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Noise of summer

for The Brooklyn Paper
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If you wouldn’t expect something called “No Fun Fest” to sell out of tickets, you would surprisingly be mistaken. And what kind of four-day music festival would bill itself as being no fun, anyway?

“It’s a festival presenting a group of artists that, for the most part, deal with the use of noise and non-traditional structures both in improvisational and composed pieces,” said festival founder Carlos Giffoni, who created the acclaimed experimental music showcase four years ago. How acclaimed? This year’s lineup includes Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, noise staples like Merzbow and ex–Wolf Eyes member Aaron Dilloway as well as some 35 artists from around the world — all of them pushing the limits of sound, rhythm and, of course, volume.

“The intensity, the originality of each artist, the immediacy of the compositions and improvisations presented by them,” Giffoni told GO Brooklyn when asked what makes a festival like this so compelling. “This is not some architected scene; it’s something that happens organically and is 100-percent real.”

Giffoni, 29, of Greenpoint, created No Fun Fest in 2004 to “bring together the most exciting, experimental and original musicians of our day.” It’s grown considerably since, each year adding to its roster different bands to include the most innovative and cutting-edge acts in the constantly evolving noise and experimental music scenes. The festival has garnered international media attention and this year, its four-day passes sold out faster than ever before.

Contemporary noise music has been characterized as an evolution of genres like free jazz, avant-garde composition and No Wave. Though the scene is international in scope, it’s particularly strong in New York. Aside from playing No Fun Fest, noise acts have established themselves in clubs like Williamsburg’s Glasslands and Manhattan’s now-defunct Tonic. There are also prominent noise scenes in Canada, Norway and Japan.

While it remains for the most part a niche scene, the increasing popularity in recent years of bands like Black Dice, Lightning Bolt and Wolf Eyes has made noise more widely popular.

But even the most diehard indie connoisseurs probably aren’t too familiar with many of the bands slated for No Fun Fest. To name just a few, there’s Canadian “garage-art-noise/junk” outfit Gastric Female Reflex; Brooklyn’s very own drone trio, Religious Knives; and Pain Jerk, a prolific Japanese noise unit headlining Thursday night’s bill.

Incapacitants will headline the festival on Friday, Merzbow on Saturday and Thurston Moore — who’s been playing guitars with drumsticks and drowning fans in hour-long feedback symphonies for decades — will close the show on Sunday.

With a lineup that’s diverse both geographically and creatively, “No Fun Fest” attracts a crowd just as varied.

George Chen, a musician and publicist from Oakland, CA, is flying in for the festival, his first. He told GO Brooklyn that he’s looking forward to seeing performers and buying records to which he wouldn’t otherwise have access, from “harsh electronic” to “guitar-based stuff” to noise made with violins and violas.

“I’ve always wanted to check it out, and it’s such a critical mass of people involved in experimental music that, over a four-day weekend, it becomes something bigger,” said Chen, though he knows that “No Fun Fest” is “not something that people with a casual interest [in noise] would go for.”

Indeed, noise and experimental music is still fairly isolated from the larger indie scene. As Mike Simonetti, owner of Troubleman Records and a veteran “No Fun Fest” DJ, put it: “I don’t think you’ll see Sickness opening for the Decemberists anytime soon.”

But Giffoni sees the festival as a vehicle for turning people on to experimental music, and showing them it’s not all just a bunch of, well, noise: “Everyone that is not completely brainwashed by popular culture should be able to enjoy the energy and intent of these artists. The fest is also a big party full of interesting people. If someone can’t enjoy that, there is something seriously wrong.”

All ears

You’ve heard it a million times: if you listen to too much loud music, you’ll go deaf. It’s not something that any music lover wants to think about, but in a world of high-decibel rock shows and iPods turned all the way up to drown out street and subway noise, it’s a reality.

“Earplugs are your friends,” Kathy Peck, co-founder and executive director of Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers (HEAR), told GO Brooklyn. “You want to be able to listen longer, and your ears are your most important musical instrument. After all, there are no spare parts.”

Peck and her San Francisco-based group make it their business to educate rock musicians and fans about the dangers of hearing loss. Here are some of the things you can do to keep your ears in working order:

• Use earplugs. Cotton and rolled-up tissue provide no protection.

• Stand at least 10 feet away from speakers.

• Don’t talk on the dance floor — yelling into ears can damage hearing.

• Drink water! Dehydration increases your risk of hearing damage.

According to HEAR, most rock shows produce sound at around 180 decibels — a huge strain for ears, which can be damaged by anything above 90 decibels.

“We’re for musicians and listening to music,” said Peck. “But do it wisely and respect your ears so you can do it for a long time.”

Visit www.hearnet.com for more information.

— Adam Rathe

“No Fun Fest” will take place from May 17 through 20 at the Hook (18 Commerce St., between Richards and Dwight streets in Red Hook). Tickets are $18 for each day of the festival. For information, call (718) 797-3007 or visit www.nofunfest.com.

Updated 4:28 pm, July 9, 2018
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