Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Tombs vs. Kat Fyte October Mix!

Tombs and Kat Fyte, both born and raised in and around Boston, Mass., have been collaborating in various experimental sound projects since the formation of a now defunct noise-thrash hardcore four-piece that mashed-up suburban basements and high-school auditoriums.

The October mix, hopefully the first in a long line of collaborative efforts between these two young DJs, is a mashed-up, irreverent, yet focused work of sonic surrealist pop art that attempts to chart the continuities between seemingly disparate genres, locations, subcultures, and decades. It is a showcase of all of the divergent styles of bass-music that have influenced the duo as DJs, producers, cultural critics, and consumers, including anthemic roots-reggae gems, brash, heavy "dubblestep," and unruly dancehall bangers from the UK, the United States, and the Carribean. Engaging with diverse cultural references from the vast constellation of contemporary party music, the duo keeps both bedroom and dancefloor listeners on their toes with selections that seem to come out of nowhere but fit like a glove in the mix.

For bookings, inquiries, or chit-chat, hit us up at, thanks for your time! The mix is available for direct download at the following location.


1. Tombs and Katfyte Intro

2. Heartbroken (Original) - Liondub ft Jah Dan & Sotto Bless

3. Only Woman DJ With Degree - Sister Nancy

4. Ghetto Superstar (Prod. By Plastician) - JME / Throw It Up - Lil' Jon & The East Side Boyz

5. Tessassategn Eko - Bahta Gebre Heywet

6. Leaves - Data

7. Where's My Money? (L-Vis 1990 Dubble Step Edit) - Caspa

8. Sticky Situation - Lady Chann & Sticky

9. Agnus Dei - Eskmo / Get Ready To Ride The Lion To Zion - Culture

10. Tiramakossa (remix) - Killamu / Stand Up Tall - Dizzee Rascal

11. 8 Bit Spliff (Ale Fillman Skanker Remix) - OutRun

12. Zumpi Hunter V.I.P. - Terror Danjah

13. Digidesign - Joker

14. Round The World Girls (Tes La Rok Mix) - Uncle Sam

15. Street Trash Live - Ozzy Ozwald

16. Par Laga Dhey Veh (4 Mins) - Nindy Kaur - RBD Brothers

17. Pirana - Techno Animal

18. Dem A Murderer - Red Fox

19. Camel (Nosaj Thing Remix) - Flying Lotus

20. Babylon Bwoy - Baby cham / Get Shot Riddim - Tombs

21. Sigma Chi - Kat Fyte ft. Tombs

22. Beats, Bombs, Bass, Weapons - The Bug

23. It's Like That - Lady Saw

24. Trocitos - La Yegros

25. Wet Wings - Dan Deacon

26. Tea Leaf Dancers (Lazersword Low Limit Remix) - Flying Lotus

27. Weed Wid da Macka - Modeselektor & Ninjaman

28. Ketchy Shuby - Peter Tosh

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New Graffiti Wall in Allston!

So, let me say I was completely floored when I was driving down Lincoln St. in Allston (on the other side of the North Harvard bridge), and I saw maybe eight artists working on four or five full-color, heavily-detailed graffiti productions in broad daylight.

Above the text pieces was the mammoth likeness of one Magneto (aka X-Men antagonist -- can you see the outline in the above photo?), and altogether, the work seemed too "edgy" to be commissioned in some sort of urban renewal endeavor or multiculturalist revival project. I figured it must be illegal. But when the vandalism squad showed up in an unmarked car, the awesome dude that organized this display simply showed them a permit from the building owner and the city, proving that in fact this work was commissioned! I was surpised... the art didn't contain any self-aggrandizing message of America's "melting pot" exceptionalism, or any of the "look at how we've overcome the obstacle of diversity and succeeded inspite of it" multi-ethnic mural kind of vibe. It's just sick word art and bad-ass X-men characters. Awesome.

[Cyclops wielding a SmartPhone -- I mean, let's be real, if Cyclops existed, why wouldn't he own a BlackBerry??]

This just goes to show, that if you're dealing with someone who's in a good mood, and you reach out to the proper authorities, you never know what kind of crazy project you could be granted license for. Granted, you could run up against a paranoid city official or endless, stifling beauracracy, but it's always worth a shot. When I asked this guy how he went about acquiring licsensing for the project, he said, "I just asked." So next time you want to throw a block party, or get a liscense for outdoor art, or setup a mini-festival in the park near your house, see what happens if you try and go the legitimate route, and maybe if you ask nicely, some city official will get down and hook you up. You never know.

[Great color scheme. Nice highlights and lighting in general. Tight, decisive lettering, and wonderful detail on the cracks and "blings" in the piece. Big ups BRYER.]

[Also dopeness, very fluid. Nice "chrome" effect with the exaggerated highlighting.]

[Work in progress. It only got better as I kept watching. He threw a bunch of dark reds in the shadows and sharpened up the outside lines.]

[More X-Men paraphernalia, love the Wolverine hands coming out both sides of the piece.]

Most of these pieces were unfinished at the time. I'm gonna head back in a few days and get flicks of all of the finished work. Check for updates.

