Words by Jeb Ebben
Noise is not the rare happening at the Borg Ward–rather, the Borg is the city’s go-to venue for the weirdest, harshest, most-likely-to-be-described-as-something-you’re-just-not-into shows. Well, that is, if you went to any of them. This isn’t meant as an accusation or calling out; it’s simply the truth. The noise scene in Milwaukee, while growing gradually, consists of only a handful of performers, all of whom are pretty likely to be dismissed out of hand as making unlistenable, improvised, talentless, only-for-the-shock-value “music” in scare quotes (never mind that by and large these folks are crafting some incredibly thoughtful, high-concept, envelope-pushing compositions that have a lot more to say than the “I’m angry and thus want to make your ears bleed” write-off). And while the average show-goer can maybe be forgiven for his or her ignorance about noise, it is far less justifiable when the local weeklies do the same, giving the cold shoulder wholesale to an immensely important subset of the Milwaukee underground.
Wednesday night was different. Not only did the show get a decent write-up, there were a good twenty-some attendees (not including the bands), which is on average four times what you’ll often see at noise shows (sometimes including the bands). The big draw was definitely Realicide–hyperenergetic, crazily danceable gabber punk straight outta slimy Cincinnati–but the bill was incredibly diverse, with Cannabinol Synapse’s weird, meditative oscillating synth and homemade theremin (looked like one of those dome-shaped pantyhose containers), the way-harsh Disthroned Agony (on the last night of his accidental two-night stand in Milwaukee–don’t worry, we used protection at least one of the times) and Stagediver, who did this cut-up collage stuff that was either meant to be some kind of semi-ironic post-modern recontextualization of dance music or else, well, I’m not sure what exactly, but he played for far, far too long.
One pleasant surprise of the evening was Milwaukee’s Anvil Dome, who was nothing short of mind-blowing. Anvil Dome is Beau Devereaux (one half of the bass-and-drums sludge duo Inyan Kara) and his slowly pulsating keyboard drone (run through an impressive array of pedals, of course) with ambient, ghostly vocals giving way to jarring, staticky bursts of harsh noise, like if the incidental music from Twin Peaks got all strung out on dope and started blowing the dudes from Whitehouse (only without the gross politics of the latter, and, well, probably much prettier than that sounds). It was vast-sounding and beautiful, a definite high point of the evening.
But anyway. Back to Realicide.
Here’s the thing about Realicide: they are punk as fuck. Sloganeering, sneering, a little naive but beautiful and bratty and full of spunk. They were down a member tonight, with co-frontman/noisemaker Jim Swill touring the west coast with his other project Evolve. And while Swill’s absence was felt, other-frontman/noisemaker Robert Inhuman’s charm, stage presence and energy was endless and totally compelling. Looking a bit like a young Henry Rollins–only at once more menacingly intense and infectiously joyful (huh?)–Inhuman offered one of the most wonderfully verbose set introductions I’ve ever heard, proving himself as the most gracious and friendly and genuinely-excited-about-what-he’s-doing performers I’ve ever seen. He then launched into fifteen minutes of energetic, fist-pumpingly hardcore glitchy dance music that was far more punk-fucking-rock than anything going on in the basement scene. Inhuman and Realicide embrace that dichotomy apparent in hardcore, that contradictory fusing of nihilism and hope, embodying the DIY-or-die spirit, carrying a torch that even the most dedicated punks seem to have set aside.
Milwaukee’s xALLxFORxTHISx, the world’s first and certainly only straight edge power electronics group, carried a punk rock torch of their own, this one far more violent and unforgiving, much more interested in nihilism than hope. “This is an exaggeration of how I really feel,” vocalist Peter J. Woods tells us before they start. “I know it’s an exaggeration, but this is straight edge. It’s about being true to yourself.” Woods grimaced and screeched out the most uncomfortable, hateful lyrics over Jay Linski’s (Blessed Sacrifist) manning of the electronics–adjusting pedals and samples and punching a piece of sheet metal with a contact mic glued to the back–unleashing a hellish, abrasive convulsion of sound. The duo’s performance was incredibly intense, and left one wondering whether it was satire or not–whether Woods has ever really felt like curb stomping junkies. Kind of left a bad taste in the mouth, though I’m not going to say that that’s entirely a bad thing–kind of like how sometimes you need to be punched in the face.
In all, though, the show left me feeling excited, about the way punk rock lives on in unlikely places, and how the most misunderstood and universally hated music scene seems to be attracting new people and turning them on; that spaces like the Borg Ward exist, and offer a venue for these kinds of events; that people like Woods and Linski are around to facilitate.