New Exhibition Examines the Seismic Creative Revolution of New York City in the 1980s

Featuring Moments with Madonna, MTV, Run DMC, Talking Heads, Keith Haring and DJ Larry Levan, Sonic Youth, Joey
Arias, Funky 4+1, John Zorn, Liquid Liquid, Max Roach, Fort Apache Band, and more

Opens June 11th
Media Preview: June 9, 10AM-12PM

Museum of the City of New York, the city’s storyteller for almost 100 years, today shared details for New York, New Music: 1980-1986, a new exhibition that revisits the music scene of early 1980s New York City. The exhibition examinesthis transformative era through the lens of emerging pivotal music genres and the influence they played on New York’s broader cultural landscape. Opening on June 11, in advance of MTV’s 40th anniversary in August, the exhibition highlights diverse musical artists—from Run DMC to the Talking Heads, from Madonna to John Zorn— to explore the broader music and cultural scene, including the innovative media outlets, venues, fashion, and visual arts centered in the city during that time.

“The early 1980s were a time of significant transition in New York, with the city facing crime, urban decay, and homelessness. And yet, despite those challenges, it was also a particularly fertile time for music and other creativity in New York City,” says WhitneyDonhauser, Ronay Menschel Director and President, Museum of the City of New York. “The musical innovations of this time period are a great example of the resilience of the city and the importance of art and creativity as forces of transformation.”

New York, New Music: 1980-1986 is organized around a series of key “moments” and features more than 350 objects,
including video footage, photography, artifacts, and ephemera. such as:

Photographs by Janette Beckman, Martha Cooper, Joe Conzo, William Coupon, Bob Gruen, Laura Levine, Ebet Roberts, Chris Stein and others
Flyers for Beastie Boys; Bad Brains; Sonic Youth; Teenage Jesus; The Feelies; and Gray and DNA at CBGB
An MTV Music Awards Moon Person Award Statue
Vinyl Records from Madonna, Funky 4+1, Liquid Liquid, and Konk
A Zoot Suit and hat worn by Kid Creole
A t-shirt and other ephemera from Keith Haring and DJ Larry Levan’s “Party of Life” event at Paradise Garage
Guitars from Tim Wright, Arto Lindsay, and Richard McGuire
“Merman” costume worn by Joey Arias in “Mermaids on Parade” at Danceteria
Music videos and rare concert footage including Grand Master Flash; Fort Apache Band; Lounge Lizards; Cyndi Lauper; and more

“During the 80s, there was a community-driven musical renaissance in New York City. It was an era of creativity and genre-defying performance that, in my mind, stands as one of the most influential in musical and cultural history,” says Sean Corcoran, curator of prints and photography, Museum of the City of New York. “That wide range of music –from no wave to pop to hip-hop to salsa to jazz, mixed in a dynamic arts scene that stretched across clubs and bars, theaters, parks, and art spaces– provided fertile ground for a musical revolution — one that continues to influence pop culture to this day.”

Those performances and moments, some with long-lasting influence, others that brought together a confluence of performers and underscored the fluidity of the participants in the cultural scene, are highlighted in the main gallery of New York, New Music. Viewed together, these examples provide a sense of the innovation, energy, and cross pollination of musical ideas that was happening across the city at the moment of openness and creativity.

The 14 featured moments(listed chronologically) include:
In 1980, Kid Creole and the Coconuts led a revue of nearly a dozen musicians to perform their danceable genre-bending music at Danceteria, appealing to the still-dancing disco denizens, die-hard New Wavers, and everyone in between.

• DNA and GRAY @ CBGB (MARCH 22, 1980)
The pairing of these two influential groups was emblematic of that pivotal moment in the downtown No Wave scene.

Five years after first taking the stage at CBGB (opening for the pioneering punk rock group the Ramones), the Talking Heads played a sold-out concert at Wollman Rink in Central Park. For the first time, the band expanded beyond the classic quartet of David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison, and Tina Weymouth, bringing in an array of musicians.

Marking the very first time a hip-hop group performed live on national TV, Funky 4 + 1– including hip hop’s first female MC, Sha Rock–was invited to perform on SNLby that evening’s host and musical guest, Debbie Harry of Blondie.

This graffiti art exhibition and performance by DJ Afrika Bambaataa, the Cold Crush Brothers, and the Fantastic Five helped propel a new era in New York’s new music. Fred Brathwaite (aka Fab 5 Freddy) curated the show along with the artist Futura 2000.

In the early 1980s, an expansive cohort of musicians was still exploring the possibilities of “noise.” Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore curated a lineup around the theme, and what was envisioned as a one-day program quickly snowballed into a nine-day watershed event.

Liquid Liquid and Konk both formed in New York City in 1980, and they quickly developed reputations for their slightly off-kilter music, driven by groove-based, danceable funk rhythms. The friendly rivalry between the groups and the marketing genius around it turned this concert into a sensation.

An ambitious 24-year-old using just her first name took to the second-floor stage at Danceteria on December 16th, 1982 to publicly perform her own music for the first time. Madonna’s debut appearance, and the single for Sire Records, served as a springboard to fame; the release of her self-titled album quickly followed in 1983.

An important springboard for new music in the 1980s came from the venerable Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) second edition of its Next Wave series. The season-long festival featured an unprecedented number of artists, including Steve Reich, Glenn Branca; Laurie Anderson; Max Roach and the dance team of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, a milestone of innovation and interdisciplinary performance.

Artist Keith Haring’s (with DJ Larry Levan) first Party of Life, a birthday celebration that was a rapturous convergence of art, music, and performance, featured a star-studded guest list with performances by Madonna and John Sex.

