Give Noise a Chance

Aurally violent bands can have trouble convincing fellow Iraq war protesters they're serious about peace

Though Brooklyn noise combo Apeshit certainly shared the general sentiment at April 29's Whitney Museum Peace Tower concert, the band name alone suggested they'd express themselves a bit differently. "We warned the crowd we would be loud," guitarist C.B. Houck explained after the event, which mingled anti-Iraq-war speakers with brief local music sets. "And we thought we were well received. Some people left, but we still had a big, diverse crowd."

That big, diverse crowd did not include Iraqi activist Faiza Alaraji, however. Apeshit's set was loud, noisy, and chaotic—certainly not explicitly endorsing violence of any sort, but perhaps uncomfortably embodying it for more sensitive bystanders. Alaraji had spoken at peace rallies earlier in the day and was scheduled to speak at the Whitney event after Apeshit's set; instead, looking pained, she fled the room shortly after the band started. At its conclusion, filmmaker DeeDee Halleck took the stage and delivered an emotional speech explicitly criticizing the band on Alaraji's behalf: "I think the loud music was hard for her to listen to. Faiza did not say this, but I think perhaps that is the sort of music that is played in the tanks."

Upon hearing this, Ian Vanek—drummer for the similarly chaotic band Japanther, scheduled to perform next—grabbed a mic and offered a markedly less polite rebuttal. "That's fucked," he yelled to a crowd of about 300 people. "What do you mean, 'the music they listen to in the tanks'? We're trying to set up a fucking rock show here, and you tell us this is the music they listen to in tanks? That is so fucked! We support our troops in Iraq!"

A few days later, Halleck pointed to a documentary called Soundtrack to War to back up her argument: "Soldiers played punk and metal when they went through the towns," she said. "I found the music to be very nihilistic and dark." As to Vanek's intense, hostile response, she still sounded shocked and hurt—"No one has ever screamed at me like that before." However, "Brandon [Jourdan, a young filmmaker] brokered a peace deal at the end of the show and made us hug, and Ian apologized for cursing." (Vanek refused comment for this piece.)

Continuing his peacemaker role, Jourdan sent out an e-mail to several of the event's participants, pointing out that "punk and hardcore musicians have a long history of being involved in social activism." Indeed, Apeshit consider themselves political performers, while Japanther have played several benefit shows, offering assistance to New York for New Orleans and Brooklyn radio collective Free 103.9. Perhaps the element of surprise obscured that benevolence: The Peace Tower show's bands weren't formally introduced, and often began with no warning or audience prep. "There was a whiplash turnaround between the peace speakers—1960s veterans of left-wing causes—and this sudden metallic din accompanied by frenzied screams," explained Nick Currie (a/k/a Momus), another performer. "It was suddenly very loud."

As for Alaraji herself, she concurred via e-mail that Apeshit's aural assault had unnerved her. "I felt it was loud and not a way to express peaceful feelings," she wrote. "It's aggressive, more than what we need: We need to talk in a rational way, not in crazy way."

 
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