Sonic Youth was the band that turned me into a music collector. I first heard them when this guy Richard in my Classics class passed me his earphones and said I should listen to this song. It was a simple, driving, repetitive riff and a woman growling “now I wanna be your dog” over and over again. I asked who it was and he said “Sonic Youth” and I bought one of their albums right away to hear the song again.
That was Washing Machine, which had recently come out. That song wasn’t on it. As it happened, Richard’s family moved to England (I think) and I didn’t get a chance to ask him what album it was on. These were the days when you still had to buy albums, and my only income source was a $4/hour job I worked at after school two days a week. But one by one I bought every album they had ever released, working backwards. That song was on the last one I got – of course, it’s their Stooges cover on Confusion is Sex. (You couldn’t get their debut EP back then but eventually I found it on cassette, where the whole thing is repeated backwards on the B-side.)
Sonic Youth were a private obsession, my friends tended to be into hardcore, (we would drive into Wellington from the Hutt Valley for all-ages gigs at Thistle Hall) and my girlfriend was into other great 80s stuff like the Pixies. Neither of these were in any incompatible with Sonic Youth of course, but no-one else I knew listened to them. It set me off on a path where I generally got into music by myself, rather than socially, which the internet has only accentuated. At university I worked my way through bands that were in some way connected to Sonic Youth, tastes shifting with new discoveries until by 1999 I was listening mostly to electronic craziness like Aphex Twin, Autechre, Coil.
At that point the whole universe got dumped through the black whole of Napster and… at some point my tastes became ecumenical. I’ve developed a critic’s taste – I listen to everything, as long as it’s good, with a sense of how the scenes all fit together historically, and no deep attachment to any of them. How much this is personal and how much it’s of the epoch I’m not sure. I sure don’t regret getting access to all of recorded music history, but there are things I miss…
Tonight I played EVOL, from 1986, for the first time in several years I think. Despite having heard all too much music since I first got it, it still gets right into me. I see Pitchfork rates both Daydream Nation and Sister ahead of it in their “top 100 albums of the 1980s”. But EVOL is my favourite. It’s so damn dark, more melodic and slower than those other classics. (I’m afraid I haven’t developed a critic’s ability for actually writing about music.) But… it reminds me of a different kind of musical obsession, which is also a different time.