A preview of this year's Noise Fest at Koo's Art Cafe: RRReeeSSSkkkRRReeeWUHwuhWUHwuh.
You want soothing, Third Eye Blind-like soft rock? This ain't gonna be the place for it. In a way, Noise sounds like the last musical movement ever, a logical end to 25,000 years of aural evolution—if you're of the theory that everything in life is circular, the next big underground music trend will probably be a bunch of naked guys sitting around beating sticks against a pile of rocks. Noise has its roots in the radical art philosophies of John Cage, who preached that everything that can be heard by the human ear qualifies as music, from motorcycles roaring down the street to the drunken neighbors screaming at one another in the apartment next door. Recordings like the Beatles' "Revolution #9" and Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music expanded on Cage's ideas. New York no-wavers such as John Zorn and Thurston Moore brought punk's anarchic bent to the style in the form of freaked-and-tweaked guitar soundscapes, and a slew of Japanese bands like the Boredoms have further cemented Noise's indie cred.
Somewhere in the midst of all Noise Fest's swirling, clanging chaos and disorder, you'll find moments of great beauty, even honest-to-god melodies. Last year, Go! Dog! Go! provided one such moment: their drummer kept up a random, schizoid backbeat; their guitarist diddled with effects gadgets and a raunchy keyboard while pinching off all sorts of weird, wonderful, otherworldly sounds from his gear, occasionally sputtering indecipherable phrases through a megaphone; and a sax player angrily tooted away, splicing a pastiche of notes that sounded not too far removed from Ornette Coleman. As a single, cohesive, chugging-along unit, Go! Dog! Go! were wildly colorful, showing that Noise bands can be exciting and fresh when they want to be—the occasional groove that bubbled to the surface helped their cause tremendously, as did their final number, a glorious punk-jazz arrangement that felt like something off Zorn's phenomenal Naked City album. The whole thing was a truly twisted Zen experience.
The biggest allure of Noise may be its total democratization of music-making, even more so than punk (where you had to know at least twochords). That seems to be the thinking behind OC's Instagon, who'll perform at this year's fest. In seven years, the "band" has hosted something like 300 different members—never the same lineup twice. Last year, Instagon ringleader Lob did some oddly intriguing things with feedback during a solo set, somehow crafting an alluring movement out of a battered turntable, old Cheech & Chong records, a couple of Walkmans, a worn-out microphone and the Close Encounters theme.
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Also on this year's bill (still being finalized at press time) are San Diego's Syncopation, who perform fascinating experiments with saxophones, among other things; Bandini Mountain, who (we're told) do a wild jazz-funk improv thing; and Punk As a Doornail, who've created a small buzz solely for the fact that their guitarist has somehow built a working axe out of a skateboard.
Whatever you think of all this, Noise Fest at the very least challenges us to reconsider our own definitions of what exactly music is, what it could be, and what it should be—even if we have to plug our ears during some of it.
NOISE FEST AT KOO'S ART CAFE, 1505 N. MAIN ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 648-0937.
SAT., 5 P.M.-MIDNIGHT. $5. ALL AGES.