The Grateful Deaf

Speaking of Kevin Shields, I was going through some old email forwards and ran across this. Didn’t find a copy elsewhere online, so I’m putting in here…

The Grateful Deaf

MOJO’s guide to the Loudest Rock Bands of All Time
[from December 2000, MOJO]

“Marshalls changed rock’n ‘roll as much as any band.” – Lemmy.

Truer words have never been spoken. In 1962, when Kensington drum teacher Jim Marshall began selling 4×12 speaker cabinets from his retail music shop, the history of noise was changed for ever. By 1964 The Who were extremely vocal converts to the Marshall religion and, following the arrival of the 100 Watt amp and the Marshall stack (two 4×12 speakers on top of each other), other artists such as Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience began to define performance as much in terms of loudness as anything else. Suddenly, the size of a band’s rig was as much an issue as its ensemble playing.

But which rock band was the loudest of all time? The poorest stoner rock bands of 2000 are as loud in decibels as most late ’60s acid rockers. MC Hammer caused more local noise ordinances to be passed than MC5 ever did. Also, the perception of volume is necessarily subjective – dependent on each listener’s unique ‘earprint’, noise-encounter history and state of inebriation.

Still, while volume is definitely in the ear of the beholder, in every rock era there have been certain bands – from rebellious savant-morons to sonic thrill-seekers – who earned reputations by being significantly louder than their peers. Those bands (excluding AC/DC, who feature elsewhere in the magazine) have been chosen by MOJO, in reverse order, as the Loudest Bands Of All Time.

10. Manowar
The Conanist American metal band claimed the title of World’s Loudest Band when a 1994 show in Hanover hit 129.5 decibels.

-Equipment
Ten tons of amplifiers at the Hanover concert.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Joey DeMaio (bassist): “Some assholes tried to break our record. Frankly, it can’t be done. The power will kill you. The Guinness Book Of Records wouldn’t list it because they thought it would be dangerous, encouraging people to break it. We are the Kings Of Heavy! That means we make thunder inside a room.”

-How Loud?
DeMaio: “One girl said to me, ‘The reason there’s so many girls at a Manowar concert, more than any other heavy metal band in the world, is because the vibration of the bass travels through the floor, up their toes, up their ankles, up their legs, and hits their fucking clit and they’re just cumming through the whole concert!'”

Helena Solodor (audiologist): As you’re approaching 140 decibels, that’s the threshold of pain. With noise levels in excess of 140, 150 decibels, things can rupture. Your ear drums can burst. You could hove all kinds of bodily functions go… It would not be pleasurable!”

-Pardon?
Eric Adams (vocals): “l don’t wear earplugs in both ears, ‘cos if I did I couldn’t hear any high-end, which I need as a vocalist.” Hearing of the band is reportedly still OK.

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 6.5 (penalized 3.5 points for pandering)

9. Vanilla Fudge
The Fudge’s over-the-top and through-the-valley psychedelic whiteboy soul didn’t know when to stop – either at a sign that said ‘This Way: Prog Rock’ or at normal concert volume levels. Armed with Mark Stein’s Hammond B-3, a clutch of ridiculously arranged songs and a host of amps, the Fudge gained a late-’60s reputation as one of America’s most histrionic – and loudest – bands.

-Equipment
Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge bassist): “The Hammond had two Leslies and a couple of amps that went through several cabinets. It just kept growing.”

-Why So Darn Loud?
Bogert: “We were all deaf and having a wonderful time! It was a period where people were very heavily into LSD so the volume was a tool of the show – if we did something really dramatic the crowd went, ‘Whooooooa’, and we kept it in the show.”

-How Loud?
Wayne Kramer (MC5): “That Hammond B-3 that they had a special rig for? Pretty loud.”

Bogert: “We’d do whisper-soft passages that would crescendo and the audience would literally move to the volume! You could see 20,000 people puff up, move down, swirl…”

-Pardon?
Bogert: “Tinnitus, big time. That’s the price you pay for having a darn good time. Nothing’s free!”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 7

8. Hawkwind
The early ’70s live line-up of space bikers on acid, led by guitarist-singer Dave Brock, accessed rarely-traversed parts of the brain. The band’s legendary Chuck-Berry-on-metal riffing and live frequency oscillations were deep-frozen in wax on 1973’s Space Ritual.

