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It’s been 32 years since Sonic Youth, most likely the most influential alternative band of the modern era, formed, and two years since they disbanded. Realistically, without Sonic...

By AKHIL SOOD

It’s been 32 years since Sonic Youth, most likely the most influential alternative band of the modern era, formed, and two years since they disbanded. Realistically, without Sonic Youth, there would probably be no Nirvana or Mudhoney, no Beck (read this), no grunge, no indie bands going mainstream (click here), one less outlet for feminism, no spats with Steve Albini (read this), and no Sonic Nurse, no Goo, no Dirty, no A Thousand Leaves, no SYR; nothing. So they could have very easily decided to just take a chill pill or two. But, instead of windmill headbanging on all the cash and goodwill generated over decades of work, they chose to move on. Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon got divorced and wrote an album together with Yoko Ono. Moore released a beautiful acoustic record called Demolished Thoughts and formed a new noise-rock band, Chelsea Light Moving. Gordon started playing with free noise guitar-player Bill Nace under the moniker Body/Head. Steve Shelley continued physically abusing hundreds of drum kits with hundreds of bands. Lee Ranaldo resumed his solo work, releasing a melody-oriented record, Between the Times and the Tides, which also featured Shelley. Oh, and of course, they kept doing their artsy-fartsy thing on the side – you know, formal experiments with sound and the visual arts, noise collaborations, mentoring new artists, running multiple labels, curating books and art installations, scoring music for experimental cinema live in concert – the usual. Flawlessly interacting with the experimental, avant-garde while maintaining the raw, fuzzy guitar noise-rock structures superimposed with the most unnaturally stunning melodies was always Sonic Youth’s thing.

In between all this, they still managed to find the time to answer their cellular phones, and thank the lord for that. Because the organizers of Ziro Festival – which had its inaugural edition in Ziro, Arunachal Pradesh last year – decided to give Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley a casual buzz one evening about performing at this year’s edition. They graciously accepted, possibly with the purpose of treading new territories in their experimental journey, and now, the 2013 edition of Ziro Festival [http://zirofestival.com/line-up](September 20, 21, 22) will see Ranaldo and Shelley headlining. Ranaldo (along with Moore) has a reputation of basically redefining the guitar in the context of modern experimental rock through an ethic of melody, noise, fearlessness, and iconoclasm probably imbibed way back during the days of the No Wave movement, under the mentorship of Glenn Branca; and Shelley remains the guy who held together Sonic Youth for over 25 years while the rest of the band in front of him went berserk, preparing their instruments with nuts and bolts and screwdrivers and basically just testing the structural limits of  sound. So these guys performing could basically mean anything – even this. Whatever the case, though, it’s another step in the changing profile of international artists coming to India (from past-it has-beens looking for one last payday to bands and artists who are, you know, still relevant. This writer is most likely going to be there right in front with drool spilling out from both sides of his mouth, possibly under threat of a restraining order.

(Also, it’s a small request, but please don’t steal Ranaldo’s guitar – Sonic Youth have had dreadful luck with guitars being stolen, forever rendering songs unplayable due to the complex tunings on those particular guitars, and as much as I would want to flick his guitar and hang it up on my wall, I’m still going to refrain, and so should you.)

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