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No Wave

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Title: No Wave  
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Subject: Experimental rock, Noise Fest, Categories for discussion/Log/2013 March 15, Punk rock, Honeymoon in Red
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No Wave

No wave was an underground music, super 8 film, performance art, video art, and contemporary art scene that had its beginnings during the late 1970s through the mid-1980s in downtown New York City.[1][2] The term "no wave" is in part a punk subculture satirical wordplay rejecting commercial elements in general, that was based in the specific rejection of the then-popular new wave genre. No wave music was a reaction against new wave acts, like Talking Heads, signing with record labels, and the use of Chuck Berry guitar riffs commonly used by new wave music groups in the late 1970s.[3] The term became used in downtown New York City concurrent with the 1981 show, "New York/New Wave" that had been curated by the artist/curator Diego Cortez.[4] The term "no wave" was probably inspired by the French New Wave pioneer Jean-Luc Godard, with his remark "There are no new waves, there is only the ocean".[5] The movement would last a relatively short time but profoundly influence the development of independent film, fashion and visual art.[6]

Musical styles and characteristics

No wave is not a clearly definable musical genre with consistent features. Various groups drew on such disparate styles as funk, jazz, blues, punk rock, avant garde, and experimental. There are, however, some elements common to most no wave music, such as abrasive atonal sounds, repetitive driving rhythms, and a tendency to emphasize musical texture over melody—typical of La Monte Young's early downtown music.[6]

No wave music presented a negative and nihilistic world view that reflected the desolation of late 1970s downtown New York and how they viewed the larger society. Lydia Lunch noted "The whole fucking country was nihilistic. What did we come out of? The lie of the Summer of Love into Charles Manson and the Vietnam War. Where is the positivity?"[3]

Music history

In 1978 a punk subculture-influenced noise series was held at New York's Artists Space that led to the Brian Eno-produced recording No New York, documenting James Chance and the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, and DNA.[7]

Sonic Youth made their first live appearance at Noise Fest, a noise music festival curated by Thurston Moore at the art space White Columns in June 1981.[8] Each night three to five acts performed, including Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, Rudolph Grey, Robin Crutchfield's Dark Day, Off Beach and others.[3]

No wave had a notable influence on noise music and industrial bands which followed, such as Big Black, Helmet, and Live Skull. Theoretical Girls influenced Sonic Youth, who emerged from the scene and eventually reached mass audiences and critical acclaim.[9]

According to Simon Reynolds, writing for Slate:

And although "affection" is possibly an odd word to use in reference to a bunch of nihilists, I do feel fond of the No Wave people. James Chance's music actually stands up really well, I think; there are great moments throughout Lydia Lunch's long discography, and Suicide's records are just beautiful.[10]

No wave inspired the "Speed Trials" The Fall, and from the US, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Beastie Boys, Elliott Sharp, Swans, The Ordinaires, Arto Lindsay and Toy Killers. This was followed by the after-hours Speed Club that was fleetingly established at ABC No Rio.[11]

Other no wave musicians

In addition to those mentioned above, the following musical artists are cited as being part of the original no wave:[12]

No wave cinema

No wave cinema was an underground film scene in Tribeca and the East Village. Filmmakers included Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, Charlie Ahearn, James Nares, Jim Jarmusch, Vivienne Dick, Scott B and Beth B, and Seth Tillett, and led to the Cinema of Transgression and work by Nick Zedd and Richard Kern.[13]

No wave visual art

Visual artists played a large role in the no wave scene, as visual artists often were playing in bands, and/or making videos and films, while making visual art for exhibition. An early influence on this aspect of the scene was Alan Vega (aka Alan Suicide) whose electronic junk sculpture predated his role in the music group Suicide.

An important exhibition of no wave visual art was [14] In June 1980, more than a hundred artists installed their work in an empty massage parlor near Times Square that included punk visual artists, graffiti artists, feminist artists, political artists, Xerox artists and performance artists.[15]

No wave art would find an ongoing home on the Lower East Side with the establishment of ABC No Rio Gallery in 1980; and a no wave punk aesthetic was a dominant strand in the art galleries of the East Village (from 1982–86).[11]

No wave visual artists

No wave afterlife

In a foreword to the book No Wave, Weasel Walter wrote of the movement's ongoing influence,

I began to express myself musically in a way that felt true to myself, constantly pushing the limits of idiom or genre and always screaming "Fuck You!" loudly in the process. It's how I felt then and I still feel it now. The ideals behind the (anti-) movement known as No Wave were found in many other archetypes before and just as many afterwards, but for a few years around the late 1970s, the concentration of those ideals reached a cohesive, white-hot focus.[3]

In 2004, Scott Crary made a documentary, Kill Your Idols, including such no wave bands as Suicide, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA, and Glenn Branca, as well bands influenced by no wave, including Sonic Youth, Swans, Foetus and others.

In 2007–2008, three books on the scene were published: Soul Jazz's New York Noise,[16] Marc Masters' No Wave,[3] and Thurston Moore and Byron Coley's No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980.[17]

Coleen Fitzgibbon and Alan W. Moore created an 11:41 minute film in 1978 (finished in 2009) of a no wave concert to benefit Colab called "X Magazine Benefit” that documents performances of DNA, James Chance and the Contortions, and Boris Policeband in NYC in the late 1970s. Shot in black and white super 8 and edited on video the film captures the gritty look and sound of the music scene during that era. In 2013 it was exhibited at SALON 94, an art gallery in New York City.[18]

Music compilations

Documentary films

See also


  1. ^ a b c Romanowski, P., ed. (1995) [1983]. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. H. George-Warren &  
  2. ^ Masters, Marc. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007, p. 5
  3. ^ a b c d e NO!: The Origins of No Wave by Marc masters for Pitchfork January 15, 2008
  4. ^ Alison Pearlman, Unpackaging art of the 1980s, p. 188
  5. ^ O'Brien, Glenn (October 1999). "Style Makes the Band". Artforum International Magazine. 
  6. ^ a b Masters, Marc. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007, p. 200
  7. ^ James Chance interview | Pitchfork
  8. ^ Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978–1984 (2006) Penguin
  9. ^ Masters, Marc. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007, p. 168
  10. ^ Slate Magazine"Rip It Up and Start Again," by Stephen Metcalf and Simon Reynolds,
  11. ^ a b Carlo McCormick, The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, Princeton University Press, 2006
  12. ^ Walter, Weasel. "New York No Wave Archive". New York No Wave Archive. Retrieved 27 January 2012. 
  13. ^ NO WAVELENGTH: THE PARA-PUNK UNDERGROUND: Village Voice film critic Jim Hoberman discusses the New York New Wave film scene, including lo-fi super 8 films of Vivienne Dick
  14. ^ Masters, Marc. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007, p. 19
  15. ^ "Times Square Show Revisited" curated by Shawna Cooper with Karli Wurzelbacher
  16. ^ New York Noise — Art and Music from the New York Underground 1978–88Soul Jazz Records —
  17. ^ No WaveHarry N. Abrams, Inc.


  • Berendt, Joachim E. The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond, revised by Günther Huesmann, translated by H. and B. Bredigkeit with Dan Morgenstern. Brooklyn: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992. "The Styles of Jazz: From the Eighties to the Nineties," p. 57–59. ISBN 1-55652-098-0
  • Masters, Marc. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5
  • Moore, Alan W. "Artists' Collectives: Focus on New York, 1975–2000". In Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, edited by Blake Stimson & Gregory Sholette, 203. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • Moore, Alan W., and Marc Miller (eds.). ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery. New York: Collaborative Projects, 1985
  • Pearlman, Alison, Unpackaging Art of the 1980s. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Reynolds, Simon. "Contort Yourself: No Wave New York." In Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978–84. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 2005.
  • Taylor, Marvin J. (ed.). The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, foreword by Lynn Gumpert. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-691-12286-5

External links

  • No wave at AllMusic
  • New York No Wave Photo Archive
  • Official MySpace page for Kill Your Idols, a documentary about the Cinema of Transgression & the No Wave scene
  • Video of Thurston Moore talking about his book "No Wave:Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976–1980"
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