October 3rd, 2012 | Published in Articles
*Quote from Jason Williams, below
When my husband told me he was playing the Supernormal festival in Oxfordshire and I was invited I had mixed feelings. I knew that it was a small, not for profit music and arts festival at a stately home run by a community of artists – delightful! I was, however, concerned that this otherwise charming sounding event had, last year, welcomed my husband and his ne’er-do-well friends to improvise for 36-hours continuously – terrifying! What kind of people were these? The prospect of taking our six-month old daughter on her first camping trip was also rather daunting.
We arrived about 5pm on the first day but the festival was in full swing. It was perfect. The sun was shining and within the first ten mins we had bumped into about five friends and a sea of friendly faces. With a little bit (read: A LOT) of help we put up our giganto-tent and went for a wander. The more I saw the more I liked.
At bedtime I moseyed along to have my last pee of the day only to find that the horror of festival toilets had a new twist … darkness and a fear that I might have a (freakish) loss of balance and take a nose-dive down the five foot drop to the … (dun dun duuuuun) … composting toilets. The realities of being at a green festival can be very unglamourous.
We woke up to sunshine, muesli and a long queue for lovely hot showers. The request that we should use natural soap (so the waste water could be used on the organic crops) was a little late but our Imperial Leather was set aside for some invigorating Ecover lavender shower gel that someone had kindly (mistakenly?) left in the shower stall.
We mooched, we ate, we listened to music: on stages; in long grass and in a barn and we enjoyed the festivities. The weather was perfect and (amazingly) a six-month old baby was no encumbrance.
I managed to miss the life-drawing classes, the yoga, the book-binding workshop and I’m sure a variety of other interesting artistic opportunities. My highlights were the long-awaited 2012 summer sunshine(!), the After The Rain set in The Barn, The Bang the Bore collective’s rendition of Twelve Tapes, biting into the head of a sourdough bread man baked by artists , drinking hand-pressed espresso from one of the nicest coffee trailers I’ve seen at a festival, and taking a photographic self-portrait of my daughter and me (with a Bumbo baby seat on my head). Happy days!
Ian Watson – Team Sports
The terrace where we were due to play turned out to be out of use [due to a workshop in the house] so we set up in a nearby meadow and played, I have no idea how long for, we ran with a couple of improv jams playing to the crickets and a fair few more people than I had expected to show up, or stick around. I loved this set, we hadn’t played together as TS since October last year (apart from a quick refresher jam a few days before) and it reminded me (as if I needed it) why we do this stuff in the way that we do (often outside, mostly away from stages rarely closed-in together).
During Seth’s performance [of Michael Pisaro’s Only, see below] I was reminded of Hákarl’s 36 hour improve piece from the previous year in which Seth was a player and how that ever-present stream of sonics was something I had really missed this time around. There were points in the weekend where some sort of base was needed to dip into as and when there was little else happening. This did exist in the form of a cinema tent, the fire circle and individual actiivites but I am a lazy festival-goer and I have discovered I need to be constantly entertained by others.
Down to brass tacks – going to festivals can be an expensive business but here you can eat well and drink well without forking out much money – bonus! Especially as there’s also art and a ton of merch for you to spend your hard-earned cash on. Also, by eat and drink well I mean decent veggie food as well
as fry-ups and whatnot… a really good coffee bar and a bar in the disco tent serving good quality Ales and Cider.
The site is small enough to make for an intimate setting but settings/ stages are varied enough for attendees to be able to fit in discussion groups and art classes (just two amongst a myriad of activities) alongside avant-garde recitals, heavy riffs and gabba beats. Add to this that you can expect to see other attendees setting up ad-hoc stages which are great to happen across on the way between venues. Toilets – you can shit in comfort. Seriously, this is something that you don’t plan on when attending a festival and it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Idiots… there are few, barely any. I am an intolerant man yet I only managed to witness one truly dickish moment which was easily shrugged off.
An important one here: Don’t forget that so much that is happening at Supernormal is being done by volunteers – people are giving it up for you to have a good time. Top class behaviour that!
I really enjoyed almost every performance I saw… aside from the wonderful art and music there was a lot of nature doing its best to get in there. Owls screeching across the campsite on Friday night, red kites and buzzards circling almost constantly, the birds having some kind of non-vocal territorial dispute during Seth’s Pisaro piece in the woods, dragonflies in the meadow by the house, a huge and very spindly spider trying to set up home on my gear during our set and the legions of crickets by the house.
Duncan Harrison – Plurals, thee Bald Knobbers etc
The passing of time, at once crushingly slow and lightning fast, renders my experience of Supernormal Festival more a collection of things I think I felt and thought nearer the time. That and some bands. Actually far fewer than I thought I would see, or at least told myself I would.
