Free Noise Among Friends

Noise Fest cover

I still remember the first time I ever heard Sonic Youth. The year was 1988 —a few years before punk officially “broke.” As improbable as this seems, it was all thanks to a late-night channel trawl past PBS. I happened to stop short on this weird little documentary called Put More Blood Into the Music. This oddball, scrappy little film marked my first exposure to the likes of SY, Lydia Lunch, DNA, John Zorn, and Glenn Branca.

For years, I thought I’d imagined the film —PBS and No Wave don’t exactly go hand-in-hand. I didn’t quite know what I’d just seen, but I knew without a doubt that my tiny little mind had been blown. (And my music taste had been irrevocably pushed in adventurous new directions.)

Since then, my interest in Sonic Youth has waxed and waned. Mostly waned. I respect and admire them far more than I actually LISTEN to them. (And, while I confess to being tempted, I didn’t make it to any of the recent Daydream Nation performances.)

It was fun, then, to discover this super-early set from 1981’s Noisefest at White Columns. These were early early days, before Lee joined (and, obviously, well before Steve Shelley became THE drummer). Vocal duties here are shared by Kim (bass) and friend Ann DeMarinis (who also plays keys); Thurston’s on guitar and Richard Edson on drums. While Sonic Youth Mach 2007 can be way too serious (that alt-rock mantle weighs heavily, I guess), these tracks have a playful, off-the-cuff gleefulness that I just love. Obviously there’s not much here one would recognize as “Sonic Youth” per se —but it’s interesting to see their point of departure.

***

Sometimes I think of SY guitarist/singer Thurston Moore as the world’s oldest teenager. While he can seem, on the surface, puppyish and a bit goofy, he’s got laser-focus when it comes to music he loves and supports. He’s used his very high profile to lend support to so many musicians —not only by bringing them on tour with him but by mentioning them in print, wearing their t-shirts, or putting out their records.

He’ll be bringing his seemingly boundless enthusiasm to a slew of solo dates in the fall in support of his upcoming LP, Trees Outside The Academy (his first since the haphazard but worthwhile Psychic Hearts, more than a decade ago). September/early October finds him crossing the country with band mates Steve Shelley, Samara Lubelski (ex- of Tower Recordings) on violin (and vocals?); Christina Carter (Charalambides) will be opening. (I guess this summer’s punishing rondelay of Daydream Nation anniversary shows wasn’t exhausting enough?)

Thurston’s also working on a image-heavy No Wave book of his own with Forced Exposure’s Byron Coley, to be published sometime next year by Abrams. As a torch-bearer, historian, and genuine fan all rolled into one, Thurston can certainly do the subject justice. (And I’d bet he’s got an A-Z record collection to go along with.) His genuine enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge —combined with the fact that his opinion commands a great deal of respect— means that the book could potentially influence readers who may not have heard of these bands before. Just like his appearance in Put More Blood Into the Music way back when brought about a paradigm shift in my own listening patterns.

(Speaking of Thurston commentaries on No Wave: if any of you had the misfortune to see that pile of crapola Kill Yr. Idols, a mystifyingly excised scene in which Thurston breathlessly recounts his first ever Suicide show is worth the price of admission alone. But barely, since the rest of the film stinks so resolutely.)

As a corollary: Two independent overviews of the New York noise scene are due out this fall: the companion volume to Soul Jazz’s New York Noise series, and Marc Masters’ eponymous history for Black Dog Publishing, the same folks who brought you the Warp and Rough Trade histories.

