OBSERVE: Vancouver Noise Festival IV

IMG_8748 copyLast Saturday on the rainy Vancouver coast there were several good shows being organized. Two in particular were my focus and unfortunately would be happening simultaneously. You can see plainly which of these I attended, Vancouver Noise Festival IV, while the other was an occult death metal gathering headed by Mitochondrion and Ævangelist during the Wacken Metal Battle in the same city.

It was difficult deciding which to attend honestly. The days before this I believe Behemoth, Inquisition, Goatwhore, Tyrants Blood, as well as Nile, Infernal Majesty, and Auroch were all in B.C. so there was that as well.

Anyway it turned out in the week leading up to all this Ævangelist cancelled their appearance (replaced by Dire Omen) which also meant a friend and fellow writer/musician I was meeting wouldn’t be able to make the journey either.

As much as I love Mitochondrion I chose to attend the fourth Vancouver Noise Festival. It was a good choice and I suggest showing up at fests like this even if, like me, you have novice-level experience with the noise/power electronics/death industrial realm.

After the break check out photos and even a few full sets as a sampling of the striking, corrupted, and very loud sounds of the evening.


I think it’s necessary to note that I’m still dipping my toes into the noise/power electronics genre overall. This was my first real taste of the local ambient and harsh noise culture outside of snippets from other shows spread out over the years. I’ve generally enjoyed most of the live noise/ambient performances I’ve witnessed, with maybe one exception when I saw Dragged Into Sunlight in upstate New York (one of the opening acts).

Outside of that the live noise I’ve encountered has shown the genre can be one of the more potent and engaging things to see live, especially from seasoned or creative artist (of which there were plenty in the line up). It went The festival went exceedingly well in terms of organization. Good behavior, smoothly handled without out any hitches and generally really laid back when not engulfed in noise.

It was held in The Remington Gallery which is well suited to such a raw series of performances. It was spaced in groups of four or so with several intermissions as buffers. During those there was an opportunity to listen to some drone curated by Dead Weight (to Seven Samurai) and peruse some merch or records from Scream & Writhe distro.

While it did not go entirely in this order, the final line up for Vancouver Noise Festival IV was as follows (ascending, unless otherwise noted they’re local to Vancouver):

UNEXAMINE (PDX/California)
GRIEFER (Victoria)
BT.HN. (The Rita/Josh Rose [Sick Buildings])

BENEVOLENT SOCIETY (The Nausea/Nervous Operator)
BURROW OWL (Montreal)
BLANKETS (Montreal)

CSTL (Victoria)
NIGHT TIDE (Victoria)


I stayed for the whole thing but (regrettably) I didn’t record every artist so not every artist is accounted for visually, however I did give attention to all here. The majority were pretty damn impressive and almost all had a good deal of creative distance between one another — even when the separation between ambient and death industrial wings were clearer later on. There was a handful that really crushed me and only a couple that I didn’t enjoy as much.

Absurd Exposition (aka Scream & Writhe) has a bandcamp page where some of the prior years performances have been uploaded. A brief summary of the artists, some photos and a few full recorded sets can be viewed below. Flickr has the hi-resolution versions as always.

IMG_8700 copyRRKKTTTSS was first and short, immediately I wished it was longer. Creeping as he later changed positions between two PA’s perched on detached toms, using arms inside the tweeter/horns to change the pitch and severity. A bit creepy and definitely caught my attention securely.

Night Mother (Victoria) I saw several years back opening for Mitochondrion, Ahna, Willing Feet and a few others. He’s been doing great things in the noise community in Victoria for a long time. You can hear a plethora of noise on his bandcamp page.

His set was a series of shorter segments rather than a long build it seems and was overall over quickly too. The expert fingers on the nobs induced trances in that given time easily however.

IMG_8661 copyMongst (Vancouver) specializes in droning noise crafted a rumbling horizon, relying on a steady build style like a few others here. Being unfamiliar with the material I’m not sure if there was a set list planned but it sounded like a cohesive track. It didn’t stand out relative to the other sets later on but that might have just been me.

Check out the recorded efforts because there’s some gnawing sounds to be heard.

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Hot Noisy Mess spewed legit hostility shipwrecked across a guitar, half-nude and wracked with angst. Another quick evocation that was quite apart from the other performances aside from run time. A bit chaotic and very aggressive despite the clear message.

Night Tide (Victoria) improvised a sputtering wreck through messing with walkman buttons, filtering whines and hissing from said walk through two boards. It felt the most improvisational and came across relaxed in action but the sounds were anything but.

The dipping and whirling, repeated stumbling squeaks and pummeling revolving thuds. It was one of the surprises of the night which I was really intrigued by, even though it was not one my favorites overall.

