Interference | Interference
Most Likely To: be of interest to completist elitists.
Thirty years after the fact, New York City’s No Wave scene doesn’t seem quite as forbidding as it did at the time, when it was the line that even most punks wouldn’t cross. That’s because one generation’s unlistenable noise is the building block of the next generation’s mainstream, and with the passing of those thirty yearsl Sonic Youth took Glenn Branca’s guitar noise aesthetics and turned them into the guiding force behind indie-rock and shoegazing, while Lydia Lunch became the fairy godmother of ferocious grrrls like Courtney Love, PJ Harvey, and Karen O.
Time has revealed the No Wave to be nowhere as unmusical and difficult as it seemed in 1980. Most of the No Wavers were simply taking the sounds of CBGB bands like The Ramones, Talking Heads and Television one step further than those bands were willing to go themselves. Unfortunately, the No Wave’s most toxic contribution to music might be the exclusivist, hipster attitude they imported from the downtown art scene. They were the first movement in rock to really cop the attitude of “you’re not cool enough to like us,” giving rise to the plague of hipster douchebag-ism that troubles the music scene to this very day. Heck, even the punks all desperately wanted to have genuine hit records that people might actually like. The No Wavers were appalled by such ideas, and the attitude has retroactively been grafted onto the punks by later generations, but don’t blame them for it. The No Wavers were the original assholes.
But that’s really neither here nor there, though it does explain much of the forbidding image the No Wave still maintains three decades after its heyday. Mostly, though, No Wave bands are more important for their influence than their listenability – while there’s plenty of Glenn Branca stuff that is well-worth hearing and is pretty fascinating, more people are going to find Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation a more satisfying listen than Branca’s The Ascension (though “Lightfield (In Consonance)” kicks the ass of 99% of anything Branca’s more famous acolytes have recorded). So what to make of an unreleased artifact from a scene more noted for its influence than its output? If no one heard it thirty years ago, is it worth hearing now?
I speak of the band Interference, whose handful of recordings are just now seeing the light of day for the first time. The band consisted of several veteran No Wave scenesters – Anna DeMarinis had been an original member of Sonic Youth who was eventually replaced in that band by Lee Ranaldo, who’d been in a previous band with Interference drummer David Linton. The band was rounded out by Rhys Chatham sidemen Michael Brown and Joe Dizney. Thus constituted, Interference spewed out a sound combining Branca-inspired guitar noise with the funk workouts of bands like The Contortions or ESG.
The handful of tracks here, joined by another handful of remixes, doesn’t really contain anything shocking or surprising in 2010. Most of the ideas Interference trafficked in have long since been picked up and explored by bands such as Liars, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Ex-Models. As far as that goes, most of them were explored by contemporaneous English post-punk bands as Gang of Four and PiL – even a band now considered as friendly and harmless as XTC was early on exploring herky-jerky noise not too far removed from what Interference was doing on tracks like “Contempt.” So while much of what was once considered innovative about Interference and their scenemates has been diluted by time, it’s even clearer now that the No Wave was never quite as radical as its constituents wanted everyone not involved in it to think it was.
Interference isn’t a great buried treasure unearthed to impart a vast fortune. It’s more like a $10 bill you might find on the street. It’s not going to enrich your life to any great extent, but it’s still nice to find. It’s an enjoyable album of funky, insanely rhythmic tracks supporting all sorts of guitar skronk. It would have been nice to hear it thirty years ago, but there’s not really anything on it that would have changed the world had it come out at the time.