With Birmingham’s Supersonic Festival kicking off next weekend, we took the opportunity to speak to Lisa Meyer, the festivals prime organiser, about how it all started, her favourite acts, and what we can expect from 2009′s line up.
Look out for a full review of the festival, plus plenty of Twitter / blogging action next week.
When did you first decide to start the Supersonic festival? What were your original ideas behind it and do you think you’ve strayed from that, or fine-tuned those ideas over time?
The first Supersonic Festival was in 2003 – Capsule had been putting on gigs and exhibitions in Birmingham for a few years before that but it wasn’t until Capsule became a full time thing for us that we took on the festival. I think the ethos of the festival was and is the same as the ethos for Capsule in general – putting on bands that we not only feel are doing something interesting, but who we are actually fans of, and putting them on in Birmingham where there are loads of fans of experimental music with not many avenues through which to explore this. The festival has always had a strong visual element to it too and we want to maintain that approach to live music, where the boundaries between visual art and music are blurred. I think the original force behind the festival remains but we are working on a much larger scale.
Who’s been your favourite act to have played Supersonic so far? Any acts that have just, at the last minute, slipped through the net?
Well obviously we missed the boat on Sabbath but we live in hope! Harvey Milk killed it at last years festival brought a tear to the eye as it were, and we felt really proud to have had Mogwai play in what was a relatively intimate setting for them. There have been so many great moments from LCD Sound System at our first festival through to Zombi, Battles and Circle I could go on and on.
When you first decide to contact bands, do you have the whole line-up in mind or is it much more organic setup of bands being offered to you / some bands that happen to be in the UK around your dates? How does it work?
We start off with a wishlist not unlike fantasy football, then it’s a fine balance between what we can afford, who is alive and more to the point who is available. This year our audience added their suggestions to our blog and we took note of their requests as well. The biggest problem for us is that there are only 3 days in which to program so much stuff we could probably fill a months worth, but then there is always next year.
What art exhibitions / films (and indeed cake) are you hoping to show this year? Do these acutely reflect the nature of the music being played at any particular time, or are they more a reflection on the festival as a whole?
There is always a filmic presence at the festival and it is particularly strong this year, obviously with Goblin headlining but also Pram will be performing a cinematic score to Film Ficciones 16mm projections and The Memory Band will be reinterpreting the score to The Wicker Man. So there is a definite horror movie presence, which I think was influenced by the inclusion of Goblin. We have also invited artists to design a piece on the premise of Supersonic Festival as a horror movie. As part of our ongoing Home of Metal project there will be a talk with Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson of SunnO))) on the influence of the music from the West Midlands, a lecture by Dr Niall Scott on ‘Metal and the Male Monster’, plus a screening of the Vice ‘True Norwegian Black Metal’ film. This may all sound a bit dark and sinister but I can pretty much guarantee lemon drizzle cake to perk people up throughout.
How have you found ticket sales so far this year? Are you being affected by the dreaded credit crunch / festival saturation problems?
Ticket sales are steady, which we did expect with the ‘current economic climate’ blah blah, but at the same time there seems to be a buzz about the festival like never before. There are an awful lot of festivals all over the country, plus people are going to European festivals but we are pretty confident that Supersonic doesn’t have a bunch of competitors driving people away. There aren’t many other events where you can listen to funeral doom, prog, folk, avant jazz and grindcore in one weekend. And these bookings aren’t a desperate attempt to appear eclectic- this is just some of the most exciting music out there regardless as to the categories they fall under.
You’re a Twitter and blogging savvy crew – do you think that interacting with people has helped or, indeed, hindered organising the festival?
The only hindrance might be how time consuming it can be – if you really get into twitter and blogging and want your online presence to be as relevant as possible, it takes up a lot of time. Other than that I think it has been really positive. It gives people an opportunity to tap into what we are doing before, during and after events and allows them to comment on what we are doing.
Do you see the festival integrating more with web this year, or in the future? Such as live streaming of the gigs / pod casts etc during the weekend?
Definitely we’ve done it in the past with Last FM and have also had highlights up on Youtube etc
You organise events throughout the year under the Capsule banner. How do those reflect or influence what happens during the festival weekend?
We have a year round program of events, with quite a similar feel to Supersonic in that they are fairly eclectic however what the festival allows us to do is expose many of the smaller acts to a larger audience and press. The day to day gigs give us a chance to try out new acts, it works as a great research method for then pulling together the festival line up.
Could you tell us a bit more about the Home of Metal project you’re involved in and what’s it all about?
This came about after years of bands from all over the world turning up in Birmingham to play with such enthusiasm about being in the home of Black Sabbath and us having nothing to show them – no sign of the region’s cultural legacy. So, Home of Metal ‘celebrates’ heavy metal that was born out of the West Midlands region with a focus on Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Napalm Death and Godflesh (though this may expand). We have created a digital archive which so far includes some gems like hand drawn Napalm Death artwork and Judas Priest stage outfits, plus records, clippings and photographs that fans have brought along to our regional events. 2011 will see exhibitions at a number of galleries in the West Midlands region under the Home of Metal banner.
What would be your ideal festival line-up, money no object!
Mike Patton and Lionel Ritchie duetting on ‘Easy’
And, to finish up, we’d like you to make us a mix-tape of some of the less known acts on this years line-up… just so we can brush up before coming along!
Here is a spotify playlist of some of the people playing this year or Brumcast have created a pre Supersonic podcast pulling together some of the festival highlights including Tweak Bird, Corrupted, Arbouretum really gives you a feel for the eclectic nature of the festival – in many ways Supersonic is the ultimate mixtape.