Ron Lessard has a unique vantage point on Lowell, Massachusetts. Behind the counter of Ron’s Radical Records, he’s only two blocks from an old textile mill that’s become a hub of recent renovation. Nearby there’s an independent theater, a serene coffee shop, and a yoga studio—the hallmarks of turning tides in any city. The store’s also less than a mile from some of the city’s more economically depressed neighborhoods, where poor people struggle just to get by. Since 1984, Lessard has sat here and watched the times change, maintaining a presence for dark and strange records amidst the city’s ebbs and flows.
Along the way, he has carved out a reputation for himself as an influential maker and publisher of noise art. Since the 80s, he’s made eardrum-rupturing recordings and given absurdist performances under the name Emil Beaulieau. He started a label the same year he started the store (the two businesses share a name) at the insistence of early Tangerine Dream member Conrad Schnitzler, who was looking for a new label home. It would eventually be an early stateside distributor for influential Japanese noise acts like Merzbow and Hanatarash, putting Lowell at the accidental epicenter of a scene of loosely connected experimentalists in the age before the internet. Since 2006, when he last played a show as Emil Beaulieau, he’s mostly focused on the store and label. So I went there to talk to him about his legacy in Lowell and in noise.
Jeff Caplan / BLACK ANT • photographic
Lessard cut an unassuming figure when I met him. He was middle-aged, dressed in comfortable, simple slacks and a sweater. But his laugh announces his presence. It hints at the sort of spirit that’d inspire decades of chaotic noise. It was so immersive, I couldn’t help but join in when he let loose.
The two of us stood at his counter and talked while a quiet old man, who Lessard described a regular, sat near us in a chair, lost in thought. When I asked Lessard what he’d…