In March I began corresponding with musician and artist Cory You, and we instantly bonded over our love for ’80s design. As the months went by, I began to see just how much the 1980s influenced Cory’s creative works. In fact, I was blown away by his drive to create on a daily basis. Seriously, this man is always creating new images, sounds and looks! His constant search for unique ’80s visuals and thrift store finds regularly inspired me, and when I realized what an expert he was at mining my favorite decade for its most interesting elements, I knew he would be my next ’80s Connection interview. So without further ado, let’s meet Cory You!…
First of all, thanks for being willing to chat with Mirror80! You have such a wonderful innate sense of ‘80s style. Not to mention, you express your creativity on a daily basis by photographing your amazing vintage finds, linking to unique 1980s articles and videos, and producing your own work (which we’ll talk about shortly). Tell us about your connection to the ‘80s and ’90s and what inspires you as you create.
D’aw! You’re too kind. Truth be told it’s really only been in the last few years that I’ve had an awakening and rekindled passion for 80’s inspiration. Or, I should say a realization of what had been with me all along. Time is a funny thing. It’s like looking at a movie you once loved as a kid, but seeing it in this new light and understanding the framework around it. I’m now 35 but I have a hard time seeing myself as 35. I feel grateful to have been of an age where I got to actually experience the early to late 1980’s instead of mostly being informed by vague fleeting glimpses and other people’s recollections. In a strange way I feel like all these years later, we can now appreciate the time period in a way that wasn’t possible ten, even five years ago. 2013 is such a far departure from, say 1988, but in a way I feel like it’s almost two time periods occurring in the same spatial time. There’s all these tangent vectors that keep popping up for me in a way that creates a reference frame between the now and then. Even little things like designs or nuances in contemporary music will recall that. Like many, I went through my angsty teen phase in the 90’s, and the foggy fugue of the millennial malaise…that 80’s rediscovery feels like a needed urgency. For me when I think 80’s style, I think of a permission to be zany, colorfully bold, and unapologetic in imagination. Permission to be weird. It’s striking how even the most wacky and cheesy musical acts felt sincere in what they were doing. It wasn’t done with a sense of irony, yet they seemed aware of the time. No surprise young and old alike are drawn to 80’s magic.
Any favorite ‘80s childhood memories?
Oh goodness, I quite literally could write a book on that topic alone! I feel like memories are one of the most important functions we have, even if years later memories become more of an impression or sense than a literal playback recording. Shopping malls felt like churches of the imagination, even the architecturally dysfunctional nature of low rent retail outlets. Running fingers through endless stacked shelves of towels at Marshalls and Sears as well as other tactile delights of big box department stores. The weekly weekend
ritual of waking up early for Saturday morning animation blocks still stands as such a strong anchoring for any kid of the decade, myself included. The general pastiche of TV cartoons was great, but I was particularly drawn to shows like Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Fraggle Rock, Alf animated, Kid Video, and anything with mech robots. Random outings to animatronic pizza eateries like Chuck E Cheese’ Pizza Time Theatre or Showbiz Pizza was another highlight (Chuck E Cheese felt much more David Lynchian back then). If smart phones are the singular object that tethers our collective consciousness and connectivity today, then it was most definitely the arcades that were so central to the 1980’s. I wish kids weened on Xbox live today could know what it was like to become instant friends with someone on Ninja Turtles, Bad Dudes or Double Dragon; or the the nerve wracking accomplishments learned on Xevious or Galaga. There was something pure about even the dingiest ill lit of cigarette smoke-filled arcades. Growing up extremely poor I now realize was a blessing, as I feel it kicked my imagination and creativity into hyperdrive. Even just the way I interpreted the world or enjoyed things.
What about ’80s experiences that made an impact on you?
I’d also like to add how amazing it was to play outside. I think shows like Muppet Babies, and later cartoons like Rugrats really resonated with the young psyche with the imaginative play themed. Not to sound too “back in my day”, but I remember a small Pac-Man LCD game and a book entertaining me for the duration of an eight hour trip down the coast. The iPad of the mind I suppose. As well, I couldn’t lament on amazing 80’s memories without mentioning toys and action figures. There was such a rich tableaux of action figures, often of completely nonsensical and oddball-themed. Critics complained that all the cartoons were just half hour
commercials for the toys, but I think it’s one of those you’d have to have been there to get it things.
I’d also say one of the hardest times I cried was when Jim Henson passed away in 1990, as his imagination and work really encapsulated the time period for me through the Muppets, Fraggle Rock, Sesame Street, Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and other works.
