Features

South Of The Musical Border

Much like the Mexican border city that it’s named for, the music of Juarez is beguiling, challenging and more than a little ominous, writes TIM SCOTT*. Photography by *OLLE HOLMBERG.


Revontulet – the debut solo album by Jessica Pinney, a Melbournian now studying in London – is like ordering from a taco truck while ducking stray sniper bullets.

The record’s inspiration lies in Ciudad Juarez. Situated on the Rio Grande opposite El Paso, Texas, it is one of Mexico’s largest cities. It is also it’s most dangerous with rampaging drug cartel violence and the unsolved Las Muertas murders, sexual homicides and heinous crimes against hundreds of local women. It’s a place you would describe as ?sketchy? at best.

?I’m really, really obsessed with the area,? says Pinney, whose other band Johnny Saw Horses wrote a concept album about the Las Muertas killings. ?The cities of Juarez and Chihuahua is where most of the crimes took place. We visited and when we were there we didn’t know anything about it until we read about it afterwards.

?My music is not a literal take on the murders but more of an idea of a city through sound,? she continues. ?Some of the quiet psych stuff somehow translates to a feeling of unquiet. There is a tension to it. Most of the stuff I play is kind of poppy, but poppy that is not quite right.?

Though Revontulet has been available since late 2008 on Melbourne’s esteemed experimental label Sabbatical, Pinney, who is studying aural and visual theory at Goldsmiths University of London, says her music has taken a back seat since she arrived in the UK capital. ?It’s kind of difficult to get things happening there. I’ve been doing things kind of half assed which is not the best,? she jokes while juggling a coffee and Ruby, a boisterous but lovable Staffordshire terrier, outside a Brunswick cafe.

?My music is strange because it’s kind of on the nice spectrum of noise but on the spectrum of standard rock music it doesn’t fit. What I do is the closet to a kind of blues structure but at the same time it’s completely fucked,? she laughs. ?I think it’s approaching a sound art sensibility – it sits as a piece.?

?The weirdest thing I liked when I was younger was Beck, and then it became this progression where I was getting into stranger and stranger stuff. I’m still a big fan of Justin Timberlake though.?

One of the tracks on the EP, ?Favorite?, features quiet field recordings interrupted by harsh, noise that goes from pretty to agitated very quickly. ?I’ve wanted to do something with completely inaudible vocals and that’s got a vocal throughout the whole thing. Then the loud bursts are a loop of me playing [my] favourite songs – I think there is some Patti Smith on there. I just like those loud belting songs.?

While the London experimental noise scene is strong, Melbourne certainly holds its own, particularly in a more extreme form of the genre, Pinney says.

?In London there is a different kind of approach as well. Melbourne noise sounds really particular. There’s all different approaches to blanket of sound kind of stuff, in London it’s a lot punkier but here [Melbourne] it’s just a bunch of really relaxed dudes. They are intensely lovely people.?

Whether it’s the extreme nature of the sound or the unconventional spaces where it’s sometimes performed, the experimental noise scene is sometimes considered pretentious or select. But, says Pinney, the live setting is where the genre truly shines.

?Yes, it is a pretty tough thing to just become exposed to, but I think the best thing is just go and see things live. While it’s always nice to have the records and everything, it’s always different when it’s live. The music is made to be played live – to have that bodily response to it.?

Pinney will launch Revonlulet this week at Brunswick’s Gulag Projects alongside Dead Boomers (Leith Thomas and Mark Groves), James Rushford and Joe Talia (a new duo with a forthcoming release on Sabbatical) and Aux Assembly (Dimitra Stankovic and Elise Bishop). She will also perform two shows with cohort James Rushford as Johnny Saw Horses.


?I think I’m going to play at least two or three songs off the EP and then do some improv. I use a laptop for some field recordings kind of stuff, there’s a couple of loop stations and then two mics. I normally have a synth as well but I couldn’t bring it over because of baggage restrictions. One of the songs ?What? has had to change pretty drastically as my computer broke down.?

While in Australia, Pinney hopes to draw a crowd who may not be familiar with experimental noise. She encourages prospective punters to leave their preconceived ideas about this style of music at the door.

?I don’t come from this background at all. I mean the weirdest thing I liked when I was younger was Beck,? she jokes, ?and then it became this progression where I was getting into stranger and stranger stuff. I’m still a big fan of Justin Timberlake, however.?

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JUAREZ IN MELBOURNE

Thursday, April 16
Gulag Projects, Melbourne, VIC
w/Dead Boomers + James Rushford + Joe Talia + Aux Assembly

Sunday, April 19
East Brunswick Club, Melbourne, VIC
w/Teeth and Tongue + Francis Plagne

Tuesday, April 21
Bar Open, Melbourne, VIC
Johnny Saw Horses w/Noizez

Wednesday, April 22
Horse Bazaar, Melbourne, VIC
w/Nick Kennedy