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Concert Sun Jul 11 2010

Look! Up in the sky! It's neon! And it's made from hooves! It's....

The Neon Marshmallow Fest is coming!

(The what?)

You don't have to forget about your Lollapaloozas or your Pitchforks, but you must at least remember this: for four days in August (19th through 22nd), The Viaduct Theater (3111 N. Western) will host almost 100 (as in ONE HUNDRED) sets by nearly as many experimental/noise/sound-art/drone acts from around the world. In a year where the 3-day noise festival circuit has a major hole in its schedule (NYC's No Fun Fest has taken 2010 off to focus on overseas events), it's noteworthy that Chicago has picked up the gauntlet and given seasoned noise travelers who made Brooklyn a permanent spot on their calendar a new summer destination.

Specifics: Both 4-day and single-day tickets are available now at the Neon Marshmallow Fest web site. Four-day tickets are running low, and if you know the size of the Viaduct, you know that this room isn't unlimited, so if you can't stand to miss this or that act, you best ante up before the first deal.

Below the jump, we'll talk about some the big names, legendary acts, and local heroes in attendance this year.

First, a tip of the hat must go to the festival organizers (the fest is co-produced by Acid Marshmallow and the Neon Blossom cassette label, hence the gaudy moniker), who have decided to have certain acts perform several times over the course of the festival.

What might look like schedule padding at first makes a lot of sense — first, it means that you'll have multiple opportunities to see an act you like, and it's less likely that you'll have to go to an evening you aren't otherwise interested in for just one performance. Second, and I hope I'm not belaboring the point when I say this, but experimental music isn't like regular music; an act that plays on Friday and Sunday isn't going to be running through a standard 10-song setlist two days in a row. Even if using the same general parameters and strategies, the set can progress differently each time it's executed. Intangible factors like crowd reaction, acoustics of the room vs. size of crowd, time of day, general inebriation or sobriety level, temperamental equipment, and a million other factors can completely alter the final results. Also, an act that might fluff it one night has a chance to redeem him or herself the next.

In addition, several acts will be engaging in unorthodox, and, in certain cases, unprecedented collaboration pairings -- reason enough to go the full four-day distance.

Don't for a second think that all the best acts are only programmed for the weekend -- there's plenty of substantial electronic gristle to be gnawed on even on a night when you gotta get up for work the next day.

  • Dave Phillips, ex-member of grindcore legends Fear of God and psycho-aktionist provocateurs Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock, makes his first appearance in Chicago since the early oughts. His sets are a masterpiece of controlled tension: hyperventilation, hair rising on the back of your neck, images you don't want to see, but can't look away from.
  • Greg Kelly is 1/2 of nmperign (with Bhob Rainey), but his solo trumpet sets range from angel's kiss curlicues of soft brass sound to room-filling buzzes and roars that make even the hardest tough guys of power electronics bow down. Just don't ask him to play "Salt Peanuts."
  • Keith Fullerton Whitman takes most of your disposable income at his Mimaroglu Music Sales website, and now he'll steal your ears with his manic, grinding synth textures.
  • Cowards, from Far Rockaway, New York, are back once again (after a totally righteous set last week at Enemy). They dive to the bottom of the power electronic ocean to find out what depraved creatures live down there. They don't assist; they only report.
  • Work/Death is a long-running unit from Rhode Island. It's hard to get a grip on what his 'style' is, because it can change so drastically from tape to tape. Depressive, resigned 'golden age of industrial' textures are likely.
  • Slither is a collaboration between Heath Moerland (Sick Llama/Fag Tapes) and Chris Pottinger (Cotton Museum). It's gross. Just gross. You'll love it.
  • Fossils: Always mysterious, always revealing their truths behind a swimming pool's worth of tape hiss.

And don't forget the locals! The head-hammering metal/pedal abuse of Shattered Hymen; the cinematic fever-dreams of Caboladies; Shortwave distress from Battleship; and several edge-of-jazz free freakouts, such as Aaron Zarzutzki and the Ben Billington/J. Guy/Ryan Jewell trio (Chicago/Ohio/Ohio). And that's STILL not the whole Thursday lineup! Go to the site to see if your favorites are playing.


