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John, I’m only decorating: David Bowie’s old apartment on sale for $6.5m

The New York apartment where Bowie lived in the 90s is on the market and his pianos included in the price

If youre still mourning David Bowie, and want something to remember him by, then theres one unique piece of Bowie memorabilia you might be interested in. The only drawback? It will cost you the thick end of $6.5m.

The item in question is David Bowies old three-bedroom apartment in New York, in which he lived from 1992 to 2002 with his second wife, Iman. It is being sold through the real estate firm Corcoran for $6.495m.

It should be said, its a fairly splendid setup, located in the famous Essex House apartment block on Central Park South. The living room of apartment 915 has panoramic views of the park, and opens into a stately walnut-panelled office that also faces Central Park the perfect place from which to close the next big deal, write the next bestselling novel or make into a third bedroom, according to the listing.

David Bowies old living room the furniture belongs to the subsequent owner. Photograph: Corcoran real estate

The apartment also comes with a Yamaha piano that belonged to Bowie, but which he evidently did not feel the need to remove when he left the property. Or perhaps the removers took one look at a grand piano and refused to take it down nine floors.

When Bowie and Iman lived in the apartment, they reportedly had a panic room installed. That has since been converted back into a master bedroom, removing the opportunity for Bowie obsessives to recreate the cocaine-and-paranoia years from the safety of a sealed box.

The couple left the apartment to move downtown, to a property in SoHo that Bowie had bought in 1999.

The listing for the Essex House apartment reads:

Calling all Central Park and music lovers!

Make beautiful music in this elegant, Central Park-facing condominium home that includes a pristine Yamaha piano that was David Bowies! This tremendous home offers a gracious limestone entry foyer and generously proportioned rooms with incredible storage space. Large picture windows frame a clear and direct view of the incomparable Central Park. Look on to the perfect landscape, enjoy the serenity of the trees, flanked by the historic and commanding buildings the view is not to be missed.

The grand-scaled living room measures 28 feet wide and opens into a stately walnut-panelled office that also faces Central Park – the perfect place from which to close the next big deal, write the next bestselling novel or make into a third bedroom. The pass-through kitchen is newly renovated and features top of the line appliances. There are two master-sized bedrooms, with beautifully crafted en-suite baths made of custom marble, porcelain and limestone. The master bedroom offers a separate dressing area and extra large bath with separate deep soaking tub, rain shower and heated floors.

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‘The blues still stands for authenticity’: my Mississippi road trip

Inspired by fragments of lyrics and old recordings, novelist Hari Kunzru set off through Americas deep south

We were driving from New York to west Texas, and late in the afternoon we left Nashville and crossed the Tennessee state line into Mississippi. My girlfriend (now my wife), a writer friend and I were following the Natchez Trace, an ancient route that had been turned into a national park, a strip of unbroken green stretching 400 miles south. As I drove, the modern world of gas stations and strip malls fell away, and it seemed to me that I was travelling back into a yellow-hued past. It was beautiful, but at the same time faintly threatening, like several moments on that trip: the Disney castle that loomed up over a dark forest and revealed itself as a chemical plant; the electrical storm on the horizon as we pulled into a motel.

In the rural south, the three of us stuck out like a sore thumb. We were the set-up for a bad joke: an Asian woman, a white woman and a non-specific brown man walk into a bar More than once we brought a place of business to a halt. I remember a gas station with a diner counter where a row of men in hunting camo stopped spooning eggs into their mouths just to watch me pay for a soda. There was a diner in Clarksdale run by a Lebanese family (flag on the wall, tabouleh and hummus on the menu after the usual American items) where the waitress leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially, New York?, as if making contact on behalf of the super-secret immigrant-welcoming committee.

Soon we left Mississippi behind, but the place was firmly lodged in my imagination: the signs of the Baptist churches raining hellfire on passing motorists, the empty bottles of Four Roses bourbon at the William Faulkner House, the Spanish moss hanging from the trees. Even before that journey Id been caught up in the music. Modern Mississippi (the part that isnt buying Faith Hill records) bumps along to trap and bass, nodding its head to Gucci Mane or the Jackson rapper Big KRIT, but I had got mixed up in a style that seems to have been consigned to heritage tourism: the country blues.

If I say its almost impossible to hear the blues now, thats not because its unavailable, quite the opposite. In every city in America (and most others around the world) there is a half-empty bar where a middle-aged man with a ponytail is yodelling about how he woke up this morning and got down on his knees. Young baby boomers fell in love with the blues, and made their taste global. In England, skinny young rock musicians like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones studied the old songs, then sold them back to America with extra heaviness. John Bonhams massive booming drums on When The Levee Breaks werent recorded anywhere near a levee, but in the hall of a Hampshire country house. Though the height of its popularity was 50 years ago, in the popular imagination the blues still stands for authenticity.

But since authenticity is catnip to capital, the blues has become a visual shorthand in advertising: a tastefully blown-out shot of a sharecropper sitting on a porch playing a harmonica, cut with a water droplet running down the flank of a beer bottle. Its hard to think of another kind of music that has been so thoroughly hollowed out.

But it is extraordinary music, if you can really hear it. Ive been making playlists of songs originally recorded on 78rpm shellac discs in the years before the second world war, songs that sounded like the work of ghosts. The voices of the old singers were distant in time, muffled by crackle and hiss, and yet somehow immediate. I started scribbling lists of names in my notebook, fingerpicking guitarists, men from the Mississippi hills who played fife and drums. Inevitably, I started writing a novel, if only as a pretext for my obsession. A couple of years after my first short trip, I went back, following a meandering path dictated by fragments of old lyrics and the life stories of musicians.

Hari Kunzru at Dockery Farm, a Mississippi blues mecca. Photograph: Hari Kunzru

One morning I drove through heavy rain towards the river, near a place called Rosedale. Lord, Im going to Rosedale, going to take my rider by my side, sings Robert Johnson, whos making his way through towns and women in Traveling Riverside Blues. The rider is from Friars Point, a little farther upriver, near the Stovall plantation where Muddy Waters was still an unknown tractor driver. She has gold teeth and a mortgage on my body, now, and a lien on my soul.

Rosedale today is a scatter of one-storey houses and cabins. On Main Street theres a bank, a courthouse and an old cafe selling hot tamales. Johnson must have stopped in places like that, because another of his girls (she long and tall, she sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall) sells them two for a nickel four for a dime. The tamale is a Mississippi delta curiosity. Shucks of corn, filled with ground meat and cornmeal, wrapped up with twine into skinny little parcels of steaming fragrant paste. I order them by the half-dozen, by the dozen; smother them in cheese and slather them in hot sauce. Most people argue that they were brought by Mexican migrants who worked the cotton fields in the early 20th century. A few say that tamales are far older, a trace of the maize-based agriculture of the mound-building Native Americans who once lived on the river.

The mounds, and the memory of the people who built them almost 1,000 years ago, are one of the many ghostly traces on the Mississippi landscape. Downriver from Rosedale, at Winterville, I walked around the base of one of these mysterious constructions, part of a culture that had disappeared by 1500. Big Bill Broonzy used to tell a tall story about his birth, claiming it took place during the great Mississippi flood of 1893. His parents (and their 15 other children) had fled to the top of a Choctaw mound, possibly even this one. There his mother went into labour, after his father had gone off in a rowing boat to get help.

You can be very close to the Mississippi river and still not see it. The reason is the levee, a huge mound of earth raised to prevent flooding. Not until you walk up on top do you witness the great sluggish beast making its way down to the Gulf. Since European colonisation, engineers have been battling to stop the Mississippi spreading itself out across the delta in times of heavy rain. As I stood on the levee near the river port of Greenville, the rain was falling hard and the Mississippi was rushing on in a great brown muddy torrent. I retreated to my car and spent the night in a motel on a strip of fast-food restaurants on the highway, listening to the sound of eight inches of rain falling on the state. I woke to discover that rivers and creeks had overtopped their banks, washing away roads and killing at least one person, a little girl swept into a storm drain.

