Friday, January 22, 2021

Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95

by Neil Transpontine

[first published in Datacide: magazine for noise and politics, number 13, 2013]

It is now twenty years since the British government first announced that it was bringing in new laws to prevent free parties and festivals. The legislation that ended up as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prompted a mass movement of defiance with long lasting and sometimes unexpected consequences.

Many people would see the origins of the story in the Castlemorton free festival in May 1992. Thousands of people had headed into the English West Country in search of the planned Avon Free Festival. After a massive police initiative – Operation Nomad – they ended up at Castlemorton Common in the Malvern hills. The festival that kicked off there featured sound systems including Bedlam, Circus Warp, Spiral Tribe and DiY. It soon became too big for the police to stop as up to 40,000 people from all over the country gathered for a week long party – many of them attracted by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.


It was the biggest unlicensed gathering of this kind since the state had smashed the Stonehenge festival in the mid-1980s. What made Castlemorton different was not just the soundtrack but the crowd. The free festivals of the 1970s and early 1980s grew out of a post-hippy ‘freak’ counter culture, later reinvigorated with an infusion of anarcho-punks and ‘new age travelers’. The growing free party scene in the early 1990s included plenty of veterans from such scenes, but also attracted a much wider spectrum of ravers, clubbers and casuals. The traditional divide between marginal sub-cultures and mainstream youth scenes was breaking down as people from all kinds of social, cultural and style backgrounds converged to dance together in warehouses and fields. What’s more, the movement seemed to be expanding rapidly beyond anybody’s control.

Castlemorton, 1992

Soon there were calls for new police powers. In a parliamentary debate in June 1992, the local Conservative MP, Michael Spicer, spoke of the festival as if it had been a military operation, describing it as ‘the invasion that took place at Castlemorton common in my constituency, on Friday 22 May… On that day, new age travellers, ravers and drugs racketeers arrived at a strength of two motorised army divisions, complete with several massed bands and, above all, a highly sophisticated command and signals system’. He went on, ‘The problem of mass gatherings must be dealt with before they take place… chief constables should be given discretionary powers to ban such gatherings altogether if they decide that they are a threat to public order’.

In fact, there were already laws that the police could have used at Castlemorton, the problem was they were more or less unenforceable because of the sheer numbers involved. Another Conservative MP told parliament, ‘There is only so much that one can do once a crowd of 20,000 has assembled. It would have been of no benefit to local residents that May weekend if insensitive action had provoked a full-scale riot’ (Charles Wardle MP, 29 June 1992). As the Government put its mind to new legislation a key focus was on how to stop such numbers assembling in the first place.

In the meantime, it was by using existing laws that the state sought to make an example of people suspected of being involved in organising Castlemorton. At the end of the festival the police ambushed vehicles leaving the site. 13 people – most of them associated with Spiral Tribe – were arrested and charged with ‘conspiracy to cause a public nuisance’, carrying a likely jail sentence if convicted. Legal proceedings dragged on for nearly two years, until in March 1994, the jury acquitted all defendants of conspiracy after a ten week trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court. By that time Government actions seemed to show that it was the whole free party and festival movement that was in the frame.

The Government signaled its intention to bring in new powers against ‘raves’ in March 1993, and in November of that year confirmed that this would be included in a new Criminal Justice Bill with what a Government minister described as new ‘pre-emptive powers to prevent a build up of large numbers of people on land where the police reasonably believe that a rave will take place’ (Hansard, 23 November 1993)

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill was brought before Parliament in January 1994 and included increased police powers to stop and search people, and to take intimate body samples; provisions against squatters and travellers; and the criminalisation of many forms of protest with a new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’. And then there were the infamous ‘powers in relation to raves’. These included giving police the power to order people to leave land where they were setting up, awaiting or attending a ‘rave’, and to direct anybody within five miles of a rave away from the area. The police were also authorised to seize vehicles and sound systems before or during a rave.

Of course all this involved some tricky legal definitions – what made a ‘rave’ different from any other gathering of people where music was being played, such as an opera festival? Hence the notorious definition of a rave as ‘a gathering on land in the open air’ with music that ‘includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. Ironically by this point hardly anybody involved was still calling these events ‘raves’ – a word that already sounded dated was soon to become enshrined in law.

The movement against the Bill grew quickly out of the overlapping squatting, road protest and free party scenes. In October 1993, Advance Party was launched after a meeting in a squatted launderette in north London. As they declared soon after: ‘‘Unite to Dance! For the right of free assembly. Our music, our festivals, our parties, our lives… Enuff’s Enuff!. Defend the vibe against road blocks, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of rights, laws unfairly used, Criminal Trespass act, Anti-squatting laws, Caravan sites act, Public order act and general harassment and mass criminalisation… Join the Advance Party Collective” (Advance Party Information, Issue 1, February 1994).


If Advance Party was specifically linked to the free party scene, the Freedom Network sought to be a slightly broader network of ‘squatters, travellers, free party organisers, hunt sabs, road protestors etc’. By 1995, they said that they were made up on ‘80+ independent local groups who are trying to wake up their communities to the dangers of the Act’.

Around the UK, groups opposed to the Criminal Justice Bill came together. The scope of the movement is shown in ‘The Book’ a ‘directory of 200 active collectives in the UK’ published by Brighton activists in 1995. More than 60 groups were listed as having an ‘Anti-CJA’ focus (by this point ‘the Bill’ had become ‘the Act’ as it had passed into law). As well as the national contacts such as Advance Party and Freedom Network, numerous local collectives were included: Freedom Network local groups in Cheshire, Leeds, Lincoln, Manchester, Oxford and elsewhere; Campaign or Coalitions ‘Against the Criminal Justice Act’ in Dorset, Exeter, Hull, Isle of Wight, Leicester, Norfolk etc. North of the border the Scottish Defiance Alliance was made up of ‘over 30 different organisations from Glasgow’.

Freedom Network benefit gig at Cool Tan in Brixton, the squatted former dole office

In these early days of the internet, there was some information available online through Green Net and pHreak (an ‘underground culture’ online network). But these were very limited and few people had internet access. Written communication was still mainly by the old methods of print, paper and post. Important sources of information included Squall: Magazine for Assorted Itinerants and the various local Free Information Network newsletters. There were various zines including Pod (‘the magazine for DIY culture’), Frontline and later Schnews, developed in Brighton as a weekly printed round up of resistance to the Act once it had become law. There was also coverage in Alien Underground, predecessor zine to Datacide.

Another medium of information was ‘video magazines’ featuring footage of protests and related news, such as Undercurrents (based in Oxford), Conscious Cinema (Brighton) and Hackney based HHH, who put out a ‘Criminal Injustice Bill’ special in 1994.

But it was primarily through the network of underground parties, clubs and gigs that news of the CJA spread through stalls, leaflets and word of mouth. In 1994, it seemed that virtually every party flyer had an anti-CJA slogan on it, and there were numerous benefit events.

