Make the most of Lydia Lunch when she appears tonight at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms fronting Big Sexy Noise, the bad-ass bump-and-grind rock-and-roll sleaze merchants formed with James Johnston and Ian White of Gallon Drunk. Once the first lady of New York’s 1970s No Wave scene finishes up the band’s current European tour inbetween dates with Marc Hurtado showing off their homage to peers and fellow travellers Suicide, it’s unlikely she’ll be doing any music for some time.
It’s not that the artist formerly known as Lydia Anne Koch is retiring in any way. Far from it. She may have just celebrated her sixtieth birthday, but the in-yer-face spoken-word polymath and sonic provocateur remains as dangerously prolific as ever.
A forthcoming documentary, Lydia Lunch: The War is Never Over, has been made by Lunch’s long-term friend, New York contemporary and similarly taboo-busting independent auteur, Beth B. There is also a new book of essays, So Real It Hurts, due any day now, while Lunch’s extensive archive has just been sold to New York University. All of which lends the Big Sexy Noise dates a kind of last gasp urgency as Lunch and co continue to take no prisoners in an alliance forged more than a decade ago.
“It was meant to be,” says Lunch in her motor-mouthed downtown drawl on a break from sound-checking in Frankfurt. “I’d been doing some jazz noir kind of stuff with Terry Edwards from Gallon Drunk, and we pulled James and Ian in, then we just came out with these songs, some of which are glam, some are hardcore, some are psychedelic. James is just one of the most amazing guitarists there is, and the sort of thing Big Sexy Noise does, just getting back to ballsy rock and roll, it just doesn’t exist anymore. The only one who really does anything like that is Jack White, and it makes sense at this time to be doing it.”
Lyrically, as one might expect from someone whose work has been so candid, Lunch takes no prisoners.
“They’re pretty evocative,’ she says of her words. “Something like Your Love Don’t Pay My Rent, that says it all.”
Big Sexy Noise have released two albums. The band’s eponymous debut compiled the six tracks from their initial EP with new material, and featured a cover of Lou Reed’s song, Kill Your Sons. Also on the record was The Gospel Singer, co-written with ex-Sonic Youth mainstay Kim Gordon during their brief late ‘80s collaboration as Harry Crews, named after the cult American writer whose debut novel gifted the song its title. A second Big Sexy Noise album, Trust The Witch, came out in 2011, and was re-released a couple of years later in an edition that included Collision Course, a live set recorded in Italy.
“I’d like to do a compilation of those records,” says Lunch. “When they came out, they just sort of disappeared, and didn’t really get out to people. Then we did the live album, which I think best captures what Big Sexy Noise is about, but I don’t really have a record label, and only really release stuff for the merchandise table, so I think doing some kind of compilation might be good.”
Lunch’s fearless anti-career began more than four decades ago after being taken under the wing of Martin Rev and Alan Vega of Suicide. Her first musical outing came alongside James Chance in the short-lived Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, then later in 8 Eyed Spy with future Bad Seeds drummer Jim Sclavunos. Along the way there has been numerous solo releases and collaborations with fellow travellers, all in one way or another deriving from Lunch’s roots in spoken-word.
“In the 80s we were under the thumb of Reagan and Thatcher,” she says, “and spoken-word was really important. People like Henry Rollins, John Cooper Clarke, Joolz, they all really mattered. Now here we are, and the biggest liar on the planet is representing America, and here’s me telling the truth because I have to, and finding different ways of saying it.”
Lunch’s extensive literary canon includes the sexually frank Paradoxia and the tellingly named Will Work for Drugs. In 2012 she even published a cook book, The Need to Feed: Recipes for Developing a Healthy Obsession with Deeply Satisfying Foods. The new book, So Real it Hurts, features a posthumous introduction by chef and cultural icon in his own right, the late Anthony Bourdain. This association didn’t make getting it published any easier, mind.
“It was rejected 26 times,” Lunch hisses of a volume that many publishers found too hot to handle. “It’s not all about politics. There’s an essay on Noam Chomsky in there. There’s an essay on Herbert Hunke in there. There’s an interview with Hubert Selby Junior in there.”
Alongside a personal and unsentimental account of the No Wave scene, poverty, abuse, environmental pollution and the ongoing monetisation of the counter-culture are dealt with mercilessly. There is also a scathing revenge fantasy against misogynistic men.
“So what,” she says. “I’m too caustic? Go suck a dick, I don’t think so. I’m just this small woman with a big mouth telling the truth.”
Lunch last appeared in Edinburgh in 2018 at Leith Theatre on a bill curated by Edinburgh punk-literature and music night Neu! Reekie! as part of Edinburgh International Festival’s Light on the Shore season. On a bill headlined by German kosmische icon Michael Rother, Edinburgh’s fleetingly reformed Fire Engines played two incendiary fifteen-minute sets either side of a spoken-word routine by Lunch possessed with No Wave’s lacerating spirit.
“I still consider myself a No Wave artist,” she says, “because it’s the closest thing to Dada and surrealism. I don’t consider myself a performance artist in any way, because there’s no theatricality in what I do.”
In this sense, Lunch wears her heart and pretty much everything else besides on her sleeve.
“The way the world is now,” she says, “I insist on having pleasure. They can’t take that away from us. It’s the only rebellion we’ve got.”
Big Sexy Noise play the Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh tonight.
The Herald, June 19th 2019