In 1975, Lou Reed released Metal Machine Music, a double LP consisting of only four tracks, one per side, comprised of screeching feedback and echoing guitar loops. While rock critic Lester Bangs referred to it as "the greatest record ever made in the history of the human eardrum," most critics hated it. It deliberately eschewed any semblance of musical structure in favor of grating noise, and was seen as a giant "fuck you" from Reed to his label, RCA. The original pressing of the album was deleted from their catalog after a mere three weeks.
But there was one market where Metal Machine Music really caught on: Japan. Rob Bowman writes in the liner notes to the Lou Reed boxed set Between Thought and Expression that when Reed visited Japan to meet with record company executives, he was greeted at the airport with the squawks of Metal Machine Music blaring through the public address system. Masami Akita, better known as Merzbow, one of the progenitors of the Japanese noise scene, gave a nod to Reed when he titled his first experimental noise recordings Metal Acoustic Music.
This week, the MultipleTap Tour makes a stop at Will's Pub, bringing with it stalwarts of "Japanoise." Many of these artists have never played in the U.S. before, giving historic weight to the packed lineup.
Headlining the tour are noise legends Hijokaidan (translated as "emergency stairway" or "fire escape"), formed in 1979 by Jojo Hiroshige. The abrasiveness of Hijokaidan's music was mirrored by their early performances, which often devolved into rolling around on stage floors, throwing food and garbage, and even urinating on stage, though in recent years they've toned down the antics and focused on creating catharsis from guitar feedback, electronic manipulation and reverb-drenched screaming.
If that doesn't sound like an enjoyable musical experience to you, you're not alone. Noise as a genre is often dismissed as, well, noise. But those who dismiss it for not having recognizable song structures are often missing the point. Sure, this isn't stuff you're likely to listen to in your car (though some do). Noise is infinitely more enjoyable in a live setting, where the visceral thrill of sonic assault combines with inventive staging and instrumentation in a framework where spontaneity and pushing sound to the absolute limits of volumes and extremity are the guiding rules. No two performances are the same, dropping noise artists squarely in the realm of free jazz and theater rather than rock.
After artists like Merzbow, C.C.C.C. and Hijokaidan laid the groundwork, the avant-garde noise scene in Japan flourished, producing acts like Atsuhiro Ito, also on this tour, who brings a unique visual element to his performances with an instrument crafted from a fluorescent light tube that he calls the "Optron." That visual element is also utilized by tourmates UCNV, who creates art out of corrupted image and audio files, and Yousuke Fuyama, who creates swirling monochromatic images whose shapes are directly tied to the sound waves he manipulates during a performance.
The most recent generation of noise artists from Japan have expanded the palette of the scene, and are represented on the MultipleTap Tour. Hatis Noit, a classically trained female vocalist, eschews the abrasiveness and feedback associated with the noise scene, and instead focuses on using layered loops, projected images and her own often operatic voice to create a sense of mystery, mood and beauty. And though Avandoned borrows Hijokaidan's Jojo Hiroshige to provide feedback for live performances of their single "Feedback Friday," the girl group is more focused on a J-pop aesthetic than on confrontational art.
Just as Metal Machine Music inspired a generation of Japanese musicians to experiment with static, feedback and noise, they have in turn inspired a new generation of American musicians. Jeff Carey, also on the MultipleTap tour, is a Baltimore artist who has built a video game controller-inspired rig to manipulate blasts of squelching static, insect-like clicks and strobe lights that assault the senses. Carey has found plenty of fans in Japan, visiting there with fellow American glitch enthusiasts Matmos in 2015 for a tour presented by MultipleTap.
Two of the supporting acts on the Orlando leg of the tour also wear their love of Japan's noisy legacy on their sleeves: Lakeland project Hell Garbage and Jacksonville's the Caution Children. While the Caution Children are informed more by the drones and swells of Japanese post-hardcore group Envy, Hell Garbage is a direct descendant of the Japanese noise aesthetic, incorporating circuit-bending, overdriven effects pedals, feedback and occasionally self-abuse as performance art from Kat Roberts of Norse Shit Band.
Indeed, breaking down the emotional barriers that audiences bring with them to shows is one of the hallmarks of an effective noise performance. The line between audience and artist thins, with the audience – and how they experience and react to the overwhelming sound, spectacle and confrontation – in effect becoming part of the performance. The only certain thing is that a lineup like this one is unlikely to come through town again.