New York Rawk, From Lou Reed to The Strokes
November 23, 2016
From the street corner serenades of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, via the art rock of The Velvet Underground, CBGBs’ Punk roots, the downtown no-wave scene of the 80s and the emergence of The Strokes at the turn of century, New York can make a serious claim for being the most creative city on the planet.
The entry point for countless migrants from across the world, the Big Apple remains an incredible melting pot of cultures and ideas that continues to throw up world beating talent with almost indecent ease.
New York City isn’t just a metropolitan area – it’s a state of mind with an attitude that runs through its rich musical history as determinedly as the F train.
The doo-wop and rock’n’roll of the 1950s found countless vocal groups springing up over the city that, in turn, inspired Lou Reed – under the Velvet Underground’s banner and the guidance of pop-art supremo Andy Warhol – to cross-fertilise the form with hard hitting poetry and the avant-garde.
New York and its electrifying environment is as much a character in Reed’s songs as the junkies, drag queens and artists that inhabited his best material.
Though The Velvet Underground failed to sell records in huge numbers, their influence is keenly felt. New York Dolls picked up their baton, mixing rock’n’roll with the downtown drag scene to create the essential stepping stone between the 60s and punk rock.
David Bowie, then going through his drag phase, was moved to visit the city in the early 70s and his fourth album, ‘Hunky Dory’, is shot through with its attitude, most notably on ‘Andy Warhol’ and ‘Queen Bitch’.
With the city facing bankruptcy in the mid-70s, rock bottom rents enabled a new generation of artists to move downtown and take rock’n’roll back from the bloated dinosaurs roaming the earth.
Centred around rundown venue CBGBs in the Bowery, disparate musicians such as Patti Smith, Ramones and Television birthed punk rock as poetry. Elemental rock’n’roll and experimental sounds came to influence bands far beyond the city’s limits.
So fertile was New York’s cultural soil, bands such as The Clash moved to the city to soak up its numerous flavours and infuse their work with a newly found sense of purpose and creativity, and Brian Eno worked closely with Talking Heads on some of their most memorable material.
But as punk surrendered to more traditional strictures, a new wave of artists including James Chance and the Contortions, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks and DNA experimented with noise, dissonance and atonality. This in turn spurred bands such as Sonic Youth, Swans and Glenn Branca to push these experiments into new and exciting areas.
In common with many cities around the world, New York has undergone a prolonged period of gentrification. Not that this has prevented new sounds emerging from the city.
Though The Strokes were based in Manhattan, Brooklyn also proved to be a hot spot of creativity with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem and Battles among others proving that, once again, the streets of NYC and thereon adversity thereon are just as inspirational as ever.
And as so many of her sons and daughters step onto the world stage we’re reminded of that old adage. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…
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