"Val and I can be as loud as we want to be here. Nobody cares," he says, as we make our way to the back porch to split a six pack of local brew. It's a Saturday afternoon in November. Unseasonably mild. The hum of the colossal interstates carving up this part of town permeates the atmosphere. Schofield begins to roll a cig. "Nashville can be pretty dismal, but I'm accustomed to Southern-style living: a house, a yard, a grill outside. It's nice."
LP, Schofield's vinyl debut under the Container alias, has turned out to be one of the more lauded techno albums of 2011. Released on John Elliott's thriving Spectrum Spools imprint, its crunchy beats, low-tech decay and fist-pumping zeal (first time I saw Container a burly mosh pit erupted) have struck a chord with an electronic dance music scene that is once again craving techno that is hard, heavy and elemental: CLR, Delsin, Stroboscopic Artefacts, Ostgut Ton, Perc Trax, Sandwell District.
After making quick work of our first round, we agree some background sounds are necessary. I pull from my backpack a copy of Planetary Assault System's new album The Messenger, a total hypno-brusier (particularly "Rip The Cut"). Schofield slips the CD into a portable player sitting atop an unused washer. He's never heard the thing. "People come up to me at shows and want to talk techno, but I don't know a whole lot about it," he reveals. "I don't listen to techno, really. The reason I started [Container] is because Val listens to a lot of electronic music. One time, at a show she was iPod deejaying back in 2009, she played this Daniel Bell track. For some reason I was way into it that time. I really liked the weird vocals."
He's referring to the version of "Losing Control" from Blip, Blurp, Bleep: The Music Of Daniel Bell, a killer collection. Another influence he cites is one Jan Svensson, AKA Frak, a Swede who has been releasing cassettes of unconventional technoid minimalism on his Börft Records label since the 1980s. But in terms of "the canon," Bell is about it. The guy is a true outsider. So outside, in fact, the chances are good he isn't digging this Planetary Assault Systems record. "A lot of times somebody will recommend an artist, saying 'You have to listen to this. It's really fucking insane.' Often it's not what I imagined it to be. Part of the reason I never got into techno is because it sounds too smooth and glossy, like it was made on a laptop. I like things raw and kind of sloppy. I like things when they're not perfect. That's why I like Frak. He has more of a busted sound."
Schofield's embrace of the primal and mutant has been shaped by his coming of age in America's noise underground. He drops beats now, but this wasn't always the case. He grew up in Providence, Rhode Island. As a teenager in the early '00s, he fell in love with the city's vibrant underground rock scene, home to bands such as Arab On Radar, Lightning Bolt, Olneyville Sound System and Landed. These sonic behemoths were unique in how they married post-hardcore intensity and lo-fi textures to hairy-ass groove research and rumbling bass. Though these musicians pummeled audiences with music rooted in punk and rock, their propulsive rhythms clearly betrayed childhoods weaned on the brawny drum machines of hip-hop.
Schofield acknowledges this aesthetic exerted an influence—albeit one that now lurks in the deeper recesses of the memory. "When I started Container I wasn't consciously trying to make weird music. I was actually trying to do a straight-ahead techno project, but since I've been playing live and the record came out, people have been talking about how weird the music is. At one of my earliest shows, a guy asked me if I had used an Arab On Radar sample. He had heard a band in my sound that I had loved years ago."
He soon started making his own music. Playing drums most of the time, he participated in a slew of cacophonous projects: Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment, Dynasty, Gang Wizard, Mercy Light. Most of these released limited-run CD-Rs, seven-inches and cassettes over the course of the last decade. Eventually, he began performing and recording solo under the name God Willing. Trading his kit for a tabletop of hot-wired electronics, sometimes abusing guitar as well, he specialized in a brutal brand of noise rooted in analog distortion, harsh tones, gnarled loops, violent drone and, early on, a radically unhinged interpretation of free improv. He also, in the live setting at least, spewed beer like a geyser while flailing about maniacally.
It's the same approach, just a different sound."
While talking about past projects, he makes an interesting remark. "I now do the same thing I did in noise. It's the same approach, just a different sound." A considerable amount of carry over definitely occurred when God Willing gave way to Container as his primary project. The first three releases under his new moniker, Rattler / Rotation (Demos) and a pair of eponymous titles, arrived as cassettes, a medium popular with American noiseniks. In terms of equipment, Schofield still relies heavily on pedals, a mixer and a four-track.
"I punched my 303 one day out of frustration because it wasn't working right," he explains. "I didn't even hit it that hard. But I had some money saved up, so I bought the 909, which is like a glorified version of a 303. I run one of the outputs clean into a mixer and the other one into a four-track (my favorite instrument in the world is a four-track, so it made sense to incorporate that into a set up). I then run the four-track through some pedals. And so with the channel going from the 909 to the four-track I can blow it out—distortion, internal feedback, delay."
Equally interesting is how he continues to play the kind of short sets, between 25 and 30 minutes, endemic to noise and punk music. This is by choice. But it's also a reflection of the fact that Container has had scant contact with the American techno community. He doesn't play dance clubs or raves; he plays noise shows, often in the same dank basements and for the same crusty kids who loved God Willing. "I just finished a tour around the country," he says. "It was awesome. I love playing weird, little towns around America. More and more people seem excited to hear heavy beat stuff rather than just noise. I overheard one person at a show say, 'I guess it's okay to head bang to techno now.'"