Squatted spaces were important as bases of opposition, some short-lived and some lasting for months or longer. CJB activists initiated the six week occupation of Artillery Mansions, a 3,000 room empty building in Westminster first squatted in February 1994 (nicknamed ‘New Squatland Yard’ because of its proximity to the Metropolitan Police HQ at New Scotland Yard). Cool Tan, a squatted ex-unemployed office in Brixton, hosted many anti-CJA benefit parties, as well as housing the office for the Freedom Network. In North London, there was the Rainbow Centre in a squatted church in Kentish Camden Town, and in Brighton, the Justice? Collective squatted a Courthouse. In Oxford, riot police evicted an occupied empty cinema within 24 hours of it being squatted by anti-CJA activists in August 1994; 200 people later demonstrated in the city centre against police actions (Squall, Autumn 1994). There were also CJB ‘protest squats’ in Swansea (a church hall), Rugby and elsewhere.

Also significant were the big free festivals still taking place in London parks, linked to the squatting scene but having permission from Councils to party for a weekend: not pseudo-free festivals behind big fences with lots of private security, but proper sprawling mildy-chaotic events with sound systems, dance tents and lots of bands. Two of the biggest were the Deptford Urban Free Festival and the Hackney Homeless Festival. Up to 30,000 people attended the latter in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington in May 1994 with acts including anti-CJA bands such as The Levellers, Co-Creators, Fun-Da-Mental and Back to the Planet. 30 people were arrested later after riot police piled in after the festival outside the Robinson Crusoe pub.

There were several anti-CJA music compilations, notably ‘Taking Liberties’. With a cover design by Jamie Reid, it featured acts including Transglobal Underground, Orbital, Test Dept, The Orb, The Shamen, The Prodigy, Galliano and DreadZone. A house tracks compilation ‘No Repetitive Beats’ was also put out. Autechre released their Anti-EP on Warp Records with a message declaring that two of the tracks ‘contain repetitive beats. We advise you not to play these tracks if the Criminal Justice Bill becomes law. “Flutter” has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played under the proposed new law. However, we advise DJs to have a lawyer and a musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment’



While all this was going on the police were certainly not waiting around for new powers. There was to be no repeat of Castlemorton – the following year (1993), a massive police operation was mounted to stop an attempt to hold an Avon Free Festival, culminating in a police road block that closed the M5 motorway – ’12 people were arrested for Blocking the Highway – exactly what the law had been doing earlier on’ (Festival Eye, 1993). In the South of England, police established Operation Snapshot to gather intelligence on parties, festivals and travellers, with the Southern Central Intelligence Unit maintaining a database with personal details and vehicle registration numbers of thousands of people. The Luton-based Exodus Collective also faced an ongoing campaign of official harassment. In February 1994, a police seizure of equipment and arrest of collective members prior to a planned party led to 4,000 people surrounding the local police station.

If all this fuelled a culture of opposition to the Criminal Justice Act, its public presence was marked by a series of three large demonstrations in London in 1994. The first major event was called by Advance Party on May Day 1994. Around 20,000 people took part: ‘all those involved in the alternative culture, ravers, protestors, squatters, travellers and all sorts, came together… it was a jubilant display of people power’. It started off in Hyde Park and ended in Trafalgar Square: ‘Eventually the armoured vehicle rave machine kicked in and the whole square erupted into dance and party’ (Frontline, No.1, Summer 1995). After the demo, sound systems including Sunnyside, Vox Populi and Desert Storm (whose armoured vehicle had been in the Square) put on a party in woodland on Wanstead Common in East London.

The second demonstration took the same route on Sunday 24 July with estimates of the numbers attending ranging from 20,000 (police) to 50,000 (organisers). Politically there were a number of tensions – the established Left, the Socialist Workers Party in particular, had woken up to the emerging movement. Their organisational skills may have helped increase the turnout, but some complained that something that was fresh and creative was being funnelled back into the traditional routine of A to B marches with speeches at the end. 

Still, it certainly didn’t feel like a traditional demo at the end. Trafalgar Square once again became a big party, with people playing in the fountains on a sunny day, lots of drumming and some music from the then ubiquitous Rinky Dink cycle powered sound system. There were clashes with police in Whitehall, after some people tried to scale the gates guarding the entrance to Downing Street. Police on horseback charged the crowd there, and 14 people were arrested.

The largest march against the Criminal Justice Bill took place on October 9th 1994 shortly before it became law. Perhaps 100,000 people took part, this time ending up in Hyde Park. Trouble started after police tried to block two lorries with sound systems entering the park:

‘A big crowd was gathered around dancing in the streets and refusing to be intimidated. There were people on top of a bus stop and at one point a couple of people even climbed on top of a police van and started dancing. The police put on riot gear, a few missiles were thrown, and somebody let off some gas, but after a standoff it was the cops that backed down and let the trucks carry on. The lorries headed off into the park with the crowd partying on and around them. People pulled police barriers across the road behind the crowd to prevent the police horses who were following from charging into us’ (The Battle for Hyde Park: radicals, ruffians and ravers, 1855-1994).

'The Battle for Hyde Park: ruffians, radicals and ravers, 1855-1994'
(written by me as part of previous Practical History project)

Police horses charged the crowd but were driven back out of the park. For several hours the park was a largely police-free autonomous party zone, while at the edges police launched baton charges and were repelled with bottles and sticks. Many people were injured on the day, and 48 arrested. Later the police launched “Operation Greystoke” to identify and arrest more of those involved, and the courts ordered the press to hand over film and photos to the police.

Right wing newspaper the Daily Mail carried the headline: ‘Revolt of the Ravers’ going on to report that the ‘flashpoint came when thugs opposed to legislation against raves tried to turn the park into a giant party’ and warning readers of ‘The ravers who call the tune- behind a front of legitimate protest, the underground party organisers who have spread misery throughout the country – music that became a rallying cry for violence’ (Daily Mail, 10 and 11 October 1994).

Within the movement there was a polarised debate about violence that became characterised as ‘Fluffy’ vs. ‘Spiky’ or ‘Chill the Bill’ vs ‘Kill the Bill’. Leaflets from the fluffier faction repeatedly urged people to ‘keep it sweet, keep it right, remember this is a peaceful fight’. One activist later reflected: ‘We wasted a lot of time feeling forced to pick between two equally-badly-defined boxes… Either you were a ‘fluffy’ and all that implied: you’d gladly lie down and let the police ride their horses over you… Or you were ‘spiky’: hard as nails and twice as loud…threw things from the back of the crowd and managed to injure or just offend most of your fellow demonstrators’ (Schnews at Ten, 2004). If there were certainly some very naïve ideas about how good vibes could sway the powers that be, it was also true that many more traditional ‘revolutionaries’ were out of their comfort zone in the unpredictable arena of techno-charged collective sociability and found it hard to conceive of escalation beyond the usual horizon of set piece confrontations with the cops.

