Punk’s big bang of 1977 sent its shock-waves from the City Centres to the Suburbs, previous youth cultures had just been officially nuked. Punk was a fast paced movement, with fast paced songs, and as part of that package, these high speed songs needed to be played at a skull rattling volume, screaming out of the speakers at us like razor haired doodle-bugs.
Punk was loud, there were no “acoustic” punk bands in 1977, and in the early days at least, there was little room for any appreciation of subtlety, Punk was best enjoyed through as much amplification as was available. Domestic record players were set accordingly and our first 15w amplifiers never knew what had hit them.
A decade or so later, while setting up a club night in London, we’d just got to the sound checking stage when a much more experienced promoter wandered over with an usually welcome top-tip, “Just make sure it’s loud enough…” he said as he cranked the amps up to what seemed like an ear destroying, palpitation inducing, ambulance calling, bolt-loosening volume. He may have been onto something, because as strange as it might seem, there could actually be a scientific basis for this; It’s become known as “The Rock and Roll Threshold” and the research behind it suggests that there is a psychological reason why fans like their music played loud – “when our auditory sensors are saturated, which occurs at a certain decibel level, we experience a certain set of sensations that are completely absent below the threshold”, (Dibble 1995), and the premise is that rock music (or house music, etc.) doesn’t “work” unless the volume threshold is met. Interesting.
In 1976 The Who earned a “Loudest Band” listing in The Guinness Book of World Records for achieving a reading of 126 dBs, measured roughly 100 feet from the stage at a show at The Valley, the Charlton Athletic FC Stadium in South East London.
In 1968 Deep Purple played at the Rainbow, Finsbury Park reaching 117 dBs on the noise-o-meter, allegedly rendering 3 members of the audience unconscious, and in 1996 at The Academy Brixton, electronic dance combo Leftfield, were reported to have played at an excruciating 137 dBs, causing chunks of plaster and dust from the ceiling to crumble and rain down on their audience.
By the way, for anything above 85 dBs hearing protection is recommended.
The World Health Organisation reports that the single most common irreversible occupational hazard worldwide is noise-induced hearing impairment.
30 dBs Whispering
90 dBs Lawn Mower
110 dBs Average rock band
115 dBs Ambulance siren
126 dBs The Who, London 1976
135 dBs Air Raid Siren
136 dBs Kiss, Ottowa 2009
137 dBs Leftfield, Brixton 1996
140 dBs Jet engine at takeoff
205 dBs Saturn 5 rocket
For every 10 dBAs the loudness doubles.
More band facts at Gibson.com .