ALSO, I just confirmed Saturday, August 1st at the Savant Project in Mission Hill with myself, DJ Kat Fyte + my partner in bass, DJ Skunk. We will be spinning Dubstep, B-More, and Electro from 11 to 1AM. It's 18+, there's no cover, and they've got PBR for $1.50 EACH!! Here's a link to a SUPER pop mash-up mix I just recorded today using Ableton Live. We will both be spinning vinyl next Saturday, though. BRING YA DANCIN' SHOOZ

Friday, July 17, 2009

Destroit: Abandonment Tourism

So my wonderful uncle, aka @stonebits, aka the artist / critic / consumer behind the equally wonderful visual culture blog, "On Art" has asked me to accompany him to Detroit while he takes photos of decay, refuse, rot, and char in the many abandoned automotive plants, hospitals, book depositories, and hotels that lie within blocks of Detroit's downtown areas. I am in Detroit now, amazed at the ways in which a booming industrial hub has become abandoned and has been barely maintained despite numerous attempts at urban renewal. And, naturally I feel funny driving a rental car into the ghetto to take pictures of Packard Plants that are literally falling apart.

According to Patrick Austin's flickr page, "Built ~ 1907-1909 and designed by Albert Kahn, this is the first reinforced concrete plant to be built in this country (maybe the first rebar structure in the US of any kind?)."

In addition to these amazing portraits of decay, there's some amazing signature-graf down here, so I figured I would post up some flix of impressive stuff. Expect more at Ferrante's blog within the following weeks.

[a SYN piece see inside the aformentioned Packard Plant]

[WTF factor: Kids (I hope?) decorated this abandoned house with stuffed animals]

[a necessary close-up]

[The largest abandoned building I've ever come across, formerly the Michigan Central Station, saved from demolition just this year by one Detroit resident that sued the city to keep it intact. If you can see the tiny little ants in yellow T-shirts in the bottom right corner, those were restoration volunteers planting green stuff around the entrance. Yesterday they were blasting graffiti (good luck) off of the outside of the building]

[another necessary close-up]

[Hella UniQ skinny-letter style like I've never seen on the East Coast. The rounded ends make them look like fingers forming into awkward gang-signs.]


[Urban spelunking killed the cat.]

So yeah, we're gonna go see Xrin Arms tonight- such perfect timing- at this raver/noise/experimental night... He's apparently playing Providence (DIY, all ages) on the 28th of July, and Boston (rock-club, 21+) on the 29th with support from tekno-noise-glitch locals So_So_Gutter and Encanti!!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Seen in Harvard Square

I pass this every day on the way to work and I thought it was cute, so I figured I'd grab a lo-fi photo with my lappy-toppy and post it up. There's not much for interesting graffiti in Harvard Square (aka the shitty, tourist-y sector of Cambridge) but I'll keep my eyes peeled.

ALSO, I was just sent a link to this awesome mix from New York/Budapest based DJ Taliesin, who recently signed on with the Dutty Artz crew, a group of really talented producers, MCs, DJs, and promoters pushing a bass-heavy, "tropical" agenda across the five boroughs.

Taliesin - Definitely Maybe

Colleen- The Happy Sea
8 Ball and MJH- Relax and Take Notes
Sukh Knight - Diesel Not Petrol
Raffertie - AntiSocial (B. Rich Remix)
Lexie Lee- Warlord's Daughter (Paceface and Sticky Rmx)
Joker- Purple City
Trina Ft. Lil Wayne- Dont Trip (Lunice Lazer Rmx)
Fused Forces- Cock Back and Blast
Fused Forces- Footsteps
LionDub and Shadetek Ft. Jahdan- General (Marcus Visionary Rmx)
Timbaland- Pony Inst.
Cardopusher- Lacra
Salem - Trapdoor

It rolls along at 140 beats per minute, incoporating Dubstep and Grime alongside the more mainstream, yet equally sophisticated sounds of Dancehall and Dirty Hip-Hop. The problem with a lot of these Dubstep DJs is that they don't diversify their sound as much as they could, sticking to the esoteric, anti-pop sounds of the UK Underground without taking advantage of all the good American, Carribean, and Latin American sounds that fit so well with them. Taliesin accomplishes this. The mix is here. Definately Yes Maybe.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Falling Cost of Ideas and The Fair Use Defense

...So realizing that this blog's raison d'être (or lack thereof) allows it freedom to pretty much do whatever it wants, be it cultural critique, sample-digging, cross-posting- whatever- I decided that today I'd provide you with a few useful services!

First, I'd like to point you in the direction of a few interesting artifacts, namely a forward-thinking, well-educated critique of the current beliefs about changing business models and consumptive practices in the journalism industries, this one put together by Jason Pontin, the publisher of Tech Review. He proposes effective business practices and critiques the over-simplified analyses of polemicists like Andrew Keen and Clay Shirky. Being a starving professional journalist and media-man, I am especially interested in the ways in which print media can or can not adapt to the changes in consumer demands as the cost of intellectual property seems to drop to virtually nothing.

