In 1984, poet Jean Smith teamed up with guitarist David Lester to form the feminist indie rock duo, Mecca Normal. A few years later, their blueprint of punk spunk and explicit politics (sexual and otherwise) played a big role in the cultivation of the ’90s Riot Grrrl movement.
Fast forward three decades: Smith and Lester are post-punk royalty and Riot Grrrl has long been eviscerated and repackaged as the Spice Girls, who themselves are old enough to exist only nostalgically.
Meanwhile, Mecca Normal is recording a new album in Miami Beach, and International Noise Conference impresario, Rat Bastard, is at the helm. His co-pilot is acclaimed producer, Shimmy Disc founder, and occasional member of Half Japanese, Kramer.
One thing led to another, and now the trio of Smith, Bastard, and Kramer will be performing as an unlikely supergroup at the tenth anniversary of INC. In honor of this momentous freak-out, the hyper-literate Smith sent us some questions she asked herself about the upcoming jam.
You don’t fit the stereotype of International Noise Conference participants. How did you become involved?
I’ve never been one for rhythm and counting. I find it weird that some sounds are called notes and therefore “OK” and other sounds are “bad.”
What about Noise appeals to you as a performer?
I like responding during, not after. Not even slightly after. Playing this way is like having a great conversation where both people can talk at the same time without the gumminess of words – or notes and time signatures.
Mutually agreed on patterns – song structures – can be very satisfying. Like a slice of your favorite pizza. Noise is more like climbing into a huge stainless steel mixing bowl and slithering around in cake batter while trying to avoid the whirling rotors of the mixer. It is hardly a matter of trying to appear to be cool or capable. Noise is like the sex that I always hoped I’d have, but have not been able to locate because mainstream men in their fifties seem to be more about manipulating, imitating and disappearing.
How should citizens of Miami approach the International Noise Conference?
In my approach, a litany of simultaneous ignitions expel orchestrated antics — resulting in acute listening amongst performers. This puts the audience at the helm of their own experience. Rather than being presented with something built with repetition, it’s more like being exposed to pure, unregulated energy. Listeners may fare better if they abandon anticipating predictable structures.
None of this is to say that the Jean Smith / Rat Bastard / KRAMER trio is sexual in nature or that we even like cake (or power).
Valerie Martino epitomizes the present-day dichotomy of the eclectic and experimental subset of music known simply as noise.
Martino is a primary agitator in the scene’s gradual (and then exponential) embrace of electronic dance music spanning from cold wave and industrial to minimal techno and acid house. In fact, as Unicorn Hard-On, she was one of the first former sonic aggressors who came to appreciate some rhythm.
But at the same time, she is a high ranking official in International Noise Conference coordinator Rat Bastard’s signature Laundry Room Squelchers, a freeform ensemble whose “performances” essentially amount to a friendly riot as inspired by multiple radios blaring white-hot noise.
Crossfade shot Martino some questions to learn more about her equal appreciation for ass-shaking and ass-kicking.
How did you meet Rat and become a member of The Squelchers? Is there a formal audition process?
I first met Rat in the fall of 2003. At the time I was living with my friend Newton in Philadelphia. Newton would tell me all these crazy stories. I had no idea who he was but he sounded like the coolest dude in the world. I wound up driving down to Miami to meet up with a tour Newton was on. I got to Rat’s place, he invited me in and handed me a beer. Sick! I remember looking around his condo at all the posters and reading every single article up on the walls. At the time I felt like so insecure, I had just started UHO, had NO IDEA what I was doing, only that I wanted to do it. But Rat has always been super supportive and I’ve learned so much about music and performing from him over the years.
I was asked to do a LRS tour in 2006, I think. They had a girl or two back out. It wound up being Rat, Leslie Keffer, and I in a rental car for month. Full US tour. It was insane. I had done nothing like it before. My first night on tour we played in Nashville and I remember practically shattering my knee and waking up the next day with bruises and cuts all over my arms and legs. Sounds weird, but it was fucking awesome! And I got to do it all over again night after night.
Anyways, I’ve been on a few tours with Rat and have squelched every year since then at INC and a few other festivals here and there.
How do you guys prepare for a set? Do you?
