Thursday, March 29, 2007
'Police-run carnival' anger
Bedfordshire police appear to be digging in their heels over a ban on urban sound stages at Luton carnival. The force remains committed to keeping the dedicated music sites out of the May event for safety reasons. But carnival bosses say the police are simply dictating how the town celebrates its biggest day on the calendar.
Luton Carnival Arts Development Trust's Paul Anderson said: "They basically, flatly turned it down and we are still wondering why they are being opposed to it when the sound sites didn't have any incidents last year. We are starting to see a police-run carnival and that's not what we want."
A meeting on Thursday, between police, the carnival trust, the Afro Caribbean Cultural Development Forum and the Luton Sound Systems Forum, was the latest attempt by Luton Borough Council to find a solution suitable to all. As first reported in the Luton News, the urban and reggae sound systems, which attract thousands of people from across the UK, are set to be removed from the event at the insistence of the police. Supt Andy Martin, at Luton Police Station, said an objection raised by the police against four of eight music sites was based on previous experience of the carnival and was purely on the grounds of public safety.
Photo: Luton Carnival 2006
Monday, March 26, 2007
In 'Night Dancin'' (1980), a guide to the New York disco scene, Via Miezitis described the Empire in its heyday: 'Rainbows, clouds and blue skies cover the walls. Neon criss-crosses and circles mirror balls hung from high gymnasium-like ceilings and transform them into phosphorescent planets in outer space. More rainbow-colored neon outlines a large, square railed-off skating area contained within the main rink; the neon is reflected on the ceiling and looks like a meteor or laser beams.
Over 1000 skaters cover thousands of square feet of roller rink. Human satellites, they orbit defying gravity, dancing and speeding effortlessly through space. Some resemble glider planes that float in the air; still others appear as precision performance jets as they whirl, dip, roll, fall and suddenly cut across the paths of other "planes." The Empire Roller Disco attracts the best roller disco skaters in the world, who perform their practiced and improvised disco routines regularly to disco beats spun by a regular disc jockey. The dee jay helps lead the skaters through the various peaks and dips of the speeding and furious energy high that is roller disco at its best'.
Quotes and images from 'Night Dancin'', text by Vita Miezitis, photographs by Bill Bernstein (New York: 1980). There is a petition against the closure of The Empire here.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
The adverts included ones for The Astoria and the Hammersmith Palais de Danse in London, two venues which have survived down to the present but which are both now under threat of closure.
Friday, March 23, 2007
As previously mentioned the Roxy club in New York closed this month. It opened in 1979 as a popular roller disco and, since 1991, had hosted a gay club on Saturday nights. Now it has been sold to developers - as the New York Press notes: 'sprawling redevelopment has engulfed much of the neighboring land on West 18th Street in recent years, and Roxy’s prime location directly below the soon-to-be renovated High Line made the former truck warehouse an irresistible target'. As it came to an end, the DJ played as the final record 'This used to be my playground' by Madonna.
In the early 1980s, the club was a critical stepping stone for hip-hop from Bronx scene to global phenomenon. As Jeff Chang describes it in his essential 'Can't stop ,won't stop: a history of the hip-hop generation':
"When Kool Lady Blue finally found a new home for her "Wheels of Steel" night, her club became the steamy embodiment of the Planet Rock ethos… To its ecstatic followers, the Roxy would become "a club that changed the world." In June , Blue hung out a sign at the rink: COME IN PEACE THROUGH MUSIC. Her gamble was immaculately timed. She opened the club with all of the scene's leading lights at the beginning of a hot summer when graffiti and b-boying and hip-hop music was on everyone's minds.
"The regulars were Bam [Africa Bambaataa ]and Afrika Islam, and then Grandmixer DST, Jazzy jay, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and I'd rotate them," she says. "We had no booth. The DJ would be in the center of the floor on a podium. Everyone could see what he was doing, and he was kind of elevated to rock star status." On both sides of the DJ, large projection screens displayed Charlie Ahearn's slides of Bronx b-boys, rappers, and scenemakers. Nearby, the Rock Steady Crew convened all-night ciphers on the beautiful blonde wood floors.'"
