Friday, August 23, 2013


My song WET PET was recently reviewed on Tiny Mix Tapes:

Like the trippy composite on the sleeve of her Weird Universe LP, the music of Unicorn Hard-On’s got layers, buds, all of ‘em technicolor and dripping with detail: sky view, color field, the figure of a human female, dimensional folds. Each listen to a Valerie Martino session reveals 13% more striking elements than previously observed — another pocket of hi-fi synth bursts off in the left channel, another rhythm pounded out with deliberation between the pulses of the bass drum, another arpeggio conjured from nowhere and squeezed in alongside squalling siblings. Martino knows her way around a table crammed to capacity with Korgs. Three generations of Electribes (we’re talkin’ ER-1, EA-1, ESX-1) share beat duties and blanket the grid with enough input to sufficiently stimulate any number of hard-to-please mythological beasts, much less us.

I hear “Wet Pet” and right quick I think of the soundtrack for the Super Nintendo game Earthbound, all overlapping rhythms and squelchy leads and harmonically consonant good time vibes — but only because, after continual exposure back then, video game music supersedes all other touchstones in my brain. That arpeggio from 0:33 to 0:47, for example, screams “Jenova Theme” until it slips back into the rainbow goop. But that’s just me; I’m a geek. Look, e.g., at that semicolon. Choose your own lens, y’all: underground noise, Detroit techno, drone, contemporary synth composition. All of them lurk somewhere in here (and, like, kinda everywhere?), but it doesn’t matter when the beats hit and the synth voices heat up and start to fry. Quoth Martino: “What people used to call noise — now they call it the ‘experimental underground.’ At this point, I don’t even know what to call the scene or my music; I just want to make sounds that are beautiful and weird.” Word. You def got there, U H-O.

How cool is that? Check out more reviews and music news @ Tiny Mix Tapes!

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Interview with Valerie Martino of Unicorn Hard-on

