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.