Keith Whitman and Dave Phillips will perform solo again, but that's where the overlap with last night ends. For example:

  • The Haters. I'll just say it -- The Haters are noise. And I mean NOISE. Theatrics? Sure, a bit. Damage? Plenty, though only to inanimate objects (ranging from funnels to bikes to calculators to shovels). Helmed by the mercurial GX Jupitter-Larsen, The Haters are the world's most fully-realized tribute to entropy. They've played Chicago before, but not for at least a decade.
  • Ryan Jencks, aka Sixes, is the scariest man in San Francisco. His blackened, satanic noise scriptures sound like what charred forests look like: smoldering, crackling, skinned alive.
  • Joe Raglani has fully mastered the (newly rediscovered) art of the synth. His albums connect a line straight from Popul Vuh's great Herzog soundtracks of the '70s with the modern post-industrial age. An entire car's worth of his vintage synth gear was stolen in New York during the No Fun Festival in 2009, though several fundraisers from the community have helped him get back to what he does. It's sure to be great.
  • Neil Campbell's Astral Social Club is one name among many that he's chosen for himself over the years, but, with minor modifications, each project's intent is always the same: DRONE. The holy drone, the kind that shimmers, echos, and spirals into the rarefied air far above us. One Campbell record was called Excerpts From The Never-Ending Bowed Metal Song. Astral Social Club adds some electronics and beats in the Basic Channel/Chain Reaction legacy, but it's still a motionless music, seemingly let in like beams of light through a window facing another dimension.
  • Illusion of Safety has furthered experimental sound in Chicago for going on 25 years. After several years of relative silence, Dan Burke and associates have emerged again, playing shows semi-regularly around town. A performance at Enemy in March of '08 combined high-pressure audio with a lightning-fast montage of undersea creatures that forced my brain into a cowering, fetal position. Other performances have been more drifting, in the manner of TV Pow (also playing the festival).
  • Bhob Rainey is the other half of nmperign (with Greg Kelley, who plays Thursday). Like Kelley, he has utterly mastered the ability to coax overblowing, alien textures and pointilistic dots out of his soprano sax with the precision of a master craftsman.
  • Cornucopia is one of Puerto Rico's best drone/noise projects, helmed by the uber-prolific Jorge Castro.
  • Expo '70 has been praised to the heavens by the 'new synth' scene for his droning, crushing analogue pieces. One might even call him 'The Next Big Thing.'
  • Anthony Saunders has been releasing an assortment of CDrs under his own name, mostly noise and drone, but his Explosive Improvised Device (EID) project has come to the fore after years of silence, releasing a tape during Hosptial Productions' last spate of 13 cassettes released in one weekend (thanks a lot, Record Store Day).
  • Skin Graft is noise for noise's sake. His work is a downer, it's disgusting, and it will make you feel bad. Some people find that pleasurable. I am one of them.

Locals include the newest Chicago femme-noiser Fatale, the always cool Sunglasses, never-slippin' Pete Fosco, and the sure-to-grow-on-you Flower Man.

Saturday afternoon:

TWO separate shows on Saturday: one an afternoon matinee that ends around 6, and a second that resumes at 7. Although you may wish to sleep Friday off, you probably should set your alarm, because the afternoon set features some extraordinary collaborations:

  • Astral Social Club collaborates with No Fun Fest/No Fun Productions ringleader Carlos Giffoni, himself a former member of Monotract and currently exploring an acid techno direction in his analogue synth journey.
  • Cinci's favorite son (now based in NYC) C. Spencer Yeh invokes his Burning Star Core project, a group featuring a rotating cast of mercenaries that's varied in approach, but always intense and cabalistic in execution. In addition, Spencer will be in a collaboration with Tom Carter (of Charalambides) and Meg Clixby.
  • Cornucopia collaborates with NYC's Telecult Powers.
  • nmperign don't perform as a duo during the weekend, but they do perform in their best-known augmented form today, with Jason Lescalleet, a man known for making tape loops into a virtuoso instrument unto themselves. The trio's Love Me Two Times 2CD on Intransitive is a modern classic that should be taught in school.

...and plenty more, including U.S. Girls, Early Tunnels, Shawn McCann, Fragments, and The Family Chapter.

Saturday night!

