Sonic Youth live at ATP New York, 2010. Photo by Tim Bugbee / Tinnitus Photography.
My first experience of Sonic Youth live was the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival the group curated in 2002 at UCLA. I was nineteen years old and had just moved to Los Angeles for college. The mind-altering lineup that Sonic Youth convened for ATP’s first event outside the UK was a crash course in the outré musical practice that would continually spark my fascination in the years since. The festival also gave Sonic Youth's individual members a chance to showcase their extracurricular interests, in side projects and one-off groups. The band's cultural camaraderie with established and up-and-coming underground artists, and the implicit endorsement of an alternative rock canon spanning from 20th-century avant garde composers to No Wave, has long been as influential as Sonic Youth’s records themselves. Collecting all of these disparate influences under the band’s aegis—Cecil Taylor and Big Star, Merzbow and Peaches—made ATP 2002 a signal event for the contemporary underground.
Although Sonic Youth never shied away from experimentation on their proper releases, it was in the extraordinary variety and quantity of the band's side projects and collaborations that the breadth and depth of their influences could be most felt. The band's core members Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, and Lee Ranaldo (the latter of whom plays Trans-Pecos, Ridgewood on November 13) have each, on their own, cast an important shadow on the last thirty years of rock music. Below are a few select moments of brilliance among the many that exist "beyond" Sonic Youth.
It is day two of the Hopscotch
music festival in Raleigh, North Carolina and I’m sitting in the lobby of the Sheraton, the unlikely nexus around which this three-day showcase of independent music culture orbits. Mary Lattimore
has agreed to meet me for an interview, after she figures out where to stash her instrument. Unlike a guitar case or even a drum kit that can be disassembled and squeezed into a van, Lattimore spends a lot of time thinking about how to handle her instrument. She has toured with the likes of Kurt Vile
and Thurston Moore
, but Mary Lattimore plays a harp. Seeing Lattimore on-stage with the imposing, grand instrument can cause even a jaded experimental music fan - nonplussed by the appearance of theremins, prepared guitars or analog synthesizers-- to look twice. Her career so far sees her quite literally sitting at the center of some of the most prodigious and respected avant-rock practitioners and has re-aligned expectations around instrumentation in underground rock circuits. Mary Lattimore collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Ziegler on an album titled Slant of Light,
released last month on Thrill Jockey
AdHoc: I remember seeing Fursaxa at All Tomorrow's Parties in upstate New York in 2010-- that was the first time I became aware of your playing. How did you move from the more traditional world of harp music into underground music?
Mary Lattimore: I went to classical music school, a music conservatory in Rochester. But I never listened to a lot of classical music, I love rock music-- classic rock, experimental music. I worked at a record store in Rochester and the university had a really good radio station. I was a DJ, I was playing and interested in records that weren’t classical music. I became friends with some members of Arcade Fire. I met them in Columbus, Missouri and we started talking. I told them I was moving to Philadelphia and I played the harp. They asked me to sit in with them and so I did, and that was the first time I had played harp in a band situation. Win and Will [Butler, of Arcade Fire], their mother is a famous harpist. She wrote the harp parts on Funeral and I just learned what she had written. That was my first time seeing how it feels to be on stage in that situation, and it was really awesome.
I also had friends from college from the band Espers. Greg Weeks was putting together a soundtrack orchestra to do an alternate soundtrack for the Czech new wave film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders under the name The Valerie Project. I composed some parts for that and we took it on tour with a 12 person orchestra.
Two of experimental music's veteran shredders, Thurston Moore-- that guy from that band-- and Loren Connors are preparing for their first ever collaborative release. They've played together a fair amount in the past, but what's surprising about their upcoming live album, The Only Way to Go is Straight Through, is that it hasn't existed earlier. Both Moore and Connors have a tendency to collaborate with many people and release many different artificats of those collaborations. This particular union of No Wave and noise rock innovator, Moore, with blues abstractionist, Connors, was recorded at lower Manhattan's The Stone at Northern Spy's Spy Festival last October.
The Only Way to Go is Straight Through is out on Northern Spy on 4/20, as part of Record Store Day festivities.