12.5.13

New York Noise. Dance Music From The New York Underground 1978-1982 (box set)



Working as a companion compilation to, Soul Jazz Records equally great UK focused, In The Beginning There Was Rhythm this disc brings together a collection of hard to find gems from New York based post-punk bands.

The compilation covers sounds which range from the nihilistic chaos of original No-Wave bands such as Mars and DNA, through the detuned sonic symphonies of Theoretical Girls and Glenn Branca and onto the Punk - Funk sound of bands like the Bloods and The Bush Tetras.

On the way the disc features many standout tracks. These include the stripped down minimal bass heavy sound of ESG, on the track You Make No Sense At All, and the turbulent saxophone spasms of James Chance and the Contortions Contort Yourself.

While presenting an impressive cross-section of the groups which were around at this particular point in time the compilation does omit some important acts from the story. Notable omissions include Lydia Lunch's group Teenage Jesus and The Jerks, James 'Blood' Ulmer, Y Pants and Ut. However what is here provides an impressive overview of the Lower Eastside sound in the early eighties and late seventies. Highlighting the convergence and cross-pollination of a myriad of musical genres that took place at this particular point in time.

I'm not in the habit of reviewing compilations but this one is so good, it deserves an exception.

Over the years, there have been countless music 'scenes', some alive and kicking to this day. One of my favourites was the short-lived "disco not disco" scene which came to life in downtown NYC between the end of the '70s and the early '80s.

In truth `Disco not disco' is just one of the many names used to describe a style that was about genre-bending, mixing punk, funk, disco and, above all, a no-wave sensibility which clearly marks the music as a product of Downtown NYC.

`Punk-funk' is another label which has some currency, just like `Mutant Disco' (incidentally, this is the title of another excellent compilation devoted to the same scene and published by Ze Records, which was sort of the `flaghsip label' for the genre).

What makes this short period of time so fascinaning is the 'scene' element: artists mingling with musicians (in fact, many bands were started by artists, one notable example being Gray, founded by Basquiat and Vincent Gallo), fashion, zines, shops and places (the legendary Mudd club, for one)... In short, many elements and people from different fields collaborating and adhering to the same (or at least, similar) aesthetics and lifestyle.

But I don't mean to take away the focus from the music, which is excellent. Here you have the cream of the crop, the artists that really defined the genre: Liquid Liquid, ESG (still active), the impossibly-cool James Chance, Bush Tetras, Glen Branca (Lesson no. 1, which came before his magmum opus `The Ascension' is perhaps my favourite track here although different from the rest as the disco element is completely absent), DNA (which are closer to the original no wave genre but still manage to be included in the selection), etc.

Many tracks here have a danceable feel, although this is not what the mainstream-dancefloor was having at the time. Singing is reduced to nervous yelps, there is a lot of dissonance (no wave, anyone?) and the use of the bass, something I'm very fond of, is best described as `frantic'.

Lovely compiled by Soul Jazz Records, perhaps the best reissue label out there, New York Noise is an outstanding testament to a fantastic music scene, echoes of which are still influencing people, ranging from Liars to The Rapture. (Amazon)