First things first, I managed to do my usual trick of somehow getting cripplingly drunk at an extremely early stage of the first night and as such have little real memory of anything I did or saw. I somehow manage to do this with alarming consistency, Supernormal being the third ‘noise-and-improv-for-a-few-days’ thing I’ve attended this YEAR where it has happened. I arrived a bit later than most so it’s ok. What I do remember is that everything started well as I arrived on site where the wonderful Johannah Henderson aka Amniotik had set up our tent already in a great spot amongst loads of our friends. I went to get myself signed in as an artist and redeem the appropriate wristband, finding that I had amusingly been marked down not as a member of the 3 projects I would go on to perform in over the weekend, but as a member of Hexenverfolgung…I’ll put it down to a bit of last minute brain soup from our exhausted and overstretched curators. In any event, the blue wristband was mine and I spent the rest of the evening reveling in the novelty and joy of bumping into friends and allies all night. Other things I remember were a delicious bagel preparedfor once again by the beautiful Johannah.
Next morning I am ropey but happy. Enjoy greeting my camping fellows in the devastating light of sober day and slowly getting ready to think about possibly considering getting Plurals’ set up started later on. In between this, a Bald Knobbers meeting by the fire where we plot our pop up capacity for later in the day.
Fast forward an hour or two and I am now striding around with my shirt open, pale belly proudly arching out into the Oxfordshire sunshine. Plurals have set up our gear and enjoyed a very casual and joke ridden soundcheck. We go to watch a bit of Anta who are wonderful organ driven prog rock where the bassist plays his guitar all weird and return to begin our performance. I am personally surprised and delighted with the amount of people who have obviously made a point to come and see us. Faces familiar and not, waiting patiently for us to begin. We do, it is great fun, I zone out multiple times and find it odd to be playing in the daylight, outside. We finish to a very kind applause and as I look out to the crowd (something I tend never to do mid set) I am shocked further by the audience we have somehow gained. As Dave and I motion to the free CD-Rs we have positioned by the stage, members of the crowd flock like rats to gather our wares. Again, too kind.
I wound up flitting from stage to stage for most of the day after. Watching a lot of angular, noisy guitar bands who were all really good but I can’t remember their names. Even so, I will applaud the skillful curatorial knowhow of Tatty Seaside Town for arranging the day as they did. Great vibes in the good weather and it is here the festival spirit begins to take hold and Supernormal begins to reveal itself as a utopia of wonderful ideas and people. Many of these people gather at 6pm in the disco tent to begin Thee Bald Knobbers pop up show. There was such a big risk of this being an ignored non event…having played only in Brighton with the band to roughly 5 people who have seen it all before (twice, last week) one gets used to treating this band and others like it as a more personal experience; a good way to practice a new instrument perhaps, or play with friends you have yet to play with. All of this changes however, as we march from the tent into our pre-selected place in the woods. Adorned in black robes and belting out jagged acoustic freak sounds the atmosphere becomes one of palpable interest and excitement. It is obvious we are gathering a crowd who WANT to see what we are doing. We get to the woods and they STAY. Bolide have already begun playing before we arrive, which was another masterful mood setting tactic. What follows is a gleeful blast of group activity. Loads of people, including kids, join in with us in a massive free for all jam that WORKS. I look around proudly many times, particularly at Graham, the bloody minded brains behind the band, looking every inch the smooth voodoo shamen in his shades and robe, happily bobbing around watching as his band FINALLY comes together and makes perfect sense.
Thee Bald Knobbers segues into Bolide. Again, this is something which could have failed completely given that Bolide were fulling adding to the Knobbery with all their might. Still, we stop, remove masks and watch as Bolide weave their magic. Only at one point do I decide to play my clarinet over a beautiful droning section of their set. This kind of sparse and selective audience/participant relationship is what made the event so great and I feel I can go out on a limb and call it a highlight of the weekend. The rest of Saturday was based largely on breaking in my new barbecue and drinking a lot of whiskey. The hysteria of the disco tent late into the night as yet another horn tooting free jam takes over serves as the maraschino cherry on an utterly sublime singapore sling of a Saturday.
It’s Sunday and I don’t even have a hangover. I wait in a line for about 30 minutes and get Joe and I a cup of tea. Definitely the way to set up for the final day. Pretty much all of Sunday is spent in the Barn, where as I go mainly to gurgle and coo at Seth and Sara’s beautiful baby daughter, I am coerced into an hour long performance of 12 Tapes. Having taken part in the recording part of this experiment, I am aware of the difficulties of the piece which requires more an interaction with atmosphere than any kind of musical activity. Nonetheless, I find it incredibly difficult here. Clarinet seems like a naturally leading instrument where there are supposed to be none, but I do my best and find a few notes which I repeat sparingly throughout the performance. I realise much too late that this is the first time I’ve made music with Seth and Kev Petals (also Ignacio who I have never properly met) and what a pleasure this is.
Again, I flit between barn and main area for the rest of the day, predominantly chatting and hanging out, missing a lot of music but soaking up a perfect atmosphere. The last real thing I remember is a packed barn for Hamilton Yarns which makes me feel very happy for them, though I’m sure they have many fans anyway. The day and evening unwinds in a further haze of fun and alcohol. An early return to Brighton on Monday morning and the inevitable onset of post awesomeness gloom and work. I can’t wait til next year.
