How The Art School Post-Punks Destroyed The Art School Post Punks: Or A Portrait Of A Non-Era In A Non-Town

Typical Blackburn morning, March 1986. Rain over Winter Hill way. Rain over Pendle way. Rain over Preston way. Clambering up Revidge, then down through the park. Streets too steep for cars. Tape with Yello, New Order, John Cage, Karl-Heinz Stockhausen, Husker Du, Tackhead, Magazine, Dead Can Dance, Bogshed, Parliament/Funkadelic, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Charles Ives, The Birthday Party, Dukes of Stratosphear, The The, John Zorn, A Certain Ratio. A day of photographing a performance art piece around the broken town. Poses along the canal, on the car park roof, up the Deck Access. Black jacket. Black T-shirt. Black jeans. And so it goes.

Nothing pretentious, you understand. A pint of mild for 80p. Chips and curry sauce. Talking to the guy who paints hanging meat. He likes the smell. He likes the meatness of it. He knows Leigh Bowery. He’ll be in a performance in a few months time, down in London. Nice. He doesn’t smoke. He doesn’t even smoke legal, shop-bought cigarettes. Another pint of mild. The smoke around the pool table makes eyes burn. Music on the jukebox: The Smiths, New Order, The Stranglers, Kate Bush, The Doors, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, Julian Cope. A third pint of mild.

Best get back to it. Put on a Talking Heads tape – Fear of Music. The music is my own, the town isn’t. It doesn’t matter the world is changing by pressing the little arrow button and putting on those headphones. It doesn’t matter who gets to choose what music gets played. Not today at least.

The tape is half way through “Paper” by the time the photographer turns up. She’s walking along the canal which forms the border between Audley and the town centre. Her boyfriend hasn’t turned up. No worries. Except he had the spare film and the one in the camera only has, maybe, ten shots left on it. Whatever. I don’t have any idea what I want photographing either. It’s spontaneous. Planning shots is faking shots. This has to be real, you know? It doesn’t matter.

Neither of us can be bothered to finish off the reel in the other location: the lift is busted, it’s a long way up to the top floor of the car park, and the flats are miles away. She has to go and find her boyfriend. Two more shots of canal water reflections and the photographer heads off. The tape goes back on: “See if you can get it… on the paper.”

When something isn’t a clearly demarcated era, or an event, when does it end? When, for example, it’s simply an amalgam of memories with a soundtrack attached; or an attitude of make do and mend combined with an anything goes; or a feeling in the air, impossible to pin down, but tangible nonetheless: how can any of this “end”?

Think about what we were left. First destroy, then market the detritus. It’s a swindle, viral, venal. But then comes the re-build. But there was nothing left. They sold off anything worthwhile. You can only live off skips for so long you know. Then the dayglo and the aircon and the pre-formed meat patties step in. Meagre pickings at the margins of the machine.

I’m back in the chaos of the town. Switched cassettes on to Remain in Light, and am listening to The Overload: Talking Heads trying to sound like what Joy Division might sound like based solely on the descriptions of their music in the music press. Meta-Post-Punk. Post-Post-Punk. Post-Punk-Squared.

Did the town ever have a heart? The brewery, the cathedral or the railway station perhaps? All the means of escape. Now it’s the shopping centre, crumbling away after twenty years. Maybe the concept of a town has fallen into disuse. A hundred and fifty years ago, perhaps it made sense. Now, not so much. There’s a new supermarket, just by the station. This is what it feels like to be left behind. At least there’s the record store by the covered market.

Cabaret Voltaire 12”, the Bogshed album, McCarthy, Josef K, Yeah Yeah Noh, Girls At Our Best!, Tackhead. About ten shelves of The Smiths, six of New Order, the same of Joy Division (so a technical victory there), three of The Fall, two of The Wedding Present. This is drifting. There used to be a point to it all, surely. It used to be so direct, it couldn’t fail to make sense. No Future… Something Better Change… and yet, Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.

Here’s a thought… Joe Strummer (John Mellor) born 1952; Viv Albertine 1954; Jean-Jacques Burnel 1952; Poly Styrene (Marianne Elliot-Said) 1957… “Post” sets in around the late twenties or early thirties, it would seem. That’s all well and good, but here, at the tail end of all of their “posts”, there is nothing taking over. By our late twenties we’ll have nothing to be “post” to. The “post” of nothing is nothing. Here especially.

Back to the book on Performance Art with Vito Acconci on the cover: it’s a roadmap through the dodgier parts of the city (isn’t it?). OK, so the transgressive artists set up their studios in squats years ago. The cafes and bars have long since bedded in. The lofts have been refurbished and property prices have begun to spiral. But somehow the myth persists. All around the anarcho-punks are setting up record labels and bagging themselves writing jobs at the BBC. There are even more rich folk down south looking out for new wallpaper. But here, amongst the photos of Vienna Actionists, COUM transmission, the Scratch Orchestra there lays a truth which can never be a commodity. It took ages to save up the money to buy the book. Jeez, is this it? The only thing changing is our own validity. Art school post punks killing off art school post punks in dead end towns. There’s a party at someone’s house. The parents are away. There’ll be booze, drugs and rooms with no lights on. You know what though, maybe it’s time to give it a miss. There’s no need for any of that. Not tonight. Tonight there are books and painting and listening to something on headphones.

Alone.

It might feel odd, not being part of anything. Odd, but right: putting on the headphones.       

Liquid Sky t-shirt

Liquid Sky t-shirt

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