Robert Johnson singing Me And The Devil

The National Weather Service classified this as minor to moderate flooding. The great flood of 1927 was one of the most destructive in the history of the US: 27,000 square miles were inundated, leaving some parts of the delta 30ft underwater. You can hear its impact in the blues. Charley Patton found high water everywhere, which drove him from one place to another, frantically looking for shelter. The water in Greenville and Leland, Lord, it done rose everywhere,/ I would go down to Rosedale but they tell me theres water there. Two hundred thousand people were displaced in Mississippi, most of them farm workers and their families. Its raining, it has been for nights and days./ Thousand people stands on the hill, looking down where they used to stay, sings Barbecue Bob, who is sitting here looking at all of this mud,/ And my gal got washed away in that Mississippi flood.

The flood had a wider impact on the lives of the black people of the delta. The federal response was to institute a massive programme of levee reconstruction, some of it using forced labour. The Mississippi levee camps were some of the roughest places in the south. Gangs worked from sun-up to sundown (traditionally from can see to cant or just from can to cant), wheeling barrows of earth and driving mule teams. Some men were free, others convicts, working off fines. Conditions were primitive. Bosses were armed and drove the workers hard. Cholera was rife.

Bluesmen Robert Johnson (on left) and Johnny Shines, circa 1935. Photograph: Robert Johnson Estate/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Near the camps, women set up their own tents, washing clothes and selling sex. Men on the levee hollering whoa and gee,/ Women in the levee camp hollering who wants me, sang the Texan Gene Campbell. Stories abound of drunken fights in camp jukes and barrelhouses, where bluesmen would play to patrons so inured to violence, it was said theyd tread on your corpse to get to the bar.

Many blues lyrics are based on levee camp hollers, work chants that could contain everything from gossip (That woman aint nothing but a downtown money waster) to advice on when its safest to ask for wages from a psychopathic boss (Oh, boys, if you want to go down to Mr Charlie and dont get hurt,/ go down Monday morning when the boys are at work,/ youll be alright) and the broken-down condition of the draft animals (Lord, I walked around the whole corral,/ couldnt find a mule with his shoulder well), which at times made it impossible for them to pull a load.

Inland from Rosedale is the monotonous landscape of the delta, flat agricultural land that in the 20s and 30s was devoted to highly profitable large-scale cotton farming. I drove through it under a lowering sky. The fields were full of standing water. At first it was a place where the majority of landowners were black; but by 1890 black people had been disenfranchised and a systematic pattern of lynchings had driven out most of the former owners and put their land firmly in the hands of white people. In the interwar period, it was known as a racy, modern place, where people went to work on large farms like Dockerys, the plantation where Charley Patton used to play to the pickers on payday.

No one else wanted to look at the old plantation in the rain, so I walked around the outbuildings on my own. At its height, the place had supported 2,000 black workers, who were paid in farm currency or scrip, tying them to the place. No wonder it was so glamorous to be a rambler, a rounder, able to move around freely. In Me And The Devil, Robert Johnson (often to be found around Dockerys) cheerfully greets Satan, whos come to take him to hell, and leaves instructions that you may bury my body, not in sanctified ground, but by the highway side,/ So my old evil spirit can get a Greyhound bus and ride.

Some, like Johnson, travelled all across the country playing music. Son House travelled, but he saw the upside of home: Clarksdales in the South, and lays heavy on my mind,/ I can have a good time there, if I aint got but one lousy dime. When cotton was king, Clarksdale was a thriving town, with streets of smart shopfronts in the newly fashionable deco style. Now its a fragile place, the downtown economy vampirised by Walmart and the other big box stores that lurk at the periphery of most southern towns. These days, Mississippi has the lowest average household income in the US, at just under $37,000 (30,000) a year.

I walked around Clarksdale, thinking about Son House, who saw the towns 20s and 30s boom time from the gutter. Every day in the week, he sings, I goes to Midtown Drugs,/ and get me a bottle of snuff, and a bottle of Alcorub. During prohibition, the poorest southern alcoholics, who couldnt even afford the price of a jug of country liquor, would try to stave off the comedown by sniffing rubbing alcohol or drinking camping fuel, known as canned heat. Crying, canned heat, mama, sings Tommy Johnson, sure, Lord killing me.

I stumbled around in a muddy graveyard as rain hammered down, looking for one of the three reputed graves of Robert Johnson. I stood outside the ruins of Bryants grocery, where in 1955 14-year-old Emmett Till was accused of reckless eyeballing and whistling at the owners wife. I climbed in and out of ruined shops on Jacksons Farish Street, once known as the black Mecca. I looked for railway junctions. At one time there were more than 100 lines serving the delta. Almost all have gone, except in the lyrics of the blues. The composer and bandleader WC Handy was asleep on a train in 1903, when in the depot at Tutwiler, just south of Clarksdale, he heard a ragged musician sing about going where the Southern cross the Dog. I found that spot, at Moorhead, the junction of the Southern Railroad and the Yazoo and Delta line, known because of its initials as the Yellow Dog. There are still rails, but no trains will ever run on them again.

Rounders such as Johnson would hop freights if they had no money for a regular ticket. I got to keep moving, he sings, blues falling down like hail./ And the days keeps on worrying me, theres a hellhound on my trail. The most famous train in the blues is the Midnight Special, implored by hundreds of singers over the years to shine her ever-loving light on me. Its a Texas train, the Southern Pacific Golden Gate Limited, which passed Sugar Land prison outside Houston, bringing dreams of freedom and redemption.

Lead Belly singing Midnight Special

But in the delta there was another known by the same name. Every fifth Saturday, at midnight, the Midnight Special left Jackson on the Yellow Dog line, arriving at dawn at Parchman Farm, the notorious state prison. Judge give me life this morning, down on Parchman Farm./ I wouldnt hate it so bad, but I left my wife and home, sings Bukka White. The Parchman Midnight Special shone a light on the men incarcerated there, because it brought wives and lovers on conjugal visits, as well as prostitutes who would be smuggled in for guards or trustees. And it always held out the tantalising possibility of freedom, the arrival of the woman with the umbrella and the pardon in her hand, who appears in various versions of Midnight Special saying, Warden, give me my man.

There are recordings from inside the prison, made by John and Alan Lomax. In 1948, a group of prisoners led by a caller known as 22 sang one of the many prison works songs dedicated to Rosie: Aint but one thing I done wrong, they sang, stay in Mississippi a day too long. That line ran round my head as I sat in my rental car outside the main gate. Flat farmland stretched away in all directions. Cars came and went, entering what is now the Mississippi State Penitentiary. If Id learned one thing about the blues by driving around Mississippi in the rain, it was that you have to listen to messages like that. I turned the key in the ignition and headed down the road, in the direction of Louisiana.

Hari Kunzrus new novel, White Tears, is published on 6 April by Hamish Hamilton at 14.99.

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Put us on the map, please: China’s smaller cities go wild for starchitecture

From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to the centre of braised chicken reinventing itself as Solar Valley, Chinas second (and third) tier cities are hiring big-name architects to get them noticed

From egg-shaped concert halls to skyscrapers reminiscent of big pairs of pants, Chinas top cities are famously full of curious monuments to architectural ambition. But as land prices in the main metropolises have shot into the stratosphere, developers have been scrambling to buy up plots in the countrys second and third-tier cities, spawning a new generation of delirious plans in the provinces. President Xi Jinping may have issued a directive last year outlawing oversized, xenocentric, weird buildings, but many of these schemes were already well under way; his diktat has proved to be no obstacle to mayoral hubris yet.

