A few years ago, who’d have thought that scrappy, oddball No Wave would have its own little Modern Library? It’s a testament to its decidedly hard to define, thorny nature that each of the following books is indispensable in its own way, offering up fresh takes on a scene that never stuck around long enough to wear out its welcome.
(No Wave Post-Punk Underground 1976-1980 will be covered in more depth on Sunday.)
• NY Noise [Soul Jazz] The companion book to the excellent Soul Jazz series of the same name, NY Noise isn’t exclusively about No Wave, per se. Paula Court’s noirish, often stark, photographs capture the vibrancy of the downtown scene in all its stark, often desperate glory. Flitting from avant-art space the Kitchen to the latest Robert Wilson production at BAM to smoke-filled late nights at the Mudd Club, Court’s NY scene plays out like an all-night party populated by insane geniuses.
• No Wave [Black Dog] Blending a treasure-trove of rare archival visuals with a carefully-researched history, Marc Masters’ volume brings (critical) order to No Wave’s chaos, without sacrificing or otherwise blunting the obvious vibrancy and volatility of the music. (No mean feat.) Drawing on an exhaustive array of interviews and archival material, the book is, quite simply, a great read. (The pictures are fantastic, too.)
• The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene, 1974-1984 [Princeton] A more academic take on the downtown scene, this companion book to two exhibits at NYU and Parsons depicts the creative denizens of downtown as desert flowers, persisting in spite of (to spite?) the scorched-earth landscape around them. None of these books glorify (morally) bankrupt, rat-infested, desolate NYC, but The Downtown Book is especially hard-hitting in its assessment. The apocalyptic vibe is only magnified by the looming AIDS epidemic, which was soon to decimate NYC’s creative community.
Matthew Yoblonsky’s chapter on No Wave cinema is a valuable companion-piece to Marc Masters’ chapter on the subject. Fantastic visuals here too.
• Punk tabloid Search & Destroy was never just about No Wave, but a rich, inclusive, and often surprising take on the punk scene —not just in San Francisco, where the magazine was based, but on a global scale. Tabloid-sized and writ large, the magazine could be in-your-face and even ugly where the stark realities of life in the 20th century were concerned. But the interviews were far more in-depth and thoughtful than you’d expect from a scrappy zine, never once going the expected route. Where else could you read about Tim Wright’s adventures in the jungles of Belize? Or Winston Tong’s fascination with Chinese puppetry?
When the magazine inevitably ran its course, successor RE/Search (currently available in tabloid reprints) went even further left-field, mixing music journalism and vibrant photography with highly politicized, outspoken cultural coverage; equally fascinated by the clash of modern and ancient cultures (later explored more fully in the RE/Search series Modern Primitives), a single eclectic issue spanned topics as diverse as Kathy Acker, SF punks Flipper, Sordide Sentimentale , and cannibalism. Publishers V Vale and A. Juno’s intellectual, gut-feeling approach to their subject matter gave much-needed credence to what was seen as a teenage subculture; for them, Punk is personal, political —and, ultimately, indelible.
PS: I’m running a few days behind with posts. You now have until Sunday to send in contest entries. I’ll be drawing winners and posting my interview with Byron Coley on Monday. Thanks!
The Static, Live at Riverside Studios, London, 24 Feb 1979 (from Audio Arts Supplement)
Barbara Barg + Barbara Ess, Excerpts from “Streetcar Named Desire (for Blanche)”(from Tellus 5 & 6: Special Double Audio Visual Issue)
Y Pants, “Beat It Down” (from Noise Fest, recorded at White Columns Gallery, NYC, 16-24 June 1981)