ROCK BAND BIOS: Joy Division, Sonic Youth, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
& Velvet Underground


Joy Division: Bio
Joy Division: Morris, Curtis, Dicken & Hook

Ian Curtis b. 15 July 1956, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England, d. 18 May 1980, England - vocals
Bernard Dicken/Albrecht b. 4 January 1956, Salford, Manchester, England - guitar, vocals
Peter Hook b. 13 February 1956, Manchester, England - bass
Steven Morris b. 28 October 1957, Macclesfield, Cheshire, England - drums

Originally known as Warsaw, this Manchester post-punk outfit comprised Ian Curtis, Bernard Dicken/Albrecht, Peter Hook and Steven Morris.
Borrowing their name from the prostitution wing of a concentration camp, Joy Division emerged in 1978 as one of the most important bands of their era. After recording a regionally available EP,

An Ideal For Living, they were signed to Manchester's recently formed Factory Records and placed in the hands of producer Martin Hannett. Their debut, Unknown Pleasures, was a raw, intense affair, with Curtis at his most manically arresting in the insistent "She's Lost Control'. With its stark, black cover, the album captured a band still coming to terms with the recording process, but displaying a vision that was piercing in its clinical evocation of an unsettling disorder. With Morris" drums employed as a lead instrument, backed by the leaden but compulsive bass lines of Hook, the sound of Joy Division was distinctive and disturbing.

By the time of their single "Transmission', the quartet had already established a strong cult following, which increased after each gig. Much of the attention centred on the charismatic Curtis, who was renowned for his neurotic choreography, resembling a demented marionette on wires. By the autumn of 1979, however, Curtis" performances were drawing attention for a more serious reason. On more than one occasion, he suffered an epileptic seizure and blackouts onstage, and the illness seemed to worsen with the band's increasingly demanding live schedule. On 18 May 1980, the eve of Joy Division's proposed visit to America, Ian Curtis was found hanged. The verdict was suicide. A note was allegedly found bearing the words: "At this moment I wish I were dead. I just can't cope anymore". The full impact of the tragedy was underlined shortly afterwards, for it quickly became evident that Curtis had taken his life at the peak of his creativity. While it seemed inevitable that the band's posthumously released work would receive a sympathetic reaction, few could have anticipated the quality of the material that emerged in 1980. The UK Top 20 single, "Love Will Tear Us Apart", was probably the finest of the year, a haunting account of a fragmented relationship, sung by Curtis in a voice that few realized he possessed. The attendant album, Closer, was faultless, displaying the band at the zenith of their powers. With spine-tingling cameos such as "Isolation" and the extraordinary "Twenty-Four Hours', the album eloquently articulated a sense of despair, yet simultaneously offered a therapeutic release. Instrumentally, the work showed maturity in every area and is deservedly regarded by many critics as the most brilliant rock album of the 80s. The following year, a double album, Still, collected the remainder of the band's material, most of it in primitive form. Within months of the Curtis tragedy, the remaining members sought a fresh start as New Order. In 1995 Curtis" widow, Deborah, published a book on her former husband and the band, while a compilation album and a re-released version of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" were back on the shelves on the 15th anniversary of his death.

Sonic Youth : Bio
Sonic Youth: Shelley, Ranaldo, Moore & Gordon

Thurston Moore b. 25 July 1958, Coral Gables, Florida, USA - guitar
Lee Ranaldo b. 3 February 1956, Glen Cove, New York, USA - guitar
Kim Gordon b. 28 April 1953, Rochester, New York, USA - bass
Steve Shelley b. 23 June 1962, Midland, Michigan, USA - drums

