15 Noise and Experimental Artists You Should Really Know About
If Yves Tumor, JPEGMAFIA, or Pharmakon have grabbed your attention lately, we’ve got your new obsessions.
The landscape of noise and experimental music is mind-bogglingly vast. It’s more like a jagged universe at this point—a long way from Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten, and Metal Machine Music, if you hadn’t noticed. Dominick Fernow and his label Hospital Productions put on big ol’ festivals every year, Wolf Eyes’ John Olson runs an insanely popular meme account, normies are hip to Pharmakon and Eartheater, and there’s a podcast about Merzbow that’s so hype even he knows about it.
A lot is happening in the very amorphous zone where harsh noise, techno, and experimental electronics collide. Much of it is angry, much is poignant, much is fun, and much of it is all of the above. There’s something about the catharsis inherent in this kind of music that really hits the nail on the head of our current moment, and I mean that as graphically and violently as possible. “Grab my hand, let’s enter the void,” screams Dreamcrusher on a recent cut called “Youth Problem,” and that’s pretty much how everything feels right now. Like fucking raging into an abyss.
Luwayne Glass is the Wichita, Kansas–born noise musician melding industrial with punk, soul, and Vine snippets, whose live show everyone on the planet should be required to attend at least once. It’s a full-on, full-body sensory experience. It’s about being present—in your body, in your environment, in the midst of fellow humans, IR fricking L. They begin almost every performance with the scent of incense, before easing you into their playfully cacophonous, head-banging, ass-shaking sound. Then the strobes start. And Glass begins their confrontation. In the flashes of light, you might see them writhing on the ground, crashing into the crowd, getting right up in people’s faces and grabbing them by the collar, and dragging them across the room. Dreamcrusher creates music and experiences designed to rip you out of your comfort zone and out from behind your smartphone.
Dreamcrusher’s extensive discography is just as textured and eviscerating. The most recent record, Grudge2, is full of rippers, including the Katy Perry Vine–sampling opener “PSA,” on which Glass roars, “Daring to be different is a cliché / Nonconformity is passé…Get fucked up the ass by your peer group.”
Camae Ayewa, noted Scorpio, Afrofuturist, community activist, and poet from Philadelphia, is best known for the potent compound of power electronics, free jazz, and protest music she makes as Moor Mother. Ayewa is a storyteller—she calls herself a time-traveller and a truth-teller—and her Bandcamp bio embraces the terms “chill step,” “blk girl blues,” “witch rap,” “coffee shop riot gurl songs,” “funeral jazz,” and “black ghost songs,” among others. In her music, she takes on systemic racism and misogyny; on 2016’s Fetish Bones, she raps, “I’m bell hooks trained as a sniper”; on “Tell Me About It,” she repeats, “Everything ain’t okay,” and “Drunk as fuck with a loaded AK,” with a gasping, furious growl, while a voice is heard warbling in the distance.
She’s a prolific experimenter, too. In 2015 she released a record called Sleep Study One & Two, which she described as, “SONGS MADE WHEN EVERYONE IS SLEEP AROUND 2AM – 5AM SEEING WHAT CAN BE MADE WHILE SOMEONE IS SLEEPING NEXT TO YOU AND NOT WAKING ANYONE UP,” and samples bands including Slayer, Fugazi, and Pantera. In the same year, she made songs out of the poems of Pat Parker, June Jordan, and Maya Angelou, which she collected under the title She Who Comes with Her Own Things.
Furthermore, Ayewa is one half of experimental club project 700 Bliss, her thunderous collaboration with DJ Haram. She’s also co-founder of the Black Quantum Futurism collective, which she runs with Rasheedah Phillips, and with whom she opened North Philly’s gentrification-battling art space, Community Futures Lab.
Kristin Hayter is having a moment. Almost two years after the release of her second album as Lingua Ignota, the mighty All Bitches Die, the momentum only seems to be rising. In the past year, the Providence-based artist has been on tour with The Soft Moon, The Body, and fellow Rhode Islanders Daughters, and contributed vocals to Full of Hell’s new record, Weeping Choir, to name just a few things.
And honestly, thank god. Hayter is a true force. She’s into power electronics, death industrial, and black metal, and mixes in baroque classical, liturgical references, and folk music for a seriously harrowing, overwhelming effect. She sings about power and abuse and shame and burning it all down, and calls her stunning songs “survivor anthems,” which they surely are. Her MFA thesis was titled “BURN EVERYTHING TRUST NO ONE KILL YOURSELF,” and she has described her intense live performance as “an exorcism.”
