The Story Of Noise Rock

how did this underground form of rock come to be?
February 19, 2010
While this article was being written, news of producer Iain Burgress's death hit the internet. He produced albums for Big Black and Naked Raygun, both of which were related to Steve Albini, a noise rock pioneer. He also helped create the Chicago Punk sound. This article is dedicated to him.


Let me start off by saying I love noise rock. I really like its freeform style of load, obnoxious, guitars and/or electronics. In this article I will be discussing how this great genre came to be. Enjoy!

In the 1960's, an underground form of rock called experimental rock (or avant-grade rock) was created by bands such as The Godz, The Monks, Red Crayola, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Bonzo Dog Band, and Fifty Foot Hose, who mixed the sound experiments of John Cage with the rock'n'roll of The Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, and the Beatles.

(Top to Bottom: The Godz, The Monks, Red Krayola, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, Bonzo Dog Band, and Fifty Foot Hose.)


In the late 60's, after many of these bands had broken up, an unusual counterculture scene began to surface in the UK. It was dubbed the "UK Underground" by presses. With it came many great bands (and lots of LSD), who frequented clubs such as the Tiles Club and the UFO Club. These bands included The Deviants, Pink Fairies, Hawkwind (Featuring a pre-Motorhead Lemmy), and a little outfit called Pink Floyd, who's 9 minute instrumental "Interstellar Overdrive" became the theme song of the Uk Underground.

(T to B: The Deviants, The Pink Fairies, Hawkwind, and an early Pink Floyd.)

After the UK counterculture scene began to die, most of these groups broke up (sans Hawkwind.) This is when noise rock took on its embryonic form.


In 1973, 4 art students in Ann Arbor, Michigan decided to start a band called Destroy All Monsters (if the bands name came from a comic book or the kaiju film of the same name remains a debate today.) They performed their first gig on New Years Eve, 1973, at a comic book convention. They used random objects to preform a demented version of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" before being asked to leave after 10 minutes. They continued performing locally with their array of hot-wired toys, circuit bent electronics, and beer cans. During this time, they recorded a cassette that would be released through "Lightworks Magazine" in 1975. One particular song, "Vampire", recorded in 1974, helped pave way for goth and deathrock. In 1978, however, things took a change when lead singer Niagara dumped guitarist Cary Loren for Ron Asheton, formerly of the Stooges, after they recorded their first single "Bored/You're Gonna Die." During the Asheton era, the band went in a more punk/hard rock direction before finally breaking up in 1985, with Niagara becoming a painter.

(Niagara and the boys of DAM, circa 1977.)


In 1975, brothers Jad and David Fair started a band called Half Japanese, a band who's guitarist, Jad Fair, never tuned his guitar. They released a lot of singles and albums, gaining them fans such as Kurt Cobain (he let them open for Nirvana's 1993 tour and was reportedly wearing a Half Japanese t-shirt when he died.) In 1993, Jeff Feuerzieg shot a documentary about them, called "Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King." Although they've never scored a hit, Half Japanese continue making music to this day.

(Half Japanese, date unknown.)


Also in 1975, Lou Reed (of the Velvet Underground, who's songs "White Light/White Heat" and "Sister Ray" are sometimes classified as the first noise rock songs) released
"Metal Machine Music", an album of nothing but feedback being played at different speeds. Noise rock had begun.


However, while DAM and Half Japenese was recording their noisy form of rock'n'roll, a scene soon began in New York of punks tired of the over glossy image of "New Wave." these bands, dubbed "No Wave", featured inspirations from the avant-garde jazz of Sun Ra to the experimental synthpop of 60's group the Silver Apples. These bands included Mars, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance and The Contortions, and Red Transistor. No Wave was dead by 1982, with Lydia Lunch doing spoken word and James Chance continuing playing his punk-jazz music. Another band who sprung out of the no wave scene was Sonic Youth, who's lead singer Thurston Moore would organize "Noise Fest" in 1981.

(T to B: Mars, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, James Chance, Red Transistor, and a promotional Noise Fest picture.)


On the wake of no wave's death in 1982, a monstrous industrial noise rock machine began to rise. Its name? Big Black, of course! Led by black humorist and lo-fi musician Steve Albini, Big Black was very shocking in its prime and still is today. Most people did not understand Steve Albini's sense of dark humor, leading to accusations of racism and sexism against the band. The band decided to call its quits in 1987, after the release of the "Songs About F***ing" album. Steve Albini fronted the controversially and short-lived Rapeman and the longer lasting Shellac. He also became a sought after producer, and helped produce albums for artists diverse as Nirvana and Robert Plant.

(Big Black, somewhere in the mid-80's.)


During Big Black's head-day, many other noise rock groups formed, including Live Skull, Jesus Lizard, King Snake Roost, Lubricated Goat (who became notorious for preforming naked on live TV with only their instruments), Flipper, and the no-wave inspired Swans. Unfortunately, noise rock's hey-day did not last long and many of these groups had broken up by 1990, save for Jesus Lizard and the Swans.

(T to B: Live Skull, Jesus Lizard, King Snake Roost, Lubricated Goat, LG during their infamous "nude" TV performance, Flipper, and Swans.)


Another popular band who debuted during the 80's were the Butthole Surfers. Led by the charismatic Gibby Haynes, this band started out as a post-psychedelic noise rock group, but would go full-out psych-rock in their later years, even hitting number one on the Modern Rock Tracks chart with "Pepper" in 1996. Today, the Butthole Surfers still preform, but while success has avoided them, likely due to their name, they still display a loyal cult following.

(Butthole Surfers, circa 1983.)


Also during this time, a lighter, more mainstream tolerable version of noise rock appeared. Dubbed "noise pop", this label was put on most shoegaze acts, such as The Jesus and Mary Chain.

(The Jesus and Mary Chain, 1985.)


In the 90's, it appeared noise rock was dead for good, but then out of nowhere, 3 amazing groups appeared on the scene...

(T to B: Boris, The Locust, and Lightning Bolt.)

Boris, The Locust and Lightning Bolt! These guys kept noise rock alive in the the late 90's and early 2000's and are still doing it today. One noise rock group who surfaced in 2006, Japandroids, released "Post-Nothing", which is being hailed as an instant classic upon its release.


Today, while the four main modern noise rock bands (Boris, Lightning Bolt, The Locust, and Japandroids) are still together recording and touring, they would not even exist if it weren't for the experimental rock of the 60's and noise rock of the 70's and 80's.


Thank you for reading and I suggest you check out any of the any of the noise rock bands mentioned above. Also be sure to keep a lookout for "The Top Ten Noise Rock Albums", coming soon!


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