Although it was "billed as the anti-Studio 54", the club attracted David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Talking Heads et al, facilitating the cross over of the music to a wider audience. One regular recalled "The crowds were very diverse. That was why I was so excited to be there. Suddenly this racially mixed group was having a good time partying in a room, which was a very rare thing. On the level of music and art, people were able to bridge all these boundaries."
The club was used as a setting for the 1984 film 'Beat Street', including the classic break dance battle between the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers (see next post for clip).
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Legendary New York club Roxy closed earlier this month. I'll post some more about its history soon - it hosted a gay club and roller disco up until the end, but also had a key role in the development of Hip Hop. For now here's some footage of the last night.
The powers restricting "raves" in the Criminal Justice Act are not the first authoritarian response to a dance-based culture. The association of popular dancing with sex, intoxication, and black people has made it an object of moralist suspicion at various times in history. It was the jazz dance craze which swept across much of the west that was the source of both pleasure and panic in the 1920s, as Jill Matthews told a meeting of London History Workshop (an informal group of radical historians) in November .
In Australia (where Jill comes from) the dance craze began around 1911 and really took off in 1917 with the arrival of the new "hot jazz" sound from New Orleans. Within a few years, dance halls holding up to 2000 people had opened in most Australian towns, with dances being held almost every afternoon and evening. Dance styles with names like the Whirligig, the Bunny Hug, the Turkey Trot and the famous Charleston (1926) rapidly succeeded each other in popularity, each lasting for a year or two before passing out of fashion. While these steps were highly formalised by today's standards, the emphasis was more on rhythm than on the more difficult to perform steps that existed before 1910, and this was part of their mass appeal.
Soon the dancefloors became a battlefield as the moralist backlash gathered momentum. Dance was condemned as sensual, barbaric and pagan by churches, with the Methodists leading the way in banning mixed dancing on their premises. Doctors got in on the act, with some claiming that doing the Charleston could cause death. There was a strong racist element, with black US jazz musicians being banned from the country in 1928 as part of the government's White Australia policy (supported by the Australian Musicians' Union).
Meanwhile professional dance associations sought legitimacy by trying to distance themselves from the undisciplined dancing masses. Their aim was to reimpose the boundary between the artist and the audience by insisting that dancing should be the preserve of properly trained experts. Such dance entrepreneurs reached a compromise with the anti-dance moralists on the basis of licensing respectable dances properly controlled by professionals. By the 1930s a range of local and national licensing laws and restrictions on building use had succeeded in regulating and taming the dance craze.
The discussion after Jill's talk included parallels with the CJB and other situations. Somebody said that in France in the 1840s, particular types of dancing were banned and the police had the power to come on to the dance floor and arrest people (usually working class youths) for dancing in inappropriate ways. Not even Michael Howard has thought of that one yet...
Jill Matthews went on to write Dance Hall and Picture Palace (2005), a book about popular culture in Sydney from the 1890s to 1930s. I haven't seen a copy of this yet, but it sounds very interesting. Michael Howard, the Conservative Home Secretary behind the anti-rave Criminal Justice Act 1994 went on to oblivion.
Monday, March 19, 2007
"Two of the taken-for-granted descriptions of entertainment, as 'escape' and as 'wish-fulfilment', point to its central thrust, namely, utopianism. Entertainment offers the image of 'something better' to escape into, or something we want deeply that our day-to-day lives don't provide. Alternatives, hopes, wishes - these are the stuff of Utopia, the sense that things could be better, that something other than what is can be imagined and maybe realized. Entertainment does not, however, present models of Utopian worlds, as in the classic Utopias of Sir Thomas More, William Morris, el al. Rather the utopianism is contained in the feelings it embodies. It presents, head-on as it were, what Utopia would feel like rather than how it would be organized".
