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During the nineteen-eighties, there was a sort of competition among certain members of the American independent-rock scene to make the most hideous noise possible. Guitars were rebuilt to produce wild and staticky new sounds, then played painfully loudly; lyrics and stage antics were often gruesome and intimidating. Butthole Surfers, a psychedelic-punk band from Texas, projected graphic footage of penis-reconstruction surgery on a wall behind them while they performed, and a woman danced around the stage wearing only a loincloth. Steve Albini and Santiago Durango, members of the band Big Black, made their guitars screech at frequencies that seemed designed to give listeners tinnitus. Michael Gira, the lead singer of the almost comically misanthropic band Swans, sang about rape and ritual physical humiliation, and on more than one occasion leaped into the crowd to assault an audience member.

Continue reading the words of Sasha Frere-Jones from The New Yorker here.