SLC Noise: The (New) Shape of Punk to Come?

It is obvious that punk rock and hardcore have metastasized into popular culture. Even the word “punk” has nothing to do with social unrest or politics but brings to mind a certain style of clothing or haircut. Anarchy has little to do with hardcore music as more and more of it is contained in movies, commercials and fashion. The drive to capitalize or corporatize punk is no different than fallen genres of grunge, country or even early pop music.

Noise is by its nature unreachable; the frequencies used by noise bands are painful and uncomfortable. Yet there is a spiritual aspect to its design; the craftsmen behind the vehemence are often soft spoken in their approach, citing influences such as spirituality or classical composers. Noise is not about pleasing the audience but about exploring places (and by comparison, sounds) that are not as well liked by the general population. It is also partially the product of increasingly ubiquitous electronic components in our lives, and finding ways to use these electronics non-traditionally.

Three local artists Jeff Shell (Eucci, AODL), Aaron Zillionaire (Ghastly Hatching, Waxen Tomb) and Michael Biggs (Tenets of Balthazar’s Castle) are proof that noise is a growing musical movement.

Photo by Dan Gorder


An oft-cited reference for the establishment of noise is Luigi Russolo’s L’Arte de Rumori (The Art of Noises), which he wrote in 1913. Russolo was a Futurist painter whose art was influenced by the prospect of using non-traditional sound in traditional ways. In his manifesto he explained that the ongoing industrial revolution would change mans appreciation of music to include more complex sounds. He called for a reformation of sound by commanding, “Let us breakout since we cannot much longer restrain our desire to create finally a new musical reality, with a generous distribution of resonant slaps in the face, discarding violins, pianos, double-basses and plaintive organs. Let us break out!” Both Jeff and Michael were classically trained on the piano in their youth. Jeff remarks that his piano teacher was “pretty progressive and I learned a little bit about recording studios, computers and music. That was where I saw my first analog synth, which I immediately fell in love with it aesthetically-all those knobs and jacks!” All three were involved in various bands but all progressed similarly to a point where noise and chaos made the most sense as a musical outlet.


Russolo was not only a leader in the philosophical movement of noise, he also constructed a number of noise-generating devices called Inton,arumori and assembled an orchestra to perform his Gran Concerto Futuristico which caused quite a stir because of his unethical treatment of standard classical composition. The plethora of electronic instruments in recent decades has made this kind non traditional use of sound available to the masses. Our addiction to technology is another aspect that noise music addresses. Most noise musicians are surprisingly wary of technology. Michael said, “New technology has allowed us to do some wonderful, amazing things, but it has also led to dependency on it. I try to use it only for what I need.” Jeff explained that “I’ve gone back and forth between all-analog and all-digital forms of music creation. These days, AODL is almost always analog, pushing hot loud signals through the system; while Eucci is a mix of analog, digital, and acoustics. When asked what he would do if electricity did not exist, Jeff related a story about being on the U of U campus and enjoying “to the snow-dampened sounds of the library expansion work going on below” which was beautiful to him. Aaron worked at D.O.D. Electronics and uses a lot of effects pedals that he learned about while working there. He recalls “if you would have asked me then I would have laughed at synths, reel-to-reel machines and a lot of the other gear I use now. I was lucky enough to be exposed to Mark C. Jackman (a.k.a. Skozey Fetish) cutting tapes at KRCL. I am currently trying to become more proficient at cutting tapes by recreating the techniques I saw him use.” He also tries to keep things low tech; for example, he doesn’t even own a cell phone.

Noise as Punk

Russolo also pointed out that, “At first, the art of music sought purity, limpidity and sweetness of sound. Then different sounds were amalgamated, care being taken, however, to caress the ear with gentle harmonies. Today, music, as it becomes continually more complicated, strives to amalgamate the most dissonant, strange and harsh sounds. In this way we come ever closer to noise-sound.” It was his conclusion that sound would become more and more convoluted as time went on and it would be a reflection of culture becoming more and more complex. There is no doubt that music becomes more extreme as time goes on, but will it ever get to a point where noise music is considered the norm as punk has become?

All three of musicians questioned are convinced that noise and punk have nothing to do with each other. Michael said, “Punk music is generally very simple. I feel that noise is incredibly complex and incredibly simple simultaneously. I wouldn’t have a problem with people calling it punk, but it’s the last thing I’m thinking about really.” For him, noise is more related to free jazz, classical minimalism and ambient, psychedelic music. “I’m interested in textures and how they can be used to tap into the mind in a more direct way than other kinds of music. Without lyrics and other distractions, the music encourages the mind to wander, and I hope the listener will enter into a meditative state where healing of the spirit will occur,” he explained. When asked about the possibility of noise being in the mainstream, he pointed out that, “what was punk rock in the 90s is now ‘contemporary alternative’ or something like that. I think there’s a limit to what the majority of people can handle though. It’s hard to imagine Merzbow being played on the radio for example, because right now it seems like the majority of the people out there are too close-minded to accept these kind of extremes. If humans ever evolve enough to the point that everyone would be able to accept noise music, and I hope we do, then noise music probably wouldn’t be necessary.” He wittily added that, “the majority of the radio dial is noise right now, especially on the AM band.”

Aaron had a very respectful tone when he said, “No, I don’t think it is punk. I don’t think the term punk should be anymore diluted; it has a strength and a history that means something to me. PUNK had a message; either political or cultural, my music is more nihilistic. I have no message to send. I have no lyrics, I am not trying to yell you anything.” When asked about the recent surge of noise Aaron said, “It’s been out there in the underground consciousness for long enough unmined and unprostituted. Punk has become flaccid and predictable. In these times, noise gives a voice to peoples rage, insecurities and loneliness. Maybe it is people looking for the new extreme?” When asked if his music is punk, Jeff said, “I don’t know what punk means anymore. But I’m certainly not it. I definitely don’t draw any inspirations from punk [new or old]. I don’t do noise to be anti-music or to be shocking. I’m not trying to challenge anyone’s beliefs or be in their face.... If that’s what punk attitude still means.”

In the end, noise may only be outwardly reminiscent of punk in its extreme nature. If anything it is the next step forward, the product of a generation who has given up any political battle for the battles of spirituality and life. Aaron states that, “noise is the reflection and product of a sick, sick culture. As the culture gets sicker, the noise becomes more focused, more people start making noise, and more people start becoming interested in noise.” Michael summed it up best when he said, “The absurd, the nonsensical – these are things that are essentially human, and the things that are oppressed by respectable society. Creating absurdity is one of the best ways I can think of to destroy the robotic hive mind that ‘the man’ is creating. There’s something wonderfully joyous that comes out of doing something seemingly irrational, such as going to a noise show.”