Miami's Godfather of Noise
Last December I got my buddy Rat and his girlfriend Veronica comps for the Deerhoof show in Miami. They brought Steve Mackay, the sax player from the Stooges, with them. The show was part of a Miami Art Basel fundraiser for a Manhattan museum, and the clipboard lady at the door couldn’t find Frank Falestra’s or Veronica’s name—apparently whoever was supposed to put them on the list didn’t. I tried explaining this to her as she third-degreed Rat and Veronica, who then deadpanned, “Have you tried looking under the name Rat Bastard?” The woman didn’t seem amused by this, obviously unaware of the legend of Rat Bastard. I eventually talked her into letting the couple in.
Later that night we headed for Churchill’s in Little Haiti for their regular Thursday night noise session. Mackay played sax alongside Rat, whose guitar blanketed the room in an unrestrained sonic assault. Jeff from the band Curious Hair smiled as he worked the board, a smile that said, Wait until they hear this! Rat always talks about how he can clear a room when he plays, but the set was hardly room-clearing; instead it was a brilliant release, an amalgamation of free jazz and noise rock, beautifully visceral, recalling Sonny Sharrock and Pharaoh Sanders. It lasted maybe ten minutes, to an audience of around twenty.
For about twenty-five years Rat was part of what has become known as the Miami noise scene that played at Churchill’s every Thursday. He is often referred to as the godfather of a scene that has produced the likes of Harry Pussy, Kreamy ’Lectric Santa, No Fun Fest organizer Carlos Giffoni and his band Monotract, and newer acts like hahahelp!, Curious Hair, Dumbo, Amanda Green, Luciano Guidini, Fantom, Childproof, Dino Felipe, and Otto Von Schirach.
It’s a scene in which community is as important as spectacle. Rat’s band the Laundry Room Squelchers has a few core members and a rotating crew of attractive women playing anything that will generate a sound. In October, Lauren, one of the Squelch ladies, led a PG-rated shadow-puppet show while the band Dumbo performed a raucous set. Scraping Teeth, another of Rat’s many projects, reunited last year to go on tour, celebrating their ignominious distinction as Spin’s worst band in America of 1993 by putting together the Worst Band in America Tour 2007.
To Live and Shave in L.A. is a collective started by Tom Smith—who spent about six years on the tip of the continent—in 1991. In 2006 he was joined by Rat, Thurston Moore, Don Fleming (Tom’s high school buddy from Adele, Georgia), Andrew W. K., Ben Wolcott, Mark Morgan, and Chris Grier to record an album, Noon to Eternity. At its best (for example, on the last track, “Mother’s Over Silverpoint”), the record can be described as musique concrete, with Smith’s nearly inaccessible, croony, dirge-like vocals punctuating the soundscape. TLASILA has also involved Weasel Walter, Misty Martinez, Gaybomb, Dimthingshine, and Graham Moore, in Smith’s ongoing quest to blur or dismiss genres with sound collages.
Miami is culturally and geographically distant from much of the U.S., but they’re being heard. Someone said to me recently, “Musicians know these guys.” Every February since 2004, noise bands from around the world have descended upon Churchill’s to play for three days at the International Noise Conference (INC). No money is exchanged, all shows are free, and many of the musicians sleep in Rat’s one-bedroom condo. The festival is not only his brainchild, but also an example of his generosity. All of the Squelchers’ music is available online for free.
From September 20 to 22, INC Korea/Japan takes place in Seoul, Osaka, and Tokyo. Just recently P.S. 122 held an event called Summer Camp. TV Grey of Childproof, another Florida transplant, brought some of the Miami’s noise crew to perform there. The next night Rat and I walked away from the huge crowd that had gathered on South Beach’s oceanfront to watch the Stooges, a free Basel event. Steve Mackay played alongside Iggy in front of thousands.
As we walked away from the beach toward Club Deuce for a beer, Rat pointed to the lounge next to the Days Inn and remarked that in the 1980s Club Beirut was there, an early site for noise happenings. At the time, the area was seriously blighted, and one of the least friendly places you could imagine for a rock venue. (It’s somehow appropriate that the famous chainsaw torture scene in Scarface took place in what is now a fast-food joint a few blocks away.) Rat was not deterred in the slightest by this. John Hood, a Miami writer who did some time with the Swans, may have summed up Rat perfectly: “Completely unyielding, which in a world of sheer compromise is no small feat.”
Patrick Greene is a freelance writer based in Florida.