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.
Welcome to Freak Scene or what my friend tipsily referred to the other night as "That column about freak music that you’re writing." I am honored to have the opportunity to continue the column, and much like it’s earlier incarnation, the music covered will primarily be noise, drone, lo-fi, hardcore, and anything damaged/weird/photocopied. My goal isn’t to tell you about the newest band before anyone else gets to them because, let’s face it, with the internet someone somewhere will always know before even the biggest nerds, but to give you my perspective as a record-crazy young lady on what’s happening and what deserves to be heard. Every column will be different and I’m looking forward to field trips, show reviews, personal narratives about being the only person in a dress at noise gigs and interviews with those doing good work.
This first column is going to be a little less freaky and a little more informative as I try to play catch up with almost a year’s worth of releases since Freak Scene’s hiatus and look forward to what I think will be stabbing audiences in the face this year. I also talked with Anthony Atlas from San Francisco’s Nodzzz last weekend about the meaning of “deep trite,” chain restaurants and cool records.
Any time I tell someone that I am specializing in Chinese History, some doofus always says something to the effect of what a good idea that is because Japan is "over," as if a country could be "over" or become irrelevant while it still boasts the second largest GDP in the world and while it continues to produce the heaviest, harshest, and most terrifyingly genius noise acts, like those on the new Lust Vessel label. This fall, they released a string of limited cassettes by Gaze Campaign (cover on the left), Tongue Knax, Karasyozoku, Rhizome Angle Naked Coda (cover on the right), and Polar Moldmentous. The Gaze Campaign tape, Gestalt Bruise, is the most ambitious of all the tapes and it is a mix of bellows and tape loops over layers of electronic squall, oscillations, and a continuous throb that sounds like gun shots, tanks or both. Absolutely brutal. Tongue Knax’s Sacrosanct Pearl Skin is also a real gem, it is sixty minutes of pure, unadulterated harsh electronics. They have a small website with ordering information, although I think most of these tapes are quickly on their way to being out of print if they aren’t already, so go quickly.
Blessure Grave came to my attention through a three-way split record they did with Cold Cave and Crocodiles. While Cold Cave sound like those nights when your friends drag you out and all you can think about is how miserable your life feels as they happily be-bop around, Blessure Grave are the musical equivalent of the sad cab ride home, which is always made worse by the fact that you just spent your last fifteen bucks getting there. The music itself is spare, typically just a guitar and drum, and the lyrics are bleak and isolating. It seems like everyone is going goth in 2009. They will be releasing a 12-inch on Captured Tracks and a full length on Troubleman Unlimited later this year.
If subscriptions were still available, any lover looking for a good Valentine’s Day gift for their sweetie would do well to sign them up for Columbus Discount’s singles club. Saying I love you by buying your baby out of print 7-inches…now that is my kind of romance. Maybe this skewed vision of romance is why I am Valentine-less. Anyway, each entry in the series, beginning with Pink Reason and most recently with The Unholy Two — though I haven’t heard February’s Dan Melchoir 7-inch yet—has been worth repeated listens. The label focuses primarily on small pressings of Columbus area acts like El Jesus de Magico, Guinea Worms, Psychedelic Horseshit, and Outer Spacist with hand-screened or photocopied artwork. I am particularly enjoying the sinister The Unholy Two “Altamont 1969” 7-inch that I just picked up, pictured above. Like the other acts on the label it is abrasive, loud and sounds like it was recorded through a vacuum. Yes, those are all qualifications for a great record. Funnily enough, the term “shitgaze” now has a pretty flawed Wikipedia entry, edit away!
Period Tapes is a new Brooklyn based cassette only label that creates lovely cassettes in editions of only forty-six for each release. I don’t know why forty-six is the magic number but the painstakingness of the beautiful packaging complete with a glitter silkscreen and high quality paper stock might be an explanation. The tape pictured above, by These Feathers Have Plumes, is out of print already but I highly, highly recommend you find it in some form. The tape’s three tracks of beautiful and profound glacial drone performed primarily on a double bass (what?!) are perfect for these bleak and icy days.
You can order tapes, find stores that carry the label and check out their upcoming releases on their website. It looks like we can expect releases from The Whip and the Body and Aaron Dilloway in the near future.