THURSTON MOORE :: FALL 2007 TOUR DATES

Sep 24: Hoboken, NJ @ Maxwell’s
Sep 26: Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sep 27: Boston, MA @ Remis Auditorium at Museum of Fine Arts
(NO Presale, Free for College Students Only with Valid Photo ID)
Sep 28: Princeton, NJ @ Terrace Club/Princeton University
(NO Presale, Free for Princeton Students only)
Sep 29: Washington, DC @ Rock and Roll Hotel
Sep 30: Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda’s
Oct 24: Seattle, WA @ Neumo’s
Oct 25: Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
Oct 26: Arcata, CA @ Humboldt State University
Oct 29: San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall (Presale through www.gamhtickets.com)
Oct 30: Los Angeles, CA @ Echoplex

Sonic Youth (official) | Thurston’s Ecstatic Peace page | Christina Carter/Wholly Other | Samara Lubelski

MP3Sonic Youth, “Track 1” (Live at White Columns | Noise Fest, 6.18.81)

MP3Sonic Youth, “Track 2” (Live at White Columns | Noise Fest, 6.18.81)

MP3Sonic Youth, “Track 3” (Live at White Columns | Noise Fest, 6.18.81)

MP3Sonic Youth, “Track 4” (Live at White Columns | Noise Fest, 6.18.81)

MP3Sonic Youth, “Track 5” (Live at White Columns | Noise Fest, 6.18.81)

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7 Comments

  1. So lame, commenting on my own post, but I wanted to cut and paste this snippet of Thurston talking about the No Wave book to Magnet a few years ago, obviously some time before he actually started writing it:

    “What I really want to do is a book on the history of the no-wave music scene in New York, how it extended out and formed lots of other things. It was such a great visual culture, something that I was living amongst, so I have all the information about it. I really want to get all the photographs; there has been some documentation but not specifically of it. Books like the one Henry Rollins put out, (Stephanie Chernikowski’s) Dream Baby Dream are good, but I wanna do one that’s specifically about no-wave. So I wanna get someone like Byron Coley to write the text, get all the photographs and lay it out, research, discographies, filmographies and talk about the different artists that were involved at that time.”

  2. From Wikipedia:

    “The band then known as the Arcadians’ first show was in June 1981 as part of a 10-day festival organized by Moore. Held at the White Columns gallery in SoHo, the “Noise Fest” festival also included a performance by Branca’s ensemble. The band line-up at this event was Moore, Gordon, drummer Richard Edson and keyboardist Ann DeMarinis. DeMarinis did not stick around for another gig, but immediately after Branca’s set Moore asked Ranaldo to join his band.[3] Moore came up with the name “Sonic Youth” shortly before this concert, combining the name of Fred “Sonic” Smith of the band MC5 with the trend of reggae artists such as Big Youth featuring the word “Youth” in their names.”

    Could this bootleg be the very first Sonic Youth show???

    Also, fun fact: the drummer, Richard Edson, starred in Jim Jarmusch’s classic “Stranger than Paradise”.

    • Richard Edson showed up recently in some insurance commercial. He pops up here and there. Not sure if he kept doing music after Konk or not… I kinda lost track.

  3. James

    Edson also plays the parking attendant who promises to take good care of Cameron’s sports car in Ferris Buhler’s Day Off. (He then calls a friend and drives the car around Chicago at top speed). I always get a kick out of that when I watch it.

    Thurston gave an interview to Punk Planet a decade ago and said some smart things about being a musician in New York. The gist of it, was that it’s better to survive and more rewarding to work like a jazz musician, sitting in with other bands, playing with short term groups, playing solo, etc., than it is to stay locked in the traditional rock band dynamic. It’s work, practice, fun and a way of getting paid, and (Thurston stressed this), it’s what musicians, even guitar players, should be doing. I agree.

    • Exactly. Thurston never seems to forget to PLAY, in the sense that he seems to have all sorts of creative projects going at once. Even if I sometimes get bored by SY’s output, I always keep an eye out for their extracurricular projects, because there’s usually something worthwhile to be found.

      To bring the Richard Edson conversation to closure, I just bought the new Criterion edition of Stranger Than Paradise!

  4. asshat

    Wow, any leads on where i could find/view Put More Blood Into the Music? oddball, scrappy films on No Wave are right up my alley.

    as always, thanks for the great post.

    • Yeah, I wish I knew where to find it too. Nothing on YouTube and IMDB is no help either… Trying to find “George Atlas” on the internet is a seriously needle-in-haystack sort-of endeavor.

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