Dyer describes some of 'the categories of the Utopian sensibility' to be found in the musical and how these 'are related to specific inadequacies in society'. The pairings of real tensions found in daily life and the utopian solutions found in the musical include:
'Scarcity (actual poverty in the society)' vs. 'Abundance (elimination of poverty)'
'Exhaustion (work as a grind, alienated labour, pressures of urban life)' vs. 'Energy (work and play synonymous)'
'Dreariness (monotony, predictability, instrumentality of the daily round)' vs 'Intensity (excitement, drama, affectivity of living)'
'Manipulation (advertising, bourgeois democracy, sex roles)' vs 'Transparency (open, spontaneous, honest communications and relationships)'
'Fragmentation (job mobility, rehousing and development, high-rise flats, legislation against collective action)' vs 'Community (all together in one place, communal interests, collective activity)'.
I'm not sure our little production quite embodied all these utopian possibilities - after all the sense of excitement and abundance in the movie versions is partly created by editing and a riot of colour and effects. But the sense of community was certainly quite tangible.
Sunday, March 18, 2007
Less than 18 months after the device, produced by Merthyr Tydfil-based firm Compound Security, went into production, 3,300 have been sold - 70% of them in the UK.
So great has been demand that the company is now working on a more powerful, 50m-range model designed to be used in larger areas such as cemeteries and hazardous building sites, and is drawing up plans for a higher volume hand grenade version requested by the United States prison service to help tackle riots.
However, while some local authorities and police forces are highly enthusiastic about the Mosquito, campaigners Liberty are raising concerns about both the machine's legality and its effectiveness in addressing antisocial behaviour. A survey by the organisation has identified the device being used in every region of England except the north east, including in Merseyside, where police have mounted it on a car to drive to trouble spots. Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: "At worst, the Mosquito is a low-level sonic weapon; at best, a dog-whistle for kids. Either way it has no place in a civilised society that values its children and young people and seeks to imbue them with values of dignity and respect. Degrading young people instead of providing opportunities for them is a tragic option whose long-term effect is frightening to imagine."
Saturday, March 17, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Spinning around on the hallway floor to Meet the Beatles when I was about four or five years old.
What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Stopping traffic in the streets of Manhattan as part of a group that advocated for revolution (even if most of the gawking onlookers didn’t quite get it). All the while dancing. I did that a few times with the New York City branch of the global anti-capitalist-festival group known as Reclaim the Streets [RTS New York traffic sign pictured]. The best event was actually for a relatively small cause, to defend the community gardens, in the spring of 1999. We took over a street in the East Village for a while with little interference for a period that felt like hours. (Probably not as long – I forget how long it was.)
Whats the best place you’ve ever danced in?
Again, with RTS, in the middle of 43rd Street near Broadway, on November 26, 1999. (This was for 'Buy Nothing Day', but also as a prelude to the protests in Seattle that were scheduled for November 30. Somebody asked me if I wanted to join a bus out to Seattle, and I declined, because I didn’t think I should take off from work. Hmm, how many times did I kick myself for that decision later on?) Anyway, it was pretty impressive that we stopped traffic right near Times Square. Though it didn’t last very long – 15 minutes? And many of the people got arrested. I didn’t get arrested – I had a knack for being invisible to the police back then. (It might have helped that I was slightly older than the others and wore slightly less conspicuous clothes. But I happened upon a video later and, as several other people commented, I actually was the wildest in terms of dancing. Not meaning to boast or anything…)
You. Dancing. The best of times….
