LUFF 2019 - "The Best We Can Do"

LUFF 2019 - "The best we can do"

BY Remo Bitzi

Artists that produce everything else than music for dance floors, a dramaturgy within the individual evenings that can develop from noise to EBM and wave to ambient and back and explicitly does not want to make sense, a main program that breaks off quite consistently at 3 a.m.—this year's edition of the LUFF Festival is bristling with non-conformity when compared to other European festivals for electronic music. This was partly due to the Nihilist Spasm Band, which held a prominent position in the LUFF program this year.

Since the mid-1960s (!) the band from London, Ontario, which is considered the inventor of noise music in many places, has been refusing to play music—and has been celebrating international success since the 1990s at the latest. According to legend, one of the few records the band recorded came into the hands of the Japanese noise musician, Hijokaidan founding member, and Alchemy Records boss Jojo Hiroshige. It was him who invited the Nihilist Spasm Band, which plays for itself every Monday (audience is always welcome however), to Japan, where, to their amazement, they met fans and musicians who did something similar to them. They encountered "their" scene, which they say they knew nothing about.

A good 25 years after the band's breakthrough in Japan, they performed at LUFF in 2019—a festival that has been characterized, among other things, by paying homage to (Japanese) noise legends since its early days. With the band's invitation, the festival did something that was long overdue, says Thibault Walter, who is responsible for the music program and puts it together with six co-curators, after the festival: «It is as if the approach of the Nihilist Spasm Band has been with us since the first festival edition in 2002 without us knowing about the band at the time. In fact, it was only over time that we realized that the band had a major impact on our attitude. Many of the noise and sound artists we have invited over the years feel connected to the idea of non-musical knowledge that the Nihilst Spasm Band relies on. »

The Nihilist Spasm Band, currently consisting of Art Pratten, Bill Exley, John Boyle, John Clement, Murray Favro, and permanent guest member Aya Onishi, opened the second festival evening of the LUFF as an unofficial headliner of the festival. The performance of the six-piece combo on Thursday evening in the dance hall of the Casino de Montbenon was incredibly refreshing despite the advanced age of the band members. With—as it should be for a spasm band—home-made bass, guitar, effect devices, violin, percussion, the Kazoo, which was again and again introduced on stage, vocals, and a serenity that probably only starts in the senior years, the non-musicians, as they call themselves, played with each other, for themselves, for the band members, for the audience, played relaxed, easygoing, free, and, according to their age, firm. Between the individual passages, the gentlemen around front man Bill Exley kept joking and telling anecdotes like this: After a performance by the band, Art Pratten, who tried to tame his self-made violin on stage, was addressed by a disappointed and confused concert goer, who expressed his discomfort. Pratten replied dryly to the comment that what the band was doing was terrible: "It's the best we can do." This answer, Exley said on the LUFF stage, not only became a leitmotif for the band, but was the title of a compilation published a good ten years ago. It goes without saying that Exley advertised the compilation, which was made available at LUFF's merch stand, ad absurdum.

The Nihilist Spasm Band, whose concert marked a highlight at this year's LUFF, was also featured outside of the music program. On the one hand, What About Me was shown again in the film program—an extremely entertaining documentary by the late Canadian filmmaker Zev Asher about "The Rise Of The Nihilist Spasm Band", through which the creators of LUFF discovered the band in 2005, when the film ran for the first time in the festival program. On the other hand, the Nihilist Spasm Band invited to “No Party” in the Circuit Gallery on Saturday. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the «nihilistic banquet» lasted less than announced, which is why the author of these lines missed it and cannot say anything about it. In addition, the “No Music” approach of the Nihilist Spasm Band also rubbed off on the rest of the music program, as Walter explains: “After we decided together with Circuit to invite the Nihilist Spasm Band to this year's festival, we put together the rest of the program . We tried to apply the Nihilist Spasm Band's “No Music” approach to concert situations. We wondered why we should still have concerts? And what makes a concert recognizable as a concert? Finally, we used this ‹No Concert› idea to ask ourselves and our audience: What is a concert? »

This already suggested the variety of approaches in the performances by Olivia Block, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe, rkss, Vanligt Folk, and others on Thursday and Friday evenings. But the idea was clearly recognizable on the final evening: Luciano Maggiore and Louie Rice, for example, performed one of their minimalist performances in which they limited each piece to a single acoustic sound, which they repeated over several minutes. Partly stationary, partly moving through the room, the two identically dressed and hairdressed artists played sounds with their vocal cords, clapped with their hands, or produced glaring tones with whistles. In addition, a stroboscope flickered constantly, which led to an unexpected shift in perception—and for some concertgoers to seemingly uncontrollable laughs.

The last "concert" of the evening was even more absurd, but less effective: As Title TK, experimental heavyweight Alan Licht officially closed the festival together with visual artist Cory Arcangel and curator / researcher Howie Chen. The trio equipped with guitars, Chen switched on via Skype (!), Chatted happily to himself, wondering whether Coldplay is the Radiohead of today, criticized the music business as a business, wondered why the virtual connection to their third band member was not always stable. And all of this without ever playing a note on their guitars.

With Title TK's stand-up comedy-like performance at the end of the festival, the makers of the LUFF not only demonstrated wit and courage, but also underscored the peculiarity of the festival. Or other: This year, LUFF was maximally LUFF with the invitation of the Nihilist Spasm Band, the transfer of the “No Music” idea to the curation of the concert program, and the individual performances. And so the question arises whether the festival was able to fulfill itself with this 18th edition and thus if further festival editions will become obsolete. Walter says no: “The problem is that we had this feeling after every single edition—since 2002. And yet when we put together the line-up for the next festival edition, we kept discovering new and older pioneering approaches. There is no beginning and there is no end. »