DNA was a No Wave band formed in 1978 by guitarist Arto Lindsay and keyboardist Robin Crutchfield. Rather than playing their instruments in a traditional manner, they instead focused on making unique and unusual sounds. Their music was described as spare, noisy, and angular and was compared to some of Captain Beefheart's output and even to Anton Webern.
DNA originally consisted of Lindsay, Crutchfield, Gordon Stevenson and Mirielle Cervenka, and took their name from a song by another no wave band, Mars. Stevenson went on to play bass for Teenage Jesus and the Jerks; Cervenka was the younger sister of Exene Cervenka of X. This incarnation of the band was very brief, not playing even one concert. After the rapid departure of Stevenson and Cervenka, Lindsay and Crutchfield hastily recruited Ikue Moriwho at the time had little command of English and no drum setto be DNA's drummer.
This lineup of DNA played occasionally at CBGB and Max's Kansas City and recorded one 7" single. Within their first year, they had cemented their reputation as a paradigmatic no wave band when Brian Eno selected them as one of the four groups documented on the No New York LP, the first recording to expose no wave groups to an audience outside of lower Manhattan. The other three bands appearing on this album were The Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and Mars.
Shortly after the recording of No New York, Crutchfield left DNA to form a new band, Dark Day. He was replaced by Tim Wright, previously of the Cleveland band Pere Ubu. As Wright played bass guitar and not keyboards, and was the only member of the band to have any conventional instrumental technique, the change in DNA's sound was dramatic. The music became even more spare and angular, with Wright's bass lines creating a sometimes menacing sound to support Lindsay's scraping, atonal guitar and Mori's irregular rhythms. Their song structures became tighter, briefer, more abstract, and have been compared to haiku.
The Lindsay-Mori-Wright lineup of DNA developed something of a cult following between 1979 and 1982, but perhaps more of their fans came from the art world than from rock audiences. Live shows were frequent in this period, but rarely outside of the CBGB/Mudd Club/Tier 3 circuit in lower Manhattan.
The group's 10-minute debut album, A Taste of DNA was recorded for Kip Hanrahan's American Clavé label, and was later released on Rough Trade in 1980. Some live DNA tracks appeared on compilation albums while the band was still in existence.
Lindsay, Mori, and Wright decided to dissolve the band in 1982. It's a measure of the cult following the band had developed that its final concerts were three consecutive sold-out nights at CBGB. DNA's final encore was a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." This is not included on the CD Last Live at CBGB, released more than a decade later on John Zorn's Avant label.
The band is featured in the film Downtown 81 starring the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
DNA on DNA, a comprehensive CD chronicle of the band, was released by No More Records in 2004.
Lindsay and Mori, and to a lesser extent Crutchfield, have remained active in music.
The rock group Blonde Redhead takes its name from a DNA song.
- No New York: various artists (Four DNA tracks) 1978 - Antilles, AN 7067 (LP)
- A Taste of DNA 1981 - American Clavé, AMCL 1003EP (12")
- The Fruit of Original Sin: various artists (Three DNA tracks) 1981 - Les Disques Du Crepuscule, twi 035 (2xLP)
- Last Live at CBGB 1993 - Avant (Japan), Avant 006 (CD)
- American Clavé Sampler: various artists (one DNA track) 1993 - American Clave (USA), AMCL 1020/1026 (2xCD)
- DNA on DNA 2004 - No More Records, NoCD12
- "You & You" b/w "Little Ants" 1978 - Lust/Unlust Music, 11-CAN-234
- McGonigal, Mike: "Same Ol' Samo", ArtForum, Summer 2000.
- Official Myspace page for "Llik Your Idols", a documentary about the Cinema of Transgression featuring DNA live.
- DNA Live at the Mudd Club, 1981 (YouTube clip 10:47)