RTS was good, but golden moments of post-punk youth were better. So… Dancing to a live show by The Monochrome Set in the early ‘80s in a club called the Starlight Ballroom, which was a big, no-frills place in a rundown section of Philly (I think it was Kensington), with about 50 people in the crowd. It was my 18th or 19th birthday, I was blasted in a nice way, and I loved to dance to The Monochrome Set, even though they weren’t known exactly as a dance band [sleeve of 'Alphaville' single, right]. I had good friends there to dance with too. I think that was when I was dancing with all the members of an all-girl art school, toy-instrument kind of noise band called Head Cheese. I went dancing a lot with Head Cheese, and that was fun, if a bit weird. (By the way, brush with fame(?)… The singer of that band, with whom I was fairly good friends for a while (by which I mean just friends, though I wasn’t lacking in other ideas now and then)…went on to form a New York City synth-pop band that had a Top 40 hit in the ’80s. The band was Book of Love, the song was “Boy” (popular especially with the gay set). But I was no longer friends with Susan. We’d had some kind of falling out over…what?…I don’t know…looking back on it, seems like nothing, from what I can tell…) .
You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Some benefit for the Direct Action Network Labor Solidarity Group, in 2001. The benefit was a flop, and I was going through not-so-good times with different members of the group, for different reasons (no, not going to go into it here). The band was some Irish band; I forget who, but they weren’t bad. I sort of danced alongside a few people, activists, who were the only other people on the dance floor. I got drunk, but not for good reasons. Everybody was drunk, but it was a crappy time.
Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
Hot Club, Philadelphia, late ‘70s – a seedy little place, very punk, very intimate, and wild. That was great… Emerald City, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, late 1970s. Big, garish new wave club, very tacky, but with some incredible lineups and very underpopulated. Saw a double bill there of The Buzzcocks and The Fall in about 1979… Summer porch party in a five-person communal house in West Philly, 1981. One member of the house was in a band called the The Stick Men, who were like a rap-influenced version of the no-wave-funk band The Contortions. We were dancing to her record of The Sugar Hill Gang… Hurrahs, NYC, early ‘80s. Most outstanding experience was a Bauhaus show… Tier 3 and Mudd Club, NYC, early ‘80s. Both were clubs around Soho (if I’m remembering right). Tier 3 was much better, I thought, because it was more intimate and less trendy…. Little club in Tribeca (I forget the name), mid-late ‘80s; they were playing this stuff called “acid house” (loved it)… Limelight, a converted church in NYC, in the mid ‘90s. Not so great, and too trendy. Went to an Orbital show there, and did not have a good time – Orbital was OK, place was far too crowded, just not into pressing bodies with strangers (I can do that on the subway during rush hour)… Irving Plaza, NYC all the way from the mid ‘80s into the late ‘90s. Not a bad place. Had a lot of fun at a Chumbawamba show in about 1998(?) (though I’ve since then gotten very, very tired of Chumbawamba)… And, of course, dancing in the streets, and going to some small warehouse-type raves, with Reclaim the Streets…
When and where did you last dance?
The other night in my bedroom, with a wonderful long-haired cat (by which I mean, really, a cat – I’m not using slang). He clung to my shoulders while I danced around the room to “Sunshowers” by M.I.A [pictured left].
You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make you leap up for one final dance?
Right now… Probably the song that I just mentioned.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
"Imagine a society where the police force says which musicians can and can't perform. Actually, there's no need, it is happening already. So what has the Met got against grime?
Our Nightlife team has long rated DMZ at Brixton’s Mass. ‘We won’t do black nights, we just can’t have them here,’ says a member of the Mass staff who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘The police don’t want us to. They’ve told us not to put them on. The police now have this thing called Club Focus; we have to provide the name, address, date of birth and last three gigs for every DJ and promoter. We’ve had to hire someone full-time to keep on top of it. We don’t get any trouble at DMZ, it’s brilliant. The police are closing a lot of nights down in Brixton, soon black people won’t have anywhere to go.’ Perhaps DMZ escapes scrutiny because – despite being about bass-heavy, urban music – it avoids the grime tag.
