No Wave

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Ever felt that Rock has lost its sting? To save something, we must sometimes destroy it. This month, The Knowledge deconstructs with No Wave.

“There are no new waves, there is only the ocean” – Jean-Luc Godard (French Filmmaker)

If the end of the world had a soundtrack, it would be No Wave. This confusing term is regarded as more performance art than music. And not many (including the bands themselves) would even consider it a movement.

Nevertheless, No Wave was a short lived but influential art and music scene that co-existed alongside the Punk scene in New York City during the late 70s and early 80s. Most No Wave players were not musicians but rather people involved in art such as painters and theater performers.

Perhaps the essence of No Wave is in the word “No”. No Wave rejected and resisted convention and existed as an anti-thesis to commercial music. It was early Punk nihilism multiplied by infinity, and thus, was even rejected by most punks. In a nutshell, No Wave was negatively charged music aimed at destroying the tradition of Rock.

Around the time of its inception, Punk had become confined to the slavery of New Wave. Hence, with a little satirical wordplay, No Wave was conceived to maintain the pioneering spirit of destruction. No Wave was experimental in nature and belonged to no fixed style or genre. All the bands sounded different and drew influences from earlier art-rock misfits such as The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Suicide.

Often the purpose was not to entertain as much as to get a reaction of any sort from the audience. The shows were an ear-bending experience where patrons were alienated on purpose by the unapproachable bands. Much alike Shock Rock (GG Allin & Alice Cooper), but without the planning and choreography.

If the post-punk era had swerved towards No Wave instead of New Wave, things would have been pretty much different for all of us. But although it was probably No Wave’s destiny to be doomed, it did spawn bands like Sonic Youth and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs which carry on the deconstruction works of today.

On the local front, as a testament No Wave’s influence, bands like Ladang Gempak and Ciplak shock unsuspecting Malaysian gig-goers in unassuming venues with brash noise and fire-breathing.

Key No Wavers

Teenage Jesus and the Jerks – The supergroup of No Wave lead by the howling mad Lydia Lunch.
James Chance and the Contortions – James Chance was the Mick Jagger of the scene and the Contortions were grooviest of the lot.
Mars and DNA – The dark noise groups that gave Punkers the creeps.

Noise-rock, post-punk, minimalist techno and any music that annoys.

No Wave’s Highpoint

Brian Eno’s (the father of ambient music) compilation record: No New York – some say this is where the term No Wave came from, but by the time the record came out most of the bands on it had disbanded.

No Wave Babies

Sonic Youth – The essential noise-rock band of the 80s.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Proof that experimental music still thrives in the new millennium.

Local No Wavers / Experimentalists

Goh Lee Kwang – Pierre Schaefer of Malaysia. Tours Europe with a broken DVD player
Ciplak – Cross dressing, fire-breathing, ear-bleeding trio
Ladang Gempak – Fields of noise pollution
Thunder Coffee Club – Caffeine induced folk-noise collective