I remember meeting Jason Hollis, the man behind the powernoise project Endif, around two years ago at an early incarnation of Interzone, which was at the time the only dark music night to have occurred with any regularity here in Reno for about five years. After recognizing him from a newspaper article through the cloying atmosphere of cigarette smoke and video poker burbles, I introduced myself and remarked something along the lines of ‘I’ve been living here for three years now waiting for someone to start a goth night’ and he came back with the unexpected reply of ‘I’ve been here for three years now trying not to start one.’ At the time, this exchange seemed rather arrogant, but now after seeing how this man has been operating as a catalyst for what is turning out to be an incredible dark music community, I think to myself that I wish he hadn’t waited so long.
I recently had the opportunity to attend three separate performances of Endif over a three week course. The first week I caught a live show where he performed tracks off his albums Meta (2006) and Carbon (2008), the next weekend, I danced to goth/industrial classics under him in his guise as DJ Endif, and the third weekend I was able to see him improvise ambience and noise at a collaborative monthly noise event. Throughout this time I was fortunate enough to be able to ask Hollis questions on the recent flowering of exciting activity in our experimental music community, his role in it and some about his performance techniques and equipment.
On Wednesday, February 29, 2012, apocalyptic leap year, I saw Endif open for Schizopolitans, a strange experimental group operating in Reno for years now, at Club Underground home to one of the larger stages in town. Initially, two groups hailing from France were to play as well, Drone a Clochettes (from Ile de France) and Tamagawa (St. Ettienne), unfortunately they found a more lucrative home for the night, over the mountains, playing Fresno California’s Chinatown Youth Center. The crowd at the Underground was sparse initially and Hollis filled the preshow time with a showcase of Tympanik Audio groups mixed here and there with goth and industrial classics, controlling the hall’s sound system through an innovative application on his phone.
Night geared up and sound check complete, I watch as Hollis steps into the role of Endif. An ominous relay radio exchange begins ‘Sleeper Cell’ and I am struck by the transformation of the friendly and well spoken Jason Hollis I see around town into the visibly angry and forceful Endif, growling and screaming into the microphone. He carries something of the stage presence of a vocalist in a reactionary punk band, not what I have come to expect with live electronic music. I was surprised by the live vocals as well, I am not sure now if I initially thought them to be sampled in the recordings or that the level of processing relegated them to the land of prerecording, I was not alone in being caught off guard by them either, a friend in the audience displayed a similar reaction. Endif’s set seemed a bit stripped or skeletal compared to the recordings, when I asked him about it over email, he says just how complicated the actual live process was. “The Tama 204 I was playing via a pair of Pintech trigger tubes sat perfectly in the mix. First time that unit has seen service, literally, having been new in box until last week. It takes over from the Simmons SDSV I used to use, which I sold to Prophei recently. Vocals and other processing via MoFX and a Rocktron effects rack, fed from the aux sends on a small Xenix mixer gave me good control over vocal texturing and delay grabs off all sources. Ableton Live provided the parts I wasn’t playing in realtime, and hosted an instance of Battery (a virtual sampler) and some other effects I ran back into the laptop from the submixer’s tape outs. I had a minor technical difficulty, in that Battery, which I was controlling via Akai MPD24 percussion pads, would occasionally turn its volume down, seemingly at random. Must be some automation in there that I’m not aware of that needs clearing out. Had to keep turning it back up. Other than that, the first time with a new rig configuration seemed to work well, and the show felt good.” The final three songs were the highlight of this performance beginning with ‘Second Skin’ where the pulsing colored lights visibly synced with Hollis’ arms while he drummed and the hypnotic industrial took over for one of the quieter parts of the show. The dark mood was not lost going into the next piece ‘Peeling the Layers,’ despite the much harder more abstract sound. “The deception is what you want and usually what you see,” comes a sampled voice, as a masked man projected behind the stage towers menacingly above the crowd at the peak of this song. After the incessant rhythm of ‘Ghost in the Machine’ deconstructed itself in front of the heated audience to close the great set, Hollis unplugged his microphone, held his hands to his face for a moment looking bewildered, caught in the midst of decompression and began to disassemble his setup as the house lights came on.
