Noise rock (sometimes called noise punk) is a noise-oriented style of experimental rock that spun off from punk rock in the 1980s. Drawing on movements such as minimalism, industrial music, and New York hardcore, artists indulge in extreme levels of distortion through the use of electric guitars and, less frequently, electronic instrumentation, either to provide percussive sounds or to contribute to the overall arrangement.
Some groups are tied to song structures, such as Sonic Youth. Although they are not representative of the entire genre, they helped popularize noise rock among alternative rock audiences by incorporating melodies into their droning textures of sound, which set a template that numerous other groups followed. Other early noise rock bands were Big Black and Swans.
Noise rock fuses rock to noise, usually with recognizable "rock" instrumentation, but with greater use of distortion and electronic effects, varying degrees of atonality, improvisation, and white noise. One notable band of this genre is Sonic Youth who took inspiration from the no wave composers Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham. Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore has stated: "Noise has taken the place of punk rock. People who play noise have no real aspirations to being part of the mainstream culture. Punk has been co-opted, and this subterranean noise music and the avant-garde folk scene have replaced it."
The Velvet Underground have been credited with creating the first noise rock album in 1968.
See also: Experimental rock, Punk rock, and Grunge
While the music had been around for some time, the term "noise rock" was coined in the 1980s to describe an offshoot of punk groups with an increasingly abrasive approach. An archetypal album is the Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat (1968). Treblezine's Joe Gross credits White Light/White Heat as the "cult classic" with being the first noise rock album, accordingly, "perhaps it’s an obvious starting point, but it’s also the starting point. Period."
Guitarist Steve Albini of noise rock band Big Black stated in 1984 in an article that "good noise is like orgasm". He commented: "Anybody can play notes. There's no trick. What is a trick and a good one is to make a guitar do things that don't sound like a guitar at all. The point here is stretching the boundaries." He said that Ron Ashton of the Stooges "made squealy death noise feedback" on "Iggy monstruous songs". Albini also mentioned John McKay of Siouxsie and the Banshees, saying: "The Scream, is notable for a couple of things: only now people are trying to copy it, and even now nobody understands how that guitar player got all that pointless noise to stick together as songs". Albini also said that Keith Levene of Public Image Ltd. had this "ability to make an excruciating noise come out of his guitar".
In an article about noise rock, Spin wrote that a US compilation album titled No New York released in 1978 on an independent label called "Antilles", was important as it documented the no wave New York scene. It featured several songs of Lydia Lunch's first band Teenage Jesus and the Jerks along with material of other groups such as Mars, DNA and The Contortions.
In the 1980s, Big Black, Sonic Youth and Swans were the leading figures of noise rock. Sonic Youth were the first noise rock band to get signed by a major in 1990. Later notable bands of the noise scene were the Jesus Lizard, Liars and Unsane.
While noise rock has never had any mainstream popularity, the raw, distorted and feedback-intensive sound of some noise rock bands had an influence on grunge. Among them are Wisconsin's Killdozer, Chicago's Big Black, and most notably San Francisco's Flipper, a band known for its slowed-down and murky "noise punk". The Butthole Surfers' mix of punk, heavy metal and noise rock was a major influence, particularly on the early work of Soundgarden.
Starting in the 1990s, noise punk developed mostly as a form of party music, with the band Lightning Bolt serving as key players in the 2000s noise punk scene in Providence, Rhode Island. .