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Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth

Rock group

More than image, style, or even substance, the punk rock movement of the mid 1970s challenged the mainstream musical establishment. It was in the years following this movement that no wave rock—named for its lack of discernible musical influences—began evolving into 1990s grunge. Sonic Youth traces its roots to art rock revolutionaries like The Velvet Underground, but in their explorations of sound that began in the 1980s, they carved a niche in rock that was uniquely their own.

Billboard referred to the band as "dedicated noise-rock eccentrics who survived the '90s alt-rock explosion." The band is also, according to Entertainment Weekly, "the only band in rock history to be caricatured on The Simpsons, endorsed by Neil Young, and accorded an exhibit at New York's Printed Matter art gallery." As of 2004, the band had released some 20 albums and EPs, plus accompanying music videos. "The respect accorded Sonic Youth is only partly about music; equally significant is the band's unrelenting sense of integrity in a business not known for tolerating it," according to the same article.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City in the early 1980s, when Thurston Moore met Lee Ranaldo. Both guitarists were involved in musical collaborations with guitarist and composer Glenn Branca at the time. In 1981 they united with bassist and art school graduate Kim Gordon and drummer Richard Edson to create Sonic Youth. The band derived its name from two musicians—The MC5's Fred "Sonic" Smith and reggae star Big Youth.

The band signed to Branca's Neutral label, but before it had released a first record, Edson left the group and was replaced by drummer Bob Bert. In 1982 Sonic Youth released their self-titled debut mini-album. It was followed the next year by Confusion is Sex. The early Sonic Youth records were characterized by musical distortion and feedback, the result of Moore's and Ranaldo's penchant for tuning their guitars to various "hot rodded tunings." They also frequently played their instruments with drumsticks and screwdrivers, a musical exploration technique borrowed from avant garde composer John Cage, who placed items such as rubber balls and wood screws between his piano strings to change the instrument's sound. As Moore told the Boston Phoenix, "when we started we were being very reactionary, pulling against the norm at the time [and] trying to bring back and update the elements we liked that came out of bands like the Stooges and the MC5."

The band built a loyal cult following, and eventually spawned such hardcore contemporaries as the Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, and Black Flag. But Sonic Youth was going in a direction all its own. "We were trying to be very adventurous," Mike Watt, who was bassist for the Minutemen, said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "And when I heard Sonic Youth, I felt very old-fashioned."

A European tour produced the 1983 German-only release Kill Yr Idols, an EP of distorted soundscapes. The following year Sonic Youth released Sonic Death, featuring performances from their European tour and released on Moore's Ecstatic Peace label.

By 1985 Sonic Youth began to change its sound somewhat, as they toyed with sound dynamics, unusual tunings, and song stylings. They began to send out demo tapes to various independent labels, and were eventually signed to Blast First in England and to Homestead in America. They released Bad Moon Rising, which, according to the New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, "hit on a direction that incorporated swirling Branca style guitar textures into more traditional pop-based song structures." At the beginning of 1986, Sonic Youth had a new American label, and a new drummer, Steve Shelley, who replaced Bert. They began to work on their next album, E.V.O.L, or love spelled backwards, and the following year saw the release of Sister.

Another label change, this time to Enigma, followed in 1988. They initiated a side project called Ciccone Youth, and the resulting album, the Whitey Album, featured covers of Madonna songs, thus giving the band their pseudonym. Also that same year, Sonic Youth released their critically acclaimed classic underground album Daydream Nation. This album further elaborated on the theme of alienation which had pervaded the two previous Sonic Youth releases. Daydream Nation contained the song "Teen Age Riot," which shot to the number one spot on the British independent singles chart and the American alternative singles chart.

The year 1990 brought yet another change in labels. Sonic Youth left both their English label, Blast First, and their American label, Enigma, and signed on to the major label DGC, releasing their major label debut, Goo. This featured the hit single "Kool Thing," a collaboration between Gordon and Public Enemy's Chuck D. The album introduced the band to a wider, more mainstream audience in America, and Sonic Youth become the opening act for Neil Young on his tour.

Group members also had numerous interests outside the band: namely, family. "For all their trailblazing and too-cool New York artists image, Sonic Youth's dirty little secret is that there are no dirty little secrets. Despite their skewed, unconventional songs and their irregularly tuned guitars, these musicians are disconcertingly normal; scandal does not become them. The notion is as radical as it is refreshing," wrote David Browne in Entertainment Weekly. Moore and Gordon are married with a daughter; Ranaldo had two sons. "We never had weird lifestyles to begin with," asserted Ranaldo told Entertainment Weekly. "Most of the weirdness takes place on stage."

