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Sunday April 4th, 2022 at 7th Heaven in Kansas City, MO
Bastard Funeral, Brandon Wald, Viator, Excusable Negligence, & Pile of Dead Horses

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­­Remember last year when I went to a Cloud Nothings show thinking I was going to see Wild Nothing? Well, it happened again. Based on my quick glance at a flyer I was expecting to see Pennsylvania black metal act Funeral Bastard Рinstead I found myself at a five-band noise matinee headlined by locals Bastard Funeral. Someone should protect me from myself.

When I walked into the record store basement at 3:33, the first performance was underway. Punctual. Presumably already three minutes into his set, Timothy Couch of Pile of Dead Horses was leaning over a white folding buffet table twisting the knobs on a cadre of daisy-chained digital effects pedals. There was a lot of loud pulsing and squealing, but no riffs. Was I in the right place? Maybe. Couch's long hair hung over a very metal-looking Cocaine Death shirt from the New York band Prurient. And surely Couch had named their band for the amorphous metal band Full of Hell's song of the same name. But I was grasping for straws – Pile of Dead Horses is definitely a noise project. Before I could decipher the Couch's "depressive aggressive ambient harsh noise" the set ended – at 3:36.

Between acts I confirmed my mistake. But not before I had paid $10. I may not be smart, but I am cheap. I was determined to get my money's worth and maybe to figure out what this scene was all about.

Exactly eight minutes later a different guy stood over the same white table twisting knobs on effects pedals. This time it was Excusable Negligence from Lawrence. Throughout the six-minute [yes] set there was a pervasive hum. And crackling noises like dirty volume pots that need sprayed. He beat the effects pedals on and off with the meaty part of his fist. I wondered if his performance was entirely improv, or if these are compositions that could be (roughly) repeated. While the short set didn't teach me much more about noise, I did find it more cinematic than chaotic. So, if your movie needs incidental music for when large boulders are slowly pushed through the mines of Moria, give Jeff Winter a call – he's got what you're after.

Although the next act was ready to go almost immediately, there was an intentional pause between performances. Lemon sorbet for the ears? During the break most of the small audience slipped out the side door into the parking lot. Smokers? Others stayed inside and talked about touring and traveling to play noise festivals. I've often pitied hardcore bands who drive eight hours to play a twenty-minute set, but now I see that noise artists do that same travel to play six-minute sets. Respect. Of course, based on my now vast experience with noise shows, I suspect that comradery is the big draw of playing these shows – Lord knows there can't be any money or fame in this hyperspecialized genre.

When the conversation turned to video games, I redirected my attention to the woman poking around the white table. Was I imaging it, or was there was an almost imperceivable heartbeat in the room? Was she making that sound? Slowly the entire audience (who numbered no more than twelve including the other performers) coalesced around the table, drawn to the slow, faint heartbeat. As I hadn't buried anyone under the floorboards, I had no reason to be worried, yet still, the sound was unsettling. While the performance would soon add overt volume, the menacing vibe persisted – slow and plodding, dark and menacing.

Unlike previous performers, Viator's Rhea Danzey incorporated a laptop into her performance, introducing what I'll call loops, although I'm certain that's the wrong word. But like the introductory heartbeat, tones and sounds now repeated, adding structure to her thirteen-minute set. Additionally, some of these added sounds were more complex than the ad hoc ones which had dominated the earlier sets, adding industrial (music) overtones. Finally, Danzey also added in heavily distorted vocals. Black metal shrieks actually. If the previous act was the mines of Moria, Viator was the caverns of Isengard. So much evil. Between sets I'd read that Danzey describes her project as "queer existential death industrial from the upper Midwest." While I'd yet to have my epiphany about the genre, I was hearing the right things in Viator's performance. We were making progress.

There was only a short break before Fargo's Brandon Wald began his set, and like Viator, he brought several new toys to the proceedings. While far from sure, I suspected the plethora of patch cables meant he was incorporating some sort of analog synthesizer or sequencer. With these gadgets he produced new sounds, rather than just sculpting existing sounds as the early acts had done. I listened intently. If it's safe to talk about discrete pieces in such short sets, I'll note that the heady initial track gave way to a more aggressive second one. During this number, Wald shook something to manipulate his sounds. Maybe some sort of distortion box that generates noise based on a gyroscope position or even just springs? It looked like fun. A third piece incorporated a 55-gallon drum connected in line with his gear. A metal rod completed the circuit when it was scraped, pressed, or pounded against the drum. Did that circuit change his vocals? The synthesized sounds? Everything? Nothing at all? As the set ended, I realized I had focused most of my attention on the "how" of Wald's set and not nearly enough on the "what." But now I was insanely curious about what sounds I might get if I linked my phaser pedal to steel ball circling a funnel drain. Could I perfect the fabrication before Fargo Noise Fest in June? And where do I get one of those shaker things?

Here is where I must confess something to my readers. While I promise I know nothing of the scene that I found myself trespassing in, I have a friend who does. And he was present. In the short break between acts, I greeted my wise and bearded friend Patrick Hopewell to inquire about his current musical (and atonal) endeavors. Secretly I hoped he would tell me where I was and what it all meant. He did not. In fact, he shuffled off just as the final band was setting up. Wizards are like that. I'd have to figure this out on my own.

At exactly 5:00 the last act began. This time two guys stood side by side behind the white table. Each of them with their own rig. Together Thomas Lane and Benjamin Joseph are Bastard Funeral from Kansas City. To be abundantly clear, they are definitely not blackened thrash band Funeral Bastard from Pennsylvania. The duo approached its set much like the performers that began the night – a board full of digital effects pedals and an inescapable hum that was manipulated by twisted knobs and the movement of the mysterious shakers. I'd later read this low drone is the hallmark of the "power electronics" subgenre. The novelty of the duo fascinated me, and I watched closely to see if they were working in concert. Were they rehearsed? Were they even aware of the other's actions? I was unsure. Dynamics in the band's ten-minute set were minimal, leaving me few opportunities to hear or see how the two might build to panicked crescendos or slow to howling wails. In fact, I began to wonder if those twisted knobs were making any difference at all.

In the end, the flyer was true to its words. Five acts had performed starting at 3:30 and it was all over before 5:30 (5:10 to be exact). I had come expecting extreme music and sinister sounds, and that's what I got – just a version from The Twilight Zone where you never get what you wanted in the way you wanted it. I'd opine more on what my afternoon in the noise deep end taught me, but I've got to build a conductive funnel and find some ball bearings if I want to be ready for the fest circuit this summer.