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No, nobody died. But the dismay was great in 2011: Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, the dream couple of indie rock, announced their separation - and thus also questioned the band, who were alternative idols for millions of teenagers.

From: Valerie Trebeljahr

Status: 06/21/2013 | archive

Since then, the future of Sonic Youth has been in the dark. In April 2013, Kim Gordon put down the last hopes: A reunification was "highly unlikely," she told the American ELLE on record. Her ex-husband Thurston Moore tried to save what can be saved and rowed back in several interviews, but a reunion takes at least two.

In the foreseeable future, the music world will have to do without the band that launched alternative rock and who knew how to combine avant-garde and pop like no other group: Sonic Youth, the "Eternal Hipsters" - because that was them, and that is meant positively.

At the end of the 70s, when the music industry absorbed punk and spat it out again as New Wave, resistance formed: A small group switched to bulky, dissonant music apart from any song conventions: No Wave! It was a time when art and rock were one - at least in downtown New York. And everyone who wanted to be cool got to the Lower East Side sooner or later.

Thurston Moore, who had learned classical flute and whose father was a music professor in New Jersey, moves to New York in the hope of meeting his idol Patti Smith. But she had meanwhile married and moved to a small town. No-wave protagonists like Lydia Lunch and Arto Lindsay take their place. The other Sonic Youth members also come from the well-off educated middle class. Lee Ranaldo studies painting, Kim Gordon art.

Gordon and Moore meet in 1981 and become a couple. A little later, together with Lee Ranaldo, they founded a project under various names that was later called Sonic Youth: The name is a mixture of Fred 'Sonic' Smith, MC5 guitarist and husband of Patti Smith, and the dub pioneer Big Youth. Kim Gordon is learning to play bass for the band. It is not important to "be able to" an instrument, it is more important to use it intuitively. Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore don't use their guitars in the classical sense either: They play in the ensemble of the avant-garde composer Glenn Branca, who layers several guitars to form monotonous, minimalist, but very loud sound towers. Years later, there won't be a Sonic Youth review without the name Glenn Branca being mentioned - much to the annoyance of Moore and Ranaldo, who at some point had fallen out with their Master.

Making necessity a virtue

Hardly any other band is so instantly recognizable: The Sonic Youth sound is not only due to Glenn Branca, but primarily due to the lack of money: The band members work in the copy shop, sell sandwiches on the street or paint other people Apartments on. Sonic Youth simply can't afford new guitars. So, used ones have to serve. Although they cannot be tuned, they sound good when you slide a drum stick or screwdriver under the strings. Moore and Ranaldo make a virtue out of necessity and leave the standard guitar tuning. From today's perspective, a wise decision: Because if you "always play in standard tuning, that sounds like ... standard," says Thurston Moore.

Some guitars are only intended for a single piece, so 25 guitars are brought to the concert and it is a disaster when the tour bus and its contents are stolen from the band in 1999. What is special about the band is the democratic songwriting: The pieces are created through intensive jamming and improvisation, not so much because someone brings a finished idea with them. What dilutes elsewhere works at Sonic Youth. But Gordon-Moore-Ranaldo form a trinity, against which the first drummer Bob Bert can not come. He leaves the band after the third record. His replacement Steve Shelley fits in better with the others, concentrating on drumming without compromising.

Success comes from Europe

The early Sonic Youth are not doing very well in America. With the audience as well as with the critics. Success comes from Europe. Sonic Youth used a tour with Glenn Branca to put together their own tour, they let drummer Bob Bert fly after, who sums it up laconically: "You just said 'New York Underground' and the place was full, no matter who was playing Has." But Sonic Youth manage to electrify the audience: Although the first London concert in 1983 turned out to be a horror trip for the band - the cheap equipment just gave up its ghost after a six-week tour and Thurston Moore ended the concert with "I hate the English!" and "Bomb London!" - shouting - the critics are delighted. The band can't believe it.

Cover of the first mini-LP "Sonic Youth"

From now on an album will be released every year: after the mini-LP "Sonic Youth" in 1982, "Confusion is Sex" and then "Bad Moon Rising", which lyrically goes into the dark side of America. "Death Valley 69" with guest singer Lydia Lunch revolves around the Charles Manson murders. The band is transported splatter-wise into the afterlife in the accompanying Richard Kern video.

After the American tour in 1985, the band is fed up with only playing in front of a handful of people and making practically nothing. The band had previously released on small labels, now Sonic Youth are looking for a record company that can make them better known. Your choice falls on SST, the label of Black Flag guitarist Greg Ginn. And indeed: After Thurston Moore had written a whole tour "Hello to Black Flag from Sonic Youth" on the backstage walls - knowing that Greg Ginn would be over soon - they were signed by the most important punk label of the time.

