Seminal No Wave legend James Chance never chased mainstream success: Here are five of his most essential tracks

James Chance and the Contortions pioneered the No Wave Punk Jazz scene, a genre that is chaotic, and poetical as fuck

James Chance, who passed away just two days ago on June 18, 2024, wasn’t one to chase mainstream success.

His band, James Chance and the Contortions, was a seminal group in the No Wave scene, a short-lived but influential movement in late 1970s New York City that defied genre definition.

James Chance and the Contortions

Their music was a wild mix of punk energy, free jazz improvisation, and dance floor funk. Because of that, Chance’s songs aren’t necessarily radio-friendly hits, but they are all worth a listen if you want to experience a truly unique sound.

Here are five of his most essential tracks:

“Contort Yourself” – This is maybe the Contortions’ best-known song, and it’s a good entry point to their sound. The song starts with a jittery, atonal guitar riff and Chance’s almost spoken-word vocals, then explodes into a chaotic but danceable groove.

“I Can’t Stand Myself” – This song is a bit slower and more atmospheric than “Contort Yourself,” but it’s still plenty intense. Chance’s saxophone playing is especially ferocious here.

“Dish It Up” – a song about rejecting being pushed around, the band breaks free from being passive with lyrics and aggressive vocals that demand control with a chaotic soundscape to match.

“Flip Your Face” a little punk poppier than their other works, its still holds a healthy dose of the bands unconventional songwriting, and chaotic saxophone playing that we have come to love him for.

“Jaded” – This song is a good example of the Contortions’ more improvisational side. It’s a long, free-form jam that builds to a chaotic climax.

These are just a few of James Chance’s many great songs. If you’re looking for something different and challenging, his music is definitely worth checking out.