Noise exists because of music. As in: understanding light through its relationship to darkness, or wetness because of that which is dry — noise is any sound that is not music. That’s any sound, not just the violent and irritating ones — but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the noise scene.
Even in a genre as loosely defined as “whatever isn’t music,” most noise adheres to what seems to be a strict code: It’s boys (always boys, usually white) in black, with lots of pricey equipment, making self-congratulatory music and ignoring their audience. Sure, it’s noisy, but it doesn’t make you feel or think anything. It’s not a descendant of its supposed forebears like Hanatarash so much as it is the Ivy League nephew of “Desert Rose”-era Sting. Because it’s accepted as the status quo, it serves as a fence, keeping cool and interesting and diverse people from participating. And that? Well, that is terrible.
Last night Le Poisson Rouge hosted a solid cross-section of the noise scene, both sonically and philosophically. There were performers who had internalized this status quo with a specific degree of severity. There were also convention-flouting rule-breakers who defy the genre’s absurd social codes.
Dreamcrusher is the second kind, and is also mind-blowing. Luwayne Glass’s music is threatening in a way that focuses, laser-like, on humans’ will toward survival. Menacing and pounding, at times meatlike and mechanical (the sound of a slaughterhouse, maybe?), it gives you terrified anxiety for as long as it persists. It is as much about the specific experience of being marginalized (Glass is black and genderqueer) in a world that presents a constant threat to the individual as it is the universal marginalization experienced by the average citizen in the face of ubiquitous technological surveillance.
Glass played most of their set with their shirt pulled up over their face, reverse-Cornholio style, their left arm and hand wrapped in an Ace bandage and accompanying support. “I fucked it up at the other show!” they explain. This is easy to believe: Glass swung from the rafters and jumped blind into a crowd of frightened onlookers, screaming as loud as any human ever has. Of course, after the show, when a friend arrived, Glass dissolved into peals of completely innocent laughter, sprinting across the venue, howling with joy. But I digress.
Kel Valhaal, the solo project by Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, started on a high note, with a combination of twinkling electronics and Auto-Tuned vocals, like T-Pain producing a single for BB-8. Once it lapsed into techno, though, it began to sound amateurish and, eventually, appropriative, as the music meandered through vaguely “exotic” vocals and instrument samples, landing on a strange approximation of a trap beat. It begged the question: Does music that seems to be made for the enjoyment of its creator actually need to be played in public, for an audience? We seemed to be veering back toward the noise status quo.
YVETTE, on the other hand, are musicians who rehearse and practice and care about what they’re making, and they understand that they’re in part making it for us, their audience. It’s nearly impossible to compare them to any other band. Are they Black Ships-era Current 93 with a sense of humor, or Wall of Voodoo after listening to nothing but Swans on an incredible mushroom trip? The music can be so beautiful, with stacks on stacks of chords altered to sound like angelic choirs assembled for performance in buzzing antique lightbulbs, and soaring vocal lines over top of it all. But it can also be psychiatrically damaging and terrifying, both to hear and watch: Some songs are obviously set at a tempo that allows the drummer an extra beat to steady his drums after he hits them hard enough to almost knock them over. They are two people who do one thing each, really really fucking well, and combine them at life-altering volume for maximum effect.
They’re coming at it from a critical and theoretical perspective and putting in the effort to give even their most chaotic songs foundation and substance. Hence, they are transcendence, every time. Bands who want to play harsh music should be required to see YVETTE several times before they can buy their first contact mic.
Their charm, truly, is that even in their most radio-friendly-Butthole Surfers moments of shimmering melody, there’s a darkness that never really goes away. Combine that with their insistence on using amazingly fucking irritating strobe lights and playing at an unreasonable, nauseating volume, and they’ve got my vote for best band in Brooklyn. Noise should remake its status quo in their image.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 7, 2016