Black Leather Jesus brings the S & M noise to Destroy Vancouver V

Destroy Vancouver V
At VIVO Media Arts Centre on Saturday, March 2

It’s only fun if someone loses an eye.

Actually, I’m not quite sure how much fun witnessing on-stage mutilation would be—I never did get to see Rudolf Schwarzkogler back in the day—but watching Black Leather Jesus torture its audience as part of Destroy Vancouver’s fifth installment was not so much uncomfortable as it was problematic. And in this case, the problem is whether shock tactics are worth using when they no longer shock.

Yes, the Houston, Texas, sextet is face-meltingly, brain-janglingly loud, but Destroy Vancouver’s organizers had thoughtfully provided a jar of bright-orange earplugs, for which many were thankful. And yes, the band features a half-naked guy in a bondage mask flogging an overturned metal staircase with a length of shiny chain, but so what? It was the shininess that fazed me. Make it an evil, rusty chain and you might have something.

Among connoisseurs of sexually charged noise, Black Leather Jesus, now in its 24th year, is often mentioned along with true pioneers such as Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten. But those groups delivered a real sense of risk—even suffering injury themselves, occasionally at the hands of outraged spectators—and they had a genuine propensity for filth. Here, no blood, semen, or animal parts were spilled into the front row, which might be one reason why Black Leather Jesus’s sonic S & M came across as soft-core, consensual, and ultimately kind of silly. Not to mention fucking needlessly loud.

With that out of the way, let’s spray kudos on Destroy Vancouver organizer John Brennan, who has successfully established an ongoing showcase night where noise acts, DIY electronic wizards, and free improvisers can meet and collide. Let’s congratulate him, too, for getting a house. Although the crowd had thinned out by the time bondage boy doffed his shirt, it was solidly packed for the event’s other import, percussionist Chris Corsano.

Fresh from a West Coast tour with Rangda, the New York percussionist was in blazing form. Casually flipping cymbals behind his back to land with a perfectly timed crash, Corsano managed to be both fierce and delicate, pummelling through hyperspeed workouts with focused abandon, then slowing down to wring the most exquisite timbres from his impeccably tuned kit. But some of the most mind-blowing moments came when Corsano put down his sticks and mallets to explore other soundscapes. When sawed at with a violin bow, strings stretched across one drum sounded like a particularly raw and energetic form of New York City minimalism. A toy clarinet attached to a yard-long plastic hose produced near-vocal cries and a piping complaint. A small microphone inside the drummer’s high hat produced owlish hooting or wailing feedback at the press of a pedal.

None of the local performers matched his old-school physical virtuosity, but several displayed an equal level of imagination. Jeremy Van Wyck’s solo project, Mongst, provided the night’s most beautiful music, and its most interesting conceptual mashup, by pitting lush layers of environmental sound—apparently recorded during a trip to the Yukon—against archival footage of noise/drone/cut-up granddaddies William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, establishing a synchronistic connection between Arctic and psychic wildernesses. In another solo set, V. Vecker’s real-time manipulations of his alto saxophone illustrated an equally tangible link between free improvisation and the electronic underground. And media artist Merlyn Chipman worked another kind of alchemical meld by pitting gorgeous fractal imagery against the hissing, ominous sound of frying electrons, both sourced from video feedback.

Something’s going on here, and although there are other places to check out this emerging pan-stylistic wonderland, Destroy Vancouver has emerged as the scene’s most expansive showcase. The next edition will apparently feature the legendary free-jazz drummer William Hooker; if you’re into abrasive adventure, don’t miss it.

Comments (19) Add New Comment
hater
No mention of THE RITA, who played the show? One of the most profound harsh noise artists EVER!!!!!
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Rating: +3
dingo
maybe the rita's set was easy to forget?
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Rating: -11
Broken Flag
BLACK LEATHER JESUS has no intention to 'shock'. From their distortion fueled electronic textural studies in the early 90s, to the more contemporary abusive steel works; visceral and abrasive sound have always been their key element.
The leather mask was simply an extension of the some of the members' true fetish lifestyles.
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Rating: +11
Broken Flag
One more note:

"...true pioneers such as Throbbing Gristle and Einstürzende Neubauten."

Those two acts are commonly referenced to in major publications as pioneers of 'noise', but many involved 'noise' artists see them more as influences on darker techno and industrial. Black Leather Jesus comes from a world filled with influences and colleagues from important 80s European and Japanese purer harsh noise and power electronics projects such as Ramleh, Le Syndicat, Maurizio Bianchi, Incapacitants, HijoKaidan, Whitehouse, Grey Wolves, etc.
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Rating: +4
e
I thought black leather jesus was really fun!
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Rating: -1
J
Shirtless counts as half naked? What a prude.
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Rating: -4
Richard Ramirez
The Rita was amazing that night. I love performing with and watching his performances. A true honor. As for the other locals (and Chris) of the evning. A total bore! Too pretentious for any taste.
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Rating: +3
HNW
Mongst's makes the most unoriginal and not to mention dull soundscapes. I can't believe this writer praised his work.
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Rating: +3
Half Naked Masked Guy
Wow. Way to not mention Sam's devastating set as THE RITA. I'm sure that wasn't on purpose right? Considering it was the only good set it seems suspect. Maybe the guy who wrote this drivel is the same pretentious prick who talked through THE RITA's set. It's never been our intent to shock in any way, shock tactics are passé at best. We are interested in making viscous and loud harsh noise, same ideology for 24 years now. The imagery in BLJ stands as a representation of our personal sexual and fetish obsessions, and keeps us firmly rooted in queer/leather culture. Personally, I wear my mask because it turns me on...no other reason.
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Rating: +7
CMS
So, there was "no confrontation" but at the same time, the set was "needlessly fucking loud"? Which is it? Is it that there wasn't the "right" kind of transgression for your tastes, or are you just opting to flaunt the fact that your knowledge of or investment in Throbbing Gristle and Einsturzende Neubauten, to say nothing of actual noise acts like Black Leather Jesus, The Rita, et. al. comes from primers you've read in The Wire? Richard Ramirez likes masked gimps on stage because it turns him on, not because he wants to freak you out, and he's needlessly fucking loud (like The Rita, who you conveniently left out of your review) because for some people, needlessly fucking loud is where things start to get really good. If you're waiting to be shocked, keep waiting. Shock tactics in noise died with the sticker on Merzbow's "Venereology" back in 1994: "THIS IS THE MOST EXTREME RECORD YOU WILL EVER OWN." Now, noise listeners willingly admit that it is not shocking, any more than Chuck Berry songs were in 1962. It is, however, skin-tingling and exciting when it's done well, and worthy of analysis beyond "rusty vs. shiny chain" and other such horseshit.

