I remember that late afternoon in our old car w/my father (five or six years ago, I think), but I don’t remember where we were going. At that period I was really into JAMC and I was on the springboard to dip myself into shoegazing (mbv, ride & “40 days”). He always tormented me that I HAD TO listen Sonic Youth and his favorite LP was “Goo”. It was the one he most knew and the one which he still uses to introduce his friends into their multi shaped music. We listened it in its entirety, but it didn’t thrill me. I just thought that it was the prototype of the 90s indie rock and the only song that impressed me (in a vague sense) was “Mote”. It’s just weird that a song starts with a screeching turntable noise—I had been into hip-hop for some years but in a rock LP it’s kind of weird—so, after the rock-song part, this song is known for its long-ending of amp masturbation (hallmark of some sonic youth goodness) and when we ‘came’ at that part of the song my father—pleased—told me that everytime he listened to that part it creates a ‘void’ where everything falls into it and rarely you (=the song) get out of it. Nothing came into my mind, I just compared it to some Tortoise tunes. So, a catastrophic experience. I had a totally wrong opinion about my favorite band. I did some searching on internet and I found out that that LP was from 1990, so, some years before Tortoise and other art-rock bands were kicking stuff. This was an incipit to investigate about them. And the silver rocket live video, blew my mind, they had everything I always searched from a rock’n’roll band; this totally change my views about music at all. Since then, I never stop listen to their music and to investigate on single members. I started analyzing their tabs and the photos of their sick gtrs, I was trying to detune my guitar and use weird objects on the neck, just to know what was the secret magical formula to get their sound. Thurston Moore now it’s a non-stop source of inspiration, it’s one of the few persons in the ‘art world’ that knows how to shock me. Everything he does, when I first get it: I remain puzzled. When I bought the Italian translation of his anthology, “Alabama Wildman”, I had a really negative-weird feeling. His poems were incomprehensible for me and that story about the cunnilingus was just absurd. I felt shocked when I first listen to psychic hearts (why so hermetic?), trees outside (strings? Pop choruses?!?), his divorce (love has come to stay in all tha way, itz gonna stay forever, and everyday), demoed thoughts (no “rock” songs, no traces about the Thurston I always knew), coachmen (was he a talkin headz fan?). I know all the Sonic Youth lps by heart and I listened to a lot of live recordings, (which I still collect) and every single piece still thrills me. And I read all their interviews, because they always have an intelligent point of view about music and art in general. Songs like candle, brave men run, marylin moore, hits of sunshine, paper cup exit or saucer-like or I dreamed I dream (etc etc x 999999), still move something into me that other rock bands don’t. They pave the way for my descent into other (anti-)/musical territory (free jazz, hc punk, noises and weird stuff).
The first time I heard Sonic Youth was in a hotel room rue de la Folie Méricourt, in Paris. My boyfriend was a punk and he had all these friends who were part of the Scalp (section carrément anti Lepen). We were having a lot of sex and we got kicked out from rue de la folie, because of the sounds. He had a tape with live recordings from punk rock bands playing at some venue in Holland, with the name of a woman or something, and there was this track of Sonic Youth. He turned me into Bad Brains, and Fugazi and Hüsker Dü, also. And situationist stuff. Sonic Youth were the coolest; there was something super violent, about the music, and poetic, religious. And there was Kim Gordon. I saw a photo of her; amazing legs. Her eyes too, beautiful. It intrigued me. Sonic Youth was nothing you learn at school. My boyfriend and I went to London, and there, he got a tape of Goo. Amazing cover by Raymond Pettibon, as strong as the banana of The Velvet Underground. The girl smoking a cigarette; so much for identification: I had the same hair cut and wore cloche hats then, with doc marteens. Goo is not my favorite, my favorite is ‘Sister’, that my boyfriend gave me. The music of Sonic Youth, and their energy, gave me back the confidence I had as a kid. If a guy was giving me shit on the street, I would fight back. If you were blond, and petite, and wearing miniskirts then, you had all these problems on the streets of Paris. I broke up with my boyfriend, and moved to New York. Sonic Youth means a lot to me. It was my youth, doing things I wanted. And that’s what I have been doing.
- Anne-Laure Keib
I was a school kid in Singapore, and I had just started listening to
pop music. Like many Asian kids I played the piano, and it was
extremely useful to know music so that you can listen with a prepared
ear. It was the early 90s, and people were talking about this
wonderful new thing called “alternative music” which came in the wake
of Nirvana topping the charts. I had already heard of Sonic Youth, but
never listened to their music. And I had already been turned on to
Hendrix, so I was extremely happy to find a copy of “Dirty” at the mom
and pop shop nearby. (It is very strange that people hardly talk about
the connection between Hendrix and Sonic Youth: if a band centres its
sound around guitar feedback, shouldn’t you be thinking about the guy
who invented the vocabulary for guitar feedback? ) I liked the wry
sense of humour of putting cute little woolen dolly things on the
cover that conceals the extremely abrasive music contained inside.
