Psywarfare / VOSH / Savage Mystic - live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Psywarfare / VOSH / Savage Mystic

live in Philadelphia (2023)

live show

Maybe the most interesting thing about Psywarfare’s August 3 performance in Philadelphia was how it was inherently contradictory. By virtue of the project’s very name, the intended goal of Psywarfare is to create sound (read: not music) that is designed as a tool (read: not necessarily art) to alienate and attack. Psywarfare mastermind Dwid Hellion, also of Integrity, has spoken multiple times about how Psywarfare was inspired by the Waco Texas Siege and how Feds used high volume sound to try to blast the cultists out of their compound.

Indeed, when I last saw Psywarfare in Baltimore a few years ago, Hellion spent about 30 minutes cranking out rumbling, thundering, cracking, shrieking, squealing noise from a bunch of electronic gizmos while several other people on stage caused calamity: One guy, (who I believe was Integrity behind-the-scenes-man Hector, RIP) ran around the stage banging cookie sheets together. Another guy spent the set smashing a metal trashcan with a baseball bat. Another guy had a microphone and sole intent to point it in directions of interference in order to cause the worst feedback possible. They were all wearing balaclavas. At that show, despite that people intended to come to a big-n-tuff, heavy, mean metal/punk/hardcore show, many attendees were visibly freaked out and disorientated.

Yet, when Psywarfare played Ortliebs (a tiny, square, metal lined building perfect building for sonic distress) the approach was vastly modified. The stage had been modified so that a large, abstract backdrop hung IN FRONT of the stage itself and an altar with all manner of electronic gizmos was set up in the audience itself. The lights were almost entirely dimmed, so the venue was not pitch black, but close.

Hellion then appeared and hit a switch. Immediately, the gizmos started to spew out an unending low, rumbling buzz-clank. It sort of sounded like an earthquake mixed with a vacuum cleaner and sound of the air rushing past an airplane at high altitude. The sonic backdrop was at both irritating for it’s squeals and interminability, but also sort of soothing through its low hum and constant hiss- almost like an ambient noise device gone wrong. I should add here that the noise was pure noise, and had no semblance of cadence of rhythm at all, which would continue for the whole evening. Psywarfare is billed as a noise act and indeed, it was noise without any semblance of music by design.

However, as soon as Hellion flipped the “on” switch, he immediately left the room. For about five minutes, the machines just marched out their flow of cracking and hissing. At first, I thought that maybe this Psywarfare installment was some sort of art-damage gag wherein Hellion would just wait outside to see how long people would withstand the assault. I looked at my watch: 11:00pm. Last call? 2:00pm. It looked like it was going to be a long night.

But then, tables turned. Hellion returned in about five minutes. Wearing the classic Psywarfare balaclava, he pulled a Frankenstein re-jiggered microphone from behind the altar and brough it out into the audience. He let forth a primal scream into the device and then approached the audience. He held up the mic to some random guy and motioned for the guy to do a similar primal scream. After pausing and being confused for a few seconds, the guy did just that. Hellion then made his way around to about 15 people, having each person do his or her own scream. I will say, it was interesting to see how different- duration, texture, level of seriousness- each person’s scream was.

Hellion then returned to his altar, all the while the machines spewed out their unending caterwaul, and produced a gizmo box. He then made his way through the audience and had every single person mess around with the controls. For the most part, people made sounds like the communication radio transmitter in Apocalypse Now, all bleeps and squeals. Some people were able to create yet another tapestry of static and hiss on top of the one already crackling away. One person was somehow able to make the box generate sounds that were almost identical to PAC-MAN. I, however, was bizarrely terrible at the device that everyone else had ease with and was only able to make a few whirr-whirrs.

The whole approach was something of a shock- where Psywarfare had been designed as a tool of attack, and where previous performances were seemingly designed for horrify people, the Ortlieb’s show was almost like a community workshop. That is, despite the nasty sounds, everyone was having fun screaming and playing with electronics. Dare I say, at some points, it was silly fun. Indeed, instead of being blasted apart, people were sort of connecting with each other and intently observing the sounds each person could make with his or her own talents- or in my case, lack thereof!

Hellion then returned to his altar and as a sort of coda, used the devices to conjure a more complex array of squeals and buzzes than any one induvial member could do, considering experience. The noise then snapped off and in a hand break slam stop, the performance was over. People were somewhat caught off guard- both by the sudden ending and the community aspect of what was expected to be an attack-show. And this made me change my opinion of what Psywarfare is. Where I once thought the project was a weapon, I now realize it’s more of a toll. A hammer can be used to smash someone’s skull in, but it can also be used to build sculpture.

Before Psywarfare, Baltimore’s VOSH brought a decidedly more melodic approach to the evening. Stepping on the line where goth, post-punk, and dark wave intersect, the band cranked out super heavy tracks that rumbled and crash that, as aided by the song-bird deliver of singer Josephine, were also extremely light. That is, they had the low smash of Bauhaus and the astral-drift of Cocteau Twins.

Josephine provided a dynamic stage performance- she likes to strike bold poses and the jump into the audience and thrash about on the ground. This is contrasted by her almost classical voice, which almost sounds like a ‘20s songstress transported into the future. All the while, the band conjured a suitably intense throb. Yet, while a lot of the music was sledge hammer thumping, I also particularly liked how they string a gossamer backdrop behind the black, creating a fragile, but muscular beat. In part, this is due to drummer/machine-man Chris Moore (also of Coke Bust), who combines live drumming with immensely loud cyber-clanks. If you like spooky tune-age, here is your new favorite band.

The show opened with Savage Mystic, which also includes Francis Kano of Devil master and Integrity. The band kicked out incredibly distorted riffs while the vocalist screamed and roared in a sort of blackened hardcore delivery. Kano’s riffs, with their twisting spiral, echo the first four classic Danzig albums with their warped blues, albeit with a bit more Nordic menace. Meanwhile, in a unique twist, the band also had a second vocalist that hid behind the drummer that added a second roar to the sonic deluge. During the last song, Hellion came out and added some harmonica to the song’s creepy intro- and then again, the twin-vox sonic blast ignited. This is a band that really knows how to make a racket!... in a good way.