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Genre Is Obsolete: Adam Lehrer On Noise, Industrial & Drone For July
Adam Lehrer , July 20th, 2020 08:32

In this month’s Genre is Obsolete, Adam Lehrer dives into new records by artists like GRIM, Crazy Doberman, Dial and more, while discussing noise music’s enduring status as an unusually independent and DIY economy and culture

One of the joys of noise music and the broader experimental underground is that in a society in which seemingly most radical activity becomes connected to some coded sales pitch — activism reduced to Amazon-funded branding slogans or visual art patronized by our reprehensible wealth criminals, as examples — noise music remains stunningly defiant of co-option and neutralisation by the larger cultural economy. There are many aspects of noise culture that could be pointed to as explanations for this phenomenon: its limited appeal to a mass audience, its impenetrable sound and aesthetics, its “genrelessness”, perhaps. Noise artists aren’t being invited to play Coachella, and they certainly aren’t selling music to advertisers; they just keep making unclassifiable sounds within this admirably small subculture without expectation of fame or even the ability to make a living (one needs fans to make a living in music, and the entire noise canon probably has less fans in total than just one Soundcloud rapper). Noise music is a transgressive art form unadulterated by commercialism in a hyper-commercialist culture.

In an essay entitled Anti-Copyright, Basque noise musician Mattin (of Billy Bao fame) specifically credits this market resistance within noise to its aversion to claims of intellectual property. Because noise encourages a nebulous creative process of improvisation and an awareness within the artist that this music will never be a practice that can support their livelihoods, Mattin suggests, it facilitates inherent inquisitions around notions of cultural production, authorship and intellectual property amongst its practitioners. “These notions [of copyright and authorship] should be challenged and perverted the same way improvisers pervert their instruments to create new sounds,” writes Mattin.

For this and surely other reasons, engaging with the noise underground offers the thrill of being a part of something utterly rare in neoliberal culture: a radical subculture. Like hardcore punk in the 1980s or UK jungle in the 1990s, noise fandom is a deeply personal experience. This music is just too strange and alienating to find a larger audience. Because of all this, noise fosters a sense of solidarity amongst its musicians and fans. Contemporary music consumption often feels more like spectatorship than it does engagement. Spotify sees that you like this band, so algorithmically you’ll also like these bands, it suggests; your love of art perverted into a cycle of advertising. Noise, however, rewards deep engagement. Its insularity is its virtue. Some of noise’s most seminal artists (Macronympha and Atrax Morgue come to mind) don’t even have Apple Music pages, let alone presences in the larger consumer market. To find this radical music, you must look a little bit harder for it. In a culture where it’s almost impossible to make transgressive art that isn’t immediately diluted by consumerist demands, noise’s aversion to market forces feels triumphant.

GRIM - Hermit Amen
(Steinklang Industries)

Japanese artist Jun Konagaya, better known as GRIM, has made music emblematic of the genre synthesis inherent to the noise underground since the 1980s. Harsh noise, SPK-esque punked out industrial, and traditional acoustic instrumentation lost in orgiastic embrace, Konagaya demands that his music employ a “raw, native feeling.” This new release on Steinklang Industries, Hermit Amen, jettisons GRIM’s typical aural cacophony for something more restrained, contemplative, and transcendental. A dynamic vocalist, Konagaya sings beautifully on Hermit Amen with a lush, spiritualist quality at times akin to something like Tibetan chanting. Opening track ‘Wolf Organ’ appropriately makes use of an organ melody that exudes a nostalgic longing, all while Konagaya’s high-pitched moaning vocals subside in the background. Beauty and sadness, there is a life-affirming quality to this album.

Crazy Doberman - Illusory Expansion
(Astral Spirits)

Crazy Doberman reimagines free jazz as ectoplasmic bile spewing forth from the mouth of a man possessed by regret and inadequacy. Based in Lafayette, Indiana, the group is comprised of a wide collective of musicians, but its mainstays appear to be Drew Davis, Tim Gick and Wolf Eyes’ John Olson (Olson is of course no stranger to mutant free jazz, with former projects like Dead Machines and Graveyards).

New full-length Illusory Expansion employs detectable influence from the great freakazoid free jazz collectives of the 1960s, from the Art Ensemble Of Chicago to the Black Artists Group. Nevertheless, Crazy Doberman skirts accusations of cultural appropriation (which in all honesty I reject as hollow, meaningless distractions anyways) by setting a cosmic jazz against malevolent and unpredictable industrial and electronica soundscapes, hiss, and atmospheres. Crazy Doberman’s sound is reminiscent of those cosmic jazz forebears even as it sinks to the dark abysses of Sunn O))) and Fushitsusha. This album reminded me of a line from British cultural theorist Sadie Plant’s book Writing On Drugs, in which she writes: “All writers on drugs become ghostwriters for their drugs. Or perhaps their drugs are ghostwriting for them.” I was struck by the clarity with which Crazy Doberman illustrates the polarities of the psychedelic experience with sound; the way a trip veers back and forth between an awe-inspiring connection to nature and the cosmos and an often terrifying self-analysis and ego death. Crazy Doberman renders both the beauty and horror of psychedelia.

