After its hiatus, Freak Scene has re-emerged written by FADER contributor Jamie Johns. Every other week she'll be drawing attention to the choicest selections of the weird underground.
Whoa dudes, writing Freak Scene #33 has been a rollercoaster of emotions. As my academic semester hits its mid-point and the number and quality of both new releases and live performances increases exponentially by the day as we move away from winter and toward the loving embrace of warm weather, too many kooky things have been rolling through my mind, too much Red Bull has been flowin’ through my veins, and a seventeen page interview from the 90’s with harsh noise group Macronympha that I read while procrastinating has meant that my eyes are collapsin’ from the sheer number of times I saw the words “noise” and “pussy” on a single page. So heads up, this column could make less sense than Spiral Jetty but here we go!
My initial idea for this week’s column was to focus on the Chinese experimental and drone scene, as a means of celebrating my impending trip to China. Then…I didn’t receive the scholarship that would have funded that trip. Two days later, I saw that my number one favorite Chinese group, White, are being profiled in the new Wire magazine with Sunn0))) on the cover. I have not read the piece yet, so maybe it is about a different White, but since the Chinese group has been mentored by Einsturzende Neubauten’s Blixa Bargeld, my guess is that the group featured is the Beijing-based White. Shenggy, who is one half of White, was in what was probably the first Chinese riot grrl group, Hang on the Box. I highly recommend checking HOTB out if you want to have a nice journey into the archives of the Beijing rock scene (also check out a sick piece from FADER 44 about Beijing rock). White describes themselves as "cosmic industrial" and that is a fairly right on description: the group alternates between droning metallic guitar feedback, analog synths, and surprisingly uplifting vocals. One of their available songs revolves around the line “Build…a link!” which could mean reveling in the drone with your neighbor or building a link up to space while on an acid trip. Who really knows? This group is sick and unreal, so will someone please, please, PLEASE put out some tapes by them? If only to make my two main interests in this world, records and China, collide in an epic fashion.
There is a line in the first chapter of Jacques Attali’s book Noise that reads: “It [music] makes audible what is essential in the contradictions of the developed societies: an anxiety-ridden quest for lost difference.” Although at 4AM the day the paper I was writing about Attali was due this seemed like a call to arms for specialized underground releases with handcrafted artwork and packaging, looking at it now with rested eyes I can see some faults in that logic. However, what I was thinking was that while the major labels push out manufactured and sterile products on CD that make you, the listener, feel like you are an individual only to have you realize that you are a blank face in a crowd of millions, smaller labels have the ability to present music and product that make the listener feel unique. There are so many amazing labels now that produce every kind of photocopied, silkscreened, handmade, and fucked up records that your options for differentiation are endless. Yeah, there are problems with my early morning logic: like the fetishization of artwork over music, the emergence of a collector culture, and shameless moneymaking, as exemplified by those who made hundreds of bucks selling all of their Wolf Eyes related CD-Rs and tapes on eBay after band “hit it big.” But those consequences are all worth it when you are confronted with small pieces of art…or maybe all record nerds, including myself, just want to feel special and loved.
Perhaps all of these ideas were set off because while I was working on the paper, I was listening to a package of cassettes that I received Iowa City based label Night People. The delightfully silkscreened artwork and the attention to detail found in the packaging of each tape made my heart soar like an eagle through a clear blue sky. What I really admired the most about these tapes was that each one maintains its own identity through its packaging, from the colors used on the silk screen right down to the color of the plastic used in the cassette itself. Certainly, Night People aren’t the first to put out strikingly distinctive cassettes, but they are doing it right now and they are doing it well.
Besides Blessure Grave's Unknown Blessures cassette, which has been discussed in Freak Scene before and which is still ruling my world, I want to focus on a few new cassettes from the label, the first of which is by Wet Hair, a spin-off of the now defunct Raccoo-oo-oon. The tape, entitled The Beach makes a series of journeys into psych, tropical beats, and calming dub lullabies. The group plays with opposites; warm, fuzzy organ sounds are placed behind heavily processed, goth-industrial vocals. I approve!
Download: Wet Hair, "Radio Machines/Gold Chains"
I am digging the Peaking Lights Imaginary Falcons LP and Jeans Wilder’s Antiques cassette that the label also has out right now. Another great recent release is a self-titled tape by X-Ray Eyeballs. While I was at the Blank Dogs/Naked on the Vague/Pink Noise/Gary War/Led Er Est/Silk Flowers show over the weekend, I was trying to devise in my head a formula that described the kind of music I am drawn to. This somewhat schizophrenic tape—and I say this in a really positive way—has most of these elements. One song will be a hazy bedroom sing along, followed by an angular Postcard Records-esque guitar song and then next will change directions and be an aggressive cold synth dance jam. If they threw in a harsh noise piece with bondage imagery, they would probably collect all the Freak Scene trading cards.
Download: XRay Eyeballs, "Blessed Kids"
Up next the label will be offering up one-sided silkscreened records by Philadelphia's FNU Ronnie and Tyvek. PLUS records by Freak Scene favorite Dead Luke and Yves Son Ace...my bank account will be empty once these hit.
On the whole, the label focuses on that specific brand of warm, blissed out, sprawling jams that do the body good. One ridiculous midterms period comparison I can make is that while the harsh noise and power electronics labels that I love and that I have previously covered, like Lust Vessel, remind one of the works of Richard Serra, all machismo, power and danger, the intimate and organic sounding music that Night People specializes in is like the art of Eva Hesse. Just as you never know if a ton of steel will collapse on you while you are looking at Serra’s decaying lead work, when you go to a noise performance you never really know if a table isn’t going to be thrown into an audience. Hesse’s Accession placed soft rubber tubing and a steel box together, playing up opposites and responding to the powerful work of the minimalists. I think the Wet Hair and X-Ray Eyeballs tapes and the way they play with opposites kind of do the same thing.
Send your records, cassettes, lathes, CD-Rs, etc... to:
4304 Lerner Hall
New York, NY 10027