For International Noise Conference's 16th Year, the Only Constant Is Change

Squid Squad
Squid Squad Photo by Alex Markow
The International Noise Conference (INC) has become a monumental staple in Miami. The annual fest, which boasts acts from all over the globe doing exactly the opposite of what most people might expect from a live show, draws motley crowds from every corner of South Florida to Churchill's Pub in Little Haiti.

If the phrase "noise music" is alien to you, you'd do well to attend a night (or two or five) of this year's rambunctious showcase, which will present more than 200 artists performing for 15 minutes or less. It's not a genre that's easily encapsulated by hearing one or two acts, and festival founder Frank Falestra, AKA Rat Bastard, does his damnedest every year to ensure various intersections of the noise scene are represented. Rat, as he's lovingly known to locals, sat down with New Times to discuss the enduring legacy and constant shifting that defines INC.

Asked which acts excite him, Rat says right off the bat: "One of the most important artists to play this year is Viki. She's a girl from Detroit, one of the most respected musicians from there. Before Wolf Eyes, Aaron Dilloway, there was Viki. She's the shit. She's playing Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday she's flying a friend down for one day, and they're doing this skit-slash-noise act on Betty's stage. Thursday is just Viki. I've been trying for years to get her to come, like 15 years, since it started," he adds with vaguely doe-eyed admiration.

"Another great musician is coming from RVA, Brown Piss. He's one of the guys from Suppression. He's another one I've been trying to get down here for years," Rat says while scanning a vast number of artists on the INC website for inspiration. "We've got people from Austin and from Tulsa. We've got people from Australia. We've got a girl from Comacchio, Italy, which is about 30 minutes south of Venice. She's brutal as fuck. She's got two acts: One is her name, Alessandra Zerbinati, and then she's also playing as Ciao Bal... Liquid Asset is coming from North Carolina, Newagehillbilly from Baltimore, other people I've been working on getting for a while. Surf Hair, this will be her first year, a really insane artist from New York. She just plays guitar. She's really good."
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Photo by Alex Markow
Rat seems especially jazzed about influential figures in the noise scene in other cities. "We have some VIP people who run the main noise events in L.A. — this guy Samur, playing as Conscious Summary. He runs the Handbag Factory there. And then we have Bob Bellerue from New York, who runs the End Times Fest. And then Ben Billington, from Chicago," he says. "These are key people, people who run a lot of big noise events, and they're all playing."

He then takes a look at the festival from an organizational standpoint. "I book Saturday and Thursday, and then there's 16 curators for other nights," he says. Those curators help ensure each fest feels different from years prior. "The reason INC has lasted 16 years is because there's no budget, there's no charge at the door, and nobody gets paid... Churchill's pays Kenny Millions to come down from Palm Beach, and he likes to rub that in everybody's faces," Rat grins. "But he's totally worth it."

In addition to a rotating cast of performers, a musical shift can be observed over the years. "What changes in the musical culture, nationally and internationally — what gear are they using, what styles are popular that year... like, lately, this intense stereo panning," Rat says, attempting to qualify the differences in sound. "It's not so much what they use but what the result is. They could use a bicycle wheel — they don't give a fuck. They've heard almost everything, so when they hear something new, they gravitate to that." Earlier iterations had a focus on found sound and homemade instruments. "The term 'junk noise' came from Cock ESP, who literally used junk, bashing on stuff. So that's a genre, but this year I think you're going to see a lot more busy, intricate, maximalist stuff. Very nuanced and layered. Really cool combinations of sound."

The music has become more foregrounded and less ambient each year. "Years ago, it would be a lot of white noise with faders and EQs. Now, with these Euroracks, there's more intensity of live performance — sometimes they use samples, sometimes just live electronics. It blows you away it's so fast — more radically staccato, I think that's the new thing." Rat seems pleased with this development contrasting with performances past. "Sometimes you'd be like, 'OK, I gotta go take a shower — this guy is droning with a laptop.'

"A lot of it is performance art with sound. They're challenging themselves to come up with new sounds originating from a performance piece." Rat's brain almost whirrs as he recalls some repeat favorites. "Asthmatic, he's always returning; he's great. Black Mayonnaise, Bobb Hatt, Valerie Martino. There's another Detroit group, Mirror II Rorrim (pronounced 'mirror mirror'), a married couple. They're very creative, and the sounds are kind of call and response. Radio Shock, a real classic, he has a very colorful look."
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Bobb Hatt
Photo by Alex Markow
Rat finds plenty of inspiration on the road. "When I'm touring, I find and approach bands that blow me away, and then maybe two out of ten will make it down to INC," he smirks. "Now we've got three-and-a-half nights of locals, just Miami locals. INC started as two nights, then three, and now we're doing five nights. The scene just keeps expanding." He recalls a night when noise pioneers Wolf Eyes headlined for mostly unknown Miami performers. "Wolf Eyes came and played Thursday with all the locals. They loved it — they'd never heard any of these acts before. Thursday has a reputation for being the most insane night."

For Rat, the coolest aspect of INC is the diverse crowd of attendees, who he hopes leave the fest with a broader conception of music. "Some people will show up because of the hype, not because they like or know the music. But it's the place to be, and they end up staying, and hopefully some of these acts can expand [people's] minds and conception of music. They can walk away like, I get it now."

To him, understanding noise for noise's sake is a quality the festival helps to imprint on the crowd. "People listen to noise unknowingly every week for hours. You play a loud-ass movie with a dissonant soundtrack and people will watch, but if you take away the picture, they'll run out of the theater. It takes more imagination to appreciate the noise on its own. At INC, that chance is given to the average person to enjoy it."

International Noise Conference. Tuesday, February 5, through Saturday, February 9, at Churchill's Pub, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami;; Admission is free.
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David Bennett