Storage Music Unit is a blistering and exhilarating new chapter in Central Floridian free jazz

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Storage Music Unit: Derek Dunn, Zachary Hickerson and Syoma Klochko
Storage Music Unit: Derek Dunn, Zachary Hickerson and Syoma Klochko Photo by Matthew Moyer

The album Storage Music Unit starts with a buzz of distortion and a voice idly suggesting, "Just make some sounds." And with a jarring scream of saxophone and avalanche of drums, it's on for the next 40-ish minutes' worth of free-jazz physicality.

This sweaty, ear-bleedingly loud rush of unfettered creativity makes up the recently released eponymous debut by Storage Music Unit, an ad hoc group of three young Central Floridian musical polymaths.

The members of Storage Music Unit — Derek Dunn, Zachary Hickerson and Syoma Klochko — will be familiar faces to local music fans across taste and genre. Dunn plays as half of space-synth duo Aaron's Home, and recently debuted a frenetic solo endeavor of tape loops and live drumming. Tampa Bay resident Hickerson plays saxophone and game calls as part of loose free-jazz collective Bongus, as a duo with Thomas Milovac (the two just released their own album on Iowa's Personal Archives imprint), and as part of Tampa post-punk band Clang! Klochko is arguably the busiest of all, splitting time between Bongus, Florida Man, Dougie Flesh & the Slashers, various ensembles with Milovac, solo recording work and monthly improv nights at Will's Pub (dubbed "A Protean Assemblage").

The trio became acquainted through sharing bills together and playing as part of various Milovac concerns, chief among them the unpredictable Bongus. Each admired the work the others were doing, and some form of collaboration was a hazy goal in the far-off future.

When the pandemic left all three with too much time on their hands as 2020 stretched into infinity, a plan was hatched to do some recording in a storage unit Dunn had been using for his various creative outlets.

"It was really convenient because at the time you could go there 24/7 and play drums, which you can't do in most places," says Dunn. "I think some Boomers were playing that particular night too, various classic rock cover bands."

Storage Music Unit is the product of a single marathon recording session from October of that year, and it is the sound of three musicians urging each other on to new heights of freeform abandon through adventurous and ear-splitting volume recorded to Dunn's reel-to-reel tape machine.

"We came into it knowing that it was going to be a really visceral session," says Klochko. "We all felt that we could bring all of the built-up energy from all of the bullshit that we'd been dealing with that year."

Hickerson's saxophone, Klochko's percussion and Dunn's guitar/contact mic combo sound absolutely molten and possessed.

"There was one time where I was bowing my guitar with scissors, and I thought, 'This kind of sounds like a Sonic Youth song,'" says Dunn. "It's a goal sometimes."

"All I remember is the harsh noise," says Hickerson. "I usually don't wear earplugs when I play — I should — and it just got to a point, like that My Bloody Valentine level, where you're like, 'Phew.' But you gotta feel it."

Storage Music Unit is place-specific music in all the best ways. And a swampy October evening in Florida, crammed into a sweltering, non-conditioned metal box, is a recipe for extremity.

"There were times I was using the storage unit as a percussive instrument," says Klochko. "Dragging my sticks down the serrated metal of the wall ... we were sharing pots and pans that they'd brought for me to play at the session."

"Because it was so confined it was like being near Merzbow with [Dunn's] contact mics," remembers Hickerson.

"Well, you play very loud," answers Dunn.

"Hey, don't forget me, I was playing loud too," deadpans Klochko.

Storage Music Unit is indeed loud. It's a solid wall of blown-out, bruising sonics, a dead sprint that only relents for brief moments of anxious respite where the trio do the equivalent of reloading cannons before the shelling resumes. The album ends with a long coda of total instrumental decay before one of the members utters a sarcastic "Yay." And then it's over.

Besides functioning as an on-the-fly studio and rehearsal space, the storage unit is in many ways the fourth member of the group, with the close quarters pushing Dunn, Hickerson and Klochko into more extreme responses to each other's playing.

"I think we all kind of knew that from the start," agrees Klochko. "That's why it was both the name of the album and the band."

"The soul of the storage unit," jokes Hickerson.

A slightly edited version of the recording was snatched up posthaste by Pittsburgh experimental label Orb Tapes and pressed to cassette — which, in a surreal turn, makes the trio labelmates with Sun Ra ... and the infamous Bastard Noise.

"The recordings immediately piqued my interest for a few reasons. I'm a big fan of hectic free jazz and free-improv to begin with, and I'm also very interested in acoustics and recording media," Orb Tapes head James Searfoss told Orlando Weekly. "As you know from listening, these recordings are absolutely obliterated in the best sort of way. ... The gritty, lo-fi, blown-out nature of the recordings is a perfect fit for the style of playing."

The session on that fateful October night almost didn't happen, as Klochko had been laid low by a painful stomach bug for the entire day, unable to eat or drink anything.

"When you're playing through the pain, when you're playing a painful set of music ... you can't do that with just anybody," says Klochko. "You've got to do that with people who can get on your wavelength and respond to your pain and match it."

"Being down with the sickness?" laughs Hickerson.

"They were getting down with my sickness that day. And for that I was so grateful, and it helped me get down with their sickness as well," says Klochko, only half-joking.

"It's like running through the woods with your friends," says Dunn. "You're like, 'I'm tired, I'm covered in mud, this is amazing.'"

Storage Music Unit is available now for purchase, download and streaming through Orb Tapes' Bandcamp page.

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