For the Record …

Members include Bob Bert (joined group, 1982; left group, 1985), drums; Richard Edson (left group, 1982), drums; Kim Gordon (born on April 23, 1953, in Rochester, NY; married Thurston Moore; children: a daughter, Coco), bass, vocals; Thurston Moore (born on July 25, 1958, in Coral Gables, FL; married to Kim Gordon; children: a daughter, Coco), vocals, guitar; Jim O'Rourke (born in 1969 in Chicago, IL; joined group, 2001), bass, guitar; Lee Ranaldo (born on February 3, 1956, in Glen Cove, NY; children: two sons), guitar, vocals; Steve Shelley (born on June 23, 1962, in Midland, MI; joined group, 1985), drums.

Group formed in New York City, 1981; signed to Neutral and released Sonic Youth, 1982; released Confusion is Sex, 1983; signed to Zensor and released German only Kill Yr Idols, 1983; signed to Ecstatic Peace and released Sonic Death, 1984; signed to Homestead and released Bad Moon Rising, 1985; signed to SST and released E.V.O.L, 1986, and Sister, 1987; signed to Enigma and released, as Ciccone Youth, Whitey Album, 1988; released Daydream Nation, 1988; signed to DGC and released Goo, 1990; released Dirty, 1992; released Experimental Jet Set Trash & No Star, 1994; released Screaming Fields of Sonic Love, 1995; released Washing Machine, 1996; released A Thousand Leaves, 1998; released Goodbye 20th Century, 1999; released NYC Ghosts & Flowers, 2000; Jim O'Rourke joined band as bassist, Gordon began playing guitar, 2001; released Murray Street, 2002; released Sonic Nurse, 2004.

Addresses: Record company—DGC Records, 9150 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068. Website—Sonic Youth Official Website: http://www.sonicyouth.com.

In 1992 the group released Dirty, an album that was more politically charged than their previous work. Additional tours preceded 1994's Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star, which was the first Sonic Youth album to make its way into the top 40 albums chart in America. Their continued success helped Sonic Youth become the headlining act at Lollapalooza in 1995 and to tour with R.E.M. In 1998 they released A Thousand Leaves, the first record to be solely recorded in their own studio.

NYC Ghosts & Flowers in 2000 "marked a return to the challenging, abrasive music of the band's past," according to David Browne in Entertainment Weekly, who also called 2002's Murray Street "an album more lyrical than its two predecessors." Jim O'Rourke, who had been working with the band since the 1990s, began producing and playing bass with the band, as Gordon shifted to guitar. For the recording of Murray Street, O'Rourke was made a full member of the group.

The album was delayed for months by the events of September 11. The band had been preparing to record tracks at Echo Canyon, its New York studio, located two blocks from the World Trade Center. An airplane engine from one of the planes that hit the Twin Towers landed on Murray Street, just outside the group's studio. "Except for the vocals, everything was already written, and we were just about to start seriously tracking the songs. But after September 11, we couldn't get into our studio for two and a half months," Randalo told Guitar Player. We didn't start tracking Murray Street until the first week of January 2002."

Guitar Player reviewer Jude Gold found Murray Street to be "a mutant-rock masterpiece that reduces the rulebook to confetti," and called it "one of the most exciting and inspired albums in Sonic Youth's 21-year career.

Sonic Youth has also been notable for nurturing avant videos to accompany its songs, and a decade-spanning collection was released by Universal in 2004. In a Billboard review, Jackie McCarthy observed that the band "has always surrounded itself with talented fellow travelers. But its pretensions sometimes trump its best intentions." He added the words of Le Tigre's Kathleen Hanna: "No one's too cool to be in a Sonic Youth video."

In 2004 the band released Sonic Nurse, which entered the Billboard 200 charts at the number 64 position. Matt Blackett, writing in Guitar Player, observed, "As countless musical trends come and go, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Kim Gordon, and Jim O'Rourke somehow manage to remain vital, influential, and charmingly dangerous." Blackett called Nurse "an amazing tonal journey where every part of the overdrive spectrum is used, from pristine clean to full-on white noise. The album is a treasure trove of cool riffs, ideas, and guitar sounds."