From Harbin City of Music to Dezhou Solar Valley, provincial capitals are branding themselves as themed enclaves of culture and industry to attract inward investment, and commissioning scores of bold buildings to match. Even where there is no demand, city bureaucrats are relentlessly selling off land for development, hawking plots as the primary form of income accounting for 80% of municipal revenues in some cases. In the last two months alone, 50 Chinese cities received a total of 453bn yuan (54bn) from land auctions , a 73% increase on last year, and its the provincial capitals that are leading the way.

At the same time, Xis national culture drive has seen countless museums, concert halls and opera houses spring up across the country, often used as sweeteners for land deals, conceived as the jewels at the centre of glistening mixed-used visions (that sometimes never arrive). Culture, said Xi, is the prerequisite of the great renaissance of the Chinese people, but it has also proved to be a powerful lubricant for ever more real estate speculation even if the production of content to fill these great halls cant quite keep up with the insatiable building boom.
From mountain-shaped apartment blocks to cavernous libraries, heres a glimpse of whats emerging in the regions.

Fake Hills, Beihai

A render of how the Fake Hills would look. Illustration: MAD architects

Forming an 800 metre-long cliff-face along the coast of the southern port city of Beihai, the Fake Hills housing block is the work of Ma Yansong, Chinas homegrown conjuror of sinuous, globular forms whose practice is appropriately named MAD. Having studied at Yale and worked with Zaha Hadid in London, where he nourished his penchant for blobs, Ma has spent the last decade dreaming up improbable mountain-shaped megastructures across the country.

Less scenic mountain and more lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners The first phase of construction on Fake Hills has been completed. Photograph: MAD

As it rises and falls, the undulating roofline of Fake Hills forms terraces for badminton and tennis courts, as well as a garden and swimming pool. Sadly the overall effect is less scenic mountain range than a lumpen collision of colossal cruise-liners.

Greenland Tower, Chengdu

Greenland Tower, Chengdu. The building harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut. Illustration: Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill Architecture

A crystalline spire rising 468 metres above the 18 million-strong metropolis of Chengdu, the Greenland Tower will be the tallest building in southwestern China, standing as a sharply chiselled monument to the countrys (and by some counts the worlds) largest property developer, Greenland Holdings. It is designed by Chicago-based Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, architects of Dubais Burj Khalifa, who say the faceted shaft is a reference to the unique ice mountain topography of the region. It harks back to the crystalline dreams of early 20th-century German architect Bruno Taut, who imagined a dazzling glass city crown to celebrate socialism and agriculture; whether Sichuans farmers will be welcomed into the penthouse sky garden remains to be seen.

Sun-Moon mansion, Dezhou

A rival to Silicon Valley the Sun-Moon mansion of Solar Valley, Dezhou. Photograph: Alamy

Once known as a centre of braised chicken production, the city of Dezhou in the north-eastern province of Shandong now brands itself as Solar Valley, a renewable energy centre intended to rival Californias Silicon Valley. At its heart is the Sun-Moon mansion, a vast fan-shaped office building powered by an arc of solar panels on its roof. It is the brainchild of Huang Ming, aka Chinas sun king, an oil industry engineer turned solar energy tycoon who heads the Himin Solar Energy Group, the worlds biggest producer of solar water heaters as well as purveyor of sun-warmed toilet seats and solar-powered Tibetan prayer wheels.

Harbin Opera House

Harbin Opera House, with the St Petersburg of the east in the background. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Nicknamed the St Petersburg of the east, the far northern city of Harbin has long had a thriving cultural scene as a gateway to Russia and beyond. In the 1920s, fashions from Paris and Moscow arrived here before they reached Shanghai, and it was home to the countrys first symphony orchestra, made up of mostly Russian musicians.

Inside Harbin Opera House. Photograph: View Pictures/Rex/Shutterstock

Declared city of music in 2010, Harbin has recently pumped millions into a gleaming new concert hall by Arata Isozaki, a gargantuan neo-classical conservatory and an 80,000 sq metre whipped meringue of an opera house by MAD. Shaped like a pair of snowy dunes, up which visitors can climb on snaking paths, the building contains a sinuous timber-lined auditorium designed as an eroded block of wood.

Tianjin Binhai library

Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Due to open this summer in the sprawling port city of Tianjin, this space-age library by Dutch architects MVRDV is imagined as a gaping cave of books, carved out from within an oblong glass block. The shelves form a terraced landscape of seating, wrapping around a giant mirrored sphere auditorium that nestles in the middle of the space like a pearl in an oyster.

Inside the space-age Tianjin Binhai library. Illustration: MVRDV

Along with a new theatre, congress centre and a science and technology museum by Bernard Tschumi, the building forms part of a new cultural quarter for the city, itself being swallowed into the planned Beijing-Tianjin mega-region population 130 million, thats more than Japan.

Huaguoyuan Towers, Guiyang

Arups twin towers are almost complete. Illustration: LWK & Partners

Nowhere in China is the disparity between economic reality and architectural ambition more stark than in Guiyang, capital of rural Guizhou, the poorest province in the country, which has the fifth most skyscraper plans of any Chinese city. The twin 335-metre towers of the Huaguoyuan development, by Arup, are now almost complete, standing as the centrepiece of a new mixed-use office, retail and entertainment complex, while SOM is busy conjuring the even higher Cultural Plaza Tower, a 521-metre glass spear that will soar above a new riverfront world of shopping malls and theatres. It has the glitz and gloss of any other Chinese citys new central business district, but as Knight Franks David Ji points out: It will be hard for a city like Guiyang to find quality tenants to fill the space.

Yubei agricultural park, Chongqing

Will Alsops Yubei agricultural park. Illustration: Will Alsop

Architectural funster Will Alsop may finally have found his calling in the supercharged furnace of Chinas second-tier cities booming leisure economy, crafting a number of fantastical dreamworlds from his new satellite studio in Chongqing where he is busy building a new cultural quarter around his own office, with a restaurant, bar and distillery. He is also plotting an enormous agricultural leisure park in Yubei, 20 miles north of the city, designed to cater to the new middle classes nascent appreciation of the countryside, a place hitherto associated with peasants and poverty. The rolling landscape will be dotted with cocoon-like treehouses, a flower-shaped hotel and a big lake covered by an LED-screen canopy, so visitors can enjoy projected blue skies despite the smog.

Zendai Himalayas centre, Nanjing

A limestone mountain range : Zendai Himalayas Centre, Nanjing. Illustration:

Erupting across six city blocks like a limestone mountain range, the Zendai Himalayas Centre will be Mas most literal interpretation yet of his philosophy of fusing architecture and nature. Taking inspiration from the traditional style of shanshui landscape brush painting (literally meaning mountain-water), the 560,000 sq metre complex is designed to look as if it has been eroded by millennia of wind and water, not thrown up overnight by an army of migrant labourers. Once again, Ma appears to be forgetting that elegant feathery brushstrokes dont often translate well into lumps of glass and steel. It is one of many such green-fingered schemes in Nanjing, including Stefano Boeris vertical forest towers and the Sifang art park, where Steven Holl, SANAA, David Adjaye and others have built pavilions in a rolling landscape as another decoy for a luxury real estate project.

Huawei campus, Dongguan

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Chuck Berry: the rock’n’roller who wrote the soundtrack for teen rebellion

Berrys style permeated rock music so completely that you could hear his influence in everyone who picked up a guitar for decades afterwards

When Chuck Berry wrote School Day (Ring Ring Goes the Bell), his detailed evocation of a day in the life of an American teenager in the Eisenhower era, he created an anthem for a generation: As soon as three oclock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down / Close up your books, get out of your seat / Down the hall and into the street / Up the corner and round the bend / Right to the juke joint you go in. What he also provided was an education. Young Britons of the postwar era took their 11-plus exams, followed a few years later by their O-levels. In between, a significant number of them studied Chuck Berry.

