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No Fun Fest 2009

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Witnessing three straight days of generally harsh and uncompromising electronic experimentation can be an extremely exhausting experience, but Carlos Giffoni put together an impressive and varied line-up that covered everything from spacey psychedelia to sociopathic power electronics.  He even somehow managed to land Sonic Youth.  It was still gruelling, of course, but I suppose that seems like a fair price for experiencing some undeniably unique and memorable performances.  (I am conspicuously opting not to make an obvious joke about it being "no fun")


May 15-17th, 2009 at Williamsburg Music Hall, Brooklyn, NY

Day One

I arrived late on the first night due to a selfish and journalistically questionable need to eat dinner, so I missed Noveller, Axolotl, and the hapless Raglani (who had all of his equipment stolen).  Unfortunately, I also missed drummer Chris Corsano’s solo set, which I had been eagerly looking forward to.  However, I did catch Carlos Giffoni's odd trancelike melding of '70s Tangerine Dream-style analog synthesizer and thumping house beats, as well as a charming and exuberant set of retro synthpop by Xeno and Oaklander.

One of the night’s big excitements was a rare performance by legendary English power electronics pioneers/possible fascists Grey Wolves.  Unfortunately, it was a bit of an anticlimax, as they were plagued by equipment problems for the bulk of their set (there was a lot of frowning and standing around the table full of equipment).  At one point during their set, I even had the unfortunate epiphany that I could not tell if the shrieking static was the result of the sound problems or if it was the band's “music” and felt extremely foolish for being a noise music fan for a fleeting second.  When everything was functioning properly, they were admittedly pretty great in a brutal Whitehouse kind of way, but that was not often.  Eventually their set ended (with a Peaches cover, oddly enough) and someone threw a water bottle at them and a few people shouted “get off the stage!”.  They seemed like awfully pleasant guys for extreme right-wingers though—they even had a picnic scheduled in Central Park for the next day.  I wish things had gone better.

They were followed by Thrones, which is essentially just the very imposing Joe Preston, a bass, and some effects pedals.  His first song was an amazing doom-y drone piece that was one of the night’s inarguable highlights and the first truly impressive thing that I witnessed at the festival.  It was not the last, however, as he was followed by a stunning set by headliners Bastard Noise.  Their set displayed a focus, depth, and sense of space that is rarely seen in the noise scene.  Great.

Day Two

I was late again and I missed an apparently amazing set by Yellow Tears and some sort of bizarre performance by Mattin that involved some hostile audience participation.  Fortunately, I arrived in time to catch a very strange set by Sons of God that married harsh power electronics to some sort of bizarre performance art involving two “dancers” that resembled anguished zombies.  Intriguing, but somewhat perplexing too.

Later that night, I was impressed by a rather unconventional free jazz trio consisting of Spencer Yeh (Burning Star Core), Rafael Toral, and drummer Trevor Tremaine (Hair Police).  Toral played some sort of handheld electronic noise generator, while Yeh wrestled an array of ungodly treated squeals and creaks from his violin.  It was surprisingly organic and exuberant, given the non-traditional sound sources.  

My favorite set of the night was definitely Pedestrian Deposit, a cello and electronics duo.  I was half asleep by that point, so their set was a dreamlike haze for me, but I distinctly remember it being mesmerizing, haunting, and beautiful.

Bardo Pond’s set was not my thing yet they certainly created one hell of a spaced-out roar.  They were followed by a lengthy and awesome improv set by headliners Sonic Youth.  Lee Renaldo couldn’t make it, but he was ably replaced by guitarist Bill Nace (of Northampton Wools with Thurston Moore and Vampire Belt with Chris Corsano).  Although they performed seated, it was still energetic and fairly unhinged.  I've read some negative assessments of it, but it featured all the controlled entropy and Thurston Moore guitar abuse that I could possibly need, so I was a pretty happy fellow (but not as happy as I would've been if they'd play Sister in its entirety).  They came back out for a brief improvised encore that included some minimal Kim Gordon spoken-word, but it did not come close to capturing the chaotic majesty of their main set.

Day Three

Merzbow was supposed to headline, but he cancelled due to swine flu concerns.  This initially disappointed me (I’ve never been able to see him), but the third day unexpectedly ended up being the best of them all in spite of his conspicuous absence.  

Needless to say, I was late again (due to a combination of dinner and a lengthy deliberation regarding the possible purchase of some Burzum vinyl at Academy Records), so I frustratingly missed Jazzfinger.  I did manage to catch Emeralds' set of droning psychedelia and Skullflower’s oppressive storm of feedback (with guest Spencer Yeh), but I am not big fan of either, so it was not an acceptable consolation prize.  Also, I had very high expectations for the Prurient/Kevin Drumm set that were left somewhat unmet.  Both artists are generally pretty spectacular, but their collaboration seemed a bit unfocused and compromised.  Of course, it was still a fairly face-melting wall of sound, but not the transcendent experience I was hoping for.  Thankfully, Cold Cave and Black Pus both turned out unexpectedly brilliant and memorable performances.

I had never heard Cold Cave before, but their brief set of EBM/darkwave floored me.  Without being especially derivative, they managed to capture everything that was cool and likeable about the first wave of postpunk/synthpop.  Also, their unique stage set-up (all four members clustered at the center of the stage) was weirdly effective and imposing, given that a bunch of guys huddled over synths is generally not at all compelling to watch.  Some exciting bits of trivia: 1.) they share a member with Xiu Xiu, 2.) they apparently borrowed liberally from beloved Q Lazzarus eighties obscurity “Goodbye Horses” for one least, according to my extremely insistent friend anyway.

I was also completely unfamiliar with Black Pus prior to No Fun, so I was caught off guard when a guy in a mask sat down behind a drum kit and completely killed.  Gradually, it dawned on me that Black Pus is Brian Chippendale (Lightening Bolt/some collaboration with that girl from The Sugarcubes), which explained everything.  Chippendale created a harsh wall of noise using microphones and an arsenal of looping electronics and effects, which he enhanced with some brutal and absolutely frenzied drumming.  Definitely one of the best sets that I have ever seen.

(Photo of Black Pus courtesy of Seth Tisue ©2009)

Last Updated on Monday, 25 May 2009 07:44  


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