Entertainment Weekly's Browne found the album to contain "No big revelations, but plenty of rewards." He found that "all the customary elements are in place: the luxuriously entangled guitars, the beat-derived poetry, the feedback attacks, Kim Gordon's spooky whisper." "The impact of Sonic Youth is not judged by numbers," wrote Browne in a 2003 Entertainment Weekly feature. "The Sonic Youth sound can be heard in a wave of bands that followed, from PJ Harvey to Pavement; their concerts were attended by, among others, future members of the Donnas. 'They've created an environment where people who make music that is even crazier than theirs have a chance of playing in front of more than 10 people,' says Matador Records' Gerard Cosloy."

Selected discography

Sonic Youth, Neutral, 1982.

Confusion is Sex, Neutral, 1983.

Kill Yr Idols, Zensor, 1983.

Sonic Death, Ecstatic Peace, 1984.

Bad Moon Rising, Homestead, 1985.

E.V.O.L., SST, 1986.

Sister, SST, 1987.

Daydream Nation, Enigma, 1988.

(As Ciccone Youth) Whitey Album, Enigma, 1988.

Goo, DGC, 1990.

Dirty, DGC, 1992.

Experimental Jet Set Trash & No Star, DGC, 1994.

Screaming Fields of Sonic Love, DGC, 1995.

Washing Machine, DGC, 1996.

A Thousand Leaves, DGC, 1998.

Goodbye 20th Century, SYR, 1999.

NYC Ghosts & Flowers, Geffen, 2000.

SYR 5, SYR, 2000.

SYR 6, SYR, 2002.

Murray Street, Interscope, 2002.

Live at the Royal Albert Hall, Steamhammer/SPV, 2003.

Corporate Ghost—The Videos: 1990-2002 (DVD), Universal, 2004.

Hidros 3 (To Patti Smith), Smalltown Supersound, 2004.

Sonic Nurse, Geffen, 2004.

Sources

Books

Robbins, Ira, editor, Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, Fireside, 1997.

Romanowski, Patricia, and Holly George Warren, editors, New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Periodicals

Billboard, July 3, 2004.

Boston Phoenix, July 17, 1992.

Entertainment Weekly, March 7, 2003; June 11, 2004.

Guitar Player, August 1998; November 2002; September 2004.

Musician, September 1992.

People, May 11, 1998.

Online

"Sonic Youth Biography," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 16, 1999; May 10, 2005).

Sonic Youth Official Website, http://www.sonicyouth.com (September 26, 2005).

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Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth

Rock band

For the Record

Musical Growth

Outgrew Small Labels

Released Dirty

Selected discography

Sources

Rock has never seen a band quite like Sonic Youth, Rolling Stone reviewer Robert Palmer commented in 1992. Noisy, arty, and unconventional, Sonic Youth has been unique in bringing its alienation-drenched melange of feedback, altered tunings, and tampered-with instruments to a larger audience.

Sonic Youth saw its genesis during the late 1970s avant-garde scene of New York Citys Lower East Side, where experimental music was taken seriously yet was stoked by the intensity and freedom of punk. Guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo had played together in minimalist composer Glenn Brancas guitar choir and at a festival called Noisefest, which Moore organized. In 1981, Moore, Ranaldo, Ranaldos friendbassist Kim Gordonand then-drummer Richard Edson formed Sonic Youth. When we started, Moore told the Boston Phoenix, we were being very reactionary, pulling against the norm at the time [and] trying to bring back and update the elements we liked that came out of bands like the Stooges and the MC5.

For the Record

Members include Kim Gordon (bass, vocals; born c. 1953; married Thurston Moore), Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals; born c. 1959; married Kim Gordon); Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals; born c. 1959), and Steve Shelley (drums; born c. 1953). Former members include drummers Bob Bert and Richard Edson.

Band formed in New York City, 1981; members played together in Glenn Brancas guitar choir, early 1980s; recorded EP Sonic Youth, 1982; toured throughout U.S., 1982; toured the former Soviet Union, 1988; signed with DGC Records, 1989. Moore founded independent label Ecstatic Peace Records.

Addresses: Record company DGC Records, 9150 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068.

In 1982 the group released its first EP. Raw and primeval, the self-titled works lyrics started out a few steps past the taboo-busting of punk and heavy metal, calmly conflating sex and death and blasphemy amid barrages of noise, according to New York Times critic John Pareles. The next year, Bob Bert replaced Edson on drums for the album Confusion Is Sex. In a press release, Thurston Moore described the music on this second EP as like having sex with the insane. Both Sonic Youth and Confusion Is Sex which Boston Phoenix critic Ted Drozdowski described as capturing the band as a hardcore-speed wad of warring sounds and screamed lyricswon Sonic Youth an underground following.

