No wave is a music and art genre, named for the transient avant-garde music and visual art scene from which it emerged in the late 1970s in downtown New York City.[4][5]

The musical term No Wave was a pun based on the rejection of commercial new wave music.[6] Reacting against punk rock's recycling of rock and roll clichés, no wave musicians instead experimented with noise, dissonance and atonality in addition to non-rock genres like free jazz and disco while often reflecting an abrasive, confrontational, and nihilistic worldview.[7][8][9]

In 1978, Rhys Chatham curated a concert at The Kitchen with two electric guitar noise music bands that involved Glenn Branca (Theoretical Girls and Daily Life, performed by Branca, Barbara Ess, Paul McMahon and Christine Hahn) and another two electric guitar noise music bands that involved Chatham himself (The Gynecologists and Tone Death, performed by Robert Appleton, Nina Canal, Chatham and Peter Gordon). Tone Death performed Chatham's 1977 composition for electric guitars Guitar Trio, that was inspired by La Monte Young's minimalist masterpiece Trio for Strings and Chatham's exposure to The Ramones at CBGB via Peter Gordon.[10] This proto-No Wave concert was followed a few weeks later when Artists Space served as a site of concrete inception for the No Wave music movement, hosting a five night underground No Wave music festival, organized by artists Michael Zwack and Robert Longo, that featured ten local bands; including Rhys Chatham's The Gynecologists, Communists, Glenn Branca's Theoretical Girls, Terminal, Rhys Chatham's Tone Death.[11] and Branca's Daily Life.[12][13] The final two days of the show featured DNA and the Contortions on Friday, followed by Mars and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks on Saturday.[14] English musician and producer Brian Eno, who had originally come to New York to produce the second Talking Heads album More Songs About Buildings and Food, was in the audience.[14] Impressed by what he saw and heard, and advised by Diego Cortez to do so, Eno was convinced that this movement should be documented and proposed the idea of a compilation album, No New York, with himself as a producer.[15]

The movement was short-lived but highly influential in the music world. Aside from the music genre, the no wave movement also had a significant influence in independent film (no wave cinema), fashion, and visual art.[16]


No wave is not a clearly definable musical genre with consistent features, but it generally was characterized by a rejection of the recycling of traditional rock aesthetics, such as blues rock styles and Chuck Berry guitar riffs in punk and new wave music.[8] Various groups, such as Youth in Asia and The Gynecologists, drew on and explored such disparate stylistic forms as minimalism, conceptual art, funk, jazz, blues, punk rock, and avant garde noise music.[4] According to Village Voice writer Steve Anderson, the scene pursued an abrasive reductionism which "undermined the power and mystique of a rock vanguard by depriving it of a tradition to react against".[17] Anderson claimed that the no wave scene represented "New York's last stylistically cohesive avant-rock movement".[17]

There were, however, some elements common to most no-wave music, such as abrasive atonal sounds; repetitive, driving rhythms; and a tendency to emphasize musical texture over melody—typical of La Monte Young's early downtown music.[16] In the early 1980s, Downtown Manhattan's no wave scene transitioned from its abrasive origins into a more dance-oriented sound, with compilations such as ZE Records's Mutant Disco (1981) highlighting a playful sensibility borne out of the city's clash of hip hop, disco and punk styles, as well as dub reggae and world music influences.[18]

No wave music presented a negative and nihilistic world view that reflected the desolation of late 1970s downtown New York and how they viewed the larger society. In a 2020 essay, Lydia Lunch stated there were many problems in the years that led into the 1970s, and that calling 1967 the Summer of Love was a bold-faced lie.[19] The term "no wave" might have been inspired by the French New Wave pioneer Claude Chabrol, with his remark "There are no waves, only the ocean".[20][21]


There are different theories about how the term was coined. Some suggest Lydia Lunch coined the term in an interview with Roy Trakin in New York Rocker.[22] Others suggest it was coined by Chris Nelson (of Mofungo and The Scene Is Now) in New York Rocker.[23][24] Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth claimed to have seen the term spray-painted on CBGB's Second Avenue Theater at 66 Second Avenue before seeing it in the press.[25]

