I remember the first time I heard Sonic Youth. I was watching MTV2 at some god-awful hour of the night, when Sunday came on. Obviously, as a kid in my early teens and primarily interested in listening to on-the-nose angst merchants, I wasn’t exactly enamoured on first listening. But, something of that song stuck with me. That odd, sun-kissed discord, the off-kilter guitar and almost lazy vocals. It was something that sounded fresh and dangerous.
Over the years I’ve gained more understanding of the band. The alternative tunings appealed to the music geek in me. The inscrutable lyrics made my inner writer leap with joy. And most importantly…hell, just look at them!
Have you ever seen such a bunch of exceptionally cool bastards as that?
In my opinion (and my opinion is generally the correct one), Sonic Youth are the coolest band that have ever existed. No other band even comes close.
I can’t claim to be a massive Sonic Youth fan. I own a few of their albums, but I’ve not seen them live and would be unlikely to get the artwork of Dirty tattooed on the back of my head. However, they are just, well, badass. Everything about the band was tied to Generation X. That filthy, petulant, aggressive apathy that infected the late 80s and early 90s.
Sonic Youth were the silent voice of this non-movement.
Unlike most of-the-time bands, they’ve kept that freshness throughout the career. I count Sonic Nurse (2006) and The Eternal (2009) as two of my favourite albums of all time. If you listen back to bands from that era, quite a lot of them have dated. The same with most eras; from classic rock, to punk, new wave all the way up to the indie bands of the early 00s, a lot of the artists feel stuck in that time.
The real quality acts surpass the boundaries that the genres set out for them. The Clash stepping out of punk, The Cure breaking away from indie and post-punk, Nine Inch Nails escaping the ‘Industrial Revolution’ of the nineties. Sonic Youth managed it too, by always being one step ahead of the curve. The use of odd tunings, prepared guitar, and massive effects meant that the only thing you could count on when listening to Sonic Youth was that they were going to do what you didn’t expect.
Anyway, to sum up: coolest band name of all time, coolest look of all time, coolest generation of all time, coolest albums of all time, coolest songs of all time. Sonic Youth, for always being in some way accessible but impossible to deconstruct, I award you the title of Coolest Band That Has Ever Existed.