Savage Weekend
Nightlight, Chapel Hill
Friday, May 13–Saturday, May 14, 2016

Today, Moogfest will roar into the Triangle, importing an impressive roster of headliners like Grimes, Gary Numan, and Sunn O))) alongside a load of niche electronic/experimental talent. While I’m chuffed that Moog’s corporate patronage is providing us with these acts, it felt fitting that I didn’t spend the lead-up weekend revising my tech panel schedule. Instead, I chose to appreciate twenty-plus hours of blistering music and near-unclassifiable performance art at Savage Weekend, Chapel Hill’s independent, small-scale, equally disruptive annual gathering of all things fringe.

For the uninitiated, Savage Weekend operates by some preset rules: Over two days at Nightlight, a selection of around ninety forward-thinking acts from across America jam hard during fifteen-minute sets, back to back to back to back. If I scribble the math, that averages to around eleven hours of sound each day, plus whatever technical difficulties sludge up the works.

Turns out, surviving isn’t quite the gauntlet you would imagine, so as long as you bring proper ear protection and get enough sleep. I credit this to the short set times; if one act isn’t your thing, you just have to wait a few minutes for something entirely different to pop off. I showed up both days around five p.m. and left usually later than two-thirty a.m., exhausted but elated. I did miss a few sets as the fest was running a bit behind (to be forgiven, of course), but with a dead phone and a twenty-minute walk to your temporary Chapel Hill couch home, you have to make sacrifices.

Thanks to Savage Weekend founder Ryan Martin’s on-point curation, the festivities this year cut across a wide swath of vital underground music impossible to just label “noise.” One great set, for instance, was California’s Charmaine’s Names, a demented one-man disco act that suggests Future Islands’ Sam Herring backed by chintzy MIDI instruments. I was very taken, too, by the post-mashup sounds of Florida’s Ironing, who cakes pop singles with all kinds of tape loops and beautiful noises from the top of his ironing board. On the noisier side of things, FILTH from Texas played an absolutely brutal set of power electronics Friday night. And there was the piercing, immutable audio assault of Tinnitustimulus, who lived up to their name.

On the performance art end there was Jim Capps, who took percussion to new levels by using smashed bottles and wire to make a furious cacophony on Nightlight’s floor, cutting his hands and getting blood everywhere in the process. Providence’s RRLEW summoned one of the most uncomfortable and compelling performance pieces about personal happiness I’ve ever seen. There was the unforgettable Pink Meal, a California trio that paired ethereal synthpop with an unforgettable performance involving a Savage Weekend cake smeared on bodies and liquor raining down on people. And North Carolina’s Viszk dumped about forty pounds of dirt on the Nightlight floor before a writhing, cathartic set.

Really, there were so many noteworthy acts it seems impossible to name them all. I will say that I did appreciate the number of local acts given greater context within the festival, such as the leftfield experimentations of Patrick Gallagher and the dark, deep techno of LACK. Best was NC’s Luci Waldrup, or Housefire, who rattled onlookers with colossal sheets of distorted noise Friday night.

I couldn’t do the whole weekend without earplugs, but for that set, I took them out for a bit, just to experience how deafening things got.