On a sweltering August afternoon outside of Screamer’s Vegan Pizzeria in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a woman is holding a metal bench and threatening to swing it. I am sitting across from Dreamcrusher, a prolific noise artist originally from Wichita, Kansas, who has lived in New York for two years — long enough to sense when something is about to go awry. Watching through the window from the corner of their eye, they instinctively stop me mid-question, moments before the scene unfolds, when the tension outside still seems minimal.
The target of the makeshift weapon is a younger woman, who is being dragged away by several friends, unarmed and thrashing. Dreamcrusher, slightly overdressed for the weather in multiple scarves and a light jacket, looks on in awe, offering whispered commentary: “Is she going to throw that bench??”; “I’m not trying to go to jail, but I’m DEFINITELY not trying to go to Rikers, honey.” When the debacle ends, Dreamcrusher exhales. “Ok,” they say, placing both hands on the table. “What were we talking about? We were doing an interview, and then Brooklyn happened.”
Dreamcrusher exists at the intersection of various identities — queer / gender non-conforming / black / vegan — but they don’t particularly find any of that as fascinating as the rest of the world seems to. At 29, they have already built a full and busy career. They’ve released over 20 projects independently, mostly on internet platforms such as MySpace and Bandcamp, and are in the midst of readying a couple of releases due out on Show Me The Body’s label Corpus at some point soon. When I mention that most of what has been written about them lists all of their identities in the headline, Dreamcrusher laughs. “It’s so weird, isn’t it?” they ask, rhetorically. “I can’t help that most people see me as this very unique and weird thing.” Their emphasis on the word thing is sharp. “It doesn’t mean that I have to bow to that myself, or incorporate that into my music or my story.”
The morning after the metal bench incident, we are at Clementine Bakery in Clinton Hill and Dreamcrusher is talking to me about the 1971 score to A Clockwork Orange, crafted by Wendy Carlos. “The first electronic score for a movie was done by a trans woman — for a Kubrick film! That’s fucking rad, isn’t it?” This fact hovers around much of our conversation. Dreamcrusher cites Carlos as a major influence, but they’re getting at something different by bringing her into the conversation: the fact that they want to be a force for representation, but don’t want to be tokenized.
“I always ask people to research the history of people of color in noise and queer people in noise. People aren’t paying attention to that,” they say. “And so my main mission is that I want people to stop treating me like I’m an anomaly. Because I’m not.”
They accent this with a nervous laugh and a mile-wide smile.
Dreamcrusher’s battle is to create work that borders on the political without being seen solely as a political entity. They insist that they aren’t political, but also that they are. At one point they suggest that burning down all bank headquarters and starting a brand new economy would be a good idea. “The new album is slightly more political, or socially aware,” they tell me. “There are songs about Octavia Butler because I’m thinking about the politics of representations. There’s songs about being trapped in your body, but being trapped in your body while people are watching you.”
“To me, all music is noise. If I’m in the grocery store and I hear three Taylor Swift songs in a row, eventually it’s all just going to sound like noise.” —Dreamcrusher
Earlier in the week, I’d seen Dreamcrusher perform in a show at Webster Hall that, according to them, didn’t go well. Admittedly, it did seem a bit stuffy and awkward for what they were asking out of the audience: a complete engagement, physical and otherwise. During their performances, Dreamcrusher often wades into the audience, getting close, letting out low growls of lyrics, and pulling strangers close to them to create a type of sacred and intense intimacy. It is world-building through an act of urgent physicality.
“I felt like the spot on the Dalmatian,” they tell me the next day. It bears noting that they were the only black artist on the bill, performing to an audience with few black people in it. “I felt like a spectacle, in a way that I don’t want to be. I don’t want to play to audiences that Instagram the whole fucking show. Shows like last night make me feel like eyeballs are on me, but there’s not an interest. It doesn’t feel like an exchange with the audience, which can be draining.”
Witnessing a Dreamcrusher show can be a jarring experience — in terms of both volume and unpredictable artist-audience interaction — but it’s one that’s most exciting when concertgoers allow themselves to give in to it completely. And sometimes that happens. The day after the Webster Hall show, they are scheduled to perform at The Glove, a DIY space in Bushwick that they are confident will bring out an audience that better shares their ethos. “I want to feel like I’m not the only one in the room willing to take a risk. I’m doing some work on stage, but the audience has to do some work from where they are, too,” they say. “I want people willing to go to the edge with me.”
Dreamcrusher is, among many other things, a hustler. During one stretch, from 2013 to 2015, they released a project every few months. When they moved to New York from Kansas a little over two years ago, they began a rigorous lifestyle of performing and music-making. They would leave their things in a friend’s house and sleep in train stations in between performing late-night sets. They don’t glorify the era, and suggest that it was short-lived, but their trajectory does have a bit of a triumphant tone.