The Act finally became law in November 1994 – the next day, five people climbed on to the roof of Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament and unfurled a ‘Defy the CJA’ banner. Later in the month several hundred people protested in Home Secretary Michael Howard’s front garden in Folkestone, Kent (Schnews, 23 November 1994).

At the end of that month, the police evicted the squatted Claremont Road in East London, preparing the way for the houses to be demolished as part of the M11 motorway development. A TV programme covering the police’s ‘Operation Garden Party’ included the classic line: ‘Claremont Road was notorious among locals for its psychedelia, squatters and new age travellers. But everyone living in this time-warped street of the 60s knew the rave had to end sometime’.

Hunt saboteurs and road protestors were soon being arrested for the new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’, but it was not until April 1995 that all the anti-rave powers came into full effect. Soon the powers were being used. In May, the first seizure of equipment took place when police broke up a party on a traveller site in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk. Road blocks were set up to turn people away, and vehicles and equipment were seized from Cheba City Sounds, Virus and Giba sound systems (Schnews, 12 May 1995).

By this point there were different views about how to proceed. With the political process seemingly exhausted, many of the sound systems took the view that it was time to get back to basics. Pulling together under the umbrella of United Systems ‘the International Free Party Network’, they argued: ‘Free parties, and gatherings, along with the right to attend a free celebration, will not be saved by political campaigns, by TV chatshows, by magazine articles, by speech makers or celebrity appearances. Nor by flyers, newsletters, posters or stickers. Only free parties can save free parties!!! Only by the continued ‘input’ into our culture may our culture survive’.

In Spring ‘95, they reported ‘Every single weekend, without fail, since the enstatement of the act a huge party has gone on, without interruption from the law. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes seven soundsystems. A brand new wave of enthusiasm has swept the country as ‘every posse and crew out there’ has said ‘fuck it’’.


In this climate, an effort was made to organise a festival on a similar scale to Castlemorton as an act of mass defiance. The 7/7 ‘Mother’ of all festivals was widely publicised in advance and the police were determined to prevent it, co-ordinating action across the country with helicopters and road blocks. On the weekend of July 7th 1995, they carried out dawn raids on the houses of people believed to be involved in organising the party, including Debbie from United Systems and Michele from Advance Party, and charged eight people with ‘conspiracy to cause a public nuisance’ (charges later dropped). They used Section 60 of the new CJA to set up five mile exclusion zones around potential festival sites at Corby (Northants), Sleaford (Lincs.), and Smeatharpe (Devon). They also seized and later destroyed the sound system belonging to Black Moon, a free party collective based at Buxton, Derbyshire. Three people were prosecuted under Section 63 of the CJA for failing to dismantle the rig quick enough, the first arrests under this part of the Act.

Thousands of people took to the roads in search of the festival, and despite the efforts of the police several smaller parties did happen, including at Grafham (where over 1,000 people partied) and at Steart Beach near Hinckley Point in Dorset where 150 vehicles managed to gather. But there were to be no more big, unlicensed free festivals and there haven’t been since.

Twenty years later the police are still making use of their ‘anti-rave’ powers, but nevertheless free parties are still happening all over the country. For a start, the Act only ever covered parties in the open air, not those in buildings. Open air parties in remote areas still go ahead because they are unreported, or because the police cannot mobilise the resources to close them down. Clearing even a few hundred people from a beach or field in the middle of the night is still not easy.

The Act had some unintended consequences, perhaps chiefly in uniting large parts of a generation against the Government. In September 1994, Brighton’s Justice? wrote an open letter to Home Secretary Michael Howard: ‘We are writing to thank you for the positive effect the Criminal Justice Act has had on our community. Your attempt to criminalise our culture has unified it like never before… Your inspiration has made us work closer together. Networking is happening across the nation – Road Protestors and Ravers, Gay Rights Activists and Hunt Saboteurs, Travellers and Squatters and many more’.

One result of this unity was the development of new tactics. After the ‘Battle of Hyde Park’, the Metropolitan Police paper The Job warned ’The business of allowing large, mobile sound systems in political demonstrations is a serious new problem that we will have to deal with’ (October 14, 1994). The practice of combining sound systems with protest was soon to be taken to the next level by Reclaim the Streets.

Their first big party took place in Camden High Street in May 1995, where 1,000 blocked the road and partied. But it was the ‘Rave Against the Machine’ on 23 July 1995 that really upped the ante with a sound system in an armoured car and thousands of people dancing on an occupied Upper Street in Islington. The anti-capitalist/alter-globalisation movement that developed over the rest of the decade had its roots in the anti-CJA campaign, culminating in the huge ‘Carnival Against Capital’ in June 1999 where the pounding of sound systems accompanied riotous scenes in the financial heart of the City of London.

Another effect of the repression of festivals and free parties in the UK was their spread on continental Europe, the virus transported by sound systems leaving Britain – some for long periods, some just for a break in sunnier and less hassled environments. Spiral Tribe had first headed to France in the aftermath of Castlemorton and in the summer of ’94 they were joined by others who collectively detonated the ‘Teknival’ explosion. In Milau in the South East of France, Spiral Tribe, Bedlam, Circus Irritant and Desert Storm were among the UK systems joined by local crews such as Nomad and Psychiatrik. In August, the largest Teknival so far took place in the hills of the Massif Central, brought there by 200 vehicles. The first Czech teknival took place that summer too, and at the end of the year there was a New Year’s Eve event in Vienna (Frontline, Summer 1995). Soon enough the authorities in some of these countries were framing their own new laws, but once again the genie was out of the bottle and could never completely be put back in.

There was some paranoia in the mid-1990s that the Criminal Justice Act was just the start of a more generalised offensive against dance music that would soon close down clubs as well as free parties. But this was not to be. Instead the CJA had the effect of strengthening the commercial clubbing sector as people were driven indoors to places licensed by the state for dancing – even if some of them were run hand in glove with gangsters! Mainstream dance music publication Mixmag (Jan. ’97) was to look back on 1996 as the year ‘Everything Went Nuclear’, as corporate superclubs expanded their brand, superstar DJ fees went through the roof, and huge commercial festivals like Tribal Gathering took off.

Recently UK business magazine the Economist reported ‘raving is back, but in a calmer, more mainstream form… From the Teddy Boys to the Sex Pistols, British popular music history is full of examples of edgy outsiders who horrified the establishment, then, not much later, dominated it. Rave, it seems, has taken its place in that pantheon’ (The new ravers: repetitive beats, 17 August 2013). Whether the emancipatory potential of beats and bass has really been exhausted remains to be seen, but the Criminal Justice Act of the mid-1990s was certainly a key turning point for everyone involved.

Back copies of Datacide, including this one, can be ordered here

Neil Transpontine (2013) 'Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95' in Datacide: magazine for noise and politics, 13. https://history-is-made-at-night.blogspot.com/2021/01/revolt-of-ravers-movement-against.html

This article was published (without pictures) in Datacide magazine, number 13, 2013. A version of it has been up on their website for some time but facebook is not currently allowing links from that site to be posted. For that reason I have decided to repost it at this site. 