Early forerunnersEdit

Nihilist Spasm Band were an early noise music/noise rock[26] band from the 1960s. Their debut record No Record, released in 1968, has been described as being a '60s precursor to no wave, with its nihilistic world view and complete disregard for any sort of musical structure, as evinced by the freely improvised noise of songs such as "Destroy The Nations" and "Dog Face Man". The band plastered the word "NO" on much of their equipment and handmade instruments, and recorded a film between 1965 and 1966 entitled "NO Movie". Member Bill Exley would sometimes wear a monkey mask on stage to conceal his identity.[27] They've been cited as an influence by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth.[26]

The Velvet Underground, a 1960s New York City band, are also seen as early contributors to the no wave movement. As described by Pitchfork's Marc Masters: "Mixing the noisy rock leanings of Lou Reed, the minimalist drones of John Cale (via his work with avant-garde pioneer LaMonte Young), and the art world influence of Andy Warhol's Factory, this seminal band provided a comprehensive model for No Wave."[28]

The Godz were a New York City-based psychedelic noise band connected to ESP-Disk. John Dougan opined in AllMusic: " the three squalling bits of avant-garde noise/junk they recorded from 1966-1968. Sounding like a prototype for Half Japanese or the Shaggs.."

Red Krayola are an experimental rock band that formed in 1966, they have been assessed as "helping sow the seeds of punk and no wave."[29]

Cromagnon were a 1960s New York City band whose sole album Orgasm was cited by AllMusic's Alex Henderson as foreshadowing no-wave.[30]

Yoko Ono a Japanese multimedia artist who was associated with fluxus and was married to John Lennon of The Beatles at the time, released an album called Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band in 1970, the record was later assessed as a precursor to punk, post-punk, new wave and no wave - "It’s a record dense with ideas and sonics; the personal and the political".[31]

Suicide were a New York City band that was formed in 1970 by Alan Vega and Martin Rev, they've been cited by Pitchfork's Marc Masters as having "the biggest influence on no-wave".[28]

Jack Ruby were a New York City band that formed in 1973, they were an early influence on Sonic Youth and Thurston Moore, and are seen as early pioneers of the aesthetic, philosophy, and sound of no wave.[32]

The no-wave music sceneEdit

In 1978, a punk subculture-influenced noise series was held at New York's Artists Space.[33] No wave musicians such as the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Mars, DNA, Theoretical Girls and Rhys Chatham began experimenting with noise, dissonance and atonality in addition to non-rock styles.[34] The former four groups were included on the compilation No New York, often considered the quintessential testament to the scene.[35] The no wave-affiliated label ZE Records was founded in 1978, and would also produce acclaimed and influential compilations in subsequent years.[18]

By the early 1980s, artists such as Liquid Liquid, the B-52's, Cristina, Arthur Russell, James White and the Blacks and Lizzy Mercier Descloux developed a dance-oriented style described by Lucy Sante as "anything at all + disco bottom".[36] Other no-wave groups such as Swans, Suicide, Glenn Branca, the Lounge Lizards, Bush Tetras and Sonic Youth instead continued exploring the forays into noise music abrasive territory.[37] For example, Noise Fest was an influential festival of no wave noise music performances curated by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth at the New York City art space White Columns in June 1981. Sonic Youth made their first live appearances at this show.[38] It inspired Speed Trials, the noise rock five-night concert series held May 4–8, 1983, that was organized by Live Skull members in May 1983, also at White Columns (then located at 91 Horatio Street). Among an art installation created by David Wojnarowicz and Joseph Nechvatal, Speed Trials included performances by the Fall, Sonic Youth,[39] Lydia Lunch, Mofungo, Ilona Granet, pre-rap Beastie Boys, 3 Teens Kill 4, Elliott Sharp as Carbon, Swans, the Ordinaires, and Arto Lindsay[40] as Toy Killers. On May 10, the San Francisco noise-punk band Flipper closed the series out with a live concert at Studio 54. This event also included performances by Zev and Eric Bogosian and a video presentation by Tony Oursler. Speed Trials was followed by the short-lived after-hours audio art Speed Club that was established by Nechvatal and Bradley Eros at ABC No Rio that summer.[41]

Other art mediums in the no wave sceneEdit


No wave cinema was an underground film scene in Tribeca and the East Village. Filmmakers included Amos Poe, Eric Mitchell, Charlie Ahearn, Vincent Gallo, James Nares, Jim Jarmusch, Vivienne Dick, Scott B and Beth B and Seth Tillett, and led to the Cinema of Transgression and work by Nick Zedd and Richard Kern.[42]

Visual artEdit

Visual artists played a large role in the no wave scene, as visual artists often were playing in bands, or making videos and films, while making visual art for exhibition. An early influence on this aspect of the scene was Alan Vega (aka Alan Suicide) whose electronic junk sculpture predated his role in the music group Suicide, which he formed with fellow musician Martin Rev in 1970. They released Suicide, their first album, in 1977.

