Doomunity: Beneath Portland's Music Scene

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The bucolic environs of the Pacific Northwest often inspire serene music, but they can just as easily lead folks like Daryl Groetsch (a.k.a. Pulse Emitter) to make music that sounds “like the apocalypse.” “I keep feeling like civilization is gonna crumble at the rate we’re going,” he explains in the new film People Who Do Noise (independent DVD; $15.99). “There’ll be a lot of death and lawlessness, but somehow just fantasizing about it in art… I just love it.”

As filmmaker Adam Cornelius interviews more of the scene’s noisemaking participants, it turns out that the “four horsemen” theme isn’t that uncommon. “To express that emotion and that impending doom–pop music doesn’t work anymore,” offers James Squeaky (a.k.a. Argumentix). “It’s too orderly. So people need something that’s directly tackling that issue.”

People Who Do Noise doesn’t tackle issues as grand as end times, but it does take a decidedly back-alley view of what lurks beneath the city’s idyllic landscape. Though there’s a somewhat predictable trajectory to the film–artists like God, Kitty Midwife, and the onomatopoeic Sisprum Vish are given a few minutes to wax philosophical on why they make noise (and a few minutes to throw down their screeching skills on stage)–it uncovers the unusual aesthetics and stories behind these projects, from the genesis of Argumentix’s existence (which came about first in a dream) to Yellow Swans’ Pete Swanson and Gabriel Mindell arguing over the restrictions of signal flow.

Most interesting are interviews with skronk pioneers Smegma, who provide context for the city’s venerable noise scene, linking it back to the late ’70s but connecting it with the still-going DIY community that’s been forged around cheap housing and creative minds and hands.

“Portland is full of people who are really actively doing things,” says Redglaer’s Bob Bellerue, echoing the Smegma members’ sentiments. And even when Bellerue talks about noise, he inevitably speaks to Portland’s community vibe. “It’s more about texture and energetic states, and really just being extremely present with whatever’s happening.”

Favorite Portland artist:
Adam Cornelius: Rabbits. They are just circus-heavy, down-and-dirty, bellyache and grimace-inducing moonshine metal at its finest. Plus, instead of singing about misogyny or the devil, they sing about animals, planets, and emerging from the primordial ooze.