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Taking place in a beautiful and secluded field and small woodland, house and gardens, Supernormal reaches depths and heights that scant other festival seems to. Its size makes it intimate to the point of neighbourliness. Its audience are sucked into the performances, if not by being artists and musicians themselves and/or taking part in the festival, then by connection and collaboration. It is fiercely independent, and, borne out of the counter-cultural artistic and artisan community, exploring alternative living and learning, that the Brazier’s park and house historically hosted, this spirit retains a tight grip on ethos, method and attitude. CCQ's Rhiannon Lowe teamed up with Nic Finch / @chameleonic to bring you some highlights.

I was a Supernormal virgin, like a few wide-eyed others I met over the weekend. More I came across however, had been to many, returning to the weekend of delights, drawn by its size, sense of community and of course the fabulous and extraordinary line-up. The programme cascades and shifts, curated to expel any notions of simplicity, laziness and similarity - across the whole weekend, let alone stages and days. It is three days of proper investment, requiring proper investment in return, and is all the more striking and memorable for it.

Friday kicked off for me and Nic, Supernormal’s Live Graphic Scribe, at the Shed Stage, with the last few songs of off-kilter flying chunk and clunk guitar of Rapid Tan, and then we headed straight into the Red Knife tent for Yeah You’s familial duo. Daughter’s yowl and croon sawed up, over and through the shifting rhythms steered by father, almost coinciding; vocals, tunes and beats slipping in and out of one another. Afterwards, drum and guitar duo Pikacyu*Makoto play back on the Shed Stage; the instruments are clipped and very, very noisy, Pikacyu’s , high-pitched voice picking and pitching over the thrub and throb of her drums.

               

We run to the Vortex, a pyramid shape of wooden shapes, doors, fences, to catch the end of Teleplasmiste. We’re treated to mode synthesiser, that is not quite polite, not quite other-worldly, but instead swooping and unnerving, settling, fidgeting and resettling, the bass undercurrent pounding our calves. Skipping to the Barn, across the common ground area of hay bales, we then see Zaimph, using reconnecting live cable blips, percussive twitches and playfulness, while creating a drilled sound and effect almost, a metallic edge of soundscape. Nic whispers loudly to me, visuals for the set would’ve topped this off, shame.

Catching only 5 minutes of the amazing beauty of Coldnose’s set before she signs off with a flourish and a grin, we went to find Howlround, easily the highlight of Friday, and not only for the visual set up, with metres of tape reel, in two loops spooled out towards and into the audience. He appears to be leaning back, using the pull of the tape he’s making sample recordings from, and improvising over the top of it all. The sounds are deep, part natural, part industrial, making me think of a neverending uninterrupted series of tube and train journeys, taken alone; eerie and disconcerting, flashed through with the clacking of the tape reels.

The night ended with Wolf Eyes. Loud. Loud. Loud. Reverb-soaked vocals, rumbling bass and drums, and squeal of guitar. I fear that they may actually be as threatening as they sound. I jig around to Rocket Recording DJs for a little afterwards to shake them out of my head before bed.

Saturday. Rain is forecast, but you know, it won’t be like Green Man rain, nothing is. I help Nic, to post some of his drawings of Friday’s performers he’s printed out. We catch yesterday’s Pikacyu again behind her drum kit, leading a percussive workshop, gawp-eyed children their heads in ear-mufflers, beating out rhythms. The Wargs on the Shed Stage afterwards bring Kirsten Hirsh and also The Renderers to mind, and none the worse for it. It’s soothing for my heads and eye, a lulling mix of country, postpunk bass and growl, and ’90s indiepop. The rain falls, thunder rolls, we escape to the bright red arched parachute shelters to clap and cheer from there.

                  

From this point on, the order of who I saw and heard and where I went are a little confused - couldn’t say why - and all despite my best intentions and programme concentration; so highlights instead read:

R Elizabeth: Manhandling tape, she holds and manipulates it as it swerves through an old analogue tape player, with the swoop and punch of disco at points, with haw and hark of synthersised sound and ’scapes, topped with little animal-like whips and squeals, together with gentle crooning and singing, reverbed and layered, with arms far outstretched. The set was completely captivating, and the hush of The Barn made for a perfect venue.

