Taking its title from a key track by the NYC noise band Sonic Youth, S.A. Crary's documentary about No Wave music and its paradoxical influence is both a history of music that sought to defy history and a sharp look at the crisis of innovation in an age of commodified nostalgia. In the late 1970s a smattering of New York City bands, including Lydia Lunch's Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, DNA, Theoretical Girls and the Contortions, attempted to make good on punk's failed promise to destroy rock and roll by consciously and perversely rejecting the very influences that inspired them to make music in the first place. Unable, or more to the point, unwilling to sing or play their instruments "well" in any traditional sense, these artistic "orphans" looked outside to currents in the art world and produced atonal, dysrhythmic bursts of dissonant noise that seemed to announce the end of music as we knew it. Built to self-destruct, the "scene" was dead by the early '80s but had lasted long enough to exert what No Wave had itself vigorously resisted: musical inspiration. A second generation of artists like Swans, Foetus and, most importantly, Sonic Youth, took No Wave's terminal vision as a departure point for exciting new directions in modern music. But as the city and its environs began to change, a trip into the underbelly of Lower Manhattan became less an artistic foray into a cultural danger zone than a pass to the VIP room of a trendy nightclub. Inevitably, a scene that evolved out of the desperation of a dying city became increasingly stylized and self-conscious, feeding on the past, collectively misunderstanding the intellectual content of the original No Wave bands but copping their style in a bid for ill-gotten cool. Crary, who begins his musical tour with '70s synthesizer terrorists Suicide and includes some great vintage footage and interviews with the likes of Lunch, the Theoretical Girls' Glenn Branca and Michael Gira, takes a surprisingly critical view of current bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and A.R.E. Weapons, both of whom evince a clear debt to a movement that valued singularity above all. While Lunch's accusations that nostalgia is being used to mask creative bankruptcy are certainly valid — and the guys of A.R.E. Weapons seem such absurd poseurs it's hard not to wonder whether they're being ironic — Crary's otherwise intelligent film fails to address a simple question: Is their music any good? We never hear enough to judge its worth for ourselves, and the Strokes, who unfairly bear the brunt of the criticism, never appear at all. Critically, Crary also fails to probe the legitimacy of No Wave's own claim to originality, or the ways in which its own self-conscious obscurity made it an easy artifact for hipster wannabes to name-check 25 years down the line.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: Taking its title from a key track by the NYC noise band Sonic Youth, S.A. Crary's documentary about No Wave music and its paradoxical influence is both a history of music that sought to defy history and a sharp look at the crisis of innovation in an age of… (more)