Thursday, December 06, 2018

The Pain Factory

The Pain Factory
Influencing Machine Records & Spastik Visuals.
4 x DVD. 350 copies.

Thanks to Michael Nine Christmas has come early this year. I may have had to miss his Leeds show with Rusalka due to attending the wedding of the year [clue: not Harry and Megan] but this 4 DVD, 13 hour trip down memory lane [and several other releases that I’ll come back to later] has more than made up for it.

The Pain Factory was a public access TV Noise show and the work of Michael Contreras. It described itself as ‘A Live Experimental Noise Television Program’ and was broadcast out of the San Fransisco Bay Area area from 1995 to 1997. For me these were the golden years of noise. A time when I was getting in to noise in a big way, soaking up as many names and releases I could get my hands on. Lots of those names appear on these discs.

Calling it The Old Grey Whistle Test of Noise, Industrial and Experimental music wouldn’t be too far off the mark; a couple of live performances in the studio with the odd [literally] experimental film, footage of live performances, band videos and idents that feature the words The Pain Factory cut into a forearm with a razor blade. No Whispering Bob though, for that we can only be thankful.

Because these were the days when noise came all wrapped up in anything death, sex, blood and violence related we have bands like The Amputease, a trash noise group whose live set is littered with all the gory bits from once banned video nasties and Nihil one member of whom gets his bare back whipped raw by a dominatrix, then there’s the clips of Harvey Kietel shooting up in Bad Lieutenant, or autopsy footage. Flyers for The Pain Factory contain images of severed heads. Those were the days.

Not that I’m familiar with every single project/band/noise artist on these discs. Plenty are unfamiliar to me but when I see the words Killer Bug my knees go weak and even weaker at the sight of a very young Kazumoto Endo working a table top of noise boxes, whipping himself into a frenzy while doing so. There are so many highlights its hard to know where to start and seeing as I’m only halfway through this set there will be plenty more to come but so far we have; Macronympha destroying everything in sight with one half naked female band member visibly distraught at the process and having to leave the performance, The Haters doing the stapling CD’s to a car tyre thing, Crawl Unit using cassette tape and radios to make some wonderful noises, Fin with an aerosol can taped to his foot and masking tape over his mouth, Rotten Jesus an improv noise band making a hell of a racket with a drummer wearing a ‘Kill Everyone’ t-shirt and an as ever unsettling Death Squad video with a straight lift from some Gulf War military comms where an armed helicopter pilot kills his own troops. Most enlightening for me is the first sighting of long running San Fran pranksters and anti-art visionaries Bige City Orchestra with a puppet show noise set piss take complete with a talking cassette guide.

The Pain Factory ran to 13 episodes all of which are here barring episode eight which was a straight showing of the notorious [supposedly] Japanese snuff film ‘Flower of Flesh and Blood’ which brought the station the not unexpected torrent of complaints, something they appear to have reveled in. According to the blurb Michael Contreras is the only person on earth with extant tapes of The Pain Factory and has spent the last two years digitizing it. Apparently none of this has appeared on the internet before making seeing this for the first time like coming across the mother lode of noise and weird shit. I love it. If only I could have picked up The Pain Factory in West Yorkshire. My life would have been complete.

This being the mid 90’s the studio special effects are primitive compared to today's technology, blue screens and two cameras giving us overlaid images of burlesque dancers, Chinese martial arts films and gore but if anything this only enhances the feel of the period and despite the rare horizontal hold/VHS flicker the picture quality is superb. Contreras’s work has not been in vain. I for one take my hat off to him and you should too.

Half way through disc three I got to wondering what a 2018 version of The Pain Factory would look like? It would no doubt look very different. Times have changed considerably in Noise World and while there’s still plenty of people making weird noises the transgressive and sometimes confrontational nature of Noise [and with that I’ll lump in Power Electronics] has all but disappeared. We live in more enlightened times, your autopsy footage is old hat and belongs in the past, your footage of a vet giving a horse a nasal probe is meaningless [this courtesy of Dr Crystal Mess ... yes, me neither]. Female Noise/Experimental artists are thin on the ground over these four discs [I think I’ve counted three so far] but much more common now. Go to a live experimental/noise gig and the chances are that half the performers and half the audience will be female. That doesn’t mean we cant enjoy what has gone before. There’s over 13 hours worth here to explore and explore you must, whether its as a nostalgic or as someone curious as to what was happening in Noise in the mid 90's.

After all this I’m getting that itch again. I might even dig out some Macronympha and give that a whirl. The ideal Christmas present as they say at this time of year.


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