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Artist: DNA

Album: DNA on DNA

Label: No More

Review date: May. 13, 2004

DNA on DNA thoroughly collects the studio recordings and live performances of an abrasive and influential New York band. While not compiling every DNA recording, it is the most complete collection so far of the group’s music, including every studio recording (from their first 7”, the No New York compilation, and the Taste of DNA EP; 13 songs in total) and rare live performances, some of which have never been released before. The CD comes on the heels of a similar collection of the band Mars, another group who cracked open rock in the No Wave scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

No Wave flashed brightly and dissolved quickly. No band lasted longer than four years. Shows dragged on for a maximum of a half-hour, often evolving into taunting messes. Most songs lasted under two minutes, often under one. Almost no one played outside New York, and precious few recordings documented the time. Yet, in the grand tradition of Velvet Underground moments, it seems that everyone touched by no wave spread its seed far and wide.

Two generations of New York rockers seem indebted: the 1980s (Swans, Pussy Galore, and Sonic Youth); and Five Minutes Ago (Black Dice, Japanther, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs). In between, Chicago took the reigns, with Atavistic Records championing reissues, now-wave bands surrounding the Skin Graft label, and Weasel Walters’ exhaustive online dedication to the scene. Today, the fever has spread through San Francisco, Michigan, and Providence, to name only a few locations.

Perhaps it is fitting that the history of No Wave has been rewritten in the past few years. Reissues abound, compilations trip over themselves, and every sliver of evidence is being dug up. Most notably, this new history looks past the social barriers that divided the tiny scene into No New York and not-No New York. In 1978, Brian Eno produced four bands for that defining compilation, and yet other deserving musicians were intentionally left off the record. Thanks to excellent work from Acute Records and Table of the Elements, Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham’s huge contributions are now available to fill these gaps (although a fresh disc of Chatham’s groups Arsenal and Tone Death would brush out some cobwebbed corners). Collections of YPants and Malaria also help correct the misconception that No Wave grew from four bands alone.

DNA is the last of those four definitive bands to get the reissue treatment. Along with Mars, DNA emitted a less structured brand of abrasive rock than their No New York partners The Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. Arto Lindsay led the group, growling, yelping, and wailing atop jagged guitar shards. Often abstract or unintelligible – and sometimes in Portuguese – his vocals grated and skipped as much as his barbed guitar (or how about the complete lyrics to “Horse:” get out of here / go fuck yourself). Ikue Mori’s drumming pummeled or pattered, driving the group forcefully or meandering around other sounds, never settling on one role. In their first nine months, DNA included the darkly repetitive keyboards of performance artist Robin Crutchfield. When Crutchfield left, bassist Tim Wright joined, fresh from Pere Ubu in Cleveland. His sputtering rolls and murky tones drove the group into even more dangerous territory.

DNA on DNA tracks these changes from the first 7” record to the final performance in June of 1982. Chaotic and explosively dynamic, DNA sounds no less exciting, challenging, and relevant than they did 25 years ago.

By Jeff Seelbach

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