Noise rock

Last updated

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 and Swans.


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


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). [9] [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]

Red Krayola are another band that were later assessed to be early pioneers of what would become noise rock. Mark Deming of AllMusic remarked that " The Parable of Arable Land exists on a plane all its own; if art-damaged noise rock began anywhere, it was on this album." [10]

According to legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, The Godz, the New York City-based psychedelic noise band connected to ESP-Disk, can also lay a claim to being among the first of this genre, as demonstrated on Contact High With The Godz (1966), Godz 2 (1967), and The Third Testament of The Godz (1968). [11] Likewise, John Dougan opined in AllMusic: " the three squalling bits of avant-garde noise/junk they recorded from 1966-1968. Sounding like a prototype for Half Japanese or the Shaggs.." [12]

Cromagnon were a 1960s New York City band with their only album Orgasm (1969) being cited by AllMusic's Alex Henderson as foreshadowing noise rock. [13]

Les Rallizes Denudés quickly adopted the noise elements developed by the Velvet Underground in White Light/White Heat and The Velvet Underground & Nico [14] by creating long improvisational songs based on feedback and the use of heavy distortion. The band moved toward an increasingly noise based sound in the 1970s, influencing a great number of artists in the Japanese noise and psychedelic rock scene.


Guitarist Steve Albini of noise rock band Big Black stated in 1984 in an 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." [15] He said that Ron Asheton of the Stooges "made squealy death noise feedback" on "Iggy monstruous songs". [15] 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". [15] Albini also said that Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd had this "ability to make an excruciating noise come out of his guitar". [15]

In an article about noise rock, Spin wrote that a US compilation album titled No New York released in 1978 on an independent label called "Antilles", was important as it documented the no wave New York scene. It featured several songs of Lydia Lunch's first band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks along with material of other groups such as Mars, DNA and James Chance and the Contortions. [9]


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. [16] Later notable bands of the noise scene were the Jesus Lizard, Liars, Season to Risk [17] and Unsane. [18]

While noise rock has never had any 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. Among them are 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". The Butthole Surfers' mix of punk, heavy metal and noise rock was a major influence, particularly on the early work of Soundgarden. [19]

Starting in the 1990s, noise punk developed mostly as a form of party music, with the band Lightning Bolt serving as key players in the 2000s noise punk scene in Providence, Rhode Island, although Brian Gibson, the bands 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." [20] [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

No wave is a music and art genre, named for the transient avant-garde music and visual art scene from which it emerged in the late 1970s in downtown New York City.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sonic Youth</span> American rock band (1981–2011)

Sonic Youth was an American rock band based in New York City, formed in 1981. Founding members Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo remained together for the entire history of the band, while Steve Shelley (drums) followed a series of short-term drummers in 1985, rounding out the core line-up. Jim O'Rourke was also a member of the band from 1999 to 2005, and Mark Ibold was a member from 2006 to 2011.

Industrial music is a genre of music that draws on harsh, mechanical, transgressive or provocative sounds and themes. AllMusic defines industrial music as the "most abrasive and aggressive fusion of rock and electronic music" that was "initially a blend of avant-garde electronics experiments and punk provocation". The term was coined in the mid-1970s with the founding of Industrial Records by members of Throbbing Gristle and Monte Cazazza. While the genre name originated with Throbbing Gristle's emergence in the United Kingdom, artists and labels vital to the genre also emerged in the United States and other countries.

Gothic rock is a style of rock music that emerged from post-punk in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. The first post-punk bands which shifted toward dark music with gothic overtones include Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, Bauhaus, and the Cure.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Industrial rock</span> Music genre

Industrial rock is a fusion genre that fuses industrial music and rock music. It initially originated in the 1970s, and drew influence from early experimental and industrial acts such as Throbbing Gristle, Einstürzende Neubauten and Chrome. Industrial rock became more prominent in the 1980s with the success of artists such as Killing Joke, Swans, and partially Skinny Puppy, and later spawned the offshoot genre known as industrial metal. The genre was made more accessible to mainstream audiences in the 1990s with the aid of acts such as Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, both of which have released platinum-selling records.