It really does seem like total chaos and insanity, but on the inside its actually a pretty well-oiled machine. I can only talk about my time in LRS, but I always listen to Rat’s advice. He would tell us how to squelch without getting hurt, how to rile the crowd then get out of the way so you aren’t the one in the bottom of the dog pile.
There are photos of you on the Internet with a pretty gnarly black eye. Was that a Squelcher injury?
Of course, shit happens, like that black eye. In 2008, we played a tiny basement in Yspilanti with a bunch of huge noise guys crawling all over each other while we squelched. I kept backing away from the pile of dudes, but someone pushed me from behind right on top of the pile. At that moment someone’s foot came up and kicked me below my eye. It was an accident. Shit happens you can’t predict, but you learn from it and are much more careful and diligent next time.
How did last year’s “solo” Squelch come about?
Last year’s set was pretty wild. I was sitting at the bar waiting for the last band before LRS to finish. Rat comes up to me and says, “OK, I got the radios going straight into the board, you’re gonna squelch back here,” pointing to the area behind the mixer board. I remember being like, “WTF ok whatever Rat.”
Then the band ends, I run back there, and Rat is holding two radios. He fires them up and motions for me to go out into the room. I had no idea where anyone else was. I was cursing like crazy. Pretending I had a radio, I went out there, and tore it up the best I could. Everyone was pretty confused. They kept looking around for the cords or the amps. It felt like forever before people really started getting involved. There are a ton of pictures of Kevin from Lazer Slut and I during that set with like no one around us. It looks like we are in a fucking ballroom, with everyone backed up against the walls.
There was a moment for me where it went from totally embarrassing to absolutely exhilarating. I kept trying to pull people into it, messing with people, antagonizing until it finally broke loose. When the set finally ended, I was covered in beer, mascara smeared down my face, both knees and elbows throbbing. I felt like I succeeded.
Does the term “Technoise” signify anything else besides the historical moment in time in which these noise artists embraced e-music? Or are there characteristics and styles that are possibly identifiably Technoise? Have you heard a better name for this phenomenon?
Technoise is a term that Justin Farrar came up with in an attempt to describe the weirdo beat scene in a Resident Advisor article. I don’t know what to call it. I like that it’s difficult to describe. Is it dance music? Is it intended to be dance music? Yes sometimes I think, other times maybe not.
I think it’s like noise music, where the beauty is in the ear of the listener. It doesn’t have to follow the rules. I don’t think there is anything truly distinct about the transformation of styles other than the fact that it comes from people who have participated in the noise scene.
When people discuss the noise-to-techno axis, you’re often cited as an early proponent of the style. What made you want to play dance music at noise shows?
I kind of predicted that beats would take over. Well, I used to joke about it a lot back in the day just to dig at my friends. I never thought about my music as “dance music”. It wasn’t my intention to get people to dance at a noise show. I wanted to make interesting music. I used repetitive beats as a tool to draw people in. Now things are different, a lot of people want to dance, they come to a show to dance.
I started getting super into minimal techno stuff a few years back. I listened to everything I could get my hands on, and started exploring different types of electronic music.I think it’s nice of people to acknowledge my contribution to what we have all created together. If I’ve inspired people, that’s awesome.
For more than a decade, he has been a devoted, prolific participant in and leader of Central and Gulf Coast Florida’s respective noise music scenes.
He can be found wrapping a t-shirt around his face like some ceremonial head garment. Or hosting shows at Noon under bridges and in the parking lots of strip clubs. Or pursuin his highly idiosyncratic, completely personalized approach to DIY art and music that’s become a touchstone of noise music in the increasingly-not-new Millenium.
Cephia’s Treat – Lynne’s record label, co-founded with his brother Ian, who passed away tragically in 2004 – was a quiet-but-integral, highly influential cornerstone of the 2000s noise music explosion. And as the genres and scenes associated with that activity continue to evolve and expand, Cephia’s is always on the frontline of Florida’s sonic battle with itself.
The aforementioned pedigree has landed Lynne the only curatorial position during INC that gets to pick main-stage bands, besides, of course, Conference organizer Rat Bastard. So as apart of our series of conversations with artists performing at the festival’s 10 year anniversary, we knew the guy behind the past 10 years of INC’s Friday Night probably had some interesting shit to say.
