To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom." --Joseph Beuys
Misinterpreted, that bit of Italian Futurist dogma was responsible for unfocused stabs at art by those he inspired, cluttered with the trappings of artists given unlimited license. Things went haywire. Misguided conceptual art props little beauty or clarity of thought on overly forced symbols--see the Damien Hirst debacle or our own No Future Fest's noise performance that morphed into full-on violent assault.
The magic distance of 20-plus years has passed for musicians in their post-college years to dig into and emulate the groups that first started dismantling rock to its core. Harry Pussy did it over 10 years ago, reducing hardcore into a nearly free jazz setup charged by nihilism. Contemporary bands on labels like Providence's Load Records continue to revisit and re-version the idea. Coughs, one of the label's acts, is becoming some of the keenest weird scientists afoot in the abstract rock underground. They exhale in gusts--in both brittle no-wave anti-prayers and single melodies sunk into an oozing framework of broken guitars, sax and a kitchen sink rhythm section.
Bands like Coughs forage into recesses of inspiration. They're bombarded by passkeys, just mouse-clicks away from information about everything they could want: Japanese punk MP3s, instrument setups for early industrialists Throbbing Gristle's shows, circuit-bending grid maps. So, while computer minimalists are off compacting music into glass-like sine waves, Coughs are throwing everything in the garbage can, tossing it down a stairwell, and seeing what's left in the alley. The new world allows for constant re-treading of those well-worn paths to the freedom Beuys envisioned.
And these Chicago kids even seem to have fun doing it, something the New York scum rockers would rarely let on.
The Coughs play Nightlight on Sunday, July 2. The show starts at 10 p.m. and costs $5. For more on the band, see www.loadrecords.com/bands/coughs.html.