Posts Tagged ‘ Another Catastrophe zine #5 ’


Official histories always leave something out. They level out contradictions and fail to adequately reflect the tension between competing narratives. History promotes certain aspects of a given epoch while erasing others altogether. Such history, which is formulated at a distance, is inherently hegemonic, conscriptive and myopic. It asserts the primacy of what follows on from historical and cultural events rather than examining what led up to them. This is the history that leads to dangerous and corpulent narratives such as the notion of “the shining city on the Hill”, or “God’s chosen people”.

Despite what the history books might tell you, there are no unique singularities. Everything arises from a history of the contemporaneous. Each historical event is its own end point – certainly just as much as it is the jumping off point for what is to follow.

Which is all really a very long-winded way of saying that it is impossible to talk about Mid 80s NYC post-No-Wave group Live Skull, without mentioning Sonic Youth.

The factors underlying Sonic Youth’s elevation beyond the culture and context which spawned them is a conversation for another time, but they weren’t a unique singularity of the underground NYC art-rock scene. Nothing of the sort, for a host of other groups including Swans, UT, Band of Susan’s, Rat At Rat R and Live Skull were trawling the same waters. Still even back in 1985, with Sonic Youth’s star still to rise, Live Skull’s Mark C felt compelled to distance the two groups. In a interview with Greed Magazine he said:

“Sonic Youth is a lot of different things. It’s a hard-rock band, an art band, and they experiment with pop — there’s a lot of play in Sonic Youth. We don’t have that sense of play. We just go out and concentrate really hard on what we’re doing. Also, Sonic Youth uses all kinds of unusual tunings, and our tuning is just straight, regular tuning. It’s a completely different sound.”

The name Live Skull sums a lot of the bands aesthetic, these songs alternate between shriek and scream; grind and drone. The drums go all over the place while the guitars duel it out, over solid but dankly oppressive basslines. I can’t actually think of one musical cliché that Live Skull fall back upon – and all this using regular guitar tunings. The NY Times was supportive and even Trouser Press, a publication that always seems to miss the point, said of them:

“Droning and dragging rusty guitar streaks and deep stormy basslines as dark as bus exhaust, Live Skull combine great grating sheets of guitar shimmer with deliberately monotonous vocals to create swirling intense tunes that you couldn’t hum if a loaded gun were aimed at your head.”

Lyrically the band deals with the oppressive, the dark and the existential. Bodies fly through windscreens; nameless tormentors stalk helpless victims; people have bad trips; mental cruelty is the order of the day.



The first (and best as far as I’m concerned) period of Live Skulls career encompasses their self-titled EP, first full album Bringing Home The Bait, second album Cloud One and a live album, Don’t Get Any On You In actual fact it’s on Don’t Get Any On You, a live record that Live Skull reach their zenith. Next to this record Live Skull’s studio output seems almost tame and ethereal). On these records Live Skull maintain a perfect balance between duelling guitars, menace, boy/girl vocals, the Dionysian chaos of No Wave and the failed transcendentalism of hardcore.



Things became more downbeat when Thalia Zedek joined the band. Mark C said at the time that the group wanted to create a record that had “a more relaxed, laid-back feel”, and in these terms Dusted is a success. However what is sacrificed is some of the wanton chaos of the group’s earlier records

It could also be said that Zedek’s cigarette-ravaged tones unbalance the equilibrium of the tracks, with the music seemingly being simplified to accommodate her.


It’s no surprise that original bassist Marnie Greenholz left after the six-song Snuffer EP. I suspect that in someway she missed the vocal duties which she had partially fulfilled prior to Zedek joining the band. This seems to be borne out by a comment from Tom Paine after Zedek first joined the band: “Marnie misses it (singing), I think. She sang for different reasons than we did,”

Sondra Andersson (Gleen Branca’s cousin and former basis in Rat At Rat R, replaced Greenholz for the Final Live Skull album, Positraction. Compared to what proceeded it this is a positivistic and affirmative record, which once again isn’t to say it’s bad or even mediocre – it’s just that it doesn’t make your hair stand on end like the best Live Skull records do.


After Positraction Live Skull disbanded and in the process seemed to become just a footnote in the stories of Sonic Youth and Thalia Zedek.

Sadly it seems like this was even the case when Live Skull were at the height of their powers. Said Mark C:

“Not enough people know that Live Skull exists. More people would like our music if they only knew about us — plenty of people are sick of what they’re listening to and would like something different.”

And of course this is the tension/contradiction that so many groups were faced with at the end of the 80s. Live Skull weren’t the only group trying to walk the tight-rope between accessibility and purity of aesthetic vision. You only have to read Michale Azzerad’s book on the eighties underground to realise that. Of course we all know what followed: Alternative Nation; the Year that Punk Broke and the whole-sale sell-off of the underground. Sadly it’s a pity that many of the groups that defined and brought so much to the aesthetic and culture, that went on to mainstream success in the 90s were erased from the picture.

Live Skull on MySpace

An abridged version this article appeared in #5 of Another Catastrophe Zine.