The opener of All Bitches Die, “Woe to All (On the Day of My Wrath),” is a fifteen-minute masterpiece that will get you hooked on Ignota. Hayter spends the first five minutes screaming, before her gorgeous singing voice sets in and she starts pleading to a master, “Don’t drag me to a sea of flame.” Then, in a subtle and exquisite flip, she is the master. “The teeth of seven thousand men / Adorn my silver crown,” she sings, her voice aflame. “Woe to all who inhabit the earth,” she repeats later, as it all comes crashing down around her, chimes amok, beat stomping. “For now I walk among you.”
There’s a reason everyone’s talking about Deli Girls, the New York–based project of Danny Orlowski and Tommi Kelly. Raised on bands like Slipknot, Nine Inch Nails, and Korn (plus lots of emo and mall punk), Deli Girls are true millennial noise musicians in the best way. If you ever get the pleasure of seeing them live, get up close so you can see Danny wig out while Tommi crouches behind them, gettin’ down n’ dirty on a wild spread of gear.
This is noise, all harsh and enraged, but it’s also dance music—it’s dancing for hating cops (like “Officer,” the opener from their most recent record, I Don’t Know How to Be Happy) and TERFs and capitalism and hypocrisy. It’s also sexy as all hell; Danny’s cackles and grunts are used rhythmically, giving their sound a carnal fury (see “Peg” for an on-the-nose example). Dare you not to move while listening to OG jam “Guessing Games,” or “You Want It You Got It,” an insane banger from 2017’s Evidence.
New Jersey–born Felicia Chen is currently one of Berlin’s hottest club DJs. She started her career as a jazz musician, and got into electronic music once she moved to New York in the early 2010s. Aside from a handful of mixes, Dis Fig has shared only a pair of releases so far, both with experimental label Purple Tape Pedigree: 2018’s thirteen-minute murderous-sounding composition, Excerpt From an Atypical Brain Damage, which was made as part of a score for Chinese performance artist Tianzhuo Chen, and PURGE, her monstrous full-length from this past March. Chen pulls from techno, punk, and trip-hop sounds, and careens from sludge to screams to pockets of eerie tranquility. “It’s kind of a war call,” Chen told Noisey about standout “Drum Fife Bugle.” It’s one of those records that will scare the shit out of you, enough to be life-affirming.
“I wanna put you in my mouth / I wanna crush you in my jaws,” chants Dizzy, one half of Canadian noise pop duo Black Dresses, on “In My Mouth” from their bonkers good 2018 debut record WASTEISOLATION. The track is sexy, scary, and romantic: “I wanna leave this world with you,” the chorus goes, “I wanna become something better with you / I wanna fuck our bodies into broken shells / I wanna lose ourselves forever / I wanna go to hell together.”
Dizzy and Rook met online, and started laying down tracks together via Twitter DM in 2017. Both influenced by Sleigh Bells and Linkin Park, the duo’s electro-punk always sounds like it’s meant for a sweaty dance party with your friends, despite Black Dresses’ pretty dismal lyrics. “All I know is that nothing’s gonna be alright,” goes “WATER,” an extremely of-the-moment apocalyptic cut about fascism and the environment from 2019’s THANK YOU, and it almost sounds hopeful in its nihilism. “One day / In the future / I pray things will be alright / I pray everybody poisoning water and hoarding resources will die / 2019, who’s really left to be afraid of death?” The next track, “DEATH/BAD GIRL,” starts morbidly tongue-in-cheek and turns into an anthem for feeling lucky to have found people who share the same struggle—even though they wish they “Didn’t have to define [them]selves / By the struggle / At all.”
Angel Marcloid’s various releases date back to 2006, but she’s been making experimental, old internet–inspired music as Fire-Toolz for about three years now. There’s a vague vaporwave sensibility that underlies the Chicago artist’s immersive, enrapturing, escapist sound, with hints of black metal, (“Morbid Angel and Obituary changed my world,” she told Bandcamp), prog rock, trance, pop, screamo, and new age.
Fire-Toolz is a whole virtual world. There are banging dance tracks (like “ALL SEX IS U,” the opener from 2015’s Further Down the Files, whose album art is a flaming yellow Croc), and careening landscapes (like “Reality Mask [========= ] 93.7247 Bps 90% -∞s,” from 2017’s Interbeing). There are smatterings of Windows notifications, video game noises, and samples from guided meditations. “Screamography,” off 2018’s Skinless X-1, is like an angry collage of AOL profile glitter gifs. There’s even a song called “Second Life,” which really sounds like something you might hear while your avatar runs through a field at night. And “Proxy Bay ?,” the album’s final track, feels as though you’ve traveled through time and cyberspace to arrive inside the coded world of a torrent program.
