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.
Sonic Youth's sound relied heavily on the use of alternative tunings. Scordatura on stringed instruments has been used for centuries and alternative guitar tunings had been used for decades in blues music, and to a limited degree in rock music (such as with Lou Reed's Ostrich guitar on The Velvet Underground & Nico). In 2011 Ranaldo announced that the band was "ending for a while" following the separation of married couple Gordon and Moore.