I gave a talk based on this article for the Datacide 13 launch event held at Vinyl in Deptford in October 2013. The article also served as the starting point for an event on the anti-CJA movement held at the May Day Rooms in October 2014.

See also on the CJA:

Marching against the CJA, July 1994

Eternity report of July 1994 anti-CJA demo

Friday, December 04, 2020

Everybody is a Star! - Disconaut Association of Autonomous Astronauts (numbers one and two)

Once upon a time I was Neil Disconaut, with my partner Juleigh Disconaut we constituted the Disconaut node of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1995-2000). The premise of the AAA was a global network committed to the state and corporate monopoly of space through the development of community-based space exploration programmes. Activities included music (raves in space), three sided football, talks, writing, protests and some actual engagement with space researchers. There were groups in England, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Holland, Austria, Canada, USA, New Zealand among other places, each with their own particular interests. Within this network, Disconaut AAA focused on dance music as a vehicle for space exploration. 

Everybody is a Star! was the newsletter of Disconaut AAA, of which four photocopied issues were produced between 1996 and 1999. Here's issues One and Two.

Everybody is a Star! Number One, Winter 1996/97


Disconauts are go! 

Forget Apollo, NASA and the Space Shuttle... the most exciting explorations of space in the last 30 years have been carried out through music.

Emerging on the radical fringes of jazz in the 1950s, Sun Ra (1914-1993) and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra  (as his band was later known) set the space vibe in motion with interstellar explorations like “Space Jazz Reverie”, “Love in Outer Space”,  “Disco 3000" and the film “Space is the place” .

Described by one critic as a “comic strip version of Sun Ra”, George Clinton developed his own funky cosmic Afronaut mythology in the 1970s through his work with Funkadelic and Parliament. For instance the album “Mothership Connection” (1975) is based around the concept of aliens visiting earth to take the funk back to their own planet.

Sun Ra and Clinton’s work can be read as a sort of sci-fi take on Marcus Garvey. While Garvey dreamt of Black Star Liners shipping black people from slavery across the ocean to an African utopia, they leave the planet behind altogether.

Space continued to be a preoccupation during the 1970s disco boom. Derided by rock critics for its lack of serious content, disco had a distinct utopian element. In disco, the intensity of pleasure on the dancefloor was reimagined as an ideal for living rather than just a Saturday night release.  The implicit fantasy was of a “Boogie Wonderland” where music, dancing and sex were organising principles, rather than work and the economy. “Lost in music, feel so alive, I quit my nine to five” as Sister Sledge put it.

In the unpromising social climate of the 1970s, this wonderland was sometimes projected into space. Earth, Wind and Fire (who recorded Boogie Wonderland) combined elements of Egyptology and sci-fi with albums like “Head for the Sky” (1973) and All n All (1977) with its cover pic of a rocket taking off from a pyramid. In the late 1970s there was a rash of space themed disco hits like  Sheila B. Devotion’s “Spacer” and Slick’s “(Everybody goes to the) Space base” (1979), the latter imagining the space base as disco and social centre rather than military-industrial installation.

Some of these space records can be viewed as simple cash-ins on the popularity of Star Wars and similar films of this period, but was there something deeper going on? While the sale of disco records reaped big profits for the record companies, the logic of the dancefloor was potentially at odds with the society of domination. On the floor, pleasure was elevated above the puritan work ethic and hierarchies of class, race, gender and sexuality were (sometimes) dissolved.

Discos (like today’s dance spaces) could have been the launchpad for explorations of different worlds on earth and beyond, powered by the Dance Disco Heat energy generated on the floor.  In this light the disco icon par excellence, the glittering mirror ball, has to be re-evaluated. Detailed archaeological investigations of the alignment of these spheres of light suspended high above the dancefloor will doubtless reveal that they were installed to equip dancers with a rudimentary astronomical knowledge to help them find their way around the universe.

 

They never reached the moon!

The Apollo ‘moon landings’ between 1969 and 1972 are presented by NASA as the highest point of the space programme, and as a model for all future adventures. In reality nothing better demonstrates why it is unfit to explore anything more exciting than the inside of the Science Museum.

A favourite question for conspiracy theorists worldwide is whether the moon landings actually happened or whether the whole thing was faked in a TV studio like in the film Capricorn One. If we give NASA the benefit of the doubt and allow that it may have sent a rocket somewhere it is clear that they never reached the moon, or at least not the moon as it has been known through the ages.

This was not the moon of heretics, pagans, lovers or night-time revellers. The moon of tides, madness, goddesses, rituals of drink, drugs and dancing. Neil Armstrong and his mates did not have the imagination for the kind of space travel needed to reach this moon. All they were able to reach was a lump of rock somewhere - possibly in orbit, possibly in New Mexico somewhere.

How did they mark the momentous occasion of the first landing on July 21 1969? The first thing they did was plant an American flag like it was just another piece of imperial real estate. By 1969 there were very few places left in the world where it was safe to do so. Losing the war in Vietnam and with flags burning everywhere else, perhaps the whole space programme was an attempt to find a place where the Stars and Stripes could fly unmolested.

The Apollo 14 ‘moonlanding’ in 1971 witnessed another amazing leap of fantasy and imagination when Alan Shepard became the world’s first lunar golfer. Billions of pounds and years of effort culminated in the staging of the first lunar open. All over the world, people are being uprooted and ecosystems bulldozed to build golf courses, sanitised homogenous outdoor playgrounds for the rich. Judging by the Apollo programme a similar fate awaits the whole universe if NASA have their way.

The Apollo programme shows that no matter how many miles NASAnauts may travel they will never get anywhere because in their heads they will still be in the suburbs of white middle class america, travelling across the universe opening golf courses and fly-through Macdonalds.

 


My day in Space

“I wanted to dance as I had never yet danced: I wanted to dance beyond all heavens” (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra)

In the summer of 1995 I had the pleasure of spending a day in Space. Thousands of people from all over the world have journeyed to Space in recent years. This legendary dance club in Ibiza provides an excellent illustration of the possibilities and limitations of dance cultures as a means of leaving this world behind.

Clubs in Britain tend to be confined indoors at night. Space turns this on its head, opening in the day and with an outside dancefloor. We turned up at about 11 am after a very pleasant breakfast of coffee, croissants and speed. Some people had come straight from a hard night’s dancing elsewhere, many of them crashed out on cushions in the corner or on wicker chairs on the outside terrace. Much of Ibiza is Brit-dominated, but here there was a better mix of nationalities and sexualities than on the Starship Enterprise.

The ceiling inside the dark interior of the club is decorated with stars - a map of our destination? Further evidence of the club’s potential is found on the edge of the outside dancefloor, where there are several giant propellers. People danced in front of them to keep cool, but there is little doubt that as well functioning as air conditioning fans these machines could be used as starting motors to help propel Space into space.