How did Cephia’s Treat connect with Rat and the Squelchers?
I stumbled upon The Laundry Room Squelchers website. And after seeing the photos of a bunch people on the floor, I contacted Rat about playing the first F.A.D. show in February of 2002. They came down, played, and Ian and I thought it was the most badass stuff ever. A few weeks later Rat invited Ian to join a Squelchers tour and that set a lot of things in motion.
Did Tampa’s Bloodfest and INC start in any kind of conjunction? My impression is that its completely coincidental – and that much more insane as a result – that these two fests started at the exact same time. First Bloodfest in Summer of 2003, first INC in February of 2004.
There was definitely already something going on in Tampa by that point. We had already done the YUKhONIC / j.f.k.s tour, had a ton of the F.A.D. shows, and had a bunch of releases out.
When we met the Kinky Noise and Cheapo_Records crews things just blew up. Lots of ideas, lots of activity. This was late 2001 and up until that point my brother and I were just doing our own thing. We were trudging along, putting out records, playing here and there but meeting those kids just completely changed everything. Then meeting Rat a little bit after that sealed the deal.
Rat’s website is a maze in the dark, so my info source may not be entirely correct, but according to the site (I think), Haves&Third’s played the first year and then didn’t make an appearance again until 2009, when you started (unintentionally or otherwise) the subtle tradition of opening the show. Of course, you played in other ensembles and played a role in curating the Friday night, but what accounted for that gap in solo appearances?
Haves&Thirds did not play the first INC. I don’t think Haves played the second one either. Too much stress trying to play, and keep things going, so it seemed better to just give the slot to someone who could utilize it better. Then it was decided to just play first, get it out of the way, and concentrate on the rest of the evening.
Of course the sound has taken some turns over the years and most recently in maybe a more pronouncedly structured way, but, as long as I’ve been seeing H&T (since about 2006), you’ve had a consistent sound/aesthetic that has always relied on ethereal / ambient / spooky sounds. Was the project ever anything else?
There are “rules.” always has been in order to keep output flowing. When you are too free with your ability, two things happen: Either too much, which means burn out for you and listeners. Or too little because you can’t ever decide when something is finished. Haves&Thirds has strict rules.
When you wrap a t-shirt around your head, is it a particular shirt or a particular reason you pick the shirt that you pick.
The shirts do have meaning. Maybe it’s color-coordinated or maybe the printing on the hood has some significance. Like when in Philadelphia a Dead Milkmen shirt will likely be “hooded.”
Did Pro Bro Gold invent Technoise?
There has been a bedroom dance scene in Tampa for a loooooong time. Jon as Turmoiled Functions and Uh-Oh Spades! were two of the first ones to really use beats and keys, but Brandon first as The Fas’ners and later as Pro Bro Gold definitely was the one who made into what it is. He was the one who brought the fog machines, the lasers, and the strobes. He brought the disco ball.
Are Merchandise killing hardcore?
Merchandise are killing…with kindness.
Tell me the one about Hepatitis Youth.
A long time ago there was a bunch of “youths” who had just had it up to here (motions to forehead).
The first wave of tapes that you guys pressed in high school…what does that stuff sound like? Chickadees and what else? And then S.L.D. was the first like long-running band that preceded Yukhonic? Lay the smackdown.
Ian, his best friend and me and mine in different combinations produced a handful of bands in Lake Wales during our high/middle school years.
The Chickadees was our first band where we put out more than one tape. A one-night band here and there and then there was The Stitches, which did three tapes and some shirts. Next was The Snots which was our first band to actually play a couple of shows. Then, days after I graduated high school, Ian and I moved to Tampa and just holed up at mom’s, wrote a bunch of songs, co-commiserated, watched movies, and made plans to make “different” music.
After maybe a year we got S.L.D. up and running which was our first real baby. We were totally into what we were doing but the hardcore kids hated the keyboards and the keyboard kids hated hardcore so we didn’t get many shows or love. So we just recoiled back into our own little world and did our own thing, only worrying about impressing each other.
