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Sonic Youth: Story of a 'Kool Thing'

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Sonic Youth: Story of a 'Kool Thing'

Sonic Youth: Story of a 'Kool Thing'

Sonic Youth: Story of a 'Kool Thing'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/91461342/91461303" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Vintage Sonic Youth. Ian Tilton hide caption

toggle caption Ian Tilton

Sonic Youth came out of the New York no wave scene of the late '70s and early '80s. In his book, Goodbye 20th Century: A Biography of Sonic Youth, author David Browne describes it as a time when "art, music, illustration — all were in the process of being torn down, reassembled, and combined with other media."

The band, made up of Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley, embraced that concept — creating a sound with strangely tuned guitars and found instruments such as a power drill plugged into an amplifier.

"The songs can rock, but at the same time, halfway through, the whole thing can just crumble into this chaotic feedback-y muddle and then the song will slowly come back together," Browne says. "It's almost like a noise version of a jam band or something."

Though Sonic Youth never achieved mainstream pop-music success, its members are recognized as pioneers of the alternative rock scene — a band that helped break ground for groups such as Nirvana and Hole.

"They are one of the most influential bands in rock history, but not in the typical way you would expect... Their influence is much broader in a way," Browne says. "Their influence is showing bands, younger bands, dating back from the early '90s up through now, that you can kind of work within the system and still do what you do, and still maintain your credibility."

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