New York 1978, Brian Eno found a series of musicians, namely James Chance & Contortions, Bush Tetras, Glenn Branca, DNA, Teenage Jesus & Jerks, Lydia Lunch, and begged them to let him record an album. Before the album came out, the chosen groups met with Eno at the Eighth Street apartment he was subletting. They decided to call the record No New York, and soon the small community of musicians and filmmakers surrounding it was dubbed No Wave.
What this music did was say "No" to the 1970's New York that was mostly abandoned, "No" to the bloated, co-opted arena rock of the time, "No" to the blues-based rock model, "No" to using the same chords being played by bands at CBGBs, "No" to major labels, "No" to money of any kind. No Wave was really a big middle finger towards commercial music or melodies or verses or choruses, it was a deconstruction.
Their influence? The bands who'd previously broken musical rules. Exhibit A was The Velvet Underground. By mixing the noisy rock leanings of Lou Reed, the minimalist drones of John Cale, and the art world influence of Andy Warhol's Factory, this seminal band provided a comprehensive model for No Wave. So did Metal Machine Music, Reed's 1975 album, which consisted of atonal guitar feedback. No Wave's deconstructive approach drew on other ancestors from the 60s and 70s: the radical noise of free jazz musicians Albert Ayler, and Sun Ra, the experimental blues-rock of Captain Beefheart, the trance-inducing rituals of German groups Can and Faust, the screeching art of Yoko Ono and the Plastic Ono Band, and the confrontational performances of Iggy Pop and the Stooges. But the band who had the biggest influence on No Wave was undoubtedly Suicide.
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.
No wave music emerged out of the New York punk scene in the late 70s. It is interesting, stripped back experimental music with elements of punk, jazz, and blues that had a very small underground following for a very short time. I haven't listened to a great deal of experimental music, but I have been listening to a few No Wave acts lately such as Glenn Branca and DNA. I have often heard that No Wave was very influential on later noise rock and post-punk; although I am enjoying it I am not sure that I can hear this influence. Also, musically what distinguishes No Wave from ordinary avante-garde music? How is it different from The Residents or Cabaret Voltaire, for example? What do you think about No Wave music?
>It is interesting, stripped back experimental music with elements of punk, jazz, and blues
I think this is where the confusion lies. I understand No Wave to be not so much a style of music as a way of thinking about art. Specifically an anti consumerist way of thinking about it. Even more specifically a way of thinking about art in the late 1970s, and to get real nit picky in New York.
A group of artists, musicians etc might all fall under the same No Wave umbrella because of their attitude to what they did. Teenage Jesus and The Jerks may not have sounded much like The Lounge Lizards but they were from the same era, place, and most important had the same (or similar) outlook about the creation and consumption of their art. Think of it as similar to the Dadaist movement in the early 20th century where artists of all mediums adopted a similar mindset in creating their very different works. For the Dadaists it was as a reaction to WW1, for the No Wavers a reaction to the commercialization of the underground.
The reason I'd say The Residents are not No Wave (despite the fact that sound wise they could certainly have had fans in common with other No Wave bands) is because they already existed for 4 or 5 albums before No Wave (and because they weren't from New York, though I think that most people would probably allow a little leeway with that condition). If Duck Stab/Buster & Glen or The Commercial Album had been their first releases (note I left out Eskimo...) I'm sure they'd have been called No Wave too.
I'm writing an essay on No Wave right now. It was definitely a movement, not a genre. No Wave was focused on creating music that went farther than punk, going into noise-rock territory. Also, I don't think that there's such a thing as "ordinary avant-garde", because avant-garde is by definition "new and unusual experimental ideas". Every avant garde band is different from other avant garde bands. Even within the No Wave scene, one could find bands that sounded completely different but were still No Wave. For example, you could compare Mars , Lydia Lunch , and Suicide . These bands all have different styles, but they still all fall under the No Wave umbrella.
As for my thoughts on No Wave music, I think that it's great. I remember being younger and hearing from my dad about how fast and aggressive and weird Punk Rock was, and then listening to The Ramones for the first time I felt like I'd been cheated somehow. No Wave was made up of a mix of artists who wanted to explore more experimental veins of jazz/punk/blues, and people like Lydia Lunch who felt that Punk Rock was basically just regular rock n' roll just with shouted vocals and sped up. What I find very interesting about many of the bands is that they would have a wide range of experience levels: people like James Chance who had studied jazz and had played music in college, and then others people who had never touched an instrument before. Inexperienced guitarists would play with a slide to create interesting noises. Listening to the No New York compilation album for the first time had a profound effect on me, and the music of No Wave has had a large influence on the music that I write.
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.
I scanned what you wrote but couldn't bring myself to read it, but it seems like pretty standard fair.
No Wave was an interesting little art movement of basically non-musician avant-garde artists of other mediums starting bands. It is basically the definitive avant-garde rock genre, moreso than any other. It is historically significant for being the predecessor of noise rock, and had a big impact for being a scene of less than 100 people. It's misleading to call it post-punk since it really coincided with the first punk scene.
Some of the bands were terrible, like Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and Theoretical Girls (though TG produced Glenn Branca, a major composer and mentor to Sonic Youth)
There were some greats, like James Chance (an inspiration for Bad Brains), Lizzy Mercier Descloux, DNA (a great emotive proto-noise rock band), and Mars. I recommend them.
ESG was tied to the scene, which is interesting since they helped pioneer hip hop. Steve Buscemi and Jim Jarmusch actually started their film careers within the no wave film scene.
No Wave began outside the spotlight, developing underground without the potentially corroding influence of exposure. But despite the anti-commercial attitude, No Wave music and films eventually garnered more recognition than one might expect for such radical art. Just as artists thrived in the abandoned New York of the 1970s, so did other underground entities. Clubs like the Mudd Club and Hurrah's, galleries like Artists' Space and the Kitchen, labels like Lust/Unlust and ZE, and publications like New York Rocker and The East Village Eye all boosted No Wave into the public consciousness. The exposure grew to the point where, according to Branca, "by 1979, every single No Wave band was drawing audiences bigger than Richard Hell, or Blondie, or Patti Smith, or Television drew before they got signed."
This glimpse of fame gave No Wavers a legitimate shot at careers. But fame and careers were not why they came to New York. The music and films these radical artists created were the equivalent of tossing dynamite into a decaying castle, and getting out before the smoke cleared. " What was so spectacular about this moment in time was that it was in a place the world had forgotten about and gone past", says Scott B. "And yet some of the most ambitious artists in the world convened there, and were just reinventing the language of art and music and film all for themselves, without any real expectations of financial reward. It was like a huge lab where we were all reinventing what it meant to be an artist and a musician."
i didnt write any of it. just some random sites (mostly reddit and p4k) and i just copy pasted it here hoping to spark discussion and recommendations. no wave or otherwise
i like your post though, its insightful. im just now getting into the genre
not that guy, but it is just weird to bring up dark wave in a no wave thread. They are in no way related. Dark wave is basically synth-heavy atmostpheric goth music. The definitive band is probably Black Tape for a Blue Girl
>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
But they did sound alike. For the most part they were still rooted in the punk/post-punk sound and rarely branched out.