10.07.2019

Exploring the history of Sonic Youth, the world’s beloved noise rockers

Words by Morgan Mangan

The band’s founders, Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, are dropping Down Under for separate visits.

Fans of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore will be pleased to have both visiting Melbourne in the coming months. Gordon will be here for the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) and Moore for the Melbourne International Film Festival; a strange turn of events for two experimental noise rockers from NYC. More has changed than just Gordon and Moore’s relationship.

Sonic Youth was formed in New York City in 1981 by Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore and, after a few changes of drummers over the years, Steve Shelley. They were a vital piece of the experimental rock scene of America through until the early 2000s. Even those who aren’t fans of the music have at least heard the name thanks to popular albums such as Daydream Nation or their cover of ‘Superstar’ by The Carpenters featured in the 2007 film Juno – “I bought another Sonic Youth album and it sucks. It’s just noise.”

Initially starting out with Gordon and Moore they went through a few names like Male Bonding, Red Milk and the Arcadians, later settling on Sonic Youth. Half of the name came from MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith and the other half inspired by reggae musicians at the time frequently featuring “youth” in their name.

Neil Young once said that the Sonic Youth song ‘Expressway To Yr. Skull’ was one of the greatest guitar songs ever written. The band proceeded to open for Young on many occasions, even opening for the 1992 ‘Crazy Horses’ tour.

Some other notable Sonic Youth songs include ‘Brave Men Run (In My Family)’ off 1985’s Bad Moon Rising, ‘Tunic (Song for Karen)’ from 1990’s Goo (their first album after signing to a major label) and ‘Bull in the Heather’ from 1994’s Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.

Since the band split in 2011, Moore has continued on with solo records and will be in Melbourne on August 2 to perform the scores for four short films by filmmaker Maya Deren at the Astor Theatre. Additionally, MIFF will present Thurston Moore: In Conversation on August 3 to discuss his take on music, career and inspirations.

Kim Gordon continues to be heavily involved in music, art and literature. Her book Girl in a Band was published in 2015 and is an in-depth look into her life growing up, living in New York, Sonic Youth and her relationship with Moore. She also plays in noise experimental two-piece Body/Head with musician Bill Nace. MWF will present Kim Gordon: In Conversation on September 1 to discuss her art, writing, music, acting and design.

Thurston Moore plays the music of Maya Deren at The Astor Theatre on Friday August 2 and will be in conversation with Jacinta Parsons at The Wheeler Centre on Saturday August 3. Kim Gordon will appear at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Sunday September 1.