If you'd rather give tongue-baths to Chris Corsano and William Hooker than listen to gimps and shark fanatics, that's your prerogative. But don't pull this shit like you're "so over" all this noise music. Chris Bohn will not return your calls no matter how much you spin quasi-academic candyfloss like "the synchronistic connection between Arctic and psychic wildernesses."
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Rating: +7
Geography lover
Hey! The Yukon is not the Artic.
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Rating: -7
Martin Dunphy
Geography lover:

Actually, the top part of Yukon does fall within the Arctic Circle.
Or you could simply read the word arctic as uncapitalized, which would just mean a very cold environment (and which is what, I suspect, the writer had in mind).
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Rating: +1
NOISE
The writer obviously is not well adversed in Noise. I also think it would have helped if they researched Black Leather Jesus and not to mention harsh noise. There's so much negativity in the first three paragraphs of this review, it would have helped to have some sort of positive conclusion.
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Rating: -8
Mark Wilson (Conure)
Being a fan of Chris Corsano as well as The Rita and Black Leather Jesus, I would have very happy at this show! My tastes are definitely a little scattered, though. I was definitely honored when I appeared on a comp with Mr. Ramirez in 2001 with one of my first recordings, and I hope to see BLJ live one of these days.
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Rating: -9
Everything Must Go!
Really?
I certainly didn't see them two days in a row to be shocked or made to retch. I came for a spectacle to enjoy and remember, and I got that and then some. To wit: Half-Naked Masked Guy, over the course of both sets, played a two-by-four with springs. He got into it, too-- clawing at the springs, going at it with a length of chain, picking it up and throwing it. By the end of the second set, the board had split in half and all the springs were half-detached, and he still kept playing. The rest of the show was just as beautiful, with everything involved from large containers to trashcan lids and caviar tins.
The second night, they were the penultimate act. The band who played after them capped off their set by graphically faking their own suicides. They were mediocre.
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Rating: -7
newbcomelately
wow! so many opinions. i actually thought all the sets were great. esp. BLJ and Corsano. I found the rita boring but maybe it was the lack of visual stimulation compared to the other acts of the night and hey HNW if Mongst is unoriginal can you please tell me who he's ripping off because i loved that set and would like to explore more of that.
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Rating: -14
Sean E. Matzus
Listen. I'm going to just come out and say it. What BLJ presents live is simply what I consider to be a relatively skilled harsh-noise assault. That is the long and short of what we aspire to as performers. We are not "important" in the way this reviewer seems to be looking for, and we will be the first to say it. The comparisons to TG & EN are not only inappropriate, they reflect on the above mentioned lack of fundamental understanding of harsh noise as a genre. I love both of those bands, and have for as long as I can remember. But there is no analogy between them and us. We are not revolutionary, we are just a long standing noise group.
What is important is what Richard Ramirez brought to noise. He has been an openly gay artist releasing music and performing since he was fifteen years old. He has fearlessly pioneered and presented an explicitly homosexual voice and image in a scene which, when he started (and, honestly, even now 25-years later), was not known for being particularly open-minded in that regard. The reviewer writes about TG & EN courting real danger. I argue that Richard has faced just as much real danger. This is an artist who STILL gets at least one very real death threat every year, and has faced that kind of homophobic hatred for his entire life. I ask the reviewer, have you ever had a trip to play in a foreign country marred by receiving a letter stating bluntly "You won't get out of _______ alive, faggot?" Has Mongst? Has Merlin? It is that dedication to queer culture-albeit a rather dark niche (but hey, so were Coil, Dennis Cooper and John Waters, to name just a few)--in the face of hatred much deeper than the silly dismissal of this or any reviewer that makes Richard Ramirez and Black Leather Jesus important. It may seem like a bunch of nonsense, but Mr. Ramirez has given hope and inspiration to a generation of gay fans and fellow artists that reaches well beyond the (I believe) great music he makes. If that isn't important, than I really don't know what is.
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Rating: +2
tyrone
nigga dat shit is like carrot top if that fuckin dude jus used sheet metal as his prop and da punchline wuz the "wurrrrrr" sound from a broken ass refridgerator motor for real #swag
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Rating: -2
future blondes
oh canaduh....
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Rating: -7
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