Low album coverWritten by: David Bowie
Recorded: September-November 1976
Producers: David Bowie, Tony Visconti

Released: 14 January 1977

Available on:
Low
Stage
Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78)

Personnel

David Bowie: piano, guitar, Chamberlin keyboard, pre-arranged percussion, synthetic strings
Brian Eno: Minimoog synthesizer, Chamberlin EMI
Tony Visconti: guitar
Eduard Meyer: cello

‘Art Decade’ was an instrumental piece on side two of David Bowie’s eleventh studio album Low.

The punning title referred to West Berlin, the isolated enclave of freedom and liberalism surrounded by Soviet-controlled East Germany.

‘Warszawa’ is about Warsaw and the very bleak atmosphere I got from that city. ‘Art Decade’ is West Berlin – a city cut off from its world, art and culture, dying with no hope of retribution. ‘Weeping Wall’ is about the Berlin Wall – the misery of it. And ‘Subterraneans’ is about the people that got caught in East Berlin after the separation – hence the faint jazz saxophones representing the memory of what it was.
David Bowie
Record Mirror, 24 September 1977

Low was completed in October and November 1976 at Hansa Tonstudio 1 in West Berlin. The final recordings were ‘Weeping Wall’, ‘Subterraneans’, and ‘Art Decade’.

Side Two was more an observation in musical terms: my reaction to seeing the East bloc, how West Berlin survives in the midst of it all, which was something I couldn’t express in words. Rather it required textures.
David Bowie
NME, 12 November 1977

Hansa’s in-house engineer Eduard Meyer played a cello on ‘Art Decade’. The part had been scored by Tony Visconti, who had intended to perform it until it transpired that Meyer was a classically-trained performer.

The ambient music on side two started the same day of the week two. A heavy residential click track machine was put to good use. All the tempi were on the slow side. There were no standard bars of music or even time signatures like 4/4 or 3/4. I was the designated ‘counter of clicks’ as we needed a numerical reference for each click, recording the numbers on a separate track. ‘Art Decade’ was the first track composed and recorded. In this case we used David’s Roland rhythm beat box with a Latin American dance pattern button pushed in (Habañera?). I played some ‘Harmonized’ electric guitar in the introduction. All the other sounds came from David’s Chamberlin (a more advanced Mellotron) and Brian’s EMS Synthi.
Tony Visconti, April 2017
A New Career In A New Town (1977–1982) book

The release

‘Sound And Vision’ was the first single released from Low, and was followed by ‘Be My Wife’.

‘Breaking Glass’ was issued as the third single in November 1978 in Australia, with ‘Art Decade’ on the b-side.

The Stage recording of ‘Breaking Glass’ was released as a single in November 1978 in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. The b-sides were live versions of ‘Art Decade’ and ‘Ziggy Stardust’.

Live performances

David Bowie performed ‘Art Decade’ throughout the Isolar II Tour in 1978.

‘What on earth can I do after ‘Ziggy’?’ he had wondered one day at rehearsal.

‘Have to be something to bring the energy right down you can’t top it,’ I said ‘How about ‘Art Decade’?’ And ‘Art Decade’ it now was with the strange coloured spotlights swinging round to discover the crowd. As they realised he could see them they jumped up, waving, hoping to catch his eye and a gentle little instrumental turned into a near-riot.

Sean Mayes
Life on Tour with Bowie

Performances from the tour can be heard on the live albums Stage and Welcome To The Blackout (Live London ’78).

‘Art Decade’ was revived during some dates of the Heathen Tour in 2002. David Bowie’s final performance of the track was, appropriately, on 22 September at the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin.

Previous song: ‘Warszawa’
Next song: ‘Weeping Wall’