Musical Growth

On 1985s Bad Moon Rising, Sonic Youth began experimenting with dynamics, odd tunings, and song form while exploring the dangerous side of a 1960s revival. Gordon recited the chilling Brave Men Run in My Family, and Moore and new wave artist Lydia Lunch recreated the frenzy of the famous 1960s Charles Manson murders on Death Valley 69, a piece Drozdowski described as more like a disfigured rock song than the result of primal-scream therapy.

The addition of Michigan-born, former Crucifucks drummer Steve Shelley upped the ante for 1986s Evol love spelled backwards. Shelley, whose rhythmic flexibility and subtle touch outclassed the groups previous stickmen according to the Boston Phoenix, brought a firmer rhythmic backbone to the groups meditations on sex and death.

After releasing the tense, sensual, cathartic Sister in 1987, Sonic Youth made a big commercial breakthrough with 1988s double album Daydream Nation. Like Evol and Sister before it, Daydream Nation featured the band exploring a noisy, introspective world of alienation. It contained more conventional songwriting, and one of its songs, Teen Age Riot, went to Number One on both the U.S. alternative charts and the British independent charts.

After releasing Daydream Nation, Sonic Youth toured extensively and became one of the first underground acts to visit the former Soviet Union. In 1988 the band recorded The Whitey Album under the name Ciccone Youthwhich was inspired by pop icon Madonnas surnameand in 1989 they were the subject of a British television documentary called Put Blood in the Music.

Outgrew Small Labels

Underground success brought Sonic Youth to a crossroads. Would they continue in the alternative world where they could work on their own terms, or would they subject themselves to major label pressures and be accused of selling out? They managed to attain the best of both worlds when A&R Executive Gary Gersh, representing DGC Records promised Moore, Gordon, Ranaldo, and Shelley the creative control they desired, and in the fall of 1989 Sonic Youth committed to the label.

DGC, as it turned out, allowed the band as much freedom as it needed. Sonic Youth continued to work intuitively with tampered instruments and strange tunings. Writing is a complicated process for us, Ranaldo explained in Guitar World. Especially since we work in these weird tunings. Its not like someone comes in and says. Okay, the chords are G. C. and A. The chords and finger positions are unknown to us. Most of the time we dont even have any idea whether they are major or minor, or what. If Thurston and I are in different tunings, as we seem to be more and more, it takes an even further leap to figure out how those tunings are going to complement each other.

With their 1990 major label debut, Goo, Sonic Youth stepped fully and boldly onto the national scene. Called a meditation on stardom by the New York Times Pareles, Goo featured the single Kool Thing, on which bassist/singer Kim Gordon collaborated with Public Enemy rapper Chuck D. My theory is that women make natural anarchists, Gordon remarked in Interview. They are outside of the system in so many waysits that unpredictable, wild female thing.

After the release of Goo, which eventually sold more than 220,000 copies, Sonic Youth toured big arenas with rocker Neil Young.It was three months of finding out about the politics of arena rock, Moore recalled in Musician. Were interested in Neil Youngs legacy, so the experience was cool. But he didnt learn much about us, and we just stayed in our roomput on black lights and played eight-tracks.

Sonic Youth took much of 1991 off to work on side projects; Gordon focused on his band Kitten, while Moore and Shelley, in collaboration with punk rocker Richard Hell, made music as Dim Stars. Gordon and Moore, who are married, also moved into a new apartment.

Released Dirty

For 1992s Dirty Sonic Youth brought in Butch Vig to produce and Andy Wallace to mix. Both had worked on Seattle-based grunge rock band Nirvanas Nevermind. It was the first time the band had worked with an outside producer. The idea, Moore revealed in Musician, was to make a record that sounded as solid as any other record on the marketplace without losing our ideas, which are somewhat off the beaten path or unorthodox commercially.

Dirty came out in a U.S. election year and had an overtly political stance. But while such political pieces as Youth Against Fascism, the anti-sexual harassment Swimsuit Issue, and Chapel Hilla song condemning U.S. Senator Jesse Helmsshowed the band had widened its lyrical scope, the album also contained personal pieces like Ranaldos romantic Wish Fulfillment, Gordons On the Stripa ballad about a prostitutes delusionsand Moores 100 Percent, which rages against the senseless murder of a dead friend.