I had expected Sonic Youth to be aggressive punk types, but their
music is fairly balanced: it doesn’t always scream and shout.
Sometimes you have droning passages of zen-like calm washing over you.
I must have spent hours listening to it, and I decided that I liked it
– having something to annoy your parents with is definitely a plus. I
liked that it wasn’t entirely about sound scapes, and, especially on
“Dirty”, there were some very good melodies underneath. As with Jimi
Hendrix, the emphasis on the loud feedback tends to obscure the
standard of the songwriting. They were a lot like another of my
favourite bands at that point, Television, in that there was no clear
delineation between rhythm and lead guitar, rather 2 guitars
alternating, pieces of melody lines drifting in and out. In many ways
they were less like a conventional rock band and more like a symphony
orchestra or a string quartet. This wasn’t always, as Cobain put it,
“Verse Chorus Verse”.
There was some giggling when Kim Gordon screamed “don’t touch my
breast”. And I wondered about why she said she wanted to be a boy and
kiss Neil Young.
I saw them live at the Harbour Pavillion in 1996. (Unfortunately it’s
now demolished and made way for a shopping mall). It was a double set
with Foo Fighters and they played a cracking set. They didn’t mess
around, they managed recreate all the music live - very impressive. It
was, in the words of George Clinton, the awesome power of a fully
I started exploring their 80s stuff after that. It took me forever to
get into “Daydream Nation” – maybe I didn’t like the tinny sound, it
sounds completely different from most of the other albums. But if any
albums rewards repeated listening, that would be it. The density of
good musical ideas on that one was marvelous, and the complexity
rivaled anything classical music had to offer.
Listening to Sonic Youth is like the quintessentially Singaporean
experience of eating chilli – it is difficult and painful at first,
but once you got used to it, there were just no substitutes.
“Washing Machine” was a late high watermark. There was something dark
and sinister about many of the songs. After that, though, it was a lot
of treading water. They are masters and none of their albums were
truly bad or even mediocre, but I felt that they repeated themselves a
lot and did “Washing Machine” over and over again. I wished they
continued what they did what they were doing in the early 90s and did
more experimenting. They could have brought in synthesizers, done
fusions with drum and bass, Public Enemy covers. Get the Orb to remix
stuff. It was a missed opportunity.
Still, the range and depth of their music was something truly rare,
and they brought in something truly precious to the canon.
- JL Tan
Mean Fiddler in Harlesden, 12th July 1987, a gang of us, still spinning from college life having just finished.. People watching from the balcony said we were “leaping like salmon” when SY played. Afterwards me and Grant, who turned me on to this band in the first place, blagged interviews with Lee and Thurston. They were so lovely and cool, we were in a state. When they found us slumped outside the venue eating kebabs, Thurston laughed, pointed at us and said “whoah, beastie food”. Have seen them play so many many times, this was the best.
- Sean Powley
I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, which means I didn’t have very many friends who appreciated punk rock or any other art form that may express subversive ideas. But I had a friend for a number of years who was the hippest person I knew, by far. I asked him one day, amazed it had never occurred to me to ask, ‘what is your favorite band?’ He answered after half a beat, ‘Sonic Youth.’ He let me borrow ‘Washing Machine’ and I played it in my bedroom to keep my ears stimulated while working on an art project. I didn’t care for it, but I was determined to figure it out. One day, amidst the dense fuzz of the track I heard one of lee’s guitar playing a kind of renegade counter-melody out of nowhere that seemed to turn the song on its head and it was absolutely (can’t think of a better word) beautiful. The album had rewired my brain and new receptors were activated. After devouring five or six more albums, they became my favorite band. Some of their songs, most notably, Rain on Tin, my favorite recording of all time, Diamond Sea (20 minutes of rapturous abandon) and the last 2 minutes or so of The Sprawl are reminders from the universe that it does get better and there are occasional glimpses into the divine. I realized after reading every interview of them I could get my hands on, that they were smart, unassuming, happy, brilliant and shockingly normal. They made the bohemian lifestyle all the more tantalizing to those of us who aren’t bold enough to pursue it as they have. I also owe them for my knowledge of countless visual, musical and literary visionaries who have also enriched me such as, Gerhard Richter, Raymond Pettibon, Daniel Johnston, The Voidoids and many, many other people. Thank you, Sonic Youth.
- Peter Kavelin
I believe the art that inspires you in your formative years has a huge part in shaping your personal development. For me, nothing was more important than Sonic Youth. When I was thirteen I had no friends—I was a booger eating, t.v. obsessed, late bloomer. I first heard of Sonic Youth on television, and all it took to hook me was 30 seconds of feedback from Silver Rocket. They didn’t carry their cds at the one music store in our town so I resorted to the internet. The first song that came up was Teenage Riot. I put it on a mix with shit like Alanis Morrisette and Tracy Chapman, and after listening to it on repeat a whole bus ride home, I knew it was the music I had been looking for my entire life and began ordering three Sonic Youth cds every Christmas from Tower Records. Up into early high school, I dedicated my time to finding out as much as i could about them. I didn’t really have friends, but I eventually started finding random people in town through Sonic Youth that I could identify with.
