Article for ThingsWeLove mag: March 2008
New York, New York !
Lets talk about our favourite bands: Blondie? The Ramones? New York Dolls? The Velvet Underground? Agnostic Front? All NYC cool kids. And a small percentage of the city’s talents at that. The acronym itself conjures up images of bohemian cool (by which I mean REAL bohemia, not "boho"!), artsy hipsters and a thriving creative community. One can be forgiven for feeling somewhat overwhelmed by the city's ‘cool factor’ when we consider exactly what New York City has done for the world of music. Disco, Punk, Hardcore, New Wave, No Wave, Garage Rock... The list goes on. And on and on.
The 70s saw New York pioneering a new and fresh club genre - D.I.S.C.O. Clubs like the infamous (and equally decadent) Studio 54 and the elitist Paradise Garage became notorious for not only the cutting edge music it showcased and their fresh approach to partying, but also the hedonism that went on behind those closed (and highly exclusive) doors. After only 5 years of trading, Studio 54 closed for good but fortunately and unsurprisingly, it’s short stint in the musical world was not directly proportional to its effect on the scene - Disco was now an established genre and would continue to thrive with or without its club parentage. The legacy of the disco scene lived on.
Paradise Garage was the second driving force behind this dance music revolution. Not only that, but it pioneered the basis of a modern nightclub and the club scene as we know it. Unusually, it did not sell alcohol, purposefully detracting from the social aspects of 'clubbing'. With the absence of this social lubricant, the music itself was thrown into the spotlight. Indeed, Paradise Garage was the first club of its kind to put the DJ at the centre of the action - something that we all take as a given in our modern club environment. Before this point in musical history, the DJ was simply the 'music man' and not a focal point; Paradise Garage turned the DJ into the magic man - the source of all atmosphere and enjoyment. And thus the ‘Garage Sound’ was born, a musical genre defined by its association with Paradise Garage (not to be confused with So Solid Cru) Right on!
But this was only the beginning. Not content with having already overthrown the music scene in the 50s with the Greenwich Village Folk movement and coining the term ‘Disco’ and ‘Garage’ , New York was set for even bigger and better adventures. Introducing: CBGBs. Literally "Country/ Blue Grass/ Blues". The club was originally intended to feature its namesake musical styles but it fast became a forum for Punk-influenced bands like The Ramones, Television, The Patti Smith Group, Blondie & The Talking Heads. After the Mercer Arts Centre collapsed in August 1973 there were few locations where local, unsigned bands could play their original music. Musical history was made when such bands took to the now infamous CBGBs stage. It ultimately became a haven and breeding ground for alternative genres and without it, it is hard to say if or when some our favourite bands from decades long gone would ever have emerged.
In recent years there has been a new garage rock revival on the streets of New York, spawning bands such as Interpol, The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and The French Kicks. These bands have dominated the hearts, minds and stereos of any self-respecting Indie kid and established old rocker respectively. It seems there is no end to the future potential of this culture soaked city – and yet some people claim its no longer relevant. NYC constantly churns out talent that revolutionises the scene for months or even years at a time. Who in the world hasn’t heard a Strokes tune on the radio at some point in their lifetime? There isn’t a rock club in the country that hasn’t blasted out ‘Slow Hands’ by Interpol or fought off dance-hungry punters requesting ‘Date with the night’ by the YYYs repeatedly until they hear it. Some claim that it is merely the NYC association that propels these bands to such dizzying heights of success but I beg to differ; listeners and musical connoisseurs these days aren’t so easily fazed by attitude and image. We want substance. And NYC continues to deliver.
Ultimately there are few cities on our barren planet that can boast such a wealth of contribution to the world of music - current or otherwise, than New York City. With most genres already firmly established and newer ones seeping into our consciousness like a heavy dose of ether, we no longer require a musical epicentre where aspiring talent flock to seek their fortune. But doubters claim that its influence has waned in recent years. In the words of my very own American hipster friend: "It's all about Montreal." OK, so we have Arcade Fire, Of Montreal, Wolf Parade... But we can't erase the good work NYC has done. Would Arcade Fire have found the drive or inspiration to start their own band without the influences of the original New York scene? These days talent overflows from every street corner, every local pub, every Myspace profile and success is much more accessible. New York was at the centre of a revolution spanning 3 decades, which ultimately changed the way people perceived and made music and it will always have a place in music's heart. Yeah yeah yeah!