  • New York's Excepter have made a name among people who don't know whether they want to dance or they want to get WEIRD. They're like some sort of Autechre/!!!/No-Neck Blues Band hybrid whose weird energy tends to bring out awkward "A + B + C Smoking Hash In _____'s Basement"-style comparisons.
  • David Sims of The Jesus Lizard performs solo as unFACT. What's that about? Hard to say.
  • Plenty of New York/No Fun-type action this night, including solo set from Carlos Giffoni (as mentioned, now entering an acid techno phase of his development), Noveller (sweet, pastel drone with brass knuckles concealed), and Emeralds (exultant synth throbs in the style of the '70s greats -- Schulze, Froese, Tang. Dream).
  • Michigan represent! We've got Dead Machines, the husband-and-wife mysterioso team of John and Tovah Olson; and breakthrough violin mangler Mike Collino, dba the Dog Lady (great LP on RRR and plenty of tapes).
  • Pedestrian Deposit, once a high-intensity/high-contrast solo project of Jon Borges, now acting as a duo (or more) and concentrating more on evocative, alien atmospheres that occasionally get dangerous.

And plenty more, including Belgian improv group Dolphins Into The Future, Chicagoans Red Electric Rainbow (basically the Neon Blossom house band) and the Forbes/Young duet, Pennsylvania's Social Junk, and still more.


Man! I bet you're exhausted already. I know I am. I'm exhausted just writing about all of this. But we must soldier on. As the photographer Lacerda once said to Raoul Duke, WE NEED TOTAL COVERAGE!

Seriously, although you might be dead on your feet by day four, don't stay home -- some once-in-a-lifetime (or once-in-a-decade at least) appearances should be sufficient to get you out for one more assault on your ears/feet/liver/wallet.

  • Government Alpha. I'll say it again: GOVERNMENT FUCKING ALPHA. If you're a Japanese noise fanatic, your knees are already knocking a bit. Yasutoshi Yoshida's long-running and hyper-prolific project is all about one thing: NOISE. Loud noise. Noise influenced by heavy metal and heavy metals. Yasutoshi gets into it, and while he hasn't always gone out of his way to innovate, he's refined That Thing He Does into a rock-hard nugget of noise brilliance. Last seen in Chicago: 1999 (with the now-sadly-deceased MSBR). Don't wait for the next decade for another appearance!
  • Jason Lescalleet lets his tape loops air out in a solo performance. Recent 7-inch on Kye has been voted the Best Thing Ever of the week.
  • Dave Philips also goes solo one more time. It will be uncomfortable. On purpose. You will walk away dazed and probably talking about it to friends for days afterward.
  • Local heroes TV Pow collaborate with Keith Fullerton Whitman. Digital mayhem, unless it's not. Then it's something else.
  • Kevin Shields (not the MBV guy, but a gal from Portland) makes a rare midwest appearance.
  • Justice Yeldham has played Chicago many times. Each performance leaves the audience energized, dazed, and babbling incoherently. His skill with a face-planted pane of glass and a contact mic is stuff of legend. And when he chews on his tools, people get out of the way! (warning: not for the blood-phobic)
  • New Jersey's Ducktails may have a '90s-inspired moniker, but his evocative electronic sounds have won him many fans, not all of them cartoon characters.

And the list just goes on and on: Madison's Burial Hex (went up a storm at Matchitehew), Andrew Coltrane, Peter J. Woods, ex-Chicagoan (now San Franciscan) Pod Blotz (I still think fondly of a Blotz blat at Fireside Bowl, lo these many years later), and oodles of Chicago acts: Jason Soliday, Tiger Hatchery, Lechuguillas, Piss Piss Piss Moan Moan Moan, and Instinct Control. And...still...MORE!

Check the site for more, more, more, and keep checking back, because the schedule is still in a state of flux. (Sadly, a planned collaboration between Dave Philips and Maine maniac Crank Sturgeon didn't pan out. HOWEVER, in the time it's taken me to type this whole damn thing, a collaboration between Government Alpha, Skin Graft, and Jason Soliday has been added!)

Four-day tickets are still available, but getting low. Individual day tickets are still around. Also, the Neon Blossom label will be releasing numerous tapes by festival acts over the next few weeks. All proceeds from these tapes will go toward getting the bands here (and back home again).

Some Youtubes for further research:

Greg Kelley


Keith Fullerton Whitman


Sixes (Ryan Jencks)


The Haters

Astral Social Club

Bhob Rainey

Expo '70

Illusion of Safety

Improvised Explosive Device

Skin Graft

Burning Star Core

Jason Lescalleet

Telecult Powers





Dead Machines

Dolphins Into The Future

Carlos Giffoni

Sunken Landscapes

Forbes/Young Duet

Pedestrian Deposit

Tom Carter

Social Junk

Wasteland Jazz Unit

Justice Yeldham

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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