a meeting point for like-minded people from several disciplines, if you like bringing together a global community for one weekend from musicians to illustrators to journalists, and of course the fans themselves.
How important is the 'shared experience' vibe at Supersonic? Do you think the festival brings people together through extreme/left-field music?
Absolutely, we hope we've created an event that we would want to attend ourselves, so thinking of everything from the cake that's served and good quality ales to the quality of visuals accompanying the performances. It's about the whole package, not just a headline name or two. It's very much about having fun and enjoying yourself, meeting new people and being introduced to new artists. There is always such a friendly atmosphere at the festival and we hope we're creating a place where people aren't judged on their music knowledge rather that they are open minded to trying out new stuff.
Festivals are dropping like flies every year; do you feel that being a bit niche is something that works in your favor?
I'm not sure if it's about being niche but probably more about not following fashion, which of course is very fickle. There is no doubt that we take nothing for granted and have to work incredibly hard to get an audience and sustain what we do, it's bloody hard work and particularly in times when people have less expendable income.
You started a We Fund campaign after losing a sizeable slice of funding due to the ackfing coalition and their austerity drive. Are you having to do things differently this year because of that?
We're still as ambitious as ever but we have to look at new ways of raising the funds to allow us to take the risks we do. Essentially we are looking to our loyal audience and those that can afford to support us to get more involved. Festivals are very expensive projects - Supersonic now costs us in the region of £200,000 to put on. I'm not sure if our audience realises this.
Does ATP (arguably a neighbour of yours in terms of event style and line-ups) going into administration scare you?
I don't think it would be right for me to comment other than to acknowledge that ATP take huge risks to bring over the types of amazing line ups that they put on and we are living in difficult times where you can't guarantee the audience numbers as you might have been able to a few years ago. We all have to be more cautious or do things in slightly different ways, but it would be very sad to not continue. I think the audience need to play more of a proactive role in that if they want to engage with exciting events and have new artists they need to invest in buying music, not asking for guestlists and paying for what they believe in as well as helping to spread the word.
Why should people come to Supersonic?
We hope that we create an event that really cares about our audience as much as we care about the artists performing. While you will discover new amazing bands you'll also have lots of fun too and our cake selection is superb. It's a festival for music lovers, not a place to be ripped off and be fed the same generic line up as most of the big festivals – it's a unique experience.
Supersonic Festival runs from 19-21 October.
First off, I would like to apologise for the tardiness of my second column, I’ve been a bit busy sorting out a schlepp 350 miles southwards with all my possessions. But ne’er a worry, I still managed to hunt down some sick sounds for you lot to check out. Before I start though, I want to point out that not everything in these columns is going to be completely current. [read more]
In the summertime, the fields hum like power stations. Visually, the saturated light creates a permanent intensity, and the heat creates shimmers in the near distance - hovering just above ground level like a finger smudge on a camera lens. The crickets and grasshoppers are hidden generators, buzzing like a thousand tiny clackers. With the audio-visual assault this provides, it's not hard to imagine where talk of earth-energy and so much hippie bullshit propagated. [read more]
Last month I harped on about how I was sticking with grim stuff because it was still dark and cold out, and not quite spring, and brighter sounds are for brighter days. Well, it seems we've been stuck into an extended chill, so allow me to continue with the pounding and the squawking and general unsettling vibes. There is some swagger though, so that's something. [read more]