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James Chance, No Wave Pioneer and Founder of The Contortions, Dead at 71

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James Chance, a pioneer of New York’s No Wave scene, has died. He was 71 years old.

According to a GoFundMe started by his brother, Chance had been suffering from a “years-long debilitating illness,” and passed away on Tuesday surrounded by family.

Chance was born in Milwaukee in 1953, and began performing in bands while attending university in Michigan. In the mid ‘70s, he moved to New York, where he became involved in the city’s free jazz and punk scenes, forming Teenage Jesus and the Jerks with Lydia Lunch in 1976.

Chance only remained in Teenage Jesus for a short period, and in 1977 he founded the jazz-funk-punk group, The Contortions, where he began expanding his signature style. Explaining in later interviews that he wanted to mend the divide between various scenes in New York, he brought his impassioned, chaotic saxophone playing together with punk vocalizations, funky rhythms, and an all-around fervent sound.

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The Contortions went on to garner acclaim and were notably featured on Brian Eno’s celebrated 1978 compilation album, No New York (which also featured Teenage Jesus). They also developed a reputation for uproarious live shows, which would even include violence and confrontation between the band and audience members.

After The Contortions disbanded in 1979, Chance founded James White and the Blacks, and appeared in films like Rosa von Praunheim’s Death Magazine: or How to Be a Flowerpot and the Jean-Michel Basquiat-starring Downtown 81.

After the early ‘80s, Chance’s output decreased, and he even went into semi-retirement for a period of time. But in the ‘90s, he collaborated with Blondie for their No Exit album, and in the ‘00s, he reunited with The Contortions for a number of live dates.

In more recent years, he performed from time to time in New York, and released new material, such as the 2016 Contortions album The Flesh is Weak. In 2018, he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to play saxophone for Franz Ferdinand.

According to the GoFundMe started by his brother, Chance’s family is still accepting contributions to cover funeral costs, and a “virtual memorial” to Chance will be announced at a later date.

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