-Equipment
The sound oscillators, sound generators and directional electro voice speakers of the evil Dik Mik.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Dave Brock (leader/guitarist): “We used to get quite spaced out, you know, and having these speakers blaring out behind you… well, it was all jolly exciting!”

-How Loud?
Brock: “We used to use oscillators to distort the air. You could actually feel it in your body. At one point we were threatened with being sued ‘cos a lot of people were getting ill…”

Lemmy (Hawkwind bassist): “We used to give people epileptic fits.”

-Pardon?
Brock: “I can’t hear crickets, or certain tones, and when there’s an awful lot of people talking at the same time it’s hard to actually hear what anybody’s saying.”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 7.5

7. Ted Nugent / Amboy Dukes
In late ’60s Detroit, Ted Nugent was a young long-hair playing obnoxious guitar in a troglodyte-rock band for stoned, sunbaked hippies. The Nuge turned his Fender louder- to the point that, as legend has it, his speakers disintegrated a poor pigeon at an outdoor concert.

-Equipment
Piles of Fender stacks and one of the most obnoxious ‘characters’ alive.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Ted Nugent (Amboy Dukes guitarist): “It was all for me. I look at my musical adventure like a hunt, a sonic exploration. Fender stacks had such a fuckin’ brittle attack – it wasn’t like that dirty Marshall sound. It was bright and annoying! I got this Gibson Birdland to feed back – outrageous rhino-mating sounds, avalanches.”

-How Loud?
Nugent: “REAL fuckin’ loud. I would challenge anybody to come up with the total hair removal decibels outrage I was capable of! The pigeon story? It never happened. I just knew that if a pigeon flew by [my speakers] I could squawk him if he came by at the right moment! Most of the interviewers were stoned hippies – it was easy to pull their chain. I’d say how when we played Kansas, the dairy farmers would herd their cattle downwind of my amps because butter fat content went up 28 per cent when I performed. I’d say fat girls would come to our show to try to lose weight by getting in front of my dBs!”

John Sinclair (MC5): “Ted Nugent? He wasn’t loud.”

Wayne Kramer (MC5): “We kicked their asses, hundreds of times. They would come up pale.”

-Pardon?
Nugent: “My left ear is pretty much whacked. But I can still hear really good in my right ear. Early on, I would stick shell casings, which I always had handy, in my right ear because that was the one that facing the amp the most. I’m not an idiot! I’d never missed a hunting season in my life, and I was concerned about when October came, would I be able to hear the fuckin’ deer?”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 7.5

6. The Who
The Who’s Maximum R&B performance on May 31, 1976 before 50,000 fans at the ground of south London’s Charlton Athletic Football Club earned them an entry in the Guinness Book Of Records as the World’s Loudest Pop Group – the previous title holder was Deep Purple.

-Equipment
100 amplifiers, 76,000 Watts, 120 decibels.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Pete Townshend: “The Who were very zesty, athletic. It stems from the very early days when we had to sell ourselves to the public, otherwise nobody would have taken a blind bit of notice of us.”

-How Loud?
Lemmy: “The Who were the first ones with Marshalls. Nobody’d seen an amplifier bigger than a suitcase before that. And there’s Townshend with this massive fuckin’ thing with 10-inch horns in it.”

Roger Daltrey: “There was Pete, all the way up, only hearing himself and John [Entwistle] playing four times as loud as he needs to, to hear himself with the singer in the middle. A complete nightmare.”

-Pardon?
According to Who scholar Andy Neill, Entwistle is pretty deaf and tends to rely on lip-reading. He doesn’t have tinnitus but still plays bass at his usual ‘everything on 11’ volume. Townshend has tinnitus, resulting from the band’s live gigs and the deafening volume at which he and Entwistle used to listen to playbacks over the studio ‘cans’.

