In 2003 I saw Rainbow Blanket play at the old 51 Buckingham in Pomona, California. The now defunct duo of brothers Jeff and Greg Witscher really changed my life and introduced me to a genre that up until that point I had no idea existed.
Today “noise” music is a lot more common, but these guys were doing it during a time when it wasn’t that well accepted most places.
And they weren’t the only ones–Los Angeles was bursting with a talented scene of noise artists. It was really a golden time. It was incredible to see people putting so much passion and energy into what they were doing. Their live sets were often brief but never fell short of being effective. Though it wasn’t unusual for it to take longer for someone to set up than they we’re actually going to play for.
A lot of SoCal noise artists worked together, giving themselves monikers like Men Who Can’t Love and Scum Crew in order to get away with getting a bunch of their friends on the same show without it looking weird that there were six or seven bands playing. They even formed a super group called Deep Jew that put on some of the most amazing and mind blowing shows I’ve ever seen.
Without a doubt, one of the key members to this small scene was Cole Miller, a Los Angeles born native who has played in many different outfits and under many different names over the years. Currently he is performing under the moniker Human Hands, and he will be doing a special performance this Thursday at the Sancho Gallery in Echo Park as part of the L.A.’s Got Talent series. I talked with him to get a better picture of what drives his music and how the Los Angeles noise scene has changed over the years.
My first exposure to the noise music genre was seeing Rainbow Blanket play at 51 Buckingham in Pomona, Ca. You always seemed be a pretty big part of that particular scene. How would you describe your experience playing noise in Los Angeles during that time period?
It was, without a doubt, a very exciting time for me. For years I had recorded music to 4-track in my bedroom and not shared it with anybody. All of a sudden I was making friends with people my own age who were into sort of the same stuff. Almost immediately we got to work on booking shows, making tapes, and organizing a U.S. tour. Back then things seemed a bit more integrated then they are now. There weren’t as many “noise” shows (at least until the Il Coral opened up) and most shows we played were with bands that were more “rock” or whatever you want to call it. The unexpected shift of elements would often either blow people away or cause them to be very angry and I think that really gave things a sense of importance that helped push everything along
Over time it seems like a lot of the people you played with have left Los Angeles, how do you feel things have changed since?
I’m happy that people have left to explore other places and new scenarios. I think it is more important to move out past the borders of your “scene” and gain new information than to constantly re enforce [sic] what you have already accomplished. In the past few years lots of great musicians have moved to L.A. and younger people inspired by all that has gone one here have started projects as well.
When I first saw you play it was back when Sean Carnage Monday nights were still at the Il Corral and you were playing under the name Toxic Loincloth. How do you feel your music as had changed or developed since then?
I think a big part of noise music is the understanding of musicality starting all the way at the bottom with its most basic elements and working up. Toxic Loincloth was about creating an electronic petrie dish, mostly out of modified and discarded circuits tied into networks, and then studying the emergent behavior. Acting in this organic way the structure opens up for interfacing with the human body and mind. The results from that preject [sic] form the musical knowledge I have now and that I am using on my current projects now which tend to be a lot less “random.” A much more specific result is being sought after. Although Toxic Loincloth and Human Hands are very different in sound, a smooth transition spanning several years can be heard in the output of both projects chronologically.
How long have you been playing shows in L.A.?
First show was in 2003. Didn’t get serious until maybe 2004 or 2005.
What inspires the music that you make?
The driving force is to create a sense of dark mystery; the feeling of the invisible becoming visible.
From my understanding, you and a bunch of like-minded musicians formed Men Who Can’t Love, which wasn’t a band itself but a way for a lot of solo performers to play individual sets under one name. Can you talk about that a little and what it was like touring the U.S. that way?
Well, yeah. That’s pretty much how it worked. It started very naturally; A symptom of how we were living and the energies shared. You can imagine the trouble of booking a tour with five or six bands and trying to convince bookers all across the country that we all really played under ten minutes each and there wasn’t a single drum set or anything. So we threw a name on it and took off. As for everything after that I honestly don’t know where to begin. I guess every one has that summer that, to them, is the essence of youth and freedom and everything beautiful and wild. Sleeping in the park. Running through dark tunnels. Masturbating in front of the cops. Refusing money from shows and not eating for days. Whenever I feel like I’ve lost the mark I think back to that time.
It seems like a lot of musicians who were once major players in L.A.’s harsh noise circuit, such as Jeff Witscher and Matthew Sullivan have gravitated towards more mellow or ambient music. What are your thoughts about these changes?
What I was drawn to in their music from the beginning was the power and determination to express such amazing souls. That hasn’t changed at all over the years. Style junkies can suck it.
Do you have any upcoming plans for Human Hands, like releases, tours, etc.?
There is quite a bit of material recorded in the past year that will be coming out in the near future. Newer stuff, however, will be under a different project name.
Is there anything you would like to add in closing?
“The living should never be used to serve the purposes of the dead, but the dead should, if possible, serve the purposes of the living.” –Philip K Dick
Don’t miss Cole Miller/Human Hands for what is sure to be an amazing night…
THURS 8/11 9pm $10 (includes bar):
You’re gonna shit yourself laughing, so bring a mop! Comedy instigator Mike Locker has recruited some real funny guys to perform this night.
Curated by Mike Locker
Stand up from Trenton Willey, Rick Shapiro, Todd Baker, Dave Sirus, Joseph Larkin, Don Takano, Brett Gilbert, Allen Stickland Williams, Eric Dadourian, Luke Pennington, Jared Whitham, Travis Mcfarland, more.
Plus DJ Baglady
Starts 9pm / $10 (open bar for 21+)
Sancho—1549 W. Sunset, in downtown Echo Park