Also on the informal course were the works of Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed. The more advanced students made their way to Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and John Lee Hooker. But among the array of great American rhythm and blues heroes, it was Berry who provided the most stimulating and influential set texts, mainly because it was in his work that the harsh poetry of the blues was softened, streamlined and neon-lit in a way that made it immediately palatable to a young white audience.

To the generation born in Britain around the end of the second world war, his songs opened up a new world. What Little Richard and Elvis Presley suggested in sound, he portrayed in words as well: a world of freedom and pleasure, in which adults no longer set the whole agenda.

It was Berry who presented kids still going to school on a bike or in a trolleybus with the exhilarating details of a battle on the open highway between a Cadillac Coupe de Ville and a V8 Ford, and with lascivious descriptions of girls like the immortal Little Queenie: There she is again, standing over by the record machine / Looking like a model on the cover of a magazine / Shes too cute to be a minute over 17. With minds inflamed by such images, we found ourselves looking at our parents Morris Minor and our neighbours daughter in a quite different light.

Those of us who had never even seen a jukebox heard from his lips what it might be like to drop the coin into the slot and hear something thats really hot. In a provincial England where Levi jeans and white T-shirts were virtually unobtainable, Berrys word-pictures were a tantalising glimpse of a better world elsewhere, or at least one soon to come.

Skiffle had been the musical 11-plus. All you needed for a passable mastery was a washboard, a tea-chest bass, some sort of guitar, possibly home-made, and unlimited enthusiasm. And when that became too restricting a form, when you were putting away the washboard and the Lonnie Donegan Fan Club badge, moving on from the works of Lead Belly and Big Bill Broonzy and getting hold of a real electric guitar and a rudimentary drum kit, Chuck Berry was what happened next.

Instead of a music that reflected the experience of hoboes riding the rails or convicts on a chain gang in some southern penitentiary, here was the soundtrack to the experience of being a teenager in the postwar years of growing affluence, when societys rules were being gently tested for what seemed like the first time: Sweet little 16, shes got the grown-up blues / Tight dresses and lipstick, shes sporting high-heeled shoes / Oh, but tomorrow morning shell have to change her trend / And be sweet 16 and back in class again. Roll Over Beethoven seemed, if not exactly a call to the barricades, then a harbinger of the end of deference.

Berrys influence was (and is) everywhere, starting with every note ever played by Keith Richards, who mastered Berrys distinctive hard-driving riffs heard on the introductions to Johnny B Goode, Sweet Little Rock and Roller and Promised Land and fashioned them into his own style. By learning how to play Berrys signature figures, in their simple but potent thirds and fourths, a young musician acquired free access to the driving momentum of early rocknroll. This was a cooler, more modern equivalent of Fats Dominos or Little Richards hammered boogie-woogie eight-to-the-bar piano riffs cooler and more modern because it was played on an electric guitar, a glittering and still-exotic device that, unlike the upright Victorian keyboard instrument residing in your parents parlour, clearly belonged amid the glittering of the world of tailfins and jukeboxes.

Richards group even made their recording debut with a Berry song, Come On, with its typically wry lyric: Everything is wrong since me and my baby parted / All day long Im walking cos I couldnt get my car started / Laid off from my job and I cant afford to check it /I wish somebodyd come along and run into it and wreck it The groups singer, Mick Jagger, found just the right tone of youthful petulance.

Naturally, there were young Americans who responded to what Berry was doing. Buddy Holly, the first great white rocknroll singer-songwriter, had a posthumous UK hit with his cover of Brown-Eyed Handsome Man. The Beach Boys took Sweet Little Sixteen and turned it into Surfin USA. But it was in Britain that the spark turned into a blaze.

In those days, you went to a club to see a Mersey Sound group or an R&B band from the Thames Delta, at a time before any of them got famous, simply hoping to hear one or more of Berrys songs played live, with those guitar riffs powering out of a Vox. For a while, the Stones practically lived off his work. Carol was on their first album, Im Talkin About You was on Out of Our Heads, and Little Queenie was still in their repertoire when a 1969 show at Madison Square Garden was released as Get Yer Ya-Yas Out. Like many others, they borrowed his radical rearrangements of Bobby Troups Route 66 and Don Rayes Down the Road Apiece.

The Beatles second album included Roll Over Beethoven, and the anthemic RocknRoll Music appeared on Beatles for Sale. A few years later, on the White Album, Paul McCartney paid homage to Back in the USA with Back in the USSR. John Lennon, who once said, If you had to try and give rocknroll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry, modelled a line in Abbey Roads Come Together Here come ol flat-top, he come groovin up slowly on one from Berrys You Cant Catch Me.

The rapid-fire complaint of Too Much Monkey Business would inspire Bob Dylans game-changing Subterranean Homesick Blues in 1965. Eight years later, Bruce Springsteen borrowed the same template for Blinded by the Light, the first track on his debut album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ, and thus the song with which he announced himself to the world.

Let It Rock another anthem gave its title to that of a magazine founded in London in 1972 by the late Charlie Gillett and later published by a short-lived body called the Rock Writers Collective. It was also used by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood for a clothes shop on the Kings Road in premises that had begun life as Paradise Garage and would continue as Sex, Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die, Seditionaries and Worlds End.

Berry was the great librettist of the first era of teenage music. He took the preoccupations of the blues and country music and gave them a rejuvenating twirl, introducing names, detail and incidental colour in a way that brought entire scenes to vivid life, painting pictures in the minds of those for whom Georgia and Louisiana were an ocean away.

Never did his words and music fuse more effectively than on Memphis, Tennessee, where the plaintive guitar and Latin rhythm underscored the sad, sweet story of a man, far from home, trying to place a call to a girl who turns out to be the nine-year-old daughter of his broken marriage. The portrait of Johnny B Goode, the country boy who extracted his guitar from a gunny sack in order to strum along with the rhythms of passing trains, is extended into Bye Bye Johnny, where the protagonist leaves Louisiana for the Golden West, his dreams of a career in motion pictures funded by a doting mother.

Berrys gift reached its apogee in Promised Land, probably the finest song ever written about the American dream. A modern Odyssey, it describes a journey from Norfolk, Virginia to Hollywood by Greyhound bus, Midnight Flyer train and jet plane, giving details of family favours bestowed on the po boy en route (They bought me a silk suit, put luggage in my hand) and the wonder of in-flight meals (Working on a T-bone steak a-la-carty) before the magic moment arrives: Swing low, chariot, come down easy / Taxi to the terminal zone / Cut your engines and cool your wings / And let me make it to the telephone. When Elvis Presley recorded it at the Stax studio in Memphis in 1973, the former truck driver sounded like a man who had lived the song: Tell the folks back home this is the promised land calling / And the po boy is on the line.

Berry also demonstrated that the new music could be made with a sense of humour that did not compromise its credibility. He could empathise with the put-upon young man seeing the summer slip away in the monotony of a dead-end job Workin at the filling station, too many tasks / Wipe the windows, check the tyres / Check the oil, a dollar gas and with the young lovers fumbling their way to a session of 1950s-style heavy petting: The night was young and the moon was gold / So we both decided to take a stroll / Can you imagine the way I felt / I couldnt unfasten her safety belt. With its adolescent epiphanies and insecurities, what was George Lucass American Graffiti, if not a two-hour Chuck Berry song?

Although Berry was already coming to the end of his 20s when he recorded Maybellene, his very first hit, in 1955, he had the gift of sounding young sometimes disturbingly so. When you were a teenager, it didnt seem to matter that Berry was obviously 10 years or more older than the pubescent girls he celebrated; his unapologetic loucheness, and the fact that he played guitar like ringin a bell while sliding across the stage in his patented Duck Walk, took him right out of the category of grown-ups.

