Nihilist Spasm Band | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Nihilist Spasm Band 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


In terms of sheer determination and dedication, the Nihilist Spasm Band has few peers. Formed in 1965 by the late Greg Curnoe, the NSB is ostensibly the world's first "noise band"; moved by both free jazz and the pure sound experiments of academic composers like Stockhausen and Xenakis--and lacking the training of either--the NSB decided to make a racket. Most of the band members are married with children, with day jobs such as physician, teacher, and visual artist; the band is their long-term hobby. With an impressive variety of homemade electric guitars, drums, and various invented instruments--including a jury-rigged electric kazoo, on which member John Boyle is something of an Ayler-esque virtuoso--the group began meeting on a weekly basis for fun and catharsis. Over the following three decades the NSB released three hopelessly obscure albums and rarely performed anywhere outside its hometown of London, Ontario, where it typically met with indifference or hostility. By dint of the group's electric instrumentation, the NSB sound veers toward ultrachaotic rock, but beneath the surface one can hear wild and woolly rushes of interactive improvisation. On top of it all are the nonsensical, Beefheartian vocals of Bill Exley. Whether on "No Canada," his classic national antianthem, or "What About Me," his recent ode to the Me Generation ("I want to teach the world to sing--my song!"), his seemingly stream-of-consciousness rants are remarkably effective. Finally, in the early 90s, the band's luck changed. Jojo Hiroshige of the Japanese noise combo Hijokaidan, a rabid fan of the crusty Canadians, included an NSB piece on the 1992 compilation World Record (Alchemy), and he's made it a personal mission to expose these proto-noiseniks ever since. Apart from recently reissuing the three old albums on Alchemy, he sponsored a short Japanese tour a few years ago and in 1994 released their newest work, What About Me. This is the Nihilist Spasm Band's first-ever U.S. appearance. Saturday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): band photo.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories