Words by David Stubbs / Photography by Chris Brooks
“‘The greatest country in the world’? We’re not! I’ll take Italy over America. It’s so insanely exclusionary. And being away from America has made me realise that. I kind of want nothing to do with it.”
We’re sitting in the garden area of a pub on Stoke Newington Church Street, north-east London, reflecting on the depressing rhetoric of both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions of 2016. This is where Sonic Youth co-founder Thurston Moore now lives, in a flat opposite Clissold Park, following his much publicised break-up with Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, his ex-wife. He first visited the area in the 1980s, when it was rather less well-heeled but did feature music venues like free-improv outlet The Vortex (now a Nando’s). It was here that he met Richard Boon, onetime manager of The Buzzcocks, whose Spiral Scratch EP was one of many UK records to light a small fire in Moore’s mind as to the possibilities of future rock in the 1970s. Today, Boon, a librarian, remains a constant fixture in a much changed area, a connection with its dirtier, electric past.
Just a walk away is Cafe Oto, a venue often frequented by Moore, where he has played numerous dates along with some of London and Europe’s leading free improvisers. He also plays frequently in Europe, dividing his musical time between The Thurston Moore Band, a relatively straight-ahead outfit featuring Debbie Googe of My Bloody Valentine on bass, and more avant-garde adventures involving extreme guitar. “To me it’s all about a conversation between traditional guitar playing in rock’n’roll and the guitar as an electronic music machine,” he says. “I want to create sounds, noises. Some people play like that using lots of pedals. But me, I don’t want to hear pedals – even electronic music with keyboards; I want to hear who the person is, rather than pure machine music.”