No Wave Veterans Disturbed Furniture Deliver Recently Unearthed Live Set From 1981 (premiere + interview)
Part of New York City's vibrant art and music scene in the early 1980s, Disturbed Furniture still kick with the shock of the new in 2019. Vocalist Alexa Hunter looks back at walking among the Hells Angels and the city's art elite.
Disturbed Furniture's recent five-song EP, Continuous Pleasures, captures the spirit of a No Wave outfit that was an integral part of the New York City music scene in the space between the late 1970s and early 1980s. Featuring new tunes as well as takes on past favorites, the EP was released 23 August. Somewhere in all the excitement, a friend of the band unearthed 20 minutes of footage featuring the group playing at the storied Peppermint Lounge in NYC in 1981.
If anyone needed more evidence or a more convincing artifact of the unit's punch and prowess, they need not look further than this extended clip. Though there are hallmarks of the era in which Disturbed Furniture first thrived, one could just as easily be watching a post-punk collective reaching its apex in 2019.
Vocalist Alexa Hunter recently spoke with PopMatters about life in New York during the halcyon days of the early 1980s as well as Disturbed Furniture's current status and its future.
Where did this footage from the Peppermint Lounge come from?
That was from a tape that somebody found that somebody had a copy of. I had never seen it until two weeks ago. It's pretty wild having tapes come up that were not even in your consciousness. You see yourself as a much younger person and say, "Oh my God!" I don't remember who else was on the bill the night that footage was shot. I don't remember what day of the week it was. I remember the band members, of course. I remember some of the songs. You start hearing them and then start remembering the lyrics.
What about New York at that time? It seems like a world away from what it is today.
Oh boy. Yes.
It was very, very different. It was grittier. I lived in the East Village, which now has million-dollar lofts on every block. In those days, it was very rundown. A lot of the buildings had been built around the turn of the century as temporary housing for immigrants. We thought we were temporary. We didn't think that was where we were going to spend our lives, in our fifth-floor walkup with a bathtub in the kitchen and the drug dealing on the corner.
I lived next door to the Hells Angels for about ten years. That was this sort of inside joke. We knew we were safe because you didn't mess with the Hells Angels. They had their own drug business going on, but a lot of the blocks in the East Village were where you scored heroin, where you scored coke. There were drugs everywhere. Junkies on the corners and buildings that were crumbling where people were squatting.
There was a recession. A lot of us were working to support our art, and we weren't filled with money bags. It was much more convenient for people who didn't have money. You didn't have to have a lot of money to rent an apartment or live in somebody's apartment. You had more time to spend on your art. I don't know how people do it now.
That's kind of intense.
I had grown up in a very middle-class neighborhood. When I moved to the East Village, it was kind of creepy and scary to some of my old friends from high school. They were scared to come and visit me on East Third Street. I wasn't afraid of it. I don't know why. I was not scared. Maybe it was the Hells Angels that made me feel safe. They recently sold their clubhouse.
Tell me about the band coming back together. This had something to do with MoMA?
There was this show about this club [Club 57] and the art scene around it. It was a very small club. Not a rock club. It had theme parties and performances, but it was literally the basement of a Polish church in the East Village. It was maybe 900 square feet at the most. Anything could happen there. There was a monster movie club on Tuesdays. Another night it would be putt-putt reggae; there would be a tiny golf course set up, and somebody would be spinning tunes.
There was a bar. That was the living room for my good friends and me. Because a few people who emerged out of that club became art stars, Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf, the cultural elite want to mine that scene for what else was going on. What were other people doing?
The museum put together a show, with a guest curator, who is an old friend, Ann Magnuson. The show had a lot of film and video but also had some artifacts, some ephemera, including a Disturbed Furniture 45 sleeve on the wall, which was so exciting. Videos of the band from 1980 resurfaced. These were in-studio rock videos. I didn't even have a copy. I was so excited about it, I thought, "If ever there was a time for us to reunite, now is that time."
I thought, "We'll do a reunion show!" We did that in conjunction with the dates of the museum show, which opened in 2017 on Halloween. That one-time thing was so enjoyable and so well-received we kept doing shows. Then we went into the studio because we thought, "We should preserve this music, it sounds so good."
You have the new EP. What do you think about when you think about the present and the future of the band?
The present is about hoping that this music gets out there. That people play this music and listen to it and like it. I guess the near future is going to be doing some support dates back East. The band was just here, and we had a great time. We did some great shows. That was really fun. But it's always a great excuse to go back to New York. I don't know what the future's going to be. Are we going to continue recording together, making new music, playing together? I hope so. But I think that will be determined by if people respond to this music that's out now on this EP.