Friday, February 18, 2011
Bringing back the roar of Chicago's 1990s sonic heyday
By Jessica Hopper, Special to the Tribune
February 18, 2011
The '90s were a veritable heyday for Chicago's underground scene, and while the sounds being pumped out of our fine city were diverse — the mainstays had a particular sort of musical muscularity to them. You could pretty easily divide acts into camps — based on whether they hewed closer to the Shellac model, the terse trio led by iconic producer Steve Albini — or fell in behind the melodic, instrumental all-star group Tortoise. The latter unwittingly spearheaded what became known as "post-rock," a term that meant a lot of nothing but shorthanded eclectic nonrock influences.
Frontier was perhaps the only local band to truly straddle both sounds — serving up as much electronic, ambient drone as it did brutal, squealing noise rock. It was a long-running staple on bills at the Empty Bottle, from when Frontier began playing out from around 1991 until 2003, when the band went on what now appears to be a hiatus. Live, Frontier often went for a performative onslaught that matched the intensity of its sound — using floods of light and a powerful smoke machine that sometimes made shows feel like a community theater staging of "Brigadoon," with all the fog.
After a one-off show last year, the band is returning for a show this weekend, topping a bill of noisemakers that run the gamut from assaultive to merely chaotic. Mid-bill are locals Bloodyminded, who have been omnipresent the past year or two it seems, as a staple of the underground warehouse-shows scene and making their mark at clubs and bars as well. The band possesses a distinctly postmodern frenzy — bearing out a "nothing's shocking" ideal into its sound and aesthetic. Seeing Bloodyminded play for the first time a few years ago, I was put off by a song whose lyrics seemingly advocated anorexia — it's not until you get a few songs into Bloodyminded's performances or albums that you realize that their whole oeuvre is a long, loud, over-the-top tribute to sadism, in all its forms.
On their eight albums, the songs range from 3 minutes to the 10-second range, most of the songs stutter and pulse with manipulated electronics — they often sound like someone has amplified a hyperactive cicada through busted car speakers. Sometimes this is augmented or accompanied by shrieks of feedback that mirrors the squealing of frontman Mark Solotroff. (Solotroff is the eminence grise of the Chicago noise scene, operating the Bloodlust label, doing time in a handful of other bands and generally propelling the scene along.)
It's not for the faint of heart (or, rather, ear) or easily offended. Given how intense Solotroff is when he's performing, it's easy to take the violence of Bloodyminded lyrics seriously, but once you get halfway into an album or show — Bloodyminded evidences itself as essentially an epic performance piece about hate.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Things will be a bit quiet online as we prepare for the weekend's show. Pieter arrives this afternoon and David Reed arrives tomorrow. For those in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, we really hope that you can make it out, as both nights should be pretty intense! Thanks to everyone who has been in touch and who has expressed their excitement.
I mailed a bunch of packages yesterday -- and orders from this morning, forward, will most likely be sent out first thing on Tuesday. I apologize for the atypical delay.
The mail lady just left and I am getting my first glimpse of the four new titles that Xavier published on his Timeless imprint --- and my head is spinning. I cannot recommend these striking hardback books enough...
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
(My, how James has changed...or, how Xavier hijacked his way to Milwaukee)
Mark Solotroff and James Moy of Bloodyminded
Considering the myriad difficulties in keeping a band together, particularly in the fame and riches-averse noise underground, the fact that Bloodyminded is still a working unit and making vital music after more than a decade is a major achievement. The highly aggressive and extremely dark power-electronics outfit fronted by Chicagoan Mark Solotroff and backed by a crew of synth-wielding maniacs—including Milwaukee resident James Moy—has terrorized audiences with its sexually perverted and highly violent noise blasts for 16 years and counting. Even before that, Solotroff was a founding member of the seminal Intrinsic Action during the mid-’80s through the early ’90s. Before Bloodyminded’s show Feb. 18 with Wolf Eyes at Stonefly, The A.V. Club sat down with Moy and Solotroff to discuss the band’s history as well as the state of noise.
The A.V. Club: As one of the longer running power-electronics groups still performing in the US, how would you describe the noise world at the start of the group’s existence as compared to where noise is now?
Mark Solotroff: Well, for starters, there actually is a thriving and fairly cohesive noise scene now, compared to when Bloodyminded started in 1995, and things are certainly completely different, when I think back to starting Intrinsic Action in 1984, and how I could count my earliest contacts on the fingers of two hands. But even in 1995, “noise” as an accepted term was still emerging. It is sort of an awful, reductive, and self-deprecating marquee for this very multifaceted genre, but I have slowly and begrudgingly grown used to it. I am not sure if “power-electronics” is better or worse. In any case, everyone’s ability to start connecting via the Internet, right around the year that we began, has had a profound impact on this scene. Suddenly, small clusters of people around the U.S.A. developed stronger bonds, while the emerging Japanese noise scene linked in, and throughout Europe, previously “industrial” groups and scenes joined the picture. The rest of the world joined the party as message boards and social networking sites became commonplace. This connectivity has made it easier to tour, easier to acquire new music, and it has made it much easier to stay in touch with everyone in the scene.
AVC: With a style so focused and so stripped down, it’s hard to find any copycats, but where do you feel the group stands as a source of inspiration for newer acts?
MS: That is an interesting question, because over the past 16 years, Bloodyminded has had phases where we felt more alone out there, carrying on some lost tradition, while at other points, including right now, it seems that there are a larger number of like-minded groups working with some of the same ideas and energies that we immerse ourselves in. Maybe I see it more in a newer wave of artists and groups that have emerged over the last few years who reject the stance of the static knob-twiddler or trackball pusher, and who have brought some desperately needed showmanship into the scene.
