It is perhaps fitting that Supersonic Festival, one of the few truly great independent alternative festivals in the United Kingdom, is held in the city that gave birth to Black Sabbath (and so heavy metal), but Supersonic is far less closely aligned to the world of metal than those not truly initiated with the late Autumn weekender may believe. Sure, with past performers such as Napalm Death, Godflesh and Aereogramme the festival has seen its fair share or detuned riffs, brain-splitting drum beats and skin-shredding screams, but it is much more than a celebration of a particular genre; more so a hub for challenging, inventive music and art.
To which the programme for 2011 is testament. Refreshingly, Supersonic has managed to expand year-on-year without losing its identity, and this years edition is both its largest and most consistent. It's headliners are somewhat a surprise choice; Turbonegro, playing one of their first shows since reforming with new vocalist Tony Syvlester. The band are much more tongue-in-cheek and less self-aware than the acts one would typically associate with the festival, but this in itself is an indication of the impossibility of stereotyping it, and the hyperactive 'deathpunk' generals will no doubt be welcomed with open arms.
One of the main draws is a rare solo performance by Simeon Coxe III, now the entirety of Silver Apples after the passing of drummer Danny Taylor, over forty years on from their proto-krautrock self-titled debút. Like Michael Rother of Neu and Damo Suzuki of Can, Simeon remains a vibrant live musician and drives his progressive electronics with an admirable youthful spirit and a sense of adventure, a feat as rare as the bands standing as a precedent setter in their field and an artists who are immensely enjoyable to listen to.
Their precedent is one that has been followed on from by several artists performing over the weekend, most notably the psychedelic quartet Teeth Of The Sea, who have modified the kraut formula into something that wraps its way around jet-black guitars and pulsing electro beats.
There are also more 'in your face' delights. Whilst Tokyo, Japan's ENVY may have mellowed from the well-spaced sandpaper blasts of hardcore of their landmark 'A Dead Sinking Story' opus they remain a fierce live prospect, as intense and visceral as any band you could care to mention. Except perhaps labelmates Part Chimp, who (thankfully) seem to be putting an announced break-up on hold to lay waste to more subjects in their quest to destroy more eardrums than any band before them.
With such an admirable standard of quality throughout the line-up it is hard not to turn a preview of Supersonic into a mere list of bands, but further mention must also be given to the deep-set stoner riffs of Electric Wizard and Koguzuma and the warm electronics of Byetone and Alva Noto, who between them sum up the depth and range of the weekends' activities.
But just as important are the festivals intricacies, such as the 'market place' which holds stalls for independent record distributors and poster artists alongside typical band merchandise, the showing of several documentaries and holding of workshops. Add all this to the festivals location of The Custard Factory, the hub of Birmingham's creative community, and you are left with one of the most exciting, unique and vibrant festivals in the country.