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No Wave was a short-lived but influential underground music, film, performance art, video, and contemporary art scene that had its beginnings during the mid-1970s in New York Citymarker. The term No Wave is in part satirical wordplay rejecting the commercial elements of the then-popular New Wave genre—a term imported into the New York contemporary artworld by Diego Cortez in a show he curated called "New York/New Wave" held at the Institute for Art and Urban Resources (1981).

Styles and characteristics

In many ways, No Wave is not a clearly definable musical genre with consistent features. Various groups drew on such disparate styles as funk, jazz, blues, punk rock, avant garde, and experimental. There are, however, some elements common to most No Wave music, such as abrasive atonal sounds, repetitive driving rhythms, and a tendency to emphasize musical texture over melody—typical of the early downtown music of La Monte Young. No Wave lyrics often focused on nihilism and confrontation.
No Wave is often better defined in terms of the artistic environment in which it thrived (the downtown scene of minimalist art) and the character of performances typical to its context. No Wave performances drew heavily on performance art and as a result were often examples of a highly theatrical minimalism in their renditions.

In 1978 a series of punk rock influenced loud noise music was held at New York’s Artists’ Space that led to the Brian Eno-produced recording No New York. This recording was the first attempt to define the no wave sound, documenting The Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Mars and DNA.

The Noise Fest was an influential festival of art noise music curated by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at the art space White Columns in June 1981. Sonic Youth made their first live appearance at this show. Each night three to five acts performed, including Glenn Branca, Rhys Chatham, Jeffrey Lohn, Dog Eat Dog, Built on Guilt, Rudolph Grey, the Avant Squares, Mofungo, Red Decade, Robin Crutchfield's Dark Day, Ad Hoc Rock, Intense Molecular Activity, Smoking Section, Chinese Puzzle, Avoidance Behaviour, and Sonic Youth.

No Wave had a notable influence on noise and industrial bands who formed after, like Big Black, Lev Six, Helmet, and Live Skull. The Theoretical Girls heavily influenced early Sonic Youth, who then emerged from this scene by creating music that eventually reached mass audiences and critical acclaim. Also for new bands like Liars, Ex Models, Neptune, and Erase Errata the influence of the No Wave scene was important.

Simon Reynolds, author of Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, wrote:

No Wave music inspired the Speed Trials noise rock series organized by Live Skull members in May 1983 at White Columns with the music of The Fall, Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth, Lydia Lunch, Elliott Sharp, Swans and Arto Lindsay. This was followed by the after-hours Speed Club that was fleetingly established at ABC No Riomarker.

No Wave Cinema

No Wave Cinema was an underground film movement coming out of Tribecamarker and the East Village, Manhattanmarker at the time. No Wave filmmakers included: Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, James Nares, Vivienne Dick, Scott B and Beth B, and Seth Tillett (among others) and led to the Cinema of Transgression and work by Nick Zedd and Richard Kern.

No Wave musicians


No Wave continues to have a far-reaching impact on the American anti-culture music scene. In a foreword to the book No Wave, Weasel Walter wrote of the movement's ongoing influence,

I began to express myself musically in a way that felt true to myself, constantly pushing the limits of idiom or genre and always screaming "Fuck You!" loudly in the process.
It's how I felt then and I still feel it now.
The ideals behind the (anti-) movement known as No Wave were found in many other archetypes before and just as many afterwards, but for a few years around the late 1970s, the concentration of those ideals reached a cohesive, white-hot focus.

In 2004 Scott Crary made a documentary, Kill Your Idols about No Wave. In 2007–2008, three books on the scene were published: Soul Jazz's New York Noise, Marc Masters' No Wave, and Thurston Moore and Byron Coley's No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980.


  • All Guitars (1985) Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine #10,
  • Just Another Asshole #5 (1981) compilation LP (CD reissue 1995 on Atavistic # ALP39CD), producers: Barbara Ess & Glenn Branca
  • N.Y. No Wave (2003) ZE France B00009OKOP
  • New York Noise (2003) Soul Jazz B00009OYSE
  • New York Noise, Vol. 2 (2006) Soul Jazz B000CHYHOG
  • New York Noise, Vol. 3 (2006) Soul Jazz B000HEZ5CC
  • Noise Fest Tape (1982) TSoWC, White Columns
  • No New York (1978) Antilles, (2006) Lilith, B000B63ISE
  • Speed Trials (1984) Homestead Records HMS-011

See also


  1. James Chance interview | Pitchfork
  2. Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978-1984 (2006) Penguin
  3. Marc Masters, (2007) No Wave. London, Black Dog Publishing, pp. 170-171
  4. Carlo McCormick, The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, Princeton University Press, 2006
  5. Masters, Marc. (2007) No Wave London, UK: Black Dog Publishing
  6. Kill Your Idols (2004)
  7. Soul Jazz Records — New York Noise — Art and Music from the New York Underground 1978-88
  8. No Wave, with a foreword by Weasel Walter (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007), ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5.
  9. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. No Wave


  • Joachim E. Berendt. The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond. Revised by Günther Huesmann, translated by H. and B. Bredigkeit with Dan Morgenstern. Brooklyn: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992. "The Styles of Jazz: From the Eighties to the Nineties," p. 57-59. ISBN 1-556652-098-0
  • Marc Masters. No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5
  • Alan Moore and Marc Miller (eds.), ABC No Riomarker Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Sidemarker Art Gallery. New York: Collaborative Projects, 1985
  • Reynolds, Simon. "Contort Yourself: No Wave New York." Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978-84. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 2005.
  • Marvin J. Taylor (ed.). The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, foreword by Lynn Gumpert. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 0691122865

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