Growing up in Wichita, Kansas, Dreamcrusher first found music as an escape from a city and culture where they didn’t seem to fit in. “I had to get out of there,” they told me early in our conversation. “It was killing my spirit. Because I was the only one doing what I was doing, I couldn’t grow creatively,” they tell me. “I had a lot of energy and it got me into a lot of trouble in school. Music was a way out.” Despite their insistence on not knowing what to do with their abundance of energy, it isn’t evident in speaking with them — they are reserved, sometimes quiet, following nearly every sentence with nervous laughter.
Like many young people of our particular generation, Dreamcrusher found release through MySpace. They released their earliest mixes on the platform when they were just 15 years old, figuring out ways to blend their varied musical roots with their interest in making loud, frantic sounds collide. They tell me about their mother’s interest in soul and jazz, and how that collided with their interest in groups like Portishead and Massive Attack. This, they think, puts them slightly at odds with what they see in the current iteration of the noise community. “The noise community is so insular sometimes. People only listen to each other, and they only listen to one type of thing,” they say. “When I was a kid I was really into Kriss Kross. I was really into Another Bad Creation. My mom sat me down as a kid and showed me records and showed me all of the types of music that black people make. It allowed me to see myself in as many different ways of making music.”
This multiplicity reflects in Dreamcrusher’s music, which follows in the tradition of frantic yet atmospheric noise music made by bands in the late ’90s, when they were coming of age and finding their own musical tastes. But their take is singular: there are distinct harmonies writhing underneath the feedback, and thrilling twists built into the thrashing waves of sound. It is such a tightly crafted orchestra that even silence becomes its own instrument. On the seven-minute long “Myrtle Ave - Broadway,” off of Dreamcrusher’s latest release, the 2016 EP Quid Pro Quo, there are no voices until the track’s final two minutes. And even then, they are layered and indecipherable. Here and elsewhere, their sonic landscape feels claustrophobic: Dreamcrusher is trying to get out, even when they aren’t directly telling you that.
“To me, all music is noise,” they say. “If I’m in the grocery store and I hear three Taylor Swift songs in a row, eventually it’s all just going to sound like noise.”
“I’m doing some work on stage, but the audience has to do some work from where they are, too. I want people willing to go to the edge with me.” —Dreamcrusher
On the rooftop of the venue, two hours before their set, Dreamcrusher’s pre-show energy is on full display. They are in performance mode. When I walk in, they let out a pitch-perfect shout-scream of joy and run toward me, picking me up and entirely off the ground. They repeat this ritual nearly any time anyone comes through the door: a scream and two arms wide open, ready to embrace friends, fellow musicians, even strangers. It is something delightful, cutting through the otherwise dull web of chatter.
Inside the darkness of The Glove, only lit by brief flashes from an onstage strobe, it’s easy to tell where Dreamcrusher is in the room: where the bodies are moving, making space, or collapsing to the ground. They are a wrecking ball in this way.
On its face, the show seems like an unhinged ballet of disorder. But it is in some ways soft and romantic. When Dreamcrusher wades into the crowd and latches onto someone, or a group of someones, they begin a type of slow and swaying dance. They pull on the shirts of audience members while screaming from underneath a wall of sound. Sometimes Dreamcrusher falls to the floor with those audience members, some of whom gently pile on and roll around for a while. They get into the faces of stoic-looking people until they hit a rigid stalemate. Dreamcrusher finds me, jumps on the ledge I am standing on, and screams lyrics about pink slime directly in my ear. I throw my arm around their shoulders.
As promised, The Glove makes for a better show than Webster Hall did. You can see it in their vibe, which is resonating at a pitch way higher. “Diverse show, diverse crowd. It’s easier to get free,” they say later.
Their kind of weirdos are also my kind of weirdos, and so it was easy to feel at home: young black kids with dreads dropping in on their skateboards. A tattooed woman with a shock of bright pink hair carrying around a small dog all evening. With the lights out and only a strobe taking brief gulps of the darkness, everyone may look the same. Until you are right up close, pulling them towards your body, and asking them to join your brief and loud madness.
In the moments before Dreamcrusher went on at The Glove, the talk turned to astrology. The solar eclipse was coming, and a small group of Dreamcrusher’s friends, assembled on the roof of the venue, had theories about how it would be humanity’s ultimate undoing. Dreamcrusher, largely unmoved, ate a bowl of vegetables while peppering the conversation with a few polite affirmative noises. It wasn’t until everyone began shouting out the months and exact times they entered the world that their interest was finally piqued. Dreamcrusher — a Gemini — called out, “Shit, I was born in the middle of the night, honey. So I got no idea what that means.”
Without even looking up from their phone, a person behind us offered a gently mumbled answer.
“It means chaos.”