Digging Through the Archives: Dancetorium brings unseen 70s and 80s punk video into the 21st century
Pat Ivers and Emily Armstrong were exposed to American rock n’ roll and the British Invasion at a young age.
Ivers grew up in Philadelphia and worked at an auto part factory as a teenager. In lieu of joining her coworkers for lunch, she much preferred to sneak outside and listen to her transistor radio.
Armstrong, on the other hand, grew up in Long Island, and was introduced to music by a friend’s parent who’d generously chauffeur them from rock show to rock show. With his help, Armstrong saw the Rolling Stones and the Beatles during their first U.S. tour.
“He would collect our money and drive us,” Armstrong said. “Wherever he is, I thank him.”
After meeting while working together at Manhattan’s Public Access Television, the budding videographers teamed together to record over 300 hours worth of footage that would later be digitized and shown at museums and exhibits across the country.
This Thursday, the two are showing a significant amount of footage they collected during the up-and-coming New York punk scene in the 70’s and 80’s at International House; Dancetorium screens as the centerpiece of the venue’s spring preview event.
Before they met and joined creative forces, Ivers and Armstrong coincidentally lived on the same block in New York. They were also neighbors with Patti Smith.
“We’d see Patti seeing on her stoop,” Armstrong said. “We knew her as a poet.”
It wasn’t until posters for concerts started to pop up that they realized Smith was a musician as well. With the help of these posters – which also advertised bands like Talking Heads, Blondie and more – Ivers began to take on a film project documenting this musical uprising along with coworkers at Public Access Television.
After some time, her and her team, who called themselves Metropolis Video, didn’t see any point as to why they were filming bands – they weren’t making money, and her coworkers abandoned ship on the project. But Ivers wasn’t quite done.
“[I thought] we have all this equipment lying around from the cable company, we should really do something about it,” Ivers said.
During this time, Ivers and Armstrong crossed paths while both working for the television station, and Armstrong did share her vision. From then on, the team shot shows together at famous night clubs like CBGB and Danceteria, a four-floor super-club.
Together, the two women lugged heavy, bulky film equipment in and out of the venues. Eventually, they had the fortune of filming with portable video.
“I don’t think we were that aware of it, but we were riding this wave of a technological revolution that was being written about by scholars,” Armstrong said. “We were living it.”
At the same time, Armstrong said two things happened to the women that would change their lives forever: their apartments were robbed of a significant chunk of their footage, and Danceteria was shut down for operating illegally.
“It was the height of a heroin epidemic in New York,” Armstrong said. “Everyone I knew was robbed at least once.”
Even before the burglary, they witnessed the effects that drug culture had on the nightclubs. People would do hits of cocaine off of the top of the TVs. Armstrong and Ivers said had to buy plastic sheets to cover up the tops of their camera to make sure the debris wouldn’t ruin their footage. But from that point on, they stopped filming and instead took what hard work remained on the road.
“For me, I started to feel like the music scene was changing,” Ivers said. “I lost interest in the music coming out.”
Armstrong and Ivers showed their concert footage taped between 1975 to 1980 on the show Nightclubbing that aired in New York, but after that, stashed the rest away. It later grew into a part of history, getting digitized and archived into NYU’s Fales Library over the course of two years, between 2011 and 2013.
This Thursday at International House, Armstrong and Ivers will dig through the archives to show their post punk and new wave collection Dancetorium, showcasing performances by Go-Go’s, Kid Creole and the Coconuts, Strange Party, Our Daughter’s Wedding, Plastics, Pythons and more.
“I’m very proud of [the collection] and I’m very happy that it exists,” Ivers said. “It’s amazing, I think, ‘My God, how lucky was I that I could go out every night and see something like this?’”
Dancetorium: An Evening of Post-Punk and New Wave Music Celebrating the Death of Analog Video happens at International House’s Spring Preview, Thursday February 6th at 7 p.m. Admission to the all-ages event is $5 for the public, free for IHP members and also includes a performance from Crash Course in Science. More information can be found here.