Delusions and desires in No New York
How it was to be New York in the late 70s and early 80s? A delirium. The city had become a real Gotham City, but without its beloved Batman to watch over and fight the crimes. Entire degraded, crumbling neighborhoods, territories of criminal gangs, drug dealing and in which to walk around hiding a gun or a knife under your jackets was normal.
I remember well a filmography about it, all films by Charles Bronson and Gene Hackman, “The Night’s Joker”, “The violent arm of the law” and still others “The Night Warriors”, the Bronx films, all documenting a dark, violent city, gripped in the grip of a terrible financial crisis that did not guarantee the salaries of the police and garbage collectors, the Apple had become march, corrupt, the city was in disarray.
In all this rot, Art. Entwined and attracted by the very low rents’ costs, by the large available sizes, by the cosmopolitan environment, New York attracted artists, musicians, graphic designers, poets, and anyone who had the urgency and desire to express something from all over the world. Something new, as far as possible from the academy. The result was an explosion of incredible creativity at any level, pop art, minimalism, punk, street art, disco music, on which even today thirty years later we interrogate and continue to dig discovering gold nuggets in bags of garbage. Its most rotten fruit, its most nihilistic and anarchic form, found its way into a musical form called No Wave, an even more extreme form of punk that made the New York Dolls, the Stooges and the Sex Pistols look like good guys out of a high school. Guitars distorted to the maximum, heavy, rhythmic and obsessive rhythms, saxs that came out directly from the most acid free jazz records, delusional lyrics, no musical skills, no technical experience, instruments detected directly at the pawnshop, if not stolen. No future, a tremendous rage and the desire to make it, to express something, whatever was even a spit in the face. In short, a radical redefinition of the aesthetic terms, the moment, the now and for the rest…who cares. Listening to the compilation No New York fourty years after, still makes a certain impression even if in the meantime many of the artists who had been immortalized by Brian Eno (yes Mr. Ambient) have developed more than dignified artistic careers and continued to play or to paint, in any way to express themselves, even managing to cross the limits of the New York scene. Rough. Really rough. Production fiercely reduced to zero. Pure Lo-fi. A stylistic declaration and intentions already for how it sounds. Just like “do it babe and do not think about it”. Four bands: James Chance’s Contorsion, Lindya Lunch’s Jesus and the Jerks, Marrs and Arto Lindsay’s and Ikeu Mori’s DNA. A handful of songs thrown like pebbles into a dirty puddle for a record that will continue to influence and inspire the entire American indie rock scene and beyond, granting unlimited credit to Brian Eno as a talent scout and producer, ruining friendships inside a scene so far compact and cohesive in their desolation and absence of any future that was not that of drugs and pull to live, day after day. Situationists, without being it the No Wavers, but at the same time creators of a new music scene that operated through a network of dubious clubs to which the holes in which the jazz players played on 56th street were true paradises. The message: anyone can do it, anyone can take up an instrument, get the technique done, give it to us. Paradoxically: something different from the American dream? Paradoxically: the furthest from the absence of hope that emerges from the texts and music twisted on themselves worse than a rusty corkscrew. Paradoxically: can a single record create a musical scene? Yet how much energy, how much anger, how much desire in this handful of songs. How much desire for the future, at the same time denied by the logic of life really lived in the filthy Downtown alleys.