Some critics felt Dirty marked a turn toward conventionality; others saw it as providing a continuity for Sonic Youths visionone that has found a strong appeal among a growing alternative music audience. Pareles captured the essence of the bands distinct sound when he described the record as [creating] maelstroms of dissonance, surrounding tunes with barbed noise and sending phantom overtones buzzing around listeners ears.

In February of 1993Pulse! reported that Sonic Youth had made an arrangement with Geffen/DGC Records that enables them to sign new bands to the label; as unofficial talent scouts, the band had recommended alternative acts Pavement, Mudhoney, and the colossal Nirvana to Geffen. Under the new agreement Sonic Youth has recruited the New York outfit Cell, which recorded its debut on Moores Geffen-distributed Ecstatic Peace label, and a Connecticut band called St. Johnny. Meanwhile, what Pulsel! s Jon Wiederhom called the official Sonic Youth punkumentary, 1991: The Year Punk Broke, in which Nirvana is featured as the warm-up act, was bringing concert footage and backstage antics to the Sonic faithful nationwide.

Selected discography

Sonic Youth (EP), SST, 1982.

Confusion Is Sex, SST, 1983.

Bad Moon Rising, Homestead, 1985.

Death Valley 69, Homestead, 1985.

Evol, SST, 1986.

Sister, SST, 1987.

Daydream Nation, Enigma/Blast First, 1988.

Goo, DGC, 1990.

Dirty, DGC, 1992.

(Contributors) Ca Plane Pour Moi, Freedom of Choice: Yesterdays New Wave Hits as Performed by Todays Stars, Caroline, 1992.

Master-Dik, SST.

Sonic Death, SST.

Starpower, SST.

Sources

Atlanta Constitution, October 9, 1992.

Boston Globe, October 20, 1992.

Boston Phoenix, July 17, 1992.

Chicago Tribune, September 27, 1992.

Detroit Free Press, October 2, 1992.

Down Beat, February 1991.

Entertainment Weekly, June 26, 1992.

Guitar Player, September 1990; December 1992.

High Fidelity, March 1989.

Interview, March 1986; August 1990; August 1992.

Los Angeles Times, September 28, 1992.

Musician, September 1992.

Nation, January 9, 1989.

New Statesman, March 4, 1988.

New York, August 24, 1992.

New York Times, July 19, 1992; October 26, 1992.

People, July 7, 1986; August 17, 1992.

Pulse!, February 1993.

Rolling Stone, December 17, 1987; December 15, 1988; May 18, 1989; December 13, 1990; March 21, 1991; September 3, 1992.

Spin, November 1992.

Stereo Review, December 1992.

Variety, February 11, 1991.

Jordan Wankoff

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Sonic Youth

Sonic Youth

Rock group

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

More than image, style, or even substance, the punk rock movement of the mid 1970s challenged the mainstream musical establishment. It was in the years following this movement and during Sonic Youths beginning in 1978-79 that no wave rocknamed for its lack of discernible musical influencesbegan evolving into 1990s grunge. Sonic Youth embodied the sound and attitude of the popular new genre and the group quickly became one of rocks most successful and highly acclaimed bands.

According to Ira Robbins, latter day rock and roll revolutionaries have shown a marked tendency toward swift burnout. They reveal their raw vision to the world, but the world, being the philistine place that it is, turns away; the musicians move on. Sonic Youth, unlike so many of the noise bands that formed in New York at the beginning of the eighties, had the fortitude to hold on long enough to develop its ideas well beyond the original stances. As a result, the quartet has gotten better and better, moving from cacophony to chilling beauty, arising from the underground to become its emissaries to the

For the Record

Members include Bob Bert (joined group, 1982, left group, 1985), drums; Richard Edson (left group, 1982), drums; Kim Gordon (born April 23, 1953, in Rochester, NY), bass and vocals; Thurston Moore , (born July 25, 1958, in Coral Gables, FL), vocals and guitar; Lee Ranaldo , (born February 3, 1956, in Glen Cove, NY), guitar and vocals; Steve Shelley (born June 23, 1962 in Midland, MI; joined group, 1985), drums.

Formed in New York City in 1981; signed to Neutral and released Sonic Youth, 1982; released Confusion is Sex, 1983; signed to Zensor and released German only Kill Yr Idols, 1983; signed to own Ecstatic Peace and released Sonic Death, 1984; signed to Homestead and released Bad Moon Rising, 1985; signed to SST and released E.V.O.L, 1986; released Sister, 1987; signed to Enigma and released, as Ciccone Youth, Whitey Album, 1988; released Daydream Nation, 1988; signed to DGC and released Goo, 1990; released Dirty, 1992; released Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star, 1994; released Screaming Fields of Sonic Love, 1995; released Washing Machine, 1996; released A Thousand Leaves, 1998.

