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Supernormal Festival

Supernormal Festival

Day 3 - Bands in order of appearance:

Ste McCabe
Maria And The Gay
Dogfeet
Neurotic Mass Movement
Mr Solo
The Nuns
Cindytalk

Brazier's Park, Oxfordshire
Sunday August 21 2011

 

Third day of our Supernormal experience, and we're up early to catch a very hungover Ste McCabe open things up on the second stage. I know Ste McCabe is hungover, because he tells us so between almost every song, along with a certain amount of morning-after groaning. He never tells us where the rest of his name went (I mean, Ste? That's an abbreviation of an abbreviation) but I can tell you his energetic fuzz-punk songs are rather nifty.

Billy Bragg once said he thought of himself as a one-man Clash. Ste McCabe is a one-man Buzzcocks, all angst and rasping guitar, the songs popping like shaken-up cans of lager. Sorry Ste. Bad choice of simile there. Let's say, fizzing like Alka-Seltzer. There, that's better.

Ste McCabe / Maria & The Gay

 

Maria And The Gay are a two-piece racket packet - and no, I don't know which one's Maria or which one's the Gay. Perhaps they're both gay. They certainly look happy to me. They set up a boisterous guitar, drums 'n' squawky keyboards rumble-tumble that sounds all garage-folkie and vintage John Peel Show.

I'm reminded of Peelism faves such as The Chefs, or maybe a parallel universe version of the Marine Girls who opened the influence book at the Jesus And Mary Chain page, instead of Joan Baez. Maria And The Gay's lo-fi racket has an irreverent charm - especially when they get to the song called 'Daddy's Bulge'. I don't think they're talking about his wallet.

Let's take a stroll to the garden shed stage now, and see what's going on down in the valley. Oh, look, there's the giant white rabbit - remember him from day one? - heading in the same direction. I don't know which band is on the main stage now, but if they've got the white rabbit seal of approval, they've got to be good. I find white rabbits are a pretty reliable guide to quality music, don't you?

The main stage is crowded with scap metal, rock 'n' roll paraphenalia, and scowly urban urchins who look like they've shuffled out of some Dickensian dystopia. This band is Dogfeet, a kind of post-apocalyptic cross between The Clash and Einst├╝rzende Neubauten. They radiate a sullen dissatisfaction with everything. I'm sure if I asked the lead singer 'What pisses you off, Johnny?" he'd reply with a shrug, "Whadda ya got?"

The band kick off a scrapyard racket of clattering and churning, industrial beats crashing like bricks in a washing machine, the guitar/bass/drums rock 'n' roll element fighting for its place in the bash and blare. The singer glares balefully at the crowd and growls over the circulating rhythm. And the giant white rabbit, showing a fine appreciation of apocalyptico-industrio noise, is right there on stage with the band, throwing shapes and getting down.

It's some way beyond incongruous, this real-life cartoon character, all fluff and good cheer, bopping away while the band brew their heavy-duty urban thunder, but the band play it entirely straight and never once acknowledge that something odd is going on.

At the end of the set, when it all comes crashing to a finish like a pile of scrap metal falling down, the rabbit chooses his moment, then leaps from the stage and runs through the audience, off across the field into the distance. It's a genuine moment of surreal Supernormal drama. But the band are going to have to get really heavy-duty in future if they're ever going to live it down. Either that, or they're going to have to start playing Jefferson Airplane's 'White Rabbit'.

 

Dogfeet / Neurotic Mass Movement

 

Neurotic Mass Movement are not what you'd call a daylight band. They're an after-dark, after-hours experience, all spooked atmospherics and unexpected dynamics, played with the panache of a ghost hunter who's finally nailed an unquiet spirit. Experiencing the band here, in a garden shed on a sunny Sunday afternoon, adds a surreal element to a band that already occupies the blurred edges of what a rock group is all about.

Neurotic Mass Movement are black-clad and deadpan, intent on thair art. The guitarist is impassive behind his shades, but he peels off a series of shimmering, shuddering licks that scribble the air like crayon. The bassist finger-dances through some nimble tumbles of notes. The rest is electronics, effects - lots of effects - and the windswept wail of a vocal that whips across the field like sudden squalls of rain.

But it's not all Cocteau Twins-esque fuzzy ambiences. At times the band interrupts the atmospherics and unleashes some dirty rock dynamics. The guitar digs in like trench warfare, the sonic artillery barrage starts raining down, and it all gets ragged and abrasive, like a metculous sketch on a piece of fine art paper that's sudenly, brutally, torn to shreds.