In 1962, at a time when he owned a nightclub and was investing in real estate, and just as his British disciples were about to spread his fame, he served an 18-month jail sentence for contravening the Mann Act, a US law penalising those guilty of the offence of taking an under-age girl across a state line for immoral purposes. It seemed like a vicious piece of discrimination, as brutal as the persecution of Jerry Lee Lewis for doing what had come naturally in rural Louisiana (ie marrying his 13-year-old cousin). But then, in 1990, Berry paid more than a million dollars to settle a collective lawsuit from a group of women who claimed that he had installed a video camera in the female restrooms at his restaurant, the Southern Air, in Wentzville, Missouri. As with Roman Polanski, the shadow lingered.

After that first prison term, he was never the same creative force. While he was inside, he wrote his last really memorable songs: No Particular Place to Go, Nadine, You Never Can Tell, Tulane and Promised Land. In the following years he gave many performances that were barely even perfunctory, he insisted on being paid in cash (a habit that eventually landed him in trouble with the tax authorities), he was evasive and enigmatic in his encounters with the media, and he never seemed more than superficially grateful for good fortune that came his way, whether the eventual No 1 hit with the egregious My Ding-a-Ling or a command performance at the White House in front of Jimmy Carter in 1979. But back when it was all new, he was the one who really laid it all out.

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SXSW 2017: DRAM’s upbeat rap is the future of pop

The rapper finally served up Broccoli to his adoring fans, while the Thai-inspired tones of Khruangbin and Real Estates soothing singalongs were other highlights


The prospect of Thai-inspired funk written and performed by three friends from Houston, Texas, might sound like a terrible prospect, however Khruangbin are anything but. Laura Lee (bass), Mark Speer (guitar), and Donald Johnson (drums) make the kind of instrumental music youd imagine J Dilla would be cribbing from if he were still around, with lush expansive tracks that are performed with a hair metal-style exuberance. Lee and Johnson provide the backing on beautiful psych numbers like White Gloves, while Speer reels around, alternating between subtle picking and over-the-top, down-on-both-knees shredding. Its at times needlessly over the top but behind it all is music that is carefully crafted and a fitting tribute to the groups found on excellent Thai music sites such as Tracks like Mr White and Two Fish and an Elephant break through the clammy, humid Austin afternoon with their own brand of sunshine.

Real Estate

Martin Courtney, right, of Real Estate. Photograph: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Back with their new album In Mind, the New Jersey indie group set up shop in a car park on the outskirts of Austin, not too far away from the flagship store of Whole Foods. Like that company theres a certain wholesomeness to the band who have consistently put out records that operate in the very narrow parameters of indie guitar music. Within that lane, though, Real Estate have found riches and their new songs sound great. Darling is the kind of jangly fare theyve been producing for almost a decade and its mix of synth with gently played Telecaster chords still produces the kind of soothing singalong that they do so well. They rarely encourage the crowd to get beyond some enthusiastic head nodding but thats the right response to a band that specialises in understatement.


Understatement isnt really DRAMs thing. In the backyard of an Urban Outfitters store a couple of miles out of Austins downtown area, hes released beachballs into the crowd which is mostly made up of amped-up teenagers waiting to see one of the most buzzed-about acts this year. His track Broccoli has been unavoidable over the last six months, taking him from a rap outlier to a genuine chart prospect. His fun demeanour and focus on exuding positive vibes made him stand out in the world of rap, but here its his music that really catches the attention. Like Chance the Rapper, there are nods to soul and funk artists, and a live band which provides the backing for an act who is as much like Teddy Pendergrass as T-Pain.

Starting with a song thats like a three-minute self-help guide, Get It Myself, DRAM (his name stands for Does. Real. Ass. Music) has to be the most positive act at the festival. Even his banter between songs is relentlessly happy. Make some noise if you love your momma, is his go-to refrain. Tracks like Cash Machine and Cute are bona fide pop smashes, that paint DRAM as a kind of goofy accidental star who is as self-effacing as he is confident. Live, he pushes and strains his singing voice to the point of it almost breaking, but every word is repeated by the crowd who completely lose it when he walks among them. Theres a moment where it seems like they wont play Broccoli, a song thats become so big it could eclipse his other, just as catchy work. But when he comes back out to perform it he turns it into a lounge jazz track for the first minute or so before reverting to the stripped-back original. Funny, original and undeniably infectious, DRAM is the future of pop.

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Montpellier in the spotlight: development mania in France’s fastest-growing city

This sun-kissed city has just become Frances seventh largest on the back of students, biotech … and a lively skanking scene

This compact, sun-kissed city of 275,000 people, located six miles inland from Frances Mediterranean coast, should be passing Strasbourg as the countrys seventh-biggest. Any time now.

Often overlooked for the bigger southern metropolises of Toulouse and Nice, and even Provenal tourist-draws such as Avignon and Arles, Montpellier has been the fastest growing French city over the last half-century, more than doubling in size from only 119,000 in 1962.

Growing pains

Spend five minutes on 18th-century plaza Place de la Comdie, and youll feel the livening effects of the citys massive student intake, who comprise up to one-third of residents. But for some people, the growth has been too abrupt.

My feeling is that the city has lost a bit of its soul, says Marie Laure Anselme-Martin, 70, from a local family going back four generations. There are very few Montpellirains with real roots only about 15% of the population now. You could put us all in the zoo.

The citys journey from poky provincial capital started in the 1960s, when it was first swollen by the influx of pieds-noir (Christian and Jewish people whose families had migrated from all parts of the Mediterranean to French Algeria) and Spanish exiles from Franco. Enter outspoken socialist mayor Georges Frche. This frank mayor once declared he would name the municipalitys cleaning-supplies room after Franois Mitterand: Un ptit president, une petite salle. (A small president, a small room.) His development programme including the love-it-or-hate-it neoclassical Antigone quarter, and later the Jean Nouvel-designed town hall, a kind of black Rubiks cube made Montpellier Frances urbanist laboratory. Montpellier took off with him, says Anselme-Martin, even though she stood in opposition to Frche as a municipal councillor. When he arrived, the city raised the bar very high.

City in numbers

300 Annual days of sunshine.

2,680 Species in the Jardin des Plantes, Frances oldest botanical gardens.

82 Points with which Montpellier HSC did a Leicester and unexpectedly won the French football championship in 2011-12 for the sole time in their history. (Theyre currently mid-table.)

37 Percentage of youth unemployment in the city testament to ongoing economic stagnation in the south, and Montpelliers reputation as a cushy beach-bum option.

and pictures

Theres a Lynchian frisson to Montpellier by night, according to photographer Yohann Gozard. His local nightscapes are currently showing at La Panace gallerys Retour sur Mulholland Drive exhibition.

#sunset #montpellier #france

A post shared by Laurena Stanos (@laurenastanos) on

History in 100 words

Unlike its illustrious neighbours, Montpellier has no Greek or Roman heritage. First mentioned in AD 985, it grew to prominence in the Middle Ages, thanks partly to a school of medicine that quickly became a European leader and is now the worlds oldest active medical faculty. Former pharmacist Anselme-Martin says Montpelliers research culture is one of its highlights: I bathed in it. Ive got lots of friends in the research world, theyre people I appreciate because theyre humble. Open-mindedness was key: in 1180, William VIII decreed that anyone, including Jews and Muslims, could practice in Montpellier though not apothecaries, as Nostradamus, expelled for being one, would learn. Today, the medico-botanical influence is still evident in the scores of biotech and agribusiness companies.

