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Thomas Nola with Dandy Lion.

The Arts

No traditional label

Music festival celebrates Disques de Lapin’s first decade with idiosyncratic recording artists, weirdos, and a ventriloquist dummy

Decade de Lapin takes place Saturday, April 2, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Brattleboro’s Hooker-Dunham Theater at 139 Main Street. Formal attire is requested. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit eskimofilms.com.

BRATTLEBORO—On New Year’s Day, 2015, when Thomas Nöla moved from the Boston area to Brattleboro — the city was “way too doom-and-gloom, not fun, and too modern for my taste” he said — he brought his record label, Disques de Lapin, with him.

Now that he has settled in, it’s time to celebrate. On Saturday, April 2, Nöla will perform with Disques de Lapin artists and friends to honor the label’s 10th anniversary in an eight-hour music festival, Decade de Lapin, at Brattleboro’s Hooker-Dunham Theater.

Performers are coming from as far away as Boston, Baltimore, and Philadelphia, and they incorporate a wide array of musical genres and instruments.

When asked to describe the “Lapin sound,” Nöla said he wanted the label to be a “new movement where people can be themselves.”

He said it’s less of a sonic cohesiveness and more of an attitude: “outsiders following their own impulses, developing their own sound as artists.”

“It’s less a business and more a movement and a cause,” Nöla said.

Some room for humor

Although he admits starting a record label was not a life goal, Nöla founded Disques de Lapin because he needed a record label for himself. He suspected no traditional label would get behind his music and give it the right kind of attention.

As a musician, Nöla said he was “lumped in with the neo-folk, post-industrial” movements.

But that’s not where he saw himself. To Nöla, neo-folk is formulaic, with mostly acoustic guitar and martial-style drumming, displaying Old Europe, post–World War II influences. “It’s a concept genre,” he said.

The “Lapin sound,” Nöla said, “is much less po-faced.” There is no room for humor in neo-folk, he said.

There seems to be some room for humor at Disques de Lapin.

The label’s Bandcamp website, lapin.bandcamp.com, says Disques de Lapin was “founded in a carrot patch in Salem, MA in 2006.”

The emcee of the Decade de Lapin festival is a ventriloquist doll named Dandy Lion. When asked why Lion was chosen for the task, Nöla said, “nobody else could do it."

When Nöla brought Lion to The Commons’ newsroom, he revealed the doll’s mouth was injured. Since that visit, Lion posted this announcement on the festival’s Facebook event page:

“I have great news. Yesterday I had successful mouth surgery and now have a fully functional mouth hole which will be used to fully enlighten you in person this April 2nd. In addition, my human servant has sewn me a new and stain-free pair of pants. There’s even talk of clothing for my top half, but I’m not holding my breath. See you soonly....”

Eight acts and counting

Lion and Nöla will share the Hooker-Dunham Theater stage with eight other confirmed acts, and there may be more.

Wisteriax, the name under which Karen Langlie performs, is a noise/abstract project based near Worcester, Mass. Langlie described her music as “atmospheric soundscapes.”

“I play the cello, but I use electronic effects and other objects to alter the sounds,” Langlie said, explaining that the other objects include “a light drumstick with a rubber mallet,” and, “a couple of music boxes taped together, which I press against the cello to amplify it. The twinkling sound runs through an effects chain."

Langlie, who began studying classical cello in college, said she always wanted to be in a rock band, but didn’t want to learn to play guitar. Still, she wanted to amplify her cello. “Some friends had guitar pedals, and I learned to improvise,” she said.

Wisteriax’s set is in the late afternoon, Langlie said, and will be improvisational. “Everything I do for my solo performances is improvised,” she said.

Later in the evening, she will sit in with Nöla and provide “more straight-up cello sounds, although I might throw in some atmospheric noises,” she said.

David E. Williams, whom Nöla describes as “an incredible performer,” is coming from Philadelphia for the event. Williams is a seasoned musician, having begun writing songs in 1980; his first four-song EP was released in 1988. Since then, he has recorded six full-length albums.

Nöla described Williams’ early music as perverse, orchestrated keyboard songs about serial killers.

Williams’ self-assessment was not too far off.

“A reporter once referred to me as ’Barry Manilow’s evil twin’,” Williams said, noting a fascination with 1970s-era disaster-pop songs. As an example, he name-checked “Timothy,” the 1971 hit about cannibalism, recorded by The Buoys and written by Rupert “Piña Colada” Holmes.

Since then, “my music has evolved into another thing not as easily encapsulated,” Williams said.

“It’s more rock-n-roll, more electronic, and I mostly sing,” he said, noting that at the April 2 performance, the audience can expect “old classics, piano, vocals, and seven or eight new songs.”

At least one of those songs will be from the catalog of The Muskets, the band he is in with Nöla, which Williams describes as “folk-rock songs from the American Revolution.”

Baltimore’s Jerome Deppe, a longtime collaborator with David E. Williams, is also on the schedule.

Nöla described Deppe’s LP, “Songs of Love, Hate and Fear,” as “a walking catastrophe channeled into a really beautiful album.” This is Deppe’s third release, and he said he has played music with Williams for 26 years.

“I’m an older person, so I have a lot of musical influences,” Deppe said, describing his music as “spaced-out country-folk”

“Like James Taylor if James Taylor sat down and did a recording session with Pink Floyd,” he added.

Deppe said he primarily plays acoustic guitar and sings, but plays some electric guitar, especially when he accompanies others, which he will do at Decade de Lapin. He and Williams will “play songs we haven’t played together in about 15 years.”

Other confirmed acts include Philadelphia’s Destroying Angel, featuring Anthony Cesa on vocals, guitar and synthesizers, playing what can best be described as experimental folk psych chamberpop; Boston’s Jawzwa, who, according to his promotional materials, “records in his bedroom or basement mainly for the pleasure of drawing out his ideas into listening pleasure,” where “[g]uitars, bass, synth, voice, programmed and sampled beats all marry into a mélange of sound”; and Oval Portraits and Polly Eurothane, both from Massachusetts.

“There will be a mystery performer in the middle” of the day’s event, Nöla said, describing that act as, “a small performance of a miscellaneous nature.”

“People who need a lot of convincing” to attend the April 2 event might tune in to WVEW-FM 107.7 on March 31, Nöla said. From 10 p.m. to midnight, DJ Piso Mojado’s program Twilite Review, with which Nöla assists, will be dedicated to Decade de Lapin. “There is a rumor of a ticket giveaway,” Nöla added.

“It should be triumphant,” Nöla said of the festival. “Weirdos are going to show up and spill their guts.”

Hermit Thrush Brewery will be at the festival, “so you can drink enough beer ’til you like the music,” Nöla said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #350 (Wednesday, March 30, 2016). This story appeared on page B1.

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