Vancouver may be recognized internationally for its relaxed policy towards marijuana but anyone who lives here knows all too well that the popular image of the idyllic coastal mountain retreat known as “Hollywood North” is far from accurate: longstanding issues with public transit and affordable housing, for instance, continue to invoke the wrath of the city’s working-class residents (including this reviewer, whose account of this event is unfortunately cut short due to the logistics of late-night travel via public transit to Surrey – apologies to the closing acts that we missed as a result.) Fortunately, there is a soundtrack to their discontent in the form of the annual Noise Fest, the longstanding art event on the downtown east side which presents both local and international artists who test the boundaries of sound, music, and performance.
Beginning with the gauze-wrapped, drag-attired Maskara, the evening’s often arrhythmic sounds were at odds with an event schedule that, despite a late start, briskly ran like clockwork over nearly twenty performances. The Flood‘s brief but textured noise offering helped to ease one’s frame of mind into a space receptive to auditory abstraction. FCRSAC delivered his granular washes of audio grit from a rig balanced on a step ladder, followed by Hectocotyli‘s pulsing thunder on a sturdy, caster-wheeled plywood slab. Ox Hunger‘s subsequent set added a welcome layer of distorted vocal rage to a diverse range of sonic textures, followed by the jumpsuited Crotch‘s audience diagnostics and surreal fiction narrative. Duo JS Aurelius were remarkably calm despite the last-minute addition of a found art element to their long set of rapid-oscillating filters and concrète mirror-glass sounds. Anteinferno presented the one set of the evening that was most reminiscent of Italian power electronics noisician Marco Corbelli, aka Atrax Morgue, complete with harsh layers of squelching noise and death-industrial vocals.
By contrast Mass Marriage‘s set appeared to be a fastidiously orchestrated, well-rehearsed series of sounds and production gestures by Mel Paget. The artist’s nervous energy filtered into an assured array of calculated operations that produced a markedly accomplished piece rather than an arbitrary procession of abrasive textures. Nervous Operator plugged into a field of subdued, reverberating metallic drone before duo Molena whipped up their frenzied field of dense pulses and mic’d chains. Rettir Leinahtan conjured memories of Evil Dead vocoder effects amidst neat layers of dense reverb and crisp distortion, and Sunstroke Militia‘s layers of accented samples were underlaid by the deliberate stabs of a throbbing percussive loop. John Brennan‘s set of intense, pulsing electronics with live drums followed immediately thereafter, injecting an organic/kinetic element to the largely component-produced sounds of the overall lineup. Victoria’s Griefer furiously paced in and out of the crowd during his distorted diatribes, interspersed with concrète sounds of steel springs and sheet metal, foreshadowing the industrial assault of Worker’s atonal etude for electric grinder. Finally, Gordon Ashworth‘s manipulations of found objects provided a return passage to the material world. (Again, one regrets having to miss the post-midnight closing acts: Coller, Sam and Gabriel, Work/Death, The Clear Channel, Sick Buildings, and PuPuPiPi.)
Compared to last year’s event, the average age of attendees appears to have dropped for Saturday’s show and one hopes that young artists, musicians, and music/noise fans will continue to embrace experimental audio work and strengthen the local community of sonic weirdness. Judging by the calibre of performances by several local acts, the future of sonic experimentation and harsh noise on the mellow coast looks bright.