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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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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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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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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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Coachella owner denies donating to anti-LGBT groups amid outrage

Billionaire Philip Anschutz said reports of Anschutz Foundation giving almost $200,000 to anti-gay conservative activists were fake news and garbage

Billionaire Philip Anschutz, the businessman whose company organizes Coachella, has denied donating funds to anti-LGBT groups after reports resurfaced linking his charitable foundation to the organizations.

Anschutz, 77, has reaped billions across the oil, telecom, real estate and entertainment industries, but his Anschutz Foundation drew criticism last year from Freedom For All Americans, a group that supports gay rights. The campaign last year reported that the Anschutz Foundation had given almost $200,000 to anti-gay conservative activists, including the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom. Both groups have been condemned for anti-gay rights activism by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-leaning watchdog of hate groups.

This week, several music blogs picked up last years report, after the full lineup for this years Coachella music festival was revealed this week. Coachella is organized by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.

In a statement sent to Rolling Stone, Anschutz called the recent reports fake news and garbage. He denied that he would ever knowingly support any anti-gay cause.

I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation, Anschutz said. Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives.

He added that when anti-gay activity by recipients has come to his attention, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups.

Philip Anschutz: I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. Photograph: David Zalubowski/AP

Its encouraging to see that even those whove funded groups opposed to LGBT equality in the past are willing to change their views and come around to opposing discrimination, said Matt McTighe, executive director of Freedom for All Americans. We appreciate the willingness of Philip Anschutz and the Anschutz Foundation take steps to ensure that their resources are no longer used to undermine protections for LGBT Americans.

Anschutz also said that across his businesses, he employs a wealth of diverse individuals.

The only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance, he wrote. We do not tolerate discrimination in any form.

A major Republican donor, Anschutz gave more than $1m to conservative candidates and political fundraising groups in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan watchdog. Employees of the Anschutz Corporation also leaned heavily toward Republican candidates. The businessman has attended political events hosted by the Koch brothers, the billionaire scions of an oil fortune and also Republican donors, and Anschutz has donated to their political group Americans for Prosperity, which opposes climate change research and regulations. Anschutzs natural gas company has also sued small towns in pursuit of fracking rights, and the businessman has invested heavily in a gigantic Wyoming wind farm.

Asked about possible donations to groups opposed to climate change research and action, a spokesman for AEG, the entertainment company, said he could not comment on any specific charities. He noted that AEG has invested heavily in sustainability at several venues, including solar panels at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and composting at the O2 Center in London.

Coachellas three 2017 headline acts are vocal liberals. The members of Radiohead, especially frontman Thom Yorke, have frequently spoken out about global warming and criticized oil executives and conservative politicians. Beyonc actively campaigned for Democrat Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election and performed at Barack Obamas second inauguration. Kendrick Lamar has also met Obama on several occasions, and race, inequality and police violence are frequent themes of his work.

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Goodnight Brooklyn: How Vice Media Killed Death By Audio

Matthew Conboys new doc Goodnight BrooklynThe Story of Death By Audio chronicles the painful death of his Williamsburg music haven. Here, he writes about its bitter end.”>

People come and go. Bars, restaurants, bodegas and bagel shops close and change hands. Thats a part of living in New York. Maybe its the fertilizer that feeds new generations of immigrants. My friends skew more towards artists and musicians, and I can safely say that that demographic is leaving this city faster than I can remember. From the perspective of real estate owners and businesses that cater to the upwardly mobile, its a great thing. But what will a New York City without creative poor and working people look like?

This city changes at a glacial pace, the pendulum swinging through neighborhoods of prosperity and tearing them down into poverty, erasing their memory and building something new. A glacier moving through your bedroom might seem slow from 10,000 feet away but when its your home, your favorite restaurant or community center, your kids favorite park, the speed of development and destruction happens fast.

I lost a warehouse I called home just over two years ago. For years it served as a music venue called Death By Audio. We also had a recording studio, photo studio, workshops and bedrooms. Im not the first creative person to lose their home in this city, but the irony was visceral and frustrating: Vice Media, a company that built its brand selling advertisers access to underground culture, counter-normative ideas, sex, drugs, music, art, and youth took over our building and forced us out. It was painful and destructive on many levels but I was able to make a movie about the experience and the utopia we lived in called Goodnight BrooklynThe Story of Death By Audio. Ive spent much of the past two years making this film and its been both rewarding and cathartic to have the chance to make something positive out of a painful time.

