Yes, Raleigh is growing. As with most mid-size cities in 2018, the amount of new investors attempting to house and feed creative-class millennials and thirty-something techies is in overdrive. Across the street from the Contemporary Art Museum on Martin Street, an Urban Outfitters and a grip of other hip-by-the-numbers storefronts are set to open in the fall.
Restaurants with startup-esque names arrive and vanish, seemingly by the month. A new $111-million Amtrak station that opened last month looms in the background, ready to shuttle people into the heart of downtown. As always though, it begs that same old gentrification question. What are these young, hip, presumably art-forward people supposed to do once they get here? Forget apartment buildings—where is the actual culture?
Christina Cucurullo, a member of the Triangle's small yet dedicated experimental music community who makes music under the name Spookstina, is part of a group of people working to sustain a meaningful underground freak scene in the city, regardless of fly-by-night outside investors. All Data Lost, the Raleigh experimental festival she's co-curated with Charlotte's Charles Ovett, is her next endeavor. Roping together over twenty-five acts into a single day of madness, the aim of All Data Lost is to provide a showcase of outsider performance art and music, including noise, mutant techno, weirdo pop, psych, performance art, and a number of other permutations that can't be easily categorized.
Intimate DIY festivals are a crucial community-building staple of underground experimental music, as festivals like Miami's International Noise Conference and Chapel Hill's Savage Weekend have proven. So it feels at once serendipitous and par for the course that Cucurullo and Ovett, a Charlotte musician who plays in the project Joules, first met at a festival. The setting was a mini-fest called Staycation, in a house out in Burlington, North Carolina.
"Joules's set there was incredible; it wasn't until we were friends that I even learned about [Ovett's] long history as a jazz drummer before he started doing noise," Cucurullo says.
Since then, the two have played a number of shows and festivals together in several states. They have also worked hard back home in North Carolina, learning how to promote art that essentially resists promotion. Ovett organized several "Southern Women's Showcases" highlighting non-male experimental artists, as well as "Noise for Tots," an annual holiday benefit to collect toys and funds for the Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte. Cucurullo organized last year's experimental show at Greenville's Spazz Fest, which consisted of twenty-two artists performing over a period of eight hours. Booking All Data Lost was the next logical step.
As it goes, finding a venue in Raleigh for this sort of event isn't always a sure thing. Fortunately, due to a variety of local figures that have done solid legwork, Raleigh is enjoying a good moment for venues booking small, offbeat events. All Data Lost is being held at The Wicked Witch, a 225-capacity outpost on West South Street in the constellation of music venues scattered around downtown Raleigh. Run by the staff of Ruby Deluxe, the relatively new venue has specialized in booking a number of arty touring rock and electronic acts, including L.A.'s Odwalla1221, Washington, D.C.'s Flasher, and NYC's Guerilla Toss.
"The staff at The Wicked Witch and Ruby Deluxe have been extremely open and supportive of outsider art," Cucurullo says. "In the past, they have provided a space for events like Experimental Tuesday, and they generally book shows that are along the boundary-pushing side of both music and performance art."
Casual enthusiasts and ardent fans alike will find a lot to dive into and discover on this lineup, which was booked largely according to the two curators' own tastes and includes acts from all around North Carolina and the East Coast. A quick sampling might include the ambient astral pop of Knives of Spain, the masterful soundscape sampling of Raleigh's Gar-Ud, the shoegazer drift of Winston-Salem's 1970s Film Stock, the pummeling and spasmodic sounds of Bryce Eiman (founder of the longtime collective 919Noise), or indecipherable freakout great Reflex Arc.
Cucurullo says she's most excited for Tavishi, a scientist and conceptual musician from Richmond, Virginia, who creates compositions through combining elements of her own transposed cancer research data, noise, and Indian music to create pieces that raise awareness about social issues. She gushes about South Carolina performance artist Rant Kissy, an unpredictable artist who has been known to destroy laptops or wrap the entire audience in a web of yarn.
Another of Cucurullo's favorites is North Carolina's Clang Quartet, the venerated Christian noise artist who performs with various eye-popping props, including face masks and a giant industrial cross. Cucurullo met many of the All Data Lost performers through her own work as Spookstina, and her enthusiasm about her peers is palpable. She says she honestly can't get enough.
"Something I've noticed here in the Triangle over the last couple of years is more of an openness and curiosity about what fringe artists are doing, and maybe that's with the increase in more creative minds moving to the Triangle," she says, adding, "There's an allure of freedom and independence in creating outsider art, and it's an important outlet, especially in challenging arcane ideas and oppression. It's not about money or playing big shows. It's about the experience of playing new places and being exposed to new ways of doing things."
New trends in city development skewed toward "authenticity" carry the hope that Raleigh's various investors will facilitate new spaces that might benefit small pockets of arts culture like these. Sure, the city lacks Durham or Carrboro's regional cachet as a post-grad artistic enclave. For now, it makes the work that Raleigh promoters and spaces willing to gamble on fringe art like this feel particularly important to keep the dream alive.