Primal Scream by Dave Driscoll in Hammersmith, London in 1985.
Recently I came across A Scene In Between, a book by Sam Knee, which is the culmination of absolutely every vibe I've been into lately. The "vibe" I'm referring to is that of the feedback and fuzz-filled UK indie scene back in the 80s, as defined by post-punk bands My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pastels, and many more artists who remain cult favorites. Each page is filled with photographs of many looks I've been drawn to in recent years—skinny jeans, chunky leather shoes, stripes—including many shots of Morrissey, whose loose rayon shirts and pale denim are for me, a daily source of sartorial inspiration.
Knee’s anthology underscores what we already know: fashion and music thrive and feed off one another. When you think of your favorite band or look up a new one, you almost inevitably seek out a visual reference so as to hold them in your mind’s eye. An artist’s image and music is inextricably tethered and A Scene In Between draws these threads together beautifully.
Besides photos, this book also includes contributions from the era’s best bands, including "a sartorial ramble" by Stephen Pastel (of The Pastels, duh) and MBV’s David Conway. As Sam points out, his A Scene In Between chronicles “the new generation of kids hell-bent on looking like John Cale or Sterling Morrisson circa 66.” He's talking about kids in the 80s, but you can clearly see the trickle down influence of these artists in the threads bands and music fans wear today. Just take a look at the Horrors and TOY, who were more on the Velvet Underground-inspired end of the scene's style spectrum, while the Palma Violets and Deerhunter continue to wear loose barn jackets and stripes like the BMX Bandits and The Pastels. Although these present day bands all have their own sonic aesthetic, it’s clear that this "scene between" was a quietly influential era, if, as Knee notes, somewhat overlooked.
We talked to the author about the book’s genesis, what it was like growing up in the UK in the 80s, and the bands that characterized and shaped this era, and his life.
Sam and his sister by James Finch.
Noisey: Hi Sam, tell me a little bit about where you grew up, and when music seriously began to influence your life?
Sam:I grew up in Southend-On-Sea in Essex, out on the Thames Estuary. [Coincidentally where the Horrors originated from]. My elder sister was a big music nut and seduced heavily by the new wave explosion of the late 70s—sartorially and musically. So I was pretty lucky as a kid because she was bringing home the new noise pretty regularly. I’d sit on her bedroom floor zoning out while she blasted her latest scores or borrows including the Ramones, Pistols, Saints, Heartbreakers, Motorhead, Sham 69, X-Ray Spex—all the riffy, danceable punk stuff.
A little bit later she started letting me tag along to gigs. By now it was the early 80s and we’d go and see stuff like the Fall, Killing Joke, Sex Gang Children, Ausgang, and Birthday Party. Also around this time—via my sister—I discovered the Cramps who turned everything around and steered me on a uncharted paisley path to 60s garage/psychedelia and other bands like the Gun Club, Scientists, Milkshakes, Prisoners. I picked up the first Jesus and Mary Chain single when it came out because I liked the look of the sleeve and the chap in the record shop said I’d really dig it because it was super distorted and noisy! When I threw it on record player later, I was bowled over—both sides were a fabulous cacophonous racket. Plus one side was a Syd Barrett Floyd-era cover “Vegetable Man” which just destroyed. Genuine neighbor annoyer material.
In the introduction to the book, you mention this era in music and fashion was largely overlooked. Why do you think that, and was that a big factor in you wanted to create A Scene In Between?
I guess as it was my youth, the 80s is a period I can discuss genuinely as I saw most of the bands featured in the book, live, and I witnessed all the complex fashion shifts, trends and nuances firsthand. I was constantly baffled why nobody else had addressed this wonderfully rich era. Maybe it’s too indefinable to approach? Too real to feel. Also I’m not a music critic, so discussing fashion seemed applicable. There’s far too many books on the new wave era now, and with whatever happened after 87/88 with ecstasy and grunge. It’s all terminal boredom. A Scene In Between is a necessary document of an era oozing with romanticism and escapism, from the ghastly Thatcher regime mainstream via peaceful protest, bowl haircuts, 60s anoraks, and fuzzy feedback guitars. What more could you possibly want?