Lethal [Bizzle] released his dynamite single ‘Pow’ in 2004 and was immediately cast straight into the centre of the grime scene. The same single, says Khan [his manager], caused the police to refuse to let him play anywhere. [Lethal says] 'There hasn’t been a proper rave up in, oh man, I couldn’t even tell you. Certain areas get silly dickheads going, and there’s the possibility that something might happen. If it does, it’s the artist’s fault. When indie kids jump around, it’s moshing. When black people do it, it’s a riot.’
I put all this to DI Darren Warner of the Met’s clubs and vice department: ‘Part of our ethos as police officers in London is to create a safe environment. Our ambition is to risk assess every nightclub in London but obviously we can’t. Clearly, if it’s a Duran Duran tribute night, we’re not going to be expecting too much of a problem. What that actually means is that we ask venue owners to complete some forms and send in some basic details of what they want to do. We risk assessed 130 events in January and, in the past three months, only two events have been cancelled by us. There are only so many options we’ve got if we think that an event is going to cause harm: we can beef up the venue’s security, we can beef up the policing, or the absolute outside option, we can cancel it.’
‘Which events did you cancel?’‘I can’t say, but the reality is, there just aren’t that many grime nights.’‘But isn’t that because the police won’t let them take place?’‘We can’t ignore recent events, let’s put it that way. If a promoter has had violence at an event, and they’re putting on a similar club night in two weeks, we’d be negligent if we didn’t try and provide a safe environment.’
‘So if someone’s putting on a grime night, how do they go about dealing with the police?’‘They should email us (email@example.com) about the specific night. We’d like to know about it and we’ll go through them on an individual basis. This isn’t genre-targetted, not at all. I’d like to say that our approach works. We’ve seen a significant reduction in violence and gun crime in the clubs we risk assess.’ " (full article Time Out London, March 7 2007)
This isn't a simple story of 'racist police clamping down on black music' - though that is the effect. The problem of macho idiots throwing their weight around with guns and knives is real enough, but the police dictating who gets to play out is to say the least worrying and effectively smears whole genres of music as being somehow responsible for gun crime. Also last week "Radio One DJ Tim Westwood [was] banned from playing at the Ministry of Sound because of safety fears. He was due to play at the club in Elephant and Castle in front of guests including hip-hop artist Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles. Police stopped the non-ticketed event after fears it would get out of control" (Evening Standard, 9 March 2007).
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
"Harlem. The Savoy. Music which makes the floor tremble, a vast place, with creamy drinks, dusky lights, and genuine gaiety, with the Negroes dancing like people possessed. The rhythm unleashes everyone as you step on the floor. Rank said he could not dance. 'A new world, a new world,' he murmured, astonished and bewildered. I never imagined that he could not dance, that he had led such a serious life that he could not dance. I said: 'Dance with me.' At first he was stiff, he tripped, he was confused and dizzy. But at the end of the first dance he began to forget himself and dance. It gave him joy. All around us the Negroes danced wildly and gracefully. And Rank sauntered as if he were learning to walk. I danced, and he danced along with me. I would have liked to dance with the Negroes, who dance so spontaneously and elegantly, but I felt I should give Rank the pleasure of discovering freedom of physical motion when he had given me emotional freedom. Give back pleasure, music, self-forgetting for all that he gave me".
A few months later (April 1935) she was back, this time with the writer Rebecca West and the actor Raymond Massey: 'to Harlem, first to a nightclub, to hear some singing, and then to a private apartment. Everyone was dancing and drinking. Half white people, half black, beautiful women, well-dressed men, and jazz, it was intoxicating and magnifiicent, the laughter, the dancing, but I miss the intimacy which grows out of such parties in Paris. Here it is all jokes, banter, evasion'.
Nin's descriptions of black people can certainly be read as patronising, but nevertheless in an era of segregation the very fact of mixed dancing was remarkable.
She perceived a clear link between music and the moods of a modern city. Her night out with Otto Rank concluded 'Driving home the radio in the taxi continues the jazz mood. New York seems conducted by jazz, animated by it. It is essentially a city of rhythm".
