International Noise Conference (INC) began as a joke. Though the idea — to celebrate free-form music in all its crudeness — was conceived in earnest, the name was always meant to be ironic.
“Let's put this overly official name on this debaucherous, crazy event,” explains Rat Bastard, founder of INC and music program coordinator at Churchill's Pub since early last year. Though INC began as a semigag, it has since become a globally recognized, authoritative symposium for noise lovers and all things weird.
Beginning in 2004 as a three-night party, the event presented a 34-act lineup. Although that number might seem impressive, it pales in comparison to this year’s 200 scheduled performances, a number that continues to climb with last-minute announcements. First conceived by Rat with help from Todd and Ian Lynne (the brothers who also cofounded Cephia's Treat, an influential local noise label) the festival’s first go-round was a small but unmitigated success. Ian was tragically shot and killed only months after the festival wrapped, but his legacy lives on in part through the one, all-important rule of INC: No laptops.
Beginning Tuesday, February 4, Churchill's Pub will be consumed by five nights of unrelenting noise. With each set capped at 15 minutes, there are no headliners, only favorites, first-time performers (like a former Churchill’s bartender who got pulled onstage), and occasional appearances from high-profile admirers like Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.
A local legend and authority on all things free-form music, Rat’s approach to heading up one of Miami’s longest-running independent music festivals is as passionate as it is irreverent.
“Miami is musically fucking stupid,” he says. “Hardly anyone cares about real music. If the people who were stupid enough to go see New Order play the Fillmore for four days would pay the same for [good music], Miami would have the best music scene in the world.”
That being said, INC has and always will be a free gathering according to Rat. The bands are not paid for their performances nor reimbursed for their flights and accommodations, and the attendees are not expected to pay a cover charge at the door for any of the nights. Several performers attribute the success of the festival — and the enthusiasm of its crowds — to this policy. Rat maintains that if you stage an event with the truest of intentions about doing something interesting, people will follow. “INC is what it is because hype fills venues. Music doesn't fill venues, unless you're Black Flag, because then nothing can help you."
Betty Monteavaro — drummer of Holly Hunt, Saavik, and a prolific visual artist in her own right — has been going to INC since 2011. On Wednesday night, she will be curating the main stage indoors. Winning in a battle between herself and No Work Records’ Bogdon Anderko in a tongue-in-cheek “versus” performance five years ago is among the sets that have stuck with Betty over INC's many iterations.
“This guy Otari, a recent refugee, did an incredible performance one year that had him mumbling and chanting, with a guy next to him dancing Cuban-style, and saying things like ‘El terror, el terror...’ It was such a strong performance about racism in Latin America,” she recounts. Monteavaro also described an act consisting of two shirtless men singing Nirvana covers a capella that culminated in them hitting each other with metal chairs as a highlight.
Even though free-form and noise music rejects attempts at definition, there is a general consensus among the curators on what to expect from INC.
“It can be music, but it can also be performance or stand-up comedy or silence. It’s DIY, punk-rock ideology performance art. You can tell when acts are a hit. It’s not like a song where you can be like, Oh, that's a good song, it's the whole presentation — body movement, pacing, light. And, yeah, sound is often a part of it, [but] sometimes it's the only part of it," Monteavaro says.
As Rat puts it, “A body slamming on the floor is a sound.”
While its roots are definitively in music and performance, unlike many festivals, the focus is unequivocally on championing the non-musician. With an ‘independent vibe’ at the forefront of their manifesto, the curators of the event cast a wide net in their attempts at being both inclusive and different each year. This has the effect of simultaneously entrenching INC's standing as a successful independent festival and enshrining its status as a legitimate symposium for the DIY community. Though the festival will attract 150 out-of-town artists this year, some of whom are considered pioneers in their respective niches of noise, literally anyone you know is invited to perform.
“The worse the band, the more I like them”, Rat says. “At least they have potential.”
The one thing the festival organizers do ask for, though, is authenticity. “The one thing the audience picks up on is phonies. There's no phonies in INC, it's a bunch of people being themselves, being genuine, and that's it. Whatever happens happens, and it’s usually for the best,” says Robert Wilson Brantly III, who's staged many memorable live shows under his recording name Human Fluid Rot.
Brantly was first introduced to the festival in 2010. Now an annual curator of the green room as well as a performer, like many others, he went in blind. His introduction came from a friend who was suffering from severe stage fright leading up to his scheduled performance: “He asked me to join him on stage, just to calm his nerves. We played at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday, and I'll tell you what, it was so much fun that I was hooked. I stayed there the whole weekend."
Depending on which day or hour you go, first impressions vary. Immersed in visual and aural stimuli with a high chance of being hit by projectiles or touched by performers and fellow audience members, bystanders are liable to feel the same adrenaline rush as the performers themselves. It can be addictive.
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Greg and Eddy Alvarez of art collective Vidium co-curate INC’s pre-party, which will take place this year at downtown Miami's 777 Mall, and the first official night of the festival on Tuesday. The duo prioritizes newcomers or never-before-seen acts and is galvanized by the way it pushes artists to be raw.
“It’s performances that you can’t see anywhere else. You are watching people doing sonic experiments. Rat gave freaks a place to be freaks. It’s an intimate experience,” Greg says, “and I got hooked on it.
While the theater asks the audience to suspend their disbelief, INC asks them to leave their inhibitions at the door. Festivities will begin on Monday, February 3, at 777 Mall before moving to Churchill’s Pub for the remaining five nights. Come one, come all.
International Noise Conference. Tuesday, February 4, through Saturday, February 8, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-757-1807; squelchers.net. Admission is free.