Personality Clash- Sonic Youth Vs The Men

On loft shows and legendary punk clubs

The Men are noisy, streetwise punk-rockers who formed in Brooklyn’s thriving underground in 2006 and gained acclaim for their DIY ethic and breakneck live shows.

Lee Ranaldo is a pioneer of New York’s early-’80s no wave movement, co-founding and playing guitar for Sonic Youth for thirty years and releasing several solo records.  

On paper, Lee Ranaldo and punk quartet The Men have plenty in common. Both created fuzzy, distorted ditties after finding their creative collaborators in New York. When Clash connected Lee with Mark Perro and Nick Chiericozzi from the band though, it showed how much the city’s underground scene has changed. Here are their takes on loft shows and legendary punk clubs.

Lee: When did you guys move to New York?  

Nick: I moved to Brooklyn in 2003. We lived in The Bronx for a few years and there was really nothing to do.

Lee: What was going on in New York when you guys started?

Mark: We would always play lofts or like these little tiny things that nobody knew about except our friends, for years. That was kind of our thing. Was that kind of stuff going on when you started out?  

Lee: Yeah. When we first moved to New York, there weren’t really many venues that would take weirdo bands and right before we started, there was a big loft scene. Even New York Dolls started by playing lofts. By the time we started in 1981, we were playing more downtown art galleries and stuff like that. I don’t know if we played many of those, but we played a couple of times in people’s living rooms or in their lofts. The place where I met Thurston [Moore] was called the Botany Talkhouse and it was a weird bar on 26th Street or something like that on the West Side, and at one point they just started having shows. And there was actually a loft space on 23rd Street run by this guy Giorgio Gomelsky – he was an early manager of The Rolling Stones. It was called The Plug Club and there were definitely a bunch of gigs there in like ’82, ’83, ’84. And there was a weird little place on the Lower East Side called The Sin Club, where we played a bunch. And you know, CBGB’s was happening and my first band, The Flux, played Max’s a couple of times and then Max’s shut and we were really stoked to get to play there because it was such a legendary place. What enthuses you guys right now about New York?

Mark: It’s hard to say. We’re New York based, but a lot of the bands that we feel connected to are not in New York anymore – like a band Milk Music; they’re from Olympia, they’re really good friends of ours. And Destruction Unit from Arizona. Really, we feel that we spend more time with them almost than a lot of bands here in New York.

Lee: How are you meeting these guys?

Nick: Through shows, I guess. First time through town maybe one of the members will come to our show. And then we’ll go back to their house and hang out and then the next time they play…

Mark: You find each other back when nobody would do a show for us and, ‘Yeah, there’s so and so in Olympia. They’ll do a show for you.’ It’s really cool actually because those bands are starting to grow and do a lot more live stuff. And it’s nice because we all were in the same place and doing the same kind of things and helping each other and it’s cool to be able to grow into something.

Lee: Sure, and tour together and stuff like that. That’s exactly what we did when we started: you start to travel around the country. You start to meet interesting bands and you’d get sort of a sense of community outside of New York.

Mark: But there are good bands in New York right now that we love. Nude Beach is probably is our favourite; they’re kinda like ’70s power pop, kind of Replacements-y.

Lee: Oh, that’s sounds good. I’ll definitely look out for them. I love that kind of music. The thing about New York is there’s always a tonne of good things happening – I know that period when you guys were getting together when TV On The Radio and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Liars to a lesser extent were getting all that attention nationally, it was like a ‘Oh, New York’s back in the picture” kind of thing. But there’s always shit happening here, it’s just sometimes it doesn’t make the national news. I hear you talking about all these loft scenes in Brooklyn and I know about some of those – did you guys ever play Secret Project Robot or any of those kind of places?

Mark: We had a practice space there for three years. We never played there though.

Lee: What about 285 Kent?

Nick: Yeah, we played there. That’s where our record release was at.  

Lee: Oh really. I just played there a few months ago. That’s a pretty cool space. I like that space. And next door, we did one of our very first shows at Glass Lens.

Mark: Do you know Death By Audio? We played there a lot of times. That’s one of our favourite places. That seems to be one of the landmark places in Brooklyn. It’s been around for a long time. It seems a lot of places come and go, but that one’s been there for years.

Lee: Yeah. In the ’90s, there used to be this place on 14th Street and 10th Avenue called The Cooler. Everybody I knew would play there all the time. That’s the meatpacking district and it was in a meatpacking plant and it had those big metal tracks where they would hang the cow carcasses and stuff like that. It was an amazing little space and the coolest shows happened there in the early to mid-’90s. It was very adventurous type of place and bands would play and experimentalists would play and then, at a certain point, they folded up shop and everybody went to this place that my guitar player Alan used to book in the Lower East Side called Tonic, which was on Norfolk Street, and then that was the happening place for a while. And now it seems like, even though there are some places in Manhattan, everything’s moved to Brooklyn. It’s like everybody’s been priced out of Manhattan; hardly anybody lives here anymore.

Mark: Any sort of underground thing, it can’t exist the way Manhattan is right now; there’s no place for it.

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