Later she writes "The radio plays blues. Paris, New York, the two magnetic poles of the world. Paris a sensual city which seduced the body, enlivened the senses, New York unnatural, synthetic; Paris-New York, the two high tension magnetic poles between life, life of the senses of the spirit in Paris, and life in action in New York".
Source: The Journals of Anais Nin, Volume Two: 1934-1939.
Monday, March 12, 2007
The arrested party goers have garnered some sympathy. In a leader, the Times of India (7 March 2006) noted that 'The list of seizures from the Pune rave party doesn't look particularly incriminating — beer cans, marijuana, cigarettes, music systems, motorbikes, mobile phones and the like', particulary as at this time of year the majority of the population of north India 'was having a party where controlled substances were dispensed'. The latter is a reference to the spring festival of Holi when many partake of a drink containing bhang (derived from the cannabis plant)). The article concludes 'we don't really need a replica of Taliban's moral police — it's a cop-out to reduce policing to hanging out undercover at bars and parties in an attempt to safeguard public morality'.
Many Western travellers have taken part in raves in Goa, but fewer are aware that there is a growing indigenous rave scene in India. Those arrested included students, air hostesses and call centre employees, part of a new globalised workforce plugged into an international dance culture circuit. Indian press reports noted that the details of the party were posted on www.isratrance.com (an Israel-based trance party site), while amongst those arrested were 12 foriegn nationals including a German DJ, two Palestinians and an Iranian. An Irish woman party organiser called Shaina was said to be on the run. Music and dance cultures break down national and other artificial social boundaries in sometimes surprizing ways...
Photo: disconsolate party goers the morning after.
Sunday, March 11, 2007
Was it being similarly used in the US? I suspect that this magazine was using 'rave' in the earlier sense as in 'rave reviews' or even 'raving mad'. Buddy Holly seems to have this sense of raving - rather than dancing -in his 1958 hit 'Rave On':
"Rave on, rave on and tell me, Tell me not to be lonely, Tell me you love me only, rave on to me".
If anyone can find evidence of 'rave' being used as a noun to describe a party in the USA in this period, or even earlier, I would be interested to hear about it.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Judge Saud al-Boushi sentenced the 20 to prison terms of three to four months and ordered them to receive an unspecified number of lashes, the newspaper said. They have the right to appeal, it added. The prosecutor general charged the 20 with 'drinking, arranging for impudent party, mixed dancing and shooting a video for the party' Okaz said.
Guardian Online, 4 February 2007
The earliest one I can remember (so it may be my first) was dancing with my Auntie Jean in Wellington College Social Club to Apache by The Shadows and my insisting I slide under her skirts as often as possible. It wasn't any weird Auntie-love this either, I was way too young for that; I just liked sliding along the floor.
I didn't notice; I was dancing.
Stonehenge, though it was a bit edgy. See also question next question.
The Treworgey Tree Fayre, 1988, to Culture Shock and, also, the Poison Girls, a Turku club in Fethiye to a bloke with a lute in 2005, on a sofa in a nightclub in Camberley many years ago to I-don't-know-what-indie-tune, out of my skull and dressed like a pirate in Brighton last year to some mash-ups, bare-foot to Papa Brittle at Royal Berks Hospital Social Club. Around the Jack-in-the-Green while dressed as a bear outside the Market Porter (Greenwich) on May Day 2005. That sort of thing.
Getting the fear from the massive wreaking-crew at a Meteors gig / Giving the mother of the bride a black toe-nail at a friends wedding / Having a Faith-No-More fan thrown at me and spraining my wrist at the Agincourt in Camberley/ Going arse-over-tit at an anonymous nightclub in Reading many, many years ago while trying to impress a girl / Realising, suddenly, in the middle of dancing, that Born Slippy by Underworld is really, really boring to dance to / Orbital at Somerset House: I'm not a huge fan and dancing on cobblestones doesn't half fuck your knees up.
