Unicorn Hard-On Talks INC 2013 and Learning “How to Squelch Without Getting Hurt”


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.