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No Fun Fest takes place this weekend at the Knitting Factory. Single-day tickets are sold out for tonight May 16 and tomorrow May 17. But there’re still some left for Sunday, May 18. Buy one here.
Between all the Pitchforks and Coachellas and Tomorrow’s Parties, it’s difficult to rouse flagging interest in music festivals—the special-guest stars, lighters held high, aspirations thrust even further aloft. But when there’s that funny noise coming from the backyard—where you buried those flagged expectations—you go out and investigate. Hence No Fun.
This year the No Fun Fest, the tireless effort of musician Carlos Giffoni, enters its fifth year with a move from Red Hook to the Knitting Factory. The geography may now be more accessible, but the audio isn’t: for the next three days, you’ll hear fifty of the most challenging sonic sorcerors working today. For the uninitiated, it’s a chance to stain those stain-resistant Dockers and realize that you’re not dark and disturbed, but light and fruity when suddenly confronted with everything from transcendent Kosmische music to the aural equivalent of Internet dating pop-up ads. Much of what you’ll hear this weekend doesn’t base its existence in poems or song-forms; composition is a coincidence at most, and there are no clear choruses, middles or ends. Gone are the loping outros of the blues and feel-good sing-a-longs to which one naturally cleaves, no goosebumps generating from the pull of two poles of nostalgia and melody. No Fun exists to show you that that trip isn’t really necessary—that there is beauty in noise and a freedom of expression that carries with it great risk: misunderstanding, scorn, and potential ear damage.
MV Carbon, one half of Metalux (the Wendy & Lisa of noise), explains part of the festival’s allure: “No Fun Fest feels like a reunion and a celebration for a genre of music that I have been part of for a long time. It’s an important festival—it exposes some people to a type of expression that they are new to.” New expressions included this year are those of Dror Feiler, the composer whose recent works were soundly rejected by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra this past April because gatekeepers claimed that his work “Halat Hisar (State of Siege)” was “adverse to the health” of the orchestra, let alone the audience itself. Also: various increments of Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, wunderkind Philip Best and his violent sonic beast Consumer Electronics, and the return of Krautrock legends Cluster. Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster: “We don’t know much about the framework of noise, but I guess what we’ll be doing (at No Fun) will fit perfectly into it. There’s already a new record out, released by Important Records: the recording of Cluster’s first live concert in Berlin after a gap of almost 40 years.”
In a nod to the perplexed adherents to the Protestant work ethic, the question should be asked: is there a system here? Noise music isn’t the easiest sell to make, but as its properties trickle up into the mainstream—dissonance in classical music, assorted production quirks in Britney Spears singles, New Order—are there exciting new careers to be had in noise music? G.X. Jupitter-Larsen of the Haters—whose appearance at No Fun marks almost 30 years since the Haters’ New York City debut, involving the amplified destruction of videotapes by videocamera—laughs, “I don’t have a career, I’m on a mission! Careers make you money. Missions cost you money. Mine has cost me a great deal!”
Composer Lasse Marhaug, who with his band Jazkamer stands at the forefront of the Norwegian noise scene adds, “No Fun is by far the biggest festival for noise music—but I don’t think you can say it’s good for a so-called career, because you can’t really make a career in noise music. Hardly any of the artists playing earn their living making noise full-time. For a scene as scattered and eclectic as noise music. No Fun Festival has been something of a revolution.”
One last thing. Is it ever too loud? Marhaug: “My experience is that no matter how loud you play there’s always someone in the audience who claims ‘It wasn’t loud enough.’ It seems if you love the music, you can take a lot.” Roedelius: “Our own music in the late ‘60s sometimes, but we wanted to deal with it, to learn from it; there was no other way for us as one of originators at the time.” Carbon: “I love most noise music! I feel like it reaches to the core. It is raw and spontaneous. . . it pulsates. I want to feel it.”