Simon Harper samples noodles and more palatable fare at the Supersonic Festival...
There's a fine line between musical experimentation and art-school noodling - the hordes gathered at Birmingham's Custard Factory for the annual Supersonic Festival, now in its third year, are treated to more than a glimpse of both; most of the acts flirt with the divide as if to toy with everyone within earshot.
Unlike most of the artists on this year?s bill, opening act Khonnor could double as the inspiration for a new reality TV series (?When Boy Scouts Go Bad?). Like a delinquent member of Baden-Powell?s wogglewearing army, the 17-year-old wonderkid sports a neck scarf tied around his face, and a laptop set explores his coruscating, glitchy electronica, like an amalgam of the more ragged bits of Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin.
Digital folk combo Tunng don?t hide behind such paraphernalia, although after the numerous sound problems which pepper the start of their set, they could be forgiven for wishing they did. Appearing onstage as a five-piece, Tunng deconstruct their debut album and rebuild it, albeit in endearingly shambolic style.
Their live set-up is embellished with female vocals, melodica, clarinet, and ambient percussion (music boxes, shells, teeth), although the latter are sadly rendered inaudible. In a performance that?s wonky but strangely beautiful, Tunng over-come the early predicament; their heroic recovery making for arguably the most heart-warming set of the day.
Warming hearts is far from the agenda of Jesu - it?s not surprising that any band affiliated with the Hydra Head label and featuring a former member of Napalm Death would be loud, heavy and decidedly brutal. Jesu don?t disappoint, wringing unbelievable volume out of two instruments, with surging feedback and throbbing bass frequencies being key fixtures of their ambient metal.
Former Don Caballero mainman Ian Williams takes to the stage with his latest act, Battles, purveying the kind of angularity that only the finest math-rock bands are capable of. With odd tunings and odder time signatures, Battles still allow atonal keyboard fills to burst through. Undoubtedly pretentious but genuinely exciting, this is powerful, palatable avant-rock at its best.
Imagine Shaft displaced into a futuristic vampire flick (preferably one without Wesley Snipes in it) and you?d be close to approximating the sound of Dalek, who appear as if beamed from another planet entirely. Owing more to Suicide and Aphex Twin than Afrika Bambaataa, their brooding avant hip-hop is as far as is humanly possible to get from the bling-happy braggadocio of 50 Cent et al - it sees dextrous rhymes and otherworldly beats fused with colossal bass and glacial shards of noise, to startling effect.
Among the most celebrated figures in the line-up are krautrock pioneers Michael Rother and Dieter Moebius, who have previously worked together in Neu!, Cluster and Harmonia, as well as collaborating with other electronic innovators such as Brian Eno. Stood behind their machines, the duo create ominous, pulsing electronica, with clanging synths and propulsive bass. Esoteric but just the right side of human-sounding, Rother and Moebius? set, and indeed the festival at large, is cut short due to security concerns in the city centre.
Despite finishing little more than half way through the festival, it is a day of highly inventive and sometimes brutally uncompromising music. It doesn?t need to be a case of third time lucky; indeed, Supersonic is clearly going from strength to strength.