Kill Your Idols, S.A. Crary’s documentary on New York’s No Wave scene, opens with Suicide’s Martin Rev setting the scene for the immigration of misfits that brought about the No Wave movement. “New York was the greatest city and the greatest challenge and the greatest struggle, going against the odds, we didn’t see a lot of other options for us other than doing what we did.” The film opens with Suicide turning away from the guitar/bass/drum formula and glitz and glamour of New York Dolls-era punk to create their own definition of ‘punk’ in 1972, then jumps us ahead to Lydia Lunch, strolling down the street in 1977. A groupie of Mink DeVille and the Deadboys in ’72, Lydia morphed herself into the mouthpiece for the scene. She lays out in ’77, “what I’m telling you about is reality and beauty and truth and filth, the real thing. And what you want is boring and stupid and senseless and trivial.” And with that, the gauntlet is thrown. No Wave was a direct reaction to the escapism that Lydia, Martin, Arto Lindsay, Michael Gira, Jim Thirwell, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Glenn Branca all saw punk music devolving into. As Martin puts it, “we couldn’t even afford to dress up, to fool ourselves that we could escape for that long. Our nature wasn’t to escape. It was to bring the pure absurdity, injustice and horror of what we felt reality was. Punk really wasn’t about a part any more. It was about carving out a place for ourselves in this old order.”
The first thirty minutes of Kill Your Idols is a well-mapped deluge of old concert footage and interviews with key players waxing on about the past, laying out what they were doing, what they thought they were accomplishing and who they admired in the scene with a matter-of-factness that comes with the distance of history and the romance that comes with time. In a series of quick cuts, all of the band members pronounce the idea that Lee lays out of, “energy alone was enough. It didn’t matter if you knew how to play one chord or one note, it wasn’t about any of that. It was about energy and emotion.” In a movement that was defined to the world through the No New York compilation, there were a lot of sounds and a lot of ideas that were vomited out onto the city streets in an intense 18 month period and then imploded.
Jump ahead to 2002. The soundtrack changes to the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s “Bang Bang Bang,” and we are introduced to Crary’s version of No Wave in the ’00s. Meet the YYYs, the Liars, Flux Information Sciences, Black Dice, Gogol Bordello and A.R.E. Weapons. Watching this portion of the documentary becomes a lesson in “Losing My Edge.” Cause I was there. I saw the YYY open for the Liars and McLusky at the Garage in Islington. I saw Gogol Borello open for the Von Bondies in a basement in Boston. I was at that Black Dice at North Six show. I walked out of that A.R.E. Weapons show at Luxx half way through cause I thought it was bullshit. And who knew what it would become? Lydia talks a good game now, and when you’ve got her sneering that, “it’s not as if there’s a revival of the intellectual concepts, or the visions or the diversity or the extremity of that music,” cutting to Karen O. sitting on a stoop dropping more “you know”‘s and “like”‘s than actual complete ideas, you shake your head and realize that with time comes the ability to pontificate. But salvation for No Wave ’00s comes in the form of Eugene Hutz from Golgol Bordello’s views on the ‘scene.’ “This is a risky kind of music and the whole punk rock, when it started was trial and error. It was so fucked up, you didn’t know if it was cool or not, there was no formed opinion about it, and that’s a great, exciting atmosphere for art. The point is making new entities of music, and the possibilities are fucking endless man. There’s no time for fucking revivals of some shit. There’s only time to move forward, man.” Amen.
It’s hard to really compare and contrast and judge the validity of the skepticism of the new No Wave by the originators of the movement. When Art Lindsay of DNA, arguably the most respected of the first wave of No Wave, poses the question, “what’s next, what’s the future,” you get a lot of blank stares from all the first generation-ers. Who’s to say? When Lydia condemns the new movement with “where’s the fucking tuba,” you cut to Golgol Bordello’s theatrics and a line of tuba and string players. Watching the documentary from the ’06 perspective, you’ve got the Liars, who speak with as much awareness as Thurston, and who have continued to make records that have more and more experimentation and continue to test their audience as to how much weirdness they can take. And you can only imagine that Arto and the kids from Black Dice would be able to talk for hours about the use of invented machines, new noises and manipulation of white noise.
Brian from the YYY says on a stoop after a show, “I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing dies out within a year.” Four years on, we know that some of these bands have stayed together – the YYY have gone from half-full shows at Brownies to headlining Roseland and being remixed by Diplo. Golgol Bordello can sell out Irving Plaza. The interpretation of where this new crop of bands is going is verbalized by Eugene. “People think we sound like a band from the Ukraine, but we sound like a band from New York. It expresses the spirit of us immigrants who have traveled the whole world already, and from everything we’ve heard we took what we like about music to make a new music, that is a music of Golgol Bordello.” And you can’t imagine any of the originators being able to argue with that.