Post-punk in ‘80s New York was defined by the genre-blending sounds of artists like ESG, Arthur Russell and Lizzy Mercier Descloux. But little-known outside their tight-knit scene, the daughter of one of the area’s most famous conceptual artists was just as deserving of the plaudits. Chandra Oppenheim’s debut EP has been largely forgotten in time, but in 1980 it looked like the beginning of a vibrant career. She was just 12 years old at the time of its release.
Chandra grew up in a highly creative household; she started writing music aged nine, and was mixing with the likes of Blondie and Lou Reed, performing at the iconic TriBeCa venue Mudd Club, by the time she hit her teens. With angular guitars, ropey bass lines and an animated rhythm section, her music was cool and contemporary; her lyrics, on the other hand, boasted a naive purity that left spectators in awe.
Take the snaking, atmospheric ‘Kate’, which opens with the angsty declaration “there’s a girl named Kate and she thinks she’s really great but she’s not!”, or the discordant synths and percussive rattles of ‘Subway’ — each an example of an artist whose avant-garde tendencies were well beyond her years. The latter would end up sampled by The Avalanches in 2016 — a testament to Chandra’s enduring, if not obscure, influence.
In perhaps the most un-punk move of all time, the band broke up in 1982 after Chandra’s schooling demands became too high. “I would bring my homework to band practice,” the singer told journalist David Ma in an interview for Nerdtorious. “It ended up being a conflict.” And while ten of her tracks would be re-released by Telephone Explosion Records in 2018, the allure of this former prodigy remains largely confined to the underground to this day.
Photo via The Guardian