Sonic Youth began in 1981 downtown New York City - Thurston Moore, guitar, vocals; Kim Gordon, bass, guitar, vocals; Lee Ranaldo, guitar vocals. The band made its first eponymously titled mini-LP released in 1982 by Neutral Records, a label founded by NYC guitar/composer Glen Branca. Lee and Thurston were witness to the original 1976/77 NYC CBGB/Max’s scene of Television, Patti Smith, Suicide, Ramones, etc. Kim was in Los Angeles studying as a visual artist. They started playing during the era (1978/79) of what is termed No Wave - harsh, challenging abrasive music informed by rock, noise, jazz and modern composition/experimentation. With cheap guitars and various hot-rodded tunings they wrote songs like no one else. The vibe was fresh and, though mirroring the nihilism of no wave, had notions of forward positivity.
By 1984 their sound had developed into a more mature pop/noise hybrid with a genuine experimental flair for structure. They went to London and destroyed all who heard and watched. Sonic Youth, in a New York minute, wiped the “death of the electric guitar” concept out, and went on to further the explosion of recognition for the new U.S. underground. Things have not been the same since.
Upon return to the U.S., Steve Shelley from Michigan joined the band on drums. Steve’s formidable drum skills upped the bands musicality a level.
In 1987 they recorded “Sister” which would inspire legions of gig-goers a half-generation younger than Sonic Youth (Pavement, Sebadoh, etc.). This LP touched on themes of hyper-irreality and dislocution.
Sonic Youth recorded Daydream Nation in 1989, a double LP which brought them to the attention of the critical elite, winning them year-end best of awards. This LP encapsulated all that had been brewing musically and lyrically with the band through the 1980s.
At decade’s end they signed to a major label Geffen. This was considered insane by many on watch as there was really no history of independent undergound bands succeeding within the realms of the corporate music industry which they helped build an alternative to. They released the LP Goo in 1990 and then Dirty in 1992. Both LPs were chock block full of heady, heavy swirl and strum. They noticed a new generation of music lovers digging them and their contemporaries on a massive scale. And then Nirvana sold a zillion records and the industry was a new deal.
In 1997 Sonic Youth built a studio and recorded a series of EPs on their own homegrown label SYR. This music was extrapolated, mostly instrumental forays into wild improvisatory meditations and sub/conscious structural creations.
In the summer of 1999 Sonic Youth was liberated from all the signature sound tools they developed for the last twelve years or so. They came home and picked up hammers + nails and started afresh, resurfacing in 1998 with the full-length A Thousand Leaves. NYC Ghosts & Flowers, which featured Jim O’Rourke as a producer and musician, followed in the spring of 2000. O’Rourke became a full member of the group, touring with the band and appearing on and producing 2002’s Murray Street.
The five-piece Sonic Youth returned in 2004 with Sonic Nurse; one year later, however, O’Rourke departed the band to pursue a career as a film director. Late in 2005, the remaining bandmates issued SYR 6, a recording of a benefit concert for the Anthology Film Archives that Sonic Youth had played alongside percussionist Tim Barnes. Rather Ripped, a fusion of the mellow, sprawling feel of the band’s previous two albums with a more stripped-down sound, was released in 2006. In 2008, the band resurrected the SYR series - J’Accuse Ted Hughes arrived that spring as a vinyl-only release, while Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth chronicled an improvised performance at 2005’s Roskilde Festival. They also assembled a compilation album for Starbucks, Hits Are for Squares, featuring the previously unreleased track “Slow Revolution”.
Sonic Youth made additional headlines by leaving the Geffen label and signing with Matador, which prepared to issue the band’s 16th album, The Eternal (2009), a supercharged rocker, recalling aspects of the Evol-Sister-Daydream Nation holy trinity, but with cleaner, louder production and more straightforward momentum. With Pavement’s Mark Ibold joining on bass, and producer John Agnello back at the controls, The Eternal takes the melodic songwriting of 2006’s Rather Ripped and slams down the accelerator pedal.