Dial - Trace
(self-released)

No wave is more than a late-70s NYC based scene of like-minded art damaged noise punk bands. No wave is a philosophy of rock & roll; a theory that states: “I love rock & roll so much that I must destroy it.” No wave is the artistic act of mutating the genre of rock music into a genreless entity.

London-based band Dial have been waving the freak flag for no wave for over 20 years. Vocalist Jacqui Ham played with foundational New York-based no wave oddity Ut before starting Dial with Dom Weeks and Rob Smith in the late 1980s. Dial is like a realisation of all the possibilities that no wave offers: buzzing Dead C guitar drones, fragmented and cut-up lyrics, Skullflower-esque walls of ritualist rock, and disorienting shards of electronic bleeps and bloops abound. An admirably unprolific unit, Dial has just released Trace, only its sixth album in a two decade career. The early tracks on Trace are bewildering and fractured. Opener ‘Early Science’, for instance, benefits from the sliced up riffs and tape cuts that one could associate with a band like The Shadow Ring, only with Ham’s ghoulish singing replacing Graham Lambkin’s spoken word musings. As bizarre as those early tracks are, they barely prepare you for the depraved abysses that this album sinks to. Album standout ‘Master Speed’ opens with a hauntological dark ambience, similar to that of Aseptic Void, before ferocious harsh noise dissolves into sputters of glitch electronics.

Anla Courtis - ATSPRRRCHEXS
(Fort Evil Fruit)

Anla Courtis, the Argentine co-founder of infamous and recently reformed subterranean experimental music unit Reynols, is one of the avant-garde music community’s most tireless polymaths. While the Reynols reunion rages on however, Courtis is still producing all manner of delightfully fucked sounds under his own name. ATSPRRRCHEXS is Courtis’ new album of delirious field recordings, bipolar tape manipulations, and menacing walls of buzzing feedback. Whereas Reynols is imbued with a sense of transcendental joy and consciousness raising, this record is bleak. It imagines musiqué concrete as a violent voodoo calling forth demonic entities and lascivious beasts from the netherrealms. Check out the third track, ‘RCH,’ in which an irritating dial tone and ominous gusts of air are interrupted by an agonisingly drawn out drone and intermittent shards of noise.

Rovox 625 - Too Close to Home
(Invisible City Records)

Veteran British soundmakers Lee Stokoe, who performs solo as Culver and has played with Skullflower, and Clive Henry, known for his horror noise project Little Creature and his band Hunting Lodge (the 2000s UK no wave band Hunting Lodge, not the pioneering 1980s American industrial band), have come together as Rovox 625 to celebrate noise in all its libidinous liquidity. The tracks are subdued, but expansive. ‘There are Wolves’ features rumbling sampled riffs that moan and hiss against an apocalyptic landscape of feedback and start-stop electronics. What little calm there was before the storm comes to a screeching halt around the 13-minute marker, when squealing noise and hiss asphyxiates the senses. Sustained tension, as opposed to blistering chaos, is Stokoe and Henry’s preferred approach. Emotional discombobulation and thematic ambiguity.

Sote - Moscels
(Opal Tapes)

Iranian artist and musician Ata Ebektar, aka Sote, imbues electronic music with a sense of metaphysical splendour. Like a hallucination-inducing designer drug, Sote proves that synthetic sound can connect one to the ethereal just as well as its acoustic counterpart. On new full-length Moscels, Sote pioneers a union between physical models and oscillators (hence the title). With his last record, Sacred Horror In Design, the producer hinted at an ancient mysticism that coursed through his work, and on Moscels he proves that that power can also thrive in a primarily digital environment. On ‘Moscels Y,’ some John Carpenter-esque synth pulsations grow more menacing with every passing of rhythm, escalating towards a doom-filled anti-cathexis. Final track ‘Moscels Z’ places a Middle Eastern guitar arrangement against sampled flutes and washes of reverb that envelope you in face melting warmth and ecstasy. This isn’t a “noise” record, but it emphasises the transformative force of electronic sound. It’s a mesmerising listen.

The Bugger - Bugger Tape
(Avon Terror Corps)

When I was young my parents finished our basement and it became my bedroom. I used to have this dream where I’d be disturbed by this notion that the basement had another basement, a basement below the basement, containing an intensification of the mute anxiety and hallowed darkness of the creepy basement that I was sleeping in. A scarier version of an already scary space if you will... What reinforced this idea? There was a muted but ferocious sound. The sound of muted screams, emotional violence, and dread. Listening to Bristol-based noise artist The Bugger (doesn’t seem to be much bio info beyond that) is the clearest I’ve come to hearing that unsettling sound in my waking life. Bugger Tape, released in May by the stellar label Avon Terror Corps, opens with a minute and a half of sirens and swarming muted feedback dragging you into depths of despair. The Bugger is oddly voyeuristic; like the audio equivalent of a DePalma film, it gives you the thrill of witnessing something forbidden. A track like ‘4 1 & 4 2’ can take you on a journey through transgressive electronic music history, while ‘C4R4MRl’ desublimates an electric blues guitar riff, like the blues of Cthulhu.

