Sonic Youth was an American rock band from New York City, formed in 1981. Founding members Thurston Moore (guitar, vocals), Kim Gordon (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Lee Ranaldo (guitar, vocals) remained together for the entire history of the band, while Steve Shelley (drums) followed a series of short-term drummers in 1985, and rounded out the core line-up. In their early career Sonic Youth were associated with the no wave art and music scene in New York City. Part of the first wave of American noise rock groups, the band carried out their interpretation of the hardcore punk ethos throughout the evolving American underground that focused more on the DIY ethic of the genre rather than its specific sound.
The band experienced relative commercial success and critical acclaim throughout their existence, continuing partly into the new millennium, including signing to major label DGC in 1990 and headlining the 1995 Lollapalooza festival. Sonic Youth have been praised for having "redefined what rock guitar could do", using a wide variety of unorthodox guitar tunings and preparing guitars with objects like drum sticks and screwdrivers to alter the instruments' timbre. The band is considered to be a pivotal influence on the alternative and indie rock movements.
In 1999 their music reached a new audience interested in 20th-century classical music and experimental music with the release of SYR4: Goodbye 20th Century, a double album of covers of avant-garde recordings that featured works by avant-garde classical composers such as John Cage, Yoko Ono, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, George Maciunas, Cornelius Cardew, Nicolas Slonimsky and Christian Wolff as played by Sonic Youth along with several collaborators from the modern avant-garde music scene, such as Christian Marclay, William Winant, Wharton Tiers, Takehisa Kosugi and others.
In 2011 Ranaldo announced that the band was "ending for a while" following the separation of married couple Gordon and Moore. Thurston Moore updated and clarified the position in May 2014: "Sonic Youth is on hiatus. The band is a democracy of sorts, and as long as Kim and I are working out our situation, the band can't really function reasonably." Gordon refers several times in her 2015 autobiography Girl in a Band to the band having "split up".