Andre Sider af Sonic Youth, which translates to English as “Other Sides of Sonic Youth”, captures an improvised live set at the Danish Roskilde Festival on July 1, 2005. Issued on Sonic Youth’s own SYR imprint, this recording features SY still as a quintet with Jim O’Rourke. They are joined by Mats Gustafsson on saxophone and Merzbow on laptop. Gustafsson (from Sweden) and Merzbow (from Japan) are two heavy hitters in their musical fields – free jazz and noise, respectively. Gustafsson regularly works with Peter Brotzman, Ken Vandermark from Chicago and drummer extraordinaire Paal Nilssen Love. Merzbow began his high volume sonic terrorism on guitar nearly 20 years ago and has switched to laptop in recent years. This is the eighth release in a SYR series.
Sonic Youth is a band known for incorporating experimental tendencies in their music. The group draws equal inspiration from the fringes of jazz, psychedelia, noise and modern composition, as well as from popular rock/indie culture. Andre Sider af Sonic Youth showcases SY’s experimental side. Improvised/free music can be tough on the ears and mind of listeners who need the traditional song structure, instrumentation/vocals, western note scale and time length of popular music. This is more of an observation than a judgment. The aphorism “one person’s junk is another’s treasure” is particularly true with music. For fans of experimental music, Andre Sider af Sonic Youth is a compelling and invigorating listen.
The 57-minute set starts out in a fairly straightforward manner for the first three minutes. Guitars clang over oddly timed drums with Kim Gordon’s semi-guttural vocal delivery. After that, the free rock begins. The guitars and drums ebb and flow between Jandek-like moments where the sound is hanging together by a thread to shambolic sound washes akin to New Zeeland noise rockers The Dead C. Gustafsson and Merzbow subtly sneak into the mix and around the 19 minute mark Gustafsson makes himself known with some Pharaoh Sanders-style blowing.
Shortly thereafter, Merzbow prominently adds high-pitched crackles and hisses followed by a full-blown freakout – frenetic drumming, Kim Gordon accentuating Gustafsson’s sax with trumpet bleats, electronic sizzles and a barrage of guitars. The sound mellows briefly until the next sonic wave crash signaled by some Albert Ayler-esque sax skronk and intermittent thudding rock beats. Chaos reigns again with some serious guitar strangulation until the blending sound-scaping provides more cohesive moments around the 37 minutes.
Sonic Youth hand over the reins to Merzbow and Gustafsson for the last 15 minutes of the set. They play off of each other, escalating their sounds until there is an all out torrent of sax and noise. Gustafsson drops out with five minutes to go, leaving Merzbow the honor of washing the summer rock festival masses in swirling white noise. The crowd responds with enthusiastic, hearty cheers which shows the surprising receptiveness of the crowd.
Sonic Youth is a band known for incorporating experimental tendencies in their music. The group draws equal inspiration from the fringes of jazz, psychedelia and modern composition as they do from popular rock culture. Andre Sider af Sonic Youth showcases SY’s all out experimental side.
The set recorded on Andre Sider af Sonic Youth is successful largely in part to the collaborative abilities of all the players involved. Outside of their day jobs with the band, all the members of Sonic Youth have other projects where collaboration is the key, whether it be music, writing or visual art. Another important factor is that Jim O’Rourke, while in the band, freed up the core SY members live and on record, allowing them to work with new sounds and different instruments. Merzbow’s live collaboration with rockers Boris on Rock Dream (Southern Lord, 2007) shows his ability enhance a rock band’s sound without drowning them with power electronics. With Gustafsson, improvisation and collaboration are the essence of the free jazz world he blows in. Sonic Youth worked with Gustafsson the year before the Roskilde set on his Hydros 3 album (Smalltown Supersound, 2004) which probably created a certain familiarity going into the Roskilde performance.
If Andre Sider af Sonic Youth strikes a chord with you, check out the other releases Sonic Youth releases on SYR Records. The previous release, SYR 7, has a 22 minute song recorded live at a 2001 All Tomorrows Parties set and another 18 minute song intended for a collaboration with French fashion designer Agnes B. SYR 6 is Sonic Youth with percussionist Tim Barnes creating a live soundtrack to a Stan Brakhage film.