No Wave

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

As a musical phenomenon, No Wave was as concisely delineated as it was merciless: “Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976–1980,” states this new account’s subtitle. Actually, No Wave was even more focused than that, blooming over only two Manhattan neighborhoods (Soho and the East Village) and three years (1978–1980). In this brief span, bands such as Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Theoretical Girls, Mars, DNA, Contortions and the Gynecologists played scorched-earth music, both literally (it grew out of the “beautiful, ravaged slag” NYC was at the time) and figuratively (it sounded so radical that nothing could grow back in its wake). Discreet editors, underground maven Byron Coley and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore mostly lean back and let the musicians reminisce.

Like other recent rock oral histories such as Please Kill Me and American Hardcore, No Wave is often guilty of a certain insularity. The genealogical trivia (“A played bass with B then joined C’s band”) can border on numbing, and because the book’s bulk is made up of quotes from insiders, there’s an almost complete absence of a larger cultural, social and political perspective—the close interaction between the visual-arts and music scenes and the rivalry between the East Village and Soho factions deserve more analysis that they get. (Simon Reynolds’s chapter on No Wave in his history of postpunk, Rip It Up & Start Again, makes a better introduction.) But the abundant b&w iconography is sumptuous and startlingly elegant, and the serrated edge of wits such as Lydia Lunch remains undulled by time, making No Wave a fascinating stroll through a city that’s now dead and buried.

Teenage Jesus & the Jerks play Knitting Factory Fri, Jun 13.

By Thurston Moore and Byron Coley. Abrams, $24.95.