For the uninitiated, the International Noise Conference might sound like a pedantic experience. But don't worry. There's no keynote speaker, and there sure as hell aren't any PowerPoint presentations.
Revelers have come to Churchill's Pub annually since 2004 for a cornucopia of radical weirdness: hooded artistes tweaking knobs to generate intestine-churning waves of black noise, absurdist puppeteers creating impromptu dadaist shadow plays, and confrontational antiperformances that engage with "music" only by utter accident.
"There's performance involved in all music, but these guys have way more range when performing with noise," says Rat Bastard, the festival's organizer. "They don't have to make rock 'n' roll faces while playing the leads. They're light-years ahead."
Deranged by noise... They will carry you away.
Photo by Alex Broadwell
INC arose out of a '90s experiment called the Bored Shitless Fest, which Rat and a few like-minded peers created to showcase the jagged end of the rock spectrum he's dubbed "junk noise."
The result was a three-day barrage of sonic chaos that dipped into everything, from the avant-garde to the bleakest and heaviest posthardcore, incendiary performance art, wry comedic subversion, and yes, actual bands with things resembling songs.
What fits the bill for an INC-worthy band? It's a judgment call, though Rat isn't above pulling the plug.
"One of the first years, I got a band that sounded a lot like Creed, and during their set, everyone ran out of Churchill's to the back," Rat recalls. "I went out back there and said, 'So this is noise to you all, huh, motherfuckers?' I was just trying to prove a point. You came to do noise; that's noise."
What would Jesus do? Make noise.
Photo by Alex Broadwell
In the years since, things have only gotten stranger -- and bigger -- for the premier junk noise fest in the land. "It's kind of out-of-hand," Rat says. "This thing could grow like crazy, but I'm trying to keep it so everyone who's scheduled to play gets their 15 minutes."
Though Rat has let different curators handle parts of the show over the years, he makes sure the core artists and fans are always represented. "There's a guy who literally crucifies himself every time, and people cannot wait to see him," Rat says between sips of beer. "I've seen him 50 times, and we always start laughing our asses off."
This year, the lineup features staples such as Ironing and Haves & Thirds, as well as plenty of new blood, like local outfit Bruiser and the dubiously named Winona Grinder. With performances restricted to 15 minutes or fewer and a general atmosphere of willful mayhem, there's certain to be plenty of misremembered moments.
"We have guys from Boston who play with light and video shows," Rat says. "I enjoy just the noise as much as the performance."
Nicky Bowe demonstrating proper safety procedure at International Noise Conference 2014.
Photo by Ashley Sebok
Will former Churchill's bartender Nicky Bowe drive his exhaust-oozing motorcycle through the interior of the bar, as he's done at past conferences? Rat just smiles and says, "Probably not this year."
And as for Rat, the weekend of shrieking feedback is just the beginning of his winter music plans.
"After this, I usually go to South by Southwest for a week," he says. "I get pulled into all of these parties to play. None of it's scheduled."
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International Noise Conference 2015. Monday to Saturday, February 2 to 7. Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Admission is free. Call 305-757-1807, or visit churchillspub.com.
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