Interview by Caitlin Kennedy


Over the past ten years, you’ve established your name in the noise scene. But one of the ways you’ve gone about that is by defying the conventions of noise: incorporating beats, techno, and even pop-inspired elements into your sets. Do you identify with one genre more than another, or do you see yourself as in between?
I’ve always been in-between genres, ever since I started ten years ago. From the beginning, I was creating music with beats in it; that’s always been my style. It was something I embraced to keep my music engaging, and it’s what makes me happy about making music.
The good thing about noise is that there are really no rules; the rule is to break the rules. So when I started incorporating beats, sure, that was breaking away from the noise music that had come before me. But the people who came before me, they had gotten where they were by breaking away from what came before them. Genres are always changing and adapting, and sometimes you have to give a big middle finger to what has come before and just do your own thing.
I do identify with the noise scene, because it’s where everything came from originally and has evolved from. Plus, I’ve been a part of it for so long now that there’s really no denying it. But genre distinctions are always changing. What people used to call noise—now they call it the “experimental underground.” At this point, I don’t even know what to call the scene or my music; I just want to make sounds that are beautiful and weird.
What is your history as a musician?
Well, growing up, I always wanted to be in a band, but I never thought I could do it. I never studied music; I never thought of myself as a musician. But I was really into art, and I went to school for acting.
At school, I had this best friend, and we would talk about the great band we were going to form someday. It was all talk, basically. Eventually, though, we got serious and bought some gear. Then, I ended up starting Unicorn Hard-on with a different girl, Jolene. We had no idea what we were doing; we were just creating soundscapes with synthesizers and beats. Our first gig was at a hardcore show at my friend’s house. Jolene and I were wearing weird costumes, and we pretty much scared everyone out of the room—except for this one guy, who was like, “That was fucking awesome!”
Then I met Mat Rademan from Breathmint Records. He was an experimental musician, who went by Newton, and he was the one who really introduced me to all the people who were doing noise. It’s pretty much thanks to him that I’m a part of the noise scene at all. He’s the one who really encouraged me to keep making music. He put out my first demo. So I just kept doing it, and now here I am ten years later.
What was it like to break into the noise scene?
When I started, I wasn’t really sure if people were taking me seriously or if they were only pretending to take me seriously because I was a girl. It was intimidating to be the one girl playing beats among all these dudes who were playing harsh noise with pedals and mixers plugged into each other. I wondered, “What is my place here? Do they think I’m authentic? Do they think I’m stupid? Are they just letting me do my thing because they don’t have the balls to tell me to get out?”
Luckily, I had friends who supported me and encouraged me. And there were people out there who liked my music; it just took me a few years to find my place. As time went on, other women started sending me e-mails and coming up to me after I played. They would tell me that seeing me play made them want to take their music out of their bedrooms. That is what changed my perspective about what I was doing. I was like, “Fuck all those insecurities. I am inspiring other women!” I wasn’t scared anymore.
Do you ever get tired of people asking you about being a female noise musician?
Sometimes it sucks when people write about you, and they don’t have anything to say about your music; it’s disappointing when all they have to say is that you’re a girl. Like, “one-woman wonder show!” When people write about guys, that’s not enough for a story: “It’s a guy! Doing music!” You have to say more than that. So it does get tedious, and after a certain point I’m like, “Why does it have to be about this? Just let me play my music.”
But when I was starting out, it was intimidating to be the only girl on the bill. And even though there are a ton more women who are doing noise now, I would like to see more women in the scene. Coming from where I did and having experienced all of the fear and intimidation, even if it was just in my own head, it doesn’t bother me as much when people want to know about what it’s like to be a woman in noise.
What does it feel like now that you’ve established yourself in the noise scene? 
Well, a couple weeks ago, I went down to Chapel Hill, NC, and played the Savage Weekend Fest. Ryan Martin—who runs Hot Releases; they put out my split record—organized that; it’s like a festival for “weird music.”
This year, there were bands from all over, including some Providence bands. It was pretty inspiring for me to be there. I had this moment where I teared up for a second—sure, I’d been drinking a lot… But Russian Tsarlag was playing, and his set was so good; and as I was looking around, I had this realization that, “Everyone here knows me; they know my name; they know me enough to want to make sure I’m doing okay.” To have that moment with people where everyone was totally in awe and appreciating each other’s art, it felt like a family to me.
Growing up, I moved around a lot, and partially because of that, I never really felt like I fit in anywhere. It wasn’t until I found the noise scene and started making a name for myself there that I realized I could belong somewhere.
You moved around a lot as a kid, but your adult life has also been pretty mobile: first Philadelphia, then Providence, followed by L.A., then Nashville, back to Philadelphia, back to Nashville, and finally back here in Providence… What’s it like to move around so much, and how does being a musician in Providence compare to working in those other cities?
My family calls me a gypsy; like, my dad jokes about he has a book that’s just full of all my old addresses. I don’t even know where I could go at this point. Because of moving around and touring, I’ve been to pretty much every major city, and I feel like what’s most important is what you make of where you are.
In Providence, I’ve played a few shows at AS220—at the Performance Space and 95 Empire—but usually I play shows in Olneyville. My friend has a space there. The scene here is really big and there are always shows going on. It’s cool that I can be a part of that and contribute. It’s also great because when bands go on tour, they’re always going to stop in Providence; because it’s fun, and there are good people here, and there are good bands to play with. So even though my friends who are musicians live in all different parts of the country, I get to see them  once, twice, sometimes even three times a year.
What is the story behind your band name?
All the way back when my friend Jolene and I decided we were finally going to be a band, we did what everybody does when they’re starting a band. We sat down together and started brainstorming, writing down everything we could think of on little scraps of paper, and tossing them into a big pile.
I was still in school at the time, and I had just done a project for some class… I can’t even remember what the assignment was, but I ended up making this long, involved presentation about the symbolism of unicorns. What I discovered, basically, is that it always comes back to masculinity: masculine power, masculine energy, masculine creativity… Which makes sense, of course, since the unicorn has a huge phallic symbol on its head. The end of my presentation ended up being a question: If unicorns are all about masculinity, then why do we use this creature as a symbol for little girls? Why don’t boys have unicorns on their notebooks and the wallpaper in their bedrooms?
So I was sitting at that table writing crappy band names on a piece of paper, and unicorns were on my mind! I just wrote down Unicorn Hard-on as a joke. I crumpled it up, and I was like, “There is no way that’s going to be our band name… But that’s hilarious.” Then, when Jolene and I were going through all the potential band names, we couldn’t stop laughing about it. We didn’t think we would ever play more than a few shows, so we figured… Why not?
Later, when Newton was putting out my first CDR, I wanted to change the name. He persuaded me to keep the name. He literally said, “Everyone already knows you  by that name, because of the CDR.” Which was not true! We had done like maybe 25 copies! But he convinced me, and the name stuck.
SquelchersCan you talk about what it’s like to perform withThe Squelchers?
The Squelchers is my noise band. One of the main reasons I got so excited when I was asked to do a tour is that it gave people an opportunity to see me outside of Unicorn Hard-on and to realize that I do appreciate traditional noise music. The Squelchers is about a soundscape; we’re blasting seven radios in a row and running around the room antagonizing people, trying to get them to participate with us. It’s one of the most brutal things I’ve ever done in my life—and it’s crazy; awesome; inspiring. I’ve done a few full US tours with Rat and The Squelchers, and every time I’ve come back covered head-to-toe with bruises, my legs swollen from being essentially beaten every night: rolling around on the floor, getting amps shoved into my shins.
As soon as the sound starts, I go into a trance where I let my body take over and perform. I don’t really think about the bruises or anything. It’s really been freeing for me; it’s allowed me to show that I’m not afraid of getting hurt; and it’s super fucking fun to be a part of.
Have you ever gotten seriously hurt?
The only really serious injury I’ve ever had was a super horrible black eye. That was at this basement show in Michigan; the guys there were huge. It was all these big noise dudes, who you don’t even have to instigate because they’re already so into it. I kept trying to back away, because there was this pile of big dudes, but I got pushed onto the top of the pile and someone’s foot just came up and hit me right on the top of my cheekbone. I got a black eye instantly. When I had my black eye, my boyfriend wouldn’t go anywhere with me, because one time this cop came up to us in the supermarket and was like, “Did he do that to you?” He was mortified.
Can you talk about your new record?
It’s on Spectrum Spools: six songs, three per side. It was a labor of love for me. Basically, about two and a half years ago, there started to be more people in the noise scene who were doing beats—more kindred spirits. So people who used to play traditional noise were doing more experimental, techno-driven music. It took me a while to figure out what my place was in all of that. I sort of had to find my footing all over again.
When I was recording this record, I had to strip everything down and not focus on what anyone else was doing. I couldn’t think about what people liked; for instance, the two songs on my split record with Hot Releases were probably my most popular, because they had vocals. I don’t usually make music with vocals, though. I just had to sit down in front of my gear and think about what I do. Like, “What do you do, Val? DO WHAT YOU DO!
So I wrote these songs, and I think the melodies are like vocals. There are parts of the songs where the melodies almost talk. I went back at one point and tried to record vocals, because I thought that’s what people would want, but it just didn’t feel right. It didn’t work.
What are your goals for Foo Fest this year?
I just wanna play the best I can. It’s always really cool to play shows where you know there will be people who have never seen you play before. I usually play for my friends most of the time in the scene; and even on tour, people who know you come to see you. So at Foo Fest, I want to give people a chance to experience a little piece of my weird world, and maybe they can take some of it with them.

