Bob Bellerue (Ende Tymes Festival): Interview
“To me, noise is one of the most egalitarian art forms, because it is so inherently marginal.”
Bob Bellerue, better known under his noise-performing alias Half Normal, has organized the Ende Tymes festival for the third year in a row. Taking place this weekend, from May 24 - 26 at Brooklyn’s The Silent Barn, Ende Tymes showcases the best in the most marginal of marginal art forms, noise, and outer limits music: Aaron Dilloway, Macronympha, Zaïmph, Bhob Rainey/Witchbeam, Andy Ortmann, Pod Blotz, Vomir, and the list goes on. The festival is non-corporate in the best of ways, and Bellerue maintains that no one is allowed to play the fest unless they are someone he respects and loves the music of. Ende Tymes is clearly an outgrowth of his own passion and sensibility: he lives and breathes the music he showcases.
Bellerue is also a smart and hilarious guy who can talk a mile a minute. I called him to talk about the Ende Tymes, and the conversation quickly evolved (or devolved) from a chat about the fest into a philosophical discussion about the current state of noise and outsider experimental music.
Hey Bob, so the Ende Tymes lineup looks killer this year!
Thank you, I’m super excited. The Ende Tymes fest has kind of become the known annual event for the scene. It’s kind of like an in-joke we say that the “once-a-year noise crowd” comes out. Because this is the big event, once a year, come check it out. I do this purely because I want to see all of these performers. I take a non-corporate approach to promoting and booking acts that I want to see and get by on a really small budget. You know, a verbal handshake or an internet handshake; there are no contracts. It’s really satisfying to me, and it keeps things acceptable in terms of keeping it true to experimental music and this art form. In some ways, this music was born out of academia, and it was very much a boys’ club, with a few women who were making it in like Pauline Oliveros and a lot others who I can’t think of off the top of my head. And then there’s the aspect that comes from the punk rock scene and street-level sort of music. Now the scene is sort of merging between those sensibilities.
And that’s why it appealed to me. It’s sort of half and half in this tradition of 20th-century composed music, and then half in American hardcore punk. Everyone travels in vans, helps each other out. It’s just cool.
I try to stay by my maxim that I only book artists that I love and respect and that I want to see play, and not choose artists for political reasons.
An important maxim to have and rare considering these festivals are mainly designed to make tons of money.
If I break even, I’ll feel like I’m rich! A lot of these things you have to lose money; for me, there’s a lot less sweat. The sweat is the fun part, the running the show and enjoying the music. It’s not like having meetings with corporate sponsors.
What we are doing is very unique, idiomatic, and personal. And so, you’re exposed to a unique form of sonic expression, very much rooted in one’s own worldview.
What do you think it is about noise and outer-limits-type music that inspires such strong fandom,or even a sense of fanaticism? It’s a smaller group of fans compared to other types of music, but all those fans are truly devoted to it; everybody buys the stuff.
Even more so than other music forms, you’re creating your own musical world. There’s not one way to hook up your equipment. Everyone kind of comes up with their own circuits, their own sounds. What we are doing is very unique, idiomatic, and personal. And so, you’re exposed to a unique form of sonic expression, very much rooted in one’s own worldview. That to me is inspiring. It’s not like joining a band that’s trying to sound like another band that’s trying to sound like another band. Sure, there are a lot of noise artists that sound like other noise artists, but in my mind, it’s impossible to do a cover of a noise song.
[Laughs] “I just covered the Merzbow track,” he said. “How the hell did you cover a Merzbow track?”
[Laughs]It’s like, I mean I’m sure there’s someone who has tried to do that. But this music is about the process and not about the product. In a way, you could argue that’s a more feminine point of view, however corny that sounds. There’s a proliferation of product in the noise scene. Someone records something and they release it the same day, or they make an edition of 10, or give away stuff to their friends. I’m not sure if it was John Olson or Mike Connelly, but it was one of the Wolf Eyes dudes who said something like, “We’re all playing the same song, we’re just tapping into it a different point.”
Yeah, I like that.
They start playing the song at every set; it’s just at a different place in the song. It’s more of an extension of a way of working or a way at looking at the music. That is where my passion lies in it.
Also, it’s accessible. Anybody who wants to play this music pretty much can. I want to make a joke t-shirt that says something like, “In the 70s, punk rock bands would say you can learn three chords and then start a fucking band. In noise, you don’t even need the fucking chords!”
[Laughs] Yeah, you just need a pedal, or something.
[Laughs] Yeah, a pedal, a cable; there’s the speaker. And also like, the ability to create is far greater than it used to be. In the past, you had a room and there were 20 people there to watch the show. You might have 30 projects and 10 or 15 labels. Because everyone has a solo project, and a label, and a duo, whatever. Even if somebody puts out one thing a year, and it’s a handmade limited edition, they are still actively assembling their music. Which is totally a huge outgrowth of the punk scene and that DIY aesthetic. It’s a highbrow form of music with sort of a lowbrow way of working.
Maria Chavez said something interesting to me that may have been a bold statement but intriguing nonetheless. She said that we are just starting to see what the internet is capable of in how it can assist in smaller musical sub-genres’ growth, and that the way it’s going, noise and experimental music could someday operate in some semblance of a mainstream setting. What do you think about that?
