Bohemia Cafe reopens with big Noise

The Bohemia Cafe is probably the only place in Edmonton you can hear “Noise.”

Not noise, but Noise – a peculiar and tiny genre of music more free than free jazz, crazier than thrash metal. Some call it “experimental sound art,” because “music” doesn’t quite fit. Someone even made a documentary about Noise, featuring the Nihilist Spasm Band (see trailer, below), some seriously wacky old musicians who’ve been making a gawdawful racket with ridiculous homemade instruments since 1965.

Cacophonous pockets of the Noise scene can be found scattered across the world, and one of them lurks in the ever-so-artsy Bohemia Cafe. The independently-owned venue reopened in a new location, 10217 97 Street (just next to the Ukrainian book store), on Friday night, featuring three-piece funk instrumental band Small Town Knife Fight leading the main event – the “Symphony of Noise.”

A Noise jam isn’t like a blues jam or a jazz jam because there are no charts, no plan, no framework, no genre and no style – a true atonal hootenanny. For the last couple of years at its old location, Bohemia provided a haven for such groups as Ramshackle Day Parade (which also performed Friday), which probably couldn’t get a gig anywhere else in town, along with relatively more “conventional” acts – which is to say conventionally alternative. In other words, you probably won’t hear a Nickelback cover band. The cafe is also a gallery, hosting exhibits and visual arts events of all kinds, some of which collaborate with the exotic musical artists to create a “happening” that defies description. Key word here: Art.

“We have a very specific vision of what we think art is,” Vowel says. “It’s really inclusive. We take out the hoity-toity. If you like art, you might like music. We don’t really separate it. We’re here to foster Edmonton expressive culture, whatever form it might take.”

Getting to the dissonance of small business ownership in Edmonton, Vowel says Bohemia moved because the old space (near the Oliver Square Safeway) “didn’t suit our needs,” plus the landlord jacked the rent. The new location allows the owners to have a liquor license – which beverage goes best with Noise? – but as it’s located in the McCauley Revitalization Zone, there are higher taxes. You just can’t win.

“So we do all the hard work and the city reaps all the reward of saying they revitalized the area,” says Vowel.

The one “golden rule” of the establishment will remain – “No douchebags. If somebody can do something and not have a bunch of meatheads show up and ruin it for everybody, we don’t have any limits, as long as it’s legal.”

Asked to narrow his definition of douchebaggery, Vowel goes on, “If I had to generalize, it’s the whole vibe of where Whyte Avenue is headed: Big bars that don’t care. They just want to get people as wasted as possible and then get the next person through the door. No wonder there’s violence on the streets.”

Bohemia has never ejected single douchebag, for the simple reason that a typical douchebag probably wouldn’t even walk through the door, anyway, hearing the “music” emanating from within and exclaiming, “What the hell is that noise?”

Yes, exactly. It’s an acquired taste.