GrungeTAHSTtic - The inspiration behind the name!
The other day, I printed out a photo roll of Grungetastic photos and spread them out on the dining room table to get a better look. Right then, my wife walked in and immediately said, "Good grief, clean that up!" Since she's not normally that much of a neat freak, I was surprised and protested that it was just a few photos, what's the big deal? "They're just so dirty," she says. "I mean, I have to eat here and these all look like they have little dust clouds swirling around them, like that kid Pigpen in Charlie Brown!" I just stood up and gave her a big hug. What else could I do? She totally got it.
GRUNGETASTIC MAKES DIRTY PHOTOS - REALLY DIRTY PHOTOS!
SO DIRTY THAT THEY HAVE THEIR OWN LITTLE DIRT STORMS
SWIRLING AROUND THEM.
Grunge always makes me think, separately, of Seattle and 1992. I visited Seattle for a few days during the fall of 1991 and the sum total of my thoughts afterward was that it was a pretty city; kind of like Vancouver and San Francisco mixed together. Hills, trees, water and hipsters. I saw a few bands there but just thought they were good bar bands. Little did I know. By early '92, Nevermind had taken over everyone's Sony Walkman, and Grunge was a household word. I loved the music, but I couldn't erase the image of pretty, green Seattle from my mind - and I soon got a real lesson in Grunge.
During the summer of '92, I went backpacking through Europe and spent a week in Berlin.
Berlin, hell – Berlin was Grunge. People wore black because there was a layer of soot covering everything. Why fight it? Once my blue jeans and flannel-patterned t-shirt turned black too, I felt the same way. Seattle's lack of sun didn't even compare to Berlin's sun, which would crack through the grey wall of clouds sending rips of light screaming down in the craziest patterns and creating blinding gashes over the blackened cityscape. Shocking Grunge. No one seemed to notice. No one seemed to care.
There were abandoned buildings decaying all over the city. Some streets seemed to be complete ghost towns with one or two shops still open, a middle-aged frau always out on the sidewalk sweeping, sweeping. Every time I saw this, I would think "Guess she didn't get the memo…" Anyways, on my last night in Berlin, me and a new German freund, Karsten from Hamburg, went to a party in one of the abandoned buildings.
The party flyer, which Karsten picked up at the hostel, just had a big, black skull-and-crossbones on the front with a small red X to the left and the words GROK Zoo Recht Links Zehn 10DM Nach. Karsten said he thought he knew where to go. So, shortly after midnight, we get off at the Zoo metro stop, make a few zigzag turns, the last down a long, deserted alley, and start counting the blocks. It was pitch black.
As we begin down the alley, Karsten finished off the bottle of Russian potato moonshine we had been drinking and without a care chucks it at the wall to our left. Right as it exploded against the wall, we simultaneously made out that there were two tall guys with mohawks just feet from where the bottle hit. Yikes! It was so dark, we hadn't even seen them. I jumped like a scared cat and Karsten immediately starts to say something in German that sounded like an apology, but then we both stopped.
The two punkers hadn't moved an inch or said a word. So, we give each other a curious look and slowly walked towards them. They weren't real - they were spray painted on the wall! But every detail was totally realistic and amazing! They were both over six foot tall, with two-foot, orange, green and yellow mohawks, nose rings, dog collars, leather pants and jackets, ripped Sex Pistols and Bad Religion shirts, untied Doc Martens. We were completely spellbound. It literally took a voice from the dark to snap us out of it.
We spin around and it's a guy who's almost a mirror image of the spray painted wall punks, and he simply says, "Grok, zehn, ya?" Karsten replied, "Ya," and we follow the new guy down the alley.
I'll never forget it. Every ten feet or so, there were more punkers painted on the alley walls. Some were alone, others in pairs or small groups. The crowd included dangerous-looking girls sporting big pink hair, stiletto heels, leather mini-skirts and fishnets; a sneering Billy Idol look-a-like brandishing a switchblade that was dripping blood; and what looked like the entire cast of the original Mad Max movie. Crazy!
So was the party. I have no idea where the people came from, but the abandoned industrial warehouse was packed. A gas generator powered non-stop strobe lights and a decent sound system that pumped out German techno-metal. It was a good thing that every window in the place was broken, because all the smoke threatened to hide the organic mosh pits that kept springing up.
At one point, Karsten flew out of a mosh pit and landed right by me. He looked up with a happily crazed look in his eyes and said, "This is fantastic!" Except, with his German accent, it sounded like fuhn-TAHST-tic. Yeah, it definitely was. And I swear to you on my backpacker's honor, right there and then, I thought, and even said out loud – this is Grunge.
I took a lot of photos that summer of '92, and the Berlin ones are still among my favorites - photos of a few monolithic sections of the wall that remained like spray painted relics of a dead past; construction cranes hovering over the grey landscape like industrial insects rebuilding their hive; faithfully reconstructed churches and baroque statues blackened by decades of coal and exhaust; punkers hand-rolling cigarettes in front of Zoo Station; and photos of Bohemian families washing in a neighborhood park fountain. Some really Grunge stuff.
But still, I always felt like the photos didn't do justice to the Berlin I experienced. Despite the subjects, despite the reality, and in spite of some of the wild compositions and exposures I attempted, the photos still seemed somewhat sterile. They just weren't Grunge enough.
Fast forward almost twenty years. I've spent a good part of that time working with graphic arts, photography and graphic arts-related software programming. Recently, there's been a real desire for photo apps that distress images; apps that take photos to dangerous back alleys and bring to life the kind of crazy things you thought you'd never see. Photographer friends and clients have been begging me for an app that brings that unseen, dirty, beautiful world to life. I get it.
Berlin of '92 never went away. Sure, Berlin itself has pretty much cleaned itself up, but like the mosh pits at the GROK party, Grunge always seems to swirl through the smoke, organically popping up across the globe, never disappearing, never far away, and always crazily fuhn-TAHST-tic.
So, the app. I think you know why I named it Grungetastic. Just do me one favor, ok? It's pronounced GrungeTAHSTtic.
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