It’s almost impossible to write a review of something Boyd Rice-related without it resulting in backstories and digressions. Likewise, due to courting controversy on the regular, it can be hard to view Rice’s artistic achievements without preconceptions getting in the way. Rice visited Brooklyn’s Europa club—with Cult of Youth and headliners Hirsute Pursuit—on a fittingly brutal January night. Just walking to the venue in negative temperatures was an endurance test. For the devotees in attendance, Rice’s set was relatively tame by comparison.
Boyd Rice came to Europa under the moniker NON, his longest-running and most well-known project. Apart from being one of the founding fathers of industrial music, Rice can also be credited as one of the first to use a sampler (or “noise manipulation unit”, as he called it at the time), and even dabbled in using turntables as instruments—the latter experiment marks him as second only to John Cage in doing so. His experiments in crafting twisted phrases from caterwaul presaged everything from Nine Inch Nails to My Bloody Valentine, and he has found collaborators in the likes of Death in June and Current 93. Additionally, in a live setting, Rice has brought such self-created instruments into the fold as a “rotoguitar” (a guitar with a fan attached to it).
Live performances, through time, have been revolutionary. A display that goes hand in hand with his advances within the world of noise and industrial music, Rice’s live shows aim to be a full on assault of the senses. Visual imagery is a major component, and the repetition of flashing symbols and swirling, melting, psychedelic projections—coupled with the barrage of pounding, incessant beats, endlessly looped noise manipulations, and echo-laden screams—is meant to combine into one transcendent sensory overload. Half of Rice’s set on Thursday evening consisted of a clip from the four-hour documentary Iconoclast interspersing war footage with an anecdote about Rice defacing a “Got Milk?” billboard featuring David Copperfield and the word, “calcium”, in Los Angeles.
This is probably one of the tamer things Rice has done. Appearing on stage with no lights, shouting, “Do you want total war?!” while wearing a fascist uniform probably gives a clear enough indication that Rice is not afraid of courting a little controversy. When one considers that Rice was—at a time—possibly one of the Council of Nine of the Church of Satan, his brief alliance with Charles Manson, and famously being photographed with a white supremacist for Sassy magazine, smutting up a billboard doesn’t seem so bad. Yet, what Rice does is so clearly not controversy for controversy’s sake, it just seems tired trying to shame him. Rice’s main aim as not just an artist, but as a human, is to bring others face to face with the things much of society would care not to talk about and to ensure there is never a passive moment from the viewer in all that he does. While someone like Marilyn Manson (who considers Rice his “mentor”) has brought this sort of provocation to the mainstream, Rice has been doing it for longer and has been doing it better.
The most sensory-manipulating part of Rice’s set involved the projected images that accompanied the noise. The most arresting of these was a spinning black and white spiral, the central black dot of which was perhaps meant to induce a spontaneous astral projection, as in the Indian tratak method of trance induction. During this, the noises constructed by Rice via his samplers hinted at melodic phrases, but never fully gave in. My boyfriend informed me that some of the samples that were being treated through filters and time-based effects reminded him of the samples from the horror film franchise Hellraiser used by Trent Reznor for Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine. Being that Rice was releasing NON records several years before the first Hellraiser came out, we knew this couldn’t be so.
Yet, despite such fearsome source material, the blackened stage, and the spellbinding projections, I still could not escape concerns over going back out into the bitter night and slogging through a busy work shift on minimal sleep the following day. Although Rice could have shone high beam lights in our faces or performed at a volume slightly below the threshold of pain, he went easy on us in comparison to both past performances and everyday woes. To gain the full experience Rice is trying to achieve with his shows, it is best to let petty concerns go. While it’s not exactly easy to ascribe to Rice’s full life philosophy, surrendering to it for an hour isn’t going to hurt. Just be sure to do something extremely wholesome afterward.
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