In The irrepressible 1980 song by Kid Creole and the Coconuts Darrio, a group of female backup singers bouncing around plead for the titular gentleman to take them to Studio 54. Otherwise helpful Darrio lists why he can’t (“That’s the one thing money can’t buy”), before finally admit “my kind of paradise is Club 57,” the East Village hangout of the late 70s and early 80s that was the antithesis of a nightclub. The New York Times in 1980 described the band as “the Marx brothers meeting Carmen Miranda in Bob Marley’s Kingston.”
The song, and the genre-changing act, is a neat time capsule of the New York night and music scene of the time, which is the focus of a new exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Coinciding with MTV’s 40th anniversary on August 1, New York, New Music: 1980–1986 is organized around 14 key moments and features more than 350 objects, including video footage, photographs, artifacts, and ephemeral objects. It was an era of experimentation and synthesizing genres, from no wave to pop, hip-hop, salsa and jazz, all flourishing in a dynamic art scene that frolicked through clubs, bars, theaters, parks and spaces. of art and spread to the streets.
New York City at the time proved to be a unique and fertile artistic breeding ground for work that continues to influence culture today, according to Sean Corcoran, the museum’s curator of prints and photography, who previously hosted exhibitions on the art of graffiti. mid-70s and early hip-hop. Photography. “Ed Koch was mayor, the city was on the mend after a big fiscal crisis,” he said. “It was still a rough city, before gentrification really took over. Artists could afford to live in the city, they didn’t have to struggle to make the rent, so they could focus on their work. You could allow yourself to experiment. “
Familiar faces abound in the exhibition, including images of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry and a teenage LL Cool J. But its emphasis is on the artists who took their music in new directions in 1980s New York City. The Talking Heads, for example, played their first show in CBGB in 1975, but the exhibition focuses on a 1980 Central Park concert that showcased an expanded lineup of musicians and brought the band’s new Afrobeat influences to the fore.
“There is a lot of important music made at that time that a lot of people don’t know about,” Corcoran said. “We hope to encourage some musical discovery or rediscovery, to raise awareness about different types of music. We want to give people the opportunity to expand their musical horizons a bit. “
After all, there is a strong preconception of the music of that time. “When people think of 80s music, they think exclusively of pop music because of MTV – they made artists like Madonna stars,” says Corocoran. “But I am trying to show the wide range of musical and cultural scenes that occur in the city at that time. The disco era and the punk movement of the 70s tend to be the center of attention, but the music a few years later was vital and experimental ”.
That includes transgressive, experimental music made by groups like DNA and cutting-edge compositional work by artists like Laurie Anderson and John Zorn. Jazz continued to be important in the city through the work of artists such as Henry Threadgill and the Fort Apache Band, who fused Latin rhythms with jazz. And the sauce was as vital as in the 70s, during the heyday of the Fania Records label.
“What really surprised me was how interconnected all this music was,” says Corcoran. “If you look at a week’s schedule for the Mudd Club, it could be all the different genres and styles of music from day to day. The reserve was really brave and wide. People were absorbing all these different types of music and incorporating it into their own music. New York is well suited for this cross-pollination of cultures and ideas. “
The range of media on display showcases the many ways in which the public discovered new music at the time: handcrafted brochures of upcoming shows distributed at venues; live reviews of performances by Afrika Bambaataa and Sonic Youth who shared pages on the New York Rocker; Keith Haring’s designed posters for the incomparable Liquid Liquid downtown act.
And, of course, that radio, video killer. These were the early days of portable video cameras and public access television, and MTV’s wall-to-wall music video streaming was about to revolutionize the industry. In addition to three giant screens playing live performances and music videos, a suburban recreation room-inspired space was developed for the exhibit with video artists Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong, who created the original room at the iconic Danceteria nightclub. in 1980 for those taking a break from the dance floor. The installation presents a mixture of found images, video art and archival films of musicians from the center; clips from the Brooklyn-based public access show The Scott and Gary Show, including an early performance by the Beastie Boys; and rare early MTV interviews with artists like Madonna and Run-DMC.
But ultimately, it wasn’t the arrival of MTV that beat this early 1980s New York music scene. As the city’s economy recovered, club owners came under pressure from rising rents and the broader efforts to clean up the city’s reputation. Meanwhile, crack and AIDS devastated the communities where the artists lived and worked, and these areas, such as the East Village and the Lower East Side, began to feel the advance of gentrification. The eclectic New York sound that highlights the exhibition finally gave way to the global hip-hop giant, also created in New York, with Run-DMC’s iconic 1986 version of Aerosmith’s rock classic Walk This Way that marked rap’s entry into the world. mainstream.
Corcoran hopes the exhibition will draw new attention to the often-overlooked musical ingenuity of the time. “The New York of the early 1980s was the perfect incubator for all of this – that social, cultural and fiscal situation set the stage for many creative people to be here, meet and create together,” he said. “That still happens today, but there was the perfect combination of those things to be really shocking.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism