On April 11, 2017 pioneering Providence label Load announced that its shutting its doors.
Throughout two+ decades of its existence Ben McOsker/Laura Mullen run enterprise created what Mark Hensch of Trash Pit described as “World’s most challenging roster”. From Lightning Bolt to Six Finger Satellite to Brainbombs and Arab on Radar, Load never shied away from putting out records that defied easy categorization (and probably destroyed a couple of eardrums along the way).
Our writers and followers are sharing their stories on what Load Records meant to them.
Commodity and the avant-garde are oil and water, but such strange cocktails become necessary when challenging art desires any half-life beyond ‘the moment’. The curious decision to take works indigenous to worlds unconcerned with ‘units’ or ‘profit’ and incur production costs so as to allow them tangibility and distribution reads as a noble exercise in futility. And in this era of low income, expensive freight, and new-breed listeners who’ve eschewed the totemistic aspects of fandom to worship at the altar of The Cloud, already-unprofitable businesses such as independent record labels – never mind those explicitly focusing on unconventional sounds – seem increasingly foolish ventures, if not nigh-impossible ones.
Even so, there are some institutions you never expect to die; Providence, RI’s Load Records, which announced it was ceasing operations on Monday evening, was absolutely among them.
By sheer coincidence, an hour before the announcement, I was listening to Coughs, a particularly raucous sextet who called Load home for most of their career. But it could’ve just as easily been The Scissor Girls. Sightings. Fat Day. The Hospitals. Nautical Almanac. Lightning Bolt. Adventurous artists who no traditional record company would look at twice, but whom Load felt reflected something inherent in whatever ethos compelled them to exist. That drove Load to continue. That made Load a imprint myself and many others deliberately combed the dustier corners of to discover what other treasures lurked there.
But after twenty-four years of releasing what they self-deprecatingly referred to as an ‘alternative to music’, founders Ben McOsker and Laura Mullen have decided that whatever future there is in disseminating experimental music, it won’t involve them. While we can assume the choice was fiscal, that’s not ours to know: as with the rest of their history, we’ll simply have to trust that their judgment was good.
Perhaps, it is just me, but there is nothing like getting a musical baptism from a noise rock band you never heard of. That’s one thing, it’s another to do it right when you are still dipping your legs into the indie scene.
Around the time, I discovered Load Records, I had just discovered things from dance rock to electroclash to indie freak folk getting their due in the scene. New York City was straight bombarding the indie scene, and everyone with a damn indie band wanted to move there and get noticed. I honestly don’t know how, but when looking up CDs on Amazon, I happened upon Lightning Bolt’s Wonderful Rainbow album. Trust when I say that when I went to the website of Load Records, I didn’t quite understand what I was listening to. I found it interesting, but I Was like “huh?”
The truth is Load wasn’t my first rodeo with noise rock. Before then, Jack White brought to my attention artists like Whirlwind Heat. But Load consistently took me to sounds and worlds I never knew existed. One of the albums I wound up listening to in full belonged to Kites. Royal Paint with The Metallic Gardeners was one of those albums. Wherever there wasn’t squeals and melodic synth buzzes, there was guitar strums that resemble an ice cream truck song. It was one of those albums that successfuly obliterated the idea of whether music can be good or bad…or whether noise could be music or not. It was interesting.
Another band I checked out was the math-punk band THEUSAISAMONSTER, from which I heard the track “Too Many Moves”. In 40-minutes, USAM kicked the shit out of every idea I thought I had about rock (then, they sketched it for a label logo). It was this song that got me obsessed with time signature. Of course, this was around the time where you can discover new bands and songs through free promotional MP3s. Way before they simply handed you a Soundcloud page. No matter what artist or band I heard, I was consistently surprised, and each listen obliterated time and time again what I thought about music. Everything I thought I knew from a SPIN magazine full of bearded folks and leather jacket hipsters? Boom, Load shoved an exploding dildo directly up there and made me think of music in ways I wouldn’t have without them. Not to mention, they released an album by Andrew W.K. To this day, my current favorite artists off there is Daily Life, Whore Paint and DJ Scotch Egg. Of course, Lightning Bolt kicks ass. Just listened to a track from Finished.
Anyway, without Load Records, I don’t think I would have been prepared for all the labels I would listen to in the following years. From SKiNGRAFT to Upset the Rhythm to Deathbomb Arc I would only bew into labels where I might not like everything they release, but the variety and the adventurous choices kept me coming back to see what else they got going. I have heard noise music, experimental music, avant-garde punk, avant-pop, etc. in recorded form, and a majority of them made me go “WTF?”, but in a way that turned from shocked and weirded out to incredibly intrigued. It’s a lot like spending your childhood playing softball, and some kid was showing you a homophobic neighbor getting piped by ten men in the window at knifepoint (because whatever gets him off). You will not be the same person, but at least your childhood won’t be a boring one. After that, all you want to do is go home and watch your dad’s porn collection.
With this, I say that I wish the best for the endeavors of many people on Load Records, bands, employees, and all. Thanks for adding to an interesting music collection. Thanks you as always for shaping my musical taste to what it is now. Because of you, I cannot listen to any more mediocre indie rock/folk acts.
Also, the world is going to need a bit of time to get used to Hawd Gangstuh Rappahz MC’s with Ghatz, but it’s nice that you decided to get in on the experimental hip-hop bandwagon as well.
Give Ben at Load Records credit. Despite my having savaged a couple of his bands on this very site (while effusing mightily about some others), he keeps sending me young noisemaking lambs to bring to slaughter. He pointedly said in an e-mail, “I’m going to be sending you some new CDs – some of it barely even music”.
Load are at the forefront of this sort of thing: heavy, shape-shifting noise rock, weirdo improvisational searching, bleeping & chirping laptop punk, and a dash of bombastic ST. VITUS-style metal thrown in for shits & giggles. Before NAUTICAL ALMANAC, it was the HAIR POLICE that struck me as Load’s most pointless act, but I think even the HP are blitzkrieging rock and roll stormtroopers compared to the inane Nautical Almanac. (and keep in mind, this is a record label I admire, what with Lightning Bolt, Viki, Noxagt and Sightings all on the roster). “Barely even music”? Way too kind.
I’ve said my piece before about the new hippy dip trip, but these guys are the living embodiment of what happens when kids weaned on punk and indie music get bored and look backward to make mistakes even worse than their parents. Go to their website and check out their deliberately spelling-challenged manifestos, you’ll see what I’m talking about. They’re not quite on the level of a Genesis P-Orridge verbal blubbering, but they’re trying so hard. It’s sooooo cute!
And instead of long stoned guitar jams, Nautical Almanac create the sort of random plugged-in oscillator sounds that anyone drunkenly tripping over the same set of electronics would make as their legs got violently tangled in the wiring & stands. No sir, it’s not even close to music. You simply cannot convince me that there are people who will sit and listen to this at home without full knowledge that they’re being ironic in doing so.
Even with a 5-foot bong propped in the middle of the room. Even with a pile of hallucinogenics on the coffee table. Even if they were already hopped up on goofballs. It ain’t happening, folks. What gets me is that in pitching a fake fit of apoplexy about the band, I’m playing right into their brazen modern hippie challenge. These guys want to throw down the gauntlet and start the revolution, the one after which Nautical Almanac “will take these reclaimed bones and build upon our new communities and traditions”. OK, you’re on. Rockers vs. heads, let’s bring the war home!