'No Wave' Returns to Manhattan Tonight at the Knitting Factory

Anyone who longs for the days when New York seemed like a post-apocalyptic, crime-ridden industrial wasteland is in for a treat tonight. At the Knitting Factory, the obscure yet seminal Manhattan post-punk band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks will reunite for two back-to-back performances. The shows will coincide with an exhibition opening at a gallery across the street celebrating the release of No Wave: Post-Punk. Underground. New York. 1976-1980 ($24.95, Abrams Image), a new visual coffee table book compiled by Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and longtime rock critic Byron Coley.

Some background: No Wave was a short-lived, experimental music scene in late-’70s Manhattan that grew out of punk and was eventually considered a reaction against New Wave. Classic No Wave bands include Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (several of the original members are dead, so Mr. Moore will be filling in on bass tonight), James Chance and the Contortions, DNA and Mars. Mr. Moore’s and Mr. Coley’s new book documents this weird and gritty slice of Manhattan history. Ben Sisario of The New York Times writes:

With crisp black-and-white photographs and interviews with musicians and visual artists, the book is a loving reminiscence of a largely unheard period, as well as a look at a seedy, pre-gentrified Lower East Side. Most groups in the no wave scene — which also included Mars, the Theoretical Girls and the Gynecologists — left behind few recordings, and the compilation album that defined the genre, “No New York,” produced by Brian Eno in 1978, has never been legitimately issued on CD in the United States.

Despite its brief, blippy existence, no wave has had a broad and continued influence on noisy New York bands, from Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore in the 1980s to current groups like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the Liars. But the original no wavers saw themselves not as part of any rock continuum but a deliberate reaction against such an idea.

The New York Press caught up with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks frontwoman and avant-garde icon Lydia Lunch recently at her home in Bareclona. (Nostalgic confession: In 1996, this reporter’s Sonic Youth-loving high-school self got Ms. Lunch’s autograph via a friend who went to see her perform at Coney Island High, the popular St. Mark’s punk dive that’s now been defunct for 10 years. It said: “Take the Power! Lydia Lunch.”) Here’s what she had to say about the reunion and the book:

“Look it was a great period, it was psychotic,” she said. “But it was amazing because of how many things were fuckin’ awful, you know? But somehow a collection of insane people for some reason were drawn to New York in that dark period of the late ’70s when America was really in a funk, New York City was bankrupt and very dangerous. Very dark and dirty.”

She elaborated to The Times:

“New York at that moment was bankrupt, poor, dirty, violent, drug-infested, sex-obsessed — delightful,” Ms. Lunch said by phone. “In spite of that we were all laughing, because you laugh or you die. I’ve always been funny. My dark comedy just happens to scare most people.”

If you can stomach it, watch this clip of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks above.