Sonic Bauhaus: Being in a Band

Soft Cell performing at the Fine Art 'Living Death' party, Leeds Polytechnic, December 1979. Photo: Tom O'Leary.
Soft Cell performing at the Fine Art 'Living Death' party, Leeds Polytechnic, December 1979. Photo: Tom O'Leary.
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Being in a Band: When the Leeds Art Experiment Went Pop

The Study Sessions are informal discussion groups. Our season Sonic Bauhaus is a series of study-as-listening-sessions exploring critical pedagogies of twentieth-century art schools and how these influenced developments in sound and systems of music creation.

What happens when artists get together to form a band? After punk in 1976, many students in Leeds art schools rejected the hackneyed image of the artist as a lone genius in a garret, downed paintbrushes in favour of guitars and synthesizers, and formed groups to challenge the limits of rock and pop music. Born of a progressive art education once celebrated as the "most influential in Europe since the Bauhaus," they took avant-garde ideas out from the artist’s studio to the record buying public, even to Top of the Pops and American Bandstand. Members of bands as diverse as Gang of Four, Delta 5, Scritti Politti, and Soft Cell created situationist anti-rock, feminist funk, penned deconstructed pop ditties about Jacques Derrida, and made electro-dance music about “sex dwarfs”: all to shake-up, even détourne, music industry business-as-usual.

Through an introductory talk, music samples and discussion, this study session seeks to explore the role UK art education has played in making pop history.

Join one session or all.

Booking is required as places are limited.

Gavin Butt is Professor of Fine Art at Northumbria University, Newcastle. He is author of Between You and Me: Queer Disclosures in the New York Art World 1948-1963 and Seriousness (with Irit Rogoff). He is also editor of After Criticism: New Responses to Art and Performance, and co-editor of Post-Punk Then and Now. Between 2009 and 2014 he was a director of Performance Matters, a creative research project exploring the cultural value of performance, during which he made his first feature-length documentary film with Ben Walters, This Is Not a Dream. He is currently completing a book on post-punk bands and UK art school education.

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