I recently met up with Silent Bill, a Merseyside-based street artist whose work has been wrongly attributed to Banksy on several occasions. I sought him out after a string of purported Banksy works sprung up in the city, because if anyone was going to know the truth, Silent Bill would be the man. I ended up falling down the rabbit hole in my pursuit of this elusive urban artist, losing myself in tales of secret societies and stolen artwork (that’s a story for another day). Ever since the moment my attention was piqued by the subject, my eyes were opened: to the multitude of posters, stickers, stencils and tags that adorn our streets, stuff that we notice without noticing as we walk past it every day.
While on my way to meet up with Silent Bill for a clandestine photoshoot recently, I found myself on the lookout for a certain piece of artwork by one of Bill’s ‘colleagues’. I didn’t really know where to find what I was looking for, but I felt myself gravitating towards a specific place where lots of memories are gathered. Roscoe Lane, where Static Gallery (Bido Lito!’s spiritual home) is situated, is covered in dense layers of posters, stickers and tags, making it a goldmine for street art. The rusting sides of Static’s red shutters are particularly rich, still showing slivers of fly posters from a decade ago, like layers of sediment in rock formations. In fact, if you were to read the walls like a geologist might read the layers in bedrock, you’d be able to tell a lot from the location’s past, and how its cultural makeup has changed over the intervening period. I spent a good half an hour looking over all the tatty shreds (that’s why I was late Bill, sorry), and I even found an old poster of ours that had been defaced with some profane graffiti. I still see that poster as something of a badge of honour: I mean, you’ve got to be doing something right if someone wants to scrawl ‘Bido Lito! Are Cunts’ on one of your posters. At least someone cares if we are or aren’t.
The posters currently forming the outer layer of Static’s shifting mural of city life will live pretty long in the memory. For five surreal days in August, 23 Roscoe Lane was re-christened the Dead Perch Lounge (complete with hastily painted name and large ‘MU’ posters), as it became the hub for the Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu’s Discordian/Situationist/absurd (delete as appropriate) Welcome To The Dark Ages event. It was a brief period when it seemed like Liverpool was the centre of the world; a time when Static, News From Nowhere and the Bombed Out Church were on national news, and filled with people buzzing with excitement and ritualistic fervour. It was inside the Dead Perch Lounge that I witnessed artist Jeremy Deller nervously shifting from foot to foot before he took his place on the panel of the ‘Why Did The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid?’ hearing, in front of a crowd of 400 Mu converts. It was also in here, after the hearing at The Black-E, that art historian Annebella Pollen showed a group of us through her book on the Kibbo Kift (the alternative KKK, a splinter of the Boy Scout movement that shared a lot of similarities in symbolism with what Bill and Jimmy got up to).
The name Dead Perch Lounge is, perhaps inevitably, still scrawled on the side of the wall of Static now. Peeling in places, but still very much legible, the spray-painted sign is joined by the large posters put up by the JAMS’ chief protagonists Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty after the discussion of why they burned the money (‘Why? Because we’re fuuking stupid and ran out of ideas. Now we need the money back’). These colourful adornments attest to a portion of Static’s history that will live long in the memories of not just those with a passing interest in the venue, but those for whom the legend around the KLF is almost sacred. For some people, the building will be forever associated with those few days, and the name Dead Perch Lounge will be the only thing they remember it by. Yet for some, the venue will hold completely different memories, just as personal and important to themselves. These meanings, these façades that we give to places we hold dear, are just layers of identity that we construct to impart some kind of meaning on the places that we live in.
As we move through our lives, we are constantly building our own myths around ourselves, telling ourselves stories about specific places and people and actions so that we can make sense of them as part of a grand design. Humans have become so adept at constructing myths and customs, that we have now come to see these structures – or cultures – as pillars of our society. This is something that Messrs Drummond and Cauty are keenly aware of, imbuing all of their seemingly random acts with enough nods and winks to hint at some wider meaning. It’s the same with Silent Bill and his Secret Society Of Super Villain Artists, with their logos and subversion of pop culture motifs. As they say themselves in their recruitment literature: “The branding and badges may look chaotic, but it is nothing more than symbolism to our higher order, our secret handshake and passing nod.”
No amount of cleaning can remove the traces of stickers and posters from lampposts or the sides of buildings – our memories run deeper than what can be erased with soapy water. A whole history is out there on the walls of our cities and towns: we just need to learn how to read it.