Copper Sounds: These folks were down in the BEEF Shed, whose Octopolis is a film and sound hub, within the wooded areas of the park. Copper Sounds played records made out of stone and ceramic, with adapted player heads and needles responding to cut and grooves and nicks in pots and jars. Over the weekend, BEEF was home to an fabulous mix of artists, sound and filmmakers, a great deal of which escaped me, gadding as I was around elsewhere. I did catch Trypps no3, a 2007 film by Ben Russell of the crowd at a Lightning Bolt gig, which fair blew my little, little mind.

Bruxa Maria: With ruthless and relentless guitars, vocals backgrounded or heavily distorted, Bruxa Maria’s ferocity was oddly almost a little lost, out in The Shed – I’d have rather been indoors with the full-on noise rebounding hard off walls and ears. My head was perhaps still spellbound and reverberating from R Elizabeth’s distorting and disorientating manipulations, so it's a little unfair of me to criticise at all, what was an awe-inspiring set. Of course, I could have crept nearer and gone a-moshing... Apparently, though this activity at Supernormal is left to the kids, and young ones at that, for (so the story goes) later that evening, heavyrocknrollers Big Lad played on in delight, as a nine year old led the flight up and over the crowd’s heads. Believe it.

Lone Taxidermist: One of my main reasons for being at Supernormal, was to catch the extraordinary funhouse that is Natalie Sharp. She was performing Trifle, a concoction of blood-rocking disco-beats from her recent LP of the same title, hyper-sexualised costumes and dramatic make-up, oh, and a team of dressed up squirty vaginas… The crowd were given aprons as bedecked, ballooned, festooned and bejewelled figures snuck and crawled among us spraying shaving foam; clear plastic was unravelled over and then between us, trapping and impeding; Lone Taxidermist danced down and around, singing, yelling and pouting. The aftermath was carnage. It was brilliant. All hail Natalie Sharp: ‘Trifle: get inside and fuckin’ eat it!’

         

Sunday morning, and I intended a quieter day, in volume nothing more, with plenty still to see. I was up late to make my way to chat to some artists and performers, catching the friendlies of Can You Hear Me Now? zine, aimed at, written by and about women in music, gender empowerment and mental health. They were leading a second day of workshop, with all ages sitting down for some peaceful sunshine zine-making. I then went to watch Claire Potter perform their meditative durational reading, adapted to be held in Braziers House, an astonishing venue, with room upon room of installations and small events and films. Kneeling before and amongst us, Potter laid out pages of tightly written words as if performing a ritual, quietly moving, ordering and shuffling pages and sections between columns of text, covering two outer ones with green netted material, making the broken and repetitive sentences harder to read. The contemplative lull of their voice intoning while bent over and peering before us, was at once both beguiling and unnerving, and very serious.

I then caught half of Death Pedals back at The Shed, a squally mash of metal and grunge… And then my quieter day turned quieter and quitter as I succumbed to a florid 24 hour bug! I enjoyed Sacred Paws and the beginnings of Cattle, as the breeze blew sound over the hide of my tent. I resurfacing briefly for the second half of the spectral finery and percussive drawl of Mary Ocher, whose voice and chant, both hair-raising and arm-raising, floats and flees over pounded drumming and cool synth stylings.

                   

As the sun dips Mary Ocher makes for a spiritual and immersive end for me as I have to return tent-and-bed-wards and depend on my friend’s notes and his drawings for information on what followed.

MXLX: Relentless heartfelt and distorted electro ballads with an amazing audience connection. The last time I saw Matt Loverage he was at Supernormal singing Wrecking Ball at the karaoke.

AJA: Pounding assault of beats drenched in passionately furious distortion. Aja's performance gives 100% and lets herself go without due care to herself, as long as the show pushes all the boundaries.

                                                 

Horatio Pollard: Out of time and larger than life vignettes were acted out in a narrative of 35mm film from the turn of the century nation building to Godzilla battling Mothra and finally, the remains of a cast member mistaken for religious monument became an audience sacrifice to feast on. Encompassing a joyful sur-reality to a soundtrack of cinematic electronica.

Supernormal, did you miss it and miss out? There’s always next year… Get in the queue.

 

Supernormal 2017 was at Braziers Park, Oxfordshire, 4-6 August

All drawn images: Nic Finch / @chameleonic; all photos: Rhiannon Lowe

Top image: Ruth Angel Edwards