Worthless earplugs and other sonic disturbances

Stethoscopic music: I walked up to Cafe Colonial at the beginning of NorCal NoiseFest’s third day and overheard the following: “Any time you can work in a penis pump, you know?”

That’s how you know you’ve stumbled into something far grander than yourself.

Last weekend’s NorCal NoiseFest, the 19th iteration in 20 years, saw a lot of musicians taking an approach to sonic disturbance that incorporated instruments some might call unconventional. The Acid King show on Saturday kept me from hearing whatever noises the penis pump made (from what I hear, Uberkunst made a wonderful mess of things that night), but it’s not like that was the only strange thing creating a ton of noise.

Regardless, I’m not certain that I’ve ever heard anything as incredibly loud as what I heard on Friday and Sunday. It was the sort of loud that makes you pull out your worthless earplugs in defeat, the sort that makes your vital organs quiver.

But what was it that was getting so loud? Stethoscopes on projectors and saxophones, broken (and whole) guitars, effect pedals, theremins, a turntable, tape players, singing bowls, buckets, screams and probably a penis pump or two.

There wasn’t much for people craving harmony, or traditional song structure. If you’re completely unfamiliar with noise music, imagine making ambient sounds from old dial-up tones matched with a buzzsaw.

Those into the good stuff were nothing if not rewarded. Nearly five hours of artists performed Friday, about nine on Saturday and seven on Sunday; marathon slabs of looping, crashing, shattering noise. Some artists twiddled knobs and smacked metal without expression, others contorted themselves with passion as they screamed. All remained completely in control of their sound, no matter how out-of-control it seemed.

What blew me away most was how many local acts played that I’d never heard of. (Disclosure: Aside from enjoying some Merzbow albums, I know little about noise culture.) I counted 13 acts from the greater Sacramento area. I never really understood how good we have it here for noise until last weekend, but from here on out, count me in.

—Anthony Siino

Cavernous: After cloistering himself in his room all year, James Cavern finally emerged on stage last week with his new band and brand new material.

James Cavern & the Council disbanded at the end of 2014. Since then, Cavern has been in quiet, secluded writing mode. The result will be the six-song EP Lost and Found, due next spring.

In Sacramento State’s University Ballroom, Cavern debuted new faces—on keys, drums and bass— and his new-old sound. Compared to the polished, powerful sound we’ve gotten used to, Cavern embraced his naturally gritty, raspy voice.

When he auditioned on The Voice, coaches encouraged Cavern to shy away from that gruffness, but now, he’s actively pursuing what feels right.

Similarly, new songs feel a little more rockin’ and a little less R&B, while simultaneously simple and stripped-down. Lyrically, they sound more like modern pop songs than old soul standards, which complimented Cavern’s cover of Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home”—a rich rendition that I would actually consider listening to now and again. Though, charming, groove-worthy crowdpleaser “Something in Her Smile” from 2014 will be re-tracked for the EP.

Cavern’s set was short but demanded attention from the crowd—mostly Sacramento State students eager for headliner the Mowgli’s upbeat indie pop. The band looked a bit stiff—no big deal, considering it was the group’s first time playing for an audience. Nervousness expected.

Anyway, good news is good news: Cavern is back.

Boo: TBD Fest is throwing Bleepy Hollow, a Halloween party with electronica acts Com Truise and Slow Magic at the sprawling warehouse that once housed the Hangar (1425 C Street). Early bird tickets for Bleepy Hollow sold out the day they became available, making this the fastest-selling TBD event ever. At press time, $25 tickets were still available, but after that, the price jumps to $35.

—Janelle Bitker