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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; ThurstonMoore (born on July 25, 1958, in Coral Gables, FL; married to Kim Gordon; children: a daughter, Coco), vocals, guitar; JimO'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. Addresses: Record company--DGC Records, 9150 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90068. Website--Sonic Youth Official Website: http://www.sonicyouth.com.
More than image, style, or even substance, the punk rock movement of the mid 1970s challenged the mainstream musical establishment. [AQ: If you reverse the two parts, the sentence doesn't seem to make sense. Unclear meaning for a first sentence??] 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, the Black Flag bankrolled SST, [AQ: unclear] 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."
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."
by Mary Alice Adams and Linda Dailey Paulson
Sonic Youth's Career
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Sonic Youth Biography," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 10, 2005).
- Sonic Youth Official Website, http://www.sonicyouth.com (September 29, 2005).
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