By 1980, New York City was a shell of its former self, reduced to miles of rubble in Black and Latino communities across the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan. Landlords laid their properties to waste, sometimes hiring arsonists to torch their buildings to collect insurance payouts. With the government support systemically denied under the Nixon White House policy of "benign neglect", infrastructure crumbled, and crime rose. Yet within this bleak and barren landscape, a new generation came of age embodying the dictum, "Necessity is the mother of invention".
While white flight drove a mass exodus of the middle class to the hermetic safety of suburbia, rents plummeted, making it possible for anyone to afford to work, live and play in New York. Without the threat of over-policing or the stultification of gentrification, kids ran the streets, the clubs and the bars, creating their own styles of art and music -- hip-hop, punk, disco, salsa, jazz, and No Wave -- that would set the blueprint for decades to come. It was a golden era, the likes of which are being celebrated in the new exhibition New York, New Music: 1980-1986 at the Museum of the City of New York, which brings together art, fashion, music videos, vinyl records and photography for a kaleidoscopic look at the city's highly innovative music scene.
"Everything was authentic -- it came from the streets and people's hearts," says British photographer Janette Beckman, who came to visit New York during Christmas 1982 and never left. "Hip-hop was the boiling point. The economy was bad, and people just decided they were going to do things their way. Kids would steal out of their parents' house at midnight, go to a train yard to paint, then come home again before going to school. Other kids wrote poetry in their bedrooms, practised on the streets, and got tapped to rap on stage, getting props from their community. The creativity was coming from the artists, rather than someone telling them what to do."