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Sonic Youth

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Related visual artists: Mike Kelley

Mike Kelley cover for Dirty (1992) - Sonic Youth [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


Sonic Youth are an experimental rock group formed in 1981. Initially inspired by the noise experimentation of Glenn Branca--with whom most of the band have performed--as well as the heavy garage rock-acid-rock of The Stooges, they were known for using a variety of unorthodox guitar tunings, and for applying screwdrivers or other preparations to guitars to alter the instruments' timbre.

The band currently consists of Kim Gordon (bass guitar, guitar, vocals), Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals), Steve Shelley (drums 1986- present) and Jim O'Rourke (guitar, bass guitar, synthesizer, laptop) (2000-present).

Supposedly their name mocks the preponderance of bands with the name 'youth' in the title in NYC in the early 1980s. They were associated with the "No Wave" art/music scene in New York City, but have outlasted most associated bands. Initially quite abrasive, Sonic Youth have gradually incorporated more conventional elements of pop music, while still maintaining an experimental quality.

Managing to stay afloat in the cut-throat music industry financially while maintaining some sense of self and dignity, Sonic Youth have proved highly influential on underground rock music. They were particularly important in the growth of grunge: their 1991 tour with the then-unknown Nirvana being captured in the film 1991: The Year Punk Broke. Sonic Youth's influence as tastemakers continued with their discovery of avant skateboard video director Spike Jonze and their revival of Macaulay Culkin via Vincent Gallo.

In the meantime, members of the band diversified their talents. Kim Gordon started an MTV-adored fashion label X-Girl, based in L.A. Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have played with many experimental/noise musicians, including William Hooker, Don Dietrich, Christian Marclay and Mission of Burma, among others. Steve Shelley has been involved in running the Smells Like Records and SYR record labels, as well as playing in backing bands for Chan Marshall (Cat Power) and Two Dollar Guitar.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the band began releasing a number of records on their own Hoboken, NJ-based label SYR. These records featured experimental artists such as Jim O'Rourke, Yoko Ono, and, on Goodbye 20th Century (1999), the works of experimental classical composers such as John Cage, Steve Reich and Christian Wolff.

The band was busy working on their 2002 album Murray Street in their NYC studio during the September 11, 2001 attacks. They were kept out of the studio for several weeks following the attacks. In 2004 Sonic Youth released Sonic Nurse on June 7.

Sonic Youth's career is chronicled in Our Band Could Be Your Life, a study of several important american underground rock groups.

Former personnel include Richard Edson (drums 1981-1982), Bob Bert (drums 1982-1986), Jim Sclavunos (drums 1982-1983) and Ann DeMarinis (keyboards 1981-1982) Edson left the band to appear in movies such as Platoon and Stranger Than Paradise. Bert was later involved in No Wave descendants Pussy Galore and Boss Hogg, among others. Jim Sclavunos is currently involved in The Bad Seeds with Nick Cave, in addition to his own band The Vanity Set. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonic_Youth [Nov 2004]

The Whitey Album (1988) - Ciccone Youth

The Whitey Album (1988) - Ciccone Youth [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Whitey Album is a 1988 album by Ciccone Youth, a side project of Sonic Youth. It features a cover of Madonna's hit single "Into the Groove" entitled "Into the Groovey" --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Whitey_Album [Feb 2006]

Ciccone Youth
Ciccone Youth is an experimental band which was formed in 1986. It is a side project of Sonic Youth members Steve Shelley, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Thurston Moore, with the Minutemen/fIREHOSE member Mike Watt.

The band never played live, but released two records. The first was released on New Alliance Records in 1986, and consisted of three tracks: "Into the Groove(y)" (a cover of Madonna's hit "Into the Groove", incorporating snippets of her recording) and the short "Tuff Titty Rap" on the A side (both performed by the Sonic Youth members), and "Burnin' Up" (performed by Watt with additional guitars by Greg Ginn) on the B side.

The second record was a full-length album called The Whitey Album on Blast First Records in 1988, incorporating the previously released 3 tracks. It was rumored to cover songs by the Beatles, but actually contains cover songs by various artists, in particular a cover of "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer.

The band's name is a play on the names "Sonic Youth" and "Ciccone", the original surname of pop singer Madonna. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciccone_Youth [Feb 2006]

Into The Groove
"Into The Groove" is a hit single recorded by Madonna, written by her and Stephen Bray, and released in 1985 (on the B-side of the "Angel" 12" maxi-single in the USA - as an A-side on the rest of the world) . It appeared in the movie Desperatley Seeking Susan and was included on the later European re-issue of the Like A Virgin album. The song became one of her signature hits and record stores in the States actually have to put up signs to tell consumers that the song is available on the Angel maxi-single. To date it is still her best selling single in the UK (having sold in 'excess of 766,000 copies) and was at number one in the UK charts while the re-release of "Holiday" was at number two and "Crazy For You" was in the lower regions of the top 40. Madonna indicated that she wrote the song while a Latin boy was waiting to take her out on a date. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Into_the_Groove [Feb 2006]

See also: Madonna - Sonic Youth - USA - 1986 - 1988

Daydream Nation (1988) - Sonic Youth

Phoenix: The Courtesans: The Demi-Monde in 19th-Century France - Joanna Richardson [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]

Amazon.com essential recording
The essential New York rock band of the post-punk era, Sonic Youth care as much about the quasi-symphonic, microtonal art-guitar music of composers like Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca as they do about the rock-song form, and with Daydream Nation, they struck their greatest balance between the two. The songs hover gorgeously for extended lengths, letting guitarists Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo intertwine fragile tonalities as carefully as it's possible to do at wall-shaking volume, while Moore and bassist Kim Gordon's untutored voices disaffectedly intone words that flirt with pop stupidity, high-art eloquence, and urban cool. When they bear down and rock, they do it with a blurry intensity that finds gorgeousness at the heart of discord. --Douglas Wolk

Get Into The Groove(y) (1986)- Ciccone Youth

Originally performed by Madonna.