Link to interview HERE.

(Squelcher photo by Alex Broadwell for Beached Miami)


I will be performing at VIA on October 2nd in Pittsburgh, PA. Check out THIS LINK for more info.

Pittsburgh, PA – The VIA Festival returns for a fourth year, carving out new sonic and visual journeys October 1-6 in various locations around Pittsburgh, PA.
A consistently top-ranked festival by Resident Advisor, VIA has become known for its unique pairings of musicians with new media artists from around the world for one-of-a-kind multisensory experiences and “expanding what it means to be a festival in the 21st Century” – Dummy Magazine. Passes go on sale in July, with more artists, events, partners, and locations to be announced.
VIA 2013 kicks off Tuesday October 1 at the Andy Warhol Museum with Julianna Barwick whose lush, loop-based ambient folk has entranced audiences around the world, most recently at London’s Meltdown Festival. With support from local dream-pop outfit Sleep Experiments, this showcase is co-presented by the Warhol Sound Series.
Wednesday Oct 2 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers, local solo-project Dream Weapon will induce an altered state of consciousness in preparation for Raime’s much-hyped a/v performance featuring a subpack system that will have audiences rumbling in their seats.
Following at Brillobox, Tennesee’s Container, Brooklyn’s Unicorn Hard-On (aka Val Martino), the trio Forma, and Aaron Dilloway (Wolf Eyes founding member) bring their unique take on the american technoise movement: from experimental, minimalist compositions and hypnotic drones, to futuristic visions twisting 70’s-80’s analog synthesis into something “massive, thunderous and out there…remarkably social and engaging…a brain-zap array of neon deliciousness”.
Thursday October 3 takes a wide-lens approach to modern club music. After performances at last year’s Decibel Festival and SXSW, Portland’s breakout vocalist-producer Natasha Kmeto, along with Cleveland bass-artist Jason Burns, whose anthem “Back To You” was an XLR8R magazine top 100 download of 2011, will prime the dance floor for techno’s “freak machine” Jimmy Edgar and the prolific, rule-breaking producer and Werkdiscs co-founder, Actress.
Chance-takers in their own right, KiNK and Lapalux hint at a weekend of danceable vibes with a blend of boundary-pushing house and hip-hop, but VIA has some surprises up its sleeves: a collaboration with the 2013 Carnegie International (the second-oldest exhibition of contemporary art from around the world), numerous visual artist projects, and more to be announced through September.