"Evol", released in 1986, contains real songs for the first time. At the same time, Kim Gordon changes her styling and becomes an indie crush and role model: "I am a woman and I am aware of what that means. Maybe I am more aware of that now than I was before. Sexuality is something I am deeply interested in am ", quoted Michael Azerrad Gordon in" Our Band could be your Life ", a book about American underground bands of the 80s that is highly recommended.

Milestone "Daydream Nation"

The cover artwork for "Daydream Nation" was done by Gerhard Richter

The change to SST works: The band gets good reviews, the New York Times even calls them "the most original guitar music since Jimi Hendrix". And they stay creative: One year after "Evol", "Sister" appears. The album is a further step towards more conventional song structures, but there are still experimental approaches and noise attacks. It's kind of a concept album, many pieces are inspired by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick. The band has defined their sound between "Evol" and "Sister", says producer legend Steve Albini, but it was only the next album that would become a milestone in the band's history: "Daydream Nation" from 1988. A double album with one Cover by Gerhard Richter. "Something about Daydream Nation was big, mysterious, inscrutable," describes David Browne, one of the many writers of Sonic Youth biographies.

While "Teen Age Riot" never mentions the Dinosaur Jr. frontman, Thurston Moore has repeatedly stated that the song was a kind of appeal: "J. Mascis for President!" Definitely away with Reagan! Because the "Stormy Weather" refers to the Republicans fighting for their place in the White House. Like most Sonic Youth lyrics, "Teen Age Riot" may be tight-lipped, just a few lines are enough to make things clear: "Teenage riot in a public station, Gonna fight and tear it up in a hypernation for you". Thurston Moore is not only a good copywriter, he is also an extremely quick-witted person, for example at concerts:

1989, in the Munich theater factory on the “Daydream Nation” tour, when there was a break because a guitar string broke and people were starting to get restless. “Hey, why is everybody tuning, you should have done that before the show. Why can’t you be perfect like me and Steve? " The ignition radio recorded it back then. The end of the concert was then no longer quotable: Thurston Moore had got a glass in the head from the audience and was ready to fight. Sonic Youth then made a detour around Munich.

"Daydream Nation" is number one in the annual charts in the New Musical Express and in Melody Maker. In 2005 it was included in the list of major national albums by the American Library of Congress.

The picture on the album cover of "Goo" was made by Raymond Pettibon

In 1990 Sonic Youth switched to the major label Geffen. A shock for the scene, since in hardcore times the big record companies were the epitome of evil. But Sonic Youth had understood that many of the indie labels were only interested in their own profit, so why not switch to the major right away? You secure a deal that gives you as much artistic freedom as possible. Most of all, a band that was still unknown at the time and recommended by Thurston Moore Geffen should have benefited from the change: Nirvana.

"Fear of a female planet?" “Kool Thing” reveals another complex in the Sonic Youth universe: feminism. Kim Gordon doesn't like to call it that, but in her lyrics she has always let different women speak, for example the anorexic, always functioning Karen Carpenter, to whom a song on "Goo" is dedicated. “Kool Thing”, on the other hand, is based on a meeting with rapper LL Cool J., Kim Gordon had interviewed him for SPIN magazine: The article is entitled: “Clash two sex bombs” ... The song becomes a feminism anthem.

Sonic Youth know everything and everyone

The early 90s are the heyday of Sonic Youth, the time of hits: "Kool Thing", "Hundred Percent", "Bull in the Heather" and "Sugar Kane" land in the American and English Top 30. In the video for " Sugar Kane ”play Sonic Youth at a“ grunge ”fashion show. It is the real "grunge" collection of your friend Marc Jacobs.

... and that on "Dirty" by Mike Kelly

Sonic Youth videos and record covers make it clear again and again that the band members are not only interested in everything - from literature to film and art to fashion - but that they also know everything and everyone. The video for "Bull in the Heather" was shot by the wife of Beastie Boy Mike D, in the video itself Kathleen Hannah from Bikini Kill is dancing. "A lot of bands try to represent something singular. I think we always tried to do the opposite: we always wanted to be part of a universe where things happen," said Lee Ranaldo in "Our Band could be your Life".

"Bull in the Heather" is the only single from the 1994 album "Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star", the best-selling Sonic Youth record to date. Even though there is no tour. Because Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore are expecting their first child, daughter Coco Hayley. In the studio, Sonic Youth are now pursuing a different approach, which is called: short pieces, recorded quickly. Moore's exclamation "Good enough" to finish a recording and move on to the next track became a running gag in the studio. But he was meant seriously.

