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Noise rock

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Noise rock (sometimes called noise punk)[2] is a noise-oriented style of experimental rock[3] that spun off from punk rock in the 1980s.[4][5] Drawing on movements such as minimalism, industrial music, and New York hardcore,[6] artists indulge in extreme levels of distortion through the use of electric guitars and, less frequently, electronic instrumentation, either to provide percussive sounds or to contribute to the overall arrangement.[4]

Some groups are tied to song structures, such as Sonic Youth. Although they are not representative of the entire genre, they helped popularize noise rock among alternative rock audiences by incorporating melodies into their droning textures of sound, which set a template that numerous other groups followed.[4] Other early noise rock bands were Big Black, Swans and the Jesus Lizard.


Noise rock fuses rock to noise, usually with recognizable "rock" instrumentation, but with greater use of distortion and electronic effects, varying degrees of atonality, improvisation, and white noise. One notable band of this genre is Sonic Youth, who took inspiration from the no wave composers Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham.[7] Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore has stated: "Noise has taken the place of punk rock. People who play noise have no real aspirations to being part of the mainstream culture. Punk has been co-opted, and this subterranean noise music and the avant-garde folk scene have replaced it."[8]


The Velvet Underground have been credited with creating the first noise rock album in 1968.


In 1964, John Cale recorded the track "Loop" which comprised solely of audio feedback in a locked groove, it was released in 1966 as a single credited to the Velvet Underground. It has been described as "a precursor to [Reed's] Metal Machine Music". The Velvet Underground would later experiment heavily with the use of drone and noise in rock music.[9]

In the mid-to-late 1960s, artists such as the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, the Who, Pink Floyd, the Velvet Underground, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and the Yardbirds began experimenting with and incorporating heavy distortion, layered effects and noisy guitar feedback into rock music, this became a staple of a heavier branch of psychedelia known as acid rock. Online music publication Far Out cites these innovations with being influential to the development of noise music and noise rock.[10]

Jimi Hendrix and Lou Reed[11] were influential innovators in the intentional use of guitar feedback in rock music, a feature which would become a staple characteristic of noise rock.[12] However, artists such as Frank Zappa and the Beatles had experimented with feedback prior on songs like "Who Are the Brain Police?" and "I Feel Fine". The Yardbirds pioneered the "rave up", inspired by jazz, it involved speeding up a song's beat to double-time during the mid-section whilst building up the instrumental to a climax through improvised guitar noise courtesy of Jeff Beck.[13]

Moreover, the British Invasion kickstarted the development of garage rock in the United States, encouraging young amateur musicians to utilize cheap distortion pedals as inspired by groups like the Rolling Stones and the Kinks, which resulted in a branch of heavier and noisier music, notable bands were the Electric Prunes, the Seeds and Count Five.[14] These experiments sometimes culminated in extended songs such as "Sister Ray" by the Velvet Underground and "Up in Her Room" by the Seeds.

Garage rock group the Monks' Gary Burger began introducing abrasive guitar feedback into their music in 1965.[15] Cole Alexander of psychedelic-rock band Black Lips credits experimental artist Michael Yonkers with taking guitar noise and feedback to extreme lengths.[16] Subsequently, rock band Chicago would feature the song "Free Form Guitar" built purely on guitar feedback as part of their debut album, similar to the Grateful Dead's "Feedback".

While the music had been around for some time, the term "noise rock" was coined in the 1980s to describe an offshoot of punk groups with an increasingly abrasive approach.[5] An archetypal album is the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat (1968).[17][5] Treblezine's Joe Gross credits White Light/White Heat as the "cult classic" with being the first noise rock album, accordingly, "perhaps it's an obvious starting point, but it's also the starting point. Period."[5] Influenced by the free jazz of Ornette Coleman Reed stated that:

"I thought, you put Hubert Selby with Burroughs or Ginsberg lyrics against some rock with these kind of harmonic [ideas] going in … wouldn't you have something?"[18]

The 1960s experimental groups Red Krayola[19], Cromagnon, Godz, the Ethix, the Sperm and Nihilist Spasm Band[20] are other bands that were later assessed by some music critics and journalists to be early pioneers of what would become noise rock.[21]

However, most notably were Les Rallizes Denudés who quickly adopted the more abrasive elements developed by the Velvet Underground in White Light/White Heat as well as expanding towards an increasingly noise based sound in the 1970s, influencing a great number of artists in the Japanese noise and psychedelic rock scene.[22] Additionally, proto-punk artists such as the Stooges,[23] Electric Eels, Rocket from the Tombs, the Sonics, Destroy All Monsters, Simply Saucer, Patti Smith and MC5[24] would also have an influence on the noise rock genre. As well as avant-garde music artists Yoko Ono and Captain Beefheart.[25] In Germany, groups emerging out of the influential krautrock scene such as Can,[26] Faust,[27] Amon Düül II and Neu![28] routinely entwined abrasive, free-improvised noises within their brand of rock music. Subsequently, American groups such as the Residents and Half Japanese began veering their sound into similar territories.[29]


Sonic Youth in a publicity photo issued by SST to promote their fourth album, Sister (1987). Left to right: Shelley, Ranaldo, Moore, Gordon.

