The art of noise

<strong>New York Noise: Art and Music from the New York Underground 1978-1988</strong>

Stuart Bak

Over three volumes of its New York Noise series, the British record label Soul Jazz has captured the vibrant sound clashes of Downtown Manhattan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This was the milieu that spawned the likes of Blondie, Television and Patti Smith.

The accompanying book, composed of oral history and monochrome photography, focuses on the lesser-known faces that flocked through scenester haunts like The Mudd Club, Studio 54 and Ground Zero Gallery – a loose creative community of visual and performance artists, musicians and students attracted by cheap rents, artist’s grants and the freedom of big city life. Sculptors picked up guitars and drum sticks; rockers and punks toyed with jazz and minimalist composition. The sort of graffiti seen on the A train from the Bronx hung on the walls of Manhattan galleries. White art students played funk, and black hip-hop DJs sampled them. “Borders were definitely fuzzy, which was inspiring,” writes the Talking Heads singer, David Byrne.

Indeed, New York Noise offers an exciting glimpse of a time where the self-imposed boundaries of “high” and “low” culture dissolved; an intelligent, independent artistic renaissance.

This article first appeared in the 10 September 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Why Boris and London deserve each other