Graffiti is everywhere – if you’re reading this in a cafe, peer under the table and see if anyone has left a message there for you. Or failing that, visit the bathroom and you’re bound to find something there. But some pieces of graffiti have surpassed the level of petty vandalism and are pieces of art in their own right. Artists like Banksy create pieces that are highly sought after, and protected from the elements by sheets of clear perspex. And then there’s the influence of graffiti on other cultural spheres as well – fashion, film and gaming have all toyed with graffiti motifs before. But the most interesting relationship, for me, is between graffiti and music. We all know that graffiti and hip-hop have a long-running relationship but what about punk or pop? Where do they fit in? Find out in our Top 10 Graffiti/Music Crossovers.
10. Modern Life is Rubbish
In 1993, minor indie band Blur released a minor indie album, entitled Modern Life is Rubbish. The songs were chirpy and upbeat, for the most part, but the subject matter was the mediocrity of life in the 90s – having a sleep after Sunday lunch and getting lost on the ugly highways of West London (the Westway). Its working title was “Britain vs America”, to reflect the impatience that lead singer Damon Albarn was feeling with the tail end of grunge. But then he saw a piece of graffiti near their Bayswater studios, saying “Modern Life is Rubbish” and he thought it was the most profound statement anyone had ever made since Anarchy in the UK. The album was a minor success, but it paved the way for their next album, “Parklife” which would catapult the band to super-stardom.
Like the scrawl of “Modern Life is Rubbish”, there’s no artistry put into this next piece of graffiti. But it is both topical and witty and gained a small amount of fame for a while. To understand it, you need to know something about the career of former teen-idol George Michael. As part of a duo with Andrew Ridgeley in the 1980s, they scored hits like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart”. Then George split with his record label, recorded “Freedom” as an act of defiance, disappeared and re-emerged around the mid 90s with “Older” – an album containing a string of adult-sounding singles (e.g. “Fast Love”) that all reached the top 3 in his native UK.
But then it all went wrong – George was arrested for indecent conduct in a public toilet, leading him to openly admit his homosexuality. Then there were drink-driving offences and drug possession charges and one night in 2010 he crashed his car into the front of a shop in Hampstead, North London. The much-quoted graffiti that appeared on the crashed wall? The name of his first duo – Wham!
8. Put Your Graffiti on Me
From super-groups and decade-spanning artists to the first single from someone on TV. That someone was Katerina “Kat” Graham, an actress from The Vampire Diaries, who decided to capitalize on the links between graffiti and music by naming her debut single “Put Your Graffiti on Me”, in 2012. Whether she endorsed getting out the spray cans while watching her show was unclear, but she obviously thought it gave her a bit of an urban edge. The single did reasonably well, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs Chart, a specialist chart to monitor what is currently popular in clubland, and her follow-up is out later this year.
7. Black Flag
Before MySpace and iTunes and the internet in general, how did you get the message about your band out there? Well, punk pioneers Black Flag did it themselves, with a spray can. They had to do a lot of things themselves, being almost entirely self-funded and managed. This was not out of choice, just because no record label wanted to take them on with their reputation for violent gigs like the “family concert” in Polliwog Park, California that ended in obscenities and and fighting. So their marketing was improvised, illegal…and effective. The guitarist’s girlfriend would go out and spray paint their logo everywhere – with its four bars representing a broken, unfurled flag it was a simple and quick symbol to tag and it generated a buzz around the band, as well as some attention from the local police. A lesson in easy publicity but not one to repeat if you value your liberty.
6. Dig Your Own Hole
If you’re recording your second album in the 1990s, the best method of naming your album is to look around for some words on a wall and use those. It worked for Blur in 1993, and four years later the Chemical Brothers followed suit. Although they were dance pioneers, the Chemical Brothers were around the edges of the same Britpop scene as Blur, having collaborated with Damon Albarn’s arch-rival Noel Gallagher of Oasis. So it may not have been entirely co-incidental – again the band saw the graffiti on the wall outside the studio and again they thought it sounded really profound. And so “Dig Your Own Hole” was born.