To get a taste of this style check out one of her 2012 performances for the Victoria Noise Fest. It’s a bit scary, machine-like, and very powerful.

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Whip of the UFO was next bringing the gallery back to a steady spell, though ‘normalcy’ was still avoided. The spell was half-mechanical and half dread-like cult summoning. Much as the name suggests the cyber-paranormal invoking is clear even when deluge of noise feels anything but. Real nice stuff.

IMG_8675 copyMolena (Vancouver) brought out the tools to grind. First slow and coarse, there was a good use of scraping feedback running through the pedal mound at first in a power tool. This was soon facilitated more loudly by the chain and magnet, the two eventually collided into the metal pan with the distortion growing from there as the mess of metal was stirred into oblivion.

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Then Bubby (I think) was dressed in gown and ski mask. I can’t find any information on this local noise outfit but the set was heavy and a bit bizarre, and not really because of the attire — more so the sounds of the pedal brewing that was so intensely operated.

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The smothered reverb vocals and steady, cold, shocking destruction of Mass Marriage (Vancouver) was a really killer part of the night. I loved it. Her droning vocals are placed conservatively amongst the tremendous crashing loops of condensed, crackling and later big low-end noise.

At first it static with a continuous frenzy of electromagnetic interference, but it quickly gained a solid hypnotic structure. At three minutes the tone changed to a stronger reverberation couched in a great whirl feeling.

Vocals injected over a throbbing lower tone, and very sparsely over the what remains of the ten minutes as the background texture was contorted, added to and interrupted by hissing, monstrous, almost feral sounds. The end was appropriately abrupt.

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Another extremely strong performance during that night. Check out the set in full ten minute darkness below:

CSTL (Victoria) followed and was another one of my favorites of the evening for sure. He passed out copies of the long running collage zines he makes before the set. A hypnotic, digital ebb — tempting to say ‘robotic’ at first — that becomes more and more malformed with operator interference and resistance.

Thick, gouging sways engulf and falter guided gently, and it got enormous. Dirge works well here. Just a huge mangling that is unavoidable, it sucked me in without a chance to resist that’s for sure.

IMG_8714 copyIMG_8819 copyThe rolling mechanical doom alters its path significantly once or twice outside of a few initial crushing frequency or tone changes, later in the fifteen minutes. Like using a disc-sander and forcing into a surface until the buzzing becomes warped and slow with a limp.

Near the threshold of ten minutes it was relatively quieter. The buzzing revolutions were spaced between more adventurous sounds, getting loud and intense multiple times in a slightly more threatening tone. Watch the set and listen as you’re swallowed:

Blankets (Montreal) caught everyone’s attention with the careful and ghostly draw this set brought. The use of calm and thoughtful samples, both nervous high end that grew more cavernous, and a sinister low and deformed mumble.

It seriously became chilling, a muffled language that grew more agitated amid cycling whining and pulsations of crisp noise. In the middle and towards the end things became more drone-like with sedated additions, the setting remaining cold for a time. There were several confused eruptions including bringing back a horrifying aura in the last quarter, more blips and cycling siren-like ebbs disturbing the vast background.

A beastly space-rending fifteen minute conjure that impressed. I did not record it as I was enthralled along with everyone else but Live Music Vancouver did and if you’re not convinced by my words alone go experience it yourself.

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Next was Burrow Owl (Montreal) which turned out to be noise of a slightly more interactive nature. Because her set was a bit short it left me wanting a little more with how much I enjoyed it. A huge amount of screeching feedback while taping cables to her one hand, each jack or mic distorting wildly, and each time one was added the pedals were tweaked.

Now with one hand strapped with cables and a pedal in the other hand she wandered into the crowd twice for contact. The interrupted hissing/crumpling became wicked and menacing  but with the bound hand touching a crowd member it spiked, amplifying a squealing and whirling silicon storm each time. It was stunning.

Absurd Exposition/Scream & Writhe has video of a similar performance last year which you can watch, and get a feel for the chaos that was wielded last Saturday. I was too busy watching and listening.

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One of the key organizers Anju Sigh (Ahna, Waste Away, The Nausea) along with Spencer Davis conducted their own massive signal under the moniker Benevolent Society. Momentary lapses of sunshine-like ambiance that breaks up a meatier drone. They had a good span of time to play as well with interesting results. Minimal samples and bursts of reactive noise. This is another set Live Music Vancouver has some footage of and it’s certainly quite a trip.

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Next was the ambient dirge of Sistrenatus (Vancouver), a lone H. MacFarlane who’s involved in dark ambient giants Funerary Call. Given a solid ten minutes or so awash in red light, the sedated pulse expanded sounding like a temple drone.

