You may have never heard of F/i before, but mention them to noise acolytes of the era and you’ll hear a sigh.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin is home to more than beer and the Bronze Fonz. The city has a thriving scene of working musicians who can make a living in the endless supply of bars and church festivals that host legions of cover bands. Milwaukee can seem stuck in time, with an ‘80s fashion sense still evident decades later. Yet the time and place that gave us stonewashed jeans and spiked hair also gave rise to a largely unheralded post-punk noise scene. There was no vital San Francisco-like underground here as supported the likes of Flipper. No, F/i, with a similar mindset and idiosyncratic capitalization, developed their post-punk experiments from a cadre of simpatico misfits. Sorcerer Records has reissued their 1987 album Why Not Now?…Alan! on vinyl, all the better to play its sludge at the ear-splitting volume for which it’s made. It’s a worthy introduction to a catalog that goes deeper than you might think.
Don’t try to listen to this on your phone or through earbuds. This music gets better when you crank up the dial far enough to shake your bones. Which is not to say this is any kind of danceable. While there is a krautrock influence, the beat isn’t quite motorik, though the over nine-minute title track kind of gets close. Drummer Jan Schober lays down a brutal thud while the guitars and samples and scraping and feedback swells and builds to a crescendo like a sloppy version of Glenn Branca’s “The Ascension”—art punk a la Flipper and Wire but far more experimental than either, yet for the most part more accessible than all but the most radio-friendly Throbbing Gristle tracks.
The band gets is tinnitus-inducing effect across better at length. The fuzzy ambiguity of the four-minute opener “Number 27” has a lo-fi hiss that recalls what their cassette releases must have sounded like. The cryptically-titled “QR (Z)” is three minutes of cacophonous play that suggests a living fragment of Metal Machine Music. These shorter pieces don’t quite prepare you for extended constructions like the nine-minute electronics and guitar drone of “Nothing More Than a Hoax,” which incorporates a radio signal that’s just on the edge of comprehension. When a beat comes in, it imposes a thrilling order on the disorienting chaos, the tension between them providing the band’s considerable drama. Peak F/i comes with the dense, floor-shaking heights of eight-minute closer, “An Observation: The Eye at the Top of the Pyramid,” which builds to an explosive prog-punk din again thanks to caterwauling guitars over a steady droning drumbeat.
F/i was founded in the early ‘80s by multi-instrumentalist Richard Franecki, who developed his aesthetic through bands likened to both the Stooges and surf music. The rest of the band came together over a shared noise aesthetic. In addition to Franecki and Schober, the album credits Brian Wensing, Greg Kurczewski and Steve Zimmerman, though it’s not clear what their roles are. Still, you might not be surprised to learn that Zimmerman was reportedly a short wave radio guy. By the mid-‘80s, the group had some 15 cassette-only releases to their name and dozens of releases on noise comps.
Why Not Now?…Alan! came several years into a career that, improbably, is still going. While Franecki left the band in the ‘90s to form Vocokesh, he returned to F/i, who has continued to release new, chugging space rock as recently as the 2017 album Molire corpus tuum ex somno, vir mortue! –Latin for, loosely, “Nourish your body from sleep, dead one!” It might be even better than this one, albeit slightly more conventional in its reliable space-rock beat.
You may have never heard of F/i before, but mention them to noise acolytes of the era and you’ll hear a sigh. So if you haven’t picked up one of their albums before, why not now… whatever your name is?