A riveting noise rock outfit from New York by the name “White Suns” delivered a cochlea-crushing performance at Art House on Friday night. On last year’s Sinews LP, White Suns meshed hardcore punk vocals with an all-out assault of distorted guitar, blast beats, and screeching feedback loops. The album takes White Suns’ atonality and abrasiveness to a new level; it’s demanding, and definitely not an accessible entry point to the (albeit very broadly-defined) genre of noise rock. Devoid of the engaging riffs employed by rockier-bands like Sonic Youth and Japandroids, White Suns fall far more towards the “noise” side of the genre’s spectrum. At Art House on Friday night, I found this to be truer than ever.
In fact, it took only seconds of White Sun’s first song for me to ditch “noise rock” as an applicable descriptor. The “rock” was gone; this was noise. Originally a guitar-guitar-drums/electronics outfit, White Suns was now stripped down to “guitar”-electronics. For comparison: old versus new White Suns. Their setup consisted of a two tables laden with effects pedals, a Tycho Hot Lixx Guitar, and a circuit bending contraption made of plywood and wires.
Their guitarist/vocalist Rick Visser is on hiatus, prompting the group’s shift farther into the experimental recesses of noise rock’s noise. Kevin Barry and former drummer Dana Matthiesen, remained hunched over their electronics, twisting and stretching sound to its breaking point.
Consisting of all new, largely improvisational material, White Suns’ set was two approximately ten-minute long pieces.
White Suns shook Art House, and probably scared Light House, with an absence of melody and rhythm that left me without an immediate way to engage with their music.
Screamed, inaudible vocals appeared intermittently as rare moments of recognizable sound. Otherwise, I resorted to associating. Thus, I found a giant machine crushing boulders in my ears, its mechanical screeches and buzzes hovering around the thunderous explosion of rocks under enormous pressure. Muffled, metallic clangs nudged up against these sonic abrasions while searing guitar-esque streaks swelled and diminished. These associations let me access (and, thankfully, articulate) the wall of sound that I found impervious at first. For the remainder of the set, I simply heard and felt. Despite the absence of any urge to tap my foot, sway, or even look at the White Suns as they performed, I found them surprisingly engaging. The brevity of their set worked to their advantage, as their sound never seemed to lose its relevancy. While noise-oriented groups like Fuck Buttons develop their compositions with extensive repetition, White Suns’ reliance on improvisation gave their sound a fluidity that, despite its initial inaccessibility, was thoroughly engrossing.
While discussing the show with some of the twelve or so other attendees, I realized that my decision to wear earplugs had insulated me from the catharsis inherent in White Suns’ strain of noise music. Piercing screeches and seismic rumbles elicited flinches in those around me, while I was unaffected. Concertgoer J.C. eloquently described his experience in metaphor:
"So I’m sitting there eating a pretzel, one of the big ones with lots of salt, there’s a little bit of spicy mustard on it, you know. All of a sudden I see this glacier coming, it starts getting really close. The pressure starts really building up, no big deal, getting a little bit cold. Then, the salt does that thing where it reacts with the ice and burns my lips and really hurts. But then it’s really cold so it’s ok. But then I, uh, get lost in the glacier."
The invasive physicality of White Suns’ sound contributes to the way that their music exists outside of itself. Ones listening experience relies as much on the sound itself as it does on ones personal reaction and the self-dialogue it creates. White Suns punches you in the face, and then makes you wonder why.