Ten years ago hardcore matinees–all-ages daytime punk-rock concerts often held in nontraditional venues–were a dime a dozen. Punk has since mingled with the mainstream, and though groups still play at places like the Fireside Bowl, many would-be matinee bands now play clubs and even arenas. The spirit of this Saturday’s Destroy All Music festival recalls the underground from the days of yore, even if the music itself doesn’t.
The brainchild of Benjamin Ewens, a member of the band DragKing and publisher of the music and politics zine Destroy Amerikka, and Jon Bates, a Brit who plays in Foe Toe and runs a cassette label with the same name as the fest, the all-day event will feature more than a dozen bands from around the U.S. and England dedicated to musical chaos, improvisation, experimentation, and unadulterated noise. Ewens and Bates organized the festival–plus smaller ones in Detroit, Saint Louis, and Minneapolis–as a way for people to hear bands that rarely get to play live, since the thriving noise underground has little use for traditional modes of cultural dissemination. “There’s a whole network of people trading and distributing tapes,” says Ewens. “It’s more like exchanging music as opposed to selling it and buying it. You might get a package in the mail that includes hundreds of little Xeroxed flyers for other tapes.”
Bates explains, “Most of the tapes I release are traded for other tapes. You hear about bands from all over the world and the natural thing to do is just to write them.” Bates started the Destroy All Music label three years ago and began corresponding with Ewens soon after. (His label recently released a DragKing single.)
While there’s significant stylistic diversity among the performers, all are more concerned with vigorous experimentation than accessibility. Inspiration comes from a variety of extremes–free-jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler, composers like John Cage and Iannis Xenakis, industrialists Throbbing Gristle, and noise terrorists Borbetomagus and Merzbow. Besides featuring local noiseniks like Frontier, the Flying Luttenbachers, and DragKing, DAM will present Foe Toe (England), Belgian Waffles (Louisville), Malta (New York), Temple of Bon Matin (Philadelphia), Tranquil (York, Pennsylvania), Milipede Burger (Appleton), and Wrong (Minneapolis).
The most promising participants are a pair of west-coast groups. Blowhole is based in Seattle, but its members are scattered around the country and include Chicago-based trumpeter Ernst Long, who’s currently out of the country. The group’s recent CD, Billowing Sheen, was recorded in Seattle and Tucson via overdubbing, but it reveals an impressive cohesion that draws on free-jazz intuition and unrestrained clatter. DVL from Olympia, Washington, features the strange talents of outsider chanteuse Leslie Q, who creates rough-hewn folk rock tinged with an unmistakable aura of Eastern mysticism.
Ewens stresses the nonhierarchical nature of the event. “For bands that are further from alternative rock it’s really hard to get shows unless you’re already established,” he says. “It’s fine if you’re avant-garde and you’ve been doing it for 20 years and people recognize your name, but if you’re 15 and doing way-out stuff and all you have is a tape, you’re never gonna play the Lounge Ax.”
The Destroy All Music festival takes place Saturday between noon and midnight at the Ruiz Belvis Puerto Rican Cultural Center, 1632 N. Milwaukee. For more information call 643-3315.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Jon Bates, Benjamin Ewens, by Nathan Mandell.