If you step into the South Beach apartment-turned-recording-studio of local underground music aficionado Frank Falestra, better known by his ubiquitous stage name, Rat Bastard, you've got to come prepared.
From the sundry rock posters, guitars and paraphernalia dotting the walls, to the full rack of records and the ceiling-high stacks of amps, Rat's been tirelessly playing and cataloguing music for damn near his whole existence. He can talk at a rapid clip about his latest musical ongoings, be it a Matador labelhead buying a tape of a recent recording project (local one-woman band Smut), or Paul Rodgers of Bad Company fame stopping by to record a couple one-off ditties for his girlfriend.
We at New Times sat down with the ever-industrious Bastard for a chat about his upcoming yearly experimental fest, the International Noise Conference.
Photo by Ashley Sebok
New Times: So, this is the twelfth year of the Conference, going way back to 2004. Was there a large local noise scene in the early years of the fest?
Rat Bastard: Yeah, there was a good scene already, locally. In the late eighties and spilling into the nineties, there was good noise going on at Churchill's. In the late nineties we started doing this thing called the Bored Shitless Fest. We would take singer-songwriters and noise people and have them play back-to-back. People started to pick up on it, in Minneapolis and Rochester. Those were kind of the key places for what we called "junk noise." Most of the other cities were more academic. Detroit was on and off until Wolf Eyes established themselves in the late nineties, early 2000s.
You mentioned a dichotomy between junk noise and academic noise.
Yeah, we don't see eye to eye. They were trying to get paid like they were John Cage or some bullshit, and we were trying to chase everyone out of the bar. The academics were more inclined to get press and put out records, and it was the noise scene that pretty much single-handedly saved vinyl, they were the only ones left doing it.
Who else would you consider a pioneer of junk noise?
We had people in lots of cities. Bob Bellerue was in LA at the time, then he went to Portland. He was trying to get something going with Dead Bird, who was from Tampa. Irving Klaw Trio, a bunch of cool stuff. They had a magazine called Snipe Hunt which was great. A lot of people liked traveling to Miami, and we decided to have a fest of just noise. We liked the name International Noise Conference because of how clinical it sounds.
Did anyone show up expecting an actual conference?
The first three-day festival was crazy. Everyone stayed here [he gestures around his home]. This apartment was full of people, twenty, thirty people. Most people were in vans or in here, and we would convoy back and forth to Churchill's. By the third year it was out of hand, I had cops come, like, "alright, dudes, there's too many vans in the alley." Then, people started getting older, some dropped off, some newcomers came in, people could get hotels. Now they're a lot older, they come down like it's a vacation.
Photo by Alex Broadwell
Has the show always been free, and have the bands played for free as well?
We don't pay anybody, people come down because they want to. If there are artists trying to make it down, we can sometimes help them with gas. That's why the Conference is still alive. Lots of other fests have shut down because they tried to install money into the thing. Two years ago, I got a grant for it, but it doesn't really need money. It generates money, which was important. We used the grant for gear to do stuff at Churchill's and recording equipment for here. We did a web stream from Churchill's, Squelch TV. The goal of the Conference was to keep the young people here in Miami tied into the national and international artists that normally you would not get. So that way, a local band like Sewer Sluts can come here and lay down nine songs, and you can listen to it and be like "holy shit, it sounds amazing," and they wouldn't have had that opportunity without the Noise Conference.
Do you have a name for the release aspect of the Conference?
We call this studio the Dan Hosker Studio. He got hit by a car, but he built this place. He did a lot of work here. This used to be the Laundry Room, but we changed it to the Dan Hosker Studio, so his name and legacy could live on. A lot of people come through and use this space, The Jellyfish Brothers, Autumn Casey, Kenny Millions, even Adam from Gramps. He's a musician, a lot of people don't know that. He's having a kid now, so his record's on hold a little bit.
What's the line to you between noise and performance art?
There's performance involved in all music, but these guys have way more range when performing with noise. They don't have to make rock 'n' roll faces while playing the leads. They're lightyears ahead. We have guys from Boston that play with light and video shows. I enjoy just the noise as much as the performance. If you have an action movie on, the soundtrack is all noise tracks, but if you take the picture away everyone will run outta the fuckin' theater.
Is there a band that's "too musical" for INC?
We like those ones, people who will sing a capella and stuff. 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. 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.
So there's a "no laptops" rule at the Conference.
That came from Ian Lynne, who also passed away, he got shot and killed right before the second INC. The first one, we had people playing laptops, and it was so fucking boring that Ian came running up to me, like, "that's it man, next year, no fucking laptops!" And we all said okay, and then he died, and it's been the law ever since. We let people use laptops as long as it's not an integral part of their set, and they're also screaming into a mic or playing keyboards and pedals, banging on shit. There was also this droning phase, the academic guys were getting paid a lot of money to do that, and I said, "fuck that, no laptops, no mixing boards, and no droning, fuck you." And we eliminated a lot of those guys right off the bat, and they were all pissed off that they couldn't perform. But some did. But I'm glad we don't have laptops, you can hear the grid when you play like that.
But on the outside stage, there are DJs and things like that.
Out back, you can do anything you want, there's no rules.
That's kind of the M.O. put forward by the Night of Weirds.
That was Jeff's thing for a long time. Jeff is going to play on Thursday this year.
Really? I've never seen him play.
He's supposed to. I doubt it.
When did you start handing off nights to different curators?
The first one was Todd (Lynne). Things got crazy. I had Jeff do the Weirds in the back. These guys had The Bubble, they did a night. Alex Diaz did a night. As time went on, we had Kenny Millions, and started using the green room. This year we have nine, maybe ten curators. I can't announce the tenth one yet, but it's someone really famous, or I should say infamous. Bogdan's doing his first one this year, he's got some good noise and punk stuff, and Kenny is doing an insane night in the back. I'm like, "I'm going to send the cops in, and hopefully they kill y'all."
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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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