Also, in line with this discussion of rapidly shifting production and consumption practices in various media-based industries, there's "The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education," one version of which has been converted into a short video presentation about what rights you have in reproducing, transforming, or borrowing from copyrighted video material (everything is a resource), the other of which is a slightly less user-friendly article outlining the same things in a bit more detail. It may seem like an obscure venue in which to discuss the politics of intellectual property law and free speech, but the more I think about it, the more I realize how much video mash-up practices and the appropriative trends that they represent play a significant role in creative expression and self-representation. A look at the ubiquitous presence of Youtube in the lives of young consumers shows what's to come in terms of the role that user-generated video will play in new internet technology and media industries.

Certainly in light of Youtube muting the soundtracks of user-generated content which relies upon copyrighted audio, I think a discussion that informs file hosts and consumers alike of what their rights are and when, in fact, they are clearly able to uphold a "fair use" defense, is urgent and important. And, if you were ever on top of the unbeatable Palms Out Remix Sunday series, you would know that Google as well has started removing posts or pages that host material which potentially infringes on copyright law. Keyword potentially. I would probably be able to argue fair use for most of the supposedly offending material. BAD GOOGLE. BAD BAD EVIL GOOGLE.

I've heard through the grape-vine (sorry, no sources to cite) that the moment Youtube receives a flag or a complaint warning them that they are illegally hosting copyrighted material, the offending material is muted or removed immediately without much further inquiry. Does anyone know what the intricacies of this process actually are?

Anyways, taking that into account, it seems important for businesses like that to have a clear rubric for what they are and are not allowed to host such that they don't have to buckle at every accusation of copyright infringement. Yah'da mean? Granted, it's probably far too time-consuming to scrutinize the legal status of every offending piece of material, so I expect that for the next few years, groups like Youtube will indeed be reacting quickly and in the interest of the property-owners against appropriative practices like video mash-up. But yes, check the video, read the article, know yr rights!!!

There is also L. Gordon Crovitz' article from the Wall Street Journal:

The point that this article makes is that people will pay for information as long as it is unique in its content and delivery. The industry seems to be splitting into niches; DJs who have specific needs, namely full sound-quality dancefloor mp3s and an interface that allows the navigator to jump from one recommendation to the next seamlessly and accurately, have put their faith in Beatport, a pay-per-download independent music distributor. They are willing to pay for a number of reasons:

a) The ease with which new music can be discovered, downloaded, and situated within a cosmos of genres and sub-genres. The interface is slick, navigable, and trustworthy.

b) The partitioning of payment, something discussed by Pontin in the article described above, which allows users to buy in slices as big or as small as they want; single tracks, doubled-sided digital EPs, or full-length albums. The service does not charge for subscription, a tactic that has obviously proved ineffective for consumers who see subscription as too much of a commitment.

c) The unmatchable authoritativeness of the distributor. Not only are they expected by consumers within a certain niche to accommodate comprehensively, by they have also become taste-makers as the consumers build more and more trust with the service.

As Crovitz says, "People are happy to pay for news and information however it's delivered, but only if it has real, differentiated value. Traders must have their Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters terminal. Lawyers wouldn't go to court without accessing the Lexis or West online service... Will people pay to access my newspaper content on the Web? The right question is: What kind of journalism can my staff produce that is different and valuable enough that people will pay for it online?"

I wouldn't necessarily agree with his caveat, "...however it's delivered..." especially because I think of user-interface as an example of the ways in which delivery, or presentation, can make the process of consumption extremely painful or extremely pleasant. I'm really not saying anything new here, I'm just summing up some points in terms that hopefully my readers can understand, and directing you to learn further about these issues of intellectual property, consumption, and the changing landscape of various media-centric industries.

OH AND SPEAKING OF DESPERATION ON THE PART OF FORMERLY SUCCESSFUL INDUSTRIES, I saw these over at The New New, a dope Boston-based blog about Hip-Hop, streetwear, UK Underground music, etc. Seriously, like, gag me with a spoon.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Required Reading...

Hi again- so I'm back in Allston/Brighton/Brookline/Cambridge, and for good this time.

Since I haven't had much time to read- outside of the research I've been doing for various papers and articles- I don't have much to talk about, but I wanted to use this time to expand on my blogroll and give some big UPS to various internet publications and things that I find will make you a better person in general.

In no particular order:

Musik Line... which I was linked from Negrophonic, is a "...journal / blog dedicated to sound system culture and to African, Caribbean and other music." From the bit I've read, it seems very historically-oriented, in that it has dug up and embellished social histories from relatively obscure subcultural movements, from "the Italian cult of the tarantula" to the contemporary Hip Hop scene in Nouakchott, Mauritania. It doesn't seem anthropological in the problematic sense, in that many of the pieces are straightforward with regards to the author's privileged, outsider perspective.

Beantown Boogiedown...
...a Boston-centric electronic music blog from local DJ (an incredibly versatile DJ, I might add) Nickdawg, who posts event listings, MP-frees, fucking sick mixes- his most recent one being a masterful blend of Baltimore Club, UK Funky, 2-Step, and a little bit of Dubstep- and updates about various software & hardware goodies. I've been digging it.

WNYC - Langston Hughes: Ask Your Mama...

...the WNYC blog's project, a call for audiences to help in the unpacking of Langston Hugh's epic twelve-part poem, "Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz," using any media necessary.

