Baculum: Sometimes it's like you've played forever, but you've played ten minutes
This evening marks the beginning of Tourniquet Noise, a series of harsh noise performances at the Kitty Cat Klub each Monday during the month of July. The series, curated by local musician Kevin Cosgrove, aims to bring together artists who have played an instrumental role in giving life to the ever-changing atmosphere of noise music in Minneapolis. Tonight's lineup includes Baculum, the project of local harsh noise veteran and owner of Phage Tapes (blog here), Sam Stoxen.
Photo courtesy of Baculum
"At first I thought harsh noise was stupid," Stoxen says over brunch at Muddy Waters. He is somewhat of an intimidating presence, his face shielded by a rather outgrown rust-colored beard, a hat reading "Fuck art, make noise" pulled over his forehead. Solid black tattoos form a landscape of ink over most of his body, faded with time, and interrupted by the outlines of various symbols and lettering. He had pulled up to the restaurant on his chopper to meet with us, lamenting a mechanical issue that has been plaguing the bike, a mass of metal crafted lovingly by Stoxen himself.
"But then, the more noise I started to listen to, the more I liked it," hecontinues. Then, he echoes the sentiment Cosgrove presented when we spoke with him about the genre: "This shit's definitely not for everybody." Indeed it isn't, but Tourniquet Noise at least provides a means of discovery for those who are still undecided.
Stoxen has been involved in the Minneapolis noise community for some time. Cosgrove remembers him as one of the first artists he saw perform locally who sparked his own desire to begin creating this type of sound. Yet he hasn't performed in some time. Stoxen recalls his last live appearance as being at an event in a Minneapolis punk house in August of 2012, almost two years ago. When brainstorming a list of possible performers, Cosgrove was sure that he wanted to get Stoxen involved. It turned out to be as simple as just asking him.
Since 2007, Stoxen has also been operating his label, Phage Tapes. "There was a bigger noise scene in the United States then," he says. "There were a lot of projects coming out, a lot of performers. I wanted to release what I wanted to listen to." The label operates entirely in a DIY mentality. Stoxen dubs the tapes in his basement. Initially he printed the insets for his releases at printing shops like Kinko's, "which sucked," then formed connections with out-of-state printing companies who produced better quality prints at more reasonable rates. Eventually he purchased a screen printing press with friend Joe Beres, who operates his own label, Small Doses. They started screen-printings their own album art, which proved to be a fruitful learning experience for the two.
Over the years, Phage Tapes has put out about 200 releases, mainly of limited-run cassette tapes. Stoxen has even released the work of various international harsh noise artists. The label is self-funded. "I owe a lot of money," he says. "It's totally a hobby. It's not a way to make money."
Stoxen was introduced to noise music a decade ago, by a message board run by the label Southern Lord, that he followed in connection to his interest in doom metal. On the message board, users often mentioned Wolf Eyes and Yellow Swans, two mainstream acts with ties to the harsh noise community. These acts are often credited as being an introduction for listeners to the genre of harsh noise. "I think they were just more palatable to the general public," Stoxen says. He was drawn to the interesting approach to presenting sound elements, and began practicing the art himself.
Harsh noise itself is difficult for some to digest, perhaps because live performances of the sound generally consist of little or no stage antics. It can also be difficult for the performer. "It's hard playing live," Stoxen says. "Sometimes it seems like you've been playing forever, but you've only been playing for ten minutes. Harsh noise sets are generally very short." His first show was at Art of This, years ago, with Seth van Horn of Disthroned Agony. "I think he was spitting beer all over the place and got beer on the paintings on the wall," he says. "There was a freak-out, understandably. It was an intense evening." Stoxen was performing by the name Baculum. "That's the bone that's in the penis of a lot of mammals. I'm a male. Males are obsessed with penises."