Sukhdev Sandhu is the author of Night Haunts: A Journey Through the London Night (Verso, 2007) and writes for Vertigo, London Review of Books and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Rumpelstiltskin, only louder

Hospital Productions, an enclave colony housed within a reggae store called Jammyland in New York's East Village, is one of the hippest music labels and record shops anywhere in the world. The space is so small that even modern airline-carriers would regard it as a little on the squashed side. The music that it stocks and distributes is sometimes electronic, sometimes guitar-based, and very occasionally a capella. It is invariably hysterical, loud and angry. Much of it belongs to the genre known as "noise": a loose category that encompasses feedback, bowel-quaking drones, ear-splitting power electronics and industrial dirges.

Noise, its advocates will argue, has a noble lineage. It represents a break from the asphyxiating corsets of melody or tunefulness, an act of sonic rebellion, an intense rage against the machine (of capitalism, instrumental rationality, civilization). It is at once ancient (linked to primal caterwauling and bluesy hollering) and also contemporary and futuristic, deploying up-to-date technologies to echo the shifting soundscapes of modernity. It channels and amplifies social dissent, cutting through the bland sonorities of easy listening, muzak and commodity pop. It is an incitement to revolution, to kick out the jams.

The records Hospital stocks come in every format, and a mood of DIY pervades the racks. Here are CD-Rs, picture discs in hand-painted sleeves, wilfully retro cassettes in badly xeroxed covers, 7-inch singles in tiny editions. The cover art tends to reflect the contents: black and grey colours predominate; martial insignia are not uncommon; vaguely necrophiliac imagery keeps recurring. The people who designed these packages put a lot of thought into their work, even if that thought errs towards the gross; a friend of mine once bought an imported copy of a CD by Swiss artists Runzelstirn and Gurgelstock that came wrapped in a jiffy bag full of shit.

Dominick Fernow, the shop's proprietor (a.k.a. noise artist Prurient), pens descriptions of the latest releases by the likes of Meet Sperm Meat or Broken Penis Orchestra. His lexicon is all his own: "dismal" or "sludge" are positive adjectives. So is "sado-ambient". Other terms of approval include "damaged", "face-destroying" and "spastic". Sonic Disorder are paeaned as the "undisputed god of shit noise"; Redglaer are likened to "Electronic mixer noise LA waste and smog. Like a homeless dude pushing a shopping cart outside the smell."

It's terrifically lively and not wholly inaccurate writing. It's also far more evocative than the bullet-pointed bromides chundered out by the journalists at the New Musical Express, a paper that used to be full of passionate, all-guns-blazing enthusiasts issuing lengthy encomia to the artists they loved and murderous jeremiads against performers they saw as false idols or wizened antediluvians.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.



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