Addresses: Record company DGC Records, 9150 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068. Internet www.geffen.com/sonic-youth.

real rockworld. More than just updating the noise rock innovations of Jimi Hendrix or the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth took them some place fresh.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City in the early 1980s, when Thurston Moore met Lee Ranaldo. They were both involved in musical collaborations with guitarist and composer Glenn Branca at the time. In 1981, the two guitarists, Moore and Ranaldo, united with bassist and art school graduate Kim Gordon and drummer Richard Edson to create Sonic Youth.

They signed to Brancas Neutral label and before the band had released their first record. Edson left the group and was replaced by drummer Bob Bert. In 1982, Sonic Youth released their debut mini-album entitled Sonic Youth. It was followed the next year by Confusion is Sex. The early Sonic Youth records were characterized by large amounts of distortion and feedback which was the result of Moores and Ranaldos penchant for tuning their guitars to various hot rodded tunings. They also chose to play their instruments with drumsticks and screwdrivers. Death, urban decay, and the squalidness of life were the issues that Moore and his soon-to-be-wife Gordon mined for lyric inspiration. As Moore told the Boston Phoenix, when we started we were being very reactionary, pulling against the norm at the time [and] trying to bring back and update the elements we liked that came out of bands like the Stooges and the MC5.

They slowly started to build a loyal cult following that spawned such hardcore contemporaries as the Meat Puppets, the Minutemen, and Black Flag among others. A European tour produced the 1983 German-only release Kill Yr Idols which was an EP of distorted soundscapes. The following year, Sonic Youth released Sonic Death which featured performances from their European tour. This album was released on Moores Ecstatic Peace label.

By 1985, Sonic Youth began to change its sound somewhat as they toyed with sound dynamics, more unusual tunings, and song stylings. Also at this time, the band began to send out demo tapes to various independent labels. They were eventually signed to Blast First in England and to Homestead in America. They then released Bad Moon Rising, about which the New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll said hit on a direction that incorporated swirling Branca style guitar textures into more traditional pop-based song structures. At the beginning of 1986, Sonic Youth had a new American labelthe Black Flag bankrolled SSTand a new drummer, Steve Shelley, who replaced Bert. They began to work on their next album E.V.O.L, or love spelled backwards. The next year saw the release of Sister, which served as the musical primer for such bands as Sebadoh and Pavement.

Another label change, this time to Enigma, followed in 1988. At this time, the band decided to engage in a side project called Ciccone Youth. The resulting album, the Whitey Album, featured covers of Madonna songs, thus giving the band their pseudonym. Also that same year, Sonic Youth released their critically acclaimed classic underground album Daydream Nation. This album further elaborated on the theme of alienation which pervaded the two previous Sonic Youth releases. Daydream Nation contained the song Teen Age Riot which shot to the number one spot on the British independent singles chart and the American alternative singles chart.

They continued to travel the globe throughout the late 1980s, and with 1990 fast approaching, it was time for Sonic Youth to move on yet again. They left both their English label, Blast First, and their American label, Enigma, and signed on to the major label DGC. 1990 heralded Sonic Youths major label debut, Goo, which featured the hit single Kool Thing, a collaboration between Gordon and Public Enemys Chuck D. The album introduced the band to a wider, more mainstream audience in America. This increase in popularity helped Sonic Youth become the opening act for Neil Young on his tour. Two years later, the group released Dirty. The album was more politically charged than any of their previous work, due in part to its release during an American election year. On Dirty, there was a song denouncing the southern Senator Jesse Helms called Chapel Hill as well as a tune called Youth Against Fascism.

Additional tours preceded 1994s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Sfarwhich was the first Sonic Youth album to make its way into the top 40 albums chart in America. Their continued success helped Sonic Youth become the headlining act at Lollapalooza in 1995 and to tour with R.E.M. The following year, they released Washing Machine.

In 1998, Sonic Youth released A Thousand Leaves, the first record to be solely recorded in their own studio. As Moore stated in the Sonic Youth DGC web site, in an attempt to make our LPs dateable, well now include an answer song to some aspect of popular culture on each LP. Were not, as some people maintain, obsessed with pop culture, so much as were obsessed with its possibilities for stratification and dateability.

Selected discography

Sonic Youth, Neutral, 1982.

