[TypicalGirls] The History of No Wave and New York Post Punk By Thurston Moore & Byron Coley
joly at punkcast.com
Thu Jun 12 05:25:05 EDT 2008
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A Brief, Noisy Moment That Still Reverberates
By BEN SISARIO
Published: June 12, 2008
Of all the strange and short-lived periods in the history
of experimental music in New York, no wave is perhaps the
strangest and shortest-lived.
Centered on a handful of late-1970s downtown groups like
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA and James Chances
Contortions, it was a cacophonous, confrontational subgenre
of punk rock, Dadaist in style and nihilistic in attitude.
It began around 1976, and within four years most of the
original bands had broken up.
But every weird rock scene and every era of New York
bohemia eventually gets its coffee-table book moment.
This month Abrams Image is publishing No Wave: Post-Punk.
Underground. New York. 1976-1980, a visual history by
Thurston Moore and Byron Coley.
On Friday the book will be celebrated with an exhibition
opening at KS Art, at 73 Leonard Street in TriBeCa, and,
across the street at the Knitting Factory, the reunion of
Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, whose blunt, aggressive songs
had instrumentation so minimal that on its records the
percussionist was sometimes credited as playing simply
drum. Lydia Lunch, the former lead singer, is flying from
Barcelona to play the show.
In the last year two other books have been published on no
wave and overlapping periods of downtowniana: Marc
Masterss No Wave (Black Dog) and New York Noise (Soul
Jazz), a collection of photographs by Paula Court.
It was a little, blippy scene, said Mr. Moore, the Sonic
Youth guitarist and historian of underground rock. It came
out of the gate finished.
With crisp black-and-white photographs and interviews with
musicians and visual artists, the book is a loving
reminiscence of a largely unheard period, as well as a look
at a seedy, pre-gentrified Lower East Side. Most groups in
the no wave scene which also included Mars, the
Theoretical Girls and the Gynecologists left behind few
recordings, and the compilation album that defined the
genre, No New York, produced by Brian Eno in 1978, has
never been legitimately issued on CD in the United States.
Despite its brief, blippy existence, no wave has had a
broad and continued influence on noisy New York bands, from
Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore in the 1980s to current groups
like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. But the original no
wavers saw themselves not as part of any rock continuum but
a deliberate reaction against such an idea.
A guitar player like Lydia Lunch was somebody who clearly
was not coming out of any kind of tradition, said Mr.
Coley, a veteran rock critic. She didnt have a Chuck
Berry riff in her.
The rebelliousness came out in many ways, from song
composition nasty, brutish and short to the movements
name, a cynical retort to new wave, then emerging as a
more palatable variation on punk. The looks were nerdy and
androgynous (or, in Ms. Lunchs case, menacingly
The sound reflected the squalor and decay of downtown New
York in the late 70s.
New York at that moment was bankrupt, poor, dirty,
violent, drug-infested, sex-obsessed delightful, Ms.
Lunch said by phone. In spite of that we were all
laughing, because you laugh or you die. Ive always been
funny. My dark comedy just happens to scare most people.
Mr. Moore and Mr. Coleys book emphasizes the major role
that women had in the scene. Besides Ms. Lunch, they
included Pat Place of the Contortions, Ikue Mori of DNA and
Nancy Arlen of Mars, as well as impresario-scenesters like
Anya Phillips. Many photographs were taken by women, among
them Julia Gorton and Stephanie Chernikowski.
Ms. Gorton, who was a student at the Parsons School of
Design in the late 70s and now teaches there, said that
everyone in the no wave circle knew one another. There
were a lot of late nights, a lot of pitchers, a lot of
Polaroids, she said.
The books genesis was two years ago when Mr. Moore heard
that Abrams, which published CBGB & OMFUG: Thirty Years
From the Home of Underground Rock in 2005, was considering
a book on no wave, with a broad and multidisciplinary
Mr. Moore and Mr. Coley, who said they had been considering
a no wave book for years, rushed to the Abrams office to
pitch their idea, which would instead have a narrow focus,
excluding everything that did not meet their strict
definition of no wave.
A restrictive approach to one of the most obscure periods
of rock music would seem to limit a books audience. But
Tamar Brazis, who edited both books, said there was enough
interest in the period to justify the No Wave book, and
that the depth of Mr. Moore and Mr. Coleys knowledge
bowled her over. The CBGB book, she said, has sold nearly
40,000 copies, an impressive figure for an art book, and
she added that Abrams has similar expectations for No
Mr. Moore said that only a narrow definition would fit the
genre, which was so contrary in its sound and attitude that
too much outside context would dilute its impact.
We liked the absurdity of how small it was, he said. We
kept our parameters really tight. We needed a cut-off
point, and we cut it off as soon as anybody played any
semblance of rock n roll. Any kind of traditional aspect
of rock, its over.
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