Slowly revolving and brightening, echoing samples and then chiming. It got very dark and spacey especially towards the middle of his set where the distorting chimes and twinkling intensify over top the droning ‘aun’. That itself never really leaves, only more obfuscated by each eerie otherworldly element. Overall it was not as harsh with a relative ‘softness’ that hooked deeply into those in attendance.

Another huge moment in the night. Once again Live Music Vancouver on youtube caught this great moment for everyone so tons of thanks for that.

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Worker (Vancouver) is a well known presence in the noise scene here and frequently is recorded making sparks fly in pursuit of desolate, thick noise-scapes. He applied the grinder and bluntly hacked into the coarse noise and bass seeping from the pedals, each application of the tool drawing out the sound of intense flame and adding to these moments in the later build. A bit of vulgarity strung into the rise and fall of his reactive drone.

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This was followed by a set I did not get images of, a collaboration between The Rita and Sick Buildings (Josh Rose) known as BT. HN. which started with performance integrated into the minimal popping noise elicited through application of makeup.

A woman calmly applied it, the atmosphere was pretty still through the abrupt, rocky trail of isolated cracking or rustling. Once this ended, both artists started to build something else. Speech samples were used and drowned more substantial haze that cushioned it.

Rusalka (Vancouver) was impressive. Deep, creaking, and eventually getting ominous, her set  stirred up eerie sounds of the void, the higher points when manipulating an antenna-coil device into shocking, gasping edges and cloudy noise. I wish I was recording this one too. Other performances are around on youtube of this unearthly, high frequency bath.

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The duo Unexamine (PDX/California) including Danny Costa (L’Acephale) and Charlie Mumma who has parts in Sissy Spacek and Knelt Rote was the last set I photographed, and it was brutal. Harsh electronics and scrap all over. At first its still bodies and mounting pressure, then later tumbling blunt objects was brought into it, poured on top of Charlie and then ground to the concrete.

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Performing right before the last act was Griefer from Victoria. I’m more and more interested in what will happen each time I see a set of his, and this time turned out to be as enrapturing and bleak as ever.

Three separate pieces using various effective utensils and objects to build devastating industrial death, and as always when orating entering the crowd while facing them closely. The most active performance and the crafting felt very confident. The lyrics that I caught were sharp and on the last song particularly resonant.

The toxic siren and smashing metal accompanied mad, delay drenched cyber-preacher vocal assaults. Screeching from a rake on that metal sheet and doubling down on the siren near the end for added intensity.

The second involved a strange metal garden ornament that improvised a chime like percussion, looped of course. The psychic whine and hum added after that was haunting. Adding pulsing bass under further cautionary accusations.I wish it was a bit louder actually. The chaos of the chiming really hooked into at the time.

His last one was particularly heavy. First entrancing with a buzz that feels anxious and smooth. Using a huge metal spring and raking a rod across it got a stunning “vessel sinking”, under-water collision, or stone-dragging sound perhaps. It accompanied the pulse alone for time but slightly alien sounds were laced through later.

Check out the full set below

And the final performance was Seattle’s Blue Sabbath Black Cheer. Despite the fact they’re so close I didn’t think I’d ever see them so this was a nice end to the night. Each of their performances are different and still very terrifying in their ability to channel a huge presence.

Here the loop started with PVC piping of varying sizes being used as horns to stoke a massive plume of pressurized darkness, while the second operator slowly built a crawl on a guitar and pedal combo. The looping horns were so intense even in the first few minutes, it began to feel like inescapable hellish moaning that broke in ever more disconcerting waves as the loops grew.

By the time some raw vocals were sneaked in the rise of piercing, grainy noise and wild, menacing shrieks had collided firmly into the ‘aun’ like howling and the snowball at that point is enormous; yet control remained.

This was sustained well with subtle augmentations well into the ten minute mark, soon smaller piping added to the shrill clamor. A change was addition of vocals around twelve minutes in which upped the terrifying nature of the set making them more demonic.

This melted and a slightly more industrial tone emerged without lessening the squall for the final five minutes, with the ebb of feedback amplified when other elements were taken away. The decline was very smooth and the dismantling didn’t break the heavy atmosphere that was entrancing everyone by then.

It was fucking huge. Below is the full ritual and you’d do well to view it:

The festival went off well, no bad vibes, and notably awesome especially in the handling and organizing of everything. The variety as I mentioned was appreciable, with set times measured well and a smooth flow from act to act. It’s really cool to have this type of event exist and maintained by people who are passionate about it and see the success afterward, so a lot of thanks goes to those who were generous in giving their time there.

For those who can you should attend the next one in 2015, or support those events that may be occurring around your city. I regret missing Noise Fest last year.

Until the next Noise Fest in 2015…

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