A little over a month ago I trekked up to Minneapolis for the Minneapolis Noisefest 2012, having heard about it via the Blogspot site of the Darker Days Ahead label, which itself I’d heard of by way of its having released a recent Marax CD-R House Of Malice (much recommended, by the way). Just before leaving I tried to nail down just where to find the venue, and found various confusing conflicting information, but eventually, thinking I had it figured out, I set off. Midway through the drive I received an email from Cory of Darker Days Ahead giving me directions to somewhere completely different than I’d intended to head for. An attempt to bring this new information up on my phone’s navigation app crashed the phone beyond any usability, apparently sending it into an endless loop of rebooting itself. I resolved to hit up one of Iowa’s fine rest stops, since we have wi-fi at those things, and try and work out directions on my iPad from that, but I missed the last rest stop in Iowa along the route and had to stop at one in Minnesota instead, where they don’t have this particular modern convenience. The whole rest stop annoyed me. Even the doors seemed to open from the wrong side. I had to call home from the pay phone in the cavernously echoing lobby occupied by a family loudly shouting at each other, to get Leah to read me off directions from Google.
The directions didn’t even go to the actual location where the show was going down, but rather to a cafe about a block away that it was supposed to be “across the tracks” from. I found the place, apparently an underground DIY sort of spot, which in retrospect makes perfect sense. The grubby, disheveled building looked like it may have formerly been a gas station with a service department in back, and was located on a dead end street directly behind a Metro Transit train station. I’m not sure if it even technically has an address. I arrived around 7, the time I had heard the show was to start, and found the place quiet and locked up, the only person around being one of the scheduled performers (Skin Horse, as it would turn out), leaning against his car with his gear piled up in the back seat, also wondering what was going on.
Eventually someone opened up the gate to the yard and the overhead door at the back of the building and more people started gradually filtering in over the next couple hours, including one whom I recognized as Emil from Cock ESP. I wandered around trying to amuse myself among strangers, making microcassette recordings of the trains. I found it amusing that the trains sound an recording of a tram bell. I wondered aloud to a couple of people as to whether perhaps they had initially used an electronic beep but then some manager decided that it didn’t have enough “soul” and asked for something more “vintage” sounding. The joke was lost. After a couple hours some people showed up with a PA and a shopping cart full of beer. Then there was a long period of setup and sound-checking.
It was at least 10, possibly later, when the show got going. The delay concerned me since there were so many names on the bill, though I had already figured on each of them playing for somewhere in the 10 to 15 minute range, but then again, it didn’t really matter: there was really no “closing time” and no neighbors to complain. The decaying industrial vibe of the building and general old-school punk way that the show operated gave a really cool vibe to the whole experience; I felt as if I had might have just been transported to the early 1980s industrial scene.
Most of the acts were one-man power electronics units getting harsh drones out of a table full of pedals and maybe a mixer or some object with a contact mic attached, with some intermittent hardcore-style vocals. Beyond those common elements however, each had their own distinct approach and sound.
A few artists utilized equipment or methods of particular interest. Cyrus Pireh’s setup involved two guitar amplifiers, one with a cruddy old guitar feeding back through it, while he manipulated the dials, controls, and patch cables of an honest-to-goodness old hearing test tone generating machine set up on top of the amps. I certainly don’t remember hearing sounds like those when I got hearing tests in school as a kid, but maybe he had the thing circuit-bent or something. The ending of his set took on a performance-art aspect as he repeatedly asked a member of the audience “what do you want to hear?” louder and more agitated each time.
Another of my favorites was Skin Horse, who stood onstage behind a kind of small workbench with an old boom box and a desk lamp and who knows what else on it, casually smoking and drinking beer in between angry shouts while coaxing some wonderfully dark mechanized sounds from his setup and generally having a tough “don’t fuck with this guy” vibe. I don’t know what sort of drum machine or whatever it was he had making those rhythmic pulses but it had a really great heavy thunk sound to it. At one point it seemed to be laying down a pretty straightforward industrial dance beat, but then with just a tweak he would knock the rhythm lopsided or speed it up to the point of a loud buzz.
There was a two-person group somewhere in the middle of the show, whose name I never caught and does not appear in the video set above, that employed a large gong, which may have been contact-miked, meshing a drone from the gong with some electronic stuff. The crowd seemed to really like the gong, coaxing them to give it one more good whack before tearing down after their set, and cheering when they obliged.
I also wandered the venue a bit and got into some interesting conversations with Emil, Cyrus, a guy running the merch table, some guys that were supposed to be part of Cock ESP that night, and a couple random show attendees. Everyone was super friendly and cool. I’ve been to very few live performances dedicated specifically to noise music in my lifetime, but if noisers are this friendly in general then I’m glad to be among them.
Upon viewing the above video set I did vaguely remember seeing at least some of Cory Schumacher’s set (he of Darker Days Ahead, though at the time I didn’t connect this) — at least I remember that shirt with the Process cross on it, but I was fading out pretty bad by that time from the combination of the unaccustomed late hour and the beers I had drank so I slunk off to my car for a nap. I awoke well after the show ended and made my way back home. All in all it was a great time, would do again.
So I’ve got a Distant Trains tape coming out soon, as soon as I can come up with a good cover design for it anyway, inspired by this trip and this show, titled Minnesota Is Uncivilized. It will be the first exclusively noise-oriented Distant Trains release, though if you’ve been following my various compilation and split release material of late you are probably aware of these ascendant tendencies. Oddly enough, this release leapfrogs Explortation, which has now been in-progress for several months. The cassette of Minnesota Is Uncivilized will be 90 minutes, in an edition of 12; side A will be two long droney noise pieces, and side B will be made up of microcassette recordings made at this very show, including excerpts of the performances themselves. Will post here when they’re done.
EDIT: The two guys with the gong were Swine Wave. A video of them was added to the set later.