Baculum: Sometimes it's like you've played forever, but you've played ten minutes
Photo courtesy of Baculum
This evening marks the beginning of Tourniquet Noise, a series of harsh noise performances at the Kitty Cat Klub each Monday during the month of July. The series, curated by local musician Kevin Cosgrove, aims to bring together artists who have played an instrumental role in giving life to the ever-changing atmosphere of noise music in Minneapolis. Tonight's lineup includes Baculum, the project of local harsh noise veteran and owner of Phage Tapes (blog here), Sam Stoxen.
"At first I thought harsh noise was stupid," Stoxen says over brunch at Muddy Waters. He is somewhat of an intimidating presence, his face shielded by a rather outgrown rust-colored beard, a hat reading "Fuck art, make noise" pulled over his forehead. Solid black tattoos form a landscape of ink over most of his body, faded with time, and interrupted by the outlines of various symbols and lettering. He had pulled up to the restaurant on his chopper to meet with us, lamenting a mechanical issue that has been plaguing the bike, a mass of metal crafted lovingly by Stoxen himself.
"But then, the more noise I started to listen to, the more I liked it," hecontinues. Then, he echoes the sentiment Cosgrove presented when we spoke with him about the genre: "This shit's definitely not for everybody." Indeed it isn't, but Tourniquet Noise at least provides a means of discovery for those who are still undecided.
Stoxen has been involved in the Minneapolis noise community for some time. Cosgrove remembers him as one of the first artists he saw perform locally who sparked his own desire to begin creating this type of sound. Yet he hasn't performed in some time. Stoxen recalls his last live appearance as being at an event in a Minneapolis punk house in August of 2012, almost two years ago. When brainstorming a list of possible performers, Cosgrove was sure that he wanted to get Stoxen involved. It turned out to be as simple as just asking him.
Since 2007, Stoxen has also been operating his label, Phage Tapes. "There was a bigger noise scene in the United States then," he says. "There were a lot of projects coming out, a lot of performers. I wanted to release what I wanted to listen to." The label operates entirely in a DIY mentality. Stoxen dubs the tapes in his basement. Initially he printed the insets for his releases at printing shops like Kinko's, "which sucked," then formed connections with out-of-state printing companies who produced better quality prints at more reasonable rates. Eventually he purchased a screen printing press with friend Joe Beres, who operates his own label, Small Doses. They started screen-printings their own album art, which proved to be a fruitful learning experience for the two.
Over the years, Phage Tapes has put out about 200 releases, mainly of limited-run cassette tapes. Stoxen has even released the work of various international harsh noise artists. The label is self-funded. "I owe a lot of money," he says. "It's totally a hobby. It's not a way to make money."
Stoxen was introduced to noise music a decade ago, by a message board run by the label Southern Lord, that he followed in connection to his interest in doom metal. On the message board, users often mentioned Wolf Eyes and Yellow Swans, two mainstream acts with ties to the harsh noise community. These acts are often credited as being an introduction for listeners to the genre of harsh noise. "I think they were just more palatable to the general public," Stoxen says. He was drawn to the interesting approach to presenting sound elements, and began practicing the art himself.
Harsh noise itself is difficult for some to digest, perhaps because live performances of the sound generally consist of little or no stage antics. It can also be difficult for the performer. "It's hard playing live," Stoxen says. "Sometimes it seems like you've been playing forever, but you've only been playing for ten minutes. Harsh noise sets are generally very short." His first show was at Art of This, years ago, with Seth van Horn of Disthroned Agony. "I think he was spitting beer all over the place and got beer on the paintings on the wall," he says. "There was a freak-out, understandably. It was an intense evening." Stoxen was performing by the name Baculum. "That's the bone that's in the penis of a lot of mammals. I'm a male. Males are obsessed with penises."
Back then, there was more of a "scene" for this type of music in Minneapolis. In the past several years, though, things have quieted substantially. "I think it was just interest," Stoxen explains. "If you went to a show at the Medusa, half of the kids there were there to party. They didn't care that there was a noise show going on. So it was really just a gathering of kids at a party, and then you would play a show." Now, though, things are looking up. "There seem to be a few more venues who are willing to host harsh noise shows."
Via Stoxen: "the image from the cover of the "ink fetish" concept cassette i released. the sounds on it are only tattoo gun sounds with no effects so its pretty annoying. i guess the audio is technically not HN but who cares."
Stoxen was also a part of the noise trio Grain Belt, who has since disbanded. Grain Belt utilized found objects and invented instruments to create jarring noise, marked by feedback and screeching vocals, accompanied by harsh electronics. There is a clanging and crushing of metal, the breaking of glass, and the crunching of static. The result is brutal, and almost tiring to listen to. It is reminiscent of the darker corridors of the international harsh noise scene, yet stands alone in its creative genius. Grain Belt performed often locally, and formed somewhat of a cult following during its heyday.
For tonight's performance as Baculum, Stoxen will present his wall of noise through a set-up of four channels. One channel leads to a shaker box filled with beads, connected to two distortion pedals, one of which was hand-crafted by Audible Disease, a boutique pedal company specializing in noise. The second channel leads to a large piece of metal, also connected to two distortion pedals and a Korg chaos pad, similar to the one used by Youth Code, the industrial duo out of Los Angeles who have found quite a following in Minneapolis noise fans and performers alike. The remaining channels connect to a white noise generator and another pedal, which affects the type of sound heard by the listener depending on where they are standing in the room. The result is a wall of noise, intended to be experienced at an extremely high volume.
"Just close your eyes," Stoxen says. If the noise his chopper made as he rode off down Lyndale is any indication, this may serve as a valuable piece of advice for those in attendance tonight.
The first installment of Tourniquet Noise is this evening, July 7, at the Kitty Cat Klub. 10 PM, 21+, free.
PERFORMANCES FROM: Baculum - veteran harsh noise. Member of White Plague and Grain Belt. Leisure Dynamics - featuring Puppet Show performed by The Beheadresses! entitled (,;,;,) [The Sin Eaters] (,;,;,) ANALSCUBAHIVE - costumed no-wave noise Mole Hole - Isolation does strange things to people. Transmissions from deep inside the hidey hole Breathing Signal - Swallow monitoring through apnea detection. DJ Dolores Dewberry with DJ Savage Clone
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