Optimism is essential. I can walk through the changing parts of this city and laugh at its gaudy excess, smile at its nooks of wilderness and excitement. Its hard at times not to feel resentment or frustration at the people who have moved into developing neighborhoods without any sense of history or community, but I never forget that I was new here once, too. This city is too old for anybody to say they were here first. The pioneers are long dead. I still love this city; I love that its always changing. People crazier and younger than me show up and bring their will and passion with them.

I havent played in a band since my venue closed and thats OK. Friends of mine around the world are making great music; its their life passion. Maybe its getting older, but I feel like being in a band, opening a DIY venue or art gallery, these things should be done by the people who need to do them. I feel grateful that we had the chance to do as much as we did, but I would not want to stand in the way of the next person who needs to do it.

For every underground music venue or ad-hoc art gallery thats closed, I like to think another one has opened in a different part of town. Perhaps thats not the case, but so long as there is a space for creative people to live in this city, theyre going to do amazing things. Unfortunately, those spaces are becoming fewer and farther between, and its a terrible trend. These spaces are vital to our survivalculturally, artistically, and creatively.

Whatever small part, if any, Death By Audio played in the citys troubling transformation from abandoned warehouses to nightclubs, Apple Stores, condos, and offices is for historians to decide. But the friends that I lived with on S. 2nd street were searching for an environment of creative freedom. Any great city should value these sacred spaces, and its my hope that the spirit of Death by Audio will inspire them to keep fighting the good fight.

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The golden age of New York clubbing: ‘We wanted to be part of something’

When nightlife expert Tim Lawrence came to the city to promote his book about the early 80s, the clubs he went to revealed how much has (and hasnt) changed

The timing and location of the nights entertainment Grandmaster Flash at House of Yes was entirely coincidental. On the eve of a week that would see New York City host a handful of events to celebrate and spotlight the release of Tim Lawrences new book, Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, 1980-1983 a study of what the author convincingly identifies as the citys cultural renaissance, when hip-hop, new wave and dance music collided in clubs like Mudd and the Paradise Garage one of the books characters was making a rare Brooklyn appearance at a space in Bushwick.

Though theres rarely a lack of nighttime activity in the city that supposedly never sleeps, on paper it seemed like an especially great match. Unlike many New York clubs in the post-Rudy Giuliani era, House of Yes tries hard with its musical bookings, setting and entertainment acumen. Billing itself as part disco, part circus theatre, it features DIY dcor, psychedelic projections, dressed-for-cabaret employees and an audience always ready to let loose.

Flash, meanwhile, is riding his third wind. In the mid-1970s, he helped perfect record-scratching as one of the cornerstones of the Bronx culture that came to be known as hip-hop. Now he is one of the executive producers of The Get Down, Baz Luhrmanns colorful Netflix show that recasts the creation myth of rap and modern DJing as a fairytale musical. (And is a wonderful fact-meets-fiction preamble to Lawrences historical account.) So, while Flashs stock as a local legend never fell off, its been a minute since it paid such high market dividends.

Understandably, the packed House of Yes crowd an impressive congregation of young and old, black and white, straight and gay went wild. Flashs skills at cutting up records, and his interpretation of the cross-genre flow at the heart of the citys original sound (disco, rap, funk, dance-punk, Latin, mutant electronic, all in the mix) were rapturous and timeless.

The scene played out like a simulacrum of the very bygone moment that Lawrences book documents. Reading Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor as a clubber in the city is to reflect not only on whats been lost over the past three decades, but on how the sounds, events and characters at the center of Lawrences story still influence NYCs nightlife. At House of Yes, one of this tales endless postscripts played out as real-time legend. In fact, through sheer circumstance, over the course of a single week in October 2016 you could watch and listen to urban folklore cement as history. Better yet, you could dance to that transformation.

There was always a sense of New York in my imagination, said Lawrence in one of our numerous conversations during his visit. The wiry 49-year-old may have grown up in the London exurb of Winnersh and teaches cultural studies at the University of East London, but theres little question that New Yorks late 20th-century nightlife has served as his muse. Life and Death is the third of Lawrences books about the citys rhythms, joining the disco scene-redefining Love Saves the Day: A History of American Dance Music, 1970-79, and the quasi-biography, Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-92. He also credits the citys house music scene for his initial focus on the meaning of the dancefloor.

Lawrence first escaped to New York in the early 90s at a sensitive time in his life, following the sudden death of both parents and an early crisis of professional faith at BBC Newsnight. He studied a doctorate in English literature at Columbia University by day, and clubs by night. Love Saves the Day began as a dissertation on house music and postmodernity, mutated into a quickie book about dance music culture, before his research brought him face to face with the then little-known story of a musical host named David Mancuso, his private weekly gatherings at a Soho loft, and all the DJs deeply influenced by it (including the legendary Larry Levan, and father of house music, Frankie Knuckles). That party, nicknamed the Loft, basically launched global DJ and club culture; and in presenting its details, Lawrence suddenly had a career documenting the founding corner of contemporary dance music.

