After quarter of a century can SONIC YOUTH really still rock? Mark Robertson finds out.

() say someone hasth

changed in 25 years could

be an insult or a compliment. It all depends on what you‘re referring to. As far as Sonic Youth go. they look vaguely the same as they did in 197‘). Sure. the skin around their eyes may not be a tattght as it once was and their hair sprinkled with a little more salt and pepper than flaxen gold but who can halt the sands of time'.’ Not even rock stars. as much as they might try. Mtisically. Sonic Youth have remained pretty much the same too. The same in that they have never sounded the same twice and have never ceased in their pursuit of new sounds. shapes and colour with which to fill a pop song.

The band formed in New York around the end of the 7()s in the art scene Kim Gordon was a gallery curator while Lee Ronaldo was a would—be photographer but they were essentially fans of mainstream culture. Their contemporaries were heading enthusiastically for the leftfield: Glenn Branca was making symphonies for rock guitars. James Chance and Arto Lyndsay were both filtering black music through a white boy geek sensibility with often painful results. and Swans were testing the very boundaries of aural tolerance. Sonic Youth. meanwhile. were just a bunch of kids obsessed with seeing just what you could get out of a pop song. If it took screwdrivers. trashed guitars and broken drumsticks to get there then that was fair enough.

They‘ve knocked out l5 albums along the way as well as soundtracks to a couple of movies. a

handful of live albums and literally hundreds of

off-shoots. side projects. and lots of solo shenanigans and meanderings. In short. a body of work that would make a horse start. Of those I5 albums there are at least nine or ten you would happily take home to meet mother: Dirty. Sister. NYC Ghosts and FlUH'BI‘S. Daydream Nation. Murray Street and Bad Moon Risng being among them.

The last decade has been spent veering off on as avant garde a tip as they ever have doing covers of modern composers and starting their own record label so they wouldn't have to worry about Geffen rejecting nine-minute wig outs they created in tandem with more ‘radio-ready' material.

Their last three albums are something of a celebration if not exactly a tribute to their home- town of New York. Lee Randalo was in the band‘s downtown studio on 9/] l and Murray Street became something of a reaction to the events of

26 THE LIST 26 Aug—9 Sep 2004

that day and one of their best albums of the last decade.

Another thing that makes Sonic Youth rock is not just the music but the fact that they seem so very ahead of the game. Obviously. the most pronounced example of this was the band wholeheartedly recommending Nirvana to the execs at (ieffen and

taking them out on tour with them. The pedigree of

the bands they have championed in the past: Big Black. Butthole Surfers. Mudhoney. Pavement. the

Make Up. Dinosaur Jr. reads like a who's who of


indie rock legends. Then they‘re giving up and coming movie makers like Spike .lon/e and Sophia (‘oppola the Chance [0 direct their videos. long before they reached the heights they enjoy now.

So why do Sonic Youth still t'ock'.’ Maybe because they've never lost the sense of intention. intensity or motivation. After ll) years as a quartet they still had the musical nous and lack of ego to bring a new head into the fray: the equally broadtninded Jim O'Rourke. And with him they‘ve continued to push and put out great. often ttncompromising records bttt with a degree of humility. enthtisiasm and soul. They're proof that it’s cynicism and complacency. rather than time and experience. that dampens the spirits.

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