Not only have they provided the entire text of this work and allowed space for reactions, commentary, and analysis (the collective power of the hive-mind at work), but they have commissioned "...New York artists of differing musical backgrounds to interpret sections of 'Ask Your Mama' in their own way. Hip-hop star Beans of the indelible Anti-Pop Consortium recorded 'Horn of Plenty'; guitarist Brandon Ross interpreted 'Jazztet Muted' for banjo and soprano guitar; mash-up extraordinaire DJ /rupture reconceived 'Is It True?'; and saxophonist Matana Roberts contributed a beautiful version of 'Blues in Stereo.'"

These multi-media, interdisciplinary approaches to analysis have shed a whole new light on the literature by using music and pastiche to express dimensions of the piece that were formerly inaudible amidst the din created by the "complex array of musical, cultural and historical references" embedded in his poetry. I'm excited about this project, and I hope it is fruitful in trying to distill meaning out of this daunting piece of work, and in trying to update the emotional and political themes contained within it to a contemporary context.

Please enjoy. Now that the summer has set in, you can expect more from Pop. Influence in terms of cool links, more required reading, free downloads, mixes, musician profiles, and event listings, etc. Now get reading!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Co-Authoring the Urban Text: “Official Graffiti,” the Tag, and The Marginalized Body

as promised...

If you would prefer a PDF file to blog format, do not hesitate to contact me at mx.pearl ((at)) gmail ((dot)) com.

Max Pearl aka Kat Fyte

The regulation and containment of public art is not a question of "defacement," a question of aesthetic displeasure controlled through the erasure of unsightly letters scrawled along the urban wall and through the arrest of its authors. What is at stake in the regulation and containment of illegal art, graffiti, is an attempt on the part of the dominant to ensure that the urban cityscape, a postmodern text to be read and interpreted, reflects their likeness, their desires. Illegal art is typically (with important exceptions) produced by urban denizens disadvantaged by race, ethnicity, class, and gender, by Americans that do not fit nicely into the pure community that constitutes the national imaginary. Just as with a literal text, as Rosemary Coombe would put it, many of the urban pedestrians that are excluded from the reality reflected by the urban text with which they are most familiar will "...engage in meaning-making [by adapting] signs, texts, and images to their own agendas." (1)

I employ a Baudrillardian analysis that understands the urban ambience of "official graffiti," signs, "architecture and town planning... since they are mass-media themselves" to "...reproduce mass social relations, which is to say that collectively they allow people no response," and graffiti as an “…attack by means of difference, dismantling the network of codes, attacking coded differences by means of an uncodeable absolute difference, over which the system will stumble and disintegrate.” (2)

Where Baudrillard’s analysis falls short is in recognizing that (and perhaps this is due to the fact his single work directly on the subject of graffiti was published early in the movement’s development) there is also a battle for the singular, Romantic authorship that has been denied certain disempowered groups by the portrayal of their culture as "collectivized," as a "folk" culture, in domestic popular discourse. (3)

The Cityscape as Co-Authored Text

The book, Riding the Train, while primarily a historical synthesis painstakingly detailing the arc of the American graffiti movement- a seminal one at that- builds upon foundational theory that describes the ways in which, for the average pedestrian, the city is a text to be read based on its appearance. Following in the trend of postmodern analysis, the author briefly touches on the ways in which there can different interpretations of the city based on who is reading and what performative elements constitute the city’s aesthetic in that reader’s subjective experience. (4)

[How would you interpret this spatial text? From maccoinnich via Skyscraper City]

Joe Austin understands that “In this formulation, vandalism is represented as a disruption (an un-authorized writing) in the ‘text’ of the city’s officially sanctioned order.” The “broken windows” theory that informed much of public policy with regards to graffiti, and was integral in justifying the money and time spent on the eradication and regulation of graffiti throughout the United States indeed rides on this assumption.

“It posits that crime in a neighborhood will continue to increase as the visual evidence of minor infractions is left unattended. This implies that civic order is a fragile text indeed, but one that nonetheless containts a powerful ‘preffered reading’… What is unique about this line of logic is the fact that despite its extremely conservative implications… it is most assuredly postmodern in its emphatic attention to the surface appearance of social order. It implies that the basis, the foundation, indeed the cause of collective social order is a matter of appearances, a matter of aesthetics.” (5)

As is made evident by this author’s analysis, the city can be understood as a postmodern text, one that is shaped by cooperative (and often conflicting) influence, one that can be differently interpreted by the things with which the reader, in navigating the spatial text, comes in contact, and by the unique existential composition that the reader, or pedestrian, brings into her interpretation.

The Official Graffiti of the Everyday

The article, "Official Graffiti of the Everyday," discusses the ways in which the visual system of regulatory signs that clutter the urban landscape, "...the signs displayed on buildings of public access, Entry and Exit (or In and Out)... the prohibition circle with its diagonal red slash... [are] an endemic feature of the present." (6) The authors, however, neglect to implicate the visual clutter of advertisement that regulates consumption and participates in positioning subjects in relation to eachother in the public sphere, and by extension manifests the ideal, purified community that constitutes the national imaginary.

