Counter-culture: Sonic Youth tour Europe
Beat Generation to Sonic Youth (Photo: David Fabre)
The Sonic Youth etc.: Sensational Fix exhibition has been in France since 18 June. The European museum tour brings with it the chance to experience the non conformist experimental rock group's multidisciplinary pursuits first-hand
By David Fabre.
Translation Susannah Readett-Bayley
Depuis le début des années 80, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo et Steve Shelley ont su agréger une myriade d’artistes dans tous les domaines de l’art. Au rythme des convulsions de l’Amérique, le groupe a multiplié ses dédoublements et ses collaborations devenant une figure incontournable de l’underground américain. Sonic Youth, « c’était le seul groupe de l’histoire du rock à permettre de monter une exposition comme celle-là »
, affirment Corinne Diserens et Christophe Wavelet, coproducteurs de cet événement bientôt en tournée européenne.
New York four-piece Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley have succeeded in uniting a plethora of artists from the widest realms of art since the beginning of the eighties. Shadowing America's tumultuous rhythm, they have increased the scope of their performances and alliances with diverse artists to become an inescapable name in American underground. Sonic Youth ‘was the only group in the history of rock to be able to put on this kind of exhibition,’ point out Corinne Diserens and Christophe Wavelet, co-producers of an event that will soon begin its European tour.
The LiFE (Lieu International des Formes Émergentes
or 'International Space for Emerging Arts') has an altogether different approach to the recognised contemporary art institutions. It welcomes the work of artists such as Vito Aconci, Olivier Assayas, Glenn Branca, William S. Burroughs, John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, Dan Graham, Mike Kelley, Richard Kern, Jack Kerouac, Tony Oursler, Raymond Pettibon, Richard Prince, Gus van Sant, Leah Singer, Patti Smith and Jeff Wall. ‘They are all irrefutable artists because they share the same approach to art as the members of Sonic Youth,’ the exhibition's commissioner Roland Groenenboom explains. Different pieces in the exhibition co-exist and communicate with each other along a path interrupted by segments of improvised noise. ‘This exhibition is sketching an alternative history of contemporary culture,’ Roland Groenenboom goes on.
'Nowehere' - photo colleage by Lee Ranaldo | (D.F)
Born from American counter-culture
It is a belief in spontaneous expression, and the desire to break down the hierarchy that exists between fine arts and low arts, that defines counter-culture. ‘Bring the immediate past back to life,’ the American artist Dan Graham would say. It is also openly rejecting rules and constraints, refusing alienation and the journey to find ecstatic peace. The exhibition Sonic Youth etc.: Sensational Fix
features the offspring of artists from Haight-Ashbury, Telegraph Avenue and Greenwich Village. They started to re-open the doors of perception that had been closed by the bloodbaths of Vietnam and the murders ordered by Charles Manson, and the Reagan and Bush administrations following them.
Sonic Nurse, 2004 (D.F)
So here we're not looking at a quest for a new philosophy or dreaming of liberated populations and ideological rhetoric. Instead, we want chaos, instability and sometimes pure indignation. Just like you might hear in a Sonic Youth song: the lyrics and music are chopped into segments, each one sensitive, powerful and caustic. ‘Thick rhythms intensified by using them randomly, by breaking them up, juxtaposing them with harmonious melodies like in a sound track, like a kind of expressive modernism in draft form,’ is how Thurston Moore described the Sonic Youth sound during the group's first ever press conference in 1981. Twenty-eight years later, their multidisciplinary experience has seen the group mixing saturated melodic guitar lines with a whirlwind of spoken words and images.