The ’80s. The decade that taste forgot, ten years that we look back on as being culturally and politically bankrupt. The source of many a cheesy pop tune and money raking comeback. We all know the score, or at least we think we do. Director Antonino d’Ambrosio has other ideas, however, and his point of few can be found in the excellent new documentary Let Fury Have The Hour. Talking to musicians such as Chuck D (pictured), Billy Bragg, Tom Morello and Fugazi’s Ian McKaye, the film chronicles how a generation of artists, thinkers, and activists used their creativity and their creations as a response to the reactionary politics that came to define culture during the period. Thanks to Cinema North West, the film is showing at four Irish venues this week (including Film Base in Dublin on Sunday, where State will be hosting a Q&A with d’Ambrosio) so we took the opportunity to ask the director if we have it all wrong about the much maligned decade..
“That’s very personal for me, it was the period that I was growing up. I was acting against the prevailing mood, finding something in the counter-culture that was about coming together. It wasn’t about us and them, it was the discovery of a new ‘we’ through skateboarding, punk rock, hip-hop and street art. I discovered all of them at the same time, it was a unique moment in cultural history”.
On the surface, some of those would seem removed from each other…
“One of the messages of the film is ‘one art, one people’. The reality is that we share this planet and we need to work together. Punk and hip-hop were coming from the same, poor working class, place. They were rooted in the same cultural response – trying to find a new way to tell a story that wasn’t being reflected in the mainstream. They’re different styles but the intention was the same.”
It’s a crossover that’s still there with the likes of Sage Francis and Scroobius Pip isn’t it?
“The recent economic collapse has created opportunities to step back into more of this intimate, DIY culture. The middle men have been cut out of the process and we’re finding this new way. Even Public Enemy are doing it without a label. Freedom of expression is our greatest democratic tool and the obstacles that have been created by outside forces are actually opportunities to re-think and re-imagine the world that we live in.”
Watching the movie, much of this seems to stem from just one band..
“The Clash were a counter-culture within a counter-culture. Joe Strummer had the idea of doing it for yourself but also for others, that we all share this outline. The Clash were the most prominent and profound band of that period. The Sex Pistols had nihilistic overtones and were about destruction, but The Clash for me were about creativity and a response to what was happening in the world around them. They did it, not only in their lyrics, but in their music – bringing so many influences to bear. As time moves on their work becomes more and more relevant, they created a language of the future that was against the ideologies of the past. It was timeless and timely.”
Was the legacy of punk more long lasting in the US?
“This world that punk created was hugely influential. Chuck D saw The Clash play at Bonds in New York in the early ’80s and grabbed hold of that feeling of truth and honesty. We lacked that in the US at the time. In the UK when punk stopped being profitable it was killed by the market and the shortsightedness of the taste makers. Here the underground never let go of it and it fueled the hardcore movement, rap and all these other tentacles. It continues to have a relevance. For someone like Ian McKaye it gave him a platform to think about the world in a different way. You see that with people like Mos Def and The Coup as well.”
How does that connection work with the black and feminist literature that features in the film?
“Reagan perfected this coded American language and a lot of it was stoking racial fears, something that grew out of the sixties. Mitt Romney became mired in that again during the recent election, we had a couple of Republican senators advocating rape. It’s an ideology of the past that we need to move forward from. As the film moves along, the idea of creative response becomes wider and deals with other connected art forms. You can’t have freedom half way.You can learn about the world in a way that’s different but still resonates.”
Do you see a new generation of artists coming through who can lead the counter-culture?
“The film is about creative response but it also is a creative response in that I continue to develop and grow as an artist. Making it, screening it and then talking about it all has an effect. A lot of these civil rights movements haven’t stopped just because they don’t get the airtime anymore. These tensions have existed since the beginning of time but so has the creative response. The choir is much bigger than people think it is, the idea is to connect people so that they can sing a different song. There’s hard work to be done.”
Let Fury Have The Hour is showing at Oh Yeah Centre, Belfast (Wednesday 21st); The Model, Sligo (Thursday 22nd); Nerve Centre, Derry (Saturday 24th) and Filmbase, Dublin (25th). We have three pairs of passes to the Dublin screening and State hosted Q&A to give away. To enter, tell us which Clash song provides the film’s name and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm on Thursday.