No Fun Fest 2007

To be honest, I was both excited and a little bit scared about attending No Fun Fest. A yearly four-day festival devoted entirely to experimental and noise music, No Fun takes place at The Hook, in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Now in its fourth year, the festival has been attracting an ever-growing following, including lots of out-of-towners. This year, the four-day festival pass sold out almost immediately, and when I tried, a few weeks ago, to buy tickets for Thursday the 17th and Saturday the 19th, I found that the Saturday show (headlined by giant of noise Merzbow) was already sold out.

As to the source of my trepidation, well, I am by no means an aficionado of noise. In fact, before I started writing for Tiny Mix Tapes, avant garde and noise music barely existed for me. I was vaguely aware of it, but I was never interested enough to allow it to infiltrate the predominantly indie rock realm of my musical taste. But a few months into writing for TMT, two interesting things happened. First, I started reading and hearing from other writers about bands and musicians who were innovating beyond anything I’d ever heard before. At the same time, because writing about music forced me to engage with such a high volume of it, I grew weary. Much of the indie rock I’d love so much was boring the hell out of me. The “hype” bands just weren’t cutting it. Tapes ‘N Tapes? What the hell is good about that band? The Hold Steady? Don’t get me started. Has anyone listened to Ted Leo’s new album? Crap, crap, crap. I still listen largely to what we call indie rock, for lack of a more descriptive genre, but there was no question that I needed something new. I went to a Magik Markers show, saw Lightning Bolt a few weeks later, and can definitely see the appeal of noise. It sounds new, pushes limits, is neither catchy nor marketable. But I still wasn’t sure whether I was ready for No Fun. Would I make it through an entire night of this stuff?

Because I was kind of scared it would kill me, I only showed up in time for the second half of Thursday’s show. We walked in just as Hive Mind and Damien Romero were beginning their set. Maybe my inexperience or lack of subtlety is showing, but to me this was nothing but two guys pulling knobs on boxes to produce a drone that didn’t change much during the duration of their set. People seemed to be into it, but I couldn’t appreciate what was going on. I just didn’t see what there was to like.

Kim Gordon and Yoshimi (of Boredoms) were next. I loved their set which, though it involved a healthy amount of screaming from Gordon, was less of an assault on the ears than anything else I heard that night. It all sounded (and might have been, for all I know) very spontaneous. My only complaint is that their performance was too short, at under 20 minutes.

My favorite set of the night was Hair Police. They seemed to riff on other genres, like industrial, hardcore, and metal, taking them to their logical extremes at the far reaches of what can rightly be called “songs.” Whatever they were doing, they were definitely on point, full of energy, and totally exciting.

Pain Jerk ended the evening. No one that I came to the show with was at all familiar with them, but someone we met while loitering outside between sets told us that they were Japanese and “unlistenable”–which, to him, was not a bad thing. This was a pretty good description–unlistenable, but I still wanted to listen to it, because it was interesting. Kohei Gomi spent the duration of his performance bent over his electric guitar, perhaps the most intensely focused guitar player I’ve ever seen. That said, I left after about 40 minutes, because my ears were ringing. As far as I could tell, the set ended just about as soon as I got outside, so I didn’t miss much.

All in all, a mind-expanding experience, and it made me kind of sad that I hadn’t cared enough to get the Saturday tickets before they sold out.

A Note on Moshing

I understand that the feminist polemic isn’t attractive. Over the years, I have become less and less inclined to resort to it. But this mosh pit stuff has been weighing on my mind ever since I started going to noise shows.

Let me set the stage. At most noise shows, the audience is never more than 20% female. At No Fun Fest, I think the percentage was even smaller.

Inevitably, a mosh pit formed. If you are a 5’4” girl, as I am, you will have a hard time seeing the stage unless you’re near the front. At least 25 guys in excess of six feet tall will be blocking your view. You can’t really blame them–they probably don’t know they’re doing it, and they deserve to see the show, too. But if you push your way up to the front, you’re in the mosh pit. This can be a problem if you’re roughly half the size of the average guy who’s slamming into you. You’ve got a choice: risk serious injury or have a horrible view.

At No Fun, the pit just got crazier as the night went on. The energy got really weird during Pain Jerk. People seemed to be throwing some serious punches. Someone got hurt in the middle of the pit, and a few people tried to shield him or her from being stepped on, but no one seemed to care. They just kept moshing. My friend saw a girl in the Ladies Room holding an ice pack to her newly-bruised head.

Now, I don’t like saying this, because it makes me the Captain No Fun of No Fun Fest. And I understand, live music is exciting. Of course it is. Moshing is attractive because it’s a way to participate in what the musicians onstage are doing. Some people think that it, like contact sports, also satisfies heterosexual males’ need for a social excuse to touch other heterosexual males (thus its prevalence in largely male musical genres: noise, hardcore, metal). But if it’s going to hurt a fair number of people every night and prevent countless others from seeing or enjoying the show, maybe it’s time to rethink the practice and allow everyone the chance at a positive experience.