Watch: Lightning Bolt…Temporary Utopias and the Power of the Limited Palette


It’s hard to believe that it has been over ten years since the communal, art-mischief of the Providence, RI scene found it’s shambled digs in an old, pre-Civil War textile mill, and calling this outpost Fort Thunder, built a dreamland venue for living a life of Noise & Art. Fort Thunder began as a live/work space created by Lightning Bolt drummer Brian Chippendale, and his freshman roommate at the Rhode Island School of Design, Matt Brinkman. Located in an industrial “backwoods” on the edge of Providence, the giant space quickly doubled as a secret venue for music and art performance shows. It’s cheap rent allowed a group of friends a place to work and live, and in so doing they blurred the division between the two, creating a condition of ceaseless artistic play. Fort Thunder became a maze of spaces, as it’s residents poured hours of attention into their particular “rooms”, and the communal hang out places. Quickly the group harnessed the warehouses’ abundance of room, and it’s remoteness from the “powers that be”, to host experimental music shows, while using their graphic skills to publicize the shows on hand screened posters. With this, Fort Thunder coalesced a group of artists, friends, and fans around a ragged aesthetic,“…that you can do it yourself or for each other, without worrying about the “them” or asking their permission”…

Watch Lightning Bolt perform at the Vera Project, 2008

Lighting Bolt still stands as a living legacy of those times and aesthetic ideals. Begun by Brian Chippendale on drums and Brian Gibson on bass, and with early member Hisham Bharoocha on guitar and vocals, the band spent it’s beginning years as an improvisational unit, honing their aggressive compositions through hours of musical experimentation, while touring the US for months at a time to log long hours playing underground venues and house parties. The visceral impact of the band, the fact that they played on the floor nose to nose with their fans, fused with them in an experience of the music, quickly brewed into that kind of legendary art event that sends word spreading through underground circuits of a new musical force gaining momentum.
By the time Lightning Bolt recorded their first self-titled album for Load records in 1997, they had become a two piece, while coalescing into a ferocious, aural assault that battled a pummeling drum attack against a baroque barrage of catatonic metal riffs, all played at hyper-magic speed. The vocal tasks for the music had been turned over to Brian Chippendale, and his barbaric manipulations of a telephone mic and knit mask assured that they would become just one more unit of noise woven into their carnival of sound. The band has continued to hone their aesthetic across three more full lengths, Ride the Skies (2001), Wonderful Rainbow (2003), and Hypermagic Mountain (2005), and in the process a deep tribal funk has bubbled to the surface of their mutant, ever mutating metal.

While the demise of Fort Thunder was probably as inevitable as the supermarket that replaced it, it’s still important to note the ways in which this underground scene evaded being co-opted, or sold back to itself as one more stale artifact. By maintaining a fierce independence, the group of individuals who resided at, or under the spell of Fort Thunder, established their own bent and mangled set of aesthetic ideals, and, perhaps more importantly, their own means to produce and distribute to their community. Such ragged utopias must be temporary in time, and necesaarily so, as to evade the pressures of structure and control that develop without/within it. Whether it’s the pigs comin’ to blow down your pirate utopia, the land developer coming to buy up the once crappy neighborhood you’ve made interesting, or the internal intrigues and dissatisfactions that develop within all organizations as they harden into hierarchies, grassroots movements such as Fort Thunder can only out-maneuver said forces by maintaining their fluidity and temporary status. I guess in the face of that, we’re lucky to still have a band like Lightning Bolt as a living proof of artistic independence-and still a damn fine reason to loose your shit!!