Himukalt - Sex Worker II
(Total Black)

Himukalt, solo noise vehicle of Nevada-based musician and visual artist Ester Karkkainen, approaches music and image with a cohesive creative ethos. Her artwork begins with black and white photography of either her own body or nude models that look like her, that she then photocopies, cuts up, photoshops, and fragments into a kind of Dadaist pornography. They are provocative but well composed, skirting accusations of “edgelordy” transgression. The practice reveals the artist’s enthusiasm for occulting traditional art production. Himukalt’s music likewise sees the artist cutting up noise, copying it, and composing it into scatalogical rhythms and disorienting fragments, resulting in an equally ferocious and eerie noise music. Sex Worker II is a sequel to Sex Worker, a series of records dedicated to the sex workers of the world; the recording incorporates the voices and diced up narratives of real sex workers, whom are all credited as collaborators. Opening track ‘Panic Attack’ begins with the sound of a woman struggling to catch her breath, overwhelmed by powerful anxiety and paranoia. The noise feedback kicks in and just totally overwhelms the sound with intoxicating fervor. Himukalt loops in all manner of convulsive cuts, leaving listeners off-balance and suspended in jittery excitability.

Lauren Pakradooni - Flite

Philly-based visual artist and musician Lauren Pakradooni makes work that courses with a kind of abstract and synthetic “sickliness”. Her sculptures, for instance, appear as oblique, unnatural forms that are mangled until they take on a damaged corporeality, utilising a harsh, acidic colour palette, reminiscent at times of the ceramics work of Sterling Ruby. A similar putrid vulnerability stains Pakradooni’s ghastly electronic music. Her new record, Flite, is a fitting soundtrack for this slowroll plague we’re living through. Padrakooni is fascinated by space, and Flite often sounds like a banal space being slowly subsumed by a nebulous, self-reproducing matter passing through and subsuming bodies — a plague, one could say — that in its vague malevolence brings a sense of order or purpose to its surroundings (a bit like the “zone” in Tarkovsky’s Stalker).

Bacillus - Death Past Capacity
(Deathbed Tapes)

American noise artist Bacillus’ new release for Deathbed Tapes, Death Past Capacity, opens with a sampled news audio of a Brooklyn man quivering in shock and horror at the havoc being wreaked upon his community by Coronavirus: “Oh, no! They puttin’ the bodies in the back of the ambulance! This is happening, y’all, this is really happening!”

Thus, Death Past Capacity is Bacillus’ (aka Peter Keller) official pandemic release, made in quarantine. Bacillus has always produced noise of the lo-fi, least technologically savvy sort, to conceptually draw attention to governments’ woeful lack of infrastructure for managing disease (if there was a time for a noise musician to become a public figure, now’s your time Peter). His music’s atrocious abjection is rivalled by a mere few: Macronympha, Emil Beauliau, and the like. Death Past Capacity is an unrelenting viral monster of a record. As soon as that audio cuts out on the first track ‘Coronavirus Victims Piling Up,’ an electric storm of domestically abused tape cuts and searing feedback rip through the ear drums. ‘Mass Fatality Management Plan’ bubbles with a simmering tension — buzzing feedback and intermittent vocal samples — abstractly illustrating the dilemma of the essential workers attempting to remain calm and professional against a situation of unmitigated terror.

Empty DNA- Moon Crawls Above
(Hospital Productions)

Musician Mike Connelly is known for many endeavours in the world of American noise. He was a founding member of the Lexington-based noise band Hair Police, replaced Aaron Dilloway in Wolf Eyes for a few years, and currently hosts the world’s premiere noise podcast Noisextra alongside musician and Chondritic Sound label head Greh Holger and the musician Tara Connelly (Mike’s wife, as well). Coincidentally or not, I find Connelly’s music to be at its most seductive when it diverts from noise normative extremity in favour of texture and atmosphere. Connelly’s new project Empty DNA shuns brutality in favour of evocative mood. A new Hospital Productions-released tape Moon Crawls Above suggests Blade Runner-era Vangelis remixed by William Bennett, or a soundtrack to an atypically surreal 1980s Michael Mann film. Audio vocal samples murmur atop libidinal sci-fi synths and crackling early Controlled Bleeding-esque bass rumblings. When Connelly uses beats, as he does on ‘Moon Crawls’ above, he makes sure they are punishingly slow, yielding a disorienting temporal loop.

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