LAB: Muschi Krawall - The Sound Of Agitation

When they dismantled an English compact car with lots of noise and even more abandon in an early music video in 1979, The Slits casually invented a kind of ›redesign‹ and with it a new subject for video art. Rabid adjustments in car design became classics thanks to videos by The Art of Noise or Pipilotti Rist in the 80s. The sound of shattering glass and the thunder of mistreated sheet metal billowed as a threatening echo of industrialisation through the proletarian quarters, long before the bulldozers of gentrification began their advance.

Every idea of counter culture, anti-art or social utopia had its unique and often visionary sound in the 20th century. In this year’s Lab programme, we are going to listen to the agitations and soundtracks of some of these already distant subcultures, which had been sources of inspirations for the first years of the Hamburg No Budget festival.

In ›Pull My Daisy‹, Jack Kerouac’s somewhat scratchy voice guides us through a day in the late 50s among dropouts, layabouts and poets in New York. Photographer Robert Frank filmed this apparently ordinary meeting in a small apartment with ease and a detailed script. In the improvised looking scenery, you can see the melting of literature, life and jazz in the here and now. Naturally, Alan Ginsberg sits at the table as well. His epoch-making poem ›Howl‹ was conceived as a long and sprawling stream of thought. It was rhythmized by Bebop’s syncopations and in his associations, he mirrored the restless scepticism of American intellectuals who had experienced the first nuclear bombs. ›YELP – with apologies to Allen Ginsberg’s Howl‹ presents us with an absurd update of Ginsberg’s text under the conditions of a high-tech world in which smart phones, apps and Wi-Fi-flat screen TVs seemingly dominate our perceptions while simultaneously spying on us. »I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by…«

The 60s created the basic model for creative contrarianism with an abundance of imagination and political idealism. In music, films, underground comics, theatre experiments, street literature and countless art styles a concentration of creative energies became visible. The idea of a cultural industry was in bloom and the business model ›rock star‹ became immensely profitable. When this idealism was finally sold-out, this counter culture became trivial and utterly commercialised.

The formation of new counter cultures to this cultural situation was almost inevitable. The 70s saw the rise of the ›Blank Generation‹ in New York, who invented punk and noise as a way to escape the bleakness of middle-class ideas of careers and happiness. Their sound, lyrics and films, which were driven by desperation and anger, were loud, nihilistic, filled with political witticism and uncompromising in their rejection of authority. One of this subculture’s protagonists was Lydia Lunch, who found her artistic form in music, lyrics and radically transgressive films. Her development and unbroken productivity over the last 40 years has been remarkable. Many inspired and atmospherically dense films to Lydia Lunch’s songs were created in co-operation with video artist Elise Passavant in recent years. We present three short videos on sex, destruction and dreaming, all of which are inspired by the spirit of independence.

In Britain, American punk initially mutated in the mid-70s into a fashion label by Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. But soon afterwards it gained an unpredictable momentum and developed its anarchist potential in Europe’s metropolises. The cityscape of Hamburg owes the occupations of the houses in the Hafenstraße to punk. For the longest time this development prevented the free-spirited district St Pauli from becoming a mere speculative tool for short-time profits by speculators in real estate and its deterioration into architectural bleakness. Punk finally turned women into activists again, pushing forward the deconstruction of traditional gender roles and norms. In this context, videos such as ›Shoplifting‹ by the Slits were merely consequent.

At the end of the 70s, Joe Strummer and the Clash turned to their Jamaican neighbours’ Reggae – and British punks followed them in droves. Lager was substituted by ganja and people were dreaming of a relaxed form of Caribbean socialism after the fashion of the Sandinista movement. But of course, reality turned out to be more complicated…

In the early 80s Jamaica experienced extremely violent riots with over 800 dead. The socialist leaning chief of government, Michael Manley, was made responsible for these tribal feuds (which had probably been instigated by CIA agents) and dismissed from office. He was followed by the right-wing politician Edward Seaga, who aligned himself to the US and developed the image of Jamaica as a sun-drenched paradise under palm trees in order to attract tourism. The original, anarchistic and enlightening dub-reggae was widely replaced by a harmless version called ›export reggae‹. When Helmut Herbst took his 16mm camera and a Nagra-recorder to Jamaica in the early 80s, he met fishers in Kingston port and the dub-poet Oku Onuora. The poet with his eventful history agitates against the cliché of Jamaica as a hedonistic pot-smoking paradise and points out the abhorrent social problems on the island in his work. For him, agitation rhymes with education and his lyrics are based on observations of the everyday life of simple Jamaicans. Dub-reggae proves to be a very complex system of communication in the discussion of the great social questions. The film ›Some Serious Agitation‹ gets its special sound and relaxed intensity from Onoura’s pleasant Caribbean rhythm and Jamaican accent. Helmut Herbst edited the film after 33 years in 2013 and we are going to present it in a world premiere.

Of course the real PR from Russia needs to be represented in this programme. After hundreds of news programmes, we are going to screen Pussy Riot’s agitprop clip ›Mother of God, put Putin away‹ in full length. After all, Pussy Riot equals Muschi Krawall, more or less.

Text and film selection: Hanna Nordholt and Fritz Steingrobe (Hamburg)