I finally saw them live on July 13 2009. Before the show, I went into a record store and standing there was Thurston Moore. I acted like such a loser. When I realized I was standing next to him, I leaned over and whispered “are you who I think you are?” and proceeded to tell him how much Sonic Youth changed my life. Then I went away and tried to not embarrass myself anymore, until I sucked it in, went back and asked for a picture. In the picture I am looking up at him all googly eyed, like a real bobby soxer.
- Tyler Roberts
Around 2002, I saw a live performance of ‘Sugar Kane’ on a ‘Best of.. Later with Jools Holland’ and gradually collected every album since then. Absorbing them all took a very long time but that’s the beauty. I still air-guitar just walking down the street when ‘Silver Rocket’ or ‘Catholic Block’ comes on my iPod. I swoon at the spiralling joy of ‘Wildflower Soul’ or ‘Theresa’s Sound World’. And I always listen to ‘Goo’ on the Tube, pretend it’s 1990 and I wasn’t four years old when I could have seen them play those songs live. Because each album is wildly different, I never honestly know which my favourite is; in winter, I will lose myself in the brittle sounds of ‘A Thousand Leaves’ or ‘Experimental Jet Set…’ or at night, I might relax to the seductive tones of ‘Sonic Nurse’. When you’re done with the albums, there’s the SYR series and an endless web of side-projects to get lost in and discover. Sonic Youth feel like an untapped treasure; there’s always more music to discover.
The sheer non-uniformity of the band, who experiment and tread new ground, rather than perfect music to appeal to the masses makes for a narrow but devoted fanbase. There’s nothing like the joy of meeting fellow SY fans, discovering you both love ‘Sympathy for the Strawberry’ or that you went to the same gig in London (The Scala in 2009 was the best time I saw them. Or maybe the Daydream Nation show at the Roundhouse in 2007). The ultimate though has to be the time my friend Jon and I met Thurston. Apart from massively geeking out, we discovered his favourite album was the band’s debut, ‘Confusion Is Sex’. Which made us really grateful that they made all the others, really.
- Nick Rayney
Sonic Youth have been my favourite band since the November evening in 1988 when the record player needle first dropped into the groove of side one of the then newly released Daydream Nation album.
Over the next seventy minutes, all my previous ideas about how music should sound flew out of the bedroom window never to be seen again and as the needle lifted from the groove at the end of side four I knew that I had found my band.
In short order I familiarised myself with what was already, only seven years into their career, an extensive back catalogue. To my ears their records sounded exactly how music should sound; raw, exciting, arty but accessible and completely unlike anything I had ever heard before. Looking at their photos in the music press they seemed to me to look as cool as the music sounded – even their names sounded right – Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, Steve Shelley.
In the years since, apart from introducing me to more great bands, such as Pavement, they’ve seemed to make it OK to get older without getting cynical or tired, without losing the enthusiasm for something new, something different. I’m still proud to wear the T shirt without fear of embarrassment, although I am quite often required to say “They’re an American rock band,” when asked.
Even after all this time when the laser hits the CD or whatever happens inside an ipod happens and the first lilting notes of the intro to ‘Teenage Riot’ reach my ears, the same feeling of excitement hits me as it did that first time, so long ago, in a different world; and I hope it always will!
- William Smith
When I was 12
I had my mom drive me to the record store I bought Daydream Nation.
I remember sitting in the backseat of my Mom’s car and looking at the gatefold portrait of the band on the way home.
I wanted to be in that picture.
What little did I know…
I never joined the band, the band joined me.
Every time that I played the discs I would be transported.
I would float right out of my suburban window in Maryland and be in that record walking through NYC.
From the opening doorbell of Teenage Riot to the hypnotic perfection of the closing track ‘Trilogy’
A seed was planted.
As soon as I could I moved to NYC
The summer after High School.
Within a year like magic
I begin to run into Thurston in SOHO.
Eventually I said hi, and we became friendly.
Our paths have changed over the past 15 years, and I don’t see him that often but
When I do run into him he is still a friendly face who always seems to have an unlimited amount of time to talk.
He is my last “friend from high school”.
I watched the band on Youtube play there “final” concert
I did not need to read anything to understand that what I was watching was it.
The last show.
I just knew.
It was not the fact that they were playing the tightest set that I have ever seen them do.
( yes; i have been to at least 20 shows over the years)
I knew that they were playing out for the last time
in exactly the same way that I knew my dog Rudy was dying.
He did not have to tell me I could just feel it.
He was in great health considering that he was a 13 year Old English Bulldog but; his time had come.
I could of probably pumped him with antibiotics, and various longevity potions but it was over.
His time had just come, and I had to say goodbye.
I woke up in the middle of the night for no reason and he was
siting at the foot of my bed smiling looking as healthy as the day he was born.
In the morning he was gone.
Watching Sonic Youth on the internet playing the ‘last’ show in Brazil was just like
My old friends, quietly walking off stage with grace and dignity.
- Martin Henson NYC