Graffiti

bright graffiti painted on a long temporary boundary wall in a field

Graffiti art at HUB festival 2008 © National Museums Liverpool

Futura 2000? Banksy? What have the names to do with music scenes? Futura 2000 and Banksy are graffiti artists whose work became so well known that Futura 2000 undertook design work for the Clash, whilst Banksy created an album sleeve for Blur.

Graffiti has deep roots in human history. There are examples of slogans and stories scratched into walls in the ruined city of Pompeii, but the graffiti we are most familiar with comes in the form of painted walls. This kind of graffiti has played a significant role in the development of many music scenes and has also provided scenes in its own right.

Banksy, for example, is closely associated with a Bristol graffiti scene where local artists "try to outdo each other with colour, graphics and the scale of their images". However in Bristol and other cities graffiti has provoked fierce debate. For some it is part of the artistic life of a city and a sign of its uniqueness. On one website, for example, the Australian city of Melbourne is described as the "graffiti capital" with "some of the best street art in the world". For others this creativity is not always recognised or welcomed and graffiti is regarded not as art but as vandalism.

Graffiti developed as a form of street art following changes in the car industry in the 1960s. In the late-1950s, cars began to appear in a range of colours, which meant in turn that garages needed to be able to re-spray cars that had been involved in accidents. Aerosol spray paint was developed. In the Bronx district of New York young people used these new spray-paint cans to 'tag' walls and buildings with their 'street' names, but the real breakthrough for street art came with the tagging of New York subway trains.

two people spraying graffiti on a long temporary boundary wall in a field

Graffiti artist at work at the HUB festival 2008
© National Museums Liverpool

The US media was quick to publicise the 'vandalised' subway trains, but their criticism helped to spread the practice around the world. At the same time, and in the same place, hip-hop music emerged. Very quickly, tagging, along with breakdancing, became an essential ingredient of the hip-hop scene. Graffiti was used as a cheap form of promotion for hip hop artists.

In Liverpool the local hip-hop scene has been relatively small in comparison with that of other UK cities. The reluctance of club and bar owners to feature hip-hop DJs and artists has meant that the scene has generally expressed itself more through tagging than in more musical ways. This is why current Liverpool street artists such as Stok are not clearly connected to a visible hip-hop music scene.

Music has nevertheless been connected in many other ways to Liverpool graffiti. In the mid 1970s, for example, the painted slogans 'Bob Dylan: Desire' and 'Pink Floyd' appeared alongside the train tracks in the north end of the city, the first indications of a north Liverpool youth scene that was closely connected to the consumption of marijuana and progressive rock. More recently, train travellers have seen the name of 'The Pies' sprayed on walls at Liverpool's Edge Hill station, and other Pies graffiti appeared on motorway bridges and elsewhere. The Pies were one of several rock bands known on Merseyside for daubing their name on walkways and other public places. The Maybes? did the same but with less imagination. It is common now to see stencils cut by local bands that have been moderately inspired by Banksy. Occasionally stencilled advertisements for illegal parties also appear.