The first release from Oakland trio SBSM, 2013’s Welcome to the Gay Hell, is a collection of mosh-ready, abrasive hardcore synth-punk tracks. Gay Hell is the name they gave the basement they first started making music in, in a house called Menage Twat, which the group claims was full of rusty nails. Their sound exists somewhere between noise and queercore, with shades of no wave and post-punk. (East Bay Express wrote that they sound “not so much inspired by as estranged from noise and hardcore, like they were separated at birth,” an apt description.) But it’s the ambiguity, like with all these artists, that makes them special and fun. “I appreciate being genre-less because I like using adjectives,” member Sep told The Media in 2015. “I will tell people to label us on flyers as ‘sentimental destruction jams.’”
Though it seems, from a recent Facebook post, that the group is currently inactive, it’s still more than worth getting into them—especially for their 2018 release on Thrilling Living, the Leave Your Body EP, which is a total joy, chock full of tinny beats and yelping over what sounds like the rumbling of imminent annihilation.
“I want to look at something real / To hear a human voice / And trust that it comes from a human voice,” murmurs Frederikke Hoffmeier, the Danish artist behind noise project Puce Mary, on “Red Desert.” It’s a standout from her blood-curdling latest record, The Drought, about trauma and the decay of nature. The songs on Drought are poetry, both in word and sound. It’s next level industrial music, witchy and powerful, a web of synths and field recordings. “If I could open your body and slip up inside of your skin, I would,” she says on the creaking and fissuring “To Possess Is to Be in Control,” as though casting a demonic spell.
The feedback-ridden, free-jazzy noise punk the two brothers of Philly’s Sour Spirit create often sounds like pure pandemonium. It’s been described as “primordial,” and it is wild. They typically play with just drums and a guitar—this live performance from summer 2018, in which the guitar is shredded against a concrete wall, exemplifies their anarchic energy. I’d start with the Dreamcrusher-recommended Cataclysm, OK?, their excellent record from 2017.
Alexandra Brandon, the prolific live DJ behind the project TRNSGNDR/VHS, only has two releases to date—2014’s Demo (which she describes as “Four dystopian acid pop hits”), and Condominium, from 2015. The latter is brief but gorgeous, a winding and hissing trip of power electronics and distorted pop and techno. “Geography” is particularly good; a buzzing, mind-melding, trance-inducing ball of building pressure that fades instead of bursting. The next track, “Permanent,” contains a sweeter sound that devolves into coils of noise.
“Okay, I wrote a film, and now I want to burn it,” begins Iran-born, Canada-raised, New York–based Sadaf H. Nava’s SHELL EP. Nava’s debut EP tells the story of a filmmaker’s devolving creative process; “I need another plan,” she waivers on “LET IT BURN,” as siren-like sounds and splintering beats creep around her. The narrative switches from creator to its script’s characters, becoming increasingly chaotic and distorted along the way. Get into more of Nava’s no wave-y, conceptual experiments, too, like the ominous “FILM CRITIC AT THE CLINIC,” and the totally creepy “STILLNESS,” whose beach-set video makes the song’s layers of shrieks, narration, and club beats even more disorienting.
J’Kerian Morgan, raised in Houston and now living in Berlin, constructs playful, R&B- and hip-hop-influenced experimental dance music that veers from Drake samples and Missy Elliott references to terrifying soundscapes. Their incredible 2018 record, Power, is a must-listen. “Brown skin, masculine frame,” Morgan whisper-chants on standout “Hunted,” amidst a metallic beat, and fluttering, crunching, and sparkling sounds that rise around. “Head’s a target / Actin’ real feminine / Make them vomit.”
Morgan has the range. Songs like “Distribution of Care,” a creeping vista with a pulse, could easily belong on a horror soundtrack; but a track like “Nerve” is more like a trap song designed for a ghoul’s basement dance party. Go further back in their discography and you’ll find tracks like “Carried,” which has shades of the Psycho score, and “Headlock,” a pop-minded techno tune.
The debut album of Vancouver-based producer Debby Friday, BITCHPUNK, is a kinetic, frenetic, mad noise disco. On the cover art, she wears a white tee and leather pants and looks over her shoulder like she’s daring you to fight her. “I heard you wanna piece of me,” she slams on “INDULGE ME,” a giggling, rapid-paced electro punk song. “Fuck the silence / Said I love this violence.” On the next track, the rubbery, crashing banger “VOID,” she demands, “I want you on your knees…I need to hurt you.” It’s all pretty steamy—her album description reads, “SEX! POWER! UNBRIDLED FEMININE AGRESSION!”—but “MEDUSA” is the hottest. “You are the devil in the corner / And I can’t help it that I want ya,” she breathes and pants, while a dirty funk groove slinks in.
Listening to Machine Girl, the hyper-energetic breakcore project of New York–based vocalist and producer Matt Stephenson and drummer Sean Kelly, is like being at a doomsday rave. It’s fast as fuck and often ear-bleeding, with notes of gabber and warped soul samples. The title of their punishing track, “Ionic Funk (20XXX Battle Music),” from 2017’s WLFGRL+, sums it all up pretty well. FL