Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Teddy Girls

I am hoping to get to the Photographers Gallery (London) next week for an exhibition on 1950s Soho Nights which apparently includes some images by Ken Russell. I am sorry I missed the Bombsite Boudiccas exhibition a couple of years ago, featuring pictures Russell took of London Teddy Girls in 1955.



For the launch of the exhibition at the Spitz in East London, the organisers tracked down some of the women in the photographs, as reported in the Times:

'"We weren’t bad girls,” says Rose Shine, then Rose Hendon, who was 15 when she posed for Russell. “We were all right. We got slung out of the picture house for jiving up the aisles once, but we never broke the law. We weren’t drinkers. We’d go to milk bars, have a peach melba and nod to the music, but you weren’t allowed to dance. It was just showing off: ‘Look at us!’ We called the police ‘the bluebottles’ – you’d see them come round in a Black Maria to catch people playing dice on the corner. But we’d just sit on each other’s doorsteps and play music.”

The teddy girls left school at 14 or 15, worked in factories or offices, and spent their free time buying or making their trademark clothes – pencil skirts, rolled-up jeans, flat shoes, tailored jackets with velvet collars, coolie hats and long, elegant clutch bags. It was head-turning, fastidious dressing, taken from the fashion houses of the time, which had launched haute-couture clothing lines recalling the Edwardian era. Soon the fashion had leapt across the class barrier, and young working-class men and women in London picked up the trend.

...Rose and her group of West End teddy girls would meet at the Seven Feathers Club in Edenham Street, North Kensington, a youth club popular with both the boys and the girls. “There was a jukebox and dancing,” she says. “Just tea and cakes, because we didn’t go to pubs then. It wasn’t until we were 20 that we might go to the pub. We weren’t bad, not like some of the boys. There was this song called Rip It Up… Well, the boys, they used to go and rip the seats.”

...Teddy girls from different parts of London rarely mingled. Grace Curtis (then Grace Living) was one of the girls Russell photographed in the East End. “We hung out down the Docklands Settlement – a club where there was space for dancing and boxing. We were East End. In those days you just stuck to your area. There was a little snack bar in the club where you could buy drinks and we just all got together and danced.”

Both women hoot with excitement when they remember dancing The Creep by Ken Mackintosh – a slow shuffle of a dance so popular with teddy boys that it led to their other nickname of “creepers”. “It’s the best dance,” says Curtis. “You used to dance or jive with your girlfriends, but for The Creep you could choose your partner. You could pick up a fella and go and dance with him.”

(more at When the Girls come out to play, Times, 5 March 2006)
The bottom photograph shows Elsie Hendon, 15, Jean Rayner, 14, Rosie Hendon, 15, and Mary Toovey on a bombsite in Southam Street, North Kensington, West London.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas nightclub tragedy in Peru

'Police in Peru were searching Friday for the person who threw a tear gas canister into an unlicensed discotheque early Christmas Day, causing a stampede that killed five people, Peruvian news reports said. Police also want to talk with the owner or manager of the disco, El Buum, in the southern Peruvian city of Juliaca, the state-run Andina news agency reported. Three women and two men died from asphyxiation as hundreds of young people trampled each other trying to get out of the disco, Andina reported. The three women have been identified as two 20-year-olds and a 17-year-old, but the two men remained unidentified.At least six others ended up in the hospital...

TV images of rescuers rushing into the upstairs disco captured some of the pandemonium. "Help us, please," one woman is heard yelling desperately. "Water," a man pleads. "Open the door," someone else shouts. Survivors described the panic.

"You could see all the people leaving, dragging each other, asking for water. And my sister, I found her fallen to the ground. I took her to the hospital, but she was unfortunately already dead," Canal N TV, a Peruvian 24-hour cable news channel, quoted one young man as saying.
"The kids were falling. They fell to the ground and everyone was crying out for water. It was packed," an unidentified young woman is quoted as telling Canal N'.

Source: CNN, 26 December 2008

Uganda: the death of a disco dancer

The Police in Arua district have detained Nyadri district Police commander Benedict Ojingo and Police constable Rashid Nyakuni over murdering a student. Ojingo and Nyakuni, were arrested after Stephen Enzabugo, a Senior One student of Oleba Seed Secondary School, was shot and killed during a dance in Alikua trading centre on Christmas Day. The two allegedly opened fire in an attempt to stop the dance. They were enforcing a ban on night discos that had been imposed by the local authorities. One of the bullets hit Enzabugo on the forehead and killed him instantly...