As I was pouring over the Freak Scene archives, I was shocked to find that Daniel “The Libradude” Menche has never gotten any love in this column. Menche is a stalwart of the noise scene who has released scores of records since the early nineties. Last year he put forth Unleash, a collaboration with Zgibniew Karkowski released on Alien8 Recordings. The record is heavy: I think there are about three seconds of silence on the whole album and the rest of the fifty-eight minutes is covered with searing high frequency electronics. There aren’t even any vocals on this sucker.
You can stream all of Unleash on Alien8’s website (and if you are into kind of scary yet kind of cute dogs, Metallica, roller rinks, and libraries, I highly recommend Daniel Menche’s truly sick blog.
A week ago I caught two of the three Blank Dogs/Woods/Wavves/Nodzzz shows in the New York metropolitan area. Blank Dogs was kind of threatening, which was awesome. After their Sunday afternoon set at the Underground Lounge in my stomping grounds, I caught up with Anthony Atlas from Nodzzz to talk about Bennigan’s (for the record: not a reference to Bloomin’ Onion Gate '08) only to find out that I misheard a lyric.
How did Nodzzz come together?
Sean Paul, the guitarist, and I had lived in Olympia, WA. We were at school together and played on a baseball team. A year later when I was at school in Oakland, CA, he moved up from Los Angeles and we started jamming. I started a band and he joined and we became the Nodzzz.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? You guys just did the record on What’s Your Rupture? which was your first full length record.
The idea now is two or three, probably two singles, pretty soon. Two song 7-inch singles and then another album, a longer more album, album. It’s almost done.
Are those also going to be on What’s Your Rupture? as well?
Do you have any records that you’ve been really enjoying recently?
Yeah, the one 7-inch we brought on tour was the Brilliant Colors 7-inch. Our drummer just put that out. It’s our friend's band from San Francisco and we sold 20% of the 500 press already. Anyway, it’s really good. Brilliant Colors debut 7-inch on Make a Mess Records.
Make a Mess Records?
Yeah, that’s our drummer’s little record label. As he put it the other day, it’s basically access to his bank account for his friends. He doesn’t really take it seriously enough to call it a label.
I was going to ask what you guys think about when you sit down and write a song, I mentioned Bennigan’s…is it not Bennigan’s?
I know that verse in that song ["Doors are Locked"] but it’s hard to remember exactly what I say. It’s not Bennigan’s…what is that ice cream and burgers?
Yeah, it’s like an Irish themed chain restaurant. My sister worked at one when I was a kid.
How did you hear that? It’s from our demo. I really don’t remember. It’s definitely not Bennigan’s. That song’s a metaphor for when you’re in the bathroom and you lock the door and they keep on knocking as if a locked door is dishonest. “Doors are locked, locked doors don’t lie.” In a broad way that song is kind of about…just physical matter.
I was going to ask about the lyrics of your songs. What do you talk about typically? What do you take inspiration from?
I try and find things that are really commonplace and every day, but not topical. Something that is very commonplace but entirely interesting. It’s a difficult balance because I don’t want to write about something that is too close to my experience. I want it to be totally interesting to me. If I can get any mileage out of the song, it’s probably somewhere private and popular.
Not to academic-out but it kind of sounds like a Claes Oldenburg kind of thing. You’re trying to merge what you do with the everyday, and not create such a separation between the two.
Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned that. Sometimes I think about that essay he wrote, “I’m for an Art.” It’s a weird prose thing where he starts every sentence with “I’m for an art that…” and then he describes all these different things, like falling ice cream cones. Oldenburg is a big deal for me. If we’re going to cite any visual artist, Oldenburg would be the only appropriate one if you’re doing pop music. There are little bits on the new record where little bits of popular culture come in, we mention the Olympics real briefly in one song.
You were talking about Michael Phelps during the show. You’re standing by him?
Yeah, yeah! I think that if something just seems to symbolize or refer to something kind of deep and sad, we’ll use that as an easy way of communicating a point without having to explain ourselves.
So you do keep a little bit of a wall up. Where do you guys see yourself in the divide? Is there a subgenre or camp that you affiliate yourself with?
Lately I’ve been using the term “deep trite,” to describe this to my sister. She said, “What’s this deep trite?” and I said that I think that’s what we’re going for. Basically once a song is over the experience can be kind of trite but it’s all rooted in a pretty confusing and disorienting human experience.
Send your tapes/7-inches/lathes/CDs to:
4304 Lerner Hall
NY, NY 10027