Stefan Kucharczyk looks ahead to this weekend's Supersonic festival at the Custard Factory
After being brought to a premature end by Birmingham's city-wide bomb scare 12 months ago, Super-sonic, the UK's boldest and most eclectic music festival, is back in town this weekend to once more dazzle and confuse the senses.
Launched in 2002, the annual event, hosted at the Custard Factory arts centre in Digbeth, prides itself on weaving together a diverse musical fabric from some of the most disparate strands around.
And weave they most certainly do.
Drawn together by Capsule promoters, legendary for showcasing some of the most alternative art's festivals in the country, the weekender attracts experimental performers from home and abroad. The line-up for 2006 also celebrates a strong contingent from the local music scene.
Striking a sound balance of experienced and emerging artists, this year the Supersonic Festival is set to host a staggering range of artistic delights and curiosities across three venues.
With music ranging from Norwegian jazz folk, to laptop-electric hardcore, to scuzzy funk rock, the festival is as much an attraction for the aurally curious as for the well initiated.
Spanning two indoor rooms at the Custard Factory 'village', including the intimate indoor theatre space, and the outdoor stage at the Medicine bar, the event will afford performers the rare opportunity to showcase their talent at a high-profile city festival. Event organisers have also promised a programme of film, art installations, record stalls and, most importantly, free cake. Hurrah.
Proceedings kick-off in defiant fashion on Friday night with the return of Supersonic veteran, DJ Food. Following closely behind his typical display of verve and energy are bass driven wonders, The Bug, filth and fury from hardcore metallers Mistress and a welcome showing from local drum and bass act, PCM.
There is also a special appearance by the aptly titled, Wrong Music Crew. With a gabba hardcore version of Thomas the Tank Engine a firm part of their repertoire, you begin to learn that Supersonic spells diverse with a capital 'D' (and weird with a capital 'W').
If your senses are feeling a little delicate after an overdose of white noise the night before, Saturday night sees the tempo mellow a degree (just one, mind) and Super-sonic welcomes an eclectic coterie of jazz, blues and rock influences that will certainly please those of the more six-stringed persuasion.
Major highlights include a set by local vintage outfit, Broadcast on the outside stage. With their perplexing retro, 60s guitar sound matched with a slightly unsettling Kraftwerk-esque automation, this rare outing for the band is one not to be missed.
Also on the main stage is Norway's jazz-folk songstress, Hanne Hukkelberg. While predictable comparisons to Icelandic queen Bjork abound, Hukkelberg quietly divorces herself from any misplaced Nordic associations by engendering a subtle and beautifully crafted folk sound that is not too far removed from rising Muscovite sensation, Regina Spektor.
Swans' Michael Gira and the enigmatic Isis provide company in the summer sunshine, whilst Andy Votel, the energetic Knives, progrock fusion outfit Zombi and local, Beefheart-inspired ramblers Mills & Boon reverberate the Medicine Bar until the early hours.
A steady and heady mix of dynamism and diversity, Supersonic is certainly establishing itself as major fixture in the spreading rash of summer festivals. This, perhaps, is for good reason.
Strictly Kev, the man behind dance act DJ Food and who also appeared at the event in 2005, is clear in his support for the festival.
"The Supersonic festival at the Custard Factory was one of the most ambitious and eclectic I have ever had the pleasure of playing at in the UK," he explained following last year's event.
"The only thing that I know of that compares would be Sonar in Barcelona for diversity, setting, presentation and sheer love of music."
At the heart of Digbeth's flourishing live music scene, Supersonic offers a glimpse of underground Britain - musical knowledge that is usually more at home on obscure web-blogs and in dark, inner-city back bedrooms.
But whilst Supersonic might be lacking in the mainstream appeal that helped the city's free music festival, Gigbeth, earn such widespread acclaim earlier this year, for the adventurous listener it certainly promises a white knuckle journey to the far-flung extremities of sense and taste.