Sonic Youth founder Thurston Moore brings his fourth solo album to Glasgow
- Nicola Meighan
- 15 November 2011
We look back on the career of the legendary DIY music icon
Once upon a time in Stirling, a counter-cultural icon walked among the people and played his guitar and snapped up their Scottish country dance records.
The year was 2005, when Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore came to the central belt to perform at avant-garde carnival, Le Weekend. He appeared as one half of the lo-fi improv duo Mirror/Dash – the intermittent concept outfit he formed in the late 80s with his wife, SY mainstay and ‘psychophysical’ partner Kim Gordon (more of whom anon). And he made hay with his long-running free-noise executioners Dream Aktion Unit, whose cacophonous number also featured saxophonist Paul Flaherty and drummer Chris Corsano.
At one point in the night’s proceedings, Moore departed the low-set stage of The Tolbooth and ambled through the dumbstruck crowd, brushing limbs with shock-eyed fans and idly shredding his guitar. Later he was to be found propping up the venue bar, shooting the breeze with hipsters and locals – and legend has it he also relieved the nearby record emporium, Europa Music, of several crates’ worth of Scottish country dance music: an illustration of Moore’s voracious cultural appetite if ever there was one.
Imparting the evening’s significance at the bus stop next morning proved tricky, however. Some commuters had not heard of Thurston Moore, or his trailblazing alternative rock group Sonic Youth, despite the band having retuned aural conventions since 1981. But they’d heard of The Simpsons, so I told them about the time Sonic Youth starred alongside Marge et al – in 1996’s Homerpalooza episode – which saw SY swipe Peter Frampton’s watermelon and perform a guitar-mangling version of The Simpsons' theme tune over the closing credits [listen below].
And they’d heard of Madonna, so I told them about Sonic Youth’s arch 80s art-pop project, Ciccone Youth, which spattered proto-grunge across the likes of ‘Get Into The Groove(y)’ and got Moore et al into legal hot water until the Material Girl herself intervened – so the story goes – and gave the Youth approval to carry on.
The folk at the bus stop approved of these tales. Yet while TV gigs like The Simpsons (and later Gossip Girl) branded Sonic Youth as the mainstream face(s) of the American Underground, they did not destabilise the band’s punk credo or subterranean reign. How could they, after all, when SY were founded on the crest of the New Wave; when they had irretrievably scrawled themselves into the annals of DIY, noise-pop, improv and art-punk; when they’d been formed by a songwriter – Thurston Moore – who moved to NY from Connecticut in the 70s, with his heart set on Patti Smith and his exploratory axe skills set to be liberated via Glenn Branca’s infamous guitar ensemble. (Rolling Stone would later identify Moore as one of the best guitarists of all time). And let’s not forget Ecstatic Peace – Moore’s beats-inspired music, poetry and art imprint – whose inaugural issue was an early-80s spoken-word cassette featuring Lydia Lunch and Michael Gira.
Sonic Youth had something else at its beating heart, however: the longstanding, rock’n’roll defying relationship between Moore and Gordon, who married in 1984 and thrived as co-vocalists, co-guitarists and aesthetic co-conspirators, enjoying a shared artistic instinct that Moore described in a 2008 interview as ‘a psychophysical connection … really spiritually, physiologically connected.’ But a few weeks ago, Moore and Gordon announced their separation – to the surprise of the media and fans alike – and with it came the sucker-punch that the future of Sonic Youth is uncertain. (As things stand, that leaves the Starbucks-curated, celebrity-picked Hits are for Squares compilation as their swansong, which feels insufficient to say the least).
Still, Moore should not be short of solo charms at his imminent Glasgow date, as he tours his ace fourth unaccompanied album, the Beck-produced, psych-folk opus, Demolished Thoughts. The gig is to be a seated affair, which will ensure that everyone looks up to Moore. Perhaps he does not realise that most of us do that already.
Thurston Moore performs a solo show at The Arches, Glasgow, Mon 28 Nov.