According to these authors’ analysis of literal, physical street signs such as “no U-turn” signs or “stop” signs, "official graffiti" is used to create a "syntax of nextness," (7) and can be understood on a more profound level as a means of regulating the movement of subjects in social relation to eachother. A "no loitering" message is presumably directed to those undesirables that are disadvantaged by their bodies, and therefore serves to limit the mobility of those groups, especially in relation to those groups that, by virtue of their privilege, are granted unlimited mobility in public space. The author is presumed to be "author-itative," while the intended reader is the racialized or classed Other whose congregation supposedly makes their immediate public space a less safe place. By virtue of his right to display regulatory and disciplinary messages (not to mention erect buildings, to impose linguistic norms, to design urban layout), this "author-ized" agent, the well-off, white citizen, is reflected in this spatial text, even if he has never set foot in this territory. (8)

Tagging and the Body

Chastanet, in his book Pixaçao: Sao Paulo Signature, asserts, “The writer, in perpetual graphic knocking together of his identity, also presents a body, only apparent from the trace left by the writing, also presents a body, only apparent from the trace left by the writing. But what is of prime interest here is the definition of the signature as the ‘visible trace of a corporal gesture…’” (9)

[Brazil-indigenous graffiti typeface known as "pixação." Photo from sykeology101.]

The urban ambience of signs, architecture, town planning, as well as the “official graffiti” (10) of regulatory and disciplinary signs, do not carry within them this mark, because, as Rosemary Coombe explains, the normative, ideal bodies that produced it, are not marked by their alterity. (11)

One of her passages describing the theoretical politics of marked and unmarked bodies in the public sphere is worth quoting at length. She argues,

“To be a subject in the bourgeois public sphere required identification with a disembodied public subject. Embedded in this possibility of the public was a promise, ‘a utopian universality that would allow people to transcend the given realities of their bodies and their status.’: ‘No matter what particularities of culture, race, gender, or class we bring to bear on public discourse, the moment of apprehending something as public is one in which we imagine- if imperfectly- indifference to those particularities, to ourselves.’ The promise of transcendence has never been fulfilled: ‘For the ability to abstract oneself in public discussion has always been an unequally available resource. Individuals have specific rhetorics of disincorporation; they are not simply rendered bodily by exercising reason. The subject who could master this rhetoric in the bourgeois public sphere was implicitly- even explicitly- white, male, literate and propertied. These traits could go unmarked, while other features of bodies could only be acknowledged as the humiliating positivity of the particular.” (12)

In some ways, the deployment of one’s painted name, which carries traces of the marked body that produced it, onto the walls of one’s environment can be seen as an act of circulating alternative textual interpretations of city life using the convenient mass-media of the city itself, ultimately revealing the exclusionary practices that lie at the heart of the process of nation-building. As Michael Keith says, “…what is at stake in these forms of urban graphology is an emergent struggle over inclusion, citizenship, entitlement and belonging.” (13) This strategy may not stem from a desire to impose one’s own textual interpretation on others, but is effective in showing the absurdity of one interpretation, one worldview, and thus one type of body, being privileged over another.

And, due to the popular characterization of black and latino forms of creative expression as “folk” culture, a phenomenon described succinctly by Susana Loza, the bodily trace that can be read in the textual intervention of tagging represents at once the likeness of a corporeally marked collective community, and the likeness of an individual that is trying to transcend that collectivization. (14)

Therefore, When a pedestrian sees a piece of graffiti that they can read as having been produced by a marginalized body, that piece is read as the product of a culture, of a group, as a hoard of undesirable bodies invading the public space that they traverse day-to-day. What they perceive is in fact the undercutting of the “author-itativeness” placed on codes and signs produced and circulated by bodies that conform to the profile that belongs in the normative national imaginary.

The rhetoric that has historically been used to justify differential treatment in the regulation of some public art in relation to others has been a purely aesthetic one, and I intend to show how this is rhetoric has been used to veil a discomfort with a loss of sovereignty over meaning-making in the public sphere. Patrick Hagopian agrees:

“The question of whether graffiti constitutes an ‘enhancement’ or ‘defacement’ seems… to depend on whose property is being written on, and who is doing the writing and who judges the result… Thus, the question of whose world will be ‘written over’ and whose writing will prevail, is never a pure aesthetic question.” (15)

Baudrillard and The Insurrection of Signs

To briefly summarize, Baudrillard asserts that the riots, tensions, and tragedies at the genesis of the earliest 1970s graffiti movements, encouraged a split in revolutionary approaches within the black community

As he understands it, some of the disempowered reverted to a traditional sort of revolutionary activism, while others adopted new strategies more appropriate to the times. This new activism, disobedience without "goal, ideology, or content..." is a "...radicalization of revolt on the real strategic terrain of the total manipulation of codes and significations." (16)
Graffiti, especially the simple signature-tag, intervenes in the public sphere with signs and codes that are not implicated in the regulatory control system that imposes “proper political regulation… and particular kinds of sociality…” (17) onto the subjects that traverse it.

