Noise Camp returns to MOCAD

No music, just harsh noise

What is Noise Camp? How did it start? Why did it start? When did visual artist/musician Davin Brainard and musician/producer Warren Defever start it? We sat down at the Brooklyn Street Local in Corktown for breakfast during lunch time with Noise Camp's founders to get to the heart of it all.

Metro Times: Alright, tell me about Noise Camp.

Davin Brainard: When did I start being a camp counselor?

Warren Defever: In 1993, Davin was a camp counselor at a Methodist church camp. He brought a microphone and tape recorder. And the minute he pointed it at the kids, they just started screaming into the mic.

Brainard: I brought it there to do field recordings, like frogs and nature. But then as soon as the kids saw the microphone, they started screaming. There's a lot of screaming on the tape.

Defever: Davin immediately released the tape as Noise Camp. It's 30 minutes of kids screaming nonstop into a microphone, not quite static but.

Brainard: Oh, it's very dynamic, and was released on Time Stereo. Nobody knew that it wasn't a band, and Greg Baise invited us to open for the Dead C and so we're thinking that Noise Camp's not a band, it's field recordings. How do we do this live? That's when it started to become an event. Our first show was opening for the Dead C at Alvin's. And the next night, early in July '94, we played on the front lawn of Zoot's Coffee House. That's when Noise Camp as we know it started.

Defever: We lost count for a couple of years. We had two Noise Camp 7s, and then we went straight to Noise Camp 9. The basic formula is harsh noise from 7 p.m. to midnight. There might be a folk singer that tries to sing a couple folk songs around a campfire, but gets shut down pretty fast. This year it's outdoors behind MOCAD.

Brainard: At the Mike Kelley Mobile Homestead. That's where we did it last year too.

Defever: There's no music, just harsh noise. It's always outdoors. We've done it indoors a few times. We did it indoors at the Knitting Factory in New York City one time. We did a Noise Camp tour of Japan, all indoors. It's not as good indoors.

Defever: We had a USA vs. Canada potato sack race.

Brainard: We're gonna have that this year too.

Defever: At the Knitting Factory, I can't remember her name, but she went down hard. It was bad, totally wiped out, crowd cleared. Do you remember that?

Brainard: Yeah.

Defever: I won the potato sack race. I'll probably win again this year. We'll see.

MT: Do you practice?

Defever: No, but it's very competitive. There's also a hollow log filled with muddy water which gets passed around, and people drink out of it.

Brainard: I might've gotten it wrong but I believe there was a Mississippi Fred McDowell song called "I've Been Drinking Muddy Water Out of a Hollow Log."

Defever: That's what we tell people. That's the story.

Brainard: And so then I made a hollow log and filled it full of muddy water and passed it around. And there's a bush and a tree.

MT: All of these things, the bush and log and all that, they're sculptures that you made, right? Things you made in your style.

Brainard: Costumes, yeah.

Defever: Sculptures sounds a little fancy.

MT: Well, it's going to be at a museum.

Brainard: It is gonna be in a museum so we can call them props, sculptures, costumes.

Defever: Performance art.

Defever: One year, the Flaming Lips came. Are they allowed to play? No. Are they noise? No.

MT: No poseurs allowed.

Defever: No poseurs.

Brainard: Did the Flaming Lips really come?

Defever: Yes. We've been doing it for 21 years.

Brainard: I get mixed up.

MT: Who's performing this year that you can talk about?

Brainard: Haunted.

Defever: Doctor Gretchen is going to play; she was an original member of Universal Indians. There was recently a book that Kim Gordon put out, Girl in a Band. In the book, she talks about how after the popularity of Nirvana, she had lost hope for music. But then she says she saw a show in Detroit by Lighting Bolt, and Universal Indians opened the show. And Kim Gordon describes a woman playing guitar with a stone. Aaron Dilloway was in the band, and Doctor Gretchen was in the band. She's coming back. Kim Gordon described her as sexy and calls her the girl with the rock.

Brainard: Aaron Dilloway is playing. We think it's gonna be Aaron with his son, Leo. They have a band.

Defever: Real kids.

Brainard: But, you know, hopefully not a lot of kids show up.

Defever: Parents bring their kids early in the evening. Six or 7 o'clock is kid-friendly.

MT: Noise Camp coincides with the ascendency of Michigan noise, then.

Defever: I don't think anybody's given us credit for that.

Brainard: But we've been doing it for an awfully long time. And there's always been sweet posters for every show, which helps.

Defever: A good-looking poster helps.

MT: Sometimes you don't even announce it until right before — and in kind of a weird way, right?

Defever: It's called marketing! One of the things about Noise Camp is we do the same thing every year. There's not a lot of surprises. There's a folk singer, there's a hollow log, there's a tree, there's a bush. There's real kids. There's a crafts table. There's nurses.

Brainard: It's like a holiday. You don't try to reinvent Halloween every year, do something different. We just care about making a sweet poster and having a sweet Noise Camp.

Defever: There's a certain level of consistency. We haven't changed.

Brainard: And we don't care that much if people come.

Time Stereo's Noise Camp 21 takes place from 6 p.m. until late Saturday, July 18 at MOCAD, ; 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit;; 313-832-6622; free but donations are encouraged.

About The Author

Mike McGonigal

Metro Times music editor Mike McGonigal has written about music since 1984, when he started the fanzine Chemical Imbalance at age sixteen with money saved from mowing lawns in Florida. He's since written for Spin, Pitchfork, the Village VOICE and Artforum. He's been a museum guard, a financial reporter, a bicycle...
Scroll to read more Michigan Music articles


Join Detroit Metro Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.