Without much question, Material, the New York-based jazz/funk/hip-hop combo founded by bassist Bill Laswell and keyboardist Michael Beinhorn in 1978, has a rightful place on any list of the most interesting bands of all time. Somewhat like Brian Eno, Nile Rodgers, Steve Albini, and Was (Not Was), Material combined performance and composition with significant production credits. To give you an idea of the kind of terrain Material comfortably occupied, here’s a partial list of Material’s more notable collaborators: Nona Hendryx, Afrika Bambaataa, John Lydon, Whitney Houston, Fab Five Freddy, Sonny Sharrock, Kool Keith, Daevid Allen, Bootsy Collins, and William S. Burroughs.
If nothing so far has rung any bells, you probably are aware of Herbie Hancock’s 1983 album Future Shock and Hancock’s most famous track “Rockit,” which was a big hit in the early days of MTV. Material was all over that album, and its hard electronic funk sound was quite typical of Material’s music.
In 1983 Material did some European dates and someone hit upon a cool idea. Keith Haring would create an improvised mural on the stage set while Material went through its compositions. I don’t know how often this happened but it happened at least twice, once at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 13, and once in Milan at the Milano Suono Festival on July 20. On both occasions the lineup was (as two YouTube videos have it) Bill Laswell, Michael Beinhorn, Grandmixer D.ST., Sonny Sharrock, Henry Kaiser, J.T. Lewis, “and Keith Haring on Magic Marker.”
Many years later Laswell told the Quietus about Haring’s onstage involvement with Material:
I think I was playing with Sonny Sharrock, D.ST who is a DJ, and Henry Kaiser. Again, it was improvised but with a rhythm section. It was a long time ago, and probably a lot more in the avant-garde! But we did play pieces that featured the turntable. It was also the first time I had ever seen live music with live painting. So Keith Haring painted live while we were playing and when the music stopped, the painting was finished, which was kind of a trip for the audience.
The same year, Haring designed the cover for a Material-related compilation called Rap It that also included Futura 2000, Grandmixer D.ST., and Fab Five Freddy.
There’s very little information about this on the Internet, so if anyone is aware of other dates where Haring used his “Magic Marker” on stage with Material, please do tell us about it.
Here’s Material with Haring in Montreux:
And in Milan (the first song is actually “Rockit”):
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Keith Haring’s remarkably uninhibited erotic mural at the LBGT Community Center
Keith Haring’s scabrous New York Post collages
Material, featuring LaBelle’s Nona Hendyrx, on The Dangerous Minds Radio Hour