As much as I identified with the colorful goofyness of shows like Hey Vern! or Pee Wee’s Playhouse, it was both the heart and depth of Jim Henson’s characters that really made TV such an amazing experience for me. Looking back through YouTube archives, it’s also just fun to relive some of the really out there kid’s commercials of the time as well.
You perform under the name Vandalaze. Tell us about your music, your performances and your new album!
I’ve been creating music since the mid 90’s, mostly based around electronic dance music of one sort or another. My earliest demo tapes in retrospect felt like the sort of low-fi minimal analog dance punk that’s now popular on bandcamp. I think as music got more software based, I struggled to keep up. But I honestly would have to say the music I’ve been creating in the last year and a half under the “Vandalaze” moniker has been my favorite thing I’ve done music-wise. The debut album for the project is nearing completion, almost more of a concept album. It’s called “Dreamorex”, a play on 80’s tape brand Memorex mixed with dreams. So memories + dreams. Each song I like to think of as a room in a mind palace. Each drawer a memory or idea. The whole album I like to think of like a museum. Visually my mind is rife with the imagery of Magritte, Dali, Depero and Ettore Sottsass. Some of the tracks are kind of my own strange interpretation of 80’s dance while others are much more jarring and loosely defined. I love exploring a lot of found sounds, samples and things some might find extremely atonal. I have one track I’d describe as the husk of an ancient Japanese whaling ship in a black marbled museum room. I continually find I’m discovering bands from the past and present, so my influences and sound end up more liquid. While I like an air of mystery in musical acts, for me I enjoy explaining lyrics or etymology.
What about the name “Vandalaze” and your performance look?
The name “Vandalaze” came about one night from watching reruns of Seinfeld. I liked the idea of vandalism in the tradition of Keith Haring or Bansky, but I also liked whenever George Costanza referenced “Vandalay” in Seinfeld. A lot of my personal favorite words seem to come from fun esoteric neologisms. Performance-wise I really have a thing of wearing a completely different outfit for every show. I had this somewhat elaborate costume when I did a musical performance at a fashion show that featured Project Runway all-stars and the designer Furne One (I had sort of an Alexander Mcqueen meets Eyes Wide Shut motif). I’ve also played in bars and basements wearing my usual colorful over-sized 80’s jackets. But I always like giving a really over the top performance art-like show, sometimes aided by backing video imagery. For my next show I’d love to have a stack of old TVs and even a giant paper mache head. The matrix of art, fashion, video and performance in relation to music is really important to me.
What are some of the musical and visual influences for your music, your performances and the videos you create?
Sound- and vibe-wise, I would have to say my biggest inspirations are drawn from what I call the funky “Max Headroom” dance synth sound of acts like Cabaret Voltaire, Severed Heads, Yello, Front 242, Art of Noise, and mid-80’s Ministry; as well as the work Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh did for television and various Wax Trax bands. I really like that nexus point between post punk dance, EBM, acid, new wave and just plain weird. I also love that fun grey area between funk electro and industrial. I’m also a huge fan of artists like Pere Ubu, Wire/Colin Newman, Suicide, and most importantly anything David Byrne (Talking Heads or solo/collaboration wise). My other sound I enjoy exploring is kind of a darker sound palette; influences for which would be anything from Skinny Puppy and Coil to contemporary sound art collage artists like Holly Herndon or even the recent soundtracks by Trent Reznor.
This is my latest video I created, for my song “Dog Jerk”. I was inspired by everything from animation you’d see late at night on MTV as well as weird alternative videos you maybe caught one time.
My video I made for my song “House Of Two Oceans” was directly inspired by stop motion/collage art music videos of the 80’s.
I’ve also begun work on a graphic novel comic called “Whip Blow”, heavily inspired by LA underground and alternative comics from the 80’s (Charles Burns, The Hernandez Brothers, Love and Rockets, Raw magazine, Fantagraphics, etc.) It’s set in Southern California circa 1988 and follows a group of weird art punk new waver goths and surrealist misadventures.
And finally, I do Adult Swim-like animated cartoon series and shorts on YouTube called Badical Power 🙂
You have such a unique fashion sense that incorporates elements of ‘80s and ‘90s style. Are there pieces you consistently search for as you hunt for finds at thrift stores?
