Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Branching Out: Punk's Assorted Sub-Genres: 2



Art punk was born from the minds of art school students, flavored with experimentation and the spirit of the avant-garde. Their performances were visually artistic and their audial projections were poetic, meaningful or otherwise crazy as hell.

From the spoken word musings of Patti Smith, to bands like Wire and The Ex who incorporated jazz, noise and ethnic sounds into their music, to the start/stop beats and irregular rhythms of Fugazi and the Talking Heads' whimsical, esoteric lyrics and various multimedia projects, to the countless other acts of similar and different veins, art punk is a diverse musical set.

Basically, as free as art itself can be, art punks absorbed the themes and theories of their artistic beliefs and fused them into their raging, rebellious sound.

Can you guess that art punks not only took their fashion sense as seriously as their music, but are as hard to categorize as a singular trend? Since the sounds and styles of art punk acts varied, their fashions were just as poignant.

One example: The Talking Heads (formed at RISD and once called "The Artistcs," legit), see image at top, were known to wear suits and trousers in a dazzling orgy of colors and prints. While not a reliable source, my ex-boyfriend and rabid Talking Heads fan told me he heard lead guitarist and vocalist David Byrne talk about trying to purposely make his head look small in contrast to his body by wearing super oversized suits. Why? It's art, baby.

As much as I'd like to delve into specifics of art punk fashion, it's hard enough to classify the genre (due to cross-over categorization) and the looks of each act vary in terms of the dramatic, the deliberate, the non-existent and beyond).

"The Only Band That Matters," The Clash, from England are my choice as the prototypical art punk performers. Straight from the source in England the the 1970s, the Clash fused sounds from around the world and posed passionate political statements in their lyrics, best exemplified by managing to get everyone dance on their track "Rock the Casabah" while sneaking in lyrics on the Iranian clampdown on imports of Western music. Without hatred or a contrived look, the Clash influenced thousands, broke the mold and made punk rock into art.

I'll also throw in a local act of whom I've had the pleasure to see and meet, Rhode Island's [The Viennagram]. Chock full of art, burlesque and kitchy influence, the Viennagram are a band that rattle the senses with visual and audible mayhem. Check them out at http://www.myspace.com/theviennagram or just watch this video to get the idea

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