By Alison Babka
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As Mark Sarich pores over the list of bands playing the second-annual noisefest (a.k.a. noisefeSTL05), he sounds like a kid encountering a living room filled with presents on Christmas morning.
"There are different kinds of noise," says Sarich. "One of them is this highly theatrical...it almost seems like, trying to take what Sun Ra did to jazz and do it to rock & roll, maybe? That's [Kansas City band] I Don't Do Gentlemen -- they're crazy and they come in costumes. It's just nuts.
"Pete-za is from Milwaukee, he's a spastic guy who bangs on a drum. Haunted House is an acoustic project from Jackson, which is a trend in noise these days, some people are actually pulling away from electronics. [Temple of Bon Matin] do I think six video projectors focused around the room and various manipulated electronics...."
The three-day festival, which takes place October 14-16 at the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center 3301 Lemp Avenue; 314-771-1096), features nearly twice as many groups than the 28 that played last year's inaugural event. Bands are traveling from as far away as Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Tennessee to play sets -- a bargain when you consider that tickets are only $8 per concert (or $25 for a weekend pass).
Besides spotlighting underground luminaries of the Midwest and beyond, one of the fest's aims is to demonstrate the St. Louis' own fertile experimental-music scene. To that end, a plethora of local acts -- among them Factura, Darin Gray, Nui, Blango, Worm Hands and Brain Transplant; see www.lemp-arts.org for the entire list -- will appear.
"There's great music here, there's no reason to be hiding it," Sarich says. "There are great people out there we need to connect with. St. Louis will benefit from the ability to network with other musicians in the general area."
Almost unwittingly, buzz from last year's concert reached national proportions. Chatter on the online message board iheartnoise (http://p206.ezboard .com/biheartnoise) commenced before the weekend even ended.
Legless Armless member Chris Muether says that's far from the norm. "The Midwest has a lot of really excellent noise and experimental musicians that don't get the same recongnition from magazines such as the Wire or Signal to Noise, the two big experimetnal music magazines," he says.
"This being the second year, word's starting to get out outside the Midwest that something's going on here," Muether adds. "People from [established experimental hotspots] Providence and Portland and San Francisco can look and say, 'Crap, there's a bunch of stuff going on the Midwest, we better up our game.' It's [the Midwest scene] not just emulating the noise and experimental music on the coasts or in Europe. It's something completely different."
How exactly to describe that sound -- or even define "noise" -- is a difficult task, says local Jeremy Kannapell, who performs solo under the moniker Ghost Ice.
"I hope people don't get too caught up on the word 'noise,' connotating it to something trying to be self-indulgent, annoying or extreme (even though i can dig some of that!)," he writes via e-mail. "It's just a quick, catchall description to try and describe music made with nontraditional means or structure but still has the same motivations as good rock or punk music -- ya know, have fun, act a fool, get on the floor."
On the eve of the club's tenth anniversary, the owners of Velvet find themselves scheduling a goodbye party for October 29. According to marketing and promotions director Douglas Hall, this past Wednesday Velvet co-owner Scott Gilmartin received a voicemail informing him that the club must vacate its digs at 1301 Washington Avenue by the end of the month.
"Honestly we always knew it would happen; we just figured we would have a little more warning," Hall writes via e-mail.
Velvet's rent had been fixed at $5 per square foot on a month-to-month basis since its lease expired in January. But having a nightclub on the premises began to create conflicts as renovations to the building progressed -- including the development of 96 apartment lofts and the addition of commercial tenants -- says Tim McGowan, a managing member of Fashion Square LLC, which owns the property.
"We are putting $25 million into renovation," says McGowan. "To have an operating tenant in there creates a conflict with the construction schedule." McGowan, who along with brothers Bill, Kevin, Sean and Seamus founded McGowan Brothers Development Corporation, says he did his best to accommodate Gilmartin and Velvet co-owner Thomas Gray for as long as he could. "[We told them], 'We'll allow you to stay as long as you possibly can, we'll go month to month. I'll try to give you as much time as possible in the building.' Now it comes to the point where we need the space, and it needs to go."
McGowan says the owners were given the option to stay -- if they paid the $15-per-square-foot rent that's the current standard for first-floor Washington Avenue businesses.
Gray says it was his understanding that he was welcome to remain, but not as a nightclub.
Clarifies McGowan: "They're welcome to stay as Velvet if they pay the market rent. [But] they also have to do something about their sound -- control sound that emanates from the space so they don't disturb the rest of the tenants in the building."