Like a wingnut on the fly version of Talking Heads or Madness, Schizopolitans have been holding high and keeping current the insanity banner in Reno since somewhere around 2005. When I moved here that year Schizopolitans leader Xtevion was the first nonrelative I contacted with the naïve idea that one can join a band of this caliber on merit of asking alone. Social media was new then, what can I say…
Schizopolitans played an excellent and incredibly long set. Clocking in at well over an hour, their performance began quietly with electronic ripples and burbles while Xtevion introduced the audience to his handmade instrument The Big Black Stick, which is “simply a PVC pipe with drum triggers attached with velcro and cloth. It’s plugged into a Roland drum module and MIDI’d out to my laptop.” He doesn’t mention that it is around an imposing six feet tall. It adds a fairly entrancing visual quality to the performance and it is great to watch him dance and wrestle with the instrument as he plays. The three piece then moves into the rousing high energy ‘Closer’ reminiscent song ‘All Hands,’ working the audience up into a happy beer fueled hypomania, with their impressive arsenal of instruments, surreal animistic backdrop projection and endearing tautological banter to the crowd, Towards the end of the lengthy set, they surprise with a bizarre flexipop-sounding cover of Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry, but then even more so with ten minutes worth of improvised farfisa fueled spacegaze during one of the numerous but not needless encores.
Both the Endif and the Schizopolitans sets can be found on ustream here.
Later on in the week, on Saturday, March 3, I got to see Jason Hollis in his role as local goth/industrial night Interzone resident DJ Endif. Hollis and another Reno resident Russell Fleischhacker started Interzone towards the end of 2010, and it has been with much delight to watch as this monthly party has moved from a sickly neighborhood bar catering to the lovely after dark combination of addicts and slot machines all the way across town to the thousand-dollar-plastic-pants in a proper nightclub. When the dark music scene began exploding here in the last year, I kept wondering to myself ‘has this been going on all along under my ignorant nose and I am finally finding the keys to doors that unless unlocked make life miserable, or is the whole town finding them at the same time.’ After voicing this half paranoid concern to a number of people in town, we conclude, no things really are rising from the dead. It has a similar exciting feel to the current coldwave renaissance happening in the northeast megalopolis. I asked Hollis about his role as one of the catalysts of this reawakening. He says “Over the last 20 years or so, I’ve come to realize that I’m a reasonably effective cheerleader and organizer. I take what I see around me and build things with it, or help existing processes evolve if I can.” I think one of his traits thats lacks in many is the vision to see these building supplies that are everywhere, not just in our bedroom communities and online genre ghettoes. Asked about a similar role he played in the burgeoning powernoise scene in Madison a bit back, he pays credit back to Caustic’s Matt Fanale, saying he was an accelerator , just “to a much lesser degree. Matt Fanale was already in the central role, having painstakingly assembled a vibrant scene in his small city, I just helped it all along where I could, adding fuel to an existing fire.”
For the third time in as many weeks, I was able once more to audience Endif, this time at what is to me our most stimulating regular event, the Reno Noise Night. This is a monthly event of solid performances with an innovative structure to it that fosters collaboration and promotes real time intermedia artistic exchange. Setup consists of several musicians (in this case it was RNN cofounder Kyle Weiss’ project Stickybop, Endif, and local John Wood’s Sravana108, live painting and in one case a man with antique typewriters offering custom wordsmithing (he wrote me a strange little piece of Cthulu Mythos in the style of the Russian Symbolists!) Each group plays single improvised piece in turn, round robin fashion, but as the night grows, borders blur then dissolve and the amorphous quality of an installation or the operatic klangfarbermelodie total art takes over. The eyes are dazzled, the ears are stunned, and the mind wanders from person to person and through their different equipment. The art, music, colored lights and the subtle incessant urgings pushing from the hellish typewriters create a supercharged almost ritualistic atmosphere. Bey’s TAZ comes to mind every time. “Part of it all is breaking down walls and pushing people together so they can meet and bounce off each other and mutate.” Says Hollis, “Half of the reason I do the noise night is to do it, to perform, etc. The other half is to bring people together in context to see what they do, like taking the control rods out of a nuclear reactor.”
It’s really great to have a musician in town with the drive and charisma to help pull something like this off. Asked his thoughts on this towns future, Hollis doesn’t predict, just looks forward, “The larger something becomes and the longer it exists, the more complex and un-manageable it becomes. Entropy sets in, things fragment. This can be good, sometimes, bad others, depends on the motivation and talents and temperaments of the individuals, context, etc”
Photographs were kindly captured by Christopher Fuqua, the whole set can be seen here.
Interview by Bryan Babylon