Gigging and clubbing history could go, though: anarcho-punk and crustie punk, greebo, goth, noise-nic, erm. Hang, on, sorry, slotting music I've danced to and moments of my life into specific categories is quite a spirit-crushing exercise. I'm a music lover and am not, or ever have been, part of any 'scene'.
The kitchen, last week. I think it was to a track by Loney, Dear. Last public dancing was to various eighties indie and indie-pop tracks at a mates house in Birmingham on New Years Eve.
She-La-Na-Gig by PJ Harvey (left)
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Saturday, March 03, 2007
"Police officers were attacked with fire extinguishers as they tried to break up an illegal rave at a disused factory on the edge of Warboys. Nine people were arrested and another was taken to hospital and later released after an eight-hour illegal rave took place overnight on Saturday and Sunday. Police from Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Suffolk were called to break up the rave, which had attracted about 300 people but, when they arrived at about 12.30am on Sunday, fire extinguishers were sprayed and thrown at the officers... Police also seized several thousand pounds worth of music equipment and a number of vehicles. "
Source: Hunts Post, 21 February 2007
2. Suffolk County, New York, USA
"Suffolk County Police arrested 11 people following an investigation at a rave party in Copiague. Officers began investigating the party at the Third Rail Lounge last Saturday, and found that liquor was being sold without a license"
Source: Empire State News, 20 February 2007
3. Sydney, Australia
"A large dance party near Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens was shut down yesterday and 26 revellers were arrested following a police crackdown on illicit drugs. Officers with drug detection dogs raided the harbourside Azure V party at Fleet Steps... The dance party's website, run by iRIS Group Productions, said more than 5000 people - including some of "Sydney's [and the world's] most buffed and beautiful" - were expected to attend the eight-hour gay and lesbian event. But the party was shut down at 9pm following the raid, which police said was part of a operation targeting drug use and supply in The Rocks Local Area Command.... Another reveller, who did not provide his name, questioned the police's motives in shutting down the party. "As a patron of last night's Azure harbour party, I find it hard to believe the NSW Police shut down the party for the concern and health of the people at the party... they ejected 5000 people out of what was a medically supervised and policed event onto the streets to fend for themselves."
Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 2007; photo of pre-raid party by 8lettersUK
Despite its antiquarian musical roots, the trad jazz scene (and the related skiffle scene) was very much a youth sub culture of 'ravers'. Nuttall recalls that in the mid-1950s:
"Soho was alive with cellar coffee-bars, where skiffle and jazz could be played and heard informally and where the rich odour of marihuana became, for the first time, a familiar part of the London atmosphere. Sam Widges was the most popular. Also there was the Nucleus, the Gyre and Gimble, the Farm. They were open most of the night and often the management would leave you to sleep where you sat. It was a place to stay in the dry if you didn't want to go home. It became obvious that parental control was going to stop at about the age of fifteen for a large number of young people. Teenage wages were going up and so were student grants. It was becoming possible to push the leaky boat of adult delusions a little further away. The Soho Fair, which ran annually for three years [1955-7], was a festival of the ravers. Bands and guitars and cossack hats and sheepskin waistcoats flooded out of the cellars and into the streets. It was so good that it had to be stopped, so good that it was in the first Soho Fair that the real spirit of Aldermaston was born'. Trad jazz bands provided the soundtrack on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches to or from Aldermaston nuclear weapons base from 1958 (picture of dancers is from 1958 march).
