“I actually stood in front of Andy Warhol and gawped,” says Stephen Mallinder of his encounter with the pop art icon in the early 1980s. As he writes in this month’s Epiphanies column, he was in thrall to New York at that time, seeing in its art (Warhol) and music (hiphop, disco) routes beyond guitars, the rock star system and all the power hierarchies that it entailed. As Mallinder puts it, ““The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel” was a portent of sampling and digital things to come, Duchamp’s readymades sonically realised and normalised.”
Warhol has retained his mystique after death and then some, his engagement with copies and commodification more prescient than ever in the social media era. Kim Gordon, who graces this month’s cover, has just completed an exhibition at Pittsburgh’s Warhol museum inspired by his art, which included making a new soundtrack to his film Kiss. “I always felt that, in a way, playing music in a band and making comments about popular culture was the next step from pop art,” she reasons in conversation with Abi Bliss.
Rewind to 1990, and these two musicians’ respective bands were engaging with pop art and its cultural legacy in quite different ways. Cabaret Voltaire at that time were in love with sampling and the reproductive possibilities of digital technology, producing a heartfelt if uncanny copy of Chicago house around the time of Groovy, Laidback And Nasty (whose cover featured an infinite repeating grid of the faces of Mallinder and Richard H Kirk). Sonic Youth, meanwhile, were in pop art rock mode, Raymond Pettibon’s cover of Goo echoing the dynamic panels of Roy Lichtenstein, the record riffing on tragi-comic cultural icons such as Karen Carpenter, Mildred Pierce and (on the cover) Moors murderer Myra Hindley in a way that echoes Warhol’s superstars.
Round the time, Channel 4 TV in the UK dedicated an entire night of broadcasting to The Velvet Underground to coincide with the group’s shortlived reunion. It included a couple of Warhol’s innovative longform films, which trained a patient, nonjudgemental eye on the exotic figures around the New York underground. But I was fiercely uncurious about the personalities behind these films. Influenced by Beat writers, I tried to avoid all received wisdom and artistic hierarchies; as a dance music fan, I insisted in judging everything through first impressions and the senses. Like Cabaret Voltaire, I idealistically hoped technology could help us exist without, or outside, the star system. I sat back and soaked up the feel of these films, their sense of sexual freedom and drifting time, in the same way that I listened to Goo: revelling in the grunge, but passing over the rich history.
Maybe there’s a transatlantic difference here I can’t put my finger on. The point of Warhol and other pop artists always seemed to me that their work should not become an object of fetishisation, that it should free us to create new cultural products. The idea of responding to Warhol’s legacy sits uneasily with the disposability of his famous work, especially half a century later. Naturally the Warhol narrative looms large and needs to be continued in the US, but elsewhere, perhaps, there has been more freedom to move beyond and reactivate it.
None the less, since the break-up of Sonic Youth, former members have found ways to gently subvert the star systems of their own former band. Kim Gordon’s music with Bill Nace in Body/Head drifts away from conventional songforms and Gordon’s own instantly identifiable vocals, as Nace discusses with Jennifer Lucy Allan.
Thurston Moore meanwhile has opened a new chapter of his life in London, quickly becoming a prolific member in all kinds of one-off improvising collaborations. He also graciously uses his reputation to amplify those of other, less well-known players in the scene he is part of, a little like Sonic Youth did in Northampton, Massachusetts in the 2000s, as eyewitness Matt Krefting relays in his Once Upon A Time In Western Mass piece. As such, it’s only fitting that our World Of Kim Gordon issue looks beyond the big personalities to highlight the connections and networks that sustain her work in the past, present and hopefully the future. Derek Walmsley
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Issue 428 October 2019 £5.95 ISSN 0952-0686
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Thanks this issue Rory Brown
Words Jennifer Lucy Allan, Steve Barker, Mike Barnes, Dan Barrow, Robert Barry, Tristan Bath, Clive Bell, Abi Bliss, Marcus Boon, Britt Brown, Nick Cain, Philip Clark, Byron Coley, Lara C Cory, Julian Cowley, Alan Cummings, Erik Davis, Laina Dawes, Geeta Dayal, Katrina Dixon, Phil England, Kodwo Eshun, Josh Feola, Phil Freeman, Rory Gibb, Francis Gooding, Kurt Gottschalk, Louise Gray, James Hadfield, Andy Hamilton, Adam Harper, Jim Haynes, Ken Hollings, Maya Kalev, David Keenan, Kek-W, Biba Kopf, Matt Krefting, Neil Kulkarni, Sam Lefebvre, Dave Mandl, Howard Mandel, Wayne Marshall, Marc Masters, Noel Meek, Bill Meyer, Aurora Mitchell, Keith Moliné, Brian Morton, Joe Muggs, Daniel Neofetou, Louis Pattison, Ian Penman, Emily Pothast, Edwin Pouncey, Chal Ravens, Tony Rettman, Simon Reynolds, Bruce Russell, Sukhdev Sandhu, Claire Sawers, Dave Segal, Peter Shapiro, Stewart Smith, Nick Southgate, Daniel Spicer, Richard Stacey, David Stubbs, Greg Tate, Richard Thomas, Dave Tompkins, David Toop, Rob Turner, Zakia Uddin, Val Wilmer, Matt Wuethrich
Images Mustafah Abdulaziz, Ollie Adegboye, Sasha Arutyunova, Christian Belgaux, Melodie McDaniel, Andrew Mangum, Melanie Metz, Eddie Otchere, Savage Pencil, Michael Schmelling, Na Seung, Rosaline Shahnavaz, Bastian Thiery, Eva Vermandel, Jake Walters, Frank White