Important exhibitions of no wave visual art were Barbara Ess's Just Another Asshole show and subsequent compilation projects and Colab's organization of The Real Estate Show, The Times Square Show,[43][44] and the Island of Negative Utopia show at The Kitchen.[45][46]

No wave art found an ongoing home on the Lower East Side with the establishment of ABC No Rio Gallery in 1980, and a no wave punk aesthetic was a dominant strand in the art galleries of the East Village (from 1982 to 1986).[41]


In a foreword to the book No Wave, Weasel Walter wrote of the movement's ongoing influence:

I began to express myself musically in a way that felt true to myself, constantly pushing the limits of idiom or genre and always screaming "Fuck You!" loudly in the process. It's how I felt then and I still feel it now. The ideals behind the (anti-) movement known as No Wave were found in many other archetypes before and just as many afterwards, but for a few years around the late 1970s, the concentration of those ideals reached a cohesive, white-hot focus.[47]

In 2004, Scott Crary made the documentary Kill Your Idols, including such no wave bands as Suicide, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, DNA and Glenn Branca as well as bands influenced by no wave, including Sonic Youth, Swans, Foetus and others.

In 2007–2008, three books on the scene were published: Soul Jazz's New York Noise,[48] Marc Masters' No Wave,[49] and Thurston Moore and Byron Coley's No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976–1980.[50]

Coleen Fitzgibbon and Alan W. Moore created a short film in 1978 (finished in 2009) of a New York City no wave concert to benefit Colab titled X Magazine Benefit, documenting performances by DNA, James Chance and the Contortions, and Boris Policeband. Shot in black and white and edited on video, the film captured the gritty look and sound of the music scene during that era. In 2013, it was exhibited at Salon 94, an art gallery in New York City.[51]

