101ers

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The Clash front man Joe Strummer started his first band in 1974. Their name “The 101′ers” reveals the urban domestic origins of punk, named after 101 Walterton Road, where the band members squatted. Strummer had just bought his iconic Fender Telecaster; among other odd jobs he trimmed flower beds at Hyde Park and was janitor for the English National Opera. Earlier in the winter 1972-73, Strummer had a truly archaeological job, working as a gravedigger (as did Rod Stewart) The story of the band is told in Strummer’s official biography, Chris Salewicz, Redemption Song: The Ballad of Joe Strummer (New York, 2006). Strummer and the rest of the 101′ers lived and practiced in the basement, which had a dirt floor. Walterton Street was a war time ghetto, which the government was slowly tearing down, house-by-house. 101 Walterton was the last house on the block razed in 1975. The squatters then moved to 36 St. Luke Road, close to a West Indian community. Essentially, the 101′ers were inhabiting an abandoned urban carcass. The house had no interior toilet, no hot water, no electricity and was flea infested. Electricity was illegally tapped from the public grid (Salewicz, pp. 116, 118, 129). The photo on the left, from Salewicz, p. 110, gives an architectural image of punk’s origins, rising out of dilapidated brick houses of the 19th-century. Spaces such as these would become dwellings and performing spaces for countless bands in the UK and the USA.

 

Although 101 Walterton does not exist anymore, it was located at 51°31’29.83″N, 0°12’3.08″W (lat/long) and can be visited via GoogleEarth. Technically, quatting means the occupation of abandoned buildings without official permission or payment of rent. For a global overview, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squatting.

Masonry brick wall became central to the iconography of punk. In stark low budget black-and-white photography, the brick matrix provided dramatic visuality to the music. An exaggerated Xerox manipulation, further contrasted the black brick against the white mortar. Consider the architectural backdrop on the Ramones self-titled debut album (1976), a graffitied masonry wall from Lower Manhattan (probably outside CBGB’s). Similarly, when the Clash released their first (also self-titled) record in 1977, it also set the band within a highly dramatic brick wall. The photo was taken by Kate Simon for an article in Sounds in late 1976. The setting was an alleyway opposite the front door of the band’s Rehearsal Rehearsals building in Camden Town (Salewicz 181). The 1980 album cover for Sandinista also featured a brick-wall background. The aesthetics of bare brick walls contrasts with those of a decade earlier. When Andy Warhol moved into the Factory in January 1964, he had Billy Name (a lighting technician) cover the bare brick walls with silver. The demise of the Factory in 1968 corresponds with the pealing of the silver application. Punk did not have glitter. It’s also noteworthy to compare the punk walls with rock’s most famous masonry, namely The Wall by Pink Floyd in 1979. The 2-LP album sleeves highlight a crisply drafted wall, pure whiteness inscribed by pure black lines. Above this orthographic drawing, we have the blotchy graffiti of the band’s name and record title. True to its conceptual art-rock narrative, this wall exists in a fantastic, timeless, highly representational graphic realm. Although of similar iconography, it is foreign to the rough and real bricks of the Ramones and the Clash.

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