Miami Beach’s Rat Bastard has parlayed obscurity into a sort of personal success. Born Frank Falestra in 1958, in the small town of Ellenville, New York, he has been a stalwart of South Florida’s music scene since at least the mid-70s when he was in a punk band called Myrin and the 2 Wotz. Like a lot of punk from that era, it evolved. By the early ‘80s he was the mind behind a post-new wave project called Dengon.
In the mid-80s, Dengon released a 7-inch record, the first in a series of releases by Esync Records, a label he founded in 1985. The A-side, “Ferris Wheel,” is a reference to both the Dade County Youth Fair ride but also escape into oneself (“Give me one more turn on the ferris wheel/To be on my own,” goes the chorus). The music sounded like early new wave Ministry. Falestra even sang with what sounded like a British accent, but the electronics and layers of synth harmonies and noise were something incomparable to much of the cheese that came out of that era. Kicking off with what sounds like the creaking of a broken musical box and layers of distant, falsetto cooing vocals layered on top of each other, the song is interrupted by the pulse of what sounds like an 808 machine and a rubbery, psychedelic synth melody. If you know Rat and his attraction to chaos and music, you can hear his soul in that, despite its melodious quality.
Hanging out at his Miami Beach apartment that doubles as a recording studio (now dedicated to the memory of Dan Hosker) drinking Jameson and a Bud Light, he speaks of how he tired of that project real quick (there would only be a 12-inch after that, called “Cover Girl”). “Anybody can sit there and play the same thing over and over and over and over till they get it tight or right, and then that’s why this band was only around like six months because I didn’t want to play those songs over and over again,” he says. “I was just like, forget it. I can’t play these songs over and over. I’d go nuts.”
Thus arose projects like Scraping Teeth (famously named the worst band in America in 1993 by Spin magazine, a prize that he has hanging behind one of his guitars on the wall of his apartment), To Live and Shave in L.A. and the Laundry Room Squelchers. Call them avant-garde, experimental music or plain noise, they marked Rat’s creative liberation. Asked what reward comes of this music, he says, “That you did something new. That you did something fresh. It’s harder to do.”
In celebration of this style of music, he founded the International Noise Conference in 2003, which brings in noise artists from across the globe for 15-minute sets of energy, chaos and often confrontational theatrics to Miami’s famous dive bar, Churchill’s Hideaway. Recently, he won a Knight Foundation grant for this annual March event. The added income has helped him archive his recording sessions and pay for the cost of mastering them. He also now has a lathe cutter from 1939 to cut one-off vinyl records. “If I can bypass the preamp section, which I think I can easily do, once I figure it out, it should cut beautiful records,” he says.
On this machine, the records are cut one at a time, by hand, each one a customized work of art. “We’ll do cuts of five or 10, maybe even 20, and you can do two sides too, so you can do 7-inches or 12-inches on there. If I want to do 45s I would have to go to a machine shop to get a spool that would make it run at 45 [rpm],” he explains.
Now he is about to prepare for a “performance” at the III Points multi-media and music festival. He says whatever he ends up doing on stage, it won’t be much different from what he usually conjures up. “It’s going to be something that I put together that day, but this thing, I’ll probably spend two days on it,” he says with a laugh. “It’ll involve other people I think, so that’s why I need that extra day. At least to coordinate, but musically it’s going to be something that’s going to be right there on the spot. There might be some aspects of a set, but the overall is going to be while I’m playing. I’m going to try to create a vibe rather than a piece of music.”
He gets little joy in creating cohesive pieces of music or even straightforward songs. If he does, he doesn’t even care to move vocal grumbles and yelps into coherent English. “I can do a song just like that,” he assures. “It’ll sound like I sat and wrote it, but I didn’t. It sounds like there’s parts in there, but I didn’t write that. I wrote that as I recorded it, but I don’t usually put that out because it makes no sense lyrically. Like, I’ll sing songs with no lyrics. I don’t know if people are ready for that.”
Though III Points features notable music acts like LCD Soundsystem, M83 and Earl Sweatshirt on the bill, it also features some of the best local music experimenters from Miami who have reputations beyond our city limits, including Otto von Shirach (a personal favorite of Rat’s) and Poorgrrrl (whose IndieEthos profile you can read here). According to Rat, someone from III Points saw him DJing at The Electric Pickle and asked if he would like to join the lineup. “I said, yeah, I’ll do it,” he says. “I don’t know, he might have known who I was before then. I’m not sure. I didn’t ask him. I just said OK.”
It’s a change from Rat’s usual venue this time of year. “It’s funny because the last two years I did the anti-Points festival. The Jellyfish Brothers had it in a warehouse, so I played that.”
So does joining III Points mean that Rat has finally sold out? “No, I didn’t even know what III Points Festival was,” he shrugs. “I had no idea. I didn’t even know what the artists were. I saw The Jacuzzi Boys. That’s how I noticed it ‘cause they had played it like two years ago, so I was just like, ‘I guess.’ I didn’t know what that is. I don’t take anything seriously. It’s just like any other festival.”
Just like any other festival, such as Ultra, which may be the next big event you”ll see Rat at. His addition to that lineup was a similar case to how he joined III Points: someone high up the chain saw him DJing. “The main guy from Ultra was here at my house. He was like, ‘Dude, You’re playing Ultra this year.’ He was here when I was playing here at my house and when I was at the Pickle. He said, ‘Dude, you’re definitely playing Ultra. You kick ass.’”
So what makes Rat stand out in these DJ gigs he has recently been doing around the city? It’s that love for the obscure and unheard that’s inherent to who he is. He likes to play what he calls “tech noise.” He says he finds the music by spending hours on YouTube and following strings of links from music or videos on the popular website. “I search for this shit,” he says. “Most of the people that play techno don’t know the music I play, but I call it that because I think it’s actually cool.”
Playing a track from a duo from Italy who call themselves Boston 168, he says, “This is the poppiest thing I’ll play … To me these guys are the Pink Floyd of techno.”
In fact, it sounds like a warped version of “Echoes.” It kicks off with a huge pounding pulse that sends throbbing echoes crackling with hiss and treble from the speakers over an undulating sinister murmur of ghostly ambient squonk before it drifts into what sounds like a rolling rhythm played on a didgeridoo.
Catching up with Rat just a couple of days before the show, he reveals this track may be but a taste of what he will do at III Points or maybe not. He says he plans to mix in a sampler with his DJ talent and whatever else he can bring on stage, which will include at least one other performer. “We are going to link sounds of the underground 1960s with underground sounds of today,” he declares. “No one in this fest will understand what I’m doing musically or where it’s coming from.”
Rat Bastard takes the stage at III Points Friday at Sunset @ Noon at 10:45 p.m.