In The Irrepressible Song of Kid Creole and the Coconuts from 1980 Darrio, a bunch of choristers bouncing back to the titular gentleman to bring them into Studio 54. Darrio, otherwise obliging, lists why he can’t (“It’s the one thing money can’t buy” ), before finally admitting “my kind of paradise is Club 57,” the late 70s / early 80s hangout in East Village that was the antithesis of a nightclub. The New York City Times in 1980 described the group as “the Marx Brothers meeting Carmen Miranda in Bob Marley’s Kingston”.
The song – and the genre act – is a tidy time capsule of the era’s New York music and nightlife scene, being the subject of a new exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Coinciding with MTV’s 40th anniversary on August 1, New York, new music: 1980-1986 gets organized around 14 key moments and showcases more than 350 objects, including video footage, photographs, artifacts and ephemera. It was an era of experimentation and synthesis of genres, from no wave to pop, hip-hop, salsa and jazz, all flourishing in a dynamic art scene that frolicked through the clubs. , bars, theaters, parks and artistic spaces and spilled into the streets.
New York City at this time proved to be a particularly fertile artistic breeding ground for work that continues to influence culture today, according to Sean Corcoran, the museum’s curator of prints and photography, who organized previously exhibits on graffiti art from the mid-1970s and early hip-hop. photography. “Ed Koch was mayor, the city was getting back on its feet after a major budget crisis,” he said. âIt was still a gritty city, before gentrification really took hold. Artists could afford to live in the city – they didn’t have to scramble to make rent, so they could focus on their work. You could afford to experiment.
Familiar faces abound in the exhibit, including images of Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Debbie Harry and a teenager LL Cool J. But the focus is on the artists who pushed their music in new directions in the 1980s. At New York. The Talking Heads, for example, performed their first show at CBGB in 1975, but the exhibition focuses on a Central Park concert in 1980 that featured a wider range of musicians and showcased the group’s new Afrobeat influences.
âThere is a lot of important music being made around this time that a lot of people don’t know,â Corcoran said. âWe hope to encourage musical discovery or rediscovery, to promote awareness of the different genres of music. We want to give people the opportunity to broaden their musical horizons a bit.
After all, there is a strong preconceived idea about the music of this era. âWhen people think of ’80s music, they think almost exclusively of pop music because of MTV – they made artists like Madonna stars,â Corocoran explains. âBut I’m trying to show the wide range of musical and cultural scenes that were going on in the city at the time. The disco era and the punk movement of the 70s tend to be put forward, but the music a few years later was also vital and experimental.
This includes transgressive and experimental music performed by bands like DNA and the avant-garde composition work of artists such as Laurie Anderson and John Zorn. Jazz continued to be important in the city thanks to the work of artists like Henry Threadgill and the Fort Apache Band, who mixed Latin rhythms and jazz. And salsa was just as vital as it was in the 70s, during the the heyday of the Fania Records label.
âWhat really surprised me was how all of this music was really interconnected,â notes Corcoran. âIf you look at the Mudd Club’s weeklong lineup, it could be all the different genres and styles of music from day to day. The reservation was really courageous and broad. People would absorb all of these different kinds of music and put them into their own music. New York is very well suited for this cross-pollination of cultures and ideas.
The range of media on display shows the many ways in which audiences discovered new music at the time: hand-made flyers of upcoming shows distributed in theaters; live reviews of Afrika Bambaataa and Sonic Youth performances who shared pages in The New York Rocker; posters designed by Keith Haring for the incomparable downtown issue, Liquid Liquid.
And of course, this radio, video killer. It was the early days of portable video cameras as well as public access television, and wall-to-wall streaming of music videos by MTV was about to revolutionize the industry. In addition to three larger-than-life screens showing live performances and music videos, a space inspired by suburban playrooms was developed for the exhibit with videographers Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong, who created the original living room. from the iconic Danceteria nightclub. in 1980 for those taking a break from the dance floor. The installation features a mix of found images, video art and archival footage of downtown musicians; clips from Brooklyn-based public access program The Scott and Gary Show, including a hardcore debut performance by the Beastie Boys; and rare first MTV interviews with artists like Madonna and Run-DMC.
But ultimately, it wasn’t the advent of MTV that defeated this early 1980s New York music scene. As the city’s economy rebounded, club owners were forced into rising rents. and broader efforts to clean up the city’s reputation. Meanwhile, crack and AIDS ravaged the communities where artists lived and worked, and those neighborhoods, such as the East Village and the Lower East Side, began to feel gentrification. The eclectic New York sound that the exhibition highlights finally gave way to the global hip-hop juggernaut – also born in New York – with the iconic cover of Run-DMC from the rock classic Aerosmith Walk This Way marking the entry of rap into the general public.
Corcoran hopes the exhibition will bring new attention to the often overlooked musical ingenuity of the era. “New York State in the early 1980s was the perfect incubator for all of this – this socio-cultural and fiscal situation set the stage for a lot of creatives to be here, meet and create together,” he said. -he declares. “It still happens today, but then there was the right combination of those things to really make an impact.”