Stephen Pastel shot by Mark Flunder.
What was it like for you to track down people like Stephen Pastel and David Conway? Although they're huge names, do you think it added a relatable feeling to the book for the audience, because I feel it's achieved that. A Scene In Between definitely has a DIY touch to it…
There were two catalysts to see if the project would transpire or disintegrate back into my imagination and Stephen and David were that. They responded so warmly to my embryonic book notion that it had to become a reality. I wanted to bring relevant individuals into the books make-up to add depth and a genuine feeling of the times beyond my own ramblings. The Conway lineup of MBV was just fabulous, pure pop art noise that encapsulated the zeitgeist of the era. I felt his perpetual airbrushing from the annals of MBV history quite perplexing, so including David was a mandatory procedure. The Pastels were a crucial group throughout the era and highly influential so discussing the times from a fashion angle was fascinating research. I wanted the book to retain a DIY indie feel while striking a balance between a high-end youth fashion history tome.
Since this book mainly chronicles style, in general, why do you think fashion is so important to music? They always seem to go hand-in-hand.
As a youth what I wore, how I wore it and the music I listened to were the critical decisions made every day, and most of my friends were of the same thinking. To me it’s all the same thing: one can’t exist without the other.
Morrissey and The Smiths by Martin Whitehead.
What do you feel was different about music during that time period that we don't have today?
It was really due to timing. The UK indie scene during the mid-80s evolved out of various strands of punk and post-punk, like Subway Sect, Swell Maps, Television Personalities, a new interest in the noisier end of 60s mod and psych racket via compilations like Chocolate Soup, Demention of Sound, Pebbles etc., plus a healthy dose of early folk rock via The Byrds, Love became commonplace.
Most significantly The Velvet Underground were undergoing a huge renaissance largely due to the book Uptight (published in 83) brimming with unseen pics of the NY gods in their full sartorial garagey splendor. Uptight became a style bible for the new generation of indie kids hell-bent on looking like John Cale or Sterling Morrison circa 66. These components all colliding at once organically spawned the guitar noise of the era peaking between 83 and 88. The mainstream was so gaudy and synthetic that the indie scenes became all the more alluring as a fabulous escape from the norm. The divide couldn’t have been any wider and all the better for it.
Spacemen 3 shot by Craig Wagstaff.
Did you have any experiences at gigs during that time that you absolutely changed you forever?
The first time I saw Spacemen 3 in a pub in Camden I found they’re sonic repetitive drone completely devastating—all while seated on stalls barely acknowledging the audience. Seriously psychedelic.
If you could name one band or person that is documented in A Scene In Between, who do you think epitomizes the UK music scene of the 80s style-wise?
I’d always loved Stephen Pastels image from back then and felt he was a real underground fashion pioneer and that needed to be addressed properly. He sort of created the archetypal 80s indie boy look, blending Vic Godard, Dan Treacy with early 60s Kitchen Sink drama getups. Kind of early modernist combined with post-punk: a subtle and original combination.
Jesus and Mary Chain by James Finch.
Are there any photographs in the book that you really connected to while compiling it that have interesting histories behind them?
I received so much killer material it was quite painful excluding certain shots as space became tight, and I’ve received even more since the books been in print. As far as faves go there’s an awesome JAMC pic from early 85 by James Finch that projects raw primitive power. I think they were so loud that James’ camera melted seconds afterwards into a pool of feedback.
Now let's talk about music today. Are there any bands you've discovered lately that you feel possess the same qualities as many of the UK bands you chronicled in your book?
To be honest I rarely listen to anything past 87. I know that sounds blinkered and close-minded, but I find it makes life easier. Having said that I’ve been really enjoying the latest Paul Messis LP. He’s somewhere between the early TVPs and moody New England 60s legends the Rising Storm. Cool shit man.
Maddie looks great in stripes and she's on Twitter: @obsessee
Philip King of Felt, 1986.
Orange Juice in 1981.