James Chance & The Contortions
The innovator of New Yorks no wave movement
makes his Japan debut, three decades after the fact
With the average apartment in Manhattan selling
for $1 million, its hard to imagine there was a time
when a musician could show up in New York, find a dumpy apartment
in the Village, and scratch out a living.
But in the mid-70s, a number of musical scenes thrived
on the low cost of living in a bombed out New York hit by
white flight. Best-known is the punk/New Wave scene centered
on the rock club CBGB, which spawned groups like the Ramones
Less well-known is the No Wave movement, which emerged out
of an attempt by white jazz musicians to merge funk and free
jazz with the anti-authoritarian energy of rock n
roll. At the heart of that movement was the charismatic, pompadoured
sax player James Chance, who makes his long awaited Japan
debut this weekend.
In interviews posted on his homepage, the Milwaukee native
explains what drove the would-be jazz saxophonist to take
a different tack. The rock scene and the jazz scene
were, practically, right on top of each other, but there was
no communication between the two at all, he recalled.
When I moved here, my real ambition was to make it as
a jazz musician, but when I got here, I realized that wasnt
going to happen. I just didnt fit into the jazz scene
at all. My whole attitude, my own personal style and everything
was more out of rock n roll.
In addition to his jazz leanings, Chance was impressed by
the bands he was seeing at CBGB, and hed also played
in an Iggy Pop & The Stooges cover band back in Milwaukee.
After getting kicked out of Lydia Lunchs band, the infamous
Teenage Jesus, Chance decided to launch a group that would
bring together his various musical predilections.
The result was the Contortions, a unit that originally included
Japanese members like the boyfriend of avant-garde musician
Ikue Mori. The band soon became one of the biggest draws of
the downtown Manhattan scene, and became immortalized on the
influential (but out of print) 1978 album, No New York, produced
by Brian Eno.
The Contortions also became known for a volatile live show,
which saw Chance jumping off the stage to take swings at unresponsive
audiences. I always wanted to have a strong groove.
That is why I started attacking people, because they wouldnt
dance...There is no excuse for sitting on the floor like a
bunch of hippies.
After 1979s Buy the Contortions, the band flamed out.
But Chance soon reemerged as James White (a play on his love
for James Brown), purveying his quirky blend of funk, free
jazz and rock energy on the albums Sax Maniac (for Christ
Stein of Blondies Animal label), Off White and, finally,
Years of relative quiet followed, with units like John Luries
Lounge Lizards picking up the slack, but the release of a
box set of early Chance material by indie label Tiger Sushi
in 2003, Irresistible Impulse, has sparked a resurgence of
interest in No Wave. Chance and the reconstituted Contortions
completed a successful tour of Europe, followed it up with
a set at the Vincent Gallo-curated All Tomorrows Parties,
and finally come to Japan, where Chance is viewed as a hero
by many in the underground music community.
For the three-date engagement at Unit, some of the bands Chance
has influenced will be joining him, including free jazz/jam
band Date Course Pentagon Royal Garden and angular alt-rockers
the Zazen Boys.
Unit, July 14-16. See concert listings
with METROPOLIS readers at http://forum.japantoday.com