The International Noise Conference is coming to town.
Grab your earplugs. Twenty noise bands will descend upon a North Philadelphia warehouse for a single blistering show Sunday, all thanks to a guy who calls himself Rat Bastard.
That's a stage name, of course. But it's how Rat Bastard is known to hundreds of people, from fans of his band Laundry Room Squelchers to those involved in the annual International Noise Conference (INC) he's thrown in Miami since 2004.
But Rat Bastard isn't resting on his laurels. He's constantly setting stricter guidelines for the festival, limiting the length of sets and banning certain kinds of equipment that prove boring in a live setting.
"That all started with Rat booking the thing in Miami," says Jared Burak, who curated Philly's INC show with Mat Rademan. "People started just playing mixer feedback and Rat got bored with it, so he banned it. Then people started bringing laptops, and he got bored with that. All the unusual rules and guidelines are from him. I especially like the 15-minute rule, because on a personal level, I don't want to see you play with electronic toys for 25 minutes."
Rat Bastard's restlessness is likely what encouraged him to take INC on the road. Instead of booking a cross-country Laundry Room Squelchers tour, he decided to hold a different International Noise Conference in a different city nearly every night through April. He's already planning a similar INC tour of Japan and Korea later this year, Europe next year, and the Southern Hemisphere down the road.
Burak and Rademan, who respectively run the small Philly-based noise labels Lowest Fidelity and Breathmint, know Rat Bastard from trips to Miami to play at INC. "I guess we owe him for booking us for like five years," laughs Burak. He plays in Sanguine Vessel, while Rademan helms the project Newton. They'll play together Sunday as Sanguine Piss, a collaboration with Marc Zajack, who runs the equally obscure label Deep Fried Tapes.
Some names on Sunday's massive bill are more recognizable than others. The woodsy folk-psych project Serpents of Wisdom and the bizarre rock band Satanized have put out records on the local label Badmaster, as have the noisier outfit Drums Like Machine Guns. Other projects exist purely in bedrooms and on fuzzy CD-Rs and cassettes. There will be solo acts, full-band collaborations and everything in between.
Big Ocean use acoustic guitars, Mincemeat or Tenspeed employ a tangle of wires and pedals, and the trio HZL BRD feature a trumpet. In other words, not every noise band relies on screeching feedback. Burak describes Sanguine Piss as a "harsh noise project [with] loose songs [and] sound experimentation." Rat Bastard's headlining Laundry Room Squelchers, meanwhile, are an ever-shifting whirlpool of noise, no wave and free jazz.
"Basically, all the bands that are playing are our friends," Burak explains. "When we got asked to do this, the idea was to involve everyone."
Bands aside, Burak and Rademan enlisted the guys behind ZRadio--an Internet radio station run out of a house in South Philadelphia. The entirety of the Philadelphia INC will be recorded and broadcast on ZRadio, eventually to be available as a free podcast.
Founded by three roommates originally from New York state--Kevin Esposito, Jonny Wray and Dan Fitzgerald--ZRadio is named for Zobnoba, a nonsense word Wray made up that became the name of their website. (Zradio.com belongs to a Christian station based in Florida.) Ranging in age from 25 to 27, the guys all explored the rare music industry major at a college "in the middle of nowhere" and have been surrounded by music ever since.
ZRadio began when the three lived in Conshohocken and Wray became interested in AM piracy. "Jonny just figured it out," marvels Esposito. Then they heard the podcast of famed punk bassist Mike Watt and decided to start something online. Today the guys do a live broadcast every Monday and Thursday, and they recently set it up so that archived shows are broadcast the rest of the time, around the clock. People can listen to the steady stream at www.zobnoba.com/listen.html, download archived shows or subscribe via iTunes like a podcast.
After Burak was enlisted to co-curate the Philadelphia leg of INC, he was eager to bring in ZRadio as a sponsor. "For people [involved] in this kind of music," he says, "it's a valuable resource. Their whole idea behind doing it is so great. It's so free." Asked how often he hears an Internet radio channel catering to noise, Burak replies, "Never."
"There's isn't a single genre we don't do," says Fitzgerald, though Wray chimes in, "No classical." The station largely feeds on obscure noise, garage and metal, leaning heavily on submissions from bands that've heard about ZRadio through MySpace or word of mouth. In the beginning most of the submissions actually came from overseas, and today ZRadio maintains a strong fan base in Italy and France.
Bands also visit the station's unassuming headquarters to perform on the air. There have been 33 live performances so far, from locals like Tickley Feather and Northern Liberties to California's Gowns and the Australian project Not Waving. The guys host shows in the basement for touring bands featured on the station, asking for donations at the door and giving out free beer. ZRadio is entirely self-funded--"Lots of credit cards," sighs Esposito--and bands' permission is always secured before broadcasting their music.
Cosponsoring INC should be good to get the word out about ZRadio locally, though the guys are looking forward to it more out of excitement for the music. "We're recording every single thing," says Wray proudly. That infectious DIY charm is a big part of ZRadio's success so far--they're absolutely inclusive and always take time to explain the ropes to people curious about starting their own stations.
"All are welcome," declares Fitzgerald. "Anyone can do this. There needs to be more."