Life and Death on the New York Dance Floorbegan as another attempt to write that history of house, but ended up as a 500-page dive into a three-year period that exemplified the melting pot idea that had been synonymous with New York, yet hadnt been written about. Popular history claimed the citys dance scene died under the strain of the forces that killed the disco craze. Yet as Lawrence writes, the influence of Levan and his club, the Paradise Garage, was already being felt at art-punk discotheques like the Mudd Club and Danceteria, where DJs such as Johnny Dynell and Mark Kamins were creating a new mix for a new, mixed audience.

Larry Levan photographed in the DJ booth at Paradise Garage in 1978. Photograph: Bill Bernstein/

The Garage, meanwhile, was home to not just the gay, black dancers historically placed there, but also young art-punks and nascent hip-hop kids, whose music found life on Levans turntables. The records that came out of these borderless scenes soon became the soundtrack of the entire city and beyond, with Blondies Rapture, Afrika Bambaataas Planet Rock, the Peech Boys Dont Make Me Wait and Madonnas Holiday effortlessly crossing genres, cliques and, soon, oceans. New York club music had gravitas, with everyone from Bowie and the Clash to New Order and Herbie Hancock pulled into its orbit.

As Lawrence writes, the Downtown communitys cross-cultural collaborative spirit was not limited to clubs. The East Villages Fun Gallery, co-founded by arts doyenne Patti Astor (one of the stars of the first hip-hop film, 1982s Wild Style), presented the Bronxs finest graffiti writers next to future fine-art legends Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. Around the corner, the budding British impresario Reza Blue and Michael Holman, Basquiats bandmate in the no-wave group Gray, began throwing a weekly party at the Second Avenue club Negril that brought together the DJing Bambaataa, his Zulu Nation MCs, breakdancers and the Fun Gallerys graffiti writers. Haring, meanwhile, was also painting murals on the walls of Danceteria and the Garage, when not helping the actor and performance artist Ann Magnusson program multi-sensorial happenings at Club 57. According to Lawrence, such creative intermingling had few precedents.

The research suggested that there were a lot more connections between these scenes than was supposed historically, he said. I started to get a sense of the Downtown scene, of different art coming into this moment, of an interesting coalition of artists, musicians, choreographers and DJs. The whole artistic world seemed to be descending upon downtown New York.

Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards at the Danceteria in 1980. Photograph: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

It didnt last long. Lawrence dug into the three years between the decades dawn and the oncoming midnight of the crack and Aids epidemics, before Ronald Reagans neoliberal policies and Manhattans first real-estate boom took hold of New Yorks cultural life. Like The Get Down, Life and Death unearths a golden moment when living was cheap, the crowds diverse, the community strengthened, creativity mutating and freedoms flourishing.

The mythology was that New York was this hellhole of dysfunctionality, crime, murder, and garbage piled on the streets, says Lawrence. Yet to a person every one Id speak to would say that far from uninhabitable, theyd never want to leave it. Every single night something was going on that seemed essential.

We did not want to go out to see something we wanted to be a part of something, said Johnny Dynell. He was seated in a seminar room at New York Universityon a drizzly Saturday afternoon, decked out in a leopard-print suit and lightly tinted shades, imparting wisdom to a gathering of grad students, zine writers and ageing bohemians treading memory lane.

A lesser-known character in Lawrences book, Dynell has been one of the Downtowns connectors for nearly 40 years DJing at the Mudd Club, Danceteria and Area; recording the 1983 electro-rap cult single Jam Hot (still sampled regularly); and, in the 1990s, with his wife Chi Chi Valenti, creating the weekly party Jackie 60, one of the citys last 20th-century hurrahs in Manhattans Meatpacking District, not yet gentrified. Dynell still plays around town, but on this weekend, he and a coterie of other artists and gallery owners, DJs and musicians, writers and editors, club owners and scenesters, were detailing the circumstances of Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor to a rapt audience. They were also reaffirming a set of values by which the city of their era lived and, at times, still tries to.

Dynells panel, entitled Lifecycle of the NYC/Downtown Party Scene, was part of an all-day symposium at NYU that placed Lawrences book in broader historical contexts, one of 12 events on the authors one-city book tour. Those included panels at three institutions of higher learning (NYU, CUNY and Columbia), book-signings at three club nights (the Loft, 718 Sessions and Better Days), talks at two galleries (Howl and Steve Harvey) and two record stores (Rough Trade and Superior Elevation), as well as one museum presentation (at MoMA, which hosted a panel after a screening of writer Glenn OBriens majestic lo-fi film, Downtown 81, starring Basquiat). Simply following the authors itinerary was like getting a masters primer of the citys recent cultural accomplishments.