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 8.5

5. MC5
The revolution, brothers and sisters, will be very loud. Or at least, that’s what stunned audiences figured in the wake of late-’60s agit-rock’n’roll performances by the Motor City’s finest star-spangled be-Afro’d White Panther Party proto-punks.

-Equipment
Four stacks of 100 Watt Marshalls. Attitude.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Wayne Kramer (guitarist): “It was just, I need more. The teenage fascination with power. This was a chance to make sure everybody had to listen to ME, ME and MY guitar.”

John Sinclair (MC5 manager/theorist): “The idea was to involve the entire body, immerse yourself in the sound. It wouldn’t hurt. If you gave yourself up to the music, the loudness would go right through you. If you tried to listen with your ears, it would hurt. The social milieu, everything was so numb so you wanted to feel something, enter a new world – and drop some acid if possible.”

-How Loud?
Ted Nugent (Amboy Dukes): “As far as street fuck-you-ness goes, they definitely had us. There was an energy to the ‘5 that was nothing short of mesmerizing. It was their sheer unadulterated middle-finger quality.”

Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge): “I felt them more than saw them.”

Kramer: “There was a point where it was TOO much. If people really wanted to listen to the band they had to go outdoors!”

-Pardon?
Sinclair: “I lost some top end standing there in front of the MC5 for a couple of years every night.”

Kramer: “My hearing’s damaged. I don’t play that loud today.”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 9

4. Swans
A typical mid-’80s club concert by New York industrial-rock pioneers Swans featured massively monolithic rhythms, volume cranked up to bowel-loosening levels, and the gruesome spectacle of a near-naked vocalist/leader Michael Gira in orgasmic agony singing “Raping A Slave.” They were soon being touted by show promoters – and the British press – as ‘the world’s loudest band’. Swans’ most infamous performance was a 1985 show in London, at which Gira literally locked the audience inside the venue.

-Equipment
When the PA didn’t blow, Swans were rated at 125-140 decibels.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Michael Gira (vocalist): “It wasn’t about being loud – that’s moronic. It didn’t have any aggressive intent. It was more about the transportive quality of volume. I wanted it to destroy my body.”

-How Loud?
Gira: “There was one European show in a barn that only held 400 people. The stage wasn’t wide enough to put the entire PA in front, so we put half of it in the front and half of it at the back, so the audience was smashed between! The walls, ceiling, everything was shaking, raining down years of collected dust. That was good.”

Jarboe (roadie, later keyboards/vocalist): “It was like a war, volume as a three-dimensional substance. Sometimes we’d blow the entire circuitry of the club, just on the electricity we were drawing. We would leave town with people running after us, enemies everywhere we went!”

Helena Solodor (audiologist): “If you work an eight-hour day [in the presence of constant noise], over 85 decibels is hazardous. You cut it in half for every five decibels you go up. So with 90 decibels, anything over four hours is detrimental. Two hours, anything over 95. One hour, anything over 100. And if you look at a concert that’s 120 decibels, just an hour is potentially damaging.”

-Pardon?
Gira: “l think my hearing’s good.”

Jarboe: “I finally started wearing earplugs…and I wish I had started a lot earlier.”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 10

3. Motörhead
Led by the notorious Lemmy Kilmister, the thrash-punk-metal pioneers have arguably been the world’s most consistently loud live band, laying waste to audiences via piercing air raid sirens and an overwhelming wall of guitar noise, as captured on 1981’s No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith. A 1981 performance at an all-day Port Vale Football Ground metal festival landed Motörhead in the Guinness Book Of Records as the world’s loudest band; they were later unseated by AC/DC.

-Equipment
117,000 Watts of on-stage power at Port Vale.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Lemmy (vocalist/bassist): “It’s not like we were trying to specifically be the ‘loudest band in the world.’ We just like it loud. The thing is with being loud, you’ve got to be fairly good or else it’ll just be a mess, although one man’s impenetrable mess another man’s pure music.”

-How Loud?
Wayne Kramer (MC5): “Obnoxiously loud. I never heard a note – all you get is this roar.”

