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, Swans and the Jesus Lizard.


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] Influenced by the free jazz of Ornette Coleman Reed stated that:

"I thought, you put Hubert Selby with Burroughs or Ginsberg lyrics against some rock with these kind of harmonic [ideas] going in … wouldn't you have something?" [10]

Les Rallizes Denudés quickly adopted the noise elements developed by the Velvet Underground in White Light/White Heat and The Velvet Underground & Nico 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. [11] [ self-published source ]

The 1960s groups Red Krayola, Cromagnon, and Nihilist Spasm Band are other bands that were later assessed by some music critics and journalists to be early pioneers of what would become noise rock. [12]


Sonic Youth in a publicity photo issued by SST to promote their fourth album, Sister (1987). Left to right: Shelley, Ranaldo, Moore, Gordon. Sonic Youth (1987 Monica Dee portrait).jpg
Sonic Youth in a publicity photo issued by SST to promote their fourth album, Sister (1987). Left to right: Shelley, Ranaldo, Moore, Gordon.

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." [13] He said that Ron Asheton of the Stooges "made squealy death noise feedback" on "Iggy's monstruous songs". [13] 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". [13] Albini also said that Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd had this "ability to make an excruciating noise come out of his guitar". [13]

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 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. [14] The Jesus Lizard emerged in the early 1990s as a "leading noise rock band" in the American scene with their "willfully abrasive and atonal" style. [15] Later notable bands of the noise scene were Liars, Season to Risk [16] and Unsane. [17]

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. [18]

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 band's 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." [19] [20]

See also

Related Research Articles

No wave was an avant-garde music genre and visual art scene which emerged in the late 1970s in Downtown New York City. The term was a pun based on the rejection of commercial new wave music. Reacting against punk rock's recycling of rock and roll clichés, no wave musicians instead experimented with noise, dissonance, and atonality, as well as non-rock genres like free jazz, funk, and disco. The scene often reflected an abrasive, confrontational, and nihilistic world view.

<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 and formed in 1981. Founding members Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grunge</span> Genre of rock music

Grunge is an alternative rock genre and subculture which emerged during the mid-1980s in the U.S. state of Washington, particularly in Seattle and nearby towns. Grunge fuses elements of punk rock and heavy metal. The genre featured the distorted electric guitar sound used in both genres, although some bands performed with more emphasis on one or the other. Like these genres, grunge typically uses electric guitar, bass guitar, drums and vocals. Grunge also incorporates influences from indie rock bands such as Sonic Youth. Lyrics are typically angst-filled and introspective, often addressing themes such as social alienation, self-doubt, abuse, neglect, betrayal, social and emotional isolation, addiction, psychological trauma and a desire for freedom.

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.

Indie rock is a subgenre of rock music that originated in the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand in the early to mid-1980s. Although the term was originally used to describe rock music released through independent record labels, by the 1990s it became more widely associated with the music such bands produced.

Alternative rock is a category of rock music that evolved from the independent music underground of the 1970s. Alternative rock acts achieved mainstream success in the 1990s with the likes of the grunge, shoegaze, and Britpop subgenres in the United States and United Kingdom, respectively. During this period, many record labels were looking for "alternatives", as many corporate rock, hard rock, and glam metal acts from the 1980s were beginning to grow stale throughout the music industry. The emergence of Generation X as a cultural force in the 1990s also contributed greatly to the rise of alternative 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">The Jesus Lizard</span> American alternative rock band

The Jesus Lizard is an American rock band formed in 1987 in Austin, Texas by vocalist David Yow, guitarist Duane Denison and bassist David Wm. Sims. They relocated to Chicago, Illinois, in 1989, where they found kindred spirits in recording engineer Steve Albini and Touch and Go Records. With the addition of drummer Mac McNeilly, they began performing live, eventually attracting an international audience with their powerful live show.

Proto-punk is rock music from the 1960s to mid-1970s that foreshadowed the punk rock movement. 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. The tendency towards aggressive, simplistic rock songs is a trend critics such as Lester Bangs have traced to as far back as Ritchie Valens' 1958 version of the Mexican folk song "La Bamba", which set in motion a wave of influential garage rock bands including the Kingsmen, the Kinks, the 13th Floor Elevators and the Sonics. By the late 1960s, Detroit bands the Stooges and MC5 had used the influence of these groups to form a distinct prototypical punk sound. In the following years, this sound spread both domestically and internationally, leading to the formation of the New York Dolls, Electric Eels (Cleveland), Dr. Feelgood (England) and the Saints (Australia).

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. Shoegaze, 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. Like the term "post-punk", the term "post-hardcore" has been applied to a broad constellation of groups. Initially taking inspiration from post-punk and noise rock, 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.

<i>Sister</i> (Sonic Youth album) 1987 album by Sonic Youth

Sister is the fourth studio album by American alternative rock band Sonic Youth. It was released in June 1987 by SST Records. The album furthered the band's move away from the no wave genre towards more traditional song structures, while maintaining an aggressively experimental approach.

<i>Confusion Is Sex</i> Album by Sonic Youth

Confusion Is Sex is the debut studio album by American noise rock band Sonic Youth. It was released in 1983 by Neutral Records. It has been referred to as an important example of the no wave genre. AllMusic called it "lo-fi to the point of tonal drabness, as the instruments seem to ring out in only one tone, that of screechy noise".

<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">John McKay (musician)</span> Musical artist

John McKay is an English songwriter and guitarist. He was the first studio guitarist of Siouxsie and the Banshees. He was a member of the group from July 1977 until September 1979. He played a "jagged unorthodox chording", and created a "metal-shard roar" with his guitar. Q magazine included McKay's work on "Hong Kong Garden" in its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Tracks Ever". He recorded two studio albums with the band, their debut album The Scream in 1978 and Join Hands in 1979.

Post-punk is a broad genre of music that emerged in 1977 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 do it yourself 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.


  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 . hdl: 1808/12360 .
  4. 1 2 3 "Noise Rock". AllMusic . Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Terich, Jeff (February 25, 2013). "Hold On To Your Genre : Noise Rock". Treblezine. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  6. Blush 2016, p. 266.
  7. "Rhys Chatham", Kalvos-Damien website. (Accessed October 20, 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. Shteamer, Hank (May 22, 2019). "Flashback: Ornette Coleman Sums Up Solitude on 'Lonely Woman'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 20, 2023.
  11. "Les Rallizes Dénudés: Japan's Noise Pioneers". January 21, 2020.
  12. "The Red Crayola, the Red Krayola - the Parable of Arable Land Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic . "Cromagnon - Orgasm Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic . "No Record - Record Collector Magazine" . Retrieved May 4, 2023. "The Nihilist Spasm Band invented noise rock in 1965". February 10, 2017.
  13. 1 2 3 4 Albini, Steve. (September - October 1984). "Tired of Ugy Fat ?". Matter [a Music Magazine] (10).
  14. Escobedo Shepherd, Julianne (November 19, 2005). "Sonic Youth". Pitchfork. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  15. Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "The Jesus Lizard – AllMusic". AllMusic . Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  16. "Dig Me Out 505: Season to Risk - in a Perfect World".
  17. "Quietus Writers' Top 40 Noise Rock Tracks". The Quietus. March 29, 2016. Retrieved March 29, 2021.
  18. Azerrad, Michael (2001). Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991. Little, Brown. p. 439.
  19. Sisario, Ben (December 2, 2004). "The Art of Noise". Spin .
  20. Labaan. "Lightning Bolt: Interview with the Brians" . Retrieved April 11, 2009.[ permanent dead link ]