Clip: A Festival of Loud Sounds for Reasonable Musicians
A Festival of Loud Sounds for Reasonable Musicians
By JESSE FOX MAYSHARK
Published: March 17, 2006
In 1981, the downtown New York art scene, full of gleefully dissonant
music, prompted the rock critic Lester Bangs to write a short article
for The Village Voice with the title, "A Reasonable Guide to Horrible
Since then the din has only increased. Beginning tonight, it can be
heard over the three days of the third annual No Fun Fest at the Hook
in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Founded by the electronic improviser Carlos
Giffoni, the festival will bring together nearly 50 performers who
collectively span more than three decades of experimental music. (The
full schedule is available at nofunfest.com.)
And what might have surprised Bangs, who died in 1982 at 33, is that
Mr. Giffoni expects to pack the club in on all three nights.
"I know people that are into this music from all over the world," said
Mr. Giffoni, 28, who was born in Venezuela and has an M.F.A. in design
and technology from Parsons School of Design. "The first year of the
festival, we had 400 people a night. Last year, we had 500 people a
Whatever name the music goes by — avant-garde, noise or just, as Mr.
Giffoni prefers, extreme — it is more easily defined by what it
eschews than what it encompasses: conventional ideas of melody,
harmony and rhythm mostly fall by the wayside.
"It's more of an approach to sound than it is a genre," he said. "It's
more of an ability to step out of the preconceived tonal structures of
music and create your own rules."
Mr. Giffoni said he was inspired by a 2002 avant-garde festival in
Minneapolis. The name No Fun was suggested by his friend Thurston
Moore of Sonic Youth. "What Carlos really sort of envisioned was a
festival that presented the current scene," Mr. Moore said in a phone
interview. "For people who are into that scene, it's the most exciting
Performers this year include downtown veterans — like Mr. Moore and
the percussionist Ikue Mori — along with the influential Japanese
artist Masahiko Ohno (performing as Solmania) and the young Michigan
band Wolf Eyes, the current stars of the scene (if the scene can be
said to have stars). The group's signing to the Sub Pop label in 2004
was a breakthrough for its brand of howling electronics.
The British critic Mark Sinker, who a few years ago wrote an expansion
on Bangs's piece called "The Rise and Sprawl of Horrible Noise,"
traces current noise music to a cluster of genres that came together
in the 1970's and 80's: punk, hard rock (exemplified by the shrieks of
Pere Ubu as much as by the sludge of Black Sabbath), funk, free jazz,
early electronic experimentalism, the clanking industrial music that
grew out of Conceptual art and the challenging modernism of composers
like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Iannis Xenakis.
"In the decade that followed (i.e. the 80's)," Mr. Sinker added in an
e-mail exchange, "hip-hop, metal and techno all fostered a
self-conscious 'noise wing.' "
Mr. Giffoni attributed the growing fan base to several things,
including the Internet, which has made it easier for people to find
and hear obscure artists, and the maturation of the music. Its
influence has entered the pop mainstream in forms as varied as the
chart-topping grind of Nine Inch Nails and the sonic collages that
undergirded Public Enemy's dense hip-hop.
The music's confrontational tendencies have led some critics to
stereotype it as the province of angsty young males. But the No Fun
Fest lineup suggests otherwise. Tonight in particular will feature
several female performers, including Can't (a project of the Boston
musician Jessica Rylan) and Ms. Mori playing with the harpist Zeena
Tonight's headliner is Smegma, a Portland, Ore., band that formed in
the mid-1970's. Jackie Stewart, 49, who has been in Smegma since 1983,
said she had found experimental music welcoming. "There's a lot of
people involved, all kinds, plenty of girls," she said in a phone
interview. "I've got girlfriends in the Bay Area and L.A. who play."
Mr. Giffoni said the festival had drawn sizable female crowds in its
first two years.
That it draws crowds at all is what gratifies Jim Sauter, one of the
founders of the blaring experimental jazz trio Borbetomagus, which
formed the late 70's. The band played the festival last year and is
returning to headline Sunday night.
"We were lucky in the 80's if there were three or four people at a
show," Mr. Sauter said in a phone interview. "It's almost like, Thank
God I lived long enough to see this."
Bangs didn't. But he understood the attraction of the music. "The
point of all this, of course," he wrote in his essay, "is that hideous
racket is liberating."