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Noise music can be accessible and inclusive, as Denver Noise Fest proved

Mark Hosler of Negativland at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Mark Hosler of Negativland at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Tom Murphy

Denver Noise Fest is now one of the biggest of its kind in the country. And it isn't just harsh noise. The lineup did not just feature circuit-bending academics. The Festival was a celebration of a love for weird noises, by a wide-ranging group of generous artists.

The headliner for the night, Mark Hosler of Negativland, played a solo set. He wove layered atmospheres with tones that sounded like called to mind the way air bubbles look in an aquarium. People were riveted by his relatively short set, enjoying Hosler's playful manipulation of the sound. He was visibly pleased with how the improv experiments were going. It was an expression of the sheer joy in using raw sound to create something musical outside of the mundane usual.

Mesa Ritual at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Mesa Ritual at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Tom Murphy

Months ago, Denver Noise Fest organizer John Gross publicly solicited suggestions for female noise artists and received many. The festival was richer for it, featuring several acts from the long-standing New Mexico noise community.

And what was striking about the assembled crowd was that it wasn't just a bunch of guys at the show. That happens a lot at noise shows. And metal shows. And some hardcore shows. It could just be the growing popularity of noise and truly experimental music generally, but it seems that the booking of the festival and the artists involved helped create a more welcome vibe to the event.

Bigawatt at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Bigawatt at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Tom Murphy

Some of the artists later in the evening might have been considered more what one might expect at a noise show, but in each case, the specific artists gave something to even people that aren't versed in this type of sound art. Mesa Ritual gave a powerful electronics performance -- its ebb and flow of sound, while difficult to discern was not just an outburst of sound feeding back. Bigawatt took some of the tropes of harsh noise and made it into something fun and not just punishing , sustained flashes of distorted white noise and sculpted feedback. Granted, a lot of this stuff took place in the dark, but every band benefitted from VJ Dizy Pixl's projections. They were so evocative and vivid yet subtle in a way that enhanced the music.

 

Tahnzz at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Tahnzz at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Tom Murphy

One artist that truly combined the forbidding with the accessible was Tahnzz from Albuquerque. Tahnee Udero had made these simple, small paper lanterns with a window and a small candle at the bottom so they provided an orange light, giving the set a mysterious air. Udero, using a sampler and other devices, created a sustained white noise like wind and ordered tones like an accidental melody created by the ambient noises near an industrial part of town. It felt like a sacred ritual but sounded like ghosts haunting a formerly bustling industry town.

Echo Beds at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Echo Beds at Denver Noise Fest V at Rhinoceropolis
Tom Murphy

The night capped off with the ferociously nightmarish harnessing of machines, post-apocalyptic tribal percussion and feral, outraged vocals that is one facet of Echo Beds. Maybe it was because it was late, at 2:30 a.m.. Could be Keith Curts and Tom Nelsen had been saving up a month's worth of frustrations to channel into the show. It sure felt like that even when Nelsen stood focused on his drumming like a hypnotized assassin acting decisively and with a deadly precision. People rocked forward and back to the primal rhythms and cataclysm of voice, cutting, buzzing bass and punishing metallic sounds like Echo Beds was some kind of punk band of a future when civilization has collapsed. Yes, the band embodied what noise is and could be about but it, too, incorporated elements into the music that made it accessible and more dynamic than just raw sound. It was as though Echo Beds, not more so, but definitively so demonstrated that noise, as a genre, is much more expansive than a guy with guitar pedals chained together or some hacked device used to spew aggressively fractured noises.

Critic's Notebook

Random Detail: Mark Hosler had a lot of Negativland merch at the show.

By the Way: There is a fairly sizeable loose community of noise and other experimental musical projects in Denver and it's pretty easy to go check that stuff out and not just at Rhinoceropolis or Glob. But a good place to start would be John Gross's Page 27, now in its 20th year. You'll find the jazzier end of this stuff with Malamadre. And then perhaps it would be worth looking into Crablab, a younger, very promising noise artist. And go from there.




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