The result of Sonic Youth's deeply fixated obsession with Madonna in the mid-80s. Originally released as the first Ciccone Youth single.

Titles vary. The original Madonna track was "Into the Groove". On the 1986 Ciccone Youth single, it's called "Into the Groovy". On the Whitey Album it's titled "Into the Groovey". On Screaming Fields, "Into the Groove(y)".

A sample of Madonna's original version fades in at times. SY used to play her version of Into The Groove through an amp between songs in '85 (in fact a track titled "Mad Groove" on the Walls Have Ears is just that).

Apparently another mix exists, which had more of Madonna's version preserved and was more of a "dance" mix.

Rhys Chatham

Then later on, you know, the people in Sonic Youth came around and they're all very much part of the gang, and the people in Swans. That's how I met Jonathan Kane who plays drums in `100 Guitars' - he was in Swans at that point. [...]


  1. SYR 4: Goodbye 20th Century - Sonic Youth [2 CD, Amazon US]
    1. Edges - Takehisa Kosugi 2. Six [3rd Take] - John Cage 3. Six for New Time - Thurston Moore 4. + - - Takehisa Kosugi 5. Voice Piece for Soprano - Yoko Ono 6. Pendulum Music - Kim Gordon Disc: 2 1. Having Never Written A Note For Percussion (James Tenney) 2. Six (John Cage) 3. Burdocks (Christian Wolff) 4. Four (John Cage) 5. Piano Piece #13 (George Maciunas) 6. Piece Enfantine (Nicolas Enfantine) 7. Treatise (Cornelius Cardew) 8. Six [4th Take] - John Cage 9. Burdocks - Takehisa Kosugi 10. Four6 - John Cage 11. Piano Piece #13 (Carpenter's Piece) [For Nam June Paik] - Kim Gordon 12. Piece Enfantine - Lee Ranaldo 13. Treatise - Cornelius Cardew
    Wildly influential four-piece Sonic Youth have self-released their version of a tribute to the 20th century: two discs of noisy interpretations of modern, experimental classical scores. The group has chosen composers whose works leave a great amount of innovation open to the performer. This chance-embracing approach--typified and in some senses originated by John Cage--is one of the crucial turning points of "new" music. What's great about this CD is that it demonstrates the freewheeling, decidedly unserious spirit behind this music, essentially combining the legacies of punk rock and out-sound. In addition to three late works by the chance-loving Cage, there are pieces by current Merce Cunningham collaborator Takehisa Kosugi, minimalist giant Steve Reich, "deep-listening" drone lover Pauline Oliveros, and Fluxus founder George Maciunas. Longtime collaborator Wharton Tiers, the young everything-ist Jim O'Rourke, and even some of the composers themselves join in on these exercises. The result is messy, fun, and anarchic, with occasional revelations (notably James Tenney's "Having Never Written a Note for Percussion"). It's not a disc to play all the time, but it is a challenging, enthused record that ideally will point listeners toward some of the most vital music of the last half of the last decade of the second millennium. --Mike McGonigal [...]

  2. Confusion Is Sex/Kill Yr. Idols (1982) Sonic Youth [Amazon US]

    The Sonic Youth EP is marred by the work of Richard Edson, a trumpet player and actor masquerading as a drummer; Sonic Death is a compilation of poorly recorded live performances. With Bob Bert on drums joining Moore, Ranaldo and bassist/singer Kim Gordon, Confusion Is Sex (and the related Kill Yr. Idols, later included on the former's CD as part of DGC's mid-'90s catalogue rehabilitation) is a record that has increased in stature over the years. Once its ghostly lattice-work of pulsing drones and shimmering feedback seemed impenetrable; now some of it sounds as contemporary as any of the ambient soundscapes concocted by the Orb or the Aphex Twin.

    During this early period, Sonic Youth was intimately connected with the noisy remnants of the New York no wave scene, inspired by the dense guitar tapestries of Rhys Chatham and Glenn Branca, with whom Moore and Ranaldo had both played. Bad Moon Rising takes the first step out of that art ghetto, most notably on "Death Valley '69," a Moore/Lydia Lunch duet that verges on conventional rock — albeit of the most disturbing variety. The rest hovers rather than motors, exuding all the horrible beauty of a mushroom cloud on the horizon, while the lyrics dwell on the downside of Reagan's America. ("Satan Is Boring," from the Death Valley 69 EP, is included as a bonus track on the reissue; the rest of the 12-inch came from previous SY records.) --Greg Kot, Trouserpress

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