Of all the musical genres forced to endure willfully ignorant “it all sounds the same to me” comments, one would assume that noise would be the one for which it’s tragically apt. Of course, anyone who actually thought that would be proving themselves just as clueless as the rube that said it about country, rap, or what have you. As the annual Milwaukee Noise Fest has proven since its inception in 2005, anyone who thinks noise music is just a bunch of kids screaming into contact mics and pressing effects pedals with their hands just isn’t paying close enough attention. (Sure, there’s plenty of that, but it’s skillful pedal-pressing, yo.)
Indeed, anyone attending last year’s climactic Saturday show would have witnessed longtime Noise Fest figurehead Peter J. Woods’ gripping one-man spoken-word/paper crumpling meditation on life’s monotonies; Shannon Kennedy of Pedestrian Deposit bowing an effects-laden high tension wire connecting the ceiling to her waist; and a gut-busting greatest-hits set from troublemaking Bay Area collage legends Negativland. As you might guess from those descriptions, there’s a performance art aspect to the proceedings that often weaves itself inseparably into the music; whereas your more conventional rock and/or roll bands can separate their recorded work from the live show, many noise artists have to be experienced live to fully immerse oneself in the art. To get an idea of what’s on deck starting Thursday, September 25 through Saturday, September 27 at The Borg Ward, we asked Jay Linski, this year’s Noise Fest curator, to clue us in on what to watch for this year.
It stands to reason that Milwaukee has seen a strong crop of locally grown noise artists spring up in the wake of the now nine-year-old festival. “Milwaukee is blessed to have an all-around solid group of outcasts and misfits that are a part of our scene,” Linski says. “I can safely say that these people also make really great noise and music.”
Along with perennial standbys Climax Denial and Eric Mildew, Linski recommends Jon Engman—a.k.a. Custodian, on Saturday. “People mainly know him as one of the fastest drummers in the world, both conventionally and not-so-conventionally. However, for essentially the past decade he’s been honing his craft, becoming one of the premier names in the harsh noise realm.”
Additionally on Saturday, three Milwaukee mainstays (including Noise Fest founder and “industrious figurehead” Peter J. Woods) will join forces as Phoned Nil Trio. “The trio is also comprised of Dan Schierl of modular synth act Dan Of Earth, and tape/vinyl/electronics manipulator Neil Gravander, a.k.a. Lucky Bone,” Linski explains.
However, we’re mostly psyched to catch local shoegaze/ambient guitarist Apollo Vermouth on Friday. A one-woman soundscapist who also lends guitar duties to Lost Spirit, Vermouth recently impressed during a set at Quarters in Riverwest opening for Joel RL Phelps’ new avant-garde drone ensemble Dama/Libra, laying down hypnotic layers of bliss-inducing drone and distortion.
“I am personally most excited to see [Saturday’s headliner] T.O.M.B.,” Linski says, “whose dark sounds are a mix of death/dark ambient and harsh noise packaged in black metal aesthetic. There’s an infamous tale of the group’s leader, No One, traveling to Norway to record tracks with Hellhammer of Mayhem, which partially resulted in field recordings of Euronymous’ tombstone. I luckily had the chance to see them at last year’s Summer Scum, a noise fest that takes place in Buffalo, New York, and to say the least it was incredible.”
Noise Fest isn’t all moody Satanism and dark, piercing harshness, though. “Plack Blague is another act I’m incredibly excited to see [on Friday], especially since this will be the first time for me,” Linski says. “In a way he’s the act that might be the furthest from typical noise definitions, having hard-hitting rhythms and beats you can dance to. But his hypersexual image is something common within the noise realm. Due to his sound, he’s able to play with smaller noise acts in basement and DIY spaces as well as bigger shows opening for more well-known industrial acts. He’s even been featured on Chicago’s Chic-A-Go-Go, where he presented a very G-rated version of his image.”
The Milwaukee Noise Fest starts at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and concludes Saturday night. It’s $10 per night or $21 for a three-night endurance test of 36 (!) acts, from harsh noise and ambient noise, to evil black metal noise and synth/sample freakout noise. So, ya know…earplugs may be a good investment. Because noise.