The music was wall to wall anthems, like Todd Terry’s Weekend and, the Hardfloor remix of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke. The atmosphere never reached fever pitch, but there was an intimation of that feeling - the disordering of the senses, waves of noise and light flowing over and through the body... That feeling in the centre of the floor, where the outside world has already been left behind and it is easy to believe that the whole place could take off and never come back.

In view of this potential it is not surprizing that the state takes various measures to contain dancing and prevent us reaching the stars.

In many countries only approved businessmen get permission to run clubs. The high prices they charge - some clubs in Ibiza charge £30 a ticket, with small bottles of water costing £3 a bottle in Space - effectively rations dancing, limiting the amount of time people spend dancing, and the amount of people dancing at any one time. The hours people can dance are confined, by rules which state that clubs have to shut at particular times. Within the clubs enemy agents patrol to sabotage preparations for flight - in Space the security wore police style uniforms and patrolled with truncheons.

Above all great efforts have been expended to prevent people dancing under the stars themselves, the ideal conditions for spaceflight. In the UK It is virtually impossible to get official permission to dance outside at night, and non-commercial parties have been targeted by legislation such as the Criminal Justice Act.

Ibiza is different to Britain in that people can and do dance all day and all night (if they can afford it) , and the normal relations of night, day, work and play are suspended. But this is confined as a temporary holiday experience, which most people only experience for a week or two.

All this prevents the energy generated on the dancefloor from reaching the critical mass necessary for space flight, as well as preventing a terminal drain of the energy needed to sustain the global system of profit, production and domination.

It was for this reason that on this occasion Space failed to take off and on leaving the club we found ourselves wandering down a beautiful beach in the sun rather than walking on the moon. Still it definitely beat the Holloway Road at 4 am...

Disconaut AAA

AAA was launched in April 1995 as a non-hierarchical network of local, community-based space exploration programmes. Here Comes Everybody!, the first annual report of the AAA, details some of the activities of the many AAA groups worldwide (available for £2.50 from Inner City AAA, BM Jed, London WC1N 3XX).

Disconaut AAA (c/o Practical History, 121 Railton Road, London SE24) will be focusing on developing the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.  Everybody is a star! is named after a 1979 track by Sylvester (1946-1988), also responsible for such otherworld explorations as "Dance Disco Heat", "Do you wanna funk" and "You make me feel mighty real".

[original printed on white paper, 4 pages A5. Just to be clear, we never subscribed to the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked - the article 'They never reached the moon' was a play on Leonard Cohen's 'they'll never ever reach the moon, At least not the one that we're after'. The physical moon was reached but not the one of imagination]

Everybody is a Star! Number Two, Summer 1997


Take a dancing flight

Exactly 30 years after NASA launched the Apollo space programme, Disconaut AAA  has unveiled its own Dionysus Programme.

When Apollo One caught fire on the launch pad in 1967 it marked the start of  the US government's biggest ever space effort. But why Apollo? If pagan deities was the name of the game there were plenty of others to choose from. To answer this we have to turn to Fred Nietzsche, 19th century German philosopher and dance enthusiast.

In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche identified two antagonistic cultural tendencies with the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo was associated with restraint, control, order and rationality. The rituals of Dionysus on the other hand involved music, passion, wine, intoxication, and the dissolving of boundaries.

As part of the military industrial complex, seeking to extend the control of the imperial order through the conquest of space, NASA’s programme could only be the Apollonian. The Dionysus Programme has been launched in direct opposition to Apollo and its successors, to put into practice Disconaut AAA's mission to explore the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.

The starting point for the Dionysus Programme is Nietzsche’s description of “the glowing life of the Dionysian revellers”: "In song and in dance man [sic] expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak; he is about to take a dancing flight into the air... He feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy... He is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art". Phew, all this without MDMA.

Disconaut AAA are attempting to apply this insight into the links between dance, ecstasy and flight as we leave the twentieth century. For some years experiments have been carried out in a global network of underground laboratories of pleasure. We can now report some of our preliminary findings:

The Dionysus Programme has accumulated extensive evidence of near-flight experiences on the dancefloor. Participants typically report sensations of 'rushing', of accelerating velocity, of the body tracing a line of flight and of leaving behind 'the real world' and establishing a direct connection with the wider universe. There are clear parallels here with the effects on the body and the euphoric feelings of escaping gravity associated with 'lift off' by more traditional means.

In the Dionysus Programme we have tried to break the tyranny of liquid-fuel rocket propulsion and to identify alternative fuel sources and means of transport. In the process we have experimented with a range of easily ingested chemicals, some of them derived from plants, others artificially manufactured. These substances have contributed some invaluable insights and certainly have a role, particularly in maintaining the stamina needed for long flights.  However we have to report that several of our experimental human probes which were successfully blasted beyond the atmosphere with chemical propulsion quickly crashed down to earth and vanished without trace, while others are now drifting aimlessly in space circumscribing ever decreasing circles around their own navels.

The Dionysus Programme has conducted a whole range of tests with extremely high tempo electronic sounds. Our hypothesis was that a continual acceleration in beats per minute would enable us to reach earth's escape velocity and take off. Unfortunately after prolonged uninterrupted exposure to these tests the ship began to break up and several participants showed signs of exhaustion and in some cases nausea.  Future experiments will attempt to reduce the risk of side effects by introducing greater variety and rhythmic complexity.

Ill-fitting space suits have been an ongoing problem in the Dionysus Programme. A major difficulty has been the rigid masculine character armour which even some potential astronauts seem unable to discard. Dance cultures provide a space where it is possible to escape the confines of a fixed identity and explore a range of subjectivities and possibilities. Sadly a lot of men in particular seem afraid to appear as anything other than cool, serious and controlled. Clearly this is incompatible with the flexibility required in space. Disconaut AAA are developing fun fur and sequin space suits to help overcome this.

The present efforts of the Dionysus Programme are geared towards the Dreamtime project, through which AAA groups around the world are imagining what life will be like in autonomous communities in space. Dance settings provide a unique opportunity for collective dreaming, not the passive dreams of sleep but the visions of the lived body in perfect motion.

Here we are not only able to think about life in space, but to feel what it will be like to live in an autonomous community. Nietzsche described this sensation: “Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man [and woman]  reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.... Now the slave is free; now all the stubborn, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice or ‘shameless fashion’ have erected between man and man, are broken down… Each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, blended with his neighbour, but all as one with him".

By creating autonomous zones in our own parties on earth we can create conditions that prefigure autonomous communities in space. To do this we have to neutralize the negative effects of various black holes which suck energy out of dance cultures, such as commercial promoters and the police. This will be the focus of the next stage of the Dionysus Programme.