Chrissy Jones contacted me a few months ago, asking for a song she could use as a soundtrack to create a vision she had circulating in her head. Of course I said yes, I mean, have you SEEN her other videos? I knew it was going to be good. And the result is, to put it bluntly, and pun intended, ballsy.

review by Jane Chardiet for IMPOSE Magazine:

“Wet Pet” is our first look at Unicorn Hard-on’s forthcoming LP, Weird Universe; out September 30 on Spectrum Spool Records. It’s a slow burning subtle jammer. Spaced out beats are backed with dreamy, gyrating synthesizers and small bites of bright noise. Valerie Martino has maintained the project since 2003 and can be credited as one of the pioneers of the noise mass migration from harsh wall noise and power electronics to beat driven ‘technoise’.

It's a NSFW video, directed by the impeccable Christine Jones, and was filmed in a haunted funeral home in Philadelphia. The shoot had to be cut short when all those involved got too spooked. Jones prefers to work with ‘whatever is laying around’, using a cheap digital camera and took inspiration from Madonna’s black and white and sex saturated “Justify My Love” video.
The gritty video’s subjects (real life best friends who perform in the carnal punk band GG Lohan together) are nude and lewd, licking from the same ice cream cone, dancing to the beat and crawling around on the floor and it all looks like so much fun. A warning for the wary and prude, Yureka Cash’s testicles flap around unabashedly and those who are squeamish about such things should consider streaming the track via Soundcloud, without all the tit and taint. You would be missing out though; Slurr and Cash are a delight to behold.

UNICORN HARD-ON--WET PET from Chrissy Jones on Vimeo.

To add my own perspective, I find the underlying tones in this video an incredible visual representation of my own musical journey and struggle of blurred lines. You can decide for yourself what this video represents. Define it if you want.  But you may find yourself in a puzzling state, playing it over and over, and possibly coming to terms with something that very well might not have been your first impression.


UNICORN HARD - ON "WEIRD UNIVERSE" out on Spectrum Spools September 30

Valerie Martino's Unicorn Hard-On project has been a long running staple in the American underground since it's inception in 2003. Through her own Tangled Hares imprint, as well as many others, she's built a strong, constantly evolving catalog of singular works that serves to many as a prototype of the current beat-oriented phenomena currently sweeping the nation. Martino's vision, however, remains unphased and flourishes accordingly to her own unique vision; standing outside of any trends and remaining loyal to the Unicorn Hard-On sound. Despite having been constantly touring, releasing music, booking shows and occupying various cities throughout the U.S. over the last 10 years, there has been no full length Unicorn Hard-On LP until now.
"Weird Universe" delivers on all fronts, encompassing all styles of the projects past and present to create a cohesive and definitive debut album. The album pounds with Martino's signature drum thud and percussive clatter, filing in the crevices with her signature electronic static and keen melodic phrasing. The album's opening track, "Rock Salt", kicks in the door and unwinds itself into spiraling mania of ramping bass tones with only a steady rhythm keeping it from going off the rails completely. Many of Unicorn Hard-On's classic elements remain intact, with a wide array of bizarre modulations and deeply layered subconscious structures. Versatility and evolution are exhibited in tracks like "Houndstooth" or "Wet Pet", which play out like an extraterrestrial Rachmad cut, or perhaps like a classic Psyche styled Craig track with hypnotic, time altering melodic patterns and impeccably calculated rhythm programming. 
All comparisons aside, this record thrives in it's own "Weird Universe", making this a thrilling debut album 10 years in the works. 

PRE-ORDER HERE: Spectrum Spools

Monday, February 11, 2013


Wow, it's been about a year since I've updated this blog besides posting show gigs here and there. I know, that's really lazy. But I've got to be honest. I don't like to post unless I have something meaningful or noteworthy to share. I hope to be updating you guys more as the year continues on, as I have a full length record coming out. I'm also hoping to archive some of my earlier work, because I've been getting a lot of inquiries lately about where to find old releases. Give me some time, I will make it happen.

Also, if you have messaged Unicorn Hard-on on Facebook and I never responded, I'm sorry. I get a bit scattered when it comes to all these accounts on social media blah blah blah. Anyways, it didn't occur to me to check. I'm getting better though!

Thanks for all your support!! XO

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INC 2013 Laundry Room Squelchers set.