During the advent of punk rock and post-punk in the late '70s, many bands began adopting a more abrasive approach to rock music, influential amongst these artists were Swell Maps, Wire, The Fall and Pere Ubu[30]. However, most notable of these groups were Nick Cave's experimental post-punk band the Birthday Party. Inspired by the Pop Group[31], they went on to influence "a generation of US noise-rock groups, from Sonic Youth to Big Black and the Jesus Lizard".[32] Others include, San Francisco's influential acid-punk band Chrome[33] and UK-based post-punk group This Heat.[34] In addition, "Weird Noise E.P." the British DIY punk various artists 7" single released in 1979 was the earliest noise rock compilation album.

Guitarist Steve Albini of noise rock band Big Black stated in a 1984 article that "good noise is like orgasm". He commented: "Anybody can play notes. There's no trick. What is a trick and a good one is to make a guitar do things that don't sound like a guitar at all. The point here is stretching the boundaries."[35] He said that Ron Asheton of the Stooges "made squealy death noise feedback" on "Iggy's monstruous songs".[35] Albini also mentioned John McKay of Siouxsie and the Banshees, saying: "The Scream is notable for a couple of things: only now people are trying to copy it, and even now nobody understands how that guitar player got all that pointless noise to stick together as songs".[35] Albini also said that Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd had this "ability to make an excruciating noise come out of his guitar".[35] Additionally, Andy Gill of Gang of Four would incorporate drawn-out abrasive guitar feedback on their song "Love Like Anthrax".

In an article about noise rock, Spin wrote that the US compilation album No New York, produced by Brian Eno and released in 1978 was an important document of the late '70s New York no wave scene that acted as an influence to bands like Sonic Youth and Swans. It featured several songs of Lydia Lunch's first band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks along with material of other groups Mars, DNA and James Chance and the Contortions[17], other bands who were not featured on the compilation such as Theoretical Girls, Suicide, the Notekillers, Red Transistor, the Static and Jack Ruby[36] were also influential to the scene.

While noise rock has never had any wide mainstream popularity, the raw, distorted and feedback-intensive sound of some noise rock bands had an influence on shoegaze, which enjoyed some popularity in the 90s, especially in the UK, and grunge, the most commercially successful with Nirvana's final studio album In Utero produced by Steve Albini and generally taking influences from bands like Big Black, Wipers, the Pixies, Dinosaur Jr.[37] and the Jesus Lizard. The Butthole Surfers' mix of punk, heavy metal and noise rock was a major influence, particularly on the early work of Soundgarden.[38] Other influential acts were Wisconsin's Killdozer, Chicago's Big Black, and most notably San Francisco's Flipper, a band known for its slowed-down and murky "noise punk".

1980s-early 1990s[edit]

In the 1980s, Big Black, Sonic Youth and Swans were the leading figures of noise rock.[1] Sonic Youth were the first noise rock band to get signed by a major label in 1990.[39] Other influential groups were Scratch Acid, Oxbow, the Dead C, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 and No Trend. Japan would also contribute with bands like High Rise and Mainliner. Later notable bands of the noise rock scene were Cows, Brainbombs, Liars, Season to Risk[40] and Unsane.[41] Subsequently, as genres like hardcore punk and post-hardcore developed, noise rock bands such as Mclusky, Shellac, U.S. Maple, Barkmarket, Polvo, Unwound, Drive Like Jehu, Today Is the Day and Cherubs began incorporating these influences into the noise rock genre whilst bands like Helmet infused influences indebted to heavy metal, and most notably Brainiac who merged post-hardcore with synth-punk.

The Jesus Lizard emerged in the early 1990s as a "leading noise rock band" in the American scene with their "willfully abrasive and atonal" style.[42]


Big Black at Chicago's Union Station in 1986; left to right: Riley, Albini, and Durango

Music critic Robert Christgau coined the term "pigfuck" in the 1980s when trying to describe the caustic sounds of emerging noise rock band Sonic Youth (similar to another term he coined "skronk" as a descriptor for jagged and noisy guitar music[43]), the term later took on a life of its own and became associated with the sounds of bands like Big Black, Butthole Surfers and Flipper as well as those on labels such as Touch and Go Records and Amphetamine Reptile Records.[44]


Noisecore was a derivate of hardcore punk and noise music which emerged in the mid-1980s, notable artists include Melt-Banana and the Gerogerigegege.

Late 1990s-2000s[edit]

Later on in the 1990s, the term "noise punk" began developing with the band Lightning Bolt serving as key players in the 2000s noise punk scene in Providence, Rhode Island, although Brian Gibson, the band's bassist, is dismissive of the noise punk label, stating "I hate, hate, hate the category "noise-punk" I really don't like being labeled with two words that have so much baggage. It's gross."[45][46] Other noise punk artists include Arab on Radar, Boris, the Flying Luttenbachers, Zs, Laddio Bolocko, Boredoms, Hella, Royal Trux and Harry Pussy.

Lightning Bolt Live (2005) at the Southgate House
Lightning Bolt Live (2005) at the Southgate House

Other noise rock bands that emerged in the early 2000s were Daughters, Japandroids, METZ, the Goslings and Death from Above 1979.


During the 2000s, lo-fi noise pop bands Psychedelic Horseshit pioneered a brand of noise rock they dubbed "shitgaze", the New Republic briefly discussed the term, while bands labelled as part of the scene included the Hospitals, No Age[47], Times New Viking and Eat Skull.


Chat Pile performing at 2023 Roadburn Festival

During the early 2010s, noise rock artists such as Gilla Band and Mannequin Pussy emerged onto the scene. Subsequently, bands like Black Midi[48], Sprain and Chat Pile would later follow, gaining prominence as modern noise rock groups.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ Felix 2010, p. 172.
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  6. ^ Blush 2016, p. 266.
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