AVC: The noise scene around Milwaukee has always been very appreciative of Bloodyminded over the years, to the point where certain songs have been dedicated to the city even if you are performing elsewhere. Where does this Milwaukee connection come from?
MS: I started playing in Milwaukee with Intrinsic Action in the mid- to late-1980s, and I have always enjoyed my time up there. When I moved back to Chicago from New York in 1997, it was not long before Bloodyminded played in Milwaukee—to a mostly unappreciative industrial club music audience, no less—at The Rave. From a handful of enthusiastic fans of the band, friendships developed, more shows were set up here and there, tours followed, and the circle of people that we know in Milwaukee continued to grow. The energy and enthusiasm that I have experienced with crowds in Milwaukee, and even when groups of Milwaukee folks come down to Chicago shows, is unbeatable. And it is much appreciated.
James Moy: Even at shows in other cities, mixed into crowds as thick as 300-400 people, I’ve seen Milwaukee folks stand out like beautifully sore thumbs with their extreme enthusiasm. Whether they’re starting pits song after song or screaming along word-for-word throughout the entire set, the Milwaukee fans are some of the best people to play to, and we sure as hell appreciate them.
AVC: The show at Stonefly is part of a multi-show run with Wolf Eyes, which seems like something of an odd pairing stylistically. How did these shows come about?
MS: First off, I enjoy playing with a lot of different types of groups. In Chicago, over the last few years, it is more likely that Bloodyminded will play with metal or punk or synth groups, as opposed to just jumping on a noise bill. That is as much about my varied tastes and interests as it is about putting together unusual and exciting shows for the audience. And as far as Wolf Eyes goes, specifically, we have played many shows with them over the years, whether in Chicago or Detroit or New York. And we have toured and played one-off shows with many of their related bands and solo projects, including Demons, Hair Police, Graveyards, Dead Machines, Failing Lights. We have been friends with those guys for ages, and from the first time that I saw them, nine or 10 years ago, I not only liked what they were doing, I appreciated that they had a sense of stage presence, which was sorely missing from the noise scene at that time. I was instantly hooked. But really, in the scheme of things, Bloodyminded and Wolf Eyes does not seem like an unusual pairing to me. The next night, in Chicago, we are playing with our friends Plague Bringer, a brutal grindcore/death metal hybrid. But even that makes perfect sense to me.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Ran single-handedly by Mark Solotroff of Bloodyminded fame, the massively prolific Bloodlust! label casts a shadow over more than just its native Chicago. Focusing on combining strands of power electronics, industrial and noise, Bloodlust! punches through the spectre of those genres. The Fortieth Day’s Syria: 638 AD (The Complete Recordings) is a round-up of this project’s aggressively dark noise/ambience to date. Heavily processed improvisational smashes with guitar, synth and bass, these two thirty minute bricks are imperceptibly edited together. Expertly and intricately jigsawed in place, The Fortieth Day’s moulded harsh noise is made into something with a flow and a future.
Bruce Lamont, Right-Eye Rita and Mark Solotroff lay themselves bare with an eponymous live effort of a slow twenty minute unwrapping of viscera. Y’know that bit in Raiders Of The Last Ark where the Nazi bastards open the ark? This is how it should’ve sounded.
The self titled disc from Pharmakon moves between the black ambient and the more instantly satisfying side of harsh, angry and claw-fisted vitriol. The produce of New York based (or maybe more aptly New York sectioned) sole member Margaret Chardiet, this collects both very limited material and tasters of as yet unreleased drills to the head. Chardiet pretty safely takes the title for the most disturbingly pained and ire-aching vocals this side of any noise sponsored mental institution. Loop-a-delic post-industrial meets noise via subway warfare, Pharmakon does take prisoners – but you’re never likely to see them in one piece again.
For a massive dose of once-entombed-now-liberated drone psychedelia, time must be lost with A Peaceable Kingdom by Golden Sores. Smoke crawls through silent abandoned trenches for this duo, the beauty in their drift of ideas having a steadily forwards progression. Golden Sores are the sound of a pile of the most soaringly wrecked Dead/Floyd/Burzum bootlegs laid one on top of the other, slow rot osmosis doing its thing till its final breath.
Having disbanded in 2003, local avant-rockers Frontier (not to be confused with Louisville outfit Frontier(s), also playing Chicago this week) took the stage last year for what seemed like a one-off reunion performance. Lucky for fans of experimental music, they're back again tonight at Abbey Pub with more of what made them semi-famous: overdriven guitar drone, ambient-noise detours, wild visual projections, and liberal use of the fog machine. No slouches in the supporting slots, either. Noise "stars" Wolf Eyes, synth frosty Envenomist, electronic punishers Bloodyminded, and grind locals Plague Bringer open.
Sunday February 20, 2011
Crown Tap Room
2821 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL, 60647
Mueran Humanos (Argentina/Berlin)
“Noise annoys,” winked the Buzzcocks, but they likely had no idea the level of cacophony that would soon grow out of the collision of punk and the avant-garde underground. Not that the reunited Frontier is strictly a noise act, mind you. Rather, the bricolage-minded group embraces sound in all its shapes, forms and volumes. Detroit’s Wolf Eyes is more visceral and less forgiving, while David Reed’s industrial synth work as Envenomist hearkens back to that sub-genre’s minimalist birth. Bloodyminded brings the maelstrom and Plague Bringer the relentless grindcore.