UPDATE: This post was re-uploaded
09/13/2013. Enjoy, NØ.
So, what is No Wave?
The name came about as reaction to the term New Wave. At the tail end of the 70's the record industry was trying to rebrand punk & labeled the poppier bands that came in the aftermath of Punk as New Wave. The No Wave bands wanted to reject this poppier side but they also felt no affinity to Punk. At the time, Lydia Lunch (the queen of No Wave?) bemoaned how Punk was just sped up Chuck Berry riffs & it is true that if you listen to most (but not all!) punk today, it is just badly played, sped up three chord rock n' roll. The Garage bands of the 60's had nailed the Punk sound way earlier & frankly mainly sound better to this day. Listen to No Wave today and it is still a shock to the system & often sounds like a music with no precedent. This last thing is another of the keys to what No Wave is. Many of the artists were determined that their music should not be influenced by anything that came before & should sound totally new. If influences did creep in they were more likely to be from free jazz than any rock based form of music. The 'No' in No Wave could thus be taken to imply the music didn't belong to any particular style or genre.
The ability to play was completely unimportant too. But where Punk liberated thousands of non musicians who found they could make music by only learning a few chords, many of the No Wave artists didn't even bother learning one chord. Coaxing atonal & abrasive sounds from their instruments & conjuring up basic repetitive rhythms was a much more effective way for them to express themselves. Melody? Forget it! Although when one hears No Wave, it is instantly obvious that that is what is being listened to, none of the bands really have that much in common stylistically.
In 1978, Brian Eno was living in New York & was blown away by the performances he was seeing by these artists. He wanted to capture this & document it so he took four of the bands - Mars, The Contortions,Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Mars, & D.N.A. into the studio & produced (in the loosest possible sense) four tracks apiece by each of them. This came out as the legendary No New York album. The one problem with this album is all the bands that got left off, which has resulted in many people thinking these four bands are the definition of No Wave when there were numerous other acts ploughing similar (different) territory. The Theoretical Girls must have been particularly gutted as they were initially meant to be on the album but were then dropped at the last minute.
No Wave critics often argue that it was all a load of art wank and while many of the artists involved did come from an art / performance background, most didn't. But, as well as music, there were also No Wave film makers, the most famous of them being Nick Zedd, John Lurie and Richard Kern.
Starting off with one track each from all four contributors to the legendary 'No New York' compilation, here represented by tracks that don't appear on that record:
Mars - 3E (Ze Records)
First up are Mars with perhaps their most conventional sounding song. Mars were perhaps the first No Wave band, having formed before any one else got in on the act. Their two man / two woman line up would also prove to be a reflection of how equally the sexes were represented in No Wave, a fact often forgotten & seldom replicated in any other musical genre.
D.N.A. - You & You (Lust/Unlust)
From a fabulous 7" on Charles Ball's Lust/Unlust label, Arto LIndsay's guitar on this is outrageous. Perhaps more than any other No Wave act D.N.A. took their complete inability to play & made it their greatest asset. Lindsay conjured sounds out of his guitar that had never been heard before while Iku Mori's non drumming is a revelation. Lindsay's strangulated vocal style is also a thing of wonder. What I would give to have been able to see them live! They can be seen in rehearsal in the flawed but brilliant Downtown '81 film .
Teenage Jesus & The Jerks - Freud In Flop (Lust/Unlust)
42 seconds is all you need. Lydia Lunch's wonderfully named combo may have been short lived but everything they left behind is like an electric shock to the system.
The Contortions - Contort Yourself (Ze Records)
Led by the legendary James Chance who also co-founded but was only briefly in Teenage James Chance could be the Godfather of No Wave. Being a James Brown freak probably clinches him deserving that title. This song is The Contortion's 'hit' & Chance would go on to re-record it in a disco style with his James White & The Blacks ensemble. Chance could have gone on to become a star but personal problems & his confrontational attitude on stage helped to prevent that happening.
The Fire Engines - Get Up & Use Me (Codex Communications)
This is where music nerds will start to debate about what is No Wave & whether it is limited to New York artists. The Fire Engines are Scottish, but they were obsessed with The Contortions & it certainly shows. Based around one of the greatest riffs of all time, this was recorded in one take.