Montpellier in sound and vision

Profound late-career Truffaut or misogynist misstep, depending on who youre talking to, the great director let his wandering eye rove on Montpelliers streets for 1977s The Man Who Loved Women. Here is local directors Yann Sinics airborne tribute to the film.

The Meds little-known skanking outpost, Montpellier has a vibrant roots-reggae scene dating back to the late 1990s. Since 2010, record label Salomon Heritage has taken the reins broadcasting the Jamaican sound system tradition to the Languedoc and further afield.

Whats everyone talking about?

Surprisingly for a small city, Montpellier has ranked high in recent studies of Frances most congested places, rivalling Marseille and Paris. Its less surprising when you look at the thick tangle of arterial roads and exurban sprawl surrounding it. Cutting a 12km scar through the red loam to the south of the city since 2014, is the massive A9 building site currently the countrys largest motorway construction project, designed to siphon off all non-commuter traffic and reroute it southwards.

Whats next for the city?

With real-estate development sprouting up on every side, Montpelliers mayor, Philippe Saurel, is still fixated on showy flagship projects. The Belaroia (jewel in Occitan) is a new luxury hotel and apartments complex expected to be completed opposite central Gare St Roch at the end of 2018, where a fifth tram line a new axis linking villages to the north and southwest may intersect by 2025.

Then there is the flashy 55m LArbre Blanc tower, stylistically situated between Japan and the Mediterranean. Anselme-Martin has her doubts: These showcase buildings are they going to work? Can people afford this housing? Because Languedoc-Roussillon is nearly Frances poorest region. Not much work, a lot of unemployment.

There are certainly signs of development mania. The overarching Occitan region recently withdraw its share of funding for a new 135m out-of-town train station already under construction, after learning that only four TGVs a day will stop there on its initial opening in 2018.

With all this activity, one thing is sure: Nantes, Frances sixth biggest city with a population of about 285,000, is now in Montpelliers sights.

Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro)

Au tour de @montpellier_ davoir sa photo spatiale! Je crois bien avoir loup de peu la Grande-Motte et Palavas-les-Flots #Proxima

January 30, 2017

Close zoom

The lively but slightly-too-Saurel-friendly Gazette de Montpellier is the local Time Out. MontpellierCityCrunch is the buzziest events guide. The underground-orientated Jacker magazine is Montpelliers answer to the Beastie Boys Grand Royale.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter and Facebook to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

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SXSW 2017: your guide to the best music, films and TV

Premieres from Terrence Malick and Edgar Wright will pull in the crowds, but theres an impressive list of talks, TV showcases and music to investigate

This year, South by Southwest (SXSW) has had to weather a storm in the buildup to the annual week-long festival in Austin. Artist outrage and an open letter concerning a clause in contracts that seemed to suggest collusion between organizers and immigration officials has seen the festival promise to make a change for 2018. It has overshadowed a year that looks like one of the strongest yet, with the film element snagging premieres from the likes of Terrence Malick and Edgar Wright, and a list of featured speakers that offers looks into the topical issues of surveillance and virtual reality. The TV coverage continues to become an increasingly important part of the festival, with first looks at the highly anticipated Neil Gaiman adaptation American Gods and the film to TV transformation of Dear White People. Music is its usual sprawling mix of on-site showcases and offerings off the beaten path. Heres our pick of the must-see moments this year.


One of the most anticipated talks this year sees the Gawker founder, Nick Denton, discuss what has happened to first amendment rights in the internet era after his battle with Hulk Hogan in Life After Gawker (12 March, 11am, Austin Convention Center). You can also hear from one of the founders of the internet at Vint Cerf: An Internet For And By The People (12 March, 11am, JW Marriott). Hell be talking about an initiative to help connect the 3 billion people who still dont have access to the web.

Are Biometrics the New Face of Surveillance? (10 March, 5pm, Hilton Austin) will discuss the increasingly intrusive techniques used to track us wherever we go, from iris scans to palm prints. What this means for privacy and other questions will be answered there. Another menace of the digital age is fake news, brought to the fore in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. A Post-Truth World? Nope We Can Fight Fake News (13 March, 11am, Hyatt Regency Austin) discusses how to ensure the truth wins out. In Virtual Lifes a Drag: Queering in VR (13 March, 3.30pm, Hilton Austin), artists and scholars will explore how virtual environments can be used to create empathy for others. Later that day the much-criticized FBI director James Comey was supposed to be in conversation with Jeffrey Herbst, CEO of the Newseum, but he dropped out and will be replaced by the FBI general counsel, James Baker, (13 March, 5pm, Hilton Austin), who will talk about terrorist threats at home and abroad.


SXSWs opening film is bit of a coup: the world premiere of Song to Song (10 March, 6.30pm, Paramount Theatre), the new film from local boy Terrence Malick, with an extremely impressive cast of acting heavyweights: Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman and Cate Blanchett. Known for being media-shy, Malick always plays his cards close to his chest, but its emerged that much of this modern love story set against the Austin music scene was filmed in the city itself, with scenes shot at the Austin City Limits and Fun Fun Fun festivals. Good old-fashioned sci-fi horror is the premise for SXSWs closing film, Life (18 March, 8pm, Zach Theatre): a team of astronauts on the International Space Station discover to their consternation that the extraterrestrial organism they are carrying home has turned nasty and may wipe out the planet. Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds star; Child 44s Daniel Espinosa directs.

Another high-profile world premiere for SXSW: this is Edgar Wrights crime yarn, Baby Driver (11 March, 9pm, Paramount Theatre), which he rolled on to after parting ways with Marvels Ant-Man. Apparently inspired by a music video Wright made for Mint Royale and described as the ultimate rocknroll car chase film, this features Ansel Elgort as a music-obsessed getaway driver (called Baby) forced to work against his will by a crime boss played by Kevin Spacey. On the Road (16 March, 7pm, Paramount Theatre, among other showtimes) is another music-inflected film, which suits SXSWs style: this is nothing to do with Jack Kerouac but is instead a creative merger of documentary and drama by the 24 Hour Party People director, Michael Winterbottom. Its mostly a straight study of the British indie act Wolf Alice as they tour the UKs big cities; the twist is that two of the backroom people a roadie and a photographer are actors, and Winterbottom films their romantic relationship alongside the real stuff. A Judd Apatow world premiere is definitely an event: here the prolific producer-director has co-directed a documentary about the folk-rockers the Avett Brothers with Michael Bonfiglio. May It Last (15 March, 7pm, Paramount Theatre) follows the Avetts (Scott and Seth) in the studio for two years as they work on their 2016 album True Sadness.

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Desert X: the arid exhibition that’s bringing land art to Coachella

The likes of Doug Aitken have decamped to the outskirts of Palm Springs to exhibit large-scale works that challenge the history of the western expansion and appear along the route to a certain music festival

Speeding down the Gene Autry Trail, a Palm Springs desert road named after the singing cowboy, there are mountains to the north and south, and billboards on each side. Somewhere between the ads for milkshakes and legal counsel, there are large-scale images of mountains, and from three exacting positions on the road, they suddenly snap into place; for a few brief moments, they perfectly align with the jagged scenery. And just as quickly, theyre behind you. Perhaps you had imagined it, or perhaps you didnt notice them at all.

This fleeting mirage is LA-based artist Jennifer Bolandes new work, Visible Distance/Second Sight, a site-specific homage to the landscape. She and 15 other artists have come to Palm Springs and the surrounding area as part of Desert X, a new exhibition of large-scale installations that stretches across 45 miles until 30 April. (Not coincidentally, theyre sited along the path leading from Los Angeles to behemoth music festival Coachella, which also takes place in April).

I live in New York, so I was interested in this sort of manifest destiny of the migration west, English-born artistic director Neville Wakefield explains, citing a 19th-century idea that divine sanction validated the United States merciless, violent westward expansion, regardless of who was already living there.

