The Galerie Miranda in Paris features an exhibition of photographs portraying the heydays of the Parisian and New York independent music scenes—two ways to celebrate youth.
Late 1970s, early 1980s: underground culture was in full swing in Paris and New York, two cities that know how to party and where young people were experimenting with new forms of protest. In Paris, it was the great age of the new wave, a blend of electronic sounds and rock and jazz, as well as African musical influences. A fusion. A glimmer of hope. Another world opened up through music. In New York, as it is often the case, the independent music scene was more radical, as well as more rebellious. This was the golden age of punk. A time of anger and refusal.
The photographer Philippe Chancel, then twenty-one, spent the year 1982 documenting the Parisian gangs of young rockers, often of immigrant origin. They dreamed of social integration, freedom, and crossbreeding, and, playing rockabilly Paris-style, came to identify with the music and fashions made popular by 1950s’ American pop culture: boys sporting pompadours, jackets and white socks; girls dressed in ponytails, hoop earrings, and skater skirts. Chancel photographed the cars, the fistfights, the weapons, as well as the outfits, the dance contests, the kissing contests, the gallantry and solidarity between young men and women, indispensable partners, both courted and respected.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, New York City had been slipping for some time into a deep economic and social crisis, and the city was facing bankruptcy in February 1975. By night, in the city’s trendy clubs and bars, punk musicians and avant-garde artists expressed their refusal of the status quo. Gary Green, also in his twenties, frequented trendy nightclubs—Max’s Kansas City, CBGB, the Chelsea Hotel, The Ocean Club, Hurrah’s, and Trax… He photographed artists who would soon become icons: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and Joey Ramone, David Byrne, to name a few.
Shown side by side at the Miranda Gallery, the work of these two photographers recalls the era of social unrest experienced in parallel in Paris and New York. Both convey the timeless cultural attraction exerted by the two cities. The exhibition highlights women’s role within these musical currents as artists, musicians, dancers, dance partners, kissing contestants, muses, and waitresses.
Blind invites you to get a feel of this era through a joint interview with Philippe Chancel and Gary Green.
What made you photograph parties and underground culture?
Gary Green: To me it was a historical and exciting time. The scene was perfect for photographing: with exciting looking people, great music, clothes… Very photogenic, I guess. Of course it was also kind of a diary for me because I was going out every night as well.
Philippe Chancel: In the early 1980s, “sound system went global,” to quote the famous slogan of the magazine Actuel, then focused on hipsters searching for new attitudes and new urban tribes. The Vikings and the Panthers were two groups I followed for several months from the late 1982 through early 1983: they introduced me to the world of rock’n’roll and its African American roots. Friday nights, they partied “at Albert’s,” a devotee of the 1950s, at a club in the Grands Boulevards, until repeated noise complaints put an end to this beautiful story.
Your favorite brand of music and party, and why?
R.G.: The Ramones and The New York Dolls were two of the most exciting bands to hear live. Blondie also. I guess I liked hanging out at Max’s Kansas City more than CBGB’s but I’d go wherever the music was or friends were going. The best nights went all night. Once in a while a friend whose family owned an Italian restaurant would take a bunch of us over there after hours to drink and eat. Pretty debauched but a whole lot of fun. Sometimes we’d end up at the Kiev, a Russian or Ukrainian place in the East Village, that had a big menu with all sorts of Eastern European goodies like borscht and kasha varnishka, a delicious toasted kasha with bow-tie noodles. Or we’d go to one of the Polish greasy spoons in that neighborhood. I think one or two of my favorite experiences were to end the night at The Pink Teacup in the West Village. It was a cool soul-food spot with R&B on the jukebox. Fried Chicken, pork chops, etc. Atmosphere for days.
P.C.: I am a child of rock. The idols of the Viking and the Panthers included Gene Vincent and Fats Domino. But very quickly also the Clash in England, Taxi Girl, and [the French rock group] Téléphone, and even Rachid Taha’s Carte de Séjour in France witnessed the rap wave born in the ghetto blasters of Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Glash in the States. The new wave also got into it.
A scene you found particularly touching?
R.G.: No idea.
P.C.: One memorable party in the Grands Boulevards with Brian Setzer and his drummer as guest stars who launched into improvising on a hit of theirs. A real rock delirium that went on for over an hour.
A funny, off-beat, memorable anecdote?
R.G.: One day I was in the recording studio waiting for some photographs of Robert Gordon and Link Wray for their second album. We were in Plaza Sound, which is above Radio City Music Hall. It’s an amazing place and it’s where the famous Rockettes would rehearse and dance. Anyway, I was standing around and Bruce Springsteen had come by to hear Robert record a song he’d given him called Fire. (It ended up a big hit for the Pointer Sisters but not for Bob.) Anyway, I was a big fan of his. I was too shy to go up to him and say anything, but he actually introduced himself to me and asked me how I got into photography, etc. He was so genuinely curious. I guess that’s why he’s a good lyricist, he listens to people and asks questions. Anyway, I ran into him at least a few years later when he was recording The River. I was in the studio with Sylvain and his band, and Bruce came into the sort of hanging-out room at the studio and was just asking how they were doing etc. The amazing thing was that he actually remembered me from our previous talk! I’ve thought of him as a really decent person since then and I remain a fan.
P.C.: One Saturday night, with a dozen Vikings and as many Panthers, we landed in the 16th Arrondissement. A friend at the time had slipped me the address of a house party in that posh neighborhood. And so we were ushered into a large bourgeois apartment. Not much of a party, it was more like a stilted, preppy reception for the golden youth. You should have seen their jaws drop as the merry band pretended to make themselves at home and to give them a scare and then was out of there as soon as she came.
Interview conducted by Jonas Cuénin
“Rebels & Dandies”, until June 26, 2021, Galerie Miranda, 10th Arrondissement, Paris. To learn more, visit the website.