The Clash, Futura 2000, Fab 5 Freddy and Dondi White recording The Escapades at Electric Lady Studio. Photo by Bob Gruen.
New York graffiti legend Futura 2000 is one of the immortals, a spray can slinging Jesse James. Starting out in the 70s thru the 80s and beyond, Futura’s subway and wall murals were distinctive for their tight clean lines and wild but precise abstract lettering. They jumped out with a stunning clarity. He and Dondi White were the kings of Krylon.
When The Clash arrived in New York in 1981 to do their series of gigs at Bonds, they embraced the hip hop scene much in the same way they had absorbed reggae into their music. Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper hooked up with some of the major forces in rap and graffiti, including Futura. At the time Mr. 2000 knew nothing about The Clash but accepted their invitation to join them on stage and paint graffiti backdrops as the band played. He eventually joined them on tour.
During their 2 1/2 week residency at Bonds, The Clash took some time off to go into Electric Lady Studio with Futura, Fab Five Freddy and Dondi. As The Clash layed down rhythm tracks for “The Escapades of Futura 2000,” Fab, Dondi and Strummer sang background while Futura did his best to compress the history of graffiti into a 6 minute rap. His rapping skills leave alot to be desired; off the rhythm and with lyrics that are rudimentary at best. However, his mission statement and celebration of street art makes up in solidarity what it lacks in dexterity. “Escapades Of Futura 2000” may not endure as a rap classic, but it was one vital element in the hybridization of punk and Black street culture. White/Black, we were all living in the ghetto, whether it be a council flat, the Lower East Side or the South Bronx. We were united by poverty, anger, music and art and looking for a riot of our own.
The coming together of the uptown rap scene with the downtown punks was the beginning of a melding of musical movements that had previously just observed each other from a distance. Uptown and downtown innovators started collaborating in New York and on an international scale. Bands like The Beastie Boys, Gang Of Four, Rip Rig Panic, The Slits, Bush Tetras, Liquid Liquid and PIL fell under the influence of dub, reggae, funk and disco. Even college kids like Talking Heads got into the action. Suddenly The Clash were being played in the discos and white hipsters were dancing to Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa at the Mudd Club.
The quintessential and most seamless marriage of punk to reggae and funk to hardcore was by a former jazz band from Washington D.C.: Bad Brains. The Damned had turned The Clash onto the Brains and were invited by the band to be an opening act at Bonds. The Clash/Bad Brains double bill was one of those seminal moments when the music really came together, in theory and action, and for those in the audience who were open to it (sadly, not many were) there was the realization that punk was more than a fashion statement or hip stance. It was part of a struggle that reached way beyond white suburbia or the enclaves of pale-skinned rock and rollers in Alphabet City. The White Riot was Black as well. And the beat was everything, the common ground, the heart. And it belonged to everyone. A riot of your own might give you a momentary sense of empowerment, but it won’t win the big battles. When punk met rap, the seeds of a cultural revolution began. We just didn’t follow through. As the 80s and 90s rolled around, music became commodified once again along racial lines, urban or classic, hip hop or punk, rap or hardcore. And New York City has never been as musically segregated as it is today.
Here’s a video mashup of “Escapades Of Futura 2000” with excerpts from Manfred Kirchheimer’s Stations Of The Elevated. The Clash are rocking it as Futura invokes the gods of Rustoleum in his mission to change the world.
Some of the work of Futura 2000:
With Fab Five Freddy
With Zephyr CIA