The fact that these illegally circulated arbitrary codes and signs, when read and interpreted by pedestrian passerby, signify a level of authorship in the urban spatial text, serves to call into question the legitimacy of dominant bodies’ sovereignty over processes of creating knowledge, challenging the “author-itativeness” of the subjects behind “official” graffiti. As Baudrillard says, “Whatever attacks contemporary semiocracy, this new form of value, is politically essential…” (18)

So, while I do intend to problematize the dichotomy between territorial and aesthetic graffiti, one could understand that graffiti with a strong element of territorial assertion to it could indeed be a reaction to the fact that the people living in these urban landscapes have no control over whose interests are represented in the the world around them. "Un-author-ized" signs are, according to Hebdige and Hall, a "symbolic form of resistance," (19) that, in Baudrillardian terms, "...scramble signals of urbania and dismantle the order of signs. Graffiti covers every subway map in New York, just as the Czechs changed the names of the streets in Prague to disconcert the Russians: guerilla action." (20)

In fact, the average middle-class, relatively privileged pedestrian's notions of safety are destabilized upon passing a "neighborhood watch" sign that is covered in illegal graffiti, for the spatial text that was once authored by those that support and benefit from the maintenance of that privilege have been supplanted by those that, whether consciously or not, wish to dismantle it.

When “outsider” urban pedestrians witness Black or Latino creative expression, and it is recognized as the work of a marginalized group, the perception of what bodies produced it is part of the decoding process that accompanies the interpretation of spatial text. What some pedestrians then dislike about graffiti is not necessarily its unsightliness, but rather the fact that it disrupts and destabilizes how the city is defined, and forces them to acknowledge the encroaching presence of those humans whom they have attempted to exclude from the narrative of their spatial reality.

The Search for Authorship Amidst Cultural Collectivization

In fact, the motivations for the act of graffiti can not simply be accounted for by subconscious collective attempts to rewire the hegemonic order of the urban landscape. It would seem to be, as well, an attempt on the part of the disempowered to conjure individuality by contributing to the authorship of the cityscape, leaving their unique bodily trace in the form of names, numbers, shapes, and colors. For these graffiti artists, their vandalism is not simple part of a collective attempt to reconfigure the urban textual system of signs, but more and more, as style became an element of the graffiti game, an attempt to create an author function for oneself, to rise above a a population whose "...forms of creativity have always been collectivized and seen as culture with a little c. Thus, their assertion of individual authorship is not (simply) about wanting to become a form of Culture," with a big 'c' "but about the exercise of agency. It's about forcing Western society to revalue its aesthetic borders, and about destabilizing its identity borders from within." (21)

As Baudrillard understood it -and yes, since then the world of art vandalism has changed hugely- the deployment of illegal graffiti in the 70's was never meant to circulate and defend an individualist, Romantic representations of a subject in the ghetto, but rather the image of an under-represented community with limited access to discursive space. Despite the emphasis on individual names, he says that this misunderstanding is a result of our own “…bourgeois-existentialist romanticism that speaks like that, the unique and incomparable being that each of us is, but who gets ground down by the city. Black youths themselves have no personality to defend, from the outset they are defending the community. Their revolt challenges bourgeois identity and anonymity at the same time.” (22)

Indeed, the subversive power of graffiti is neutralized by applying this Romantic analysis alone, implyingthat the act is merely a grasp for non-conformity, "a reclamation of identity and personal freedom," and in fact neglects to implicate the ways in which systemic racism and classism, and not just urban malaise and feelings of anonymity common to most urban denizens, were the catalysts responsible for the genesis of graffiti. (23) Keith elaborates, arguing, “It is not just the case that the inner cities provide surfaces of inscription through which identity is mediated. Graffiti is reducible neither to articulations of a priori natural areas nor to projections of territorial claims… Paradoxically, in the contest to control the spaces of the urban, a shared reality creates a contested but nevertheless shared territory.” (24)

As Hal Foster notes, "Subcultural practice differs from the countercultural (e.g., '60's student movements) in that it recodes cultural signs rather than poses [sic] a revolutionary program of its own . . . . [T]he subcultural must be grasped as a textual activity. Plural and symbolic, its resistance is performed through a 'spectacular transformation of a whole range of commodities, values, common-sense attitudes, etc.' " (25)

This difference in approach to the re-shaping of the public sphere to better represent the reality and the desires of marginalized peoples, subcultural vs. countercultural, is elaborated by Baudrillard in his book, Symbolic Exchange and Death.

[Sputnik Nike prank via Wooster Collective]

A similar distinction is also made in Christine Harold's discussion of how the "prankster's" approach to "culture jamming,” while it may have some decentralized revolutionary agenda, may be more effective than more overt dissent, despite having less obvious, less focused political aims. This “prankster” approach simply exaggerates the messages contained within hegemonic ideology to expose their own shortcomings and ultimately, the absurdity and the arbitrariness of the social constructs that govern the position of certain subjects in relation to others. (26)

While Harold constructed this distinction around the overt activism of groups like "Adbusters" in comparison to the almost comical visual détournement of Sputnik (27 (see above)) and the likes, it is certainly analogous to the ways in which openly political work such as that of Shepard Fairey possesses a less subtle and a potentially less effective approach to destabilizing ideology than perhaps that of SUPERSEX and SUPERKOOL, who, "by tattooing walls... free them from architecture and turn them once again into living, social matter, into the moving body of the city before it has been branded with functions and institutions." (28)

[Banksy work from]

Why Murals? Why Banksy? The Containment of Difference in a Multiculturalist Urban Setting

Why murals? Because the subversive potential of the message is contained by the restrictions and the necessary approval of the dominant. Murals are typically contained social commentary. They are usually caught in the sanitizing space created by the liberal, multiculturalist desire for a non-threatening illusion of diversity and equal access to discursive space. The sharp edges are smoothed over.

