Writer, curator and Chain Gang aficionado Johan Kugelberg is on a mission to establish the true roots of hip hop, punk, fame and its friends, in a very laid-back kind of way.
From years of research, Kugelberg has managed to collate the scattered remains of an original movement, long forgotten. This avid chronicler writes books using unpublished street flyers, basement Polaroids and testimonials from influential figures such as Tony Tone, LA Sunshine, and Charlie Chase. Kugelberg now spends his time curating gallery Boo-Hooray in the heart of New York. His latest venture published by Zero Books, Brad Pitt’s Dog is a feverish attempt to challenge the public on concepts of fame, death and punk. With a sequel already in the pipeline, prepare to take on some counter-culture anarchy this summer.
Your first book Born in the Bronx highlights the hip hop scene before its mainstream debut in the eighties. What attracted you to this genre? The embryonic stage of subcultures in endlessly fascinating: where edges overlap and new ideas germinate outside of a stated rule-set, especially when such subcultures reverberate around the globe. I can’t think of any post-war cultural realm more important than hip hop; socially, artistically, culturally, musically.
There’s a sense of anarchy in each of your books from punk culture to art and political uprisings, is it important to write for shock value? Shock value, nah, unless it is in a John Watersian sense. I do like to stir the pot, and almost everyone I’ve ever admired has been accused of iconoclasm at some point. I like to infuse streaks of anarchy into anything from cooking to writing to, uh, gardening. Three of my primary role-models in this life are Gee and Penn from Crass and the filmmaker Jonas Mekas, and how the three of them infuse the anarchic into their deeply pathos-filled humanity is so inspiring that I almost get all choked up.
Your latest venture Brad Pitt’s Dog, provides a satirical commentary on the essays on fame, death and punk. Where do you source your material? I write mostly for pleasure, and read for pleasure too, so these essays were all fun to write. I rarely get commissioned to write a piece as publications that utilise ‘writers’ guidelines’ aren’t suitable to my humours. I do write for Jefferson Hack’s publications as I have a long-standing friendship and symbiosis with his splendid gang. I write for fanzines and websites that are run by friends, but I usually have already written the piece before it gets placed somewhere. This provides the freedom to allow a piece to germinate for a time, and also for me to think if a piece in question deserves to see the light of day. ‘Brad Pitt’s Dog’ fluctuated quite wildly in page-count before it landed where it landed. It was kind of a thick brick for a bit, then it got anorectic and then (I think!) it got all good. This thick-thin-medium was based on my feelings for the essays and the added opinion of my mega-clever editor Jon Savage.
Where did the name come from?! It came from the piece I wrote on Dash Snow. After Dash died there was a lot of terrible stuff written about him on the web. His art often got judged based on his public persona and family background, this lead me to a riff on how we’d feel if we watched a dog take a crap and were then told it was Brad Pitt’s dog.
Do you think the tone and message of Brand Pitt’s Dog is different to your other works? I hope it is a bit less scholarly and a bit more amusing.
You’ve now turned your talents to curating Manhattan based gallery Boo-Hooray. Which exhibition are you most proud of? The Crass exhibition was fantastic. The crowd ranged from anarcho-punk teenagers to uptown art enthusiasts. They all seemed to get along and enjoy the show.
Was the movement from music to art an easy transition? I am kind of in-between. Our exhibit space specializes in the residual remains of subcultures, 20th century counter-culture, the book arts, all of it in some kind of massive traffic-jammy intersection. I love writing about music still, even though a lot of it nowadays is describing records I like in emails to pals, and I don’t think I have much to say as an art critic. What I mostly do is to attempt to share my enthusiasms in a way that Raoul Vaneigem would approve of.
Who is your all-time favourite punk artist/band? Chain Gang.
Brad Pitt’s Dog is available now from Zero Books and Amazon. Buy here!
Text: Christopher Prince
Images from top: NY Art Book Fair 2011, MoMA. Crass newspaper pull-out/ Born in the Bronx, Rizzoli NY/ Johan Kugelberg portrait/ Brad Pitt’s Dog – Zero Books. Cover design: Will Swofford Cameron