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Art Damage Going Dark

Longtime experimental music supporters face transition in hard times

By Uncle Dave Lewis · December 15th, 2010 · Music
In April of 1985, I got a phone call from Dan Williams, my collaborator in the group 11,000 Switches. He said, “Man, turn the radio to WAIF, I’m doing a show.”

I found my radio speaking with a new voice. At its most challenging, it had previously palpitated with the soothing strains of O.T., WGUC’s echt-serious Music of Our Time, New Wave with Michael Riley, T-Bone, Greg Doll, Craig Kelley and others on WAIF and Free Jazz on Miles Ingram’s No More White Gloves. But here was something that incorporated all of that yet added silly novelty numbers, Progressive Rock, Zappa, homemade electronic music, No Wave and Industrial.

Soon I joined Dan as his radio collaborator; Greg Fernandez also contributed through the summer until the fall when he moved to Columbus and created Ring Bells and Blow Whistles on Ohio State University’s WOSR. After Dan left in 1987, I continued as sole host through 1990 when I was able to bring in Chris Lockhart, Mark Milano and Iovae to provide relief in the long, late-night time slot.

I have no idea how we were able to build a following at such an hour, but Art Damage thrived. The homemade tape cutup aspect of the show garnered a lot of interest; we began to receive pieces from listeners ranging from James Robbins (now an editor at The Washington Times) to CAF Gallahad, then a college freshman whom today, as Nebulagirl, serves as the queen bee around which much experimental media activity in Cincinnati continues to buzz. As far as I know, it was the only radio show where you could hear President Reagan talking about poisoned meat, Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” played backwards, Ricardo Montalban warning against marijuana use, Cabaret Voltaire and Bob Braun in the same 10-minute brace.

I left Art Damage in 1991 and it continued on, ultimately adding and subtracting a long list of hosts including Android and Justin (the current hosts of WAIF’s Another Music from a Different Kitchen), Robert Inhuman of Realicide, Chris Roesing, Scott Hisey (of Gordy Horn), C. Spencer Yeh, Keith Larsen, Jack Ison, Nebulagirl, Steven French, Miranda of Liquid Death/Hello Pussy Records and Gabe Molnar, a Leibniz Scholar who now teaches in Montreal.

Some tended to specialize and this meant that the glorious crash collision of conflicting genres that characterized earlier Art Damage shows was softened, but everyone involved had their particular spin, adding something positive to the dialogue.

The Art Damage Foundation, which supports and promotes live, local performances of experimental music, came into existence when WAIF suddenly cancelled Art Damage in the middle of its 19th year. (The show returned to WAIF in 2008. It airs midnight-2 a.m. Monday nights.)

“Part of the complaint was that Art Damage was not generating enough money during pledge drives,” Chris Roesing recalls. “So in January 2005 we organized a live benefit at the Mockbee Gallery that lasted three days. We offered the money to WAIF, but at the time they weren’t interested. So we thought, ‘What are we going to do with this money?’ I was just finishing my MBA at CCM in Arts Administration, so we incorporated the Art Damage Foundation as a 501(C)3 non-profit.”

The Art Damage Lodge was established in the fall of 2007 and has since provided a stable venue for the Foundation’s activities. But this Friday and Saturday’s shows will be the last ones at the Lodge, which is operated by Wasteland Jazz Unit members Jon Lorenz and John Rich.

“A new owner bought the building,” Rich says of the Northside space. “She wants to continue it as a concert venue and we don’t really fit into those plans.”

The Art Damage Foundation has largely built a reputation for featuring Industrial Noise music and they have forged relationships with established noisemeisters like Michigan’s Wolf Eyes. However, Rich feels that this reputation limits perception of their efforts.

“Jon and I have really grown to hate the ‘Noise’ tag that has been applied to us,” Rich says. “We have a lot of different offerings that don’t fall into the Noise mode.”

Indeed, at the Lodge I once saw conservatory trained cellist Audrey Chen play a set with her group Kamama and discovered the awesome talent of Eddy Kwon, a CCM student who combines traditional Chinese violin styles with a raga-like type of improvisation — experimental, but not “Noise.”

There are some things no one will miss about the Lodge, mainly the four flights of stairs that lead up to the third floor and make the simple act of carrying an amplifier into the venue a major source of discomfort. The Foundation will continue, but a new venue is still being sought.

“Jon and I think it’s important to stay in Northside,” Rich says, “as it is central to the arts in this town, but right now we’re just running out of time.”

When I asked Robert Inhuman what his take on the Art Damage experience was, he replied, “Art Damage Radio really was my first exposure to experimental music on a local level. Later, The Art Damage Foundation further aided in establishing my own subcultural identity within punk media that desired to go against stereotypes and expectations in Cincinnati.

“In some ways, Art Damage was what initially armed me and my friends for everything that would transpire in the following years with Realicide,” Inhuman says. “It has been very nice to see the Lodge lasting over three years at a good location and I wish them the best in whatever comes next.”

ART DAMAGE presents the last shows at Northside’s Art Damage Lodge (www.myspace.com/artdamagelodge) Friday and Saturday, featuring performers like Wolf Eyes side-project Stare Case, Drainolith, Hearts of Palm, Ryan Jewell, The Gospel of Luthor the Geek and many others. Get show/venue details for Friday here and Saturday here.



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