Scene Report: Vancouver
By Kate Rissiek
Vancouver is a city of mixture and contrast. It is a young city still trying to define itself. Home of the 2010 winter Olympics and the city in Canada with the mildest weather. It’s gray and it rains most of the time. It is embarrassing to only be known for hockey riots and marijuana activism. It is expensive to live here. There are many cultures and religions and always many tourists visiting. There are wild forests, mountains and water. Laid back attitudes and uptight traditions. Fun at times and other times ennui is contagious. The home of the notorious Downtown Eastside, Canada’s worst neighborhood. Consisting of homelessness, prostitution and hard drug use sprawled amongst decaying historical buildings which are slowly destroyed to build high end condos. The Downtown Eastside is also where countless women went missing over many years. Many of which met their deaths on the farm of Robert Pickton, the worst serial killer in Canadian history. Despite all this it has been ranked as one of the top ten most ‘liveable’ cities. By what standards I’m not exactly sure. It’s a beautiful and ugly city. There is a transient nature with many people coming and going. At times I love it and other times loath it. One of the things that does make it much more ‘liveable’ for me is the plethora of amazing artists that keep the artistic climate fresh.
The first Vancouver harsh noise artist that I experienced which totally blew me away was Flatgrey. Lashen Orendorff now lives in Montreal but I cannot write about recent Vancouver harsh noise without Flatgrey. His sets are always quite varied. It could be violin looping, heavy reverb destruction or anarchic junk chaos. Dense sound and extremely physical performances lit many sound systems ablaze and blew power. Performances push frequencies to their extremes broken up by moments of calm and serene ambiance. There is always a ride into the unknown. Using instruments made from rusted machinery played with a bow or another piece of metal and drilling into mic’d up pieces risking personal injury. Over the years Lashen put on many great noise shows packed with solid harsh acts. Also responsible for Vancouver’s first noise festival, the Shitstorm Festival of Noise in 2008. It’s always a pleasure to see Flatgrey’s powerful performances. Lashen is one of the nicest people ever who has produced some of the most brutal and intense noise. Montreal is lucky to have him.
Going into the dark arcane is Sistrenatus and Funerary Call, projects of Harlow MacFarlane. Sistrenatus is the more hard hitting mix of industrial, ambient and noise that is cold, precise and grim. The very serious presentation of his work is something that is common with other Vancouver artists and that which I greatly appreciate. Rich synth layers, excellent sampling and cut-up sound create a beautifully grotesque sonic tapestry. The older of the projects is Funerary Call, spanning more into esoteric themes. Using vocals and more acoustic instruments it is ritual dark ambient at it’s finest. Funerary Call performances include frequent guest artists to aid in the rituals. A space is always created during performances that seeps into the audience bringing chants of Armageddon. “Unto the end we see.”
The Rita, a familiar name to any harsh head, is unrelenting and extremely focused. Continuing on the Vancouver tradition of a no nonsense approach, Sam McKinlay has performed many pieces with specific concepts delving into depravity, brutality and textural obsession. ‘The Engine as Fuzz Pedal’, ‘Shark Knifing’ and other themes play out live with a surreal force. An innovator of harsh noise walls, The Rita’s sets have an all-consuming, intense effect with a sobering after effect. Collaborating live with various artists over the years such as Masa Ansai (Hospital), Josh Rose (Sick Buildings), Nick Wainwright (Taskmaster), Harlow Macfarlane (Sistrenatus) and others, performances are always a unique and tailored sound. The Rita sets the bar high.
My partner in crime is Nick Wainwright of the project Taskmaster. It is hard to describe those that are so close. I usually like to shut my eyes during Taskmaster sets and feel the depths of a black hole. I like to experience and not scrutinize. Taskmaster is bleak, desolate and unwavering. Performances are unapologetic in bringing forth unbearable feedback and iron-fisted tape manipulation. Always analogue, dirty and raw, the content is misanthropic and unworldly. These days more attention is put toward Monarch, our joint industrial project. Monarch explores mankind’s bondage and enslavement of ideas. Monarch questions morals and methods. It has an entirely new formula from Taskmaster or Rusalka, using rhythms and vocals.
Josh Rose of former noise project Sick Buildings and label Rundownsun currently performs under his name. Sick Buildings sets were an examination of sound and environment. Josh confronts the listener often making the audience participate even if it’s forcefully so. Performances are always to involve whether it be simulating waiting in a line by making people stand in a line up, blocking an exit and not letting unhappy listeners leave, or roping the audience together like cattle with cords. The antics are always enjoyable. Making people uncomfortable and confused, attention is directed to the audience away from performer and ego.