Yeah, no, it was awful, Wakefield concedes. But in terms of New York having evolved or devolved into a marketplace, I was a little bit disillusioned at having watched wealth evacuate art from the city center. It was interesting to do a show that recognized whats happening on this coast.

He invited the artists to search for their own sites in the desert, offering little in the way of curatorial direction in order to allow the place itself to become the curator. In the rich tradition of 1970s land art, it would be the myriad conditions unique to the desert the pristine daylight, the untouched expanses of land, the brutal climate that shaped the work.

After a bit of research, trial and error, Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan found himself an unused, 100,000 sq ft plot of land to use down a little dirt road in Rancho Mirage, a desert town where the population hovers around 18,000. He has carved an alternative landscape into the sand: 4ft deep craters and trenches in vaguely celestial shapes, lined with bars of cool yellow neon. From above, the lights spell out the simple proclamation, I Am, amid exploding shards of light, although youd only see that online via images captured by drones. Standing inside this work during an inky black desert night is like standing on a glowing planet.

With a set of wheels and a decent 4G connection, anyone can come visit these sites, which have been conveniently plotted as Dropped Pins on Google Maps courtesy of the Desert X website. The best work engages the viewer with a dialogue with the land, including Sherin Guirguiss One I Call, a clay bird refuge with glittery bits of gold in the open roof, nestled in the shadow of a steep cliff in the serene Whitewater Preserve. Theres also Lita Albuqerques hEARTH, a cobalt sculpture of a woman lying inside a circle of white sand, ear pressed to the earth as a low, looped reverberating chorus rhythmically repeats the question, Why did you come here?, which turns out to be an excellent question in the context of this show.

Jennifer Bolandes Visible Distance/Second Sight. Photograph: Jennifer Bolande’s Visible Distance/Second Sight 2017, photo by Lance Gerber, courtesy the artist and Desert X

Richard Princes Third Place is literally garbage an isolated cluster of small decaying buildings cluttered with beer cans, bags of dirty diapers, his work either plastered to the walls or weighed to the ground with rocks. Hes screenshotted and printed various naked women as Family Tweets, with typical Prince-repulsive captions to ponder: One more of Dana. Mothers [sic] sisters daughter. Smoking tits. No joke!

The rest amount to punchlines and nice roadside diversions, places to stop for a quick selfie on par with the giant dinosaurs next to the gas station on Interstate 10. Both Glenn Kaino and Will Boone riff on legends of underground bunkers and tunnels with different holes in the ground (locked, accessible with a code you pick up at the hip Ace Hotel and Swim Club in Palm Springs). Rob Pruitt the man who painted Barack Obama for every day of his presidency has also inexplicably slipped another iteration of his recurring flea market inside the Palm Springs Museum.

But, making maximal use of the desert is Doug Aitkens Mirage, a full-size single-family house that embodies typical Americana, save the fact that its completely clad in mirrors. Perched on the prime real estate of Chino Canyons unspoiled hillside, its surfaces become a collage of the surrounding environment: pristine reflections of sepia earth and bushes of marigolds, crystal-clear blues that disappear into the sky. At dusk, the house melts into gradients of purples and oranges, and inside, the picture windows frame the wind farms and city lights below. The mirrored walls and ceiling create an immersive, kaleidoscopic image of suburban sprawl, a marker of where civilization begins and ends.

Aitken describes the Desert X experiment as a vast sprawling parkour and puzzle of pieces that are all different within the land. I wanted to be here to see where suburbia ends and the landscape begins. This location was kind of perfect in a way. You have the seductive beauty, and then you have the wind farm, and suburbia.

Indeed, Desert X is a scavenger hunt for the ever-elusive unique experience, a rare thing in the Instagram age. Largely taking place on controlled private properties, however, it doesnt quite capture the wild west its billing. In Aitkens case, in the ongoing spirit of manifest destiny, the land surrounding his work is on its way to becoming Desert Palisades, a high-end residential community; the adjacent lot has already been sold, and in the distance, up the hill, a model home is decorated with expensive modernist furniture. The desert mythologies of self-actualization and adventure, according to Strachan, are all part of the romance.

The wildest piece in the show would be the one youll never see, Norma Jeanes brilliant Shybot. Its a solar-powered roving little vehicle thats currently on an aimless mission through the desert, periodically sending information on its whereabouts to the cloud. Like the artists who inhabit the lands outside the safety of Desert Xs radius, its really come here to be alone; when its heat sensors pick up the presence of a human, it knows to speed off in the opposite direction.

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Moonlight shines at Film Independent Spirit awards on eve of Oscars

The drama about the life of a black gay man picked up six awards, including best feature while Isabelle Huppert and Casey Affleck won lead acting prizes

Oscar-tipped drama Moonlight was the big winner at this years Film Independent Spirit awards, picking up six awards, including best feature.

The low-budget tale of a black gay man growing up in a deprived Miami neighborhood now holds the record for the most awards won by a single film this decade at the ceremony. Jeremy Kleiner thanked fellow producer Brad Pitt who continues to inspire us with his curiosity and his desire for good work.

The film also won best director for Barry Jenkins, best cinematography, best editing, the Robert Altman award and the prize for best screenplay for Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose semi-autobiographical play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue was the inspiration for the project.

There are a lot of people who pushed that script away from their desks, a tearful McCraney said. He went on to thank those who made the decision to sign onto the film without worrying about the potentially damaging effect a gay film would have on their careers.

Oscar nominee Isabelle Huppert won best female lead for her role in darkly comic thriller Elle, winning out over Natalie Portman and Annette Bening. I think good cinema is always independent, she said. I want to thank [Elle director] Paul Verhoeven for being so independent.

The team behind Manchester by the Sea: producer Matt Damon, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan and award-winning star Casey Affleck. Photograph: Alberto E. Rodriguez/(Credit too long, see caption)

Casey Affleck was also named best male lead for playing a grieving brother in Manchester by the Sea. At the end of his speech he made reference to Trumps government, saying: The policies of this administration are abhorrent and they will not last. Theyre really un-American.

Hell or High Waters Ben Foster beat out category favorite, and Oscar nominee, Lucas Hedges for best supporting male for his role in the heist thriller while an excitable Molly Shannon picked up best supporting female for playing a mother dealing with terminal cancer in comedy drama Other People.

The award for best documentary was won by O.J.: Made in America, the critically acclaimed seven-hour film thats also the favorite to win the same award at tomorrows Oscars. Another Oscar front-runner, German comedy Toni Erdmann picked up best international film. Im really happy and proud to stand here as a female director because its still not normal enough that women are directing films, director Maren Ade said. The acclaimed film was recently picked up for a Hollywood remake, set to star Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig.

Period horror tale The Witch was awarded best first feature while writer-director Robert Eggers picked up best first screenplay. He thanked all the Puritans for writing so much of their lives down, making his job easier.

Hosts John Mulaney and Nick Kroll. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/(Credit too long, see caption)

We like to think of these awards as the ones without Mel Gibson co-host Nick Kroll said before joking about the Academys acceptance of this years best director nominee after his anti-Semitic jokes. He then claimed that, using the same eight year forgiveness logic, Steve Bannon will be featuring at the Oscars in 2024.

His comedy partner John Mulaney made the first political reference of the night, referring to the downbeat nominees: These films are, to quote the president sad!

The hosts also predicted that speeches throughout the night were likely to include more Trump jabs. But given the small scale of the ceremony, Kroll joked: In terms of impact, you could give your speech direct to camera or you could whisper it in the bathroom.

Mulaney added: Hey Trump, you and Robert Durst are both rich sociopaths from New York real estate empires but somehow Robert Durst is more likable

The awards arrive on the eve of this years Oscars where Moonlight is one of the front-runners with eight nominations alongside La La Land and Manchester by the Sea.

