"IT WAS ABOUT making music that reminded you of nothing else," says Lydia Lunch in Kill Your Idols, a 70-minute documentary on the birth, death, and multiple reincarnations of no-wave music. The film begins in 1972 and microscopes on the New York scene, past to present.
"We weren't just trying to make music—we were trying to be monsters," adds Teenage Jesus and the Jerks bassist Jim Sclavunos. Accordingly, KYI kicks off with one of no-wave's most monstrous bands, Suicide. Juxtaposed against archival footage, we see an older, balder Marty Rev talking about glam rock and about how Suicide distanced itself from glam's blues-based sound, and cranked out evil, grinding electro noise, thus giving birth to no-wave.
After Rev and his peers, the film moves into the '80s. Cut down to its simplest themes, KYI is about generations and inspiration. It's structured into three parts: pioneers, those who were inspired by them (Sonic Youth, Swans), and those who were inspired by them (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Black Dice). But it isn't all "we're-in-this-together" vibes; the film ends on a dark note when all the old grizzly bears talk about the newest no-wavers. ("It feels mushy. There's nothing important that they're doing," says Lydia Lunch.) It gives the film a sad, uneasy tone, and shows just how insidiously counterproductive nostalgia can be. Still, KYI is better for the honesty. It doesn't try to paint no-wave as this great romantic thing. Instead, it rolls the tape and lets the music-makers say what they're going to say. What results is a documentary—a damn good one.