Hospital Fest 2018 in review (Power Trip, Prurient, Jesu, Merzbow, Kelly Moran, more)
Dominick Fernow, patron saint of industrial noise and founder of Hospital Productions, has his foot in almost every hardcore DIY scene imaginable. Through his work as Prurient, Vatican Shadow, and Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement, and through the eclectic roster of artists he's cultivated on his 21-year-old imprint, he has continuously sought to, as he puts it, "fight nostalgia through newness and risk." Seven years after Hospital Production's physical store in the East Village closed, this year's Hospital Fest at the Knockdown Center on Saturday (12/8) felt like a certain kind of family reunion, providing a space for wayward goths to drink $8 Tecates, bond over matching Swans T-shirts, and headbang vigorously.
The day started out with harsh noise outfit Black Leather Jesus, who sat amongst the audience as they used contact mics to turn metal sheets and large stones into punishing, stormy soundscapes. The group has always focused on drawing terrifying experiences out of quotidian objects, rather than relying on heavily manipulated modular synths or software. Here, the airy vastness of the venue began to show its benefits, as the band's slightest movements became huge, echoing reverberations. Another early highlight was Ron Morelli, founder of influential techno imprint L.I.E.S. Records, who mixed bass-heavy techno with live vocals (which mostly consisted of screaming). Like many sets at the festival, his existed in between the logic of a discotheque and a metal bar, perfectly emblematic of the blending Fernow has sought to achieve with Hospital Productions.
The festival also included sets from both G.C. Green and Justin Broadrick of legendary industrial metal duo Godflesh. Green performed as his solo project Vitriol, while Broadrick wore many hats throughout the day – in addition to DJing, he also performed as Jesu and Final. Hearing the two perform separately felt a bit like a peek behind the influences of Godflesh – post-punk, shoegaze, ambient drone, and power electronics, all filed neatly into side projects. Though there was no reunion set, plenty of people bought Godflesh shirts at the merch stand, which featured nothing but black T-shirts.
But the festival was also about expanding beyond the world of industrial metal and noise. Kelly Moran, who brilliantly performed three movements on a prepared electric piano, felt like a natural inclusion to the festival, yet still brought a new energy to the stage with her delicate compositions. And though a collaboration between Prurient and Power Trip was billed, that didn’t actually happen, but Prurient did introduce an acoustic element to his typically ceaseless harsh noise performance by collaborating on stage with Arthur Rizk (who produced Power Trip’s 2017 album Nightmare Logic) right before Power Trip went on. Power Trip’s set warranted extra security at the front of the stage, and they provided a shock of energy as they sped through the Nightmare Logic songs.
Update: Power Trip frontman Riley Gale has responded to our review, and says the collaboration did happen. His words:
Prurient, [Igor] Cavalera & Rizk’s performance, with vocals from myself, [lead] seamlessly into our 1st song. [...] Rizk and Prurient [added] completely new sound and visual arrangements during and in between every song, crafted around our setlist.
By 11 PM, the crowd had gathered in the main hall for Merzbow, one of the most prolific artists in the noise genre. His set, the longest at the fest, alternated between high pitched loops and low, earth-shattering drone, a physical experience as much as mental. In case his undulating soundwaves were not enough to hypnotize the audience (some of which indeed did seem to be asleep), the black and white spirals and waves from his visual projections added an extra layer of psychosis to his already mind-altering set.
Merzbow seemed to be the peak of the night for most of the earlier attendees, but even far past midnight, newcomers entered the venue for sets from darkwave DJ Becka Diamond, techno outfit Silent Servant, and EBM-influenced producer Shifted. Those who were there for the whole day saw a transformation, perhaps emblematic of Fernow's own shifts in taste and style. Wearing all black can be a proclamation of black metal Satanic devotion, or it can be the perfect Berghain-ready club outfit. At Hospital Fest, at last, it could simultaneously embody both.
Watch some clips of Power Trip and the Prurient/Arthur Rizk set: