Time: The mid-1970s. Place: The Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. On the downside, it was a scum and grit-encrusted, crime-splattered no-manâ€™s land full of bums, drug dealers, petty thieves, pimps, prostitutes, thugs and other assorted, felonious flotsam. On the upside, huge, empty lofts were up for rent at bargain basement prices, pizza was 50 cents a slice and musicians and artists from all over were flocking to this murky mecca to participate in a myriad of spontaneous performance art and contemporary art shows, music concerts, underground film and video screenings and other assorted happenings.
By this time, the idealism of the 1960s had been brutally battered, as it quickly licked its wounds and floated off into a grey haze. Although a reactionary movement, punk rock, was on the rise, the public at large was unaware of a parallel, even more visceral, vital movement that, at its genesis, had no name. In short order, it was bitch-slapped with the moniker no wave. The most well-known no wave bandsâ€” James Chance and the Contortions, DNA, Mars and Teenage Jesus and the Jerksâ€”got corralled by Brian Eno into a studio to record their shrill, slashing, grating, anti-rock for a genre-defining compilation called No New York.
Aside from gig flyers, photos, articles in the New York Rocker and other random tidbits, No New York was the only official document of this impromptu anti-everything scene. Other important players like Rhys Chatham of the band the Gynecologists and performance space the Kitchen, and Glenn Branca of the Theoretical Girls, went on to form massive guitar armies who played deafening minimal symphonies in alternate tunings. In turn, theyâ€”along with the no wave bandsâ€”gave birth to Sonic Youth, who took that sound, put their own spin on it, and delivered it to the masses in the decades to come.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and longtime music writer Byron Coley (Forced Exposure, Spin, Arthur) would publish a book on this scene that they witnessed firsthand, and that inspired them so much. No Wave--subtitled Post Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980.--covers the half-decade-long era largely through Thurston and Byronâ€™s super detailed story, which is peppered with lengthy comments from dozens of people who were there, the most prominent being Teenage Jesusâ€™ own Lydia Lunch, who, in addition, penned an insanely clever, incendiary introduction. Sample quote: â€œThe anti-everything of no wave was a collective caterwaul that defied categorization, defiled the audience, despised convention, shit in the face of history and then split.â€â€”Lydia Lunch
The rest of the story is told through large, gorgeous, black and white photos and gig flyers encased in stark, elegant graphic design that perfectly compliments the subject matter. A no wave family tree, plus a list of bands, people, places and venues wraps it all up.
Public Impact: Although the brightly burning no wave scene was brief, its legacy went on to inspire a whole generation of noise rockers and transgressive visual artists and filmmakers. Overall, this book is one of the best and most beautiful examples of scene documentation Iâ€™ve ever held, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a very tasty slice of the musical history of Manhattan, before it turned into a mall.