This weekend past I, complete with more than a few friends, popped to Supernormal festival (not to be confused with Supersonic, which I previewed for this very site a few weeks back). The event is billed as the 'alternative's alternative', which both roused my suspicions and stroked my ego a little. "Yes, I could go for that," I thought. The festival is set in the rather quaint surroundings of Brazier's Park – a 55-acre secular community and listed building in the middle of Oxfordshire. They also have Red Kites. They are 'near threatened' (The Guardian of species; not quite fucked, but on the way there), and beautiful.

The vibe of the festival was commune-esque. It seemed you were never more than two or three degrees of separation from knowing someone you'd just bumped into, and there was a total lack of separation between artists and punters. Musicians are always trying to prove that they're normals too. Supernormal puts that into practice. The 'you are nothing special' vibe, paradoxically, makes everyone feel a bit special. Promoters take heed, if the artist makes any demands that you wouldn't meet of a punter, fuck 'em. Fuck 'em onto the street. I managed to see quite a few bands at Supernormal, in between bouts of beer-in-the-sun madness, so here is a pretty much blow-by-blow account.



Friday


Fat Bicth

Having not made it in time to catch the wunderbar Workin' Man Noise Unit, I started my weekend with Fat Bicth (no typo), who had all the non-brass skronk of US Maple but with that little bit more structure. In essence, dissonant riffage that you can bang your head to without violent time changing confusion that leads to a neck brace. The perfect little aperitif of a band that set us up for a weekend of the weird.

Joeyfat

Joeyfat were sold to me as 'the band Enablers wish they were as English as'. Ker-ching. They combined a guitar trio that caressed each other (metaphorically) before leading slashes of riff that made full use of their trifecta of sonic possibility, with drums that could move just as swiftly between rolling jazz licks and straight up four-to-the-floor. Also, vocals that were a bit Jarvis doing spoken word. But not in a bad way, like your mate who's listened to too much Beefheart.

Undersmile

Slow and doomy, which is never bad, with the most affected dual-drawl of a pair of vocals you could find, staggered between thunderous chords (at least, they would be if they weren't at 50db). Undersmile lurched towards you like a backfiring milk-float playing a chewed-up Queenadreena tape on a broken hi-fi. Filled with napalm. Or something.

Ramesses

More doom from a more conventional source (ie dude with pointy guitars and a long haired bassist), Ramesses were totally full of the dry ice and growling that decades of wake-and-bake do for people. Ramesses are full of the doped up heaviness and riff worship that makes doom genuinely fun and crushing to listen to, leaving aside all the macho bullshit associated with plenty of metal. You could sacrifice a virgin to them, but they'd probably tell you that was really uncool and to have a hit on the bowl. Top sludge.



Saturday


Hey Colossus

From the outset, Hey Colossus typified everything that is great about the UK noise rock scene. A bunch of guys who have been doing it long enough to know better/have a crapload more recognition, but still looking like this is the most important thing in their lives (though their wives/kids might take umbrage at me saying that). They played plenty of material off their last album RRR that showed that they know exactly what they are doing, and they locked into the groove so hard it was almost a relief when the set came to an inevitable grinding halt. Almost.

DJ Scotch Bonnet

You may know him as DJ Scotch Egg, overlord of Chiptune, or from Devilman, Drum Eyes, and countless other incarnations, but that day the craziest man with a laptop had everyone throwing the wildest of shapes to some intense motorik mashups under a haze of scorching sun. A particular highlight was him admirably meeting a request for 'Reign In Blood'. Both spectacular and bonkers.

Covergirl

Born from Wetdog, Peepholes and Trash Kit, Covergirl play that kind of itchy, urgent leftfield post-punk that makes you wish people still thought two minute jitter-tunes were the bee's knees. As the sun set over the campsite it was that exact thing that entered my mind, which was surprising, as it was pretty preoccupied with what my feet were doing.



Sunday


Sly & the Family Drone

What a glorious pun. And what a glorious set. Drum kit dismantling and thumping tribalism with consistent drones and an air of absolute rapture. Also: audience participation, the use of a green VW van, showers of red wine and an impromptu kick about. Go see this band live, now.

QUEER'D SCIENCE

Puntacular MKII. Potentially band of the weekend, these guys. All the snappy, lightning Bolt drumming with twisted, heavily modulated guitar like Marnie Stern goes Mindflayer and banshee (not Siouxsie) wails from Vandela on the mic. Seriously, if I were walking down the street at night towards these guys I'd cross over to meet the skinheads shouting “COME 'ERE SO I CAN SMASH YER BAWS IN YA POOFTAH”.

Sauna Youth

Whelp, seems Sunday was Punday. SY nestle in a nice comfy crevice between the dark twee of Veronica Falls and The Shitty Limits' agitated garage. Not sure they were fully on form this day, or if the band above had just broken me, but they just seemed a little out of step. Still, their saccharine edge gave quite a nice little sugar rush.

The Family Elan

It was with no prior knowledge that I went to see these guys. A trio of minimal drums, bass, and Electric Bouzouki and Elektrosaz (Google it), they started out playing some nicely atmospheric Balkan folk, then ramped it up by morphing the familiar Eastern Bloc scales and rhythms into some kind of trad-prog frenzy. It was quite the sight, and I hereby rename them Emerson, Lake and Polichnya.

Bilge Pump

As James Blackshaw had bailed, and I really didn't fancy Seefeel (sue me, OG shoegazers), it was to be Bilge Pump who saw out my Supernormal experience. Going nearly two decades strong, Bilge Pump have all the hilarity of Span and McLusky speared with all the awkwardness of Devo. But less hats. It was their repetiton of almost nonsense and complete nonsense phrases backed by My First Gang of Four rhythms and chicken scratch guitar that completely won the crowd over. There was nary a glum mug to be seen as the set faded into the muggy night and canvas-clad feet scuffled through the grass to the bar. Ace.

EPIC CONCLUSION

Supernormal, to me, felt like I'd imagine a safe space at a protest camp to feel like. Being a white, straight, dude I've never had the need for one, but there was a definite feeling of being able to act as you wanted to, free of any pressure or unreasonable social expectations. And by this, I don't mean the homogenized freedom of a corporate festival where you can double drop and burn a few tents because 'there are no rulez maaaan!', I means it felt like a small community of artistically minded people intent on being thoroughly excellent to each other. With riffs.