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The no wave movement grew out of the coalescence of Lower Manhattan’s avant-garde art and music scenes (most notably, punk rock) in the late 1970s. Its exponents were primarily unschooled musicians alienated by rock’s inherent conservatism. Although appropriating punk’s nihilism and raw, minimal (often using noise for noise’s sake) approach, they remained wary of the genre’s increasing institutionalization.

The deconstructivist inclinations of no wave were best exemplified by DNA (featuring guitarist Arto Lindsey), Mars, and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, featuring underground poet Lydia Lunch. The Contortions were perhaps the most "musically developed" no wave group, melding atonality, free jazz, and Captain Beefheart-influenced guitar sonorities with revved-up funk rhythms. Lacking any self-perpetuating mechanism, the genre rapidly lost momentum in the early 1980s. Its most enduring performers included former Theoretical Girls member, Glenn Branca, who went on to create layered, hyper-amped guitar music with pronounced heavy metal leanings, and ex-Branca associates, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo, who would found white noise pioneers, Sonic Youth.