Despite the political climate, artists were reaching out across genres, neighborhoods, and races. Basquiat made art-punk with his band Gray, Afrika Bambaataa sampled Kraftwerk on the otherworldly “Planet Rock,” Jones covered Iggy Pop and Joy Division—all in a spirit of mutual admiration and curiosity. Reading Lawrence’s book, it’s startling to see how quickly Blondie picked up on hip hop. When they made Rapture, with its shout out to Fab Five Freddie and a rap by Debbie Harry, the genre barely existed, yet this soundclash between the cultures of the South Bronx and downtown Manhattan was emblematic of the times.
“It’s one of the great themes of the early 1980s, this remarkable meeting and productive exchange between these two communities who you would think would have a completely separate set of values and they get on like a house on fire,” says Lawrence. “The downtown kids are a fun bunch who are largely suburban refugees who are fleeing boredom and going for experimental lives, who go to CBGBs and the Mudd Club. They’re white middle class but they’re broke—they don’t need much money to live on. Then you have the Bronx party people who are overwhelmingly African-American or Latino and working class. They get together and find that their artistic values and aesthetic values are almost identical. They both believe in the manipulation of found objects, they both believe in mashup, they both have a very DIY ethos that mutates into their various versions of punk, so although they’re completely separate and have different lineages, their artistic values combine very easily and you have this great collaboration—like Rapture.”
While music underpinned this cultural upheaval, few other art forms remained untouched. Lawrence cites Wild Style, the first-ever film about hip hop, which merged movies, music and the art world. “It’s white downtown artist and filmmaker Charlie Ahearn collaborating with Fred Braithwaite, an African-American graffiti writer. Pat Astor, one of the downtown stars of the no-wave cinema and a regular in the Mudd Club, gets a role in Wild Style. She opens the first East Village gallery, Fun, and she’s showing her white downtown art punks friends, but she’s also showing graffiti artists. The two groups meet and it’s almost more of a party space than a gallery space.” Basquiat, Haring, and David Wojnarovicz were in the vanguard of New York artists who expressed and embodied the traffic between the streets of the city, the clubs, and the galleries.