Total Abuse and Pharmakon Live at Red Light District in NYC – Review and Photos
Red Light District is a house and DIY noise venue in Far Rockaway, on the far end of the Rockaways, the barrier peninsula that buffets Queens and Brooklyn from the ocean. Sandy-related concerns and other, more personal factors put the venue on hold for many of the months following October, '12.
Almost two years later, on a tamer rainy night, Red Light District hosted the NYC noise artist Pharmakon and Total Abuse, a hardcore band from Austin, for a Sunday filled with emotionally raw, self-mutilating music that, if nothing else, may have started us all down the road to emotional recovery.
After an opening set by Nick Klein, Pharmakon, the pseudonym of Margeret Chardiet, took the stage. Put simply, Pharmakon is a dark noise act; at her most compelling, Chardiet makes music that incorporates human sounds like breathing, choking and heartbeats. Screaming into a long piece of scrap metal, she stalked the room looking into people's faces. Behind it all buzzed some other droning sound, a sustaining noise we recognized as something elemental, despite that it's purely electronic.
Unlike, say, Swans or Deafheaven, who pool together group sounds to make some sort of organic cacophony, Chardiet does it all by herself, resulting in an experience that's both organic and personal. The heartbeats and troubled breathing are the physical sounds of one person standing in front of an audience; they're amplified and isolated in a way that deepens them, makes them more stark and more powerful.
This was Pharmakon's second show at Red Light this year; Chardiet was one of the founders of the venue, so it was a homecoming of sorts for her too. We talked to Frank Ludovico, who runs the venue with a few friends, in his big backyard, among trees and buzzing insects -- a decidedly un-NYC environment. "We knew we wanted to have shows here again, and the time is right," he said.
Red Light is actually sort of charming, a kind of wonderful sanctuary for an art collective (and, surprisingly, they manage to run the noise venue, in what is essentially a suburban neighborhood, with little grief from the neighbors). The distance from the city makes for a venue refreshingly short on bored drunks and equally-bored scenesters. "People who come all the way out here are die-hard – they really come out for the music," Ludovico told us. "You're only going to come out here for something you really want to see, because you have to take the effort to get out here."
Back in the basement, Total Abuse revved up well past 1AM, playing a short, intense set, splaying themselves across the wet linoleum floor. Their lyrics dwell on self-effacing sexual imagery and self-abuse; their music runs the gamut from speed punk and sludgy thundering hardcore to feedback layered into unstable cacophony.
Last night, they pulled from all these wells. You don't mosh to their music without taking pause, because the violence of the lyrics is self-directed, a lonely, sickening world of gimp masks and prison sweat. If there was an element of rebirth in this show – one of Red Light's first as a newly formed venue – these acts aren't going to let it be a comfortable one.
Here are some exclusive photos from the show.