Formed in New York, City in 1981, Sonic Youth was a rock band that was composed of Kim Gordon on bass, Thurston Moore on guitars, Lee Ranaldo on guitars and vocals, and Steve Shelley on drums. Sonic Youth emerged from the American underground music scene and they are known for their use of dissonance, alternate tunings, and feedback in their music. After they gained a large following in the underground music scene and positive reviews through their albums that were released under SST Records during the 80s, Sonic Youth experienced mainstream success during the 1990s and 2000s. In this article, we are going to find out Sonic Youth’s contribution and influence in the music industry.
In early 1977, guitarist Thurston Moore formed the group named Room Tone together with his roommates when he moved to New York City. When they disbanded, Moore began to jam with Shanton, Miranda and Kim Gordon. After that, Moore and Gordon decided to form a band and perform in clubs while using the names Red Milk and Male Bonding but eventually, they settled for the name Sonic Youth in 1981. They said that the name came from one of the members of the American band MC5 which was Fred “Sonic” Smith and the word Youth came from the reggae artist named Big Youth. The band then performed at Noise Fest in 1981 where they met Lee Renaldo who was a member of the avant-garde composer Glenn Branca’s guitar ensemble. Moore was impressed by Renaldo’s skills and that’s why he invited him to join their band. Renaldo agreed and the three of them performed three songs at the festival even if they had to take turns in playing the drums.
In 1981, the trio met Richard Edson and recruited him as the band’s drummer. That same year, they signed a record deal with Glenn Branca’s record label, Neutral Records. Sonic Youth released their self-titled debut EP in 1981. The album featured a conventional post-punk music style, however, it went unrecognized in the market and received uniformly favorable reviews. After its release, Edson decided to leave the band to pursue a career in acting and he was eventually replaced by Bob Bert.
In 1982, Sonic Youth embarked on their first tour where they spent two weeks touring the southern United States. During this tour, an issue with Bert’s drumming occurred and it created tensions between him and Moore. That’s why Bert was fired after the tour and he was replaced by Jim Sclavunos.
In 1983, Sonic Youth released their first full-length studio album entitled Confusion is Sex. The album featured a louder and more inharmonious sound compared to their EP. After its release, the band prepared for a two-week tour of Europe but before it started, Slavunos decided to quit the band. That’s why they asked Bert if he could rejoin the band and he agreed in one condition that he would not be fired again after the tour. That same year, the band released an EP entitled Kill Yr Idols.
After the release of their EP under the German label named Zensor, Moore attempted to get the band a record deal with the British indie label, Doublevision, but the label rejected Sonic Youth’s demos. However, one of the owners of Doublevision named Paul Smith decided to form another record label called Blast First Records to release the band’s album. And in 1984, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore got married.
In 1985, Sonic Youth released their second studio album called Bad Moon Rising which served as a reaction to the current state of the nation during that time. The album also featured American singer and poet Lydia Lunch in one of the album’s single entitled Death Valley ’69 which was inspired by Charles Manson Family Murders. While New York press ignored the release of Bad Moon Rising, Sonic Youth gained more popularity in the United Kingdom where the album sold over 5,000 copies in six months. After performing songs from Bad Moon Rising for over a year, Bert left the band because he said that he was bored. He was then replaced by The Crucifucks’ former drummer, Steve Shelley. The band hired Shelley on the spot because they were so impressed by his talent in playing the drums.
in 1986, Sonic Youth finally landed a contract deal with SST Records and they record and release their album EVOL with composer Martin Bisi that same year. EVOL featured different kinds of evolution for the band because the songs dealt with different issues and the album had a new melodic material all thanks to Shelley’s talent. Their contract with SST Records increased the band’s popularity and the mainstream press all began to notice the band. EVOL received several positive reviews and performed well commercially.
In 1987, Sonic Youth released their fourth album called Sister which featured a blend of pop songs with unbending experimentalism. The album managed to sell over 60,00 copies and received several positive reviews. Sister became Sonic Youth’s first album to enter the Top 20 charts. Despite gaining popularity and critical success, Sonic Youth became dissatisfied with SST Records because they’re having issues with payment and other administrative practices.
That’s why Sonic Youth decided to release their LP entitled Daydream Nation under Enigma Records in 1988. The album was a critical success which earned Sonic Youth more exposure to the mainstream media. Because of Daydream Nation, the band was featured in several magazines including the Rolling Stones which hailed the album as one of the best albums of the decade.
In 1990, Sonic Youth released their album called Goo under Geffen Records. The album featured a song collaboration with Public Enemy’s Chuck D entitled Kool Thing. The song was featured in the film Simple Men and in the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. In 1992, the band released their seventh studio album called Dirty which featured the songs Sugar Kane, Youth Against Fascism, 100%, and Drunken Butterfly. The album performed well commercially and the band embarked on the Pretty Fucking Dirty tour to further promote their album.
In 1994, the Sonic Youth released their eighth studio album called Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star which proved to be the band’s best charting album in the United States because it peaked at the 34th spot of the Billboard 200 charts. The album featured the hit single Bull in the Heather. In 1995, Gordon and Moore welcomed their daughter, Coco Hayley Moore. That same year, Sonic Youth released the album called Washing Machine which featured the title track that is ten minutes long and the single entitled The Diamond Sea which is 19 minutes long.
In 1998, Sonic Youth released their album entitled A Thousand Leaves which received generally favorable reviews from the critics and peaked at the 85th spot of the Billboard 200 charts in the United States. The album featured the single Sunday, Karen Coltrane, and Woodland Ode.
In the late 1990s to early 2000s, Sonic Youth released a series of experimental albums on their own label called SYR. The album series includes seven releases namely SYR1, SYR2, SYR3, SYR4, SYR5, SYR6, SYR7, and SYR8. All of the albums were released in different languages such as French, Dutch, Esperanto, Japanese, Lithuanian, Arpitan, and Danish.
in 2002, the band released their twelfth studio album called Murray Street which was the first album to feature their new member, Jim O’Rourke to further enhance the band’s sound by playing the synthesizer and bass guitar. If featured the songs The Empty Page, Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style, Plastic Sun, and Karen Revisited. This album was followed by Sonic Nurse which was released in 2004 and it featured the song entitled Pattern Recognition which is titled after a William Gibson novel. Sonic Nurse performed good in the market maybe because they guested in several TV shows such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with Conan O’Brien to promote their album.
in 2006, Sonic Youth released their fourteenth studio album called Rather Ripped. Compared to their previous works, Rather Ripped featured a handful of conventionally structured, short, and melodic songs that has fewer feedback and improvisations. That same year, they also released a compilation album called The Destroyed Room: B-Sides and Rarities which includes songs that were included on their limited release albums and vinyl albums. It also includes B-sides to their international singles and some never before been released songs.
In 2008, the band independently re-released their EP Master=Dik and the SYR series such as SYR7 and SYR8. A year after that, Sonic Youth released their fifteenth and final studio album called The Eternal which reached the 18th spot on the Billboard 200 charts and became their highest-charting album in the United States since their 1994 album Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star. The album featured the songs Poison Arrow, Anti-Orgasm, Sacred Trickster, and No Way.
In 2011, Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon announced that they had separated after 27 years of being married and they also explained that the plans for the band had become uncertain. In one interview, Lee Renaldo said that Sonic Youth is ending things for a while and that they have no plans to record anything new or do any shows for a while. He also said that every member of Sonic Youth has been busy with their own projects and Gordon and Moore are not in good terms since their split.