Well, yeah, a lot could happen in the next 10 or 20 years. But it’s true. I don’t like to make any prophecies, but the scene is growing. Music is music. I mean, I’m really out of touch with bands that are popular these days, but a lot of bands that are huge now are making an art form that started out as being really obscure and resistant to mainstream media.
You mean like Animal Collective, or something like that?
Yeah, and like I said, I don’t listen to that stuff at all. But the internet is an amazing phenomenon that has changed our world. It allows anyone to see what anyone in the world is creating. The only problem is being able to find it. That’s a lot of the problem of the noise scene anyways. When things got started in the late 70s and early 80s, it was extremely hard to find this stuff. You heard it if you were friends with someone already into it or a neighbor or whatever. There was no way to really read about The New Blockaders or Merzbow without having to stumble upon or be personal friends with them or get a recommendation.
Now you could listen to any album, but you have to find it. To me, noise is one of the most egalitarian art forms, because it is so inherently marginal. That doesn’t mean it can be interesting to and embraced by the mainstream. It’s almost like you enter another realm if you get successful. If you start getting paid decently for your efforts and get mainstream media coverage, you are in a different world. But at the same time, I’m happy for people to be successful.
And it seems like if a few of the noise artists broke out, it would help the scene at large. Everyone references each other and collaborates, whatever.
Yeah, that happens with rock, it happens with noise. I mean after you emailed me, I started thinking about what the hierarchy in noise is. I’m struggling, because it’s such a marginal art form. If you create an album that rocks peoples’ worlds, they aren’t going to care who you are. It’s just different, because with noise you have to be open to hearing every sound as it comes, and not focus on a verse and chorus; you can’t relax.
“The sweat is the fun part, the running the show and enjoying the music. It’s not like having meetings with corporate sponsors.”
Right, you really have to listen to it.
You have to be open to it. So no matter who listens to it is going to be open-hearted. If someone does an album of the year that everyone is raving about, it could be some scrawny kid that doesn’t get out much. But because of that, he works obsessively on his thing and thinks no one is going to like it so he posts a link to his work somewhere and people go, “Fuckin’ A, what is this?” And that’s the thing; we all go through that. Ego-tripping only goes so far. You have to do your thing.
As far as kissing up to people and all that, I just keep thinking, “What is the hierarchy of noise? Am I a power holder in the noise world?” Ever since you emailed me, I’ve been thinking about a hierarchy in this music.
Well, you curate the festival and are a respected musician, so most would say yes.
Right, so then I do admit that people might think I have power, and in some sense that means I do. But at the same time, I don’t think about myself as a power holder. Like some people have to coach me to do that stuff when I’m putting on a show.
I noticed there are seven female solo artists playing the festival this year, the most in the festival’s history. Do you try and display diversity at the festival on Purpose?
I feel like, in general, once I got involved with this music, I was blown away by how many people I met and how polite everyone was. Because of that, I feel like the scene isn’t really rooted in sexism and misogyny, but at the same time, every culture has some element of that, and noise isn’t exempt. Because I was brought up to be respectful of people of all genders, cultures, and sexualities, it’s not even in my brain to think, “I need more female perspective.” I just hope it comes naturally.
That said, I do make an effort when I’m curating to make sure that there is representation of different types of people, making sure that there are people from different regions, that there are more women represented. This year, I remember a friend saying, “There are no people of color at your festival; here’s a link to somebody who is doing something cool.” We are inherently an outsider art form. Marginal people can create just as well as people who look like people from the dominant social group.
And of course all these girls must meet your one requirement that you want to see them play?
Yeah, and I am psyched to see all these ladies play. Marcia Basset, I love. Double Leapords played my house in L.A. way back in the day, and I have always loved her stuff. Maria Chavez is curating the sound installation at Ende Tymes, and I think how she works outside of music at times gives her an interesting perspective.
Yeah, I’m new to New York, and it was actually Maria who told me about the show.
Yeah, and Penny Royale does some amazing noise that is also kind of like dance music. I put out a track of hers, and The Village Voice listed it as the “Top Noise track of the Year!” I was pretty happy about that, even though it’s kind of funny.
Yeah I doubt there’s a big stack of Hospital Productions 7-inches in the Village Voice offices.
Right, I know. I mean how many noise albums are released within a year? Like how do you gauge that? I read somewhere that a couple of years has some 90,000 albums released. It’s impossible to even listen to a fraction of that.
But anyway, also in terms of the lineup, I’m also really excited about Rusalka, from British Columbia, who always puts on strong performances. Ghost Taco, I saw her in Montreal and she’s like an extreme singer, coming from metal and hardcore. And she does extreme electronics with a powerful delivery. Tahnzzz I met in New Mexico, and she’s a very young and strong noise performer. Pod Blotz, she does some great shit and it’s great reconnecting with her video work. She’s actually going to be a part of a panel discussion during the Sunday portion of the festival.
Alright Bob, thank you so much for speaking with me. Look forward to meeting you at the festival.
Yeah, you’ll see me! [Laughs]