History was made in June of 1984 when the first syndicated hip-hop TV show was recorded on a soundstage in Midtown Manhattan. The show featured groundbreaking acts, including Run-DMC’s performance of their hit single, “Sucker MCs,” as well as Kool Moe Dee and Special K, two MCs from the veteran trio The Treacherous Three. The MCs provided the show’s introduction, breaking down the elements of hip hop, including breakin’, DJing, and the verbal stylings of MCs, all on a graffiti-laden set.

One of avant-garde composer John Zorn’s most influential “game pieces” –genre-defying musical compositions designed for controlled improvisation– Cobra was presented at Roulette, the TriBeCa alternative art space.

On New Year’s Eve 1985, the Bronx-based Fort Apache Band played multiple sets at Mikell’s, a jazz club on the corner of 97th Street and Columbus Avenue. The music that evening embodied the group’s animating project: to explore the
creative intersection of Afro-Cuban and Puerto Rican musical traditions with jazz.

A groundbreaking moment in the New York experimental music scene came in the fall of 1985, when Arthur Russell staged several performances at the Experimental Intermedia Foundation in SoHo.

Visitors will also have the opportunity enjoy some of the quintessential moments in a retro-feeling suburban rec room inspired space, developed in collaboration with video artists Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong (GoNightclubbing Archive)— the team behind the original lounge for Danceteria in the early 1980s. The lounge installation features a mix of found footage, video art, and their own archival film of downtown musicians like the Dead Boys, Heartbreakers, and Bush Tetras; along with rare early MTV interviews with New York-based artistssuch as David Johansen, Madonna, and RUN DMC, and footage from “The Scott and Gary Show,” a Brooklyn-based public access program, including early performances by Beastie Boys, Butthole Surfers, and R Stevie Moore.

New York, New Music: 1980-1986 wraps up by highlighting the shifting trajectory of NYC’s music scene in the mid-80s, which was impacted by the surging economy, struggles of club owners to remain open in the face of tightening restrictions and rising rents, and the HIV/AIDS crisis and crack cocaine epidemic which both ripped through the communities where artists lived and worked.

Social: @MuseumofCityNY #80sMusicNYC

The exhibition will be accompanied by public, education, and family programs including:

2021 Spring Gala: Music of the ’80s
Wednesday, June 9, 6:30PM-10PM
In-person and virtual presentation

Timed to the opening of New York, New Music: 1980-1986, the Museum of the City of New York hosts a reimagined 2021 Spring Gala, safely created as an intimate outdoor event with dinner, performances, and a preview of the exhibition. Evening honorees include GRAMMY awardwinning rapper, actor, CEO & founder of Rock The Bells LL COOL J; mother, activist, award-winning songwriter and artist Cyndi Lauper; and CEO and co-founder of 300 Entertainment (and former president of Def Jam Records), Kevin Liles

Moonlight & Movies: After Hours
In person
Thursday, June 17, 7:30pm
Tickets: General Admission $15

In After Hours (1985, 98 minutes), a now-classic directed by Martin Scorsese, Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) suffers through a night of misadventures in Soho after a date with Mary Franklin (Rosanna Arquette) goes wrong. From a murderous bar owner, a flighty waitress, a pyromaniac, and other colorful characters, the film offers a window into ’80s NYC and those who inhabited the downtown scene. This is the first in the 2021 Moonlight and Movies film series at the Museum.

Moonlight & Movies:Krush Groove
In person
Thursday, July 15, 7:30pm
Tickets: General Admission $15

Run DMC, LL Cool J, Sheila E., and the Beastie Boys are just a few among the musically star-studded cast of Krush Groove (Michael Shultz, 1985, 97 min.), which tells the tale of a fictional upstart record label helmed by Russell Walker (Blair Underwood), based on the beginnings of the legendary hip-hop label, Def Jam Records. This is the second in the 2021 Moonlight and Movies film series at the Museum.

Moonlight & Movies is made possible in part by Sophia and Peter J. Volandes.

Your Hometown Virtual Conversation with Suzanne Vega
Tuesday, June 22, 2021, 7:00pm
Tickets: Free, with registration. Donation Suggested.

In the latest edition of our Your Hometown virtual series, celebrated singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega talks to host Kevin Burke about her role as a leading figure of the folk-music revival of the early 1980s in NYC and her unique career as masterful storyteller who “observes the world with a clinically poetic eye” (New York Times). This is a virtual event which will take place via Zoom. Registrants will receive a link in advance of the event.

For more information about the Your Hometown series of virtual conversations, click here.

Special thanks to Emily Armstrong and Pat Ivers for their input and access to the Go Nightclubbing archives, as well as the New York, New Music: 1980-1986 advisory board members Vince Aletti, writer and critic; Steven Bernstein, musician; Christina Clarke, journalist and marketing consultant; Michael Holman, hip hop pioneer; Tim Lawrence, author; Prime Minister Pete Nice, author and musician; Alison Stewart, radio host and journalist; and Tontxi Vazquez, producer/curator; and honorary committee members Richard Barone (of The Bongos); Richard McGuire (of Liquid Liquid); and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels (of Run DMC).

New York, New Music: 1980-1986 is made possible in part by Elizabeth R. Miller and James G. Dinan, Daryl Brown Uber/William E. Weiss Foundation, and an Anonymous Family Foundation.

The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of Kartell.

Special thanks to MTV and Society Awards, and Ed Steinberg from Rockamedia.

About the Museum of the City of New York
The Museum of the City of New York fosters understanding of the distinctive nature of urban life in the world’s most influential metropolis. It engages visitors by celebrating, documenting, and interpreting the city’s past, present, and future. To connect with the Museum on social media, follow us on Instagram and Twitter at @MuseumofCityNY and visit our Facebook page at For more information, please visit

Janette Beckman. LL Cool J NYC. 1985. Courtesy of the photographer

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