Sonic Youth Recover Stolen Gear 13 Years On

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Sonic Youth Recover Stolen Gear 13 Years On

If there’s one thing music fans prove time and time again, it’s that they’re a dedicated bunch, and fans of influential alternative rock act Sonic Youth have proven to be some of the most faithful with news that they’ve helped to recover some of the band’s gear – 13 years after the fact.

As Pitchfork recounts, way back in 1999, on the morning of the 4th of July to be precise, a truck containing some of Sonic Youth’s unique collection of modified equipment – including amps, drums, pedals and modified guitars – was stolen from Orange County, California.

Thought the truck turned up a few days later in LA, its contents did not – and given the length of time since the theft the band understandably thought their gear long gone.

Diligent fans however have been tipping the iconic New York group off whenever they see suspicious equipment going on sale and this month, two guitars from the band’s collection of missing equipment has surfaced, more than a decade on from their theft.

“It’s kind of wild,” said guitarist Lee Ranaldo,”after all this time, things are still surfacing thanks to the diligence of fans.”
One such item is a white Fender Jazzmaster guitar belonging to frontman Thurston Moore that was spotted by a Belgian fan on eBay.
“He wrote saying, ‘check out this auction’,” says Ranaldo. “The colour’s different, but it definitely looks like your guitar. The serial number matches.”
It helps that the band have a ‘Illustrated Equipment Guide’ available on their website, cataloguing and describing their enormous, varied amount of heavily modified gear.
A fact that makes their equipment difficult to sell (aside from their fan value) and easily recognisable. The band have a history of stripping back and re-building their guitars without many of the standard features – including the removal of the tone knob, which Ranaldo calls “an immediate tell-tale sign” of a Sonic Youth guitar.
The second recovered guitar was one of Ranaldo’s own, a burgundy Fender Jazzmaster, which was put up for sale in a pawn shop and discovered through a lengthy discussion in tech-head website OffsetGuitars; a website Ranaldo calls “a forum of geeks for these kinds of guitars.”
“Three pages into the discussion, someone said ‘this looks like it’s Sonic Youth-ized or one of those stolen guitars’.”

Stranger still, Ranaldo recounted a tale to Pitchfork of how some of their geeked-out gear was essentially held for ransom and sold back to them at a show.

After a 2005 gig they played in LA, the guitarist says the band were approached by “two scruffy teenage boys” who “told us they knew about our stolen guitars. One claimed his uncle was involved with stealing the van.”

“We were like, ‘yeah, sure kid.’ But he sent us these anonymous pictures of our gear in basements,” explains Ranaldo. “Foot pedals where you could see our crew guys’ writing on the sides, and somebody’s sneaker on top. These kids were destitute. They’d been kicked out of their homes, living in a car in L.A. We said, ‘we’ll give you a few hundred dollars each for them.’ It did happen.”

Still a few guitars later, and much of the contents of the 1999 van’s contents remains a mystery. ”I’m just so curious as to whatever happened to the rest… It was a massive amount of gear to see only these few guitars come back. I would love to one day know the real story.”

Ranaldo, along with fellow bandmate Thurston Moore, will both be in the country this time next month for the Melbourne Festival – though both are touring their respective solo material. Moore is playing dates around the country from late October, while Ranaldo will be playing in support of his latest solo effort, Between the Times and the Tides beginning from October 20.

Don’t hold your breath for half of Sonic Youth to make a mini-reunion however, while many wonder if the influential outfit have unofficially called it quits, what Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon officially separating after 27 years of marriage causing potential friction ion the band.

Though the two worked with the one and only Yoko Ono on a collaborative album (handily called YOKOKIMTHURSTON), Moore seems to be full steam ahead with brand new band Chelsea Light Morning and his solo material.

Speaking to the BBC about the upcoming release of a wealth of archived Sonic Youth material however, Ranaldo remained democratically positive about the band’s future, saying they were simply on “longterm hold,” from recording and touring.

“I’m on good terms and talking with everyone, but there’s definitely a lot of stuff shaking out right now,” Ranaldo remarked of his bandmates. “It’s such a tender thing right now that none of us are even thinking along those lines.”

He calls the band’s potential disintegration “unfortunate” but remained hopeful that a “rejuvenated” lineup would be “looking to explore new avenues.” Even if nothing eventuates, at least there’s a whole bunch of juicy archive material to look forward to.


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