[The unmistakably Cantibridgian multiculturalist mural adorning the Middle East Restaurant & Club in Central Square]

Why Banksy? Is stenciling and character-piecing less territorial, less a claim of public space by the private citizen, than signature graffiti? Or perhaps this is part of the façade maintained to regulate what bodies are allowed representation, and what discursive systems of meaning-making are privileged in public space.

Art critic cum full-time caveman Jonathan Jones articulates, in one article in the UK Guardian, exactly the kind of middle-class fear that certain types of racialized and classed works of graffiti provoke in pedestrians. (29)

He firmly reproduces and reinforces the dichotomy between illegal art that can not transcend its status as the product of “folk” culture- supposedly without conceptual or political agenda- and “intelligent,” supposedly studied street-art that resembles high-art enough to be included in a canon. All the while, he seems completely unaware of the ways in which the specifically classed and racialized affect that is carried in the low-tech “tags” and “throw-ups” that he derides as neither asthetically pleasing nor political, is exactly what is unappealing to him. He says,

“Anyway, I believe in education. The reason I don't like street art is that it's not aesthetic, it's social. To celebrate it is to celebrate ignorance, aggression, all the things our society excels at. For middle class people to find artistic excitement in something that scares old people on estates is a bit sick.” (30)

One reader comments in return that Banksy’s work is exactly the kind of illegal art that is easily swallowed and completely non-threatening to those whose authorial dominance is at stake. They say,

“I'd hazard that even old people on estates would enjoy a lot of his audacious work even if they also tutted about it as well, whereas they may well feel threatened by some of the ugly and pointless scrawl that is championed by some as graffiti art.” (31)

The choice of the word “threatened” as opposed to “annoyed,” or “perturbed,” shows how this is not simply a matter of taking aesthetic offense at some ugly blemish scarring one’s town or even one’s property. It is a matter of how the affect that these marginalized, marked bodies carry, as Coombe would say, can be read in the textual interventions for which they are responsible.

[Hi-tech graffiti -- What bodily affect is evident in this signature? From Dullin Jean.]

Art that features character-piecing, relatively high-tech mechanisms like stenciling or wheat-pasting, discernable shading or 3-D dimensioning, or didactic political messages, doesn’t carry this mark, for it resembles closely enough what is accepted in pre-established criteria for high-art. For that reason, not only is it neutral and unthreatening in that it doesn’t signify the presence of an Other in a previously White, Middle-class space, (despite whatever supposedly revolutionary message it may contain), but work like this can transcend a “folk” classification and, as we can see in this one writer’s observations, can be seen as the work of a distinct author with a style and a message with which he is associated.

In the same way, overtly political street-art is not read, interpreted, and reacted to with the same disgust and fear as signature-graffiti, which Baudrillard believes may in fact be a more effective, more appropriate form of resistance to domination in the time and place in which these subjects live. He calls political organization in the legacy of Marxism “…a regression into traditional political activism,” and goes on to say, “There is no need for organized masses, nor for a political consciousness to do this- a thousand youths armed with marker pens and cans of spray-paint are enough…” (32)

[Photo by Roman Virdi]

What is ironic here is the idea that the graffiti which is meant to be subversive, which is meant to incite dissent and engender a critical attitude towards political and social hierarchies, is in fact less threatening to those hierarchies than the signature-art that for a decade had New York city in perpetual fear of downfall.

Perhaps those subjects responsible for the tags, throw-ups, and hollows that “…most folks now associate with the ‘graffiti problem,’” (33) have repeatedly come up against the futility of organized political resistance, and have sought, if subconsciously, to resist in a potentially more effective, yet less centralized and less public fashion. Perhaps it is because of what bodies are assumed to be responsible for the production and circulation of didactically political street-art. Whereas political art is read as the product of educated, minimally marginalized subjects, the appearance of signature-based interventions in the urban text signals an inability on the part of the dominant to maintain the inequalities in visibility and access to discursive space that ultimately uphold their privilege.

This is why Banksy’s art can be nominated for a Turner prize, and the work of the anonymous tagger (no matter how talented) will not. Banksy’s work is tokenized because of its associations with the edgy, exciting world of street-art, and yet it is not so different as to encourage fear over the toppling of the precariously balanced disparities in access to discursive space. It is a matter of contained difference; Banksy’s work is edgy, but not too edgy.


Pedestrians rarely notice the pervasive presence of "official graffiti," (34) (street signs, advertisements, architecture) the reason being that the unmarked bodies of the agents that produced it (agents that are assumed to be white men, or are simply not assumed at all) leave no trace in the text. (35) Whereas, the marked body that is responsible for most illegal graffiti, especially the "tags," "throw-ups," and "hollows" that most well-off pedestrians lament as ugly, unimaginative, and base, contain their corporeal mark.

In addition, as is true with many subcultures, the system of identifications, insider-references, tools, skills, and accumulated knowledge that characterizes the literally underground world of graffiti writers constitutes a “…a hidden semiological realm and a kind of alternative public sphere which operates beyond the understanding of both liberal and radical commentators.” (36) This self-segregated space, where a specific type of sociality is developed according to the world-views of the marginalized subjects that make up the graffiti subculture, is undoubtedly another empowering aspect of graffiti life, even beyond the “signal jamming” discussed by Baudrillard and Harold, or the grasps at Romantic individuality described by Susana Loza.

