Take a hike: Experimental music, popular but tough to get to

for The Brooklyn Paper
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Look, if you want to get out there — I mean really, really out there — you’re going to have to walk.

Fans of experimental music — “noise rock,” as it’s sometimes called — know this all too well.

“It’s like a journey,” said promoter Carlos Giffoni. “If you really want to see the show, you’ll get there.”

Venues for noise rock are constantly changing and expanding throughout Brooklyn, but one of the drawbacks is that getting to some of these spacious locales requires a lot of effort.

“They’re aesthetically pleasing, but off the beaten path,” said Brad Truax, who plays in two local bands, Home and Soldier of Fortune.

When Giffoni throws his “No Fun Fest,” a four-day festival where musicians come together at the Hook to mesh sounds and instruments, he typically has to hire a shuttle to run back and forth between the Red Hook club and the nearest subway stop a mile away.

Promoters are complicit in keeping electronic music “out there.”

Todd Patrick, who goes by the moniker Todd P. and is hailed as an essential force in Brooklyn’s experimental scene, tends to keep his venues on the fringes.

“Todd finds places that are sort of far out,” said Truax. “I had to work to get to [his venues].”

But the venues have to be isolated, Patrick said.

“Noise is noisy,’ he said. “It’s hard to find a locale in New York where you can make a ton of noise without someone calling the police.”

When people complain about a long hike to a venue, his response is “‘Look, you walked this distance, but didn’t you have a good time?’”

Often created in unusual ways with unique instruments, noise rock can be crafted by entire bands or solo artists using multi-track setups. In either case, these musicians pride themselves on making music without following the traditional format.

“It’s a bunch of repetitive procedures with a punk aesthetic,” said Brian Chase of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who discussed noise rock at a Jan. 18 symposium at the Brooklyn Public Library. The event, “Brooklyn Music Now,” was moderated by musician and author Alan Licht and featured Giffoni and Truax, as well.

“The beauty of experimental music is that it’s freely improvised,” said Licht. “The audience is hearing it for the first time as are we.”

The popularity of the genre has grown steadily over the past years.

“It’s a continuation of the same canon [of talent] that brought people here in the first place,” said Patrick. “Over the past few years, the level of interest in this has risen in Brooklyn and throughout the whole city.”

The unique methods of experimental musicians give them and their fans a chance to hear something new in each performance. Between the constantly shifting performance spaces, improvised music and flashes of new technology, it’s a rarity to hear the same song twice.

This constant reinvention is what many find so appealing about the genre, said Licht.

“That way it’s still fresh to me, not something I’m ever tired of hearing.”

The wide expanse of space in Brooklyn lends itself to the crowds that experimental musicians attract. Places like Northsix and the Hook have two floors and can accommodate more than one group at a time.

Other venues such as Issue Project Room in Carroll Gardens, which is hosting the “Independents” music festival until Jan. 28, offer a chance to just play, no holds barred. The musicians will perform anywhere — lofts, art galleries, even in parking lots. They have no choice considering the way they’ve been run out of places like the Cooler in Manhattan, now occupied by decidedly un-experimental R & R nightclub, and Williamsburg’s free103point9.

In the latter case, police were involved.

Let’s experiment

These are the spots to hit if you’re looking for cutting-edge experimental music in Brooklyn:

Glasslands Gallery

289 Kent Ave. (between South First and South Second streets in Williamsburg), (718) 599-1450

Goodbye Blue Monday

1087 Broadway (between Lawton and Dodworth streets in Bushwick), (718) 453-6343

The Hook

18 Commerce St. (at Columbia Street in Red Hook), (718) 797-3007

Issue Project Room

400 Carroll St. (between Bond and Nevins streets in Carroll Gardens), (718) 330-0313


1124 Broadway (at Kosciuszko Street in Bushwick), (718) 453-3223


66 N. Sixth St. (between Wythe and Kent avenues in Williamsburg), (718) 599-5103

Third Ward

195 Morgan Ave. (at Stagg Street in East Williamsburg), (718) 715-4961

Uncle Paulie’s

408 Greenpoint Ave. (at Grandparent’s Avenue in Greenpoint), (718) 383-2411

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Damien Olsen from Williamsburg-Brooklyn says:
Good article; i don't really know if this genre is actually getting popular or we, (experimental musicians) we have to recur to the invention of laying to tell to an skeptical or nonexistent audience that the genre after 40 years of pushing the bar is already popular and socially accepted.
Frankly, i don't think it is like that at all. Actually abstract
painting was invented and accepted by society mush faster than "abstract music" maybe because painting is light and music is sound and light is much faster than sound... did you ever think about it?

Although I don't consider myself a "noise maker" but more like an expressionist musician who use noise or chaotic sound as salt and pepper to spice more accomplished spontaneous compositions where melody, rhythm and harmony hide from each other to surprise the listener (and the composer) .
Times are hard for dreamers, even if some of us we spend the last 30 years deconstructing the rules of making music and recording the results..we don't give up the dream and here we are, in NYC in 2010 making something that the rest of the mortals call experimental music. Thank you for writing about and keeping this monster alive.

Oct. 1, 2010, 7:41 pm

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