The 11th annual Saint Petersburg Noise Fest (SPNF) took place on November 17th in Williams Park in Downtown Saint Petersburg, Florida. Organized by Rob SPIN and Mike Berchou, this is the 2nd year the fest took place in the park. Last year’s fest was a two-parter, with an afternoon show in the park and an evening show at a local bar. This year the fest took place exclusively in the park. Attending and performing in such an open environment is surreal to say the least. You’re not only interacting with your tribe, but with homeless people, families with young kids, strolling passersby, and any number of people casually walking through the park on a picture perfect afternoon. In other words, you are not necessarily (and most unlikely) playing to people who purposely gathered in the park for a noise gig. Of course, as I’ll mention later on, that opens you up to all sorts of unintended and impromptu scenarios, which to the experimental artist can often make for interesting results.
It should be noted this wasn’t some guerilla show with artists playing through battery-powered equipment, playing as fast as possible to get through as many sets as possible before getting chased away by cops. An enormous amphitheatre was rented out, which in and of itself is a pretty wild platform for experimental artists who are used to playing in cramped and (often) grimy quarters. Performers got to play under the cover of an enormous metal bandshell and through an actual P.A., which the organizers brought.
I arrived to the park uncharacteristically late. There was some other big event going on downtown, so parking was slim pickings. After some 20 minutes of perseverance a parking spot was scored. The show’s start time was 1PM, but things were moving pretty casually. A few acts had to cancel at the last minute, including Hal McGee (which was a huge bummer because he doesn’t travel out for shows very often). However, in the end, it was for the best as we were down to the wire towards the end of the show.
Mike Berchou performed first under his solo project: Oblongata. For those unfamiliar, Mike also performs with the Uh… one of the longest running noise acts in the Sun Coast, if not the state. Mike performed with a keyboard, and a mic'd mask that looked something akin to a stormtrooper’s helmet with a black hood. His set was very dense, kind of straddling the precipice where noise and ambient music intersect. It wasn’t really harsh, but noisy enough to not quite be ambient. It was very soundscapy.
I performed next, under my solo moniker Vasectomy Party, using some new gear I’ve acquired recently. I just received a noise box called a Tantrum, made by Gen Thalz from the Philippines (who I interviewed for Electronic Cottage a few months back). I thought SPNF would be a good of place as any to give it a test drive in a live setting and it did not disappoint. After my set, WAMPO (a local noise legend in my neck of the woods) complimented me on my set and asked that I join him next with fellow collaborators for a WAMPO and the Whores of Babylon set. How could I refuse?
WAMPO and the Whores of Babylon consisted of WAMPO on guitar, Rob Demperio (a local community radio DJ who hosts an experimental music program called Lumpy Tunes) on banjo, virtuoso saxophone player Jim Ivey and myself on electronics. It was a rollicking good time as the musicians of the quartet cranked out deconstructed versions of Zappa tunes and the like, while I provided an undercurrent of noisy gobbledigook. Everyone joined towards the end to provide an exceptionally raucous outro. It also happened to be Rob’s first live performance, who played a really mean banjo using a contact mic. I hope it was the first of many to come.
Another combo of talented performers played next. Vantage Planets (Scott Bazar and Joel Nobody) came all the way from the decimated panhandle of Florida to play a collaborative set including Adam Arritola (who I know from the drone project Gorgeous) and Jonas Van Den Bossche on dual drums and Jim Ivey providing the sax. It was an explosive set of free form, experimental jazz. From Joel Nobody’s improv guitar stylings, to Bazar’s rubbery bass guitar, to Van den Bossche’s and Arritola’s free form drumming, to Ivey’s frenetic saxophone playing; all players complemented each other’s contributions to create a furious mutation of sounds. As Vantage Planets played on they got an uninvited guest who joined them on stage. A young guy wearing a flowered shirt jumped on stage, aided by some liquid courage and the instigation from his friends. He didn’t really do much other than walk to the front of the stage with his arms in the air. The musicians took it in stride and, while surprised, didn’t really let it affect them too much. The fest organizers managed to eventually talk the guy off stage, while the mischievous WAMPO told his pals (who were egging him on off-stage) that Mike was a bad ass biker a wasn’t one to be fucked with. After the incident I was joking with Joel, asking him if the whole thing was staged. He laughed and said it almost seemed like an Andy Kaufman-esque prank.
Next up was Gainesville’s Ironing. Ironing, the long-running project of Andrew Chadwick, played a variety of turntables and a cassette player placed upon two ironing boards. Reggae records were layered and manipulated in a variety of ways, from placing broken records on top of playing records to picking up turntables as records were spinning. Cassettes and vinyl were speed up and slowed down and, what looked like an 80’s shelf stereo was dialed into various radio frequencies. Andrew even managed to balance a turntable on top of his head towards the end of his set. Fun times with sound collage you can dance to.
Whitey Alabastard performed next and I use “perform” very loosely. Whitey was beset with some technical problems from the get go. You could hear some harsh sounds peeking through, but it was short-lived, scarce minutes at best. Arm raised, after the shortest of short sets, and Whitey declared that he won noise fest. Afterwards, I asked him what happened and discovered that the P.A. was blown. While there were other amps on site, I think he wanted to make sure Clang Quartet, who drove from the Carolinas, had time to perform as we were pushing up against time.
The day’s final performance was by Clang Quartet, the Christian noise project of Scotty Irving. His performances are quite the spectacle to behold as he goes through a noise interpretation of the New Testament, rife with various props and costumes. Unfortunately, Clang Quartet was also plagued with some technical issues. Being the road warrior that he is, Scotty played an acoustic performance. While I’m sure it’s not the performance he intended, it nonetheless, was a treat to have the opportunity to see Clang Quartet play a stripped down, percussion set.
At the end of the day, the fest was far more relaxed and strangely more intimate, despite being in such a large and open space, than previous iterations. I’ve performed at every SPNF since the fifth installment and have seen the fest go through various permutations since then, from different venues to different organizers, from back to back marathon noise sets chugging on until the wee hours of morning, to a more chill affair such as today’s event. Each one was special in their own way and have provided me with no short supply of fond memories to draw from. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for SPNF 12.
Hal Harmon is a sloth-like creature who lives a sloth-like existence.