Under the Influence – Noise Punk

I first off want to apologize for missing my last scheduled column. The beginning of the school year and the workload caught me off guard and I had to postponed this column. In fact, I was so swamped that I had to shorten this column, which I intended to be a two part look at the progression of noise in contemporary music. In its place, I have for you a combined, abridged look at noise rock/noise punk. I will revisit this subject in the future as I feel it is fertile for more examination as well as a topic I enjoy researching. Without further ado, our belated column.

The sound of distortion on a guitar is an audible act of defiance. Despite rock’s rebellion being co-opted years ago, there is still a rebellious aspect to a loud, turned to eleven, guitar that will always inspire people to pick up a guitar and piss people off. As the years have passed, artists have taken that sound and manipulated it, amplified it, and contorted it to their hearts content. Any detailed examination in the plethora of cross bred and extreme forms of music reveals that any one appealing aspect of music can be taken by a group of individuals and used as the basis for an entirely different form of art. That is how we have death metal, screw music, or gabba.

Today, we are going to look at a style of music that is very controversial in so much that many people don’t consider it to be music. If one were to play noise punk to the uninitiated ear, a reaction of repulsion or anger is sure to be met. Many critics, people who pride themselves on knowing all about music, don’t even consider noise-punk to be a proper genre of music, but there is a history and definable influences and a collection of reference points, all important qualifiers for a genre defintion.

In 1975, Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music, a catastrophic collection of “music” that would be called grating on a good day. The apropos title was nothing more than what could be described as visiting your father at the machine shop. Though many thought the album was career suicide, it captured a small audience who enjoyed it, ironically or otherwise.

If there are to be the true innovators, the patriarchal godfathers, those bands would be Throbbing Gristle, Sonic Youth, and The Boredoms. They freely and openly embraced the abrasive sounds of noise and distortion. As important as their work with this untapped source of sound was where their groundbreaking efforts gestated into, namely techno, art-punk, and college rock.

Now, as we have been discussing noise rock, let us look at noise punk. The term punk is applied because there is even less of a consideration to any formal song structure. While the three influential bands mentioned laid many inroads for the continuation and experimentation of noise in music, they also ventured into other genre’s, such ambient and industrial. Noise punk is concerned with anything resembling traditional song structures. Their aim is to keep the feeling of

Though not noise punk, per se, the digital hardcore movement (as spearheaded by Alec Empire and Atari Teenage Riot) bears many of the same touchstones, namely breakneck speeds and controlled chaos. In a nod, of sorts, to Reed’s pioneering work in the field of noise, ATR released the only known live noise album Live at the Brixton Academy 1999, an album I own and listen to from time to time. I also note Atari Teenage Riot as a thread because they were my indirect introduction into noise punk. On a quest to find more music as sonically aggressive (without the testosterone)

A few years back, I received a mix tape from a friend that had, among other great tracks, “Ride the Sky” by Lighting Bolt. The song brought back the visceral energy I craved when I was knee deep in love with ATR. Doing some research, I was shocked by two things; 1. They were based in Providence, Rhode Island, my neck of the woods, and 2. There were only two guys in the band. Their shows are well known for controlled chaos, bringing the audience close to total anarchy. Refusing to play on a stage, the group performs in the center of the room, allowing everyone to circle around them, making their power only stronger.

Southern New England has become a fertile ground for this art driven form of noise, including bands such as Wolf Eyes the aforementioned Lightning Bolt, and to a lesser extent, Les Savy Fav . Not to be left out of the conversation is also Black Dice, a New York band featuring former Lightning Bolt Hisham Bharoocha.

It might be quaint now, but many people in the early sixties thought The Beatles brand of pop was nothing but noise. Years later, groups like The Who, The Sex Pistols, and even Manowar were derided for their sound but have since gained acceptance (though I don’t expect a Manowar renaissance anytime soon). Maybe in years to come, people will begin to accept noise punk, though the artists involved don’t care one way or another if they are accepted.

What’s Going Around

Autolux‘s “Turnstile Blues” video
I have been a fan of Autolux since they released their demo, demonstration, a few years ago. After waiting for what seemed like a lifetime (because of drummer Carla Azzar‘s potential career ending arm injury), their proper debut Future Perfect was released in November of last year. I felt like I have been waiting twice as long to see how they would tackle music videos when I finally saw it on my TV. The clip, a collage of television monitors and fluorescent light fixtures reminiscent of Dan Flavin, complements the song very well and is a perfect visual representation of one of the great slept-on bands in the country.

This is Just a Modern Rock Story
This biography on Belle and Sebastian, written by and with help from Stuart Murdoch, follows the path of one of the more remarkable stories in music in the last 25 years. Starting out as a government works program, they would grow into one of the most beloved indie acts of the last twenty-five years. Their rabid fan base, of which I am one of, is on par with The Smiths in terms of allegiance and emotional connection. I think Stuart’s involvement makes this book a mixed blessing. On one hand, he is able to shine a light on some of the behind the scenes information the famously reclusive band (for years, friends posed for album covers and press photos in place of the band). On the other, we probably don’t get the complete story on a lot of the more intriguing facts about the band (such as his relationship to former Belle Isobel Campbell, which is only told from one side). But who am I kidding? This books makes a perfect companion to last years DVD For Fans Only.

Stellastarr*‘s single “Sweet Troubled Soul.”
-At just the moment I was wondering where Stellastarr* had gone, they release a new single (which is, by the way, the perfect, elusive time to re-emerge). What I like about Stellastarr* is that they are incredibly shameless with their references, borrowing liberally from The Pixies and the Talking Heads (whose video for “Wild Wild Life” was completely lifted for the *’s “My Coco” clip). Harnessing the power that can only be achieved through well placed “whoa’s,” the chorus builds to this rapturous crescendo that definitely states “WE ARE BACK.” If the rest of the album is anywhere near the quality of this opening salvo, Haunted for the Harmonies will be THE guilty pleasure of 2005.