Interview: Carlos Giffoni on No Fun Fest '09
"At No Fun I would say that ninety-five percent of the people are there to see the bands and for most of the bands, this is the most people they have ever played in front of. So the amount of energy feels completely different--the bar is much higher."
Photo by Megan Ellis
On Friday, Brooklyn noise-musician and erstwhile promoter Carlos Giffoni announced the line-up to the 2009 edition of his No Fun Fest. This year, the annual noise festival is slated to include, in addition to the usual, degenerate entities (Merzbow, Skullflower, Bastard Noise), some actual, recognizably melodic bands--Sonic Youth, Bardo Pond, Blank Dogs. We caught up with Giffoni to ask about the fest's change in direction as it enters its sixth year, what makes No Fun different from a regular gig, and whether further surprises still await.--Steve Lowenthal
There are a lot new faces in the lineup this year. What was the thought process in selecting acts for 2009? Has the rationale changed?
Well the thought process is always similar in the sense that I am inviting bands that I enjoy seeing or bands that I've always wanted to see. In a sense I feel like if I am satisfying my own needs I end up putting a good festival together that other people can enjoy too. I think I have pretty high standards for what can be considered good electronic music, noise, free-form, etc. This year I made a special effort to look into things that I had missed in previous years. How could I change things around a little while keeping the energy and excitement level of the fest's past years? What bands were obvious choices that I had not seen before? So I tried to concentrate more on bringing something new and less on the stuff I had seen already.
Some of the artists selected--like Bardo Pond or Blank Dogs--use more traditional rock structures than have been seen before at No Fun. Are there parameters to what can and cannot appear at the festival?
The parameters are quite simple: I have to like the band and feel like they can present something unique live that can be a moving experience. I think the more rock-oriented bands just show that my taste has grown in that area a little bit more. But even though some of these bands are considered more 'rock,' they generally have something unique and interesting that separate them from other bands working within similar parameters.
You're deeply connected to various forms of underground music. How have you seen the climate change over the last five years of doing the festival?
I feel like some of the American bands that have played the festival since the beginning--including myself, Wolf Eyes, Hair Police, Prurient, and others--are somewhat more established and are becoming the elders of at least the part of the underground that is the more experimental zone. And there are a lot of new bands coming in now that are doing amazing stuff and who are ready to keep pushing things. So I think overall things are very exciting.
Since the festival began No Fun has become a record label and sponsored various smaller events throughout the year. Do you have plans to expand the idea further into other areas?
Well, not anything really outside of music, but I toyed with the idea of some more art oriented things, and I am actually working on something with a gallery space around one of the days of the festival that is not confirmed yet. Last year the art show that Thurston Moore curated around the fest was a great way to offer something different. Also, we are working on doing some international events (outside of the US), and at the time of fest I'll very likely be announcing the first of these events, which just got confirmed. This is something that I've worked for years to make happen and finally the right conditions came along.
What are the most challenging aspects of running a festival of this scale, and what are the most satisfying returns for you as the organizer?
Well the most challenging aspect for me is the amount of money that I have to risk every year (currently we get no kind of funding or private sponsorships; all expenses are paid by me and by ticket sales). There are many other challenges, like finding the right venue, making sure the conditions are the best possible for the artists, promoting, etc.
The most satisfying returns have been to see people travel from all over the world to see the event--to be able to bring together a lot friends from all over the world to play and spend a few days together, to see some really insanely amazing music. There are many positives.
Is there a quality that makes for a successful performance at No Fun as opposed to at a regular gig?
I think a band that is successful at a regular gig can be equally successful at No Fun. However one thing that makes it different is that at a regular gig you might have a few friends there, some people that just want to hang out and are not interested that much in the music. At No Fun I would say that ninety-five percent of the people are there to see the bands and for the music and for most of the bands, this is the most people they have ever played in front of. So the amount of energy feels completely different--the bar is much higher, and you usually see the performers responding with some of the best performances they have ever presented. It is a much bigger challenge.
Various members of Sonic Youth have made appearances at the fest throughout the years. Why did you decide to invite the band proper to perform this year?
Well I had actually invited them before to perform as Sonic Youth, but it did not work out. (Same with Bardo Pond: I invited them many years ago but the schedule did not work for them). I've been friends with them for a while and I've always been a fan of the band, so why not? I am really looking forward to see what they do for No Fun. I hear there might be guest(s) involved.
Any other surprises in store this year that you can reveal to us or are we just going to have to wait and see?
Well as far as the lineup it is completed, there won't be any other additions. As far as what the bands are doing, yes there are a few more things that have not happened before that I am quite excited about and looking forward to seeing. But I don't want to spoil those surprises: You'll have to be there to see it.
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