I did an interview with Matt Preira for the Miami New Times blog just in time for the annual International Noise Conference. I talk about music and Rat Bastard, check it out HERE.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I got to say, I am deeply flattered and humbled to have been written about so eloquently.


The noise underground has been flirting with techno more than ever recently. RA's Justin Farrar introduces some of the essential acts.

Back in January, as part of RA's Breaking through series, I profiled American producer Ren Schofield. His debut full-length under the Container moniker, released via the Spectrum Spools imprint, was one of last year's finest unrefined slabs of leftfield techno. Schofield talked about his roots in the American noise underground, and how the Container aesthetic is shaped by all the static-smeared drone, unruly feedback and broken electronics characterizing past projects. 

Even more intriguing is the revelation that an increasing number of his fellow noise musicians are also taking a keen interest in the manipulation of techno, house and other electronic dance music templates. Like him, they've wandered the outer limits of sound and are now applying the data they've accumulated about texture, timbre, rhythm and form to the production of beats. Many of these artists—Diamond Catalog, Frak, Unicorn Hard-On and Laser Poodle, to name just a few—appear on Fake Sound Routine. This is an ongoing series of cassette compilations Schofield puts out on his I Just Live Here label. Each volume is awfully limited, yet they're a great way to acclimate oneself to these musicians' collective aesthetic: considerably lo-fi, quite often punkish and irreverent, rooted in analog hardware and 110% eccentric. Not surprisingly, these folks tend to operate well outside house and techno's respective (but often overlapping) communities.

Though Schofield acknowledges something is afoot, he refuses to hitch it to the word "trend" (much less its obnoxious little brother "microtrend"). There are two good reasons for this. The first concerns the anarchic streak coursing through modern noise. "Folks who play 'noise' do so because there are no rules, requirements or expectations to always be a certain way," explains Leslie Keffer, a longtime purveyor of noise who began creating technoid weirdness a couple years back. "They will always explore and interpret all genres. It's what makes them and the genre unique." Indeed, curiosity refreshes itself at an accelerated clip for Keffer and her peers. Today, it's techno and house, but six months from now these voracious creatures could very well be mangling an entirely different style of music. 

The second reason revolves around the fact that working with beats isn't necessarily a novel idea, something Schofield is quick to point out. While the current "scene" has witnessed an exciting uptick in the number of newfangled producers, a short list of unsung innovators going back a decade can be compiled. Additionally, there's the larger historical evolution of noise to think about; the music's industrial ancestors (Throbbing Gristle, SPK, Einst├╝rzende Neubauten, Cabaret Voltaire) were as interested in beats as they were freeform drone and other arrhythmic tactics. Thus, organizing sound around groove is not an emergent trait but rather an old chromosome lurking inside noise's double helix. Sometimes it's dormant, other times wildly active.

This is where this feature comes into play. It's an introduction to a handful of the key producers belonging to thesomething of which Schofield speaks. The list below is by no means exhaustive, yet I believe it's a worthy front door through which the inquisitive are welcome to enter.

Unicorn Hard-on

Unicorn Hard-On

Persian Cats
(Hot Releases / More Records)
If you read my article on Container, then you're familiar with Schofield's partner, as well as key influence, Val Martino. As Unicorn Hard-On, she was one of the earliest of America's 21st-century noise artists to mess around with beats in earnest. Her boldness and audacity cannot be overstated. Several years back, when noise was dominated by aggro boys and pummeling distortion freakouts, she began developing a sound that brings together her love of sheer sonic power and party-time dance jams. Martino's productions are massive, thunderous and out there; at the same time, they're remarkably social and engaging, hurling forth as they do a brain-zap array of neon deliciousness: classic electro, cheerleader moxie, minimal techno, teen pop, glitter rock, Wax Trax!, even schaffel. Moreover, the many ways in which she loops her own voice—oftentimes filtering it through a thick gauze of delay that lends it an "I know something you don't" effect—is subtle and masterful.

Since 2004-'05 Martino has recorded cassettes and CD-Rs for myriad labels, the most recent of which appear on her own Tangled Hares. Late last year Hot Releases and More Records co-released a Unicorn Hard-On/Container split 12-inch. Martino's contributions, "Persian Cats" and the wondrously bizarre "Wildfire Girls," just might be her best tracks yet. Looking to the future, she's due to unload an album on Spectrum Spools—details forthcoming.

Also features Leslie Keffer, FRAK, Laser Poodle, Diamond Catalog, VIKTORIA, and more. 

FUCK YES, read the entire article HERE