It's a rainy winter day, and Sean Carney's voice is as downcast as the sky.
"I've felt, over the last few years, a real lack of joy as far as indie rock music goes," says Carney, a longtime fixture in the Cleveland music scene as head of Razak Solar System and now one-half of Sean and Ian. "A lot of music that I was seeing in the early '90s still had a lot of joy in it, a lot of verve and vibrancy, and that's kind of faded. I don't think that the way to change things in the world or the way to connect with people is through this gray, minimalist, career-driven sort of music. We have the right to be joyous, and we need to get out and do that."
And with those last few words, Carney's eyes light up and his frequent smile reappears as the topic turns to Scam Carnage, his wild, unbounded live music series that's presented three concerts so far. Reinjecting frivolity and recklessness into the Cleveland indie underground, Carnage is an eclectic, combustible mix of experimental sounds ranging from bleating synth pop to jazz-laced death metal. It kicked off in October at Speak in Tongues with unhinged Chicago noise pop subverts My Name Is Rar-Rar. Fronted by a pantyless lead singer in smeared clown makeup who continually battered the audience and exposed herself, Rar-Rar gave a performance that was a depantsing of your average rock show.
"I just figure, if someone comes out to see a show, I'm going to make sure they see a show, you know?" says Rar-Rar guitarist Chuck Falzone. "You gotta appeal to all the audience's senses . . . not just interesting sounds, but interesting things to look at, interesting things to touch, taste, and smell . . ."
Rar-Rar will be back for Scam Carnage 4, which will also feature Carney's own Sean and Ian, pounding nails into pop's coffin with a sound that's like a tech-savvy Elvis Costello high on model glue. In addition, the bill boasts Plus Ultra, a young, progressive electronic music duo that blends live instrumentation with wayward beats and samples in an attempt to animate a genre that's often about as lively as a turnip.
"A lot of music that I'm into, like IDM [intelligent dance music], it's all about stale, sterile, laptop dude onstage, and then there's this big separation with the audience," says Plus Ultra member Julius Kwolek. "We try and eliminate that bad, faceless IDM aesthetic. We're part of a new underground of music. Some people have called it EPM -- electronic pants movement -- as a joke, but kind of serious, too, in that it's a reaction to the sterility of IDM. Just something silly."
So what, if anything, unites all the disparate acts that make up Scam Carnage's various lineups?
"Catharsis, that's the key," Carney says. "I want a particular kind of band that's going to put across their music in a really cathartic sort of way. It's not necessarily noise. I think you can be cathartic without being noisy. What I wanted to do with this concert series, in some ways, is sort of extra-musical. I wanted to pick bands that I knew would put on a good show, where it wouldn't just be another night in another town, or for the local bands, it wouldn't just be another gig playing to their friends that show up all the time. Every show needs to be an event."
And every show has been. Scam Carnage has engendered the kind of band-audience interaction that has become more and more fleeting in contemporary music. If there is a downside to the evolution of the Internet as a musical outlet and the boon in cheap, at-home recording software, it's that it has made music much more of a personal, isolationist endeavor. The point of Scam Carnage is to counter this by redeveloping the communal side of the local music scene. In doing so, Carney and the bands that play his showcases hope to tap into the fun, free-spirited nature of the music of the '60s and '70s -- sans the bell-bottoms and David Crosby's paunch -- and encourage others to do the same.
"I look at music now and I think to myself, 'Well, I can understand why no one's freaking out on the Top 40 charts. It's been like that for a long time. Things are just going to be safe when you get to that level, because you've got to sell a lot of records," Carney says. "But very, very few people want to bring that freak-out sensibility to the underground. What happened to us? I'm interested in that. I find that, in doing these shows, there are a lot of people interested in bringing a spunkier, more freaked-out, more emotionally involved sort of musical aesthetic."
Still don't get it?
"Here's an analogy: Picture a person shitting into the mouth of another person. Both are transparent," Falzone says, explaining the impact his band hopes to have on its audience. "We watch the turd travel down the throat, through the digestive tract, into the intestines, being digested and transformed along the way into some incredible, never-before-seen kind of turd that is, in its turn, shitted out . . . into the waiting mouth of another transparent person. It happens again. And again. Each transparent person shits into the mouths of dozens of others, who in turn shit into the mouths of dozens of others more. It extends infinitely in all directions. Each person is different; each turd is different, new. Beautiful."
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