A product of New York's experimental "No-Wave" scene, Sonic Youth first recorded under the auspices of avant garde guitarist Glenn Branca. Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon performed together on Branca's Symphony No. 3, while the band debuted in its own right on his Neutral label. Sonic Youth was recorded live at New York's Radio City Music Hall in December 1981 and featured original drummer Richard Edson. Three further collections, Confusion Is Sex, Sonic Death and a mini-album, Kill Yr Idols, completed the quartet's formative period, which was marked by their pulsating blend of discordant guitars, impassioned vocals and ferocious, compulsive drum patterns, courtesy of newcomer Jim Sclavunos, or his replacement, Bob Bert. Bad Moon Rising was the first Sonic Youth album to secure a widespread release in both the USA and Britain. This acclaimed set included the compulsive "I'm Insane" and the eerie "Death Valley '69", a collaboration with Lydia Lunch, which invoked the horror of the infamous Charles Manson murders. Bob Bert was then replaced by Steve Shelley, who has remained with the line-up ever since. In 1986, the band unleashed EVOL, which refined their ability to mix melody with menace, particularly on the outstanding "Shadow Of A Doubt". The album also introduced the band's tongue-in-cheek fascination with Madonna. "Expressway To Yr Skull" was given two alternative titles, "Madonna, Sean And Me" and "The Cruxifiction Of Sean Penn". Later in the year the band were joined by Mike Watt from fIREHOSE in Ciccone Youth, which resulted in a mutated version of "Into The Groove(y)' and 1989"s Ciccone Youth, which combined dance tracks with experimental sounds redolent of German groups Faust and Neu. Sonic Youth's career continued with the highly impressive Sister, followed in 1988 by Daydream Nation, a double set that allowed the band to expand themes when required. Once again, the result was momentous. The instrumentation was powerful, recalling the intensity of the Velvet Underground or Can, while the songs themselves were highly memorable. In 1990, Sonic Youth left the independent circuit by signing with the Geffen Records stable, going on to establish a reputation as godfathers to the alternative US rock scene with powerful albums such as Goo, Dirty and A Thousand Leaves. The independently released Syr mini-albums, meanwhile, document the band's restless experimentalism. Jim O'Rourke, a collaborator since 1997, joined the band as a full-time member on 2002's Murray Street. The album took its name from the New York street where the band's studio, Echo Canyon, is located. In keeping with Sonic Youth's legendary reputation, Thurston Moore was instrumental in the signing of Nirvana to Geffen Records, while Kim Gordon was similarly pivotal in the formation of Hole. Steve Shelley would also work closely with Geffen on a number of acts. Successive stints on Lollapalooza tours helped to make Sonic Youth the nation's best-known underground band, while the group's members continued to collaborate on music and soundtrack projects to a degree that ensured the continuation of an already vast discography. Moore also runs his own underground record label, Ecstatic Peace!.

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Bio
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Bauer, Spencer & Simins

Jon Spencer singer/guitarist - b. Hanover, New Hampshire, USA
Russell Simins - drums (ex-Honeymoon Killers)
Judah Bauer - guitar

When Washington DC noiseniks Pussy Galore ended their five-year reign of terror, singer/guitarist Jon Spencer realigned with Russell Siminsand Judah Bauer to form a trio that would bend the rules of alternative rock while demonstrating an obvious devotion to the music's basic R&B roots. On early recordings the group's minimalist, bass-free sound (occasionally augmented by Spencer's doodles on the theremin) resembled little more than a trimmed-down variant on Spencer's earlier group, but each successive album added new elements of blues, soul and rockabilly. Orange blended a string section reminiscent of Isaac Hayes with hip-hop touches, including a bizarre rap by Beck. The slacker minstrel was also involved in the interesting but ultimately unsatisfying remix EP, along with Mike D of the Beastie Boys, Genius of Wu-Tang Clan and Moby. Parallel with JSBE work, Spencer was playing in the more conventionally alt-rock Boss Hog with fellow Pussy Galore survivor Cristina Martinez and drummer Charlie Ondras, and the whole Explosion backed blues legend R.L. Burnside on his groundbreaking A Ass Pocket O' Whiskey, a project compared by some to John Lee Hooker 's work with Canned Heat. A move to London-based Mute Records was predicted by some to herald a tailing-off of the band's R&B experiments but Now I Got Worry featured 'Chicken Dog', a collaboration with the seminal Rufus Thomas. The Explosion remain part of a select coterie, including Beck, the Beasties and few others, who can fuse roots and indie sounds to the satisfaction of both camps.

The Velvet Underground: Bio
Velvet Underground: Tucker, Morrison, Cale & Reed

Lou Reed b. 2 March 1942, Freeport, Long Island, New York, USA - guitar, vocals
John Cale b. 9 March 1942, Garnant, West Glamorgan, Wales - viola, bass, organ
Sterling Morrison b. 29 August 1942, East Meadow, Long Island, New York, USA, d. 30 August 1995, Poughkeepsie, New York, USA - guitar
Maureen "Mo" Tucker b. 1945, New Jersey, USA - drummer

