What is noise-rock?
Noise rock is a post-punk genre. It incorporates atonality, feedback, and especially dissonance to traditional instrumentation of rock and frequently discards typical songwriting conventions. In plain English: in this genre the musicians take advantage of effects produced by electrical instruments in order to create something new; the techniques mainly used are to forgo key or mode (atonality), lack of harmony (dissonance), and sound distortion provoked by amplifiers, pedals, etc. (feedback). If you remember rock history, punk was devise as a way of opposing fixed musical structure; noise rock took it a step further, by ignoring even the most basic principles of traditional music (tonality and harmony).
Is it a new thing?
Nope, not at all. In fact, noise-rock bands started emerging by the end of the 1970s, beginning of the 80s – or at the fading of punk, as we said before. The noise-rock of the 1980s was essential to the development of grunge, in the 1990s, since it had a great influence in musicians like Kurt Cobain and his band, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains. A big noise scene also developed in Japan during the 1980s and 90s
Up until the 2000s the majority of bands were from the USA; now you can find noise bands from all over the world – which is only natural: before the Internet, the access to indie bands was more restricted.
Are there different sub-genres?
Yes, but they aren’t canon, merely my opinion. First of all, there are those who just want to make noise; they don’t use any melody, harmony, chords, or any other musical technique. What they do is overload the amplifiers as much as possible to get the feedback and scream over the top of it. Examples: Hijokaidan, Kylie Minoise, Sheer Hellish Miasma, and Metal Machine Music.
Then there are those who use the noise in a more musical approach, combining different techniques from different genres of rock and metal with noise techniques (i.e., atonality, dissonance, and feedback) in order to create their music. Examples: Big Black, Melt-Banana, The Jesus Lizard, and Lightening Bolt.
And then there’s Japanese noise, or Japanoise. As old as USA noise, Japanoise is a whole culture in itself. The bases of the movement are Hijokaidan (pure improvisation) and Merzbow (dada and junk art are heavy influences in his work). I put it in a separate category because back in the day the artists would release only limited quantities of records or tapes, added to the massive amount of collaborations and side projects made it really difficult to follow. Other examples of Japanoise: Hanatarash, Masonna, Incapacitants, Keiji Haino, and Boredom.
What do you recommend I start with?
Well, the ‘essentials’, in my list,would be:
- The Jesus Lizard, Seasick
- Flipper, (I saw you) shine
- Melvins, Revolve
- Sonic Youth, Androgynous mind
- Melt-Banana, A Shield For Your Eyes, A Beast In The Well On Your Hand
- Pussy Galore, Dick Johnson
- Helmet, Unsung
If you look for the song on Youtube you’ll get recommendations – some good, some bad. But anyhow, it’s worthwhile to check them out – and you can then find out your favourites.