- Noisefest at Project Project
- May 12th at 5 p.m.
- Free Admission
It may be surprising that Nebraska has a vibrant noise and avant garde music scene, but from performances at The Bemis Center’s Live At The Low End to the annual Omaha Under The Radar Music Festival at various spaces around Omaha and now the No Coast Noise Collective, we very much do and have actually had a long history with avant garde music in our state for many years.
No Coast Noise Collective is collaborating with Omaha Mobile Stage, Project Project, and the University of Nebraska Omaha’s TAPEnsemble, School of Music and Service Learning Academy to present the first Noisefest.
Noisefest will take place at Project Project, an experimental space in the Vinton Street area, on four stages and spaces inside and outside of the venue on Friday, May 12th, starting at 5 p.m.
The festival will feature around 20 noise acts from Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and even as far away as California and Mexico. Current artists will perform in the same spaces as longtime Omaha artist such as Dereck Higgins and L Eugene Methe. I spoke on the phone with No Coast Noise Collective member Joe Willard, who performs as Jozef Kodrix about the collective, the Noise Brunches at Project Project and Noisefest.
What is noise music? By definition, it is the expressive use of noise within a musical context. There are many sub-genres with mind-bending names, but some of the more widely known genres include drone, ambient, harsh noise wall, and glitch.
Willard has played music all of his life. “I had the little plastic Kermit guitar around four,” he says, “so I have always been playing music and recording music.” He says that when services such as Amazon opened up the world musically beyond what was in local record stores, he discovered math rock, post rock and ambient music. A DJ on radio station KZUM in Lincoln from 2009 to 2012, he started an online show in 2016 called “Quieting the Noise,” featuring all instrumental music.
“As I was doing research and finding new stuff to listen to, I found the Futurist movement, with Lugi Russolo, and that led to John Cage and James Tenney’s more experimental stuff, and that led to Merzbow. For me, that really gets me into a zen-like state pretty quickly. I realize that is not always the intent of the artist that is making it; three minutes of this is almost as good as a solid meditation. So I just started listening to it regularly.”
Willard says the No Coast Noise Collective started on the online forum Reddit in 2021 during COVID. “People were still not doing a lot of stuff, and there were still not a lot of live shows. I am trying to connect with people who do noise, because I feel like I am the only other person who listens to this stuff, even though I know that is not true. I discovered a subreddit of R/NoiseMusic and there are 20,000 people there from all across the planet. “
“There were these people in Ohio that have a pretty active scene, and they were doing a noise brunch. I thought that was a tight idea, and in August of 2021, I threw a noise brunch.” Multiple noise brunches at Project Project have gone on since, and typically a half dozen noise artists perform starting at 10 a.m. with free pancakes involved and a pay what you want admission model.
On his first attempt at the Noise Brunch, he says, “I invited this guy that I used to do shows with in Lincoln in the 2010s, but he couldn’t make it, so it ended up being me and 12 or 15 of my friends, and I did a noise show. Then I kept reaching out to people here in Omaha to find any people that would like to do another noise brunch. I stumbled across Kyle Jessen, Phil Smith and Joel Damon at Project Project and it just kind of clicked.” You can view many of the Noise Brunch performances that would follow on the No Coast Noise Collective YouTube page.
The No Coast Noise Collective is inspired by the Toledo Noise Council and also the Northwest Post Rock Collective, which Willard says is made up of eight or ten post rock bands that are all from Oregon, Portland and Seattle. “They did this really rad thing where they did shows together and they did mini-festivals together and they were always promoting each other’s music, and it wasn’t just one band that ran the collective’s Facebook page.” He continues, “From the outside looking in from 1500 miles away, that is tight that you have this fun family feeling collaborative where you guys do regional tours together and you help people blow up. I had this idea that ‘wouldn’t it be cool here?’ as I started realizing that there were more people in Omaha and the Midwest that were doing noise.”
One of the events that has come out of No Coast Noise Collective’s collaboration with others is the first Noisefest. Willard said, “It was actually brought up as an idea by Jim Schroeder of Omaha Mobile Stage and all cool things of Omaha/Lincoln music. So the idea was presented initially to Joel Damon by the folks at Mobile Stage, and they brought it to us. Us being Kyle (Jessen) Nester (Barstaw) and Phil (Smith), and it was like, ‘You guys want to do this?’ It happened real fast, like the idea got dropped in December, and we had our first planning meeting in mid-January. I remember asking, ‘Is this enough time to put a fest together’? They were like, ‘Oh yeah, we will be fine’. It has been fast and it has been a lot of work, but it has been fun.”
I asked how the artists playing the festival were chosen, and Willard explained, “We reached out to people individually; there were 10 or 12 local artists that have performed at a brunch, and there have been five or six artists from out of town that had performed at a brunch or another noise show promoted by Project Project. Nester has been pretty connected to the Omaha noise scene for a few years, and he is a former tour manager, so he has the logistical mindset, so he reached out to people.”
“Then, as the buzz built, artists started to reach out to us. I don’t know Dereck Higgins, but he has been playing noise in Omaha for many years. He is one of the guys that heard about it, and he asked us if he could perform. I guess we are connecting generations. I haven’t done anything with shows since 2009, so it is cool to see people come out of the woodwork. Hopefully, there is more of that. So Brian Day came out and performed a Noise Brunch, and he was like, ‘My buddy Lonnie wants to perform’, and then I put it together that it was Lonnie Methe from Gertrude Tapes. Then I realized that he hasn’t performed anywhere in five years. It’s like I jokingly told him, if he performs at the fest, he will have his show quota for the decade.”
I asked Willard to explain the range of music at the festival, and he explained, “There is some more straightforward type of stuff like guitar work that has noise elements to it, but not straight noise. The guys from Wichita (multiple artists), Frenzied Destruction out of Minneapolis, that is going to be more just straight monolithic harsh noise wall, which is just unbearable static.” He laughs and continues, “It takes a certain taste for some of it. I will listen to some of this on an evening drive, and it keeps me from driving people off the road, but it’s definitely not for everybody. It is not just going to be a harsh noise wall. The Omaha Tape Ensemble is doing stuff with looping, natural sounds, and field recordings, and you have everything from drone to mellow stuff-like Sener. Lonnie’s stuff is a great example, like looping a violin and recording it on a cassette player and playing the cassette player through pickups on a guitar.” I asked him for advice for a new listener to noise music. “Take deep breaths and resist the urge to panic,” he said. “If you can make it through the first three to five minutes of a noise show, there is probably a cool experience on the other side of it.”
I asked what he would like to see happen with the festival. ” I am sure there is something fancier written in the grant proposal, but the idea is to drive engagement. Willard continues, ‘What COVID did was that it crushed the sense of community; all of us were isolated at home doing shit by ourselves, and it was time to not to do that anymore.” So hopefully this gets people out of their houses and into the real world, doing real things with real people. Create some engagement and synergy with other weirdos that are thinking to themselves that I can’t be the only other person in the Midwest or Omaha or Lincoln or wherever that is banging on pots and pans and running it through a looper and calling it music. I just hope they make it to the festival and get connected with some other artists.”