The antithesis of late-60s west coast love and peace, New York, USA's the Velvet Underground portrayed a darker side to that era's hedonism. Their pulsating drive married with intellectual precision and resulted in one of rock's most innovative and lasting catalogues. Singer/guitarist Lou Reed and John Cale provided a contrast in personality and approach that ensured the band's early notoriety. Reed was a contract songwriter and performer at Pickwick Records, responsible for a series of budget-priced recordings issued under several names, the best-known of which was the Primitives. Cale, a classically trained child prodigy, had secured a scholarship to study in America, but was drawn into the band's nascent circle when he contributed a viola passage to Reed's anti-dance composition "The Ostrich". A third member of the Primitives, Walter De Maria, was quickly replaced by guitarist Sterling Morrison, who had studied creative writing with Reed at Syracuse University. The reshaped unit was completed by drummer Angus MacLise (d. Nepal 1979) who suggested they adopt the name "The Velvet Underground", the title of a contemporary pulp paperback. MacLise was also instrumental in securing the band's first gigs at multimedia events and happenings, but left when they began accepting fees. He was replaced by drummer Maureen "Mo" Tucker, sister of a friend of Sterling Morrison. The band met pop-art celebrity Andy Warhol in 1965 following an appearance at the Cafe Bizarre. He invited them to join the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a theatrical mixture of music, films, light-shows and dancing, and also suggested adding actress/singer Nico (b. Christa Paffgen, 16 October 1938, Cologne, Germany, d. 18 July 1988) to the line-up. The band recorded their debut album in the spring of 1966 but the completed master was rejected by several major companies, fearful of both its controversial content and lengthy tracks. The Velvet Underground & Nico was eventually issued by Verve Records the following year. Infamous for Warhol's prominent involvement - he designed the distinctive peel-off banana screen print featured on its sleeve and is credited as producer - this powerful collection introduced Reed's decidedly urban infatuations, a fascination for street culture and amorality bordering on voyeurism. Reed's talent, however, was greater than mere opportunism. His finely honed understanding of R&B enhanced a graphic lyricism whereby songs about drugs ("I'm Waiting For The Man", "Heroin"), sado-masochism ("Venus In Furs") or sublimation ("I'll Be Your Mirror") were not only memorable for their subjects, but also as vibrant pop compositions. These skills were intensified by Cale's haunting, graphic viola work, Nico's gothic intonation and the band's combined sense of dynamism, which blended Tucker's relentless pulse with some of rock's most inspired sonic experimentation. Now rightly regarded as a musical milestone, The Velvet Underground & Nico was generally reviled on release. Contemporary radio shunned its stark ugliness and subject matter, while the disparate counter-cultures of Los Angeles and San Francisco abhorred the dank underbelly that this uncompromising band had revealed as a challenge to their floral dreams. Nico left for a solo career in 1967 and the remaining quartet then parted from Warhol's patronage. Sessions for a second album, White Light/White Heat, exacerbated other internal conflicts and its six compositions were marked by a raging intensity. While the title track and the relentless "I Heard Her Call My Name" suggested an affinity to "I'm Waiting For The Man", two extended pieces, "The Gift" and "Sister Ray", caught the Velvet Underground at its most radical. The latter performance, a grinding, remorseless, sexual cacophony, was recorded live in the studio at maximum volume, and although Reed later suggested he was trying to approximate the free-jazz of Ornette Coleman, this 17-minute tour de force offers some of John Cale's most inspired atonal instrumental work. This pivotal figure was then removed from the band and replaced by an orthodox bass player, former Grass Menagerie member Doug Yule. A third album, entitled simply The Velvet Underground, unveiled a pastoral approach, gentler and more subtle, retaining the chilling, disquieting aura of previous releases. Now firmly within Reed's grasp, the quartet were implicit rather than direct, although moments of their previous fury were apparent on several interludes. Loaded, an album of considerable commercial promise, emphasized their new-found perspective. Released in 1970, this unfettered collection contained one of Reed's most popular compositions, "Sweet Jane", and in celebrating pop's rich heritage, offered an optimism rarely heard in previous work. Paradoxically, by the time Loaded was issued, Lou Reed had abandoned the group he had created and Doug Yule, who had encouraged the commercial aspect of the album, now took control, leading several variations on the Velvet Underground name. A poorly received album, Squeeze, confirmed that the definitive unit ended with Reed's departure, so much so that the album is not generally perceived to be part of the band's discography. Despite the tribulations endured during its brief life span, the Velvet Underground has since become regarded as one of rock music's most influential acts, particularly during the 80s when a new generation of performers, from Joy Division to Jesus And Mary Chain, declared their indebtedness. A series of archive releases, including 1969: Velvet Underground Live, VU and Another View, add further fuel to the talent and insight that lay within the Velvet Underground and enhance their legendary status. A rumour, followed by an announcement in 1993 that the band, without Doug Yule, had re-formed for a major tour, was greeted with anxious excitement. The subsequent performances delighted thousands of fans, with a vast percentage barely born when the band had last performed. Old wounds were opened between Cale and Reed and no further plans were imminent other than a one-off appearance together following their induction to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996. Sadly, Sterling Morrison died only a few months before the latter event.

All bios courtesy of

@ 2003 stephane chabrieres