Supersonic festival 2022 review – joy and fury from an inspiring music community

Various venues, Birmingham
From Grove’s queer swagger to Circle’s ecological visions and Divide and Dissolve’s call for decolonisation, this thrilling underground fest has radical utopianism at its heart

At the end of a horrible week in British politics, there’s nowhere better to be than a sweaty moshpit in a Digbeth warehouse being vibrated by the Bug’s colossal bass music, exorcising rage through MC Flowdan’s fury. This is the first night of Birmingham’s Supersonic festival, their first since 2019, promising release, recovery and rebuilding through a combination of metal and experimental music.

It opens on Friday with the euphoric herald of violinist Rakhi Singh playing Julia Wolfe’s Lad, originally for nine bagpipes, brilliantly transposed for violin. Later, Birmingham punk-with-electronic-hardware Blue Ruth rides the big soundsystem, with their part-punk, part-Suicide raw electro.

Bristolian artist Grove then steals the show, queering styles from their city’s rave and reggae lineages and making them, as they say, “a little bit evil and a little bit sexy”. Radical politics is delivered with mischief and swagger and set the tone for the weekend ahead: they get the crowd chanting for their landlords’ head, and MC an inspired junglist version of Girls Aloud’s Sound of the Underground. The Bug starts a fire that doesn’t catch immediately – the crowd are cautious and Flowdan’s calls are left unanswered – but by Function’s refrain (“we’re just trying to function!”) something bursts: sweat flows, beers are thrown, and a pit forms. It’s a place to leave pain and frustration.

A sexy, sweaty roar … Buñuel.
A sexy, sweaty roar … Buñuel. Photograph: Sam Frank Wood

Saturday’s programme takes on the city’s heavy metal heritage, with guitars sunk in syrup and sludge, from Nadja’s doomgaze paired with comforting cat videos, to the deeper strata mined in Bismuth’s expanded riffs. As the heat of the day dies, the sexy, sweaty roar of Italian noise-rock band Buñuel turns up the energy, then the tide turns from catharsis to cure with the borderline-absurd disco death metal of Finnish duo (and Circle side project) Pharaoh Overlord with Isis frontman Aaron Turner, whose death growl over spangly guitars and locked rhythms is what a longhaired Brummie next to me in the crowd delights in as “happy death metal!”

Sunday’s restoration begins with a candlelit Do.omyoga session with NYX choir, gentle movements realigning us to receive cascading voices. Afterwards, Shovel Dance Collective reclaim British folk, with workhouse medleys and the pleasant resolve of a macabre sailor’s song. Paul Purgas rattles balcony railings with scorched pulses, tape hiss and wailing sirens, and at Jerusalem in My Heart, the decorous serifs of Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s oud are flanked by 35mm projections of rockfaces.

The Sunday night triple-header of doom metal duo Divide and Dissolve, furious Bristol noise act Harrga, and Finnish rockers Circle with Newcastle’s Richard Dawson make the festival’s politics plain. Divide and Dissolve intersperse their set with speeches on decolonisation, while Circle and Dawson offer ecological thinking and anthemic chuggers from their album Henki, with narratives on botany and deep geological time. For all the festival’s sonic doom, the repeated message is of hope and change: Supersonic is not just a music festival, but a site for resistance and community, a utopia made briefly real. As Divide and Dissolve’s Takiaya Reed said in their Q&A: “We’re always working together.”

• This article was amended on 12 July 2022 to refer correctly to Do.omyoga, rather than “doom yoga”.


Jennifer Lucy Allan

The GuardianTramp

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