‘Blood on the Beach’: Looking back at Sonic Youth’s 1985 performance on Brighton Beach
There are many rumours and myths in the illustrious grounds of rock and roll. Most of them start and end with a bluff of machismo or downright stupidity. But there was one particular Sonic Youth rumour which had us all scrambling for our large magnifying glasses this week. Sonic Youth’s ‘Blood on the Beach’ tapes.
The document in question is a VHS tape which saw Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo, and Steve Shelley who had recently cemented his place in the band, performing on the pebble beach of archetypal English seaside town, Brighton. While rumours were rife of its existence and subsequent extinction, we took ourselves off to the one place where darkness breeds with malice and is flecked with God’s inspiring light of grace. AKA the internet.
It naturally, when on the increasingly large wave of ‘web’, was pretty quick to find the murmuring of the tape but we wanted to see the cherished footage, to see the bastions of noise rock push the envelope while being eyeballed by burly British seagulls. To YouTube, we went on our quest. A few tippedy taps later and we were watching not only one of the more brilliant Sonic Youth performances we’ve ever seen but a snapshot of the society the band found themselves surrounded by.
The footage is comprised of two shows. The first sees the band on Brighton beach performing with a quite beautifully designed banner adorning their stage saying “Jesus Is The Answer”. While that point is yet to be proven, one thing is for sure, Sonic Youth did not hold back for the small city of Brighton. They turn up the distortion, ladle on mountains of feedback and probably scare the bejeezus out of the locals.
The band perform ‘Brother James’, ‘Inhuman’, and ‘Making The Mature Scene’ intermittently cut between Moore messing around with a horn and answering every question he faced with a sardonic and sarcastic response. It really is Sonic Youth hitting every mark you’d expect them to. Describing the gig they had just completed on the beach as “a bad publicity stunt” they also describe their “rock sound” with rolling eyes and words which belie their “this fucking guy” sentiment.
While finding some more time to blow the gigantic horn they’ve found (in fact they then take it on stage with them) the band get ready for their proper performance of the evening at the legendary Zap Club. The band are in fine fettle and deliver a truly powerful and encompassing performance. With a set filled with amazing tracks like ‘Brother James’, ‘Green Light’, ‘Kill YR Idols’, ‘Flower’, ‘I Love Her All The Time’, ‘Ghost Bitch’, ‘Burning Spear’, and ‘Expressway’ to punctuate their growing influence.
Arriving in 1985 to the seaside town of Brighton, more used to the candy rock than anything else, Sonic Youth would’ve arrived unknown and relatively unheard of. But, we bet, that by the end of the day the whole town was talking about who made “all that racket on the beach”, which is probably all they ever wanted.