What is Noise Rock?
Noise Rock is a subgenre of Rock that features wild dissonance, large use of feedback, and heavy distortion. Although many people associate Noise Rock with post-hardcore-esque bands like Unsane, The Jesus Lizard and Shellac, Noise Rock is far more varied in the true sense, and ranges from early psychedelia with walls of feedback, to sloppily played punk with the amps turned up to 11. The genre arguably first came around in the 1960s.
The 1960s - Origins
Tracing the roots of Noise Rock back to it's origin is a difficult task simply because how nebulous the term "Noise Rock" is. One could look back to the 1960s - in Germany, Monks were creating noisy, fuzzy rock that was completely different from the relatively-timid rock of the time. In New York, there were critical darlings The Velvet Underground, who combined John Cale's avant-garde ideas and long, droning passages with Lou Reed's pop sensibility, producing Experimental Rock that was as instantly enjoyable as it was Avant-Garde. While the use of noise and feedback did play a big part in their debut with Nico, their second album White Light/White Heat utilised it even further. In Sweden, there was Pärson Sound, a group that was extremely ahead of their time, blending long, drawn out psychedlia with lashings of Noise and Drone. They were also similar to the feedbacken-laden sound of Les Rallizes Denudes, a Japanese Band formed in 1967 who gained monumentum in the 70's. They combined druggy psychedelic rock with walls of noise and distortion to create extremely chaotic and dischordant rock music. This style of Noise Rock still continues today with bands like LSD March.
The 1970s - No Wave and Punk Rock
The true turning point for Noise Rock was the "Punk Rock" movement of the 1970s. Bands like the Sex Pistols were playing extremely angry, indignant, and at times sloppy music in the spirit of rebellion and rage that was a precursor to the extremely Rock-Oriented side of Noise Rock (as opposed to the bands more focused on the "Noise" side, like Bordeoms). But bands like the Clash were still playing primitive Blues-Based rock in the spirit of the 1950's Rock & Roll. There was more to come - and while Punk Rock burned bright late in the 70s before splitting into Post-Punk groups like PiL and Hardcore Groups like Minor Threat. But there was an even more subversive and rebellious movement brewing - The "No Wave" scene of New York. There were a variety of styles - One was the epic, noisy multi-guitar compositions of Glenn Branca, whose use of alternate tunings, feedback, and blistering volume clearly influenced Noise Rock bands that rose out of the ashes of No Wave, most importantly Sonic Youth (Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo was even part of Branca's Orchestra for a period of time). Another style was the style of bands like Mars - primitive, angular and noisy rock that deviated from traditional chord based rock that had preceded it. Both these styles were the essential birthplace of the modern, punk-influenced, rock-oriented side of Noise Rock that most people associate with the genre. Although No Wave was a short-lived scene, it was definitely an influential one as well.
The 1980s - The Golden Age
The 1980s were considered by many a true golden age for Noise Rock. This period of Noise Rock has strong ties to Hardcore Punk (in fact, many bands such as The Butthole Surfers started off as Hardcore Punk bands and then began to explore more experimental and abrasive tangents) and Industrial music, with bands like Brainbombs and Big Black transposing the noisy industrial sound into a rock-oriented group, with tremendous results. Hüsker Dü's 1985 double album Zen Arcade is one of the finest moments of the genre, with thrashy punk pacing, heavily distorted guitar riffs, and catchy pop hooks. This was when the first "real" Noise Rock bands appeared on the scene - Sonic Youth, Flipper, and most importantly, Big Black. Big Black basically became the posterchild of the Noise Rock scene. Today, Albini still stands as a figurehead of the scene, producing for later bands like The Jesus Lizard and McLusky.
The 1990s, 2000s and Onwards
Noise Rock has remained healthy since the late 1980s - many bands kept the industrial influence of bands like Big Black, and bands like Unsane and Shellac leaned towards the Post-Hardcore style of bands like Fugazi (who themselves experimented with nosie rock styles, especially on their 1995 album Red Medicine), albeit with a much noisier take on Post-Hardcore. The late 90s and 2000s saw more bands like McLusky dominate the scene, playing Post-Hardcore influenced Noise Rock dripping with bile and distortion. But there were still bands that challenged the status quo - from the Noise Punk duo Lightning Bolt's chaotic drumming and thunderous bass riffs, to the noisy drones of Boris on an album like Feedbacker. So as long as people have a predilection for the more abrasive, more chaotic side of Rock, Noise Rock will live on.