The Virgin’s Guide to NorCal NoiseFest 2013
Written by a NoiseFest Virgin
For the 17th year in a row, Sacramento is hosting NorCal NoiseFest. One of the oldest and most established “noise” festivals out there, it is a yearly gathering of performing artists from around the country who base their entire acts around creating noise. There is no false advertising here; we are talking about noise, as in sound intentionally void of rhythm, melody and structure. Dissonance and chaos are sought.
This year’s festival will feature 40 artists, spanning three days and four locations.
Let me just get this out of the way now. I’ve lived in Sacramento for 25 years straight, and I have never been to a NoiseFest. For shame!
Anyway, to gain a better understanding of NoiseFest, I not only reviewed countless videos and tracks by the artists performing in this year’s lineup, but I also spoke with the only two people in town who have performed NoiseFest every year since its birth in 1995, Lob of Instagon and William Burg of Uberkunst. They have also been highly involved members of the Secret Masters of Noise (those who make NoiseFest happen each year) since the early ‘00s.
In sum, think of NorCal NoiseFest as the “outsider experience,” Lob explains. The presentation is meant to be unique, abrasive and unpleasant.
This embrace of noise is not a new idea. Here is a snippet of history to prove it: in 1913 the Italian artist Luigi Russolo wrote the Futurist manifesto “L’arte dei Rumori” or “The Art of Noises.” In it, he argued that because humans’ lives were becoming inundated with machinery, music should incorporate such sounds into composition. You might consider Russolo the founding father of noise music, 100 years ahead of his time. Apropos, this year’s NoiseFest is marking the celebration of a “century of noise.”
Rest assured, NoiseFest doesn’t cater to any one crowd. Sure, noise doesn’t have mass appeal—lots of people haven’t trained their ears for it. Yet there are pockets of noise enthusiasts out there, young and old,
Compare noise to eating pancreas, he suggests. The masses will gag at the mere thought, opting for a McDonald’s cheeseburger, just as they will choose to listen to “music” instead of “noise.” Yet there are some who will gladly dig into a plateful of pancreas over a fistful of fries any day.
As he so poetically elaborates, like a mountain man leads the way into the wilderness, the noisemaker blazes a path for other musicians to follow, sometimes decades later.
“Somebody had to go there first, and they generally had to go alone,” he adds.
Consider NorCal NoiseFest the once-a-year gathering of those mountain men and women.
W00DY is a solo performer hailing from Boston, Mass. She excels at vocal manipulation, particularly stretching and contorting her voice, layering and looping fragments over subtle tones. Her performance may leave you feeling airy, and at other times feeling like you are swallowed in a spiral or a maze. You may be tempted to think she is channeling Bjork at times, minus the music. This will be her first time playing NorCal NoiseFest. Catch her performance on Friday, October 4, 2013 at 10:30 p.m. at Luna’s Cafe.
Beast Nest is the solo project of Sharmi Basu, a Mills College student who is pursuing her master’s in electronic music. Her sound will creep up on you, gently guiding you to another dimension through a blanket of feedback. Fluttering R2D2-like beeps, whizzes, zaps and dial tones will simultaneously emerge, crossed by ethereal notes tracing scratchy hums. According to Lob, “Basu has delivered some of the most psychedelic ambient performances that NoiseFest has had in the past.” Beast Nest performs Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 10 p.m. at Naked Lounge.
Music festivals are hard. When you have a lineup of 40 to choose from, how are you possibly supposed to narrow down your options? For those who just can’t make up their minds, try this: just check out the bands with the, uh, most unusual names. Never mind that several of these names suggest pain.