As the discussions of long-gone clubs gave way to movement on living, breathing dancefloors, the weight and spotlight of the citys history could be felt everywhere, in the crowd and in the DJ booth. At times, it seemed a continuation of the classic New York story one that was interrupted by Mayor Giulianis zero tolerance policies of the 90s, which included a moral crusade on nightlife by excavating and enforcing a race-dividing civic ordinance from the 1920s called a cabaret license at others it was a brand-new one with familiar roots. The last 30 years have seen the citys meaningful party scene on the brink of extinction during one of the panels, Krivit put the number of cabaret licenses issued during the early 80s at 4,000; in 2016 it is around 120. The insights of Lawrences book provided a reflection on the state of the party and the purpose it serves.

Many participants of the Life and Death tour came to that weeks installment of the Loft, at 46, the planets longest-running classic club night. Though no longer a weekly or commandeered by Mancuso (that nights DJ duties were split by Douglas Sherman and Colleen Cosmo Murphy), the Loft has retained a utopian, communal private-party vibe unlike any other, an older, mixed-race clientele, and an aspirational old-school positivity in its music and atmosphere that in America 2016 comes in extremely handy. (The party took place the night of the second presidential debate, which made Shermans selection of Sympathy For the Devil beyond pointed.)

By contrast, the same evening marked the end of the 13-year weekly run of DJ Franois Ks Deep Space party at Cielo, in the Meatpacking District, which in 2017 is moving to Output, a Berlin-style club in Williamsburg. Franois Kevorkian is one of the New Yorks beloved dance music elders, bridging todays city to the one depicted in Life and Death (he rose to prominence as a DJ and remixer in the early 80s), continuing to champion musical multiplicity, balancing new and old (at his Cielo swan song he presented Scuba, a popular British DJ who plays minimal techno). Franoiss long-cultivated following pursues the DJs sonic whims wherever it takes them.

Deep Space is a party that, like the Loft, could be classified as much as a community social as a rave it took place on Mondays and had free entry before 11pm. Yet, what changes when you leave a longtime residence? Economics for one but also demographics. Whether its the clubs or the thriving warehouse scene, youth and internationalism rules Brooklyn nightlife, alongside layers of social privilege. And where Life and Death-era musical programming actively attempted to cut across genres and audiences, todays club nights are more tailored to individual sounds, textures and BPMs. Nowadays, the notion of a DJ running the gamut from dub to hip-hop to disco/house to techno to African sounds, playing to a large crowd that takes it all in, is less norm than its own peculiar lane. The origin of that lane is the New York described in the pages of Lawrences book.

Another pair of parties that took place during Lawrences week here directly reinforced this lineage. Both were DJ sets by older English men that lasted upwards of six hours. One featured DJ Harvey, who spent a few years in New York learning his craft at the feet of Levan. The other took place in a Bushwick warehouse, and marked the long-awaited return of Andrew Weatherall, who came of DJing age in acid-house London and Manchester (helping produce some of that eras greatest records) and continues to mix moods tinged with dub and psychedelia. Both sets were epic exercises of form, stamina and musical arc, featuring records beyond simple classification. And audiences that were hard to pinpoint too more Caucasian and younger than at Flash, but hardly monochromatic, ready for a long haul, and, to echo Dynells self-assessment, determined to be active participants rather than tourists. These were one version the best version of a new New York dancefloor.

Emotionally, critically, intellectually, its hard to say that New York is the kind of mecca for dance music that it was in the 70s and 80s. Then, people came here from all over the world on pilgrimages, said Lawrence. It feels like times have changed. But in a way that is because of New Yorks success; because its influence helped grow dance scenes all over the world. This is a good thing. But as word was spreading, New York had a difficult period.

To simultaneously participate, observe and process history through all of ones biases is a difficult task. To do so during late nights, in dark, sensorially overwhelming clubs, keeping all of ones faculties intact makes it more so. It may be why real-time critical context for club music has always been rare. Yet whatLife and Death on the New York Dance Floor makes acutely obvious, as both volume and prism, is not just the cultural value of the citys party scene, but how it also serves as a moral compass and how it still can.

My sense of it is that there is a will in New York to bounce back [from] the low point of the Giuliani period, Lawrence added. Were seeing that difficult period shifting into something more engaged and hospitable. Its clear that there are people who are invested [in the scene], and want this to become even more re-energized.

Time to (re)build.

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