Tuesday, January 15, 2008

NO!: The Origins of No Wave

P4k is running a great feature this week: an excerpt from music critic Marc Masters new book on the highly influential No Wave movement of the late 70s/early 80s, entitled simply No Wave.

No Wave is, was and forever will be one of my favorite genres. I continually find myself purchasing random No Wave compilations, such as N.Y. No Wave: The Ultimate East Village 80s Soundtrack, entries in the New York Noise Series, the recently reissued Downtown 81 soundtrack, as well what should be the foundation of any respectable music collection, the Brian Eno-produced No New York compilation, which all but defined the genre. Masters gets into all this and more with this generous feature, which also includes interview snippets from members of DNA, The Contortions, Mars and Teenage Jesus & the Jerks (pictured above). Here's an excerpt from the excerpt:

"Artists looking to break rules would logically want to avoid creating their own. No Wave thus produced a wide variety of sounds and styles, with few bands sounding alike. Yet commonalities inevitably emerged. "I think the aims and methods of each band were quite unique," says Jim Sclavunos, a member of four different No Wave groups. "However, one common aspect to all the bands was their auditory roughness: harsh, strident instrumentation, dissonance and atonality to some degree. All of the bands had somewhat alienating stage presentations. Audiences were subjected to random outbursts of violence or cool obliviousness or disdainful hostility, sometimes all of the above."

Most No Wave groups used guitar noise, via unusual tunings and primitive techniques, to create texture and mood. Lyrically, their snippets of language told surreal stories, made oblique references to artistic influences, and confused the listener with incomplete or contradictory ideas. Like the songs themselves, their words were often short and sharp, erring on the side of omission rather than indulgence. And singers emitted yelps, gasps, and grunts-- whatever it took to say 'No' to conventional singing. All of these elements were deployed with a loose abandon that suggested improvisation, but in fact No Wave bands rarely played off-the-cuff. Most were slavishly devoted to practice and repetition, honing their noisy outbursts into machine-like rituals.

These musical similarities were not adopted solely to deconstruct rock. They also reflected the reality of the participants' lives and surroundings in New York. No Wave music, as obscure as it could be, was a kind of downtown diary, a regurgitation of the desperation of the city and the era. "I had to document my insanity, my anger, my history, in a very direct and specific way," explains Lunch. "I had to document what was driving me insane."

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