No Wave Music – What Is It?

History of No Wave – Back to the Start

In 1978, before the concept of “new wave” could move in a direction of pseudo-futurism, a series of punk rock-influenced anti-pop music performances took place in various New York art spaces.

This prompted Brian Eno to produce and publish a compilation entitled No New York.

This seminal album, which brings together musical pieces from James Chance and the Contortions, DNA, Mars, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, marks the birth of the no wave as movement.

No wave.  A signature written in blood and lacking any sort of recognizable penmanship.  No wave.  A sound signal bopping through the air currents, not for the masses, but for the few.

james chance and the contortions

Still hard to grasp?  Yes, well, here’s Teenage Jesus (featuring Lydia Lunch), playing a vague soundtrack to mental illness.

Coming To Grips

Many groups linked to the movement have sailed between funk, jazz, rock, punk rock, and avant-garde, under the general guiding influence of minimalism, nihilism, and general chaos.

It is a strictly New York movement in its origins, inhabiting the bowels of a city whipped by fraught creative energies while simultaneously being fractured, broken, and then pieced back together by the spirits of poverty, substance abuse, and gender-bending.

Think Andy Warhol’s Factory scene being asked to play Sister Ray by the Velvet Underground, many, many, years later, but as stand-ins for the Exploding Plastic Inevitables.

No Wave Artists

While the movement was losing momentum and fading away in 1983, many artists in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and 2000’s mentioned no-wave in their direct or indirect sources of inspiration.

These “children” of no wave involve and implicate Sonic Youth, Swans, The Birthday Party (with Nick Cave), God Is My Co-Pilot, Lucrate Milk, Dog faced Hermans or, more recently, Erase Errata, Helmet, Big Black, Live Skull, These Are Powers, Deerhoof, and Liars.

Despite a certain confidentiality, the movement attracts many followers in Europe, especially among some journalists and music critics, including those of the Melody Maker in London.

In France, rock critic Yves Adrien praises the no wave bands and is one of the few to support them in his articles that appeared in Rock & Folk.

The Franco-American label Celluloid Records also serves as a vector between the United States and Europe.

In 2008, three books dealing with the no wave were released:

New York Noise by Soul Jazz Records…

No Wave by Marc Masters…

No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980 by Thurston Moore and Byron Coley.

To send us off, here’s Lydia Lunch speaking more recently about the cultural significance of No Wave.