Norcal Noisefest, Sacramento’s long-running festival of noise and experimental music, returns this weekend (Oct. 3, 4 and 5) with 37 performers, including many local musicians sharing the stage with noise artists from around the United States. This year marks the 18th Noisefest since the first, held in 1995. The event is small, due to the extremely unpopular and highly challenging nature of noise music, but a devoted core of noise enthusiasts and performers descend on Sacramento each fall to hear an array of performances unlike any other festival in Sacramento.
The three-day festival begins Friday, Oct. 3 at 7 PM, at Luna’s Cafe, 1414 16th Street. Saturday and Sunday shows take place at Witch Room, 1815 19th Street, starting at 2 PM. The Saturday Oct. 4 show is an 8.5 hour marathon that continues until 10:30 PM, while Sunday’s Oct. 5 show is a matinee event ending at 7 PM. Each performance day costs $10 and is all-ages; a full-weekend pass, including Noisefest T-shirt, compilation CD, commemorative Noisefest sticker and button, costs $40. Sold separately, the Noisefest 2014 compilation CD costs $8, and the T-shirt $15. Earplugs are included with admission price.
The origins of noise go back just over a century, starting with a 1913 essay by Italian futurist Luigi Russolo, titled “The Art of Noises” that called for a new, industrial music to match the modern industrial age. Russolo created mechanical instruments called intonarumori to play this harsh, modern music, controlling multiple units through an analog controller called a Russolophone. By the mid-20th century, musicians inspired by Russolo experimented with using electronic devices to create music, using manipulated tape loops in a primitive form of sampling called musique concrete, and using the first large, expensive electronic synthesizers. Two of the mid-century pioneers of noise, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, have a Sacramento-area connection: both were composers-in-residence at UC Davis in the late 1960s, and inspired a generation of Sacramento-area musicians to create electronic music devices and share their experiments with the world by publishing the multi-media journal SOURCE Magazine.
The original Norcal Noisefest was an outgrowth of the 1994 Sacramento Experimental Music Series. The event was held at multiple locations but based primarily at the Guild Theatre in Oak Park.
When Norcal Noisefest began in 1995, the event drew performers from all over the country, including Lob ov Instagon, then based in southern California. INSTAGON is a free-form improvisational group that features a different lineup for every performance, with LOB as its core member. INSTAGON has performed hundreds of times–their 666th performance is scheduled for mid-October 2014, and they perform at Noisefest on Sunday.
“I was part of an early online BBS (pre-internet) of people that used the Amiga computer system.. and many of us were into experimental music.. a group of guys in Sacramento were putting together this event…and I have not missed a Norcal Noisefest since…I have been involved since the beginning.. and I have been sorta organizing things since 2005.”–Lob
Lob’s interest in noise began a decade earlier, when he was introduced to pioneering 1970s British industrial musicians Throbbing Gristle (whose members went on to form Psychic TV, Coil and Chris & Cosey)
“I suppose my first exposure would be Throbbing Gristle..and then other parts of the “original” Industrial music scene. I was working at a record store in the mid 1980’s , a total metal head, and someone turned me on to TG, and my ears exploded from that point.. I found the Japanese scene like Merzbow and Masonna and never looked back.”–Lob
Throbbing Gristle were also the introduction to noise for Kylie Jackson and Hayden Ganas, who were born in the same year as the first Norcal Noisefest, 1995. Their noise band, DOEL, performs at their first Noisefest on Friday evening.
“When I was a kid, I was listening to a lot of dance music and old 80’s bands thanks to my parents playing their music in the car. Bands like Duran Duran or Depeche Mode I loved for their use of weird synthetic sounds and textures. I remember thinking how cool those noises were and how great it was that they were being used in a pop song that still appealed to a lot of people…I had been working on my own electronic dance music project for about a year when I was starting to get more and more into the noise scene. I realized at some point I wanted to try and make music without any limits or borders and be loud as possible. Minimalism that could evoke some primal emotion. Noise just seemed to work the first time Kylie and I collaborated.”–Hayden Ganas
“My first exposure to experimental music was through Hayden. I only knew him for a couple of months at the time and he was reluctant to show me this band he liked, Throbbing Gristle, because he didn’t want me to think he was weird. The first song of theirs I listened to was Slug Bait and I loved it!…After seeing Norcal Noisefest for the first time in 2013, I was extremely inspired to work on a noise project. We had talked about it in the past, but Norcal Noisfest solidified our decision.”–Kylie Jackson
Instagon and Doel are just two of the 37 noise performers scheduled for Norcal Noisefest. Other performers include Big City Orchestra (San Francisco), Uberkunst (Sacramento), Gang Wizard (Long Beach), +DOG+ (Los Angeles), Xome (Sacramento), Liver Cancer (Rocklin/Roseville), and so many more.
Norcal Noisefst is not your average music festival–in fact, in terms of attendance, it is considerably below average. But for those interested in a challenging, unusual musical experience, or to hear music that will rarely be played on mainstream radio (unless your radio is broken) there is no substitute for the Noisefest.