Alternative rock is a category of rock music that emerged from the independent music underground of the 1970s and became widely popular in the 1990s. "Alternative" refers to the genre's distinction from mainstream or commercial rock or pop music. The term's original meaning was broader, referring to musicians influenced by the musical style or independent, DIY ethos of late-1970s punk rock.

Dream pop is a subgenre of alternative rock and neo-psychedelia that emphasizes atmosphere and sonic texture as much as pop melody. Common characteristics include breathy vocals, dense productions, and effects such as reverb, echo, tremolo, and chorus. It often overlaps with the related genre of shoegaze, and the two genre terms have at times been used interchangeably.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shellac (band)</span> American rock band

Shellac is an American noise rock band from Chicago, Illinois, composed of Steve Albini, Bob Weston and Todd Trainer and formed in 1992.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Big Black</span> American punk rock band

Big Black was an American punk rock band from Evanston, Illinois, active from 1981 to 1987. Founded by singer and guitarist Steve Albini, the band's initial lineup also included guitarist Santiago Durango and bassist Jeff Pezzati, both of Naked Raygun. In 1985, Pezzati was replaced by Dave Riley, who played on Big Black's two full-length studio albums, Atomizer (1986) and Songs About Fucking (1987).

Proto-punk is rock music played mostly by garage bands from the 1960s to mid-1970s that foreshadowed the punk rock movement. The phrase is a retrospective label; the musicians involved were generally not originally associated with each other and came from a variety of backgrounds and styles; together, they anticipated many of punk's musical and thematic attributes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flower (Sonic Youth song)</span> 1985 single by Sonic Youth

"Flower" is a song by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. It was originally released as a 12" single in 1985 by UK record label Blast First, with "Satan Is Boring" as the B-side. This version was quickly withdrawn at the band's request. In January 1986, Blast First and the band's American label, Homestead Records, both released "Flower" as a 12" backed by "Halloween"; the first run of the UK edition was on yellow/orange vinyl. Blast First also issued the song as a 7" single in edited form, retitled "Flower ", with a backwards version, "Rewolf ", on the flipside.

Noise pop is a subgenre of alternative and indie rock that developed in the mid-1980s in the United Kingdom and United States. It is defined by its mixture of dissonant noise or feedback with the songcraft more often found in pop music. Shoegazing, another noise-based genre that developed in the 1980s, drew from noise pop.

Post-hardcore is a punk rock music genre that maintains the aggression and intensity of hardcore punk but emphasizes a greater degree of creative expression. It was initially inspired by post-punk and noise rock. Like the term "post-punk", the term "post-hardcore" has been applied to a broad constellation of groups. Post-hardcore began in the 1980s with bands like Hüsker Dü and Minutemen. The genre expanded in the 1980s and 1990s with releases by bands from cities that had established hardcore scenes, such as Fugazi from Washington, D.C. as well as groups such as Big Black, Jawbox, Quicksand, and Shellac that stuck closer to post-hardcore's noise rock roots. Dischord Records became a major nexus of post-hardcore during this period. The genre also began to incorporate more dense, complex, and atmospheric instrumentals with bands like Slint and Unwound, and also experienced some crossover from indie rock with bands like The Dismemberment Plan. In the early- and mid-2000s, post-hardcore achieved mainstream success with the popularity of bands like At the Drive-In,My Chemical Romance, Dance Gavin Dance, AFI, Underoath, Hawthorne Heights, Silverstein, The Used, Saosin, Alexisonfire, and Senses Fail. In the 2010s, bands like Sleeping with Sirens and Pierce the Veil achieved mainstream success under the post-hardcore label. Meanwhile, bands like Title Fight and La Dispute experienced underground popularity playing music that bore a closer resemblance to the post-hardcore bands of the 1980s and 1990s.

