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Rat Bastard Ruined My Life: International Noise Conference 2014

Rob Goyanes

Romulo Del Castillo playing D-ICK at INC. Photo: Laz Rodriguez.

Standing amidst a sea of people at Churchill’s Pub during the International Noise Conference (INC), a man resembling GG Allin but referring to himself as Elmer Fudd told me, “It’s like The Matrix, except you only have one choice.” As those who have attended know very well, the music festival is a tornadic carnival of sound and performance that sucks you in with its motley range of human experience: from the quiet and contemplative to those turgid displays of sex and violence.

For 11 years now, INC has brought together local, national, and international musicians for a sonic melee that acts as a litmus test for the musical avant-garde. Well over 100 groups and solo acts each have 15 minutes to perform in a back-to-back-to-back assault on the ears, eyes, and senses of decency. Now with funding from the Knight Foundation, the Conference has grown from a three-night affair to five days of utter spectacle teetering between an aesthetic heaven and hell, with pre- and post-shows to boot. Organized by the tireless Frank Falestra—better known by his stage name Rat Bastard—the free event brings together the community of experimental artists working (or not) under the umbrella idiom of “noise.”

(The term “noise” can be thought of as the amalgamation of discrete categories that disrupt the boundaries between music and non-musical sound. There are those evangelists who insist that it must be a far cry from music in order to be noise, but it’s worthy to consider the fact that even traditionally constructed songs—such as the muzak playing in elevators and waiting rooms—might be interpreted as anti-music. It can mean anything from abstract sound art, to harshly executed static, to noisy rock – so the taxonomical distinction is secondary to the spirit with which it is delivered.)

A day-by-day account would reduce the psychically blurring totality of the event. As the week went on, increasing amounts of civilians and musicians started pouring in. The crowd was an impressive cross-section of society: lawyers in top-siders, crust punk chongas, neighborhood kids from Little Haiti, and that guy in the “I heart meth” shirt.

The excess of music festivals in general could be felt by those (un)fortunate enough to attend the entire thing. Even being in a quiet bar for 8-10 hours a day is a brutal feat of endurance. Still, the punishment of INC was exceeded by the reward of witnessing the horror and beauty of the performances.

The first night, curated by Night of Weirds, opened with a reverent set by Dracula, whose male and female harmonizing results in entrancing, gothic hymnals. Other acts of note included the Hialeah-based sludge-rock band Humbert and Main Manatee, the brainchild of local visual artist Asif Farooq, who sang out-of-key ditties to a live chicken. A new facet of the festival is Mr. Bastard’s expanded selection of curators, which included a stage by Julian Del Rio featuring the noisier quadrants of punk and metal bands. There was also Lazaro Rodriguez’ D-ICK party, which hosted resident DJs Giorgio Ardito and Alfredo Sousa and Romulo del Castillo playing a live set, transforming the outside patio into a bona fide, turnt-up rave of techno, disco.

Haves & Thirds, the solo project of Tampa noise veteran Todd Lynne (who curates the Friday night of INC), played a lulling, creeping mix of hip-hop beats and soft guitar licks. Drums Like Machine Guns, a group out of Philadelphia, exemplified the noise-cum-electronica tendencies of the zeitgeist, playing a mix of buttheaded dance music and abrasive, screamy shock rock.

The exposure to acts from places outside of Miami and Florida is integral to the success of the Conference, but 2014 was a year that made plain the leaps and bounds of locals and natives, particularly with regards to forward-looking dance music. Body Garden played a supreme mix of jarring vocal samples and footwork grooves; Dim Past executed a thunderously ambient set of marshy synthesizers; and Roover Hook enraptured the audience with her haunting deep house and pop.

Some of the acts at INC opt for highly conceptual sets rather than musical compositions. Nick Klein played a particularly despondent song by country musician Merle Haggard as he stood and knelt, shirtless and donning white trash wraparound sunglasses, with intense viscerality, provoking the audience to hold the noose that was tied around his neck. Lando and Lando, a group that includes the inimitable T-FUNC, spent their entire slot imploring the crowd to sit down. COCK E.S.P, a legend of the noise scene from Minneapolis, closed out INC with their costumed idiocy, fireworks, and public urophagia.

Contrary to the thinking of several glittery patrons in fairy costumes, Mercury being in retrograde had nothing to do with the strangeness of the week. Churchill’s operates on an astrology all its own: the laws of normal social interaction are suspended; it’s the sort of anything-goes frontier zone where the only rule is the respect of others. The Laundry Room Squelchers, Rat Bastard’s own act wherein he stands out of sight behind the soundboard and delivers a chaotic miasma of blaring radio stations, highlighted this. A handpicked selection of minions writhed on the floor, destroyed tables and beer pitchers, and coaxed the bravest in the crowd to get involved in the ecstatic ruination.

For many that week, the only respite was the dark sanctuary of Churchill’s laundry room, the mythic and sinister-seeming hovel from which the Squelchers’ namesake is derived. Inside, as you tend to your most derelict, basest needs, there is a silence more deafening than those screeching horns, those banging, unceasing beats.