What were live responses to S.L.D. like? I’ve heard the 7” ten million times and the first time the keyboards kick in over the hardcore, I always can’t believe how seamless it is. Did you guys tour? Did you ever run into another hardcore bands with keyboards?
No tour. We only played a dozen shows, but we practiced and recorded all the time. It was just an honest mix of our favorite music. Figured, “Why not?” We were really into Void and New Order, DC Hardcore and New Wave. We were completely ignorant of anybody else doing anything like it at the time, but we were total hermits. We would emerge, already accepting that nobody would like us but that was where we pulled our drive.
Don’t get me wrong we definitely weren’t depressed little wieners moping around. We were having a blast being the “outsiders.” We even had the local press convinced we had been signed to Touch and Go and when they sniffed around for interviews we would show up and make up these crazy, elaborate stories. As far as they know that record is still coming out.
Cephia’s has always maintained a boutique / DIY craft element. I remember the first time I ever ordered something from you, I bought a bunch of stuff because the names and descriptions sounded cool and it was so cheap. I ended up getting tapes shoved into gutted stuffed animals and hollowed-out books.
My brother and I were absolutely best friends, and spent all of our waking hours of youth together so over time all of our ideas would come to fruition. Many nights were spent sitting around, bouncing ideas, plotting, writing, arguing, playing music, arguing some more, improving ideas, and, ultimately, constantly improving. Packaging was one thought that would hit the drawing board. The idea was that getting people through the door to begin with is the toughest part.
Noise music is riddled with freaks.
Just like the circus, urban downtowns, and Ultra Music Festival right as the clock strikes fuck-a-tree-o’clock – this envelope pushing, challenging, and potentially full-of-shit genre is a straight up 24/7 weirdo convention.
But out of all the beardos, hippies, art crusties, masked perverts, LARPers, Burning Man types, people from Tampa, etc., no other act at Rat Bastard’s annual International Noise Conference – a 4 day survey of experimental and retro-experimental music from Florida and way beyond – is more provocative than Clang Quartet.
Like many that frequent the INC year after year, Scotty Irving builds viscerally industrial and highly-personalized personalized noise-making sculptures that he uses as instruments. He also wears masks, is dedicated to groovy non-sequitor free-drumming, and, when at the roaring peaks of an uproarious Clang Quartet performance will completely ruin your hearing.
However, Clang Quartet rises above the deaf and unwashed hordes of blaring power electronics solo artists by consummately defying all expectation. For starters, Irving is the Quartets lone member.
The real essence of Clang Quartet, however, lies in its evangelical motivations: Irving’s in-the-red performance of undulating wall noise, and sharp, smeared feedback, is an expressionistic component of a sonically dense theatrical depiction of Irving’s torment before he accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior.
Your FB lists your repertoire with the added note that the project has been “for Jesus since 1997.” Tell us about the noise and/or music you made before Clang Quartet.
I played in a couple of cover bands, but it was not for me. I put that aside to join a band called Geezer Lake from 1989 until 1997.Geezer Lake was a learning experience of many sorts for me. I was introduced to many styles of music and ways of playing that were largely new to me. During this time, I rediscovered Neubauten, and also checked out other acts such as Throbbing Gristle and Z’EV, who made a HUGE impact on me as a listener and a performer. One day, when Geezer Lake was in Texas, we were in a record store and I noticed a videocassette on display called ‘Kingdom Of Noise’. Later when I saw the same video listed in a Relapse/Release Records mail order catalog, I ordered a copy. I have not been the same since!
My interest in extreme sound became much more intense. My bandmates were not happy with this new found knowledge, and this caused much friction within the band. It seemed I was trying to take things in a direction that they would not or could not allow me. It was time to move on. I performed the first Clang Quartet show in January of 1997 and Geezer Lake split up in the spring of that same year. There was no going back.
I became a Christian in 1984 and I began to try to bring my faith and music together from that moment on. My early attempts were unintentionally hilarious. I think I will shut up on that note!Do you subscribe to a particular school of Christianity?
I am a member of a United Methodist Church, but I don’t like to focus too much on the denominational side of things. I am a follower of the crucified and resurrected Christ as the son of God, and ultimately I feel that is what makes a person a Christian and not whether they are Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, etc.