Confusion is Sex, Neutral, 1983.

Kill Yr Idols, Zensor, 1983.

Sonic Death, Ecstatic Peace, 1984.

Bad Moon Rising, Homestead, 1985.

E.V.O.L, SST, 1986.

Sister, SST, 1987.

(as Ciccone Youth) Whitey Album, Enigma, 1988.

Daydream Nation, Enigma, 1988.

Goo, DGC, 1990.

Dirty, DGC, 1992.

Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star, DGC, 1994.

Screaming Fields of Sonic Love, DGC, 1995.

Washing Machine, DGC, 1996.

A Thousand Leaves, DGC, 1998.

Sources

Books

Contemporary Musicians, vol. 9, Gale.

Robbins, Ira, editor, Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, Fireside, 1997.

Robbins, Ira, editor, Trouser Press Record Guide, fourth edition, Macmillan, 1991.

Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George Warren, eds., New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Periodicals

Boston Phoenix, July 17, 1992.

Musician, September 1992.

People, May 11, 1998.

Online

Sonic Youth Biography, www.allmusic.com/cg/x.dll?p+amg&sql=B5474 (April 16, 1999).

Sonic Youth, Geffen Records Artist Page, www.geffen.com/sonic-youth/bio/index.html (April 16, 1999).

Mary Alice Adams

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Sonic Youth

SONIC YOUTH

Formed: 1981, New York, New York

Members: Kim Gordon, bass, vocals (born Rochester, New York, 28 April 1953); Jim O'Rourke, multi-instrumentalist (born Chicago, Illinois, 1969); Thurston Moore, guitar, vocals (born Coral Gables, Florida, 25 July 1958); Lee Ranaldo, guitar, vocals (born Glen Cove, New York, 3 February 1956); Steve Shelley, drums (born Midland, Michigan, 23 June 1962). Former member: Bob Bert, drums.

Genre: Rock

Best-selling album since 1990: Dirty (1992)

Hit songs since 1990: "Kool Thing," "100%"


In the 1960s and 1970s New York City produced a number of experimental guitar groups that fused the primal power of rock with high-minded artistic exploration. Sonic Youth represents the last major band of this cycle, with their self-consciously modernistic take on guitar rock and deliberate reinvention of traditional sounds and song structures. The band formed amid the downtown New York avant-garde art scene and borrowed the aesthetics of performance art and free-form jazz to create a strange and dissonant sound that resonated throughout the rock underground. In the 1990s they were lauded as the godfathers of alternative rock and achieved a popularity that seemed unthinkable for such a willfully obscure and challenging band.


Underground Roots

The guitarist Thurston Moore formed Sonic Youth in 1981 with his bassist girlfriend Kim Gordon and a second guitarist, Lee Ranaldo. Gordon had been involved in the art world for some time, graduating with a degree in fine arts from the Otis College of Art and Design in the early 1970s. She later moved to New York and became active in the No Wave scene, an artistic movement that applied a postmodern rejection of traditional structures to popular art forms, including rock music. During this time she organized the "Noise Festival" in which Sonic Youth made their live debut. With the drummer Bob Bert the band recorded the albums Confusion Is Sex (1983) and Bad Moon Rising (1985), both frenzied and abrasive affairs that feature extended guitar meandering and eerie, poetic vocals. While unfocused and hardly easy listening, the albums were well received in the underground rock circles for their uncompromising experiments with feedback and noise.

Bert exited the band and was replaced by Steve Shelley, and the band released the albums EVOL (1986) and Sister (1987), which featured a tentative embrace of song structures in addition to atmospheric noise explorations. The band's great leap forward came with the release of Daydream Nation (1988), a stunning collection that perfects their mix of artful subversion and emotional texture. The songs on the album are stirring instead of distant, ranging from the tuneful immediacy of "Teenage Riot" to the hallucinatory "Eric's Trip." Daydream Nation proved that Sonic Youth was more than just clever noise and that their conceptual structures could convey meaning beyond themselves. The attention generated by the album lead to the band signing a contract with DGC records in 1990.


Kool Things

Goo (1990), their first album for DGC, proved that a band from the underground could retain their artistic integrity on a major label. While not a masterwork like Daydream Nation, the record finds the band employing a bigger production budget and tighter arrangements that result in a noisy, cathartic experience. "Kool Thing" proposes a link between the noise experiments of rock and rap with a guest vocal by Public Enemy's Chuck D. Gordon's breathy vocals intertwine with Chuck D's booming baritone for a sexy effect that is enhanced by the warped, competing guitars of Moore and Ranaldo. "Tunic" is a busy epic that imagines Karen Carpenter addressing her family from heaven, and "Dirty Boots" rocks with rare focus and intensity. Overall Goo is more muscular than the band's other albums, and rocks in a more conventional yet hardly commercial way.

