June 16, 2017
In rock circles, there is an odd belief that the louder you are, the better you are as a band. It’s a thought that has lessened a bit in the past decade or so with many noting the correlation between a louder concert and the more likely onset of hearing loss, but it’s still a crown that many rock bands look to achieve even if by this point it’s an unwritten record as Guinness World Records have stopped promoting ‘The Loudest Band in the World’ for fear of promoting anything that could lead to health problems. Even so, who is the loudest band in the world? We decided to investigate!
The important to note when measuring sound is that decibel levels can be measured across a number of different decibel scales. Therefore it’s difficult to compare separate records… But don’t let that stop you from learning a few fascinating facts about bands over the years!
Back in 1969, using no measuring instruments at all, Rolling Stone proclaimed that Led Zeppelin were one of the loudest bands of the time. Naturally, this was quickly disputed (well, within three years), when Deep Purple rocked up at London’s Rainbow Theatre and played a gig that reached 117dB. With three audience members rendered unconscious (though it’s hard to believe this was just as a result of the sound), Guinness World Records awarded the title ‘Globe’s Loudest Band’, as if somehow banning an intergalactic band from ever taking their prize (more on that later.)
By 1976, everyone’s favourite mod rockers The Who took the crown, with 126dB being measured 32 metres from the speakers during a concert at The Valley, Charlton Athletic’s football ground. The distance is important because every 6 feet, you’ll lose 3 dB of sound… There’s a fact for the pub quiz. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there weren’t too many official contenders to the crowd. Heavy metal band Manowar proclaimed they were the loudest band in the world after a Hanover gig in 1994 where their sound levels reached 129.5 dB. Weirdly, Guinness already had the band listed as the loudest ever from a gig 10 years earlierand didn’t note the new ‘record’ due to the aforementioned fear or promoting hearing damage.
In 1986, Motorhead were cited as ‘The Loudest Band on Earth’ by Spin magazine, again bizarrely leaving wiggle room for any intergalactic rock bands to take ‘The Loudest Band of the Universe’ prize. This was also an odd claim as the magazine stated they had performed a loud gig in Cleveland that usurped The Who… But their record hadn’t stood for two years thanks to Manowar. As we said, it’s a murky record to hold.
In 1996, House/Electronic band Leftfield became known for their noisy live shows, performing to a packed house at Brixton Academy in June 1996. The sound allegedly reached a ludicrous 137 dB, causing dust and plaster to fall from the roof. This is why when you book an event, a venue may have a sound limiter (more on that here!) Since then, the record of 137 dB hasn’t been broken at a live gig but punk band Gallows achieved 132.5 DB in a studio in 2007 whilst Manowar again stepped in with 139 dB in a 2008 sound check. With regards to these sound levels, anything in the 130 dB range would actually cause ear damage almost immediately if you heard them so take the phrase ‘deafening sound’ in a literal manner!
We did say that we’d get on to the idea of intergalactic bands earlier and if they’re in contention then there is only one winner – Disaster Area. As Douglas Adams’ writes in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, they play concerts that devastate entire planets. Audiences listen in concrete bunkers from up to 37 miles away and the band themselves control instruments via remote control. We think that’s probably the loudest band around but there was no reference in the book to the idea that they’d ever turn their amps up to 11. With this in mind, we declare that Spinal Tap must be the loudest band around!
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