The Lunatic Fringe

Neurosis brings its loud and crazy friends to town for the Beyond the Pale festival

Four days of challenging, uncompromising, and occasionally assaultive sounds might not be everyone's idea of a slice of heaven. But for the members of the long-running Bay Area punk/metal/industrial enigma Neurosis, this weekend's Beyond the Pale festival is a fantasy fulfilled.

"This is something we've been wanting to do for ages, one of those dreams you're not sure you can really put together when you're touring your ass off all the time," says Neurosis vocalist/guitarist Steve Von Till from the San Jose office of the band's label, Neurot Recordings. In the past two years, the Neurosis collective has transitioned from a touring machine to a home-based cottage industry, recording and releasing the music of Neurosis, its offshoots, and like-minded contemporaries. Beyond the Pale is the result. "We're just throwing this festival out there," Von Till explains, "[as] a statement about where we think music comes from: from the heart and soul."

For the festival, which runs this Thursday through Sunday at the Great American Music Hall, the members of Neurosis corralled a world-class lineup of artists, including Chicago indie rock heavyweights Shellac, longtime New York underground fixture M. Gira, stalwart Japanese pummel trio Zeni Geva, and legendary Manchester sound experimentalists :zoviet*france:. Neurosis and Shellac headline Fri-day and Saturday nights, with various solo acts and Neurosis faves scattered throughout the festival. There's a definite arc to the four-day schedule, with more austere, experimental nights bookending two nights of high bludgeon.

Dianne Jones
Dianne Jones


Thursday through Sunday, Aug. 16-19

9:30 p.m.

On Thursday, M. Gira, Amber Asylum, Steve Von Till, and Scott Kelly perform

On Friday, Shellac, Neurosis, Zeni Geva, and Oxbow play

On Saturday, Shellac, Neurosis, Isis, and Thrones appear

On Sunday, :zoviet*france:, Tribes of Neurot, Tarentel, and K.K. Null perform

Tickets for each night are $15


Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell (at Polk), S.F.

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According to Von Till, "beyond the pale" is a phrase that originated as a description of parts of Britain outside of English rule. "It kind of meant, "Out with the barbarians, the riffraff, the scum.' So it's out there on the barbaric fringe, the lunatic fringe. That's what this music represents: It's the stuff that is outside of the norm." While, at first glance, the bands on the bill vary from mellifluous chamber music to over-the-top bluster and bombast, Von Till argues that the artists are tied together by a common thread. "There's a certain intensity, a certain element of primal nature -- darkness, aggression, self-reflection. That's definitely where we're coming from, hosting this [festival]. Music has to have some sort of edge or deeper, thought-provoking element for me to enjoy it. A catchy tune is not enough."

Since their mid-'80s punk beginnings in Oakland, the members of Neurosis have steadily expanded their sonic palette, consistently defining the cutting edge of heavy music by incorporating a wide range of elements like cellos, Moog, and samples. When side projects and insect noise tracks began to pile up, the group formed Neurot Recordings to better pursue back-burnered ideas and give an outlet to similarly inclined musicians. "We have an infinite amount of projects -- Neurosis, Tribes of Neurot, solo related ideas and collaborations -- that'll keep us busy for a lifetime, and we just need a home base for it all," explains Von Till. "We know we're putting out strange music, so we're not expecting the world. But I think people will take note, because there's something different going on here."

Beyond the Pale was a natural outgrowth of this desire to promote the Neurosis musical worldview, a way to bring everyone together for a big Neurot-ic party. And when the time came to pick the keynote group, Shellac was a no-brainer. The rare Bay Area appearances of the autonomous Chicago trio, led by infamous indie kingpin Steve Albini, are a guaranteed draw. That Neurosis had recorded with Albini in the past, as had other Beyond the Pale participants like Oxbow and Zeni Geva, helped convince the festival-resistant Shellac members to participate. "They actually had to overcome a natural reluctance on our part as a band," Albini says from his Chicago studio, Electronic Audio Recording. "We don't normally get involved in festivals. We've only played at a few of them, and, with one exception [All Tomorrow's Parties in England], the festivals that we've played at have been kind of unpleasant. People are there for sort of a laissez-faire weekender or something; the music is just sort of the backdrop to the experience. Specifically curated festivals like [Beyond the Pale] or All Tomorrow's Parties -- those are a different kettle of fish. It's not as much about people hanging out in a tent for a couple of days, watching whoever happens to be on tour at the moment, as it is about getting a sampling of someone else's genuine taste."

The first night of the festival is acoustic instrument-oriented, with performances by Von Till, fellow Neurosis guitarist Scott Kelly, local string ensemble and Neurosis collaborators Amber Asylum, and M. Gira of Angels of Light. Von Till says the members of Neurosis have been fans of Gira's musical output since his early '80s work with Swans, a group that influenced many of the Beyond the Pale participants. "I think his music has grown the way our musical taste has grown," Von Till says of Gira. "In a lot of ways, they reflect and parallel: from the anger and the intensity of the early days to the psychedelic and tranced-out stuff, then stripping it down to something more personal." Gira, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek e-mail, notes that his "mutual appreciation society" with Neurosis has gone on for years, and claims he doesn't fit in with the festival lineup at all. "I'm regressive, old fashioned, and completely unmusical," Gira self-deprecates. "Still, the young boys and girls enjoy watching an old man fail."

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