The band further refined their sound on Dirty (1992), which was recorded after a European tour with their newly signed label mates Nirvana. The band hired Butch Vig, who also produced Nirvana's Nevermind (1991), to record the album, and the result was a similarly big, professional-sounding production. While viewed as a run at the mainstream, Dirty remains a challenging album, full of fractured epics like "Theresa's Sound World" and the political rants "Youth Against Fascism" and "Chapel Hill." Vig's signature style works best when it amplifies Sonic Youth's strengths, such as the teen-lust anthem "100%," whose straight-ahead structure is heightened by fits of squealing noise, and the tuneful explosions of "Wish Fulfillment. " There are also classic Sonic Youth moments of oddly tuned guitar terrorism, such as the frenetic "Purr." Dirty may be the band's most accessible work, but it is still lovably twisted.

The band worked with Vig again on Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star (1994), their most sedate record to date. Though the record is hardly conventional, the band loses much of their signature feedback and distortion to create a quiet but eerie set of songs. The Gordon-sung "Bull in the Heather" is a pop treasure, and "Self Obsessed and Sexee" charts the life and loves of the city hipsters that the band loves to hate.

Sonic Youth returned a year later with Washing Machine (1995), which was hailed as a return to experimental form. While still working within traditional song structures, it exhibits the same ethereal grace as the best moments of Daydream Nation, especially on the gorgeous epic "The Diamond Sea." The same year the band headlined Lollapalooza, the annual summer tour of alternative rock's best and brightest, and funneled their profits into the construction of a studio and a record label, SYR Records.

The new studio allowed the band to pursue music at their own pace, and they released the results of this new-found freedom as a series of EPs, beginning with SYR 1 in 1997. These tonal songs exhibit the same understanding of emotional shadings that made Daydream Nation and Washing Machine so compelling. The layers of feedback and distortion are traded for exploratory instrumentals, resulting in a work that is gentle and surprisingly tuneful. In 1998 the band recorded A Thousand Leaves for DGC. The album is crafted from the same loose sessions, making for the most cerebral work of their major-label career.

Sonic Youth fell into a creative funk on their next releases. First came Goodbye 20th Century (1999), a messy and self-indulgent collection of cover versions of classic avant-garde composers. They followed with NYC Ghosts and Flowers (2000), an equally frustrating tribute to the more bohemian New York City of past decades. Once again the songs are unfocused and lifeless, and critics wondered if the studio freedom that produced the wonderful SYR series had become too much of a good thing.


Back to the Streets

The band answered its critics with the marvelous Murray Street (2002), which featured a new member, Jim O'Rourke, a former member of Chicago postrock outfit Gastr del Sol; he produced NYC Ghosts and Flowers and SYR 3 (1998) and was invited to join the band full-time in 2001. O'Rourke's primary contribution is the album's warm, open sound, which he also created for Wilco's masterpiece, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2001). This organic approach especially suits "The Empty Page," the leadoff track, Sonic Youth's most straightforward song in years. Once again the band finds the perfect balance between experimentation and the comforts of traditional song structure as evidenced in the rousing but gentle "Disconnection Notice" and "Rain on Tin." Even if it took them a while to iron out a workable sound, the collaboration between the band's core and its new member has paid off handsomely.

Sonic Youth doubtless follows a muse, that of the grimy streets of New York's artistic heyday. They have succeeded not only because of their commitment to inventiveness but also because of their humility and willingness to engage in self-criticism, qualities that have helped them to loom large over the rock scene.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Confusion Is Sex (Neutral, 1983); Bad Moon Rising (Blast First, 1985); EVOL (SST, 1986); Sister (SST, 1987); Daydream Nation (Blast First, 1988); Goo (DGC, 1990); Dirty (DGC, 1992); Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star (DGC, 1994); Washing Machine (DGC, 1995); SYR 1 (SYR,1997); A Thousand Leaves (DGC, 1997); Goodbye 20th Century (SYR, 1999); NYC Ghosts and Flowers (DGC, 2000); Murray Street (DGC, 2002).

WEBSITE:

www.sonicyouth.com.

sean cameron

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"Sonic Youth." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Sonic Youth." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved October 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/sonic-youth