Best feature


Best male lead

Casey Affleck, Manchester by the Sea

Best female lead

Isabelle Huppert, Elle

Best supporting male

Ben Foster, Hell or High Water

Best supporting female

Molly Shannon, Other People

Best director

Barry Jenkins, Moonlight

Best screenplay

Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney, Moonlight

Best documentary

O.J.: Made in America

Best international film

Toni Erdmann

Best cinematography

James Laxton, Moonlight

Best editing

Nat Sanders and Joi McMillon, Moonlight

Best first feature

The Witch

Best first screenplay

Robert Eggers, The Witch

Robert Altman award


John Cassavetes award

Spa Night

Someone to watch award

Anna Rose Holmer, The Fits

Truer then fiction award

Nafu Wang, Hooligan Sparrow

Piaget producers award

Jordana Mollick, Hello My Name is Doris

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Bay of punks: remembering when punk rock invaded San Francisco

The scene in the Bay Area was never chronicled in the same way as New York or Los Angeles. Now a new crop of photography books and projects are bringing San Franciscan punk into focus

In early 1979, photographer Jim Jocoy attended an auction at the Peoples Temple in San Francisco. More than 900 of its worshipers had died in a mass suicide-murder which came to be known as the Jonestown massacre, led to their deaths by activist-turned-doomsday cultist Jim Jones. When Jocoy saw some of the followers left-behind luggage, he saw a symbol of Jones hollow, empty promise, and took a picture. Jonestown, the assassinations they worked into the fabric of San Francisco, and unraveled its tapestry, Jocoy says. It was quite gloomy, that summer of hate, and punk was the soundtrack.

The image is in Order of Appearance, a new book of Jocoys photography from the San Francisco punk scene of the late-1970s. Its an intimate, diaristic view of an incipient youth subculture as Jocoys punk subjects primp and sneer while the city crumbles around them. Theres a yellow Volkswagen upturned in the street, freshly applied blue hair-dye, and allusions to the imminent outbreak of Aids.

Jim Jocoy, the photographer behind Order of Appearance. Photograph: Judith Bell/Image courtesy Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

Jocoys pictures show punk rock, not yet codified, rioting against what author David Talbot termed San Franciscos turbulent Season of the Witch. But at the time, Jocoys photographic practice compensated for a basically shy, introverted disposition, he says. A camera let me gather all these creatures of the night like some kind of entomologist; they were my exotic bug collection.

Fine-art photo book publisher TBW unveils Order of Appearance (which follows Jocoys 2002 book of more straightforward punk portraiture, Were Desperate) at the Los Angeles Art Book Fair which starts on 23 February. TBWs Paul Schiek culled the books images from hundreds of unseen color slides and selected Jocoys most emotionally suggestive captures. There were pictures of the Sex Pistols, the Clash I didnt want those, Schiek says Jocoys picture of Sid Vicious is arguably his most well-known work. I was interested in the quieter, softer moments.

Order of Appearance is one of many books and exhibitions in recent years to reveal how San Franciscos crisis-stricken late-1970s era colored and politicized its nascent punk scene, which is sometimes considered a mere footnote compared to its neighboring scenes. While early punk movements in Los Angeles and New York are lavishly chronicled, the contours and complexity of early San Francisco punk are only now coming into focus.

Ruby Rays 2013 book From the Edge of the World, which collects her photography for the scenes fanzine-of-record, Search & Destroy, foregrounds the cityscapes cyclical razing and reconstruction. Assemblage pieces exhibited in Bruce Conners career-spanning retrospective, Its All True, mourn integral musicians lost to drug addiction. While historian Michael Stewart Foleys 2015 book on figureheads the Dead Kennedys, argues that San Francisco featured the most explicitly political early punk scene in the country.

Fixtures such as Negative Trend and the Sleepers wrote plodding, downcast dirges, while the Avengers throttling propulsion underlined vocalist Penelope Houstons barbed liberation hymns. Crime satirized authority in cop drag, and the Nuns riffed on themes of sexual submission. The Dils, meanwhile, promoted class warfare with churlish glee and careful analysis only a San Francisco group would sing about property-tax reform.

Foleys book on the Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables situates San Francisco punk in a moment of conservative backlash: weeks after California voters narrowly rejected the virulently homophobic Briggs Initiative to ban gays from public schools in 1978, Dan White assassinated gay San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and progressive mayor George Moscone. Punks resented Dianne Feinstein, who replaced Moscone, for courting the police department and real-estate interests at the expense of the citys poor.

The scenes first and most important venue was the Mabuhay Gardens, a Filipino restaurant subjected to regular police raids. It was blocks from the International Hotel, where dozens of mostly elderly, low-income immigrant residents were violently evicted while thousands protested outside in 1977. Foley says that police harassment, coupled with the scenes proximity to embattled communities, helped inspire punks to make common cause with marginalized people.

The most vivid example of the scenes political engagement is perhaps Dead Kennedys vocalist Jello Biafras madcap run for mayor in 1979, when he garnered 4% of the vote with promises to implement neighborhood police elections and legalize squatting. A two-day festival at the Mabuhay in 1978, meanwhile, benefitted striking Kentucky coal-miners. There was an intellectual class to the scene, Foley says. It doesnt conform to the image most of the world has of punk being mindlessly nihilistic.

Punks participation in the White Night Riots, which erupted following Whites sham trial for the murder of Milk and Moscone, reflected solidarity with the gay community as much as it did underground musics own queerness. Members of Noh Mercy and Tuxedomoon, for instance, participated in the punk scene and queer theater troupe Angels of Light, while a stark picture of a burning squad car taken at the riot adorns the cover of the Dead Kennedys Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables.

Unlike early punk in Los Angeles and New York, San Francisco had little music industry infrastructure to underwrite and promote recordings. Although that motivated a raft of independent labels to form and proliferate, the scene didnt yield a full-length album until the Dead Kennedys debut in 1980. And by then, the community had atomized into disparate cliques.

Rico giving Jonnie a haircut, 1977. Photograph: Jim Jocoy/Image courtesy Casemore Kirkeby Gallery, San Francisco

San Francisco is also so closely identified with 1960s counterculture that its just too complicated for people to imagine that it hosted another major subculture a decade later, says Foley. These things have conspired to make it difficult for the story to break through.

Also obscuring early San Francisco punks significance was the citys relative lack of local media, but that fostered an especially strong will to self-document: arresting, low-budget concert films and documentary shorts such as Louder Faster Shorter and Richard Gaikowskis Deaf/punk now live in major institutions such as the Pacific Film Archive, and historians such as Foley rely on fanzines including Search & Destroy.

My urge came from anger at how the hippie movement hadnt been documented the way I experienced it, says V Vale, who developed a probing interview style in the pages of Search & Destroy. Thats why I wanted to hear people in their own words I wanted to be an anthropologist, to question everyone and record every word accurately, without imposing values.

Indeed, San Francisco punks detected the need to preserve evidence of their scene for posterity and to do so themselves. In 1980, the weeklong, multi-venue Western Front Festival included a gig flyer exhibition at Valencia Tool and Die. The show inspired a book, which appeared the next year, Street Art: the Punk Poster in San Francisco 1977-1981. These posters were designed as trash, writes coauthor Marian Kester in a prescient introduction. The idea of throw-away art was great; it just didnt work out in practice.

Many of Jocoys peers, though, arent around to appreciate broader interest in their scene today. Since Id just missed Vietnam, I thought Id be part of this generation that wasnt traumatized by war, he recalls. But in fact, I lost so many people, I became a survivor.

The LA Book Fair runs from 24-26 February at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles; Jim Jocoys Order of Appearance is out now

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