From the Depths: Load Records Turns 20
Welcome to From the Depths, a recurring feature that spotlights deep underground sounds lurking within the Rhapsody catalog.
Load Records turns 20 this year. In the time since its first slab-o-wax (Boss Fuel's "Just Like Anybody Else Would" 7-inch), there hasn't been a more vital noise-rock label. In the process of releasing sounds from pioneering outfits such as Lightning Bolt, Sightings, The USA Is a Monster and Prurient, the Rhode Island imprint basically grabbed noise rock by its collar and dragged the movement from its scuzzy roots in the Amphetamine Reptile and Tough & Go scenes into the modern era of avant-garde cyborgs and massive rock/electronic hybridization.
I first started following Load in the 1996 to '97 zone. At the time, label founder Ben McOsker was still struggling to get his releases both heard and written about. This puzzled me, since he already was unleashing killer stuff, like Thee Hydrogen Terrors' Terror, Diplomacy & Public Relations (über catchy underground rock that should've conquered the CMJ crowd), Olneyville Sound System's Because We're All in This Together (thunderous noise-blues), and Gerty Farish's Bulks Up (the true birth of "Casiocore"), as well as twistoid gems from The Scissor Girls, Six Finger Satellite and the mighty Landed.
Gradually, however, folks did start paying attention to the noisy little label from the country's smallest state. This was in large part due to Load being the primary outlet for Providence's overflowing menagerie of top-shelf visionaries and flat-out freaks (many of whom are affiliated with the now-legendary art space Fort Thunder, which created much of Load's distinctive cover art). These included the aforementioned Lightning Bolt (the label's flagship outfit), Forcefield, Pleasurehorse, Arab on Radar, Mystery Brinkman, Pink and Brown and Mindflayer. And then, amazingly enough, a second wave hit, one consisting of Prurient (shirtless power electronics), Kites (far too shattered for pithy taxonomy), The White Mice (grindcore meets costume rock), Necronomitron (brutal prog) and Vincebus Eruptum (sludge meets black metal meets epilepsy).
Admittedly, breaking the scene into two waves is a revisionist tactic only a dorky music critic would deploy (guilty as charged). If we could travel back in time about seven or eight years, it would appear as if all these artists belonged to a single, sprawling scene. But it's a scene that, between 1998 and 2005, underwent a substantial shift in temperament. Indeed, where the first wave championed neon-punk fun and Romper Room-style mischief, the second was far more obsessed with whipping up gnarled permutations of noise, extreme metal and industrial music. Contrasting, say, Lightning Bolt's 2001 album Ride the Skies with Prurient's Black Vase, released just four years later, drives home this point. Both obliterate the eardrum and unleash all the massive energy of an atom split in half, yet the former is profoundly joyous and ecstatic, while the latter is brooding and downright hellish.
But McOsker didn't limit the label's scope to Rhode Island. In fact, a lot of the very best artists Load released have hailed from other parts of the globe, including N.Y.C., Sweden, Ohio, Norway, Chicago and San Francisco.
Luckily for those of us who will love weirdo music to our graves, Load continues to unleash boss jams. My favorite album of 2013 (thus far) is Humanbeast's electro-punk masterpiece Venus Ejaculates into the Banquet, which just might be the most pop-tastic record McOsker has put out since Thee Hydrogen Terrors' sophomore effort. Incidentally, Humanbeast hail from Providence, and so do Daily Life, whose Necessary and Pathetic is one of the most potent albums to emerge from the minimal wave scene. A couple more recent keepers are Skoal Kodiak's Kryptonym Bodliak and White Suns' Sinews. To tag either a "throwback" wouldn't be wholly accurate, yet both records definitely invoke the very scuzz/post-hardcore roots from which Load first emerged.
Last but not least, this post is dedicated to Laura Mullen, the secret hero of the Load Records saga.