Thus concludes my boring and narcissistic account of the festival. I feel as though there is so much I have missed but it’d ultimately be fruitless to try and repeat anything else, since the experience of the festival is really what counts and is so difficult to channel into language. To reiterate what I have said on the BtB forum however, I feel the success of the festival lies in how well positioned all the music was. One can decide to stay within the confines of one area with all its fun activities, or stretch between both. I feel this must represent the listening habits of many who attended, and the non musical activities only add variety and spice to this ideal situation. Where so often minimal attendance and lukewarm response accompany the efforts of so many artists involved, Supernormal provided a platform for everyone to be exposed to something new and it was utterly heartwarming to see new faces watching these efforts intently and with appreciation. I am very interested to see where both the festival and BtB’s involvement in it wind up next time. I’d like to suggest that assigning curatorial powers to certain people and groups over periods of time throughout the weekend works wonders and I’d love to see more of this. There are many, many people who I think would do wonderful things given the opportunity.
The one and only downside to the festival is that despite its small size and right on audience, it was unable to deter those small factions of very particular ‘creative’ who seem to feel as though all music is lacking without the presence of a conga, bongo or djembe which they invariably step up to provide. Acid Techno? Happy Hardcore? all fell victim to the clammy thud of crusty drum circledom.
Still, worse things have happened to better music.
Daniel Mackenzie – Plurals, Hexenverfolgung, Thee Bald Knobbers
Sunday, around 4pm (I think) and I’m sat on a hay bail in the barn with my head in my hands whilst machines poised hidden around the corner spew out pulsating collages of electronic throb. The sun has the entire site wrapped up in golden ribbons and there’s an air of respectful concentration in the breath of the space in which we’re sat. Kev Sanders, otherwise known as Petals has, as far as I’ve seen, never been shy of ruining a moment and in such a fashion cuts the stasis in two with an animated and desperate conclusion to his performance – the violent destruction of a cymbal carried out through hurling it at the stone floor and beating it with a metal bar. Satisfied that this cymbal will from now on have to take speed just to get up to urinate, the tones end and the applause begins.
Though sitting firmly in the more abstract folds of the Supernormal programme, this particular set does well to encapsulate my general feelings for the festival. Wild contrasts twisting themselves into something utterly unique and decidedly important form the structural posts on which everything else hangs. Across the weekend the darkness and light, aggression and gentle rapture, hedonism and rural contentment played off each other with an almost galactic perfection… How about these for some totally mismatched highlights?: Throwing myself around to fat walls of stoner doom; stumbling into a frankly obnoxious strobed fucked acid-techo rave; utterly gorgeous twilight wandering through the sighing woods; being part of a ritual improv procession settling in rhythmic harmony amongst the trees; shouting ‘bottle him’ as Colin Wakefield reluctantly dances to ‘The Chain’ being shouted by a girl through a megaphone…
What strikes me as rather profound about Supernormal is how all these things make sense together, and how something about the site, the people and the attitudes make everyone feel like such an important part of what is going on. It’s as if the whole thing can be regarded as a piece within itself where just by being there you are really giving something, and in return getting a lot. I don’t want to throw words like ‘utopian’ around like boiled sweets but that is kind of what I’m pointing towards here. The Supernormal weekend was a time spent outside of almost every bastard constraint that casts a shadow over ‘normal’ life. Next year will be the same.
I knew I’d get emotional.
Jason Williams – Mothers of the third Reich.
highlights for me in no particular order…
1) staring into flames + sleep deprivation. (always good)
2) streams of shit and piss falling onto huge piles of piss and shit. (this was art henry was alot of it around just had to know where to be and look)
3) the rain – was good to have that little shower as now i know not only do i not fit in my tent but it also leaks. this may sound like a bad thing but actually made me laugh out loud.
4) “the most amazing tree trunk !” or rather the conversations with random strangers about something amazing you’ve found / seen / heard and just have to share (i’m sure everyone found something to rave about, the yummy bread, pointing out the vulcan bomber, the big black beetles, secret AV rave. some hidden art or even a flushing toilet etc etc. was a really friendly festival…i say don’t publicise it again – word of mouth only, it was just the right size ;-)
5) some people played…undersmile, ramesses, sylvester anfang, sweet williams, plurals, embla quickbeam, bolide, black leg band of the common loon, thee bald knobbers, sadly i only saw bits of telescopes, blurt, mary hampton cotillion, the family elan, queer’d science. nil. and missed some things totally caroline weeks, hamilton yarns, bugbrand, the sticks, petals and probably many of you lot but you know you how it is…which leads into
6) being with friends old and new goes without saying – sorry i didn’t get a chance to spend much time with / or meet some of you from on here… i was out to do everything… was watching a baby play and gurgle under a table while listening to parts of the poetry, i could only hear the louder more aggressive words from in the barn. made some of my own mixes up – sadly only recorded in my head.
7) cinekinosis was with out a doubt my highlight, topping even dan spicer and james parsons moves at the secret av rave…did i really watch vintage hardcore porn, skinheads glue sniffing, alice in wonderland explaining guy debord and busby berkeley routines in the woods. Perfect. some stuff i saw in the pentagram cinema was also great fun.
– i need a bath, so that’s it…great work Kev, Seth, Colin, Richard etc – I look forwards to next year.