Fun From None: Live From the No Fun Fest 2004 & 2005 (Load Records/No Fun Productions 2xDVD)
Man, Carlos Giffoni's annual No Fun Fest is hard enough work just attending, let alone filming. I went to my first one this year and on the way down a friend mentioned how no matter how good the line-up looks, there are some points during the night when you just want to get the fuck out and go home to a quiet place to get some sleep. Craziness I thought...the line-up is killer and it's gonna rule all night long. Right? Wrong. So horribly wrong. Don't get me wrong: I loved the experience and had a great time, but you do indeed go through those brief periods,onslaught after onslaught of noise where you just want out. Which is why I have to immediately tip my hat the "Fun From None" filmer, Chris Habib. To be up close and on the spot in the wake of so many brutalizing noise acts is true warriordom, and something you might not be able to appreciate unless you attend the Fest yourself, which you should. Habib uses various filming/editing techniques here, some are enjoyable and some I could do without. I'll explain a bit more as I go but I will say that the problem occurs mainly on the first DVD (the 2004 Fest) than on the second one (that'd be 2005). You can see the full list of bands on the DVD here but I've got most of them covered down below. The acts are given anywhere from 2-3 minutes to 9-11 minutes and sometimes that's more than enough...especially when you try and make it through in one go.
For example, the very first set of the first DVD gets things off on the wrong foot as To Live and Shave in L.A.'s glitchy beatbox noise improv and Tom Smith's impressive range are present but are totally thrown-off when juxtaposed next to the strobing camera Habib uses, like an assembly of still photos. The camera interferes a great deal with the music's flow ergo preventing total enjoyment, but on the other hand I've never been a great big TLISILA fan either. The trend continues on with Alan Licht's 1970, a quartet featuring Licht, Chris Corsano, Matt Heyner and Tamio Shiraishi. This time, the sounds the group conjure up are awesome. Licht nails down a near-metal riff and his compatriots throw on free rock/jazz loops making for a terrifically catchy, interesting, accessible, almost Lightning Bolt-esque noise burial but the same strobing camera prevents you from seeing Corsano (or Heyner for that matter) going completely bonkers, which pretty much sterilizes the visual effect. So for me "Fun From None" gets off on the wrong foot but redeems itself for the remaining while by doing away with such tomfoolery for all the remaining acts. Favorites include Wolf Eyes (in the Olson/Young/Dilloway line-up I'll remind you) executing an ass-blasting version of "Black Vomit", building up a teetering electronic menace before exploding in typical Wolfeyesian fashion with the riffs and the shouting and the fist-pounding and what have you...there's also the Dylan Nyoukis & Carlos Giffoni duo shot in grainy black and white and focusing mainly on the players' hands, Giffoni's twisting knobs and Nyoukis' bowing something. Nyoukis alo covers vocals that turn into full-on recitals still managing to be completely inaudible which is okay because Giffoni seems to be headbanging to sounds that nobody else is hearing...them two is working on a whole other wavelength. Hair Police continue the trend of impressing me live and failing to do as much on record, where drummer Trevor Tremaine steals the show as he is wont to do and Mike Connelly (barely recognizable with well-groomed hair and clean-shaven face) opts for more punk rock-ish shouting than the terror shriek he seems to stick to lately. The Double Leopards' set is a powerful heads-down/rumps-out titan based as usual around vocals, samples, guitars, turntables and various other suitcase electronics. It kinda sags in the middle when you can start picking out individual voices like they're totally not congealing together but all legs start moving near the end and the result is nothing short of astral. I'm not sure why Habib didn't apply his footage trickery to a more abstract band like the Leopards instead of more rock-oriented ones like the first two where it pays to be able to see what's going on? Didn't really care much for Kim Gordon & the Sweet Ride or the Ranaldo/Hooke/Miller trio, so apologies in advance to the Sonic Youth crew.