When "official graffiti" is employed in our vicinity, is it that the bodily trace of the agents responsible for its placement is invisible to us? Or is it that, by virtue of their corporeal proximity to the national ideal, those "official graffiti artists," urban planners, senators, local representatives, federal bureaus, and their bodies, go unnoticed?

This is perhaps the source of objection to that low-tech, seemingly apolitical graffiti which simply deploys a name, an "empty signifigant," (37) as Chastanet says, in that embodied within it are traces of that marked body, and by extension, potential for the subversion of racist and classist normativities that are contained within a spatial text authored by the dominant.

(1) Coombe, Rosemary. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998. Print. (P. 57)

(2) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 80)

(3) Loza, Susana. Email to the author. April 2009.

(4) Austin, Joe. Taking the Train. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Print. (P. 145)

(5) Ibid. (P. 146)

(6) Turner, Joe. Hunt, Allen. "Official Graffiti of the Everyday." Law and Society Review 30(1996): 455-480. Electronic Resource.

(7) Thomas Markus (1995) cited in: Turner, Joe. Hunt, Allen. "Official Graffiti of the Everyday." Law and Society Review 30(1996): 455-480. Electronic Resource. (P. 476)

(7) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 80)

(8) Chastanet, François. Pixação: São Paulo Signature. 1st ed. Toulouse, FR: XGPress, 2007. Print. (P. 233)

(10) Turner, Joe. Hunt, Allen. "Official Graffiti of the Everyday." Law and Society Review 30(1996): 455-480. Electronic Resource. (P. 475)

(11) Coombe, Rosemary. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998. Print. (P. 170- 177)

(12) Ibid. (P. 171)

(13) Keith, Michael. After the Cosmopolitan?. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. (P. 137)

(14) Loza, Susana. Email to the author. April 2009.

(15) Cited in: Keith, Michael. After the Cosmopolitan?. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. (P. 137)

(16) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 80)

(17) Ibid. (P. 80)

(18) Ibid. (P. 78)

(19) Hebdige, Dick. “The Function of Subculture.” From The Cultural Studies Reader. ed. Simon During, 2nd ed.. New York: Routledge, 1999. 441-50. (P. 444)

(20) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 80/81)

(21) Loza, Susana. Email to the author. April 2009.

(22) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 84)

(23) Ibid. (P. 84)

(24) Keith, Michael. After the Cosmopolitan?. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. (P. 143)

(25) Foster, Hal. Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (1985).

(26) Harold, Christine. “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 21(2004): 189-211

(27) Schiller, Marc. “UPDATED: Nike The Ripper - Seen On The Streets of Munich .” [Weblog Wooster Collective] 1/26/2007. Web. 20 Mar 2009.

(28) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 82)

(29) Jones, Jonathan. [Weblog Jonathan Jones on Art] 4/15/2009. Uk Guardian.Web.19 Apr 2009. .

(30) Ibid.

(31) Ibid. Comment section. Comment by Polymorph on 15 Apr ‘09, 4:31pm.

(32) Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993) (P. 80)

(33) Austin, Joe. Taking the Train. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Print. (P. 115)

(34) Turner, Joe. Hunt, Allen. "Official Graffiti of the Everyday." Law and Society Review 30(1996): 455-480. Electronic Resource. (P. 472)

(35) Coombe, Rosemary. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998. Print. (P. 170- 177)

(36) Keith, Michael. After the Cosmopolitan?. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. (P. 140)

(37) Chastanet, François. Pixação: São Paulo Signature. 1st ed. Toulouse, FR: XGPress, 2007. Print. (P. 242)

Works referenced:

- Jones, Jonathan. [Weblog Jonathan Jones on Art] 4/15/2009. Uk Guardian.Web.19 Apr 2009.

- Loza, Susana. Email to the author. April 2009.

- Schiller, Marc. “UPDATED: Nike The Ripper - Seen On The Streets of Munich .” [Weblog Wooster Collective] 1/26/2007. Web. 20 Mar 2009.

- Chastanet, François. Pixação: São Paulo Signature. 1st ed. Toulouse, FR: XGPress, 2007. Print.

- Keith, Michael. After the Cosmopolitan?. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

- Harold, Christine. “Pranking Rhetoric: ‘Culture Jamming’ as Media Activism.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 21(2004): 189-211

- Austin, Joe. Taking the Train. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001. Print.

- Hebdige, Dick. “The Function of Subculture.” From The Cultural Studies Reader. ed. Simon During, 2nd ed.. New York: Routledge, 1999. 441-50.

- Coombe, Rosemary. The Cultural Life of Intellectual Properties. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998. Print.

- Turner, Joe. Hunt, Allen. "Official Graffiti of the Everyday." Law and Society Review 30(1996): 455-480. Electronic Resource.

- Jean Baudrillard, “KOOL KILLER, or The Insurrection of Signs” in Symbolic Exchange and Death (London: Sage, 1993)

- Foster, Hal. Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (1985).