photo manipulation by nacrowe
KILL YOUR IDOLS (HUNGER ARTIST, 2004) examines the NO WAVE scene in the late 1970s in the lower east side and is largely a return to the more sonically experimental and lyrically ambitious origins of the PUNK movement (think PATTI SMITH and RICHARD HELL-era TELEVISION). almost ironically given that last statement is the fact that what largely unifies all these bands was their capacity to scrape away and put aside all their influences and create something wholly original. no recycled BLUES riffs, no clever allusions. this was direct, visceral, confrontational music that was meant to alienate the listener and make them uncomfortable.
essentially NO WAVE served as a new cultural year zero.
the music is described by some of the participants as being a byproduct of a deep need to emotional purge themselves. it transmitted a basic consciousness through music that embraced the moment and extreme dissonance of what is essentially ANTI-MUSIC.
this documentary interviews both those initially associated with the scene such as as SUICIDE, THEORETICAL GIRLS, TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS, THE CONTORTIONS and DNA and those who formed bands in its wake like SWANS and FOETUS as well as musicians that were informed by the scene down the line when this documentary was being recorded in the early 2000s; bands like A.R.E. WEAPONS, GOGOL BORDELLO and the YEAH YEAH YEAHS.
whats interesting about this documentary is not the actual music itself, which i find unlistenable by design; it is literally music not meant to be listened to. what interests me is how this brief moment in time freed future musicians to attempt unconventional techniques that embrace dissonance and disharmony into a sound that is wholly listenable and enjoyable to an audience. much like the beats with the cut-out method added the chaos of random chance into their writings to create meaning, this new generation was using the most confrontational of scenes to model their ideas of what was possible in creating harmonious music by nontraditional means. anti-music beget music. they created "new traditions" in DEVO terms. its an interesting idea.
you can see the legacy of this era not just in looped, feed-backed curations of INDIE ROCK bands like SONIC YOUTH and THE BOREDOMS, but also proto-INDUSTRIAL groups like EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN. like all experimental music or scenes based on such they are short-lived by necessity. experimentation calcifies into patterns which turns into modes of expression and techniques that further get introduced as new orthodoxies. thats why bands that truly take on the mantle of the spirit of this scene sound nothing like it.
kill these idols as well no doubt.
photo by nacrowe
during my undergraduate years at RUTGERS i wrote a senior thesis on film noir and a key feature of those films is a corrosive depiction of women as corrupters. often male protagonists impotently speak via voice-overs, attempting to frame a narrative that inevitably they were never able to control.
musician/artist/producer/fashion designer/actress/writer/badass KIM GORDON of SONIC YOUTH fame in her memoir GIRL IN A BAND (HarperCollins, 2015) in a similar fashion attempts to make sense and contextualize the trauma of her recent divorce. in an inversion of the film noir cliche i outlined above, her painful retelling of their doomed relationship if anything doesn't reduce her ex-partner and ex-bandmate THURSTON MOORE to that of a lazy literary trope. it is my understanding that her presenting this information was meant to accurately describe the insight gained from such a painful ordeal that ultimately deprived her a partner and collaborator and place it within the proper context of her upbringing and fraught relationships with her brother and father. unlike those noir films, her compassionate insights into these men ultimately humanizes them, especially MOORE.
what i really appreciated this book was her honesty. no doubt knowing her public image as an icon for female empowerment, the vulnerability she displayed in explaining why she found herself in the familiar trap of suppressing her ego for the men in her life is a daring move. you really get the sense of struggle throughout her entire music/art career. you also get a well-rounded, first-hand look at the early 80s concurrent NO WAVE music scene and burgeoning NYC art scene surrounding street art. she comes across a someone curious and relentlessly fearless in taking advantage of what opportunities came her way. she doesnt not come across as an opportunist, rather as a passionate curator constantly searing for new ideas and inspirations.
i feel a kinship with that as someone who grew up around unfamiliar people in unfamiliar countries. her upbringing in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA by way of brief stints in HONG KONG and HAWAI'I gave her something of a THIRD CULTURE KID vibe. they say THIRD CULTURE KIDS (children that grow up in a country not their own) are qualitatively better able to navigate life's upheavals, having dealt with such stress during their impressionable formative years. if anything, her curiosity for art, music, design, and love only get stronger as the narrative evolves, almost in contrast to the arc of her personal life.
i'm a fan of her work, both in and out of SONIC YOUTH and recommend this book highly for anyone interested in her career as well as anyone interested in the NYC art and indie music scenes of 80s and 90s by a big player in both. well worth it.
photo manipulation by nacrowe