Spice in space

“When you go and see a careers officer,” ponders Mel C, “and you sit down and say, “I want to be a spaceman”, instead of responding ‘Go study astrophysics’, they go. ‘Yeah, but what do you really want to do?’ That is so wrong” (Spice Girls, Guardian, May 1997)

Stay up forever

In 'Voyage to the Moon' (1649), Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac described an attempt to reach the Moon by tying bottles of dew to the body. The idea was that when the Sun came out, the dew would rise, taking the body with it. On the face of it, this looks unlikely but the nocturnal nature of the Dionysus Programme should make it comparatively easy to test. We will need:

- a large green open space for dew maximisation;

- proximity to a site of astro-magical significance at a summer solstice (when the sun's energy is at its height);

- several thousand people prepared to stay up all night and still have the energy to fly at dawn;

- at least one sound system.

 After a night of dancing, participants will roll in the long grass, covering their bodies in a fine suit of dew. They will then join hands and dance in a circle as the sun rises, waiting to take off.

Stonehenge on June 21st has been chosen as the ideal location. Unfortunately there are indications that the state will attempt to sabotage the Dionysus Programme by seeking to prevent this experiment, so all potential astronauts are warned to be ready to defend themselves.

Disconaut AAA

The Association of Autonomous Astronauts is a non-hierarchical network of local, community-based space exploration programmes. Dreamtime is upon us, the second annual report of the AAA is available for £3.00 from Inner City AAA, BM Jed, London WC1N 3XX.

Everybody is a star! is the newsletter of Disconaut AAA (c/o Practical History, 121 Railton Rd, London SE24). Issue one is still available with articles on Disco, Ibiza and the Moon. If you want a copy send an SAE. 

In issue No.1 we outlined the links between dance music, radical utopianism and space exploration. We have since become aware of other publications interested in these connections.

· Ego magazine (80a St Augustines Road, London NW1 9RP) includes an article Space is the Place which considers funky futurism in the work of Herbie Hancock, Juan Atkins, the Jedi Knights and many others.

· Rickey Vincent’s excellent history Funk: the music, the people and the rhythm of the one (New York, 1996) devotes a whole section to George Clinton and “The metaphysics of P: the Mothership Connection”

[original printed on green paper, 4 pages A5]

'Disconauts are go!' was later reprinted in 'Dreamtime is Upon Us! The Second Annual Report of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts' (1997).


Previous AAA posts:

Mission accomplished but the beat goes on: the Fantastic Voyage of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts

Summer Solstice 1999: AAA on Parliament Hill

Military out of space - AAA at J18 Carnival Against Capital 1999

AAA at Brixton Reclaim the Streets 1998

Skinheads as Independent Travellers in Space

We were brought up on the space race, now they expect us to clean toilets


Other AAA archive material:

AAA Archive (ex-Parasol AAA)

Uncarved AAA archive 



Saturday, November 28, 2020

Reclaim the Streets: Bristol and Oxford 1997

A couple of reports from Mixmag magazine of Reclaim the Streets parties  in 1997-

'Police Seize Desert Storm Truck After Reclaim the Streets Party' (Mixmag. August 1997)

'A truck and equipment belonging to the Desert Storm sound system was seized and two of its occupants charged with conspiracy to cause a public nuisance after a Reclaim the Streets party in Bristol on June 21st. An exuberant-yet-peaceful march from Castle Park was followed by a four hour rave on a major dual carriageway with two sound system playing techno and jungle to between 400 (police estimate) and 1500 (RTS estimate) people... 

...trouble flared when mounted officers and dog handlers dispersed the remaining crowd. In the ensuing scuffles, 22 people were arrested for public order offences, criminal damage and assault... The Desert Storm truck was seized the following day, and the sound system is currently planning a series of benefit parties to replace its loss'.


'Reclaim the Streets party strikes in Oxford' (Mixmag, January 1998)

'Police have failed to stop an Oxford Reclaim the Streets party despite ugly clashes... protestors outflanked police and occupied the busy Cowley Road area on November 1st [1997]. A series of clashes arose as police attempted to seize a van containing the KSN sound system, but eventually police had to admit defeat and let the party continue. A five mile exclusion zone had been declared under 1994's Criminal Justice Act. Inspector David Whittaker said that his original intention had been to "prevent an obstruction of the road" but they had "obviously failed". According to RTS estimates, more than 1,000 people danced at the peak of the party. Three men were arrested for possession of cannabis... In Sydney, Australia, police adopted a more laidback approach as Enmore Road was blocked - and between 2,000 and 3,000 enjoyed a trouble-free day' 

See also:

Brixton Reclaim the Streets, June 1998

J18 Carnival Against Capital, Reclaim the Streets 1999

 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Ultimate Leisure Workers Club

The Ultimate Leisure Workers Club is an interesting project based in Vilnius in Lithuania focused around the radical politics of clubs and parties:

'Insurgent workers’ minds and bodies turned u on dance-floors long ago, anticipating their liberation from the factory's mechanistic discipline. Clubs were sites that integrated political education and entertainment; social recovery and antagonistic social articulation. Then arrived the weekend, ripe with evening temptations, as both a working class victory and a bargain with capital for an ever more dutiful submission to the pains of the working week. Whether mere toxic retreats into a world of purchased pleasures serviced by instrumentalized hospitality workers; or as maddening aspirations toward collective self-abolition in the crushing beat of capitalist ruins, spaces of nightly leisure are energized by a social desire for what Kristin Ross calls communal luxury: a communistic drive for collective prosperity that capitalism recuperates and exploits.

The Ultimate Leisure Workers' Club hopes to draw from these political potentials, linking up with groups and individuals involved in the struggle to open new terrains for social liberation and communal joy in the night and beyond'.

They are holding an online assembly next week, and as part of it me and Christoph will be giving a talk:

The Club is the Centre of the Invention of New Needs: Dead by Dawn, 30 Nov 2020, 19h (UTC+2)

'Neil Transpontine and Christoph Fringeli will discuss the seminal Dead by Dawn parties held between (1994-1996) at the squatted 121 Centre at Railton Road Brixton. Crossing self-publishing, visual and sonic experimentation, exploratory theory, social spaces, new communications technologies and the emergence of ludic and networked politics, the Dead by Dawn parties were a catalyst for exploring a leisure time clawed back from the social compulsion to labour.

Christoph is the founder of Praxis Records and the editor of Datacide magazine for noise and politics. He was part of the collective responsible for Dead by Dawn. Neil Transpontine attended Dead by Dawn and has written about it for his blog History is Made at Night. He is a regular contributor to Datacide magazine'

Other speakers include Annie Goh, Kristin Ross, Agne Bagdzunaite, Mattin, Noah Bremer, Arnoldas Stramskas and Valda Stepanovaite. Full details here


For previous posts about Dead by Dawn see:

Dead by Dawn, Brixton 1994-6

More Dead by Dawn

Monday, October 26, 2020

Protest and Survive- CND reborn, October 1980

The massive October 1990 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament 'Protest and Survive' demonstration in London represented the rebirth of the 'Ban the Bomb' movement that had been largely dormant since its previous high point in the 1960s. The reason for this revival was that nuclear war was once again seeming a real possibility as the Cold War began to hot up. 

