While the term “pigfuck” was coined out of derision by Robert Christgau to describe the caustic sounds of Sonic Youth, it ended up taking on a life of its own, a small contingent of noisy artists embracing the description as a banner. With labels Touch and Go and the sadly extinct Amphetamine Reptile being the main proponents of the “genre,” pigfuck was embodied by elevated decibel levels, frayed sonics, and often salacious subject matter. As the repugnant nomenclature denoted, this wasn’t music for the faint hearted, but rather a viral strain of punk taking it to its furthest extremes. So without further ado, we give you our picks for the best of pigfuck.
Royal Trux’s double-album opus is a strange, drug-addled brew of leftfield noises and sludgy guitar explorations—and all the better for it. Seemingly following a muse of their own hallucination, the duo deconstructs each rockist idea that pops into their head as they go along. As such, this record, perhaps by happy happenstance, stumbles into many a darkened corner previously left unexplored.
While “pigfuck” was first used to describe Sonic Youth, by the time the term had spread, the band’s music had already evolved—and the phrase taken on a new meaning—so that it no longer applied. But if there’s one record from the SY oeuvre to fall under the categorizing, this would be it. Less free-associative than latter day Sonic Youth, but not as compressed as their albums would become in the ’90s, Confusion Is Sex is a beautiful conglomeration of mood, restlessness and noise. The best evidence is “Shaking Hell,” which juxtaposes a jagged guitar riff with a sparse beat and Kim Gordon’s harrowing telling of “I’ll shake off your flesh!” It’s a sound and a notion that can’t easily be shaken.
No label embodied the pigfuck aesthetic as much as Amphetamine Reptile, and one of the best showcases for that aesthetic was the Dope, Guns & Fucking in the Streets series of 7-inch EPs that the label put out. This collection of the first three volumes shows the label to be experts in their field. Helios Creed’s “The Last Laugh” is a continually rebuilding wall of sound, while the Cows’ “Almost a God” bears an even more impenetrable caustic veneer. Similarly, Halo of Flies’ take a simple beat and riff to their furthest extremes. Proof positive of the AmRep mark of quality.
My fondness for the Buttholes’ dementia has dissipated ever since they decided to sue former label Touch and Go, but there’s no denying this record’s chaotic power. Here the band harnesses their acid-tinged aesthetic to a steamrolling confluence of guitar noise. No one ever said assholes can’t make good records, I guess.
By the time the Butthole Surfers’ King Coffey released Heroin Man on his Trance Syndicate label, Austin’s Cherubs had called it a day. But in their wake they left this doozy of an album. Having the distinction of utilizing a telephone as an instrument (“Stag Party”), this record uncompromisingly lays down a thick sludge of guitar and bass that is nothing short of brutal. “Baby Huey” is a highpoint, combining a disjointed rhythm and two strains of guitar running simultaneously. The rest of the record delves further into the sonic abyss, dredging up some of the most truly potent shit you’ll hear.
Featuring future Jesus Lizard members David Wm. Sims and David Yow, Scratch Acid was every bit as vitriolic as the band they would spawn. Released posthumously, The Greatest Gift collects the two EPs and one LP the Austin band released during their time, while tacking on a handful of outtakes. The band is really the precursor to what became known as pigfuck, and at the time of these recordings there was no other band who sounded remotely like them. But more than just proto-pigs, Scratch Acid created a small wealth of music, again all here, that’s still bewilderingly amazing to this day.
The frantic noise the Cows made mutated into various forms, but never was it as gloriously unhinged as on their fourth album. Cunning Stunts shows the band frantically exhibiting all their best traits: Thor Eisenstrager’s whiplash guitar playing and Shannon Selberg’s manic ranting and intermittent horn blasts. Unlike some of their more primal brethren, the band seems in complete command—even as they lose control.
“Yu Gung,” the leadoff track on Sugarshit Sharp, is certainly one of the greatest songs ever recorded. Slashing guitar riffs mix haphazardly with a simple backbeat and samples of Public Enemy while Jon Spencer howls, “Feed my ego!” The rest of the record similarly fuses varied elements in slapdash fashion, but by pure determination it all holds together, the loose ends and splayed rhythms only adding to its ferocity.
Big Black released several incredible records during their short life span, but Atomizer stands out above the rest. Steve Albini exorcises a fetish with small town life, drafting cuts like “Jordan, Minnesota” and “Kerosene” from the point of views of nowheresville inhabitants. Meshed with taught guitar lines and drum machine beats that hit like a nail gun, the album is a lean beast of a record, devoid of affectation or spectacle, but loaded with potency.
The Jesus Lizard eventually gained notoriety for singer David Yow’s antics, which at one point landed him in a Cincinnati jail, but it was the caustic blasts of white heat this band emitted that were the real attraction. Yow’s deranged yowl is a key component, though, and from his opening demand of “Make me another boilermaker” on the opening cut (“Boilermaker”), he and the band never let up. This is a record simmered down to its essence, all lacerating riffs and boiled beats.