Blurt - Puppeteer (Factory)
Blurt are probably the most No Wave but not No Wave band of all time. Blurt probably would have existed & sounded exactly as they do whether such a thing as No Wave had ever happened or not. Hailing from Stroud & centering around the skronking sax genius & belching vocals of Ted Milton, Blurt are one of the great unsung bands of our times. Their music has so much space & groove that it's easy to get lost inside it. Blurt are a psycho-funk, afro-punk, no-wave, pogo-jazz-trio. This track oozes funk which apart from James Chance's experiments is not something No Wave is generally known for doing.
Tools You Can Trust - Show Your Teeth (Red Energy Dynamo)
Hailing from Manchester, Tools You Can Trust were very aware of No Wave although they never thought of themselves as a No Wave act, but this has all the hallmarks of a No Wave gem. The slightly deranged vocalist & the gas cylinders used for percussion clinches it. Most of their songs related to the war which the Conservative government was at that time waging upon the ordinary working people of Great Britain.
Sonic Youth - Shaking Hell (Neutral)
Again, the purists would probably debate the inclusion of this. But even though No Wave had pretty much finished by 1983, Sonic Youth were certainly born out of it. This song is great & features one of my favorite Kim Gordon vocals.
8 Eyed Spy - Lazy In Love (Fetish)
Here's Lydia Lunch finally getting to let rip. 8 Eyed Spy was her short lived 'mutilated blues' band & while a lot less shrill than much other No Wave (especially Teenage Jesus) it still has a certain 'on the edge' aspect to it.
Pulsallama - On The Rag (Y Records)
Described at the time as '12 girls fighting over a cowbell', Pulsallama were a short lived collective of feisty women who banged things together & wowed New York crowds as much with their on stage fighting as with their music. Featuring future star Ann Magnuson as a member, this is their ode to their periods!
bonus track - May (Y Records)
Arto / Neto - Pini, Pini (Ze Records)
This was a one off project for Ze Records featuring Arto Lindsay from DNA & his cinematographer friend Seth Tillet. On top of primitive drum machine hi hats, Lindsay does some of his best & most out there guitar noise while Tillet (Neto) recites an hysterical pigeon English rap. It has been argued (sort of) that this is in fact one of the first hip hop records.
Y Pants - That's The Way Boys Are (Neutral)
Y Pants were three women artists - Barbara Ess, Virgina Piersol & Gail Vachon. They mainly played at art spaces & had their own unique sound derived from their unusual instrumentation. They based their sound around an amplified toy piano, a toy drum set & a ukelele played through a distortion unit. Later they would add an electric bass & synth. They released one single for the legendary 99 Records & then one lp on Neutral Records. "That's the Way Boys Are" is sad, scary & lovely all at the same time.
ImpLOG - Breakfast (Log)
impLOG are most famous for the track "Holland Tunnel Dive" which is in my opinion seven & a half minutes of complete genius . "Breakfast" shows that No Wave doesn't have to be all about abrasive dissonance. impLOG were Don Christensen with help from Jody Harris. They were both in The Contortions & released just two records as impLOG - the Holland Tunnel Dive 12" and the Breakfast 7". This song is a rather silly but utterly charming ode to the great American breakfast. Jody Harris is one of the unsung heroes of No Wave - a Contortion, an impLOGger, founder of the wonderful Raybeats & collaborator with New York legend Robert Quine on the super Escape LP on the mighty Lust/Unlust label.
Jill Kroesen - Fay Shism Blues (Lovely Music)
Ending with the best song Patti Smith never wrote, this features contributions from Bill Laswell, the ubiquitous Jody Harris, Don Christensen & Arthur Russell amongst others. This is an incredibly tense piece of music that is so New York it hurts. Several people I have played this to have become completely obsessed with it. A performance, video & visual artist, musician & composer, it astounds me that Kroesen's work is so unknown. To me this sums up all that that era gave us - truly challenging & supremely wonderful music that inspires & moves as much, if not more so today than it did a quarter of a century ago.
A visitor request this update. I have placed all the songs in one file. I also added an entire folder of scans.