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A guide to the artistic underground

What is the avant-garde?

The term avant-garde is no longer considered de rigueur as a description of boundary-testing artists, but that does not mean that an artistic underground has ceased to exist.

However, finding out about those artists who test the boundaries of their art is not as easy as stepping into your local book store or record shop.

But help is at hand. As part of Today guest editor Zadie Smith's programme, the author Hari Kunzru has put together a starter kit to those artists in the artistic vanguard.

By definition, the underground is - underground. So there's no overview, no definitive guide. This is a partial, ill-informed, cobbled together list of stuff, being made mostly in Britain, which is in some way difficult, experimental, marginal, odd, or otherwise unlikely to be available on your local high street.


There's the post-language poetry scene, around Keston Sutherland et. al in Sussex.

Stewart Home is a novelist who combines pulp fiction with hardcore theory and a certain amount of gratituitous filth.

There's always Iain Sinclair.

And the sad young literary men at 3am Magazine.

Consider afrofuturism.

Avant-garde philosophy this way.

Or perhaps apost-situ art politics zine.

Orunderground cultural commentary.

Once upon a time there was a cyber-underground, associated with Warwick university.

And you have to question what is outside the mainstream, when Sarah Kane's work is in major venues around the world.


Fancy some (un)pop?

What about some noise? (It won't be played in a cocktail bar any time soon).

Perhaps free improvisation from Derek Bailey and co.?

Or turntablism?

Maybe laptop music is your kind of thing?

Or noise + politics?

Or drone metal?

Or environmental sound?

Or time travel?

Or dubstep?

Or for those who like their avant institutionalised, there's always the good old electro-acoustic scene.


These guys are Dutch, but in terms of abstract web stuff they're way out there.

Then there is process-based anti-art, also known as sport art, where they do things like illegal border crossings and climb trees.

And finally there is post-Viennese actionism (Warning: Contains images that some may find upsetting)

Martin Rees Martin Rees
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PD James PD James
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Robert Wyatt Robert Wyatt
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Baroness Williams Shirley Williams
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