In a 1962 New Statesman article, George Melly described 'An All-Night Rave at the Alexandra Palace', a "'trad' ball" where "Band followed band from 9.30 P.M. until 7.30 A.M. the next morning. The audience were dressed almost without exception in 'rave gear'... the essence of 'rave gear' is a stylized shabbiness. To describe an individual couple, the boy was wearing a top hat with 'Acker' painted on it, a shift made out of a sugar sack with a C.N.D. symbol painted on the back, jeans, and no shoes. The girl, a bowler hat with a C.N.D. symbol on it, a man's shirt worn outside her black woollen tights. Trad' dancing in the contemporary sense is deliberately anti-dancing. When I first went to jazz clubs, there were usually one or two very graceful and clever couples. But today the accepted method of dancing to trad music is to jump heavily from foot to foot like a performing bear, preferably out of time to the beat... Trad musicians have christened these self-made elephants 'Leapniks'." The Acker referred to here was Acker Bilk, the jazz clarinettist and unlikely musical figurehead for late 1950s/early 1960s ravers.
The trad jazz scene as a youth movement was soon to be overwhelmed by The Beatles and everything that followed. In the semi-situationist journal Heatwave (1966), Charles Radcliffe included the ravers in The Seeds of Destruction, a ground-breaking survey of 'youth revolt':
"The Ravers... had some Beat characteristics and rather tenuous connections with the anti-bomb movement but their main preoccupations were Jazz clubs and Jazz festivals; this was the period when ersatz traditional (Trad) Jazz, as purveyed by Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and others was inordinately popular. Partly Trad's popularity arose in reaction to the decline of the small fifties Beat scene; it was easy to dance to and Jazz clubs were among the few places where teenagers could do more or less as they wished without adult interference. Partly it arose because the musicians did not take themselves too seriously and were often simply good-time Ravers".
Ravers' dress was a kind of "'music-hall-cum-riverboat-cum-contemporary-folk-art' with Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament symbol decorated bowlers, umbrellas, striped trousers, elegant jackets. The chicks had long hair, wore ban-the-bomb type uniforms (duffle coats, polo-neck jerseys, very loose around the hips, and jeans). The Ravers were, on the whole, distrusted by other groups with whom they came into contact; the Beats used the term 'Raver' derogatorily and the nuclear disarmers treated Ravers' 'superficiality' with superior amusement and occasional annoyance... The Ravers, as such, died with the 'traditional' Jazz boom but the 'Raver philosophy' continues and there are once again groups calling themselves Ravers. The term has likewise regained its approbatory meaning after the frequent critical use by the CND generation".
Here we have a phenomenon that was to re-emerge with 'ravers' from the 1980s onwards - the use of the term as a put down by the would-be serious minded.
The George Melly quote is reproduced from 'Revolt into Style: the pop arts' (1970); Jeff Nuttall from 'Bomb Culture' (1969). Image source: Science and Society Picture Library. For more on Heatwave, see the excellent Dancin' in the streets! Anarchists, IWWs, Surrealists, Situationists & Provos in the 1960s as recorded in the pages of The Rebel Worker & Heatwave, edited by Franklin Rosemont and Charles Radcliffe, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, Chicago. 2005
We would love to hear some first hand accounts of 1950s/60s raves - photos too would be great. If you were there why not leave a comment, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Rowland played a mixture of (mainly 70s) soul, r'n'b, reggae and disco classics, highlights for me including The Love I Lost, Walk Away Renee, Young Americans and Everything I Own (full set list here). I would have expected a bit more Northern Soul, but resident DJ/promoter Ian Watson did oblige with some of this mixed in with Motown and indie pop (Smiths, Camera Obscura, Belle & Sebastien etc.)
There's something quite singular about the music policy of this club, rewriting pop history around handclaps and heartbreak rather than more familiar categories like 'soul' and 'indie'. As I wrote elsewhere after an earlier visit 'a lot of indie/alternative music is based on an imagined rockist trajectory back to punk which denies soul/pop influences. For me there is a definite thread of broken hearted yearning for a better life from a female (or non-blokey male) perspective linking Diana Ross and Dusty Springfield to Morrissey and Stuart Murdoch.'
Rowland's last track was 'No Fun' by The Stooges and played in this context even this didn't sound so much like a punk precursor as a mutant take on the motown sound (they were a Detroit band after all) - just listen to those handclaps!