Art Rock


Having completed performances of Andy Warhol Up Tight and ultimately being renamed The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, the Velvets debuted as the Dom (a former Polish Dance Hall, in transition to a gallery space) within a similar art-rock structure. Videos were projected on top of one another, static slide projections and other lighting effects brought the visual distortion further, Gerard cracked his bullwhip, dancing in a frenzy, and The Velvet Underground played on. It was at this time that the band started wearing dark sunglasses, not so much out of a sense of fashion but because the light show, run by Danny Williams, was too blinding. As much as the music, and in some ways more so, the spectacle was important.

A review of a performance in Cincinnati on November 3rd 1966, described the spectacle as follows:

“THE SCENE: The room is huge, dark, crowded. Pinpoints of colored light dart from around the walls, reflected from a mosaic-mirrored ball that hangs from the ceiling. At the far side of the room, on stage, is the Velvet Underground, polka-dotted, pinstriped, booted, wide-belted, dark-spectacled musicians. With them, twisting, turning, leaping, getting the message, is dancer Gerard Malanga. Walking among the tables toward the stage is Nico, tall, casual, stunning in black velvet pea jacket and loose-legged lavender pants. THE SCREEN: Behind the Underground, three films are projected simultaneously on the same screen. Sharing the screen at various time, are members of the Underground sitting at tables and standing along a wall, a pair of lips, Nico's profile, Gerard's staring face, two men binding another to a chair, an ear. Like most home movies, the films are intimate, jerky from the hand-held camera, and made up of disconnected images. Unlike most home movies, they are way out. THE SOUND: At first it is the amplified throb of single, disconnected guitar notes. Thirty minutes later these have been resolved to a rhythm. Soon after come drummer, guitarist, singer and violinist, and the result is a resounding folk rock. MAKING IT HAPPEN: Feeling the beat, casting his gyrating shadow on the screen behind, giving off his own light flashes from a rhinestone necklace, making it all happen, is Gerard. He works with a bullwhip, sliding it along the floor, cracking it in the air with a choreographic frenzy. HAPPEN?: What happened at the happening was a high gear bombardment of sound, lights, movement, and constantly changing images. ...Whether anyone was turned on or off by the event, whether anything happened besides the happening itself is beside the point. Dig?”

In the Spring of 1967, when Reed and Cale concluded that even Warhol’s art-rock was not the populist venue that their music needed, they severed ties with the factory and attempted to go off on their own.