Plug your nose. This year's most hyped Nuit Blanche exhibit is repeating Nirvana's iconic anthem "Smells Like Teen Spirit" 144 times in A Brief History of Rebellion.
When Torontonians take to the streets tonight for the sixth annual Nuit Blanche all-night free contemporary art event (check out our complete guide here), many will take to the skies at Flightpath Toronto at City Hall, and others to the crowds at Food Truck Eats in the Distillery District. But we’re guessing another large portion will be heading underground. To the Underground Cinema, in fact, to hear Nirvana’s punk anthem “Smells Like Teen Spirit” played on repeat for 12 hours, 144 times.
The creators behind A Brief History of Rebellion, Sam Sutherland, Ashley Carter (both former Torontoist contributors), and Aaron Zorgel, say it was an idea they had years ago but never acted upon until now—which just happens to be the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. Since pulling in friends from local bands like Fucked Up, Tokyo Police Club, The Darcy’s, and $100, what results is a perfect storm of attractions to make this a definite highlight of the night. Not many are expected to last the full 12 hours, so live updates and announcements of the musical lineup will be broadcast through Twitter at @juiceboxdotcom.
Torontoist: How and why did you come up with this project?
Sam Sutherland: It all started with us just talking about Nuit Blanche and the basically two types of events you see there—there are the huge successes and then the complete and utter failures. Like, there are these things that are so cool like, an E.T. in the middle of Hart House Circle, that’s fucking awesome. Or else there are epic failures, like fish projected on the front of the building. So we were just thinking about something that we would just absolutely love, that we would think would be really hilarious and fun, and then someone came up with the idea of playing the same song over and over again. And then, we immediately thought of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
Ashley Carter: That was three years ago.
Sutherland: Yeah, we kept missing it and missing it. But this year, we realized about a week before the deadline, got all the paperwork together, wrote 10 pages about what it all means, and here we are.
And why “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?
Sutherland: That seemed like the only option, we didn’t really discuss anything else. For our generation, it is the defining point of the time when we were really falling in love with music, of what became punk and alternative in the 90’s. It’s the anthem for people like us, and a few years older and a few years younger, even though it came out in 1991 when I was six. Though it didn’t define who I was personally as a six-year-old, it came to define the music I love. Plus, it’s really, really fun to play.
And beyond that it makes the project work on an actual thematic level. It is, like, the most overplayed song of its time and even an entire era of bands. Nirvana came out of this reaction to what was mainstream stadium rock, and then became stadium rock. The song is now so completely detached from the punk era that created it, you know, now it plays at basketball games. Repetition does change the meaning of art. If you really want to look into this, I guess, it’s about how that song got the shit played out of it during the last 20 years.
Aaron Zorgel: This was always meant to be a fun thing we thought would be cool to do. But I think it’s also about your own personal reaction to it. How will you feel about it at the end, are you gonna hate the song and not be able to listen to it ever again? Are you going to go through it in stages, where you love it at one moment, and then you can’t stand it in another moment? Everyone knows the song, everyone can relate to it, and everyone is going to react in their own way.
What do you make of the reactions that Kurt Cobain would have to this project?
Carter: Kurt Cobain hated fame, not jokes. He’d still think it was funny.
Sutherland: Yeah, fame never took his sense of humour out of him. It took some other stuff out of him which is really fucking unfortunate. But anyone who thinks Kurt Cobain would hate this should look up their performance on Top of the Pops. He didn’t give a shit. He’d either think it was funny, or he wouldn’t care. I think all three—Kurt Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl—would think it was ridiculously funny and stupid, or they just wouldn’t care at all.
Carter: Someone ask them, that would be great. I’d love for them not to hate us. That would be nice.
So you guys are sticking it out the whole way through. Is anyone staying the whole time with you?
Sutherland: Yeah, I think we figured that we are each going to end up playing for about six hours.
Carter: We have some friends that said they’re going to, but we’re not sure how many will actually pull through. I guess it’ll be a test of our friendship to see who keeps their word.
Who is playing the show?
Sutherland: The full bands that have signed up for one-hour sets is, well one of them will be myself, Ashley, Aaron, and our friend Justin Taylor—that’s a band we created for the sake of this project. Also, Junior Battles, The Decay, Teenage Kicks, Attention, The Darcy’s, Victim Party, Old English, Snake Oil Salesmen of Southern Ontario, they’re all playing a bunch of times. I’m not sure if Sheezer is playing a bunch or just once. Then there are members from bands like Tokyo Police Club, Fucked Up, Gallows, $100, the Flatliners, Cunter playing. And Buck 65, D-Sisive, Laura Barrett, Raymi the Minx too.
Who are you looking forward to?
Carter: I think I’m most looking forward to the people we haven’t planned on playing yet. Like, a bunch of really cool people will be out anyway, like a lot of artists and musicians will probably come by and join in. And not even artists, anyone who’s out can join in. So yeah, I’m most excited to see who ends up playing that we didn’t expect.
Zorgel: I think I’m looking forward to the hip-hop interpretations. Like, how are they going to play this song, is D-Sisive going to rap on top of the music? Or is he gonna have his band with him? Or what?
Sutherland: Yeah, we were talking about this the other day. Because in Nirvana, there’s only three of them, so all the components of the song are so iconic. You listen to the drumbeat, the bass line, the guitar, and immediately you know it’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” I’m excited to see how bands interpret this. The Bluegrass bands especially, like Snake Oil Salesmen of Southern Ontario and The Darcy’s.
Carter: The Darcy’s actually wanted to play an hour-long version of the song, and we told them that if they wanted to do that it would have to be at like 5 a.m. or something, because it would kind of ruin the rhythm of the night. It would be hilarious, for sure. But it also would take us away from that magic 144 number.
What song never gets old for you?
Sutherland: I don’t know. I usually make playlists of, like, three songs, and only listen to that for a week so…“You Get What You Give” by The New Radicals never gets old. That song has layers.
Zorgel: I guess we’ll see on Saturday night, because I really can listen to Nevermind over and over again.
Carter: I can listen to anything. Name a song and I can probably listen to it for forever. But “Dry the Rain” by The Beta Band, just the outro over and over. Also the outro of “She’s So Heavy” by The Beatles.
Sutherland: Yeah, just the end of songs. I could listen to the end of “Hey Jude” for ever and ever. Also, that great song from Rent… “No Day But Today.” I could listen to that medley at the end until I die. If people stay until 6 a.m., it’s just gonna be that medley.
Did you plan on doing this on the 20th anniversary of Nevermind?
(They all laugh)
Sutherland: No, we realized that while we were getting all of this together. We missed three years of Nuit Blanches to somehow end up doing this on the 20th anniversary of the album, it’s crazy.
Carter: Not only that though, a blog pointed out to us that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” debuted at number 144 on the Billboard Chart when it came out. Trippy.