Sunday, January 18, 2009



Another mix from the always fabulous Optimo (Espacio). This time a collection of tracks from the mystic "No Wave" genre.

"So, what is No Wave? Now there's a question! Ask any fan of No Wave what it is and I bet they'll give you a different answer. They'll also tell you who is and who isn't No Wave and no two lists of bands will be the same. Personally, I don't think there is a right or wrong answer or a definitive list of bands. My definition of it probably encompasses a broader spectrum of bands than most other people's. I'd argue that early Swans and Einsturzende Neubauten could be called No Wave but if you try and tell me ESG are No Wave I'd have to throw you in the Clyde. It's all very confusing!

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 and 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 and 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 and frankly mainly sound better to this day. Go listen to 'Never Mind The Bollocks'. Most of it sounds leaden and apart from Rotten's vocals doesn't really sound threatening or revolutionary in the slightest. Listen to No Wave today and it is still a shock to the system and 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 and 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 and abrasive sounds from their instruments and 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 and was blown away by the performances he was seeing by these artists. He wanted to capture this and document it so he took four of the bands - Mars, The Contortions, DNA and Teenage Jesus and The Jerks into the studio and 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 thee 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 it and 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. In May of 2005 we were showing a Richard Kern film on the tv screens at Optimo. The film upset someone who was attending the club so much that they complained to the police. This resulted in the slightly surreal scenario of Jonnie and Mike, one of the Sub Club's owners, having to sit in a room in Maryhill police station while a WPC and a police Sergeant watched the film to decide if it was pornographic or not. They decided it wasn't but suggested we refrain from showing it again.

No Wave was a huge inspiration when the ideas about what Optimo would be were being formed and the early soundtrack to the club featured a lot of this music. I guess this has diminished over the years, mainly because, well, it's not always the most danceable of musics, but you are still likely to hear many No Wave gems in the first hour of the club. Indeed, every song on this mix had been played at the club.

For me this music was truly revolutionary and I get as much as a buzz out of listening to it today as I did when I first encountered it 20 odd years ago. I still regularly check eBay to see if any No Wave gems I have missed crop up (I'll snag that 'Not Bite' 7" by Red Transistor one day!) and can't imagine a day when I'll stop listening to it. There was a bit of a resurgence of interest in No Wave a few years ago and then last year I was talking with some hipster about my love of No Wave and he replied 'You still listen to that? It's so 2001'. That reply is a masterclass in why hipsters are idiots.

I hope some of you enjoy this 'mix'. It is not an easy ride and definitely not for all. No Wave is a sound you'll either love or hate. I can't imagine anyone thinking it's ok. 'Ok' is never enough. Music that solicits extreme reactions is mainly lacking in our present day culture. Perhaps that's reason no. 347 why I love No Wave?" - JD Twitch

MP3 Optimo (Espacio) - Nowavemix (Alt. Link)


Mars - 3E
DNA - You and You
Teenage Jesus and The Jerks - Freud In Flop
The Contortions - Contort Yourself
The Fire Engines - Get Up And Use Me
Blurt - Puppeteer
Tools You Can Trust - Show Your Teeth
Sonic Youth - Shaking Hell
8 Eyed Spy - Lazy In Love
Pulsallama - On The Rag
Arto / Neto - Pini, Pini
Y Pants - That's The Way Boys Are
ImpLOG - Breakfast
Jill Kroesen - Fay Shism Blues

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