Burning Fleshtival V: Inside the Two-Day Secret Rockaways Basement Noise Show

August 8, 2014 | Marina Galperina

At the Burning Fleshtival, “Hey, man, can you help me out?” really means “Hey, man, check this rock chained around my balls for me?”  The Red Light District is a basement of a house in the suburbs on the beach in New York City. Walking around the Rockaway neighborhood, you’d never know that behind this nondescript house, there were tents in the backyard and a really hard show below. This is probably good, because this city hates DIY spaces.

By the time we found the house, we’d missed the live-scored trailer to Pig Moviewritten by Lincoln Correctional Facility inmates. Through the backyard, past the kitchen, down the stairs, under the lights hacked to flare with the intensity of the sound, Narwhalz sat half-screaming, half-speaking at a table, dragging and reconnecting wires through a mountain of mutant sound equipment, a big cartoon sticker on its back. A rippling wall of deep Narwhalz crashed through the crowded L-shaped basement. It was really nice.

Odawalla 88 (Photo: Jane Chardiet)

A few acts later, by the recommendation of Filip Olszewski, we beheld Odawalla 88. The hardest part about this duo isn’t the congealing wails from their crackling samplers, but the vocals. The synchronized IIIIII’M!!!!… IIIIIII’M!!!!!… between banging, and the piercing rambling, somewhere between emotional self-torture of a teenage girl locked away in her room and the Kardashians on crack. It was a terrifying sound. It was great.

Juiceboxxx (Photo: Marina Galperina)

Juiceboxxx (playing Fleshtival with the guitarist of USA Is a Monster) was impossibly committed, a James Brown of weird rap-rock, swinging from a tiling chair and screaming “I don’t care if I’m playing to one person or 1000 people!” to the 20 people who were in the basement at the start of his set. He would do anything — anything — to get them onto the EXPRESSWAY TO THE DARKNESS! EXPRESSWAY TO THE DARKNESS! He ducked away from the low ceiling each time he jumped. The microphone committed suicide in his hands, falling apart into four separate pieces. He smashed it back together and went for five more songs. He made me so happy.

Juiceboxxx (Photo: Marina Galperina) 

Coming up for air, I got stuck between the broken bathroom door and the living room, where live security footage from around the house played on TV. Horror videotapes were alphabetized on the shelf, kept company by and a lovingly hand-marked VHS of “Emil Beaulieau: America’s Greatest Living Noise Artist.” There was a giant blow-up mugshot of “Real Life Beavis” framed on the wall. In short, the worst possible environment to take 2C-I, but it went alright, except for being utterly unprepared for Dawn of Humans. What was that?

Dawn of Humans (Photo: Jane Chardiet)

Everyone was ready for the comedian to finish her set (which may have been an actual mental breakdown to the tune of “My father, he told me you’re not paranoid if they’re actually watching, hahaHAHA”), especially the lead singer of Dawn of Humans, a metal contraption swinging from his dick and balls. From my morphing corner, his microphone appeared to be a Victorian attachment spitting up powder into his face all set. The crowd beat against itself, some would fall, some would move a few steps back and catch those falling and push them back inside. Dawn of Humans dude beat through all of them in rapid contractions.

(Photo: Marina Galperina)

Recovering a while later, watching people watch themselves through the scratchy security footage, there arose a vague notion about some exciting activity on the “Slippery Septic Slide by Yellow Tears” outside. Some poor chap’s night-long bad trip — “YEAH I KNOW I AM THAT GUY THERE IS NOTHING ELSE I CAN DO” — was cresting on the sinking couch. He stood up and expressed concern for another guy folded upright into a sleep for the last five hours. A wet, friendly half-naked man had just returned from the slippery slide and plopped to the couch, and beatboxed, spit up some beer, turned to the ceiling and asked, “What am I doing? Where are my clothes?”

(Photo: Marina Galperina) 

Outdoors, some could find themselves inside a hut in the corner of the far backyard — “a site-specific installation by Angels in America.” The hut covered in foil and ephemera referencing a radio-play/noise mix-tape/faux backwater informercial about lives changed after drinking a folk-mystic water, available for dispersal in a blue, gurgling cooler by the hammock. Crawling away from ALL THAT and into a tent, rain pounding down, an actual bed just a borough away, I was halfway through my best music experiences since Basilica Soundscape.

 (Photo: Marina Galperina)

The next day was different. Max Eilbacher’s noise was perfect (early Autechre, maybe?) sharpness with oscillating visuals. Solid. Most of the rest of a blur, with MV Carbon slowly bopping up and down under a veil.

 MV Carbon (Photo: Marina Galperina)

The crowd decidedly thinned out as Dark Sister got ready, spraying down the basement with a dense fog of perfume. Everything tasted pink.

Dark Sister (Photo: Marina Galperina) 
Dark Sister began its assault of screaming rap over noise, apexing with a cover of Korn’s “A.D.I.D.A.S.” There was constant aggressive erotic dancing. Half-way through a writhing thrust, one of them tried to scissor an audience member down with her on several occasions. Another crawled between a few legs in an ominous manner. Deep floor diving. Ground swimming. My phantom balls were intimidated.

Brown Recluse Alpha (Photo: Marina Galperina) 

More came back after that. The audience was warmer this night, still reeling when appropriate, but closer. Brenna Murphy and Birch Cooper of MSHR showed up earlier, Philip returned, other familiar faces. Birch would crouch way down next to the instruments to watch fellow musicians. Something was building, building.

Though Container’s set actually cut out when someone pulled a wire, it was insanely good. At this point, everyone’s bodies were structurally disintegrating, and we came up around into him in waves.

Container (Photo: Marina Galperina) 

Whoever lives at this house, thank you. Thank you very much for setting all this up and letting us hang out in your house, sleep in your backyard and awkwardly verbalize appreciation for experiencing so many different varieties of the most commercially unfriendly musicians going as hard as they possible can. That was the best.

(Lead photo: Jane Chardiet)