<i>Youth of America</i> 1981 studio album by Wipers

Youth of America is the second studio album by American punk rock band Wipers. It was released in 1981 by record label Park Avenue.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Steve Albini</span> American record engineer and rock musician

Steve Albini is an American musician, record producer, audio engineer and music journalist. He was a member of Big Black, Rapeman and Flour, and is a member of Shellac. He is the founder, owner and principal engineer of Electrical Audio, a recording studio complex in Chicago. In 2018, Albini estimated that he had worked on several thousand albums over his career. He has worked with acts such as Nirvana, Pixies, the Breeders, PJ Harvey, and former Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Post-punk is a broad genre of rock music that emerged in the late 1970s in the wake of punk rock. Post-punk musicians departed from punk's traditional elements and raw simplicity, instead adopting a broader, more experimental approach that encompassed a variety of avant-garde sensibilities and non-rock influences. Inspired by punk's energy and DIY ethic but determined to break from rock cliches, artists experimented with styles like funk, electronic music, jazz, and dance music; the production techniques of dub and disco; and ideas from art and politics, including critical theory, modernist art, cinema and literature. These communities produced independent record labels, visual art, multimedia performances and fanzines.

Experimental rock, also called avant-rock, is a subgenre of rock music that pushes the boundaries of common composition and performance technique or which experiments with the basic elements of the genre. Artists aim to liberate and innovate, with some of the genre's distinguishing characteristics being improvisational performances, avant-garde influences, odd instrumentation, opaque lyrics, unorthodox structures and rhythms, and an underlying rejection of commercial aspirations.

<i>Orgasm</i> (Cromagnon album) 1969 studio album by Cromagnon

Orgasm is the only album by the experimental band Cromagnon, released in 1969 by the ESP-Disk record label.

<i>Heavier Than a Death in the Family</i> 2002 live album by Les Rallizes Dénudés

Heavier Than a Death in the Family is a bootleg live album by Japanese noise rock band, Les Rallizes Dénudés. Most of the songs were recorded at a performance on 12 March 1977; the fifth track is taken from a 1973 performance. The album was released in 2002. In 2010, Phoenix Records repressed the album on vinyl and CD.


  1. 1 2 Gardner, Noel (March 30, 2016). "The Sound Of Impact: Noise Rock In 1986". The Quietus. Retrieved September 30, 2017.
  2. Felix 2010, p. 172.
  3. Osborn, Brad (October 2011). "Understanding Through-Composition in Post-Rock, Math-Metal, and other Post-Millennial Rock Genres*". Music Theory Online . 17 (3). doi: 10.30535/mto.17.3.4 .
  4. 1 2 3 "Noise Rock". AllMusic . Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Terich, Jeff (25 February 2013). "Hold On To Your Genre : Noise Rock". Treblezine. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  6. Blush 2016, p. 266.
  7. "Rhys Chatham", Kalvos-Damien website. (Accessed 20 October 2009).
  8. Sisario, Ben (December 2, 2004). "The Art of Noise". Spin .
  9. 1 2 Gross, Joe (April 2007). "Essentials: Noise Rock". Spin . 23 (4).
  10. "The Red Crayola, the Red Krayola - the Parable of Arable Land Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic .
  11. "The Books: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock'n'Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'N'Roll; "Do the Godz Speak Esperanto?", by Lester Bangs | the Sheila Variations".
  12. "The Godz Biography, Songs, & Albums". AllMusic .
  13. "Cromagnon - Orgasm Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic .
  14. "Les Rallizes Dénudés: Japan's Noise Pioneers". 21 January 2020.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Albini, Steve. (September - October 1984). "Tired of Ugy Fat ?". Matter [a Music Magazine] (10).
  16. Escobedo Shepherd, Julianne (19 November 2005). "Sonic Youth". Pitchfork. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  18. "Quietus Writers' Top 40 Noise Rock Tracks". The Quietus. 29 March 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  19. Azerrad, Michael (2001). Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991. Little, Brown. p. 439.
  20. Sisario, Ben (December 2, 2004). "The Art of Noise". Spin .
  21. Labaan. "Lightning Bolt: Interview with the Brians" . Retrieved 2009-04-11.[ permanent dead link ]