Other currently performing noise acts include Whip Of The UFO, the noise duo of Andrew Scott and John Schoefield. Whip Of The UFO’s performances are unending synth weirdness from handmade instruments mashed with destroyed vocals, it’s always a random cacophony. I love how there is absolutely no calm or quiet parts to their sets. Worker is the project of Graham Christofferson. He offers up improvised minimal tape manipulation, dirty junk noise and other avenues all in the rough, harsh realm. Anju Singh, Grahams partner in noisy sludgy Ahna, performs under her own name and in various other collaborative projects. She has put on many noise shows and is very dedicated to underground music. Some of her most enjoyable sets for me have been her aggressive violin noise compositions.
A new comer to the Vancouver scene is John Brennan formerly from Montreal. His solo project is Static Kitten, a mix of entrancing noise and drone. John also performs in the duo Totems with Montreal noiser Grkzgl. Another new comer is Mass Marriage the project of Mel Paget. With strange loops, and eerie rhythms Mass Marriage has an old industrial feel. These two will definitely be contributing more to the scene in the future.
A good way to describe a Vancouver crowd is bland and restrained. There is a strange sort of boredom about Vancouver. An attitude somewhere in the region of “I will do that if I feel like it…”. The shows are different every time. To have a good sized audience there usually has to be some more palatable acts on the bill. When the shows go from a mix to a more focused harsh noise and industrial line up the audience size drops off and the crowd is more intimate and knowledgeable. For the most part people are quite supportive. There is a core community of people in noise that have spent many dedicated years keeping things going. Although there is definitely times of lull. The city that is close knit with Vancouver is Victoria, located on Vancouver Island. Victoria is about two and a half hours travelling time away. Artists ferry back and forth to perform quite frequently. Victoria is always a great place for shows. I will not write further about it as Victoria deserves it’s own scene report and is different in many ways.
Now is a depressing time to discuss noise friendly venues. Many of the best shows have been held at underground venues and dive bars and it is increasingly harder to keep these open. The city recently banned shows at a warehouse space myself, Nick Wainwright, Anju Singh and Lashen Orendorff presented shows at. The city has shut down other similar spaces which are always artist run with dedication. The city seems determined to flush out such places. Underground venues such as The Secret Location, The Emergency Room (at multiple locations), The Sinking Ship and 1067 had many great line ups of harsh noise, industrial and weirdo experimental. Getting away from my lament I will discuss places that still occasionally open their doors to noise.
The Astoria is a bar on glamorous Hastings street and like any good slum lord owned dive has a rotting cockroach infested hotel upstairs. Some of the first shows I started going to in Vancouver were at the Astoria back when it still showed it’s true shithole colors. It was also the hang out of Robert Pickton. The bar is now renovated so they can validate charging five bucks for a can of PBR. You know what I am saying here. I don’t need to use the ‘H’ word. The Astoria is still a place where noise shows occur and a great atmosphere for harsh noise. Earlier this year Total Slitting of Throats was presented there by The Rita with Concern, Unexamine, Rusalka, Sistrenatus and Taskmaster performing. It was an hour and fifteen minute long performance with the audience enduring the constant barrage. Going back to former venues, a bar in conjunction with The Astoria was the mighty Cobalt. The Cobalt was formerly Vancouver’s hardcore bar for many years. ‘Fake Jazz Wednesdays’ took place there, a weekly experimental night that lasted for a few years. The crowds shifted back and forth between bars as the shows did but the Cobalt died and went under new ownership. Another battle with the city lost. Many great shows were held at The Cobalt and it is sadly missed.
Stepping away from the beer and piss soaked floors we move to VIVO, a media arts centre. With a more serious presentation VIVO has held some great harsh noise shows with many bills of out of town artists. Acts such as Richard Ramirez, Oscillating Innards and more recently Mattin have swung through. VIVO was also the venue for the first Vancouver Noise festival.
Currently there isn’t many happening venues. Once and awhile there is a blend of harsh noise with other parallel work. In a depressing and comical fashion the academic institutes sometimes like to pretend they know what is going on and offer up some noise and outdated discussion. Once and awhile another underground venue pops up for a short life span where a few shows occur and the space disappears again. Someone with ambition will book a show at a bar. It’s not easy to put on noise shows in Vancouver unless you have the money for it or you luck out and find an ideal situation. In a way it’s some what suiting to the abrasive nature of noise. Tucked away in dirty alleys and strange spaces. Harsh noise is like insects. Unnoticed or repulsive to many yet outlasting everything. Masters of dirt, filth and decay. The embrace of culture’s deterioration.
Kate Rissiek is a noise artist based out of Vancouver and is the woman behind Rusulka as well as a collaborator in Monarch. She currently books shows in the Vancouver area and creates visual art which can be seen here.