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.
BOOK REVIEW | "MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM: REBIRTH AND ROCK AND ROLL IN NEW YORK CITY 2001-2011" BY LIZZY GOODMAN
photo by nacrowe
i want to start this off by saying that i love NYC. ever since i visited my grandmother in BAY RIDGE from my home southern california back in the early 90s i've been under it's spell.
so i get where the participants of the early 2000s indie rock/electroclash/party scene, who were interviewed for this oral history MEET ME IN THE BATHROOM (Dey Street Books, 2017) compiled by LIZZY GOODMAN, are coming from. some are transplants, some where native, some had money, some didn't. but what they shared was the belief that NYC should be the premier hub of creativity.
my problem is that too many times in this book, people are looking to the past. looking to their record collections. looking to each other. full disclosure: i was an undergraduate during this period at nearby RUTGERS UNIVERSIRTY in nearby new brunswick, new jersey, a mere 20-minute NJ TRANSIT ride from manhattan. i knew people that were into these bands, groups like the THE WALKMEN, THE MOUNTAIN GOATS and THE MAGNETIC FIELDS. personally i thought their fans were pompous, self-important assholes back in the day. and this book has only further confirmed that deep bias.
i'm certain when IGGY POP or JOEY RAMONE started bands back in the day, they did so out of a need to A) get the hell out of michigan/queens and B) express their displeasure with the current state of american culture/politics/society. this 00s scene as showcased through this book showcase a self-involved base of musicians from the likes of LCD SOUNDSYSTEM and others who were more concerned with projecting their tastes over the pulse of popular culture in an almost manic HIGH FIDELITY record-store-dick like manner. why do i care if JAMES MURPHY is "losing his edge" to the next generation of musicicians and music fans? i never got that. you're old, get over it.
and thats what gets me. frontman MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN (and nonmember of this scene or book participant) of metal-band TOOL once opined "fuck retro anything" in a song and in a way i totally understand that mentality. why recreate the past? during this period i felt like rock took a step back and started attempting to try to bring back "real" rock music a la THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, 13TH FLOOR EVELATORS, THE ROLLING STONES, etc. at least that is what it sounded like to me. what was the point of that? if i wanted to listen to garage rock i could always go back and listen to NUGGETS or any STOOGES albums, which i loved. why attempt to recreate that now in a different cultural moment? just seemed there wasn't much risk taking during this period.
then and now that instinct to recreate the past as a way of projecting your great taste just seems counterproductive and masturbatory at best. hey, at least nu-metal tried (and failed) to do something new. for my taste this millennial NYC-based indie-rock to me is as revolutionary as a NORMAN ROCKWELL painting. literally paint-by-numbers art and enjoyed by new generation of like-minded, corporate tastemakers of a predominantly upperclass white demographic.
don't get me wrong, this book is conceived and expertly compiled, as you really get a sense of the scene developing over time in BROOKLYN in now-gentrified sections of WILLIAMSBURG and GREENPOINT. so i do not fault the author at all. if anything by letting the participants speak it showcased their vacuity and self-involvement in a manner now author could adequately expose. to me this book is the embodiment of the gentrification ethos of that period. in the post-truth world we live in today, maybe this scene, often obsessed over notions of "authenticity" spearheaded us towards our current cultural moment where nothing matters, anything can be bought just as they did 20 years ago.