Bombs Away

How I learned to stop worrying: Jason Snell, a.k.a. Bombardier
Tony Nelson

Noise annoys, as the Buzzcocks put it, but used musically it can also clear the head, elicit laughter, or scare the subconscious out of its shell. No one understands this power better than the practitioners of gabber, that most punishing of hard-core techno subgenres, with its blender pace of 200-plus beats per minute and oceans of static. No one, that is, except the makers of gabber's still unnamed weird uncle, a genre of post-rave noise music whose local innovators have gotten some play in these pages. More than anything else that could be tagged "electronica," this stuff seems to exist in a vacuum. Its fans are legion and worldwide, but its creators are ignored in the mainstream press. The sole exception is Atari Teenage Riot, whose antifascist rants provide a convenient hook--their noise has meaning.

By contrast, the electronic sensory overload of gifted local noisemeister Jason Snell couldn't be more senseless. Snell, a mild-mannered Web designer and recent immigrant to Minneapolis, moonlights as a one-man aural car crash called Bombardier. A more apt alias can hardly be imagined: Snell creates music with all the slow-burn subtlety of a napalm drop. Of course, you'd never guess as much from meeting him. "Bombardier has no specific agenda other than as an outlet for my anger, frustrations, and negative emotion," he says flatly over tea at the Cyber-X Café in south Minneapolis. "A lot of people who meet me don't believe I make that music, because I'm such a calm person."

Actually, "calm" doesn't quite nail it. Snell is low-key but radiantly intense, a friendly, if reserved, guy who also takes his music quite seriously. Born near Omaha to parents working in academia, the musician grew up in Cedar Rapids, where he spent much of his early teens in the basement practicing punk and grunge guitar riffs before discovering rave culture and becoming a phat-pants zealot. "I was kind of a purist asshole for a while," he says. "I went through an antirock phase where I only listened to techno. Luckily, I wised up after a few months and realized you can like more than one kind of music."

His own introduction to the hard-fast-loud gabber sound came in 1995 during a rave road trip to Chicago, listening to a demo tape by a noisy Chicago-based DJ called Delta 9. "Before that I was really into jungle, but hearing Delta 9 changed everything," he says. "And the fact that it was a demo was really important. It made me realize that this music was accessible, that you didn't need an expensive studio or a lot of equipment to make it."

Inspired, Snell began gathering drum machines and sequencers, attempting to replicate the sounds of his new hard-core heroes. Upon graduation, he enrolled at Iowa State College in Iowa City, where a surprisingly large rave scene then thrived, and he began giving tapes of his original music to classmates. (Among them was Brett Stephan, who would eventually move to Minneapolis and begin making his own noise under the name Substance P.) Snell says he became a notorious partier in college. "I was just doing everything," he says. "It was getting out of control. I needed to start completely over again." So, after earning his degree, Snell relocated to San Francisco and adopted a straightedge lifestyle, which included shunning meat, sex, drugs, and alcohol, while practicing tai chi and taking up meditation.


The transition wasn't easy. "I didn't just wake up straightedge," he says. And despite some success as a freelance Web designer, Snell still found himself sleeping on the couches of friends and relatives after ten months in the high-rent city. But one Web job, for Vinyl Communications in Chula Vista, California, proved fateful. Vinyl is one of the most respected hard-core techno labels in the world, and before moving to Minneapolis, Snell became the imprint's Webmaster.

After hearing his homemade music tapes, the company signed him as an artist, a backdoor break somewhat akin to a hip hopper getting a deal with Rawkus or a blues guitarist signing to Alligator. The result was Violence, his debut and one of the most listenable records in its genre--which is saying more than you might think. With its neck-snapping breakbeats, caterwauling screams, distorted guitars, and pogo-worthy, four-to-the-floor electronic boings, the album never stops erupting.

Yet unlike other, similar fare, you never get the sense that its creator is just some overqualified computer nerd throwing a tantrum. For one thing, the album is economical (20 cuts in 43 minutes). For another, its shortwave broadcasts from hell are more varied and less grim-faced than you might expect. Like all good hard-core from any genre (hiphop, punk, techno), Violence is the sound of an artist soaring with the velocity of his creations. The best example is the bristling "Expatriot," which features a hyperspeed skank anchored in industrial-strength guitars and what sounds like a fascist dance instructor screaming, "Shake, quake...motherfucker!"

That's just what audience members did at Bombardier's local debut on July 9, opening for San Franciscans Matmos at the Foxfire Coffee Lounge. Several young crowd members--gabber fans?--maniacally shadowboxed to Bombardier's blitzkrieg bounce. Hovering intently over his homemade mixture of analogue and digital samplers, synthesizers and effects pedals, Snell cued up a famous Pink Floyd lyrical sample: "Welcome to the machine." That's as close to a political statement as you're going to get from the jubilant noise of Bombardier.


Bombardier performs at the History of the Future tent at Even Furthur, a festival-rave held somewhere in rural Wisconsin from Friday, August 20 through Monday, August 23. For directions call Urban Guerrilla's information line: (651) 257-7269.

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