Ian MacKaye (Fugazi, Minor Threat): “I was a stagehand for a gig at the Ontario Theater, Washington DC in the mid-’80s and Motörhead were absolutely the loudest band I had ever heard. I felt like I was levitating on the vibrations of the low end. I watched people writhing in front of the stage. Was it ‘We want more’, or ‘Please, no more!’? I had to leave the building because my internal organs felt like they’d been readjusted.”

Lemmy: “At Port Vale, we built the entire stage out of PAs. A guy called up from four miles away while we were soundchecking and said he couldn’t hear his TV.”

-Pardon?
Lemmy: “I think my hearing’s OK. The human body adopts remarkably well to a lot of abuse. I’ve never used earplugs, Earplugs are for Ted Nugent. How could you expect the audience to stand something that you will not?”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 10

2. My Bloody Valentine
In December 1991, My Bloody Valentine began a series of European and US shows so loud that they were accused by the press of being criminally negligent. Most notorious was ‘the holocaust’- a noise section during “You Made Me Realise” that maintained the same air-quaking chord for 10 minutes on end.

-Equipment
Evil effects pedals designed by Roger Mayer.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Kevin Shields (guitarist/singer): “People perceive loud music as being confrontational and aggressive, but what you’re really doing is being sensual. When it’s loud, you con see ripples among the people as they all get hit by certain frequencies.”

-How Loud?
Mark Kemp (US journalist): “After three minutes [of the holocaust] people began to take deep breaths, cover their ears and eyes. Anger took over. After four minutes a calm took over. The noise continued. After five minutes a feeling of utter peace took over…”

-Pardon?
Bilinda Butcher (bassist/singer): “I had a punctured ear drum, which they were able to put right but it was very depressing. We all wore hearing protection and encouraged anyone who saw us regularly to do the same.”

Shields: “I did the damage to my ears listening to mixes in headphones at very loud levels without giving my ears time to recover.”

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 10.5

1. Blue Cheer
Late-’60s San Francisco superpower trio who played so loud that their ex-Hell’s Angel manager Gut claimed they could “turn the air into cottage cheese”. TV host Steve Allen introduced the band to his 1968 national audience thus: “Here’s Blue Cheer. Run for your lives!”

-Equipment
Six stacks of 100 Watt Marshalls.

-Why So Darn Loud?
Bruce ‘Leigh’ Stephens (guitarist): “We just wanted to feel that sound. It evolved to almost cartoon proportions, it blew your hair around.”

-How Loud?
Stephens: “After the first note [audience members] looked like astronauts subjected to +g-force.”

Kadyn Williams (audiologist): “You con feel dizzy or nauseated from loud sound, because everything is anatomically so close; the inner ear and the balance organ intertwine together going to the brain.”

Lemmy: “l saw them at the Roundhouse in London. 1967 or ’68. They were terrible, but they were really loud, fuckin’ loud.”

Wayne Kramer (MC5): “It was a 747 in your face.”

-Pardon?
Bassist/vocalist Dickie Petersen has some hearing damage. Stephens says, “My hearing is intact, nowadays I only use one Fender Hot Rod DeVille.” The story of a dog exploding during a set is apocryphal.

-MOJO Loudometer Rating: 11

Thanks: Helena Solodor, MS, Lic-A, Kadyn Williams, MEd, Lic-A of Audio Consultants of America, Andy Neill, Jon Quittner, Brad Laner, Ian Svenonius, Richard Pleuger, Jim Evans, David Cavanagh.

About Chris Barrus

You are not cleared for this information.
This entry was posted in Music. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Grateful Deaf

  1. Stoke Directorys says:

    I was there at port vale for motorhead, what a day that was

  2. Edra Hemby says:

    Hello! my spouse and i allowed to question so what’s that web theme an individual regarding inside your web site? anyone.

  3. TE says:

    I was at that MBV tour in SF. Can confirm it was the loudest sustained pure noise I’ve ever experienced. It was heaven to me, hell for my girlfriend.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.