Missing Foundation, German

Missing Foundation

Missing Foundation was an industrial music and performance art project active in the late 1980s and early 1990s and led by Peter Missing. Their live shows were notorious for sparking civil disobedience (including the occasional riot) and causing serious damage to venues at which they performed, and they were in fact banned from some cities entirely. The group was also infamous for their iconic "The Party's Over" image of an upside-down martini glass, and was heavily involved in the Tompkins Square Park Riot in August 1988. While the band disbanded in the early 1990s, a small anarchist social movement continued to exist under the same name for several years thereafter.

Anyone living in the bottom quarter of Manhattan in the late 1980's or early 1990's is probably familiar with an eerie bit of graffiti that, for a few years, seemed to earmark every building on the lower east side. This Pynchonesque insignia - an inverted martini over a three pronged tally - often accompanied equally cryptic slogans: "Your House Is Mine", "1988 = 1933", "The Party's Over". In both design and placement, the logo seemed less like the cartoony tags of graffiti gangs than the cryptic markings utilities crews leave each other. These markings meant something.

Having moved to New York in mid 1987, it took me an embarrassing six months to learn that the symbol actually was an upside down cocktail glass, its author the industrial band Missing Foundation. MF claimed the logo as a tool of uglification ("property devaluation"), in a campaign to halt the high downtown rents creeping out towards both rivers. It's unknown if the tagging ever hindered a single real estate deal; would a true or even prospective New Yorker balk at a spot of spray paint? But as guerilla marketing, it was magic ,the kind emulated by thousands of corporate “street teams” in the years since. For two or three years, Missing Foundation was the scariest band in the city. Their early shows occurred in vacant lots, powered by generators and abandoned, Viet Cong style, at the first whiff of police. In January 1988 the band trashed CBGB, setting fire to its stage and destroying some or most of its sound system. Actual damage, in dollar amounts, has been lost to rumor. As dealers of confusion, Missing Foundation were hard to beat.

As musicians, however, MF have been handicapped by all that has come since. The songs could be called “Neubautenish”, if one (like me) doesn’t know much about German band Einstürzende Neubauten. Two decades ago, the use of oil drums and found percussion seemed somehow bold. In 2006, their music comes filtered through Burning Man and Venice Beach drum circles and the trash can showtunes of "Stomp". Although some of their shtick was born of necessity – frontman Pete Missing used a megaphone because no club would trust him with a mic - it takes some mental footwork to remember that this genre once felt subversive.

Also, their songs need context. New York in 1988 was still the city of Mayor Ed Koch. This was the grimy Manhattan of "Death Wish" and "The Warriors", its subway cars vandalized, its streets full of perverts and vigilantes and burning station wagons. Missing Foundation sounded like this city. When the band played Tompkins Square Park on August 6, 1988, they preceded a riot. It would be incorrect to say "caused a riot", although the NYPD ruthlessly pursued them as scapegoats. After the local CBS affiliate accused the band of Satanic cultism in a bizarre three-part(!) series, Pete Missing found himself tailed by the FBI.

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