Of all Red Bull Music Academy’s diverse programming across its May-long festival spread across the breadth of New York, Nothing Changes at Brooklyn’s Output surely provided the most extreme and sonically challenging fare. It was also, perhaps, the most thrilling.
Capital ‘N’ Noise line-ups can rarely come quite as complete as this, and credit must go to the organisers for putting on an event with such an extreme mandate. There exists within the realm of this music a constant sense of struggle; not so much for acceptance – it’s wholly impossible for music so frayed at the edges and so at odds with the common parameters of music to ever consider such a thing – but rather, with the canon of noise itself. It’s almost impossible to make music with such obtusity at its core without approaching sound from a place fraught with friction, or damage. This music is the soundtrack to human struggle. It is therefore exists largely as a means of catharsis, and submission is the only route to appreciation.
Output’s dark, functional main room, complete with absolutely thundering sound system, is a perfect setting to experience this kind of sonic and emotional upheaval; the darkness is uncompromising. Pharmakon’s self-invasive exploration of body and self Bestial Burden made a high-entry in Crack’s 2014 end-of-year album list, and Margaret Chardiet’s live projection of her noise project draws on all this inner turmoil to shuddering effect, the intensity of her vocal the most immediate variable in question, but the varied output of the enveloping clamour perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her performance.
Dominick Fernow’s desert-swept live sets as Vatican Shadow have been his most pronounced output in recent year, but his return to the prolific Prurient alias feels significant. Latest album Frozen Niagara Falls is harrowing and excellent, and tonight, Fernow commands a reverence on-stage that betrays his standing as a scene figurehead. His mix of screaming vocal, searing feedback and physical contortion provides the most visually arresting spectacle of the night. The use of body and violence is an obvious caveat in explaining the origins of any noise spectacle, but you feel this is especially true of Prurient’s output tonight.
There is a fascination and devotion – masochism, even – palpable among the audience members present. At 4am, the crowd remains huge. NYC’s lust for noise is thriving. It’s a genuine struggle to get a spot. No one has ever attended a Ron Morelli set for light respite, his take on techno being one of the most original and bending in recent time, clattering trebles rubbing up against rumbling bass – but in the shadow of tonight’s noise purveyors, Ron feels insatiably danceable. It’s a classy piece of programming to put the L.I.E.S man on in Output’s lighter and more spacious Panther Room and we gleefully take the techno for half an hour.
Upon returning downstairs we settle in as Genesis P-Orridge and Aaron Dilloway of Wolf Eyes perform the first ever rendition of GPO’s Electric Newspaper album created under the Psychic TV moniker. The presentation features a lengthy monologue culminating in a sonic explosion. The disconcerting tones of GPO’s voice adds dread, but it’s the subject matter of dislocation, of being lost, that dominates; its abstraction provides engagement, along with a fierce strobing effect that surely can’t be good for the soul. It’s all over far too quickly.
The night ends with Japanese pioneer Merzbow’s onslaught. Surely the most intense act of the night, eyes close and nuances are found by utter submission to the bombarding wall of sound. Far from being one-dimensional, beneath the fluctuating layers of noise here you find movement and progression. Hardware beyond hardware overspills from the 58-year-old’s table and the audience members recline into themselves. It’s hard to remember a time when music has felt some engulfing yet so static. No one moves for the duration of the performance.
A disarming and hugely rewarding evening, filled with fearless self-expression of the rawest kind.
Red Bull Music Academy Festival New York runs at venues across New York until 30 May