With the WFMU marathon finale the following day, I got home from the station Saturday planning on a relaxing night of TV to save up energy. However, by the 7th airing in a half hour of the Burger King Bacon Cheddar Ranch ad with Hootie done in pseudo-psychedelic-Old Navy style, I knew I wouldn't last, and having no movies on-hand as an alternative I figured on going to check out the 2nd annual No Fun freakfest in Red Hook. Plus Mr. and Mrs.Janitor From Mars offered a lift which was a big nudge.
And what a scene it was. This veritable 3-day noise orgy comes around via organization from Carlos Giffoni of Monotract and is a full realization of what was a very specialized and marginalized genre in the 1990's that included bands like Harry Pussy and umpteenth Japanese noisicians, through even more cues can be found deep in the 1970's in units like Smegma and the LAFMS camp, and even back to the 1960's with Canada's Nihilist Spasm Band. For many, it's a way of life, and today this is the pinnacle of presentation of it in one time and place. Last year's debut featured some high-profile headliners of artists who had taken noise into larger forums like Wolf Eyes, various Sonic Youth-related projects and the enduring To Live and Shave in LA. This year, the SY camp was missing, John Olson from Wolf Eyes only played in Dead Machines, and TLASILA's Tom Smith and Rat Bastard did sets with others. I had hoped Saturday to see what was promised to be some extremely entertaining audience accosting from legendary UK scab Whitehouse, but a last minute family death unfortunately kept William Bennett away, replaced by the upstate twin-sax/guitar powerhouse trio Borbetomagus. I was also disappointed by another UK attraction's no-show, Matthew Bower (Skullflower, Total, Sunroof) also cancelled leaving his partner Marcia Bassett in the Hototogisu to go it alone with her wall of sound.
Still, some wild and wooly presentations were at hand as we arrived during Kites' tonal mayhem rattling the club's high rafters. It was just a bit odd seeing such in a smoothly-organized club scenario, a brief conversation with the women doing coat check clearly indicated that they'd have been much happier if the Fleshtones or someone were playing. Kate Biggar from Magic Hour/Twisted Village told us stories of the previous evening's blowout Hair Police set and Runzelstirn and Gurglestock's mailed-in performance, a 20 minute film of Japanese women imbibing assorted fluids and vomiting them up. We, however, then got exposed to Dave Phillips' laptop harshness behind an apparently pro-PETA series of screened images; when a freakin' dolphin was chopped in half I figured it was time to go see what was going on DOWNSTAIRS.
Here, it was literally a food court of noise. Three walls of vending tables sported every imaginable piece of oddly packaged noise ephemera: handmade CDRs, cassettes in ornate pouches, indistinguishable 7"s all being swarmed upon by hordes of people. Noise dissemination godfather Ron Lessard was there with a giant table of his RRR label and distribution artifacts, as were fellows like Twig from Baltimore's Nautical Almanac and Ben from Load Records. It was hardly a competitive scene, instead it was great to see people connecting who had been corresponding for years; you would constantly overhear things like detailed explanations on why this Prurient record was better than this one. Dylan Nyoukis of the UK's Chocolate Monk label was one especially happy camper, giving me a big slap on the back and stuffing my bag full of goods for the WFMU library from his table's mountain of CD-Rs while his assorted artists sputtered on small downstairs stage filling the air with gobs and grizzle. It was like an updated Larry Levan's Garage scene, but giant group of people buzzing about and meeting to the background of abrasive noise instead of dance music. It was a peculiar, but good feeling, and it was also noteable that the fest had brought out more women than last year (in attendance and on stage) and definitely had a higher mean age among the crowd.
About 10 years ago when I was first snapping up all the weirdly packaged Hanatarash discs and CCCC videos and anything else that Bananafish Magazine waxed poetic on, I saw three of the scene's titans. Borbetomagus plus Japan's Masonna and Merzbow performed in the tiny closet that was the Alterknit, and it made a big impression on me. Here, noise manifested itself in severe and physical ways: Borbetomagus made the small room's floor rattle, Masonna bounced off walls like a pingpong ball while attacking the effects pedals his voice went through with his hands, feet and head in total abandon, and Merzbow not only made attendees' hair flap in the breeze but scared the hell out of everyone with the presence of a giant, shirtless brute who stood there grunting like an animal through the set. Today's No Fun Fest featured a lot of harsh sounds, but often the physical and visual spectacle contained, well, mild-mannered suburbanites who all seemed like nice people not particularly wanting to hurt anyone in the audience or on stage (though I did hear TLASILA's Rat Bastard talk up someone knocking out their tooth during a set earlier in the evening). We had to split unfortunately before Major Stars-offshoot Heathen Shame was sure to present a total psychedelic guitar exorcism, but I wondered how the socialization of noise would eventually spill over into mainstream culture in a few years, as what is definitely a genre of nihilistic, personalized and definitely anti-social expression suddenly starts to become acquiring a larger and larger audience. Will one of these younguns in ten years be producing a Bacon Cheddar Ranch commercial that attempts to be as subversive as David LaChappelle & Hootie's? Will William Bennett be waving a hamburger in the camera screaming "eat this you c****s!!!"? Well, I'd hate to think so, but stranger things have happened.