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Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013

Bucking Trends, the Milwaukee Noise Festival Expands

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These are hard times for noise music festivals. Noise fests around the Midwest have been shrinking or scaling back their lineups, and the country’s largest noise festival, New York’s No Fun Fest, packed up shop altogether in 2010. Rather than follow those leads, however, the Milwaukee Noise Festival is actually expanding. For its eighth year, the festival is moving from the cozy (read: tiny) confines of the Borg Ward, one of the only venues in the city that regularly hosts noise acts, to the much roomier Miramar Theatre. And where past lineups of the festival have focused on lesser-known players in the noise scene, this year’s includes a pair of prominent veteran acts whose reach extends beyond noise circles: The Haters, a California troupe whose high-concept shows influenced countless punk and noise performances, and Negativeland, a pioneering sound-collage group that stands as by far the biggest name the festival has ever booked.

“With the acts that we booked this year, we needed some extra space because the Borg Ward wasn’t going to be big enough,” festival organizer Peter J. Woods says of the venue change. “This will be the eighth year that I’ve either ran or helped organize the festival, and it was beginning to feel like we were putting on the same festival each year, so it was about time for a change. Five years of the same thing is a lot. And with other noise fests around the country dying out, this felt like the right time for us to try to make ours into something bigger.”

For the first time this year, the three-day festival will also have a film component. Filmmakers Leo Brochu and Grace Smith made a documentary about last year’s Milwaukee Noise Fest, Milwaukee Noise 2012, which will screen on Friday, Aug. 23 at the Borg Ward at noon. The next day, GX Jupitter-Larsen of The Haters will screen his latest movie, A Noisy Delivery, at the Borg Ward at 12:30 p.m. Both screenings are free for anybody attending the festival.

Though the festival has expanded this year, the fundamental feel of the event hasn’t changed. Each night’s bill features eight performers, some of which will be obscure to even the most dedicated noise aficionados (among the acts: Fake Blood Universe, Nummy, Urth and Anal Hearse). The idea, Woods says, is to head into the festival with an open mind.

“If you’re new to this music, just come and check out what’s happening,” he says. “Part of what I do as the curator of the festival is just try to make sure that all different genres are represented, so on any given night it’s not just aggressive stuff, or droney stuff or free jazz stuff. It’s going to be a mixture, so no matter which night you pop in, there’s going to be a mix of different stuff to experience. Just come in with open ears, and bring ear plugs.”

The Milwaukee Noise Festival runs nightly at 7 p.m. at the Miramar Theatre from Thursday Aug. 22 to Saturday, Aug. 24. Tickets are $16 per night, or $41 for all three days. For more information, visit experimentalmilwaukee.com.