1. Amphibious Gestures
2. Stress Orphan
3. Randy McKean’s Wild Horsey Ride
4. Dental Work
5. Pulsating Cyst
6. Endometrium Cuntplow
17 Years and Counting
As mentioned before, there are only two acts that have performed NorCal NoiseFest every year since inception: Instagon and Uberkunst, both local. Uberkunst is Burg’s project, and “always a spectacle sacrifice to NIAD (noise instrument analog device),” Lob says. Uberkunst’s crew typically consists of 10-plus bodies. Previous performances have included power tools, masks, screaming, destruction, torture machines and spiky outfits with a Road Warrior aesthetic. Instagon, on the other hand, performs with a different ensemble for every single show, with Lob leading the way. When it comes to NoiseFest, Lob typically assembles a handful of performers who each feed their sounds into a mixer set while he selects which sounds to amplify and overlap. One year that meant nine people making noise with jewel cases and contact mics. Odd, provocative, conceptual noise guaranteed. Uberkunst performs at Sol Collective at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, October 5, 2013 and Instagon plays at Bows and Arrows at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 6, 2013.
Who Will Burn the Most Miles To Get Here
1. Thirteen Hurts from Pleasant View, Colo.
2. Dental Work from Traverse City, Mich.
3. Stress Orphan from Washington, D.C.
4. Blipvert from New York, N.Y.
5. W00DY from Boston, Mass.
Sights to Behold
Coat hanger hooks, rubber bands, wires, chop sticks, popsicle sticks, broom straws… What more do you need? Not much, if you are making handmade cranks to play in the Crank Ensemble. These instruments are literally works of art that are then used to create noise music. Mastermind Larnie Fox orchestrates the rigid clicks and pops simultaneously into a steady progression—think clock music. You will want to see these guys up close on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at Bows and Arrows, starting at 2:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Michael Amason is known for his ongoing “Noise Tattoo” project, where he tattoos himself through an amp stack. According to Lob, “You will hear every needle mark!” Catch him at 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at Sol Collective.
Acts You Will NOT Want to Stand As Close As Possible To
2. Overdose the Katatonic
5. Pulsating Cyst
Acts You Will Want to Stand As Close As Possible To
1. Endometrium Cuntplow
2. Michael Amason
3. Dental Work
5. Jeff Boynton
6. Nux Vomica
If you plan to watch Los Angeles act +DOG+, the last performance at Luna’s Café on Friday starting at 11:30 p.m., keep these things in mind. Static noise. You may feel like your head is under a nail gun, beneath the blade of a chopper or pressed against the blare of a dial-up connection. Your eye might start to twitch. Or maybe that’s just the caffeine. Likewise, if you check out /The Nothing at 5 p.m. at Sol Collective on Saturday, know what you’re getting into. You will feel like you stepped into an insane asylum, or someone’s nightmare. It will sound tortuous. You might think it’s a perfect way to scare away every child for Halloween this year. Thought I can’t confirm it, Lob also suggests earplugs for Blue Sabbath Black Cheer (11 p.m. Saturday at Sol Collective) Thirteen Hurts (7:30 p.m. Saturday at Sol Collective), and M22 (9:30 p.m. on Friday at Luna’s Café). I’d take his word for it.
6 Bands Not To Miss And Why (Lob’s Picks)
1. Faults: A local Sacramento noise/jazz trio featuring L.H.Shimanek, Kevin Corcoran and Chad Stockdale reunited, they have not played live in more than five years. They may not play out again. Do not miss it.
2. Overdose The Katatonic: In Lob’s words, “There is only one Jim Trash, and we have him for the weekend. Sonic brutality unleashed in a coffee house; sometimes he throws out toys!”
3. Amphibious Gestures: Lob says it best: “Space aliens from the sea with super sonic audio waves to invade your ears and mind. You think I’m kidding, but…”
4. Pedestrian Deposit: These guys have been on a U.S. tour recently and “SLAYING crowds everywhere,” according to Lob. Need proof? Check out the social media trails.
5. Blue Sabbath Black Cheer: Lob calls them a “tribal rush of power and madness” consisting of percussion and electronics. They don’t get out here much, but when they do, they are said to leave a massive impression.
6. Randy McKean’s Wild Horsey Ride: This is a duo featuring saxophonist Randy McKean and electronics artist Wes Steed. McKean produces sound and Steed captures it via live analog processing, and they play together with the sounds generated. Supposedly it is nothing short of amazing.
Norcal Noisefest takes place Oct. 3 through Oct. 6, 2013. For a complete list of events, go to Norcalnoisefest.com.