Braving the sun, the singer climbs off the stage - and climbs onto a table, wobbling on the grass. She sings to the field from this improvised perch, and then, gesturing to the band to improvise an extended coda - because I think we're some way beyond anything that was was in the rehearsal now - she leaves the microphone behind and walks into the crowd, taking the song to the audience in a way that's captivating and slightly unsettling at the same time. Walking away from rock 'n' roll...

We'll walk away from rock 'n' roll for a moment now as well, and sit beside the remains of last night's bonfire and listen to the happenin' sounds of Mr Solo wafting over the field from the second stage.

Mr Solo is the - guess what - solo incarnation of The Vessel, frontman of The Fakirs and/or David Devant And His Spirit Wife. His dryly witty whimsy is quintessentially English, the musical equivalent of a charmingly haphazard cricket match on the village green. There's no cricket going on here, and the nearest village is a mile down the lane, but there's plenty of green. Sometimes, one out of three is all you need.

 

Mr Solo / Supernormal Sunset

 

An interlude in the barn. In the picturesque gloaming of eighteenth century agricultural architecture, the Bike Smut crew are showing a series of bicycle-related porn movies. You think I'm joking, don't you? I'm not. They're real. And funny and provocative and probably very necessary as our society greets the onset of peak oil by obsessively finding more ways to be uptight about everything. Bicycles and porn might save us yet. Make a movie yourself, and send it to them for inclusion in future filmshows.

But now the sun is setting over the organic burger tent, which means it's time for The Nuns to turn the second stage into a beat bar somewhere in Germany, circa 1966. The Nuns exist to play the music of The Monks, that collection of ex-American GIs who stuck around in Germany after their military tour was over, and formed a band with a view to becoming the conceptual anti-Beatles.

The Monks were a band out of place and out of time. Americans in Germany, playing garage punk on the cusp of the summer of love. But maybe they've had the last laugh. Their songs haven't dated. Which means their all-female tribute group The Nuns - a concept on top of a concept there, of course - sound very fresh and very much of now, as they rattle and buzz and jangle and fuzz through the garage punk undergrowth.

 

The Nuns

 

Darkness descends. The Pepto-Bismol purple lights come on. Cindytalk headline the main stage. They're the last band of the festival, so everyone gathers around the rock 'n' roll garden shed, tucked into its fold of the field, ready for the weekend's last party.

But then, Cindytalk have a certain cachet that's certain to draw a crowd under any circumstances. An alumnus of the 4AD label in its 80s heyday, Cindytalk's vocalist and leader Gordon Sharp has steered the band on a zig-zag journey around rock  music's experimental margins for more than twenty years. Tonight, soaked in purple light somewhere in Oxfordshire, surely can't be any more of an odd setting for the band than some he's experienced over the years. In fact, in its edge-of-everything oddness, it's all very Cindytalk.

The sound is loud. Punishingly loud. Cindytalk have their own sound engineer, and it's axiomatic that whenever a band's own engineer takes over from the house tech (or, as we should say tonight, the field tech), the first thing that happens is that all the faders get shoved up.

The band pulls a sound out of the air that's almost jazz-like in its dense swirl. It's a sonic pea souper, a purple fog rolling out from the stage and billowing across the field. In the midst of the surging clamour, a vocal ululation pushes through on a carpet of reverb, like a light plane braving a thunderstorm. We're certainly a long way from ye olde rock 'n' roll. That's very Cindytalk, too.

Cindytalk

 

Up close, the sheer volume becomes overwhelming. So I retreat to the far edge of the crowd, the purple glow of the stage in front of me, the too dark park of Supernormal's final night stretching behind me. Somewhere out there the camp fire is burning low, even as Cindytalk's sound swells to a crescendo.

Tomorrow is Monday. Real life redux. Next week, a few miles down the road, the Reading Festival's corporate splurge descends, a sprawling mass of big-bucks, name-brand, target-market music biz madness that, I suppose, many people would regard as simply what a festival is. Maybe they'd be right. After all, everything we've experienced over the last few days is hardly representative of the mainstream. 

The Reading Festival? That's normal. But it's not Supernormal.

 

Cindytalk: Website | MySpace | Facebook

The Nuns: MySpace

Mr Solo: Facebook

Neurotic Mass Movement: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Dogfeet: Website | Facebook

Maria And The Gay: Website | MySpace

Steve McCabe: Website | MySpace | Facebook

Supernormal Festival

Supernormal Festival:

Website | Facebook

 

Back to Supernormal Festival Day 1 here.

For more photos from the Supernormal Festival, find the bands by name here.

 

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