After the sun sets and the six-pack consumed, Schofield, Martino and I head down the street to Betty's Grill. "It's a weird place," he warns, riding shotgun. "A really weird place, actually, a strange 'redneck' bar. But it's the only spot to have shows."
The place is dead. Schofield's buddy Crom, also a transplant from New England, tends bar. A few regulars clutch beer cans, smoke and watch the tube. NASCAR and (American) football posters cover the faux-wood paneling. There's definitely a late '70s, Deer Hunter feel.
Back at the house I had bugged Val to come along and join the discussion. As Schofield pointed out earlier, she played a role in his transition from God Willing to Container. She also has some quality insight into the American noise scene's growing interest in techno, something I want to hear more about. Val, you see, produces beat-oriented music herself under the name Unicorn Hard-On. She and Schofield just dropped a split twelve-inch via the Hot Releases and More Records imprints. Moreover, she's due to release her own full-length on Spectrum Spools.
"Val's been doing this a long time," says Schofield.
Unicorn Hard-On's experiments in fusing noise and beats began in 2003. "There's definitely more and more musicians incorporating them into a noisy sound," she says. "But there used to be just a handful. I always felt like an outsider. It was a little intimidating in the noise scene. There weren't many girls and not many working with beats. But I've always liked what they do to my mind. I've always tried to include them in my music."
The couple rattles off some obscure names: Mat Brinkman, Mammal, Viki, Pleasurehorse. For Schofield and Martino these "fellow kindred spirits"—each one hammering the sonic discordance of American noise into various permutations of jarring repetition—comprise an underappreciated lineage of feedback-soaked rhythm merchants who served as a source of inspiration. What has proven to be most influential, it seems, was these artists' unique knack for creating fantastically misshapen and mangled song structures.
This can be heard all across the Container record. At first blush, LP is pretty classic-sounding techno. Yet the more time spent with the album the more one realizes it lacks a fundamental ingredient: techno's exaltation of balance and form. Even an outré album such as The Messenger embodies this concept. Schofield's music doesn't. It's lopsided, asymmetrical and unevenly weighted. Crescendos, peak moments and breakdowns all feel the result of an irreverent intuition, a map that's being written and burned simultaneously.
The best example just might be "Overflow," scattershot bass and demented alien babble slathered in a greasy psychedelia that throbs and scrapes like rock. Then again, maybe it's the next track, "Rattler;" dig the way the shaky percolations collapse under the four-track's siren-wailing feedback. Gradually, the groove spirals out of control, prodded by a filthy glee determined to push everything in the red.
Interestingly enough, all the tracks were "completely composed," Schofield reveals. But he also says a lot of people are like me and assume they're more a product of free improv tactics. This fuzzy dissonance between what is heard and how the music was actually produced is most definitely related to the way he builds tracks. Though their structures are permanent, it wouldn't be inaccurate to refer to the construction process as controlled chaos. Schofield implies as much when he tells me there's an element of "jamming" to his method. It's a word that brings us back to the immediacy and spontaneity prevalent in his work.
After finishing off a few frosted mugs at Betty's we return to the crib for a quick nightcap. The cat is happy to see us. He circles the living room, rubbing his body up against everything, including a cardboard shipping tray filled with copies of Fake Sound Routine Volume 2, the newest cassette on I Just Live Here. If you own a tape deck and want an introduction to the growing list of American noise musicians trying their hand at (weird) techno, this compilation series is the best place to start. It contains contributions from many key names. In addition to Container and Unicorn Hard-On, there's Diamond Catalog, U16 (Jeff Witscher, AKA Rene Hell, using yet another alias), Leslie Keffer and Dog Synth. The series also features productions from like-minded Europeans Laser Poodle and the aforementioned Frak.
"We're maybe making it okay for noise folks to feel comfortable freaking out to beats," says Martino. "I'm stoked about that."
Schofield hesitates to use the word "movement," yet he is conscious of the fact that Fake Sound Routine is helping fuel something. "I think my favorite track on the new tape is by this guy Acre. He usually does heavy drone stuff, but after hearing the first compilation, he wanted to be on this one."
Acre's contribution is excellent, though his concept of techno is quite broadminded. Something like "lo-fi rhythmic noise" might be a more apt tag, seeing as how its stuttering static shares more in common with Pan Sonic than, say, a banger from Shake. This is the case with numerous selections, and it's most certainly by design. Schofield has an iconoclastic punk side to him. Fucking around with notions of what techno should and shouldn't sound like is central to his mission with the Fake Sound Routine series.
There's an irony here. Despite Schofield's mix of isolation, distance and subversion (some of it deliciously accidental, some of it an understated brand of intent), the techno community's embrace of Container has been hearty and only growing more so. This winter he'll be busy working on a couple of full-lengths: a follow-up to LP for Spectrum Spools and another for Morphine Records, the imprint run by Rabih Beaini (AKA Morphosis, a sonic maverick in his own right).
This latter release will undoubtedly draw Container into a closer orbit with the techno scene. Then there's Poland's OFF Festival next summer, an appearance that'll ostensibly put him in contact with his biggest audiences so far. I ask Schofield how all this might influence him, as well as his sound, further down the road. "I've thought about that, actually," he admits. "It could develop differently, but my own twist will never disappear."
In other words, you can take the noise dude out of the dank basement, but you can't take the dank basement out of the noise dude.