Music compilationsEdit

Documentary filmsEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lawrence, Tim (2009). Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973–1992. Duke University Press. p. 344. ISBN 978-0-8223-9085-5.
  2. ^ Leone, Dominique (20 June 2004). "Black Dice: Creature Comforts Album Review". Pitchfork. Retrieved 6 October 2022.
  3. ^ Murray, Charles Shaar (October 1991). Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix & The Post-War Rock 'N' Roll Revolution. Macmillan. p. 205. ISBN 9780312063245. Retrieved 6 March 2017.
  4. ^ a b Romanowski, P., ed. (1995) [1983]. The New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll. H. George-Warren & J. Pareles (Revised ed.). New York: Fireside. pp. 717. ISBN 0-684-81044-1.
  5. ^ Masters 2007, p. 5
  6. ^ Alison Pearlman, Unpackaging art of the 1980s, p. 188
  7. ^ McLaren, Trevor (17 February 2005). "James Chance and the Contortions: Buy". Retrieved 17 September 2013.
  8. ^ a b "NO!: The Origins of No Wave". Pitchfork.
  9. ^ "No Wave – Music Highlights – AllMusic". AllMusic.
  10. ^ Patrick Nickleson, The Names of Minimalism: Authorship, Art Music, and Historiography in Dispute, University of Michigan Press, p. 159
  11. ^ Patrick Nickleson, The Names of Minimalism: Authorship, Art Music, and Historiography in Dispute, University of Michigan Press, p. 158
  12. ^ Patrick Nickleson, The Names of Minimalism: Authorship, Art Music, and Historiography in Dispute, University of Michigan Press, pp. 151-152
  13. ^ Reynolds & 2006l5, p. 146.
  14. ^ a b Reynolds 2005, p. 146.
  15. ^ Reynolds 2005, p. 147.
  16. ^ a b Masters 2007, p. 200
  17. ^ a b Foege, Alec (October 1994). Confusion Is Next: The Sonic Youth Story. Macmillan. pp. 68–9. ISBN 9780312113698.
  18. ^ a b Reynolds 2005, pp. 269.
  19. ^ "Beth B: War Is Never Over". IFFR. 16 January 2020. Retrieved 2 October 2020.
  20. ^ O'Brien, Glenn (October 1999). "Style Makes the Band". Artforum International.
  21. ^ Kalat, David. "Ch 20 The Story of Chabrol." The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse: A Study of the Twelve Films and Five Novels. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2005. N. pag. Print.
  22. ^ "NO!: The Origins of No Wave". Pitchfork. January 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  23. ^ "Mofungo". Perfect Sound Forever. August 1997. Retrieved 6 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  24. ^ Lang, Dave (July 1998). "The SST Records story - Part 3". Perfect Sound Forever. Retrieved 6 February 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ "Conversations with Thurston Moore: No Wave". June 2008. Retrieved 1 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. ^ a b "The Nihilist Spasm Band invented noise rock in 1965". 10 February 2017.
  27. ^ Breznikar, Klemen (24 October 2014). "The Nihilist Spasm Band Interview". It's Psychedelic Baby! Magazine. Archived from the original on 3 September 2017. Retrieved 6 February 2023.
  28. ^ a b "NO!: The Origins of No Wave". Pitchfork.
  29. ^ "The Red Krayola Essentials". Apple Music.
  30. ^ "Cromagnon - Orgasm Album Reviews, Songs & More | AllMusic". AllMusic.
  31. ^ "Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band - Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band". JOHN LENNON.
  32. ^ "Thurston Moore on Jack Ruby: The forgotten heroes of pre-punk". 25 April 2014.
  33. ^ "James Chance interview | Pitchfork".
  34. ^ Reynolds 2005, pp. 140.
  35. ^ Masters, Marc (2008). No Wave. New York City: Black Dog Publishing. p. 9. ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5.
  36. ^ Reynolds 2005, pp. 268.
  37. ^ Reynolds 2005, pp. 139–150.
  38. ^ Simon Reynolds, Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978-1984 (2006) Penguin
  39. ^ [1] John Rockwell ART ROCK: 6 GROUPS PLAY, New York Times, 1983
  40. ^ Dougan, John; Westergaard, Sean. "Biography: Arto Lindsay". Allmusic. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  41. ^ a b Carlo McCormick, The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, Princeton University Press, 2006
  42. ^ "Luxonline".
  43. ^ Masters 2007, p. 19
  44. ^ "Times Square Show Revisited".
  45. ^ Boch, Richard (2017). The Mudd Club. Port Townsend, WA: Feral House. p. 332. ISBN 978-1-62731-051-2. OCLC 972429558.
  46. ^ Goldstein, Richard, The First Radical Art Show of the '80s, Village Voice 16, June 1980, pp. 31-32
  47. ^ Masters 2007
  48. ^ "Soul Jazz Records – New York Noise – Art and Music from the New York Underground 1978–88".
  49. ^ No Wave Archived 14 January 2009 at the Wayback Machine, with a foreword by Weasel Walter (London: Black Dog Publishing, 2007), ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5.
  50. ^ "Harry N. Abrams, Inc. No Wave".
  51. ^ "Pulse Generator Pastry, NY Mix—Salon 94". Salon94.


  • Berendt, Joachim E. The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to Fusion and Beyond, revised by Günther Huesmann, translated by H. and B. Bredigkeit with Dan Morgenstern. Brooklyn: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992. "The Styles of Jazz: From the Eighties to the Nineties," p. 57–59. ISBN 1-55652-098-0
  • Masters, Marc (2007). No Wave. London: Black Dog Publishing. ISBN 978-1-906155-02-5.
  • Moore, Alan W. "Artists' Collectives: Focus on New York, 1975–2000". In Collectivism After Modernism: The Art of Social Imagination after 1945, edited by Blake Stimson & Gregory Sholette, 203. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
  • Moore, Alan W., and Marc Miller (eds.). ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery. New York: Collaborative Projects, 1985
  • Pearlman, Alison, Unpackaging Art of the 1980s. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
  • Reynolds, Simon (2005). "Contort Yourself: No Wave New York". Rip It Up and Start Again: Post-punk 1978–84. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd. pp. 139–157.
  • Taylor, Marvin J. (ed.). The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974–1984, foreword by Lynn Gumpert. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-691-12286-5

External linksEdit