HEAR US OUT: “The word ‘noise’ can be really unfair,” says Evan Hanlon.
If, heading home from Chet’s Last Call one night in 1984, you happened to tune into The Record Hospital, you might have caught a Swell Maps track, followed by some F.U.’s or the Contortions. Ten years later (maybe after leaving Local 186), you’d have heard some Spitboy or Man Is the Bastard. And one night last week, they were playing new stuff from Brainworms, Sinks, and Ripshit.
From its small studio in the basement of Harvard’s Pennypacker Hall, with its limited wattage and dead-of-night time slot, WHRB’s beloved overnight program (95.3 FM; 10 pm–5 am) has offered seven-hour tours to the very outskirts of rock — a sprawling and varied landscape unhelpfully known as “noise” — five nights a week for the past 24 years.
That’s a lot of air, and over the years, it has given ample space to a genre that has traditionally struggled for any space at all. This weekend, the Hospital (along with Papercut Zine Library) has programmed two whole days of live performances: one day of hardcore, one day of noise music — and yes, it is music.
“The word ‘noise’ can be really unfair,” cautions Evan Hanlon (’08, Filmmaking). “For some of these people, this music is the most extreme extension of jazz. For others, it’s an utter catharsis of energy and sound. For others, it’s more of an academic investigation.”
“And sometimes it’s just brutality,” adds Catherine Humphreville (’10, Social Studies).
“I think this fest is leaning toward the brutality,” says Baris Ercal (’10, Biology). All giggle with anticipation.
One of the dealbreakers for new listeners when it comes to noise is its resistance to context. But as generations of Hospital staffers have demonstrated, you can learn this shit.
“Some of our DJs come here knowing a lot,” says Ercal. “But a lot come in knowing nothing — and they can end up being the best DJs, if only because they’re free of biases.”
Like most extracurriculars at Harvard, a tenure at The Record Hospital requires candidates to submit to an exhaustive competency process. These “compers” take tests, attend lectures, keep observation hours with established DJs, and engage in heated handwritten discussions in composition notebooks — scores of them, dating back to ’84. Paging through scrawled flame wars about flaky DJs subbing out of their shifts, potentially scoring Black Flag tickets, and keeping within the notebook’s established format conventions is like gazing into the primordial ooze of modern messageboarding.
But for an organization with an inherently short institutional memory, these meticulously jotted playlists and journals provide a clear view of just how much the Hospital has done in terms of charting the perimeter of music. “When the show started, it was less about the Ramones and more about, say, the Minutemen,” says Hanlon. “Even now, we’re playing stuff by bands that only put out like 200 or 300 records rather than something on Sub Pop. It’s about giving this music exposure.”
Those attending the fest will be exposed to quite a bit, from Heathen Shame (whom Ercal describes as “three people going crazy with electric guitars and a trumpet”) to the potentially destructive stylings of Dreamhouse to the frenetic, sloppy, fantastic Libyans to (the rumored last performance of) the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. For the uninitiated, be advised that when you leave, the tune stuck in your head will be tinnitus. This isn’t about melody, harmony, or memory; it’s about what’s happening to you as you listen.
“You can get a lot out of it from a musical perspective,” says Hanlon, “but also from a pure voyeuristic or anthropological angle. Going to a noise show is an experience.”
RECORD HOSPITAL FEST 2008 | Democracy Center, 45 Mount Auburn St, Cambridge | April 18 at 7 pm | Quincy Cage, 48 Plympton St, Cambridge | April 19 at 7 pm | $8 one night; $15 both | www.recordhospital.org