Do you consider your work evangelical? Do you prefer to play in the company of non-Christians?
My show is evangelical in the sense that I am telling a story of my life without Jesus, then my life with Jesus. I present the passion play as a representation of what I feel Jesus did for me to give me another chance at life. As far as what type of audience I prefer, I am fine with either. It just happens that most of the time I am performing for non-Christians.
I had an experience in the early Clang Quartet days with someone trying to physically stop me from performing during a show. This was at a so-called Christian place and a bouncer had to come and assist me. You read that correctly: some Christian places have bouncers!I have had other experiences where I was not allowed to perform at certain Christian venues unless I was willing to change certain elements of the show, namely some of the masks, which I do not feel the need to do.
On the other end of the spectrum, I have had some opposition in the form of internet insults. From time to time, someone will approach me at a show and try to engage me in a pointless argument over an aspect they do not like or understand. One guy walked up to me in Portland, Oregon and said right to my face “Jesus SUCKS!”. I very calmly asked him if he believed that statement enough to bare his soul in a performance in front of people who might not agree with him. He did not really answer me at the time, but later on the Noisefanatics website that he did know I was really a Christian when he made the remark. Interesting.
More often than not, the discussions are very civil and usually I discover that people are picking up on personal aspects of the show that I did not think they would. Also, many people who called themselves “Satanists” are far more civil than some Christians I could name!
Not so much the actual message, but the delivery of said message is far more prominent than it was in the past. I have become more confident with the performances, and even though the show still has major abstract qualities, it is much more clear in terms of the statement I am making.Does your act always involve the “Passion Play” style components? Do you ever perform without any of the faith-based significations?
I cannot imagine a Clang Quartet show without the elements you mentioned, but I do perform in other settings where I just play drums, or play some electronics, or even sing. I do session work for varied artists who would be probably not know how to handle a Clang Quartet show!
How does that giant noise cross work?
Every device in the show is both a sound/ visual element. They all pull double duty, as it were. For the cross, I use a combination of guitar pedals and acoustic guitar microphones on the actual cross body, which is actually pieces of several crutches put together with spring clamps and a number of small sound making devices, like springs and other small pieces of metal. The other items on the cross (words with reflective letters, trinkets, etc. ) are only visuals. This device is not nearly as complicated as some might think!
I had forgotten about Youth Of Today! I read part of an article on, I believe it was Connie Hopper of the Southern Gospel group The Hoppers, about this same thing some time back. I share her opinion on this issue. It is weird to me that there is someone in the Christian community who feels that being a speaker or minister is the ONLY way to serve God as a devotee.I usually refer people to Romans 12: 1-8 The entire passage deals with Christian conduct, but in verse four it begins a section on the diverse talents of the believers in question. “We Have Many Members In One Body (comparing the number of members as one group with the number of different parts that make up the human body) And All Members Have Not The Same Office”. As I understand it, this passage is referring to the varied gifts that people have that are different from one another that can all be a part of the same cause.
Not everyone can reach people through speaking in a public setting. Not all can work in hospice or a care facility. Not everyone can prepare food for those who cannot prepare it themselves. And not everyone can be a performer of some sort. Somehow, all this diversity is working together to help the cause. It boggles my mind to think that there is someone out there who thinks their way to do things is the only way.
If there’s one thing the age of YouTube has made perfectly clear, it’s that there’s nothing, short of meat-and-potatoes entertainment, that can’t be expressed pretty effectively in under 15 minutes, and for free. The noiseniks behind the yearly INC in Miami – aka 72 hours of punishing madness – have known this all along; “free” and “under 15 minutes” are the governing principles behind the conference. Good thing, too, since many of the illustratively named acts, such as Clang Quartet, Chrome Dick and Unicorn Hard-on, range from Guantanamo-torturous to transcendentally rapturous (and usually back to Jacob’s Ladder-esque nightmare) in about as long as it takes for an audience member’s head to get bloodied. Once again this year, local Dan Reaves curates this official pre-show featuring a few noise merchants scheduled to play the Miami conference (Orlando’s SSLOTS, Jiblit Dupree, Twilight Memories, Pony Payroll Bones) along with a smattering of regional acts. – Justin Strout