The Daily Heller: And the Beast Goes On

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From the fanaticism of fans comes important archives and collections. Andrew Krivine is the most fanatic fan of Punk music I know, and the most devoted devotee of its history. His book Too Fast to Live Too Young to Die: Punk and Post-Punk Graphics (Pavillion Books and Rizzoli) was published in 2020 in trade and limited editions. An exhibition of the work was held at the MAD Museum in 2019. Despite the cancelations due to COVID, all three university museums that committed to shows in 2020 are proceeding with them over the coming six months (Georgetown, UC-Denver and SUNY Binghamton). The first exhibition (which is actually comprised of three distinct Punk-related exhibitions) opens at the Binghamton Art Museum on Sept. 10.

Now comes Krivine's follow-up book in October, Reversing Into the Future: New Wave Graphics 1977–1990 (Pavillion Books and Rizzoli), which brings together over 650 designs from the period.

New Wave is a variant in this age of variants, illustrated with work for The B52s, Boomtown Rats, Devo, Duran Duran, The Cars, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, XTC, Cyndi Lauper, The Police, Simple Minds, Gary Numan, Japan, Blondie, Talking Heads, The Go-Gos, Graham Parker, Nick Lowe, Simple Minds, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and many more. Graphic artists featured include Peter Saville, Martyn Atkins, Barney Bubbles, Chris Morton, Malcolm Garrett, Alex McDowell, Tony Wright, Martin Kaye for the Paradiso, X3 Posters, DEVO Inc., Neville Brody, The Design Republic, Russell Mills and more.

I wanted to interview Krivine and clear up, at least in my addled hippie brain, the difference between the new book and the last, and define once and for all the distinction between Punk and New Wave.

Cover by Malcolm Garrett and Chip Kidd

What is different between the two books?

The books are structured as complementary volumes, chronicling graphic design for specific musical genres, with Reversing Into the Future focused on New Wave music. Reversing fills the gap between Punk and Post-Punk. As noted in the introduction, I didn’t have the approved page length in Too Fast to Live to do justice to New Wave. In consultation with my editor, we decided to largely exclude New Wave posters from the book.

I was quite disappointed at the time, but this limitation ended up being fortuitous. Following the release of Too Fast to Live (coupled with the extended run of my exhibition in Brussels to August 2020), I was approached by several collectors who had a number of exciting New Wave–related posters. Over 300 pieces were added to the collection, with many ending up in Reversing Into the Future.

What is the granular distinction between Punk and New Wave?

This is a very difficult question with no single, clean answer! To a degree, New Wave is the connective tissue between Punk and Post-Punk. New Wave is more expansive than Punk in both sonic terms (much more varied instrumentation, not limited to just guitar, bass and drums) and graphic design terms. I would characterize many New Wave songs as being quite adventurous, playful and experimental, in contrast to the often sparse, rigid song structures from the first wave of Punk. Hopefully these distinctions come across as also reflected in the posters and flyers in my new book.

If you randomly approached 10 people and asked them to define New Wave, you would get 10 different answers, which is not the case with Punk. Some people associate New Wave with humorous critiques of America’s love affair with technology, Cold War anxieties (nuclear armageddon—duck and cover) and the rise of rampant consumerism. New Wave songs and graphic designs reference all these cultural markers from the Eisenhower era—what I consider to be a kind of Retro-Futurism (though many no doubt may disagree with me on this).

Others consider New Wave music to be little more than a commercially palatable repackaging of Punk, aggressively promoted by the major record labels in the late '70s. And then for many Gen Xers, New Wave music didn’t exist before MTV (Year Zero), a genre inextricably associated with the escapist synth pop and flamboyant fashion of the early 1980s. These are just three examples of how New Wave music is perceived. This inherent elusiveness is why I find New Wave a fascinating but also challenging subject. And maybe this is why an illustrated graphic design book on this subject hasn’t been done before Reversing Into the Future?

Notwithstanding the above, I do think there is broad consensus on one point: Because so many New Wave bands became globally recognized, massive successes—propelled in no small measure to the emergence of MTV—the music acted as a powerful transmission mechanism. Musical elements shared by Punk and New Wave (very high energy, concise songs which eschewed the indulgent solos associated with "Prog Rock" and swagger) were introduced to a much wider audience than was ever possible with Punk. Without New Wave, would Punk be celebrated today as one of the greatest periods in rock music, attracting thousands of young adherents each year? Who can say!

What's next on your list of projects?

At the moment I am consumed with pulling together materials for a series of Punk and New Wave exhibitions opening in university galleries—beginning with SUNY Binghamton next month, followed by the University of Colorado-Denver in October and a final exhibition at Georgetown University in early 2022.

Beyond "feeding" these exhibitions, I am in the final stage of cataloging my entire Proto-Punk/Punk/New Wave/Post-Punk collection (now approaching 6,000 pieces, including duplicates). I never dreamt it would entail so much time, effort and treasure, but I can now see t
hat benefit of uploading all the materials into a dynamic arts management database (Collector Systems, which is based here in NYC). The project is more than 90% complete, and already it has enabled me to quickly organize and pull all of the posters, flyers and fanzines for the three curatorial teams. I really can’t imagine how all my previous exhibitions were ever possible without this system!

Will something akin to New Wave ever happen again?

It is never wise to declare a revival or reinvention of a musical genre impossible, but I think it is highly unlikely. The entire music industry business model has changed so profoundly, and I think, irreversibly. In the 1970s (really through to the 1990s), record labels were willing to promote artists with lavish print marketing campaigns (ad copy, in-store posters, bus shelter posters, etc.). These materials were fed into a nationwide distribution network of thousands of record shops, which reached into every corner of the 50 states. In the digital age, graphic design for any musical genre is deprived of such a massive infrastructure—the extinction occurred 20 years ago. Independent record stores today are just a tiny fraction of the shops which existed in, say, 1979.

As you know, musicians today survive almost entirely from performing. Royalties from Spotify are derisory to say the least, and if bands don’t play, they don’t eat! Most posters for contemporary groups are limited print runs sold at "merch" tables at venues, manned by the band members. Hopefully this will give rise to a new wave of poster collecting by Gen Zers!