In 1979 Russian forces had entered Afghanistan in support of the beleaguered  pro-soviet government. The ascendancy of the new right to power in Britain and the USA saw a cranking up of anti-Russian rhetoric from Thatcher and Reagan, soon to be followed up with the deployment of a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe.

The British Government's publication of its 'Protect and Survive' booklet in May 1980 only made the nuclear nightmare more tangible, with its absurd advice for turning your home into a fall out shelter amidst nuclear war. This was parodied by EP Thompson in his 'Protest and Survive' pamphlet published by CND shortly afterwards.


'We must protest if we are to survive. Protest is the only realistic form of civil defence. We must generate an alternative logic, an opposition at every level of society. This opposition must be international and it must win the support of multitudes' (E.P. Thompson, Protest and Survive, 1980)

Photomontage artist Peter Kennard produced a memorable image of a skeleton reading the Government publication as well as designing the leaflet/poster for the demonstration set for 26th October 1980.



I was at sixth form and with a group of friends that year had set up Luton Peace Campaign (soon to be Luton Nuclear Disarmament Campaign) which quickly grew to having over 100 members. Similar groups were springing up all over the country. We organised a couple of coach loads to go to London for the march and were amazed at the turn out, variously estimated as between 50,000 (the police) and 100,000 (Socialist Organiser). For the first time I had a real sense of how the efforts of small groups of people meeting in pubs and kitchens could coalesce into a mass social movement.

As reported in the Daily Mirror (27 October 2020):

'Britain’s ban the bomb movement was reborn yesterday with a massive show of strength. More than 60,000 demonstrators jammed London streets for the biggest nuclear disarmament rally in 17 years. The day started with a huge inflatable mushroom ‘cloud’ being floated above Hyde Park as the demonstrators gathered under a sea of banners. The protesters then brought traffic to a standstill as they marched to Trafalgar Square…

There were hippies, punk rockers, skinheads and supporters of all ages. A girl on rollerskates joined the protest. So did a band of Buddhist monks. 12 people were arrested and charged with minor offences such as threatening behaviour and obstruction. Scuffles broke out as one group tried to march down Whitehall towards Downing Street and Parliament. But a line of policeman headed them off and the rest of the demonstration was peaceful'. 


The NME (1 November 1980) gave the demo a full page report which likewise highlighted the diversity of the crowd:

'There were punks and 'Schoolkids against the Bomb' and nuns and MPs and messages of support from intellectuals in the USA. There were youthful banners bearing slogans like “Grow up or Blow up“ and “Don’t Cruise to Oblivion”... Peggy Seeger sang. The Pop group and Killing Joke played... E.P. Thompson was the smash hit, though, earning a huge ovation with his characteristically stirring words: “I wasn’t sure about this six months ago” he said. “But we can win. I want you to sense and feel your strength".  An NME photo showed 'Buddhist monks from Milton Keynes'  perambulating 'pacifist veterans including Philip Noel Baker and first CND secretary Peggy Duff' in their wheelchairs.


The mushroom cloud inflatable in Hyde Park
(from 'Socialist Organiser', 8 Nov. 1980)

The speakers included MPs Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock, actor Susannah York, EP Thompson and Bruce Kent of CND. I was excited that The Pop Group and Killing Joke were playing in Trafalgar Square at the end of the rally, though it was one of those occasions when the crowd was so big (and the PA so small) that you had to be up front to really experience the music - and I wasn't.  Luckily I got to see The Pop Group at their peak earlier that year at the Beat the Blues Festival at Alexandra Palace.

The Pop Group on stage in Trafalgar Square


Apparently The Specials had also been due to play but this didn't happen due to Department of Environment restrictions about the extent and volume of the music. As the Government department responsible for Trafalgar Square the DoE  'ruled that the event is a rally and not a concert, and therefore the PA must not exceed 2.5 kilowatts' (NME, 25 October 1980).  A poster also mentions Peggy Seeger and Mikey Dread as being on the bill.




A poster from Liverpool advertising the demo

Killing Joke played five tracks including Wardance and Requiem.  The Pop Group set was their last live performance (at least until they reformed in 2010) and included an early version  of 'Jerusalem', a dub retake on Blake's poem which vocalist Mark Stewart would later record.  The  early prototype version played in Trafalgar Square can be heard on 'The Lost Tapes', included as part of the Mute reissue of Stewart's 'Learning To Cope With Cowardice'.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Café Del Mar Memories - RIP José Padilla

The summer of 1995, off to Ibiza. We bought the cassette of Café Del Mar Volumen Dos and cracked it open at the airport to get in the mood, listening on one headphone each on a walkman. A balearic selection of mellow, down tempo tunes from José Padilla, long time resident DJ at said Café.


In Ibiza like everybody else we headed to 'the Caf' for a drink. The sun went down, but behind a cloud, so no glorious San Antonio sunset.  And they were just playing the Café Del Mar CD on rotation!  The Cafe experience was now pre-packaged and for sale and no doubt everybody was saying you should have been there the year before or the year before that.... Well  anyway by that point the tunes were well and truly lodged in our brains, and have never left. That particular night we moved along the sea front to Cafe Mambo which was much more lively, including Jeremy Healy walking around in a short gold skirt.

Fast forward a year and our daughter is born in a birthing pool in the front room, that same Café Del Mar cassette playing during labour. In fact at the moment of birth the compilation has reached 'Easter Song' by A Man Called Adam, a suitably uplifting spiritual moment with its repeated 'you're bringing me back to life' refrain. A few years down the line we see A Man Called Adam playing at an outdoor gig on the South Bank, we chat to singer Sally Rogers and she dedicates their Easter Song encore to our daughter who nevertheless declines invitation to join them on stage.

So farewell José Padilla, who died this week, thanks for helping to soundtrack these and so many other people's memories.


(all images from 1995 cassette artwork)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Poll Tax Archive (7): Brixton Prison demo, October 1990

Seven months after the huge London anti-poll tax demonstration/riot of March 31st 1990, another demo was planned in the capital on 20th October 1990. While not on the same scale, it did end in clashes with police in Brixton and 120 arrests.

The organisation of the October demo was a fractious affair. The national leadership of the All Britain Anti Poll Tax Federation was firmly in the hands of 'Militant' (today known as the Socialist Party) and they were distrusted by many in the movement for their denouncing of rioters after March 31st.  They were not keen at all to organise another national demo in 1990, and instead half heartedly agreed for a London mobilisation ending with a rally to greet a contingent of 75 poll tax protestors who had walked to London from Glasgow, Liverpool and South Wales as part of the 'People's March Against the Poll Tax'. 

Meanwhile the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, set up to support those arrested in relation to March 31st, wanted to put the plight of poll tax prisoners and defendants at the forefront of the October demonstration - something which they felt was being neglected by the London demo organisers as well as the national federation. So, as advertised on the TSDC leaflet below, there were several interlinked events on the day. A TSDC picket of Horseferry Road magistrates court (scene of many poll tax trials) was followed by a march of around 1500 people  to Kennington Park, the assembly point for the London Federation demonstration. The March 31st demo had also assembled in Kennington, but headed from there into Whitehall and Trafalgar Square. On October 20th the march avoided central London entirely and instead headed further out to Brockwell Park in Brixton. 

