Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bring the (New York) Noise

When I wrote about the first volume of Soul Jazz's New York Noise series for the Village Voice, something struck me that there was something wrong about it. It was an interesting sampler where they were trying to make an aural map of the underground scene which included no-wave, disco weirdness and early rap. It just didn't fit together though- renting or buying a copy of Downtown 81 would give you a better snap shot of the time even if the story is negligible.

The second volume of NYN not only makes sense but it coheres though. It's probably because this time around, the label focuses on one piece of terrain from the late 70's/early 80's- the art-punk scene. Obviously, this wasn't the stuff of major label bidding wars and some of it was more interesting in theory than practice but listening to it today, you have to be moved by the willful weirdness that seeped through everything. It was a group of artists looking for their voices, not particularly proficient with their instruments and basically making a racket. In other words, they were real punks at heart.

Who really started the idea of a guitar orchestra, Glenn Branca or Rhys Chatham? You get a chance to decide, hearing them back to back. You also get to sample phase I of Sonic Youth in its true youthful days. There's also the kiddie-toy rock of Y Pant, the screaming pre-riot grrl fury of Ut (surely worthy of a compilation by now) and remnants of the no-wave scene that coalesced briefly at Don King (not the promoter) plus the sadly long forgotten soulful politicos of Mofungo (some of which were also in the Scene is Now) and early stirrings of future director and music nut Jim Jarmusch (who does beautifully under-stated films).

A fine tour of the time, a nice piece of music history and a reminder of what's missing in some of the NYC scene today. I'm ready for Volume 3.


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