[boston blackout] The Return of the Repressed: Sudden Infant @ Starlab 9.23.11

Video by Rat Chasinil

Friday night saw a blowout bonanza of industrial noise, as Somerville’s Starlab played host to SUDDEN INFANT, the long-running, highly-admired project of Joke Lanz, a Swiss national living in Berlin. Influenced by actionism, fluxus, and dada, Lanz’ physical, bodily brand of noise and performance art is shot through with perverse humor and warped reflections on daily life.

A cadre of New England noisicians and sound artists opened up the proceedings, and the crowd’s palpable enthusiasm for these local favorites charged the air with electrifying energy. OPHIBRE played first, inaugurating the evening with his glacial drones. XIPHOID DEMENTIA packed the basement and the treacherous flight of stairs down, forcing latecomers to peer over the staircase railing for a glimpse of the unfolding deathindustrial intensity.

Egan Budd, the man behind the alias Xiphoid Dementia, also booked and organized the show -– he takes much of the credit for the night’s success. KEITH FULLERTON WHITMAN'S intricate, progressive soundscapes, informed by academic music as well as the outré side of so-called IDM, reverberated through the space, rattling the windows, and EINFGALL, a collaboration between A SNAKE IN THE GARDEN'S Matt Mayer and ZERFALLT'S Lee Tindall, pulled off the most impressive performance of the openers. The two conjured hateful, earsplitting squalls and squeals from contact mic’d sheets of corroded iron as onlookers grimaced at the pair’s relentless intensity. I’ve seen Tindall play countless sets around Boston over the last five years, and this was, by far, his best that I’ve witnessed.

The man of the evening, the aptly-named Joke Lanz, then took the floor, nonchalantly surveying his mics and stripped-down setup. Cuing up some throbbing noise, Lanz opened with wordless howls and ululations, holding a contact mic against his throat and translating the vibration of his vocal cords into harsh sound. As the Sudden Infant set unfolded, Lanz introduced to the appreciative audience his conceptual concerns, demanding, “What do you know about the good father?” This rhetorical query centered the night’s entertainment, as Lanz made his way through a set examining familial relations and a little boy in a wheelchair. Though not overtly perverse, his clipped singsong warble and caterwauling peals of laughter infused his peculiar lyrics with an atmosphere of the grotesque.

Modern noise is divided between earnest, obsessive efforts and overtly ludicrous provocation, with each camp sniping at the other from time to time. By presenting the family drama and psychosexual concerns that obsess modern PE practitioners through the lens of early industrial’s surreal humor, Sudden Infant’s set was at once archly serious and blackly comic, not to mention aurally blistering. Deftly managing his equipment, Lanz married excellent prerecorded material with live improvisation. Passages of agonizing restraint gave way to pulsating rhythms and sonic incisions, paired visually with Lanz’ frenetic body movements. The crowd roared in approval at the conclusion of each song, and Lanz, won over, quipped “This is Boston, not LA! Oh my goodness!”

Prompted by the rabid enthusiasm, and a swig or two of Jim Beam provided by an onlooker, he even deigned to play an encore, a practice practically disowned by this music scene. Word has it Lanz told Budd this was the best crowd he encountered on his whole US tour.

We hear that a lot.

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