Yes! As a little kid, I was really into Cyndi Lauper (still am actually!) I loved how she had this style that was vaguely 80’s, but only because she was rocking a lot of wild and seemingly disparate fashion pieces from old vintage stores. The worst-kept secret regarding the 80’s is that it really was one giant love letter to the 1950’s, both in terms of color palettes/aesthetics/kitch/etc. Clothing wise I really look for stuff that feels authentically postmodern and bold. I’d describe my fashion taste as a mix of Hollywood Montrose from Mannequin, Martin Gore, Boy George, and Weird Al. I also love that gold and black 80’s New York avant fashion style; the “Grace Jones” look. I’m big on what I jokingly call the “Delta Burke” look, taken from the oversized power jackets a lot of the women wore on the sitcom Designing Women. 1960’s Western wear and kitsch is another favorite, hence my love for The B-52’s, David Byrne and Pee Wee’s Playhouse🙂 I would say my most consistent fashion sensibility for the last two decades however would be “goth”, even though I’ve tried to broaden that definition past Doc Martens and black drapings. Perhaps “Tumblr Goth” is a better adjective:) I’m particularly intrigued and humored by the recent early 90’s (and even some mid 90’s) nostalgia going on with youth.
Actually, you make thrifting an art form! Tell us about some of your favorite finds in the realms of fashion, interior design and collectibles…
When it comes to fixtures, art, flatware, vases, and other wonky doodads I definitely go for anything remotely postmodern. I’m also a massive fan of idealized 80’s (and even early to mid-90’s) cyberpunk, as goofy as it may come off. I’m heavily inspired by the writings of William Gibson, and films like Hardware, Blade Runner, Gunhed, Tank Girl, Hackers and Robocop are a really treasured aesthetic for me, as are general cyberpunk tropes in general (Akira, Cyberpunk 2020, Terminator, Mondo 2000 magazine, etc.).
I also have a thing for old-school kid’s meal toys.
You are a fan of the zany, “weird” ‘80s. In your opinion, what are some key elements of this style?
Bold colors, obtuse geometric shapes that shouldn’t work but do, and inventive collages. I liken the random squiggly lines, zig zags, and bacteria/speckled patterns to the quick note burst of a saxophone, bass guitar or orchestra hit in an 80’s dance tune.
You’ve invented a fabulous new style/vocabulary word called “Mutant Memphis.” Talk to us about this look, as well as your amazing Lego jewelry creations…
I noticed around the same time I was doing heavy research into the Memphis Milano and postmodern art/fashion aesthetic, I started noticing a number of young people on tumblr and elsewhere mining these amazing images for inspiration. I tend to use the term “Memphis” as a generic catchall phrase for things that have a general zany postmodern art vibe. My idea with “Mutant Memphis” was taking the spirit and sensibility of what Sottsass and company were doing and reinterpreting and incorporating it into the present. I already see hints of this at department stores. I’m a fan of the William Burroughs/Bryin Gysin cut-up technique with words, and I think it’s a great template for mutating different visual or aural media.
The idea to create postmodern-inspired jewelry from Legos, kitschy toys, etc. came from a trip to little hole-in-the-wall boutiques on Melrose Avenue last February, as well as memories of this 80’s mall store called Zanzibar here in California. I’ve also been inspired by the general DIY crafty vibe on Etsy. So be it making necklaces out of little plastic dinosaurs or making Keith Haring-esque designs on watches, it’s all about making fun “PoMo” pop art on a ghetto budget. My strangest creation was expoxing hundreds of brightly colored little plastic lizards and army men all over a large blue coat.
There’s definitely a renewed interest in authentic 1980s style, which includes a true appreciation for movements such as Memphis-Milano and ‘80s Deco. Why do you think it’s taken until now for this enthusiasm to emerge on a larger scale?
My fear was that the post millennial “hey it’s rad!” mainstream mall pop revisionism of cliche 80’s tropes was all people now knew. 1989/1990 era bright neon pink fanny packs, acid washed jeans and other Nintendo Power-era fashion. It’s not that I think that’s bad, it’s just when people think or try and market “the 80’s”, it’s almost entirely a very narrow revisionism. So it’s been great to see the REAL 80’s both above and underground explored. The new 80’s London club fashion exhibit you covered recently is a great example, as is seeing direct Memphis design inspiration sneak into contemporary runway fashion shows. I think as much as modern indie youth fashion tries to tip toe into (vaguely) 80’s territory, I don’t think it will ever fully embrace or tackle much more than brief flirtations (That, and you’d have to be really brave to sport the more garish elements of the decade). Plus I don’t think personalized mesh football jerseys and over-sized dull grey sweatshirts would fit with the current hip aesthetic. Now and then I’ll see someone out and about sporting vintage 80’s outfits and having a keen understanding of the personalized flare. The big slouchy sweater with Duckie (from Pretty In Pink) styled hat look is another favorite of mine. I put a little bit of a tumblr goth twist on that look. I wouldn’t mind if true 80’s fashion became en vogue, though generally you’ll mostly find real 80’s style with younger Brooklynite or Portland types who get it.