'Stop the Trafalgar Square Show Trials'


TSDC Leaflet for October 20th 1990 demo (front and rear - original A5)

The crowd on the combined march to Brockwell Park and the rally there was variously estimated at between 10 and 25,000. After speeches by Tony Benn and others, a few thousand people assembled to march the short distance to Brixton Prison, where several poll tax prisoners were being held. This was not a spontaneous splinter march, but had been planned from the start - and the police were ready.

For me personally it was a strange time. I lived on Tulse Hill Estate, located between Brockwell Park and Brixton Prison, so this was all happening in my local area. I went along to the Park and joined the demonstration as it made it's way up Brixton Hill towards the prison. Its route was blocked by a line of police close to the jail, and at this point I headed off. My grandmother had just died and I was travelling that night to the Hebrides for the funeral.  As I made my way back to the Estate I saw that the side streets were full of police vans whose occupants were getting out and putting on their riot gear. I picked up my suit for the funeral and headed down to Brixton to get the train only to find the station closed and the streets blocked by police vans and crowds. By this point the police outnumbered the protestors.

What had happened in the interim was that the police had baton charged the crowd by the prison and driven people back down the hill into central Brixton. In the clashes a police bike was set on fire and some market stalls on Electric Avenue had been turned over as barricades. A few petrol bombs were also thrown, something very unusual on political demonstrations in England (though sometimes seen in full on inner city uprisings) and possibly not unrelated to the presence of some experienced radical street fighters from France, Italy and elsewhere.

The 120 arrests meant plenty more work for the TSDC, and quite a few people were injured by police seemingly out for revenge for what had happened back in March.

'Poll tax mob bomb police', Sunday Mirror, 21 October 1990

The following short account comes from the November 1990 newsletter of the Brixton based Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax, which I was involved with for a while alongside several other poll tax groups at work and in my area.




'At 3.30 in the afternoon a group of over 3,000 people marched to Brixton prison where 4 prisoners are still held from the 31st of March. As before it was well organised and stewarded by the TSDC. The march arrived at the prison only to find that the police wanted to hem everyone in behind crowd barriers. As the march stopped on Brixton Hill the crowd became very compacted behind the barriers. TSDC organisers asked the police to allow the march round the back of the prison, the officer in charge of the police seemed to make sure he was not around at this point. The police were asked to move the barriers further up the road so the crowd could move up and ease congestion, this was also refused. The police took the megaphone from the TSDC organisers who were very visible in their bright pink bibs. They did not, as they claim, give out megaphones - this is yet another POLICE LIE. 

The angry and frustrated crowd threw one or two beer cans but the police needed no excuse to charge into the crowd. Those who didn't move fast enough were truncheoned and arrested. A young mother asked a police woman to take her children over the crowd barrier to safety, the caring pig refused. The crowd was pushed down Brixton Hill and scores of riot police, who had been waiting down side streets preparing to take revenge for March 31 came out and further charged the crowd. Individuals trying to leave the crowd and avoid trouble were pushed back in. The crowd was driven back into Brixton to the dismay of those trying to do a peaceful day's shopping. Buses were stopped, the tube station was closed, so those wishing to leave were unable to. Groups were pushed into the market, the High Road and Coldharbour Lane. Market skips and a police motorbike were set on fire. 




People were pushed down to Camberwell and up towards Oval, many brutal arrests were made (about 120 in all), demonstrators continued to fight back against the police till about 7 p.m. The TSDC provided excellent legal back up. Solicitors were provided for all those arrested and witness statements made. The initial police charges were filmed by video camera, the TSDC are in a position to show how the police provoked the trouble and may well prosecute them. A picket was held at Southwark police station to support those arrested. On Sunday Oct 31st the TSDC held a press conference to let the media know the truth. On Monday pickets were held at courts and courts are still being picketed for those still held in custody. Bail conditions have been very strict e.g. wanting a £1,000 surety for someone charged with threatening behaviour' (Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax, November 1990)



The TSDC produced their own detailed account of the events based on legal observers on the day. This was published as 'Premilinary report on the policing of the anti-poll tax demonstration of October 20th'. 


The following extracts cover the flashpoint outside the prison on Brixton Hill (PSU=Police Support Unit, i.e. the riot squad).


'16.40: These officers cordon off Elm Park at junction with Brixton Hill, dividing off protestors on Elm Park from main body of demonstration. Police line continues to form up cordon along east side of Brixton Hill in direction of Endymion Road along fixed railings (point B). (VT2 2.40) 16.42: The PSUs deployed in front of the churchyard push forward into the crowd, attacking demonstrators with violent and indiscriminate use of batons. There is much shouting and confusion, and a total of four cans are thrown at the surging police. After 20-30 seconds, the police resume their positions in front of the churchyard, and the crowd becomes calm again. (VT1 23.40) At the same time, 20-30 officers enter the churchyard, clearing demonstrators and making one arrest for apparently no reason (HCDA). 
16.44: The officer in charge of the PSUs deployed at point B signals repeatedly to police on the other side of the picket, and CI Joy runs South to the end of Jebb Avenue along the clear lane of Brixton Hill. (VT1 25.13) 

16.45: At front of demonstration, Superintendent Giblin from Stoke Newington (name given to LLV HP) leans over the barrier and grabs a smallish man, aged about 40 and wearing a cap, and violently pushes him into the crowd. (HCDA) Megaphone taken from organiser SW, who was using it to explain the situation to crowd and get them to join in good-natured chanting. No warning given. Crowd respond angrily. One or two placard sticks thrown in high arc. (AS) 16.46: Chief Superintendent talking to two vanloads of police who then head towards George W pub. (AC) Police begin to pull demonstrators off railings outside George IV pub forecourt. No prior warnings given. Inspector then ordered everyone off George IV forecourt, not allowing them to finish their drinks or to ask why they had to move. Police then spend next few minutes picking up glasses and smashing them on the floor. (HCDA, witness RP) Unidentified police officer overheard saying "This is it." (ES) 

16.47: A police snatch squad enters the crowd opposite Jebb Avenue. 2 or 3 people arrested and pulled violently over barrier. (WL) Police lined up against churchyard railings push forwards across Brixton Hill Road to join police cordon in the middle, separating head of demonstration from main body. After initial pushing and the throwing of two empty cans and a placard stick, crowd becomes calm again. (VT1 28.20) Police in PSU carriers on Endymion Road are seen to have put on riot gear. (HCDA) 16.50: LLV asked MM 38 where people expected to go. Reply: "Until we contain this, no-one's going anywhere." LLV asked "Contain what?" No reply. (PF) Riot police emerge from vans in Endymion Road (VT2 20.51). 



'it started peacefully enough with a carnival protest through the streets of South London' - some classic early 1990s demo dance moves in BBC news report