In 1995 Sonic Youth embarked on the Lollapalooza experiment. A festival tour with many alternative bands such as Pavement, Beck and Hole, 29 cities in America and Canada. The plan is to use the proceeds to finance her own studio. The tour is going worse than expected, grunge has passed its zenith and Kurt Cobain has been dead for a year. The sales figures for "Washing Machine", Sonic Youth's eleventh album, bring a similar disappointment. Even if the album was well received by the critics and the band got more attention through Lollapalooza, the record only sells half as well as the one before it. The really big time is over.

Sonic Youth have three years until their next studio album. They experiment and jam in their own studio they call "Echo Canyon". You release two experimental records on your own label SYR. Sonic Youth have no desire to become an oldie act and repeat themselves forever. On the tour of "A Thousand Leaves", to the chagrin of their fans, they consistently only play the new record. They have freed themselves from the market pressure and accept that the album only sells 60,000 copies.

Macaulay Culkin in Sonic Youth's Sunday

Critics think "A Thousand Leaves" is "unfinished", like a series of demos. Geffen makes one last half-hearted attempt and invests in an expensive video for "Sunday". Sonic Youth friend Harmony Korine is hired and produces "a fiasco" with former child star Macaulay Culkin, as a Geffen employee put it. But Geffen doesn't want to be accused of being the label that dropped Sonic Youth, and so they accept the very calm and abstract, almost radio play-like album "NYC Ghosts and Flowers".

In 2002 fans can breathe a sigh of relief: Sonic Youth are again writing songs to sing along to. "Karen revisited" features Lee Ranaldo as the singer. This has been the case on several albums before, but Ranaldo always had to fight for his songs. At the beginning of the band's history he almost got out because the duo Gordon / Moore had thrown their pieces off the record. The fact that Sonic Youth found their way back to their sound and pop is certainly also due to the new band member Jim O'Rourke, a respected producer and musician. He does the bass and production.

Jim O'Rourke's entry is a win in several ways. On the one hand he is a technology nerd, on the other hand he acts as a buffer in the event of conflicts in the band, which has been together for 20 years. And he takes over the bass live, which gives Kim Gordon the freedom to dance wildly on stage and cement her status as a sex symbol. But as soon as he came, O‘Rourke quits after the "Sonic Nurse" album: He doesn't want to tour as much anymore and his enthusiasm for Japan draws him to Tokyo, where he still lives today.

Work on "Murray Street", the 14th Sonic Youth album, will be interrupted on September 11, 2001: the studio is only two streets away from the World Trade Center. Jim O'Rourke, who more or less lives in the studio, sees the dust cloud and airplane parts flying through Murray Street. The band can only resume work after a month's break.

After "Murray Street" Sonic Youth are disillusioned: "The only way to sell records is if we break up or if one of us dies," Thurston Moore is cynically quoted in David Browne's Sonic Youth biography. The band continues to release records, good records: after "Sonic Nurse", "Rather Ripped" and most recently "The Eternal", their first album on the indie label Matador. Each release is a reminder of the importance this band had and still has - and the impact Sonic Youth have had on other bands, from the Strokes to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The really impressive thing about Sonic Youth, however, is their unbroken curiosity to keep developing their will: Because there are dozens of side projects and sideline activities for the Sonic Youth releases: Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo have made solo records. Moore is touring with his new band Chelsea Light Moving - Zündfunk will present the concert on July 1st in Munich. Kim Gordon, always busy with her second band Free Kitten, also has a new project called Body / Heat. The art world can look forward to exhibitions by Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo. Kim Gordon has also just designed a collection for a French fashion company and has appeared in front of the camera for Yves Saint Laurent. Drummer Steve Shelly and Thurston Moore both run their own labels. Yes, and then you have to work your way through your own band history: There are live albums and a documentary about the Evol tour in the house.

It must be strange to become an icon, a figurehead. All the friends - from Richard Kern to Mike Kelley, Chloe Sevegny and Sofia Coppola - became famous and hang out in museums or take a stroll on the red carpet. Sonic Youth never took that last step, always staying true to their underground roots. So they have remained indie stars and have never lost their credibility.

"We're not trying to get people around. We just make weird music. And most people aren't musical adventurers. They don't want to hear distorted harmonies ringing in their heads. That's ok. You can always wear your T-shirt. Go stand and spend $ 30. "

Thurston Moore, 1991