See the Pop Group's Vacation Photos From Dismaland - Rolling Stone
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See the Pop Group’s Vacation Photos From Dismaland

Legendary post-punkers detail their day at Banksy’s dystopic theme park

The Pop Group

Dismaland, Banksy's self-described "bemusement park," emerged secretly and suddenly in August to disorient children and adults alike in the English seaside town of Weston-Super-Mare until September 27. Run the Jewels, Massive Attack, Kate Tempest, Pussy Riot and others performed there, as did two musicians billed simply as "local band." They turned out to be Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager, the singer and guitarist, respectively, of post-punk legends the Pop Group. Stewart shared his photographs of the event with Rolling Stone, along with his reflections on this unique and provocative experience.


Dismaland at Dawn

That was at dawn. After we played the gig with the Sleaford Mods and the Savages we just hung around. When Dismaland was empty it reminded me of Planet of the Apes and novelist J. G. Ballard. Dismaland repositioned a place we went to as kids. Weston-Super-Mare was a boring seaside resort on an estuary. It was the nearest seaside town to Bristol, which pumped raw sewage into the estuary. I remember being taken there when I was just out of nappies. My mother told me to paddle in the sea, and I could see turds floating past. For me, Dismaland was a temporary autonomous zone. And for Banksy to reclaim this derelict lido in the middle of Weston-Super-Mare is an art statement in itself.

Mark Stewart at Dismaland

Dismaland Security

When you walked into the bemusement park, you'd go through a cardboard security room with these fake guards. The employees were all really rude to you. Local kids were scattered around the site looking really bored. They were dressed a bit in that citizen-zombie idea we had on the last record and told to look at people with a zombie stare. When you left Dismaland it was even crazier. It was like emerging from a horror film, but you didn't feel any relief because it made everything look so much more real and brutal than before. It tore off the mask of civilization.

A Banksy piece at Dismaland

A Banksy

This is by Banksy, obviously. The art at Dismaland was a mixture of massive artists like Banksy and Damien Hirst, whose stuff sells for millions, and mad outsider guys who work in their sheds.

A Banksy Piece at Dismaland


The woman in this Banksy piece looks like my mum. [Laughs.] She lives in a similar seaside resort that's even quieter than Weston-Super-Mare; it's completely and utterly J. G. Ballard, like that Specials song, "Ghost Town." Every year there's something in the local paper about a local woman attacked by seagulls. That's the most exciting thing that happens. If you buy a bag of chips, it makes the seagulls go crazy. Weston is exactly the same as it was when I was a kid. It's a bit like Asbury Park in New Jersey. My mother was born two villages down the coast. When I told her which hotel we were staying in, she said my granddad cleaned that hotel's windows. Then he fell off the ladder and did his back in, which was the beginning of the family not having any money, because there was no social securities in those days.

Michael Beitz's 'Roll' and Mark Stewart at Dismaland

Michael Beitz’s ‘Roll’

That's the old world as seen by Michael Beitz. As I said during our performance, post-punk had an extraordinary effect. It globalized a generation into action. Groups sprung up around the world equipped with a new vocabulary, a new set of ethics and a sense of mission, creating jubilant manifestoes. . . . New iconoclasts will seize the day.

Peter Kennard's 'Shove'

Peter Kennard’s ‘Shove’

This graphic was done by one of the best artists since the Second World War, Peter Kennard, who I know from back in the day. Banksy's showing respect to earlier generations of artists by collecting people and protest posters from all over the world. In 20 or 30 years Dismaland is going to be seen as the definitive exhibition of engaged art.

Mark Stewart at Dismaland

Wasted Rita’s ‘Bankrupt Is the New Awesome’

[This] is by Wasted Rita, who puts up weird handmade Post-it notes. The good news is that Dismaland generated 20 million pounds for the Weston-Super-Mare community.

Jani Leinonen's 'Your dreams are my nightmares'

Jani Leinonen’s ‘Your dreams are my nightmares’

This Jani Leinonen piece sums up 2015 for me. It's about how a new kind of corrupted digital elite's dreams of riches are making utter no-go-zone nightmares for everybody in the world. Another one of his pieces said, "One day the poor will have nothing left to eat but the rich" in reclaimed advertising typefaces.


Riot Van

I remember going on family holidays as a teenager and being stuck in these weird "bemusement parks," as Banksy calls them. You'd be sitting with your family in this rundown kind of Nowheresville, getting drunk, and suddenly you'd start to piece together in your head how the world actually worked.

A Banksy piece at Dismaland

Killer Whale

That's by Banksy. Everyone had to sign a nondisclosure thing because Banksy was walking around and his anonymity is important to his art. They're taking a lot of the Dismaland structures to Calais in northern France, where refugees are gathering, because it's going to get freezing cold there.

Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager at Dismaland

Mark Stewart and Gareth Sager Bring the Noise

Our noise set was a provocation. It was a mad reading set to music: "When that dying howl of hunger blows down your door, lady spare a jewel. Bankrupt ideologies litter the dealing room floors. The flags of our fathers lie tattered and torn. The tortures, random beatings, crimes of hate rhetoric from the preachers of the perverted must stop. Class war is now scorched-earth policy, where they are raping the world's resources at the feast of Mammon and retreating to their crystal castles leaving your lands barren." It was like John Cooper Clarke meets Suicide. 

Mark Stewart at Dismaland

Mark Stewart

I was playing a dub siren, which lets off these siren noises in reggae sound systems. Jah Shaka uses one. I was going mad with it. It looks like a tobacco tin with a couple of knobs. That's what we were: a couple of knobs!

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