DVD two will see no complaints from me on the visual side of things, in fact this DVD contains by far the best direction and editing from Habib yet. Case in point: the 16 Bitch Pile-Up set that lives up to the band's name as it becomes totally impossible to tell performer from audience member in this rare basement showcase. Habib's also layered two seperate camera angles on top of eachother and added a swirling pink aura to the footage resulting in a confusing and charming watching experience. I think the 16BP set also holds the records for most attempted copped feels at a noise gig. A particular instance in which the visual experience trumps the auditory one is during the Magik Markers set. The clip is played back in slow-motion which seems to somehow sync up perfectly with the Markers' set because they sound like a 78 being played at, say, 16. But I've never really been one for the MM sound and they didn't sway me here, kinda hard to get past Elisa's desperate yelping but that's one man's opinion. Amongst the heavy rulers include Prurient who underwhelmed me in 2006 (after having seen him play live before) but rocked me to my core on the DVD, succeeding as possibly one of the only artists to translate the sheer brutality of their attack from the live setting through the tube...my ears were ringing and I didn't even have the volume up. The Nihilist Assault Group is usually Richard Rupenus (of the New Blockaders), Dominick Fernow (aka Prurient) and Ron Lessard (aka Emil Beaulieau) but since RRRon was visible at the side of the stage taking a decidedly scholarly approach to noise-watching, I have no idea who the third man is under the mask. I have a feeling I knew at some point but the knowledge has escaped me. Anyway for their set they had two men in masks and suits going hogwild on a table full of instrument clutter (mixers, contact mics, turntables...and crushed beer cans) while the third member sat on a chair in front of them sipping wine. I fully approve, and the set was ridiculously good too. Let's see, what else? The deck was loaded on disc two. Brian Sullivan was the nexus of two great sets, once with his own group Mouthus (who always slay in the live setting, don't even act like you don't know that) and as the guitarist in Carlos Giffoni's Death Unit, also featuring Chris Corsano and Trevor Tremaine. Macronympha on this occasion was Joe Roemer, Dominick Fernow (again) and who I assume to be Dominick's then-girlfriend in bondage gear standing around. This was one of the more talked-about sets of the Fest. Dominick slapped on a messy whirlwind of brutal marble-noise'd aggression while Roemer molested massive amplifiers, Dominick's girlfriend, and everybody's ears. And there was lots of shit thrown around at the end which just made it even better! It was good, but it had nothing on Macronympha circa this year let me tell you. And of course I could never go without mentioning the DVD (and festival? I don't remember) closers, noise heroesBorbetomagus. Every time I see/hear/look at them their position as legends is further solidified in my noggin and this set was no different, total powerhouse double-sax/guitar combo from Sauter, Dietrich and Miller. Extended techniques included water lolling about in the horns and bell-pressed-against-guitar-pick-up for maximum blast but sadly no tubes or bells together, maybe that all came earlier in their performance. A sweaty and devastating end to an equally devastating (and potentially sweaty, sure) DVD. I wasn't blown away by the Dead Machines as Tovah Olson's bird call screeching was just too much after the previous 75 minutes or so of noise; the pre-metal Jazzkammer duo of Lasse Marhaug and John Hegre were astonishingly humdrum and it often seemed like even the performers themselves were waiting for something interesting to happen; Heathen Shame (who were rather popular last year but entirely AWOL this year) generated an impressive sound for being a mere trio on standard rock-instruments but didn't go anywhere in particular with it; and Giffoni's Monotract outfit which is too deeply rooted in no-wave to be of any real interest to myself. But I hate to end on a downer so I'll reprise my statement from before: s sweaty and devastating end to an equally devastating (and potentially sweaty, sure) DVD.
Having said that, though, obviously not everything was a knock-out but that's bound to happen when you have so many different artists and you factor in personal tastes. I probably don't need to recommend this at all...if you're even aware of its existence then you probably own a copy and that's just the way it should be. My main gripe, however, are the promised "MP3s of all performances and selected iPod videos". If I pop disc two into my DVD drive I can access the iPod videos but no MP3s...there are, however, M4A files which seem to play video as well, but (a) they're read-only and (b) a single 9-minute song translates to about 100mb and I'm not about to start converting them. So, uh, what gives?
Man, hard to believe it's almost time to start planning a potential No Fun 07 roadtrip, and the No Fun website confirms that details on next year's lineup will be posted as December draws closer...could this be the year Masonna is finally delivered unto the U.S. despite rumors of retirement? Exactly how many bands will John Olson manage to play in this time around? Will you ever get a good vantage point during the basement sets? Will Borbetomagus be forced to pinch-hit yet again thus completing the unprecedented No Fun "triple crown"? Will you finally spend so much money on records that your family stages an intervention? Stay tuned!