Torturing Nurse

Time Out's archive interview with the Shanghai harsh noise act

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 issue of Time Out Shanghai

Torturing Nurse emphatically tear to shreds the idea that Shanghai is a city incapable of pushing artistic boundaries. The harsh noise group’s performances have featured brutal walls of static, screeching distortion and spine-chilling screams. Although guitars and microphones are occasionally used, instruments at past shows have included umbrellas, computer chipboards and meat cleavers. They are hardly what you would call conventional.

'Most people in Shanghai can't take the kind of noise that we make,' says founding member Cao Junjun, aka Junky. 'To be honest, most people can barely accept things that are anti-rhythm and anti-melody, let alone the kind of violence that is contained in the noise we make. We don't perform with the intention of shocking people, we just like doing this stuff - but most people can’t take it.'

Given that Junky describes Torturing Nurse's sound as 'harsh as fuck', it's hardly surprising that audiences at their shows remain small. Yet the group has garnered international acclaim in the noise community, and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore reportedly names them among his favourite artists. 'I don't care if he's a fan,' says Junky with trademark defiance. 'I don't like him or his band, they’re too rock 'n' roll.'

Yet Junky was once a rock 'n' roller himself, playing in a number of more orthodox bands before becoming disillusioned and forming Torturing Nurse in 2004. After numerous line-up changes, he found stability and a strong creative partner a year later in experimental musician Xu Cheng.

Xu had seen previous incarnations of Torturing Nurse play before and remembers the first show he saw: 'It was the first time I’d seen such chaotic, anarchic noise,' he says. 'Their performance left a seriously deep impression on me.' Now, the two have established themselves as legends on the scene, consistently upping the ante with their outlandish shows.

Now in its sixth year, Torturing Nurse will be playing the 43rd NOIShanghai this week with Tokyo grindcore act Sete Star Sept. Established as a regular showcase for noise and experimental acts, the event has brought in numerous international artists over the years and is now one of the most important noise collectives in the country. 'The environment for noise is changing very slowly in the city,’ says Junky. ‘But there’s still a long way to go.'

Torturing Nurse, however, are quite happy on the fringes. 'We'll keep recording and performing and if we have a chance in the future we’d like to go abroad to perform,’ says Junky. ‘We’ll play anywhere, really,’ says Xu, 'including public places where we're not allowed to: KTV joints, music shops, zoos, museums, offices, construction sites, your house...'

Jake Newby

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