I also like exploring the language of the 80’s. Beyond the usual “rad” or “gnarly to the max”. I joke that if I was to start a truly authentic 80’s act, it’d have to be called “Biff Zappo and the TV Sets”, and the song titles would be stuff like “Max Bod Nasty Dudes”, “Total Dweeb” and “Television Ooze Punk”.
Tell us about your favorite…
‘80s films: My favorite 80’s films would be Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Blade Runner, Goonies, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Brazil, The Never Ending Story, Akira, Less Than Zero, My Neighbor Totoro, Repo Man, Robocop, Batman, Wings of Desire, The Wizard, and although it came out in early 1990: the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (I’d also include the 1992 Robin Williams film Toys, since it feels like an 80’s film).
‘80s music: My favorite 80’s bands would be The B-52’s, Talking Heads, The Sisters of Mercy, Devo, Skinny Puppy, Cabaret Voltaire, Shriekback, New Order, Oingo Boingo, The Pixies, Nitzer Ebb, Public Image Limited, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Kate Bush, The The and They Might Be Giants.
80’s videos: The B-52’s “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland”, Cabaret Voltaire “Just Fascination”, Talking Heads’ “Once In A Lifetime”, Weird Al’s “Dare To Be Stupid”, They Might Be Giants’ “Put Your Hand In The Puppet Head”, Yello’s “I Love You”, Colin Newman’s “B”, Nitzer Ebb’s “Shame” and Peter Gabriel’s “Big Time”.
Tumblrs with 1980s style: And I honestly can’t think of any one tumblr that best encompasses the 80’s aesthetic, given it’s such an impossibly wide kaleidoscope on that site. Even I have a hard time navigating it all.
Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
It sometimes feels to me like we’ve become more disconnected the more we’ve become connected by technology, where attention spans and and value can sometimes be a casualty. A world where for every stride there is also an unmistakable divide or strife, and a further detachment from things. That’s why I feel the world needs a bit of the fun magic 80’s paintbrush more than ever. Detractors will often highlight how selective or rose-colored that sort of view is, that behind the “fun” of the nineteen eighties were all sorts of problems. High crime, poverty, the introduction of the AIDS and crack cocaine epidemics, failed economic policies. But I feel there’s a reason why so many people’s faces light up, when say 80’s music comes on the speakers at a grocery store or restaurant. Why 80’s nostalgia seems to have lasted past the normal shelf life of 20 year retromancy. By 2002 when the “80’s nostalgia” was introduced into the popular consciousness through love letters to 8-bit Nintendo graphics, indie dance homaging new wave or even certain garment aesthetics, many thought it was a passing phase. But unlike the brief 70’s nostalgia of the latter 1990’s, I see this one sticking with a lot to be explored and evolved.
As much as I lament on the safe, sterile Apple Google gadget banality of the present moment (I call it the iGeneration) I also see it as an unparalleled time of opportunity to be inspired and have a disparately eclectic reach. Because of things like Soundcloud, Twitter, Bandcamp, Instagram, Facebook, Etsy, etc. the immediacy and diversity of the audience doesn’t feel as limited or novel as a decade ago. It’s the standard to see people as far away as the Balkans, India, Norway, Zimbabwe, Peru and Japan all feverishly commenting on the same Soundcloud track or Facebook update…or even more fun, hundreds of reblogs of someone’s Tumblr image from hundreds of different countries.
What’s interesting now is that we’ve reached this point where all the waves of the past have hit the shore and are lapping back into each other, and every song/movie/writing/art/clothing style of the past is now right here to pick apart and reform into the wildest of creations. I really think the younger online generation has picked up with that, and I have not been as excited about music or art or any of it in years as I am now. You can now create and mix and match any genres music- or style-wise, and there’s somehow now a very open-minded audience for it. It brings me back to that extremely vibrant and fertile time of the early 80’s in New York and Europe, where all these bands, artists and filmmakers were all setting a template and creating very imaginative works. And while I can only glimpse that time from documentaries or articles, I definitely see strong elements of that theme in the now.
Thanks for chatting about ’80s culture and style with us, Cory! It’s been a pleasure!