The Nyadri resident district commissioner, Mary Akwiya Anecho, however defended Ojingo, saying he was enforcing the late night disco ban. “We had agreed to stop any discos in the area this festive season because we wanted to avoid violence. So, the DPC (Ojingo) was merely enforcing what we agreed. We think the death was an accident. It is very unfortunate and we are very sorry to the parents,” Anecho said.

Source: New Vision Online [Uganda], 29 December 2009

Friday, December 26, 2008

Argentine Floggers

From Latin American Herald Tribune, 26 December 2008:

'A 16-year-old boy died over the weekend in the central province of Cordoba after being beaten by other youths, police said, adding that the victim was apparently attacked for looking like a "flogger," a popular new fashion in Argentina. Three suspects, two of them 16 years old and another who is 20, have been arrested for allegedly attacking the teenager, hitting and kicking him as he was leaving a discotheque early Sunday.

Precinct chief Oscar Criado told Argentine media that the victim was wearing "clothes that identify floggers," as Argentines call those who contact each other publishing photos on Internet social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. "Flogger" comes from Fotolog.com, a photoblog social web site that is particularly popular in Argentina. Floggers usually wear tight jeans, canvas sneakers or skate shoes, colorful T-shirts, with a hairstyle that includes a fringe that tends to cover the eyes completely or partially, and is the same for girls and boys.

Other common characteristics include listening to electronic music and dancing in their own peculiar way. The most popular move, related to the French tecktonik and the Australian shuffle and the Charleston of 100 years ago, consists of rapidly spreading one leg, hitting the floor with the heel, and drawing the other leg backwards, and then quickly changing the position of the legs (spreading the other leg, and shifting backwards the one that was spread)...'

Here's how ('floggers,glams, chetos villeros etiketense todo es posible!' sourced from youtube):

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

O Come O Come Emmanuel

I am a bit of sucker for Christmas carols - well, even uber-atheist Richard Dawkins enjoys singing along to them. And of all the carols, my favourite is O come, O come, Emmanuel

For me, there's something about the continuity of human expression. On a personal level, a continuity with songs sung in childhood at school and on our family's sporadic visits to church. On a deeper level, a continuity with generations who have sung the same song. OK so this hymn in its current form only goes back as far as the mid-19th century, but the words are a translation by John Mason Neale of a Latin text ("Veni, veni, Emmanuel") parts of which date back at least as far as the 8th century. The tune likewise is believed to originate from a 15th Century French processional for Franciscan nuns, although it may be even older.

The text is based on the biblical prophesy from the Book of Isaiah (7:14) that states that God will give Israel a sign called Immanuel (Hebrew for 'God with us'.). The prophet Isaiah is generally dated to the 8th century BC, so the subject matter of the song is getting on for 3,000 years old. I like the idea that - language barriers notwithstanding - a Jewish refugee in Babylon, a Roman slave, a medieval French peasant and a 17th century Digger would immediately understand what this song was about.

Of course continuous tradition is a double-edged sword - there is a continuity of religiously-sanctioned oppression and war, the dead weight of superstition and prejudice. Hearing the present day Pope's absurd statements about homosexuality reminds me of why it is important to hold on to a critique of religion and clericalism.

On the other hand, there is another tradition of radical Jews and Christians drawing on Biblical verses for inspiration for rebellion and social transformation - from peasant revolts to liberation theology. 'O come, O come, Emmanuel' with its call to 'ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here' can certainly be sung with such meanings in mind. And its source, the Book of Isaiah is full of admonitions against those who 'grind the face of the poor' and fail to 'seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow'. Famously it pictures a future world where 'they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more'.

While Christians believe that Isaiah's prophecy was fulfilled in the form of Jesus Christ, religious Jews dispute that the promised Messiah has already come and gone. I am sure that one of the reasons for Christian anti-semitism was the Church's hostility to a minority in the midst of Christendom who publically questioned their absolutist interpretation of the Bible. For instance in Barcelona in 1263 there was a famous four day disputation in front of King James I of Aragon between a Dominican friar, Pablo Christiani, and Nahmanides, a rabbi. The latter denied that Jesus was the Messiah on the simple basis that he had failed to deliver - work, war and death were still very much around - 'these punishments were not annulled by the advent of your messiah'. The King rewarded Nahmanides for his rhetorical victory in the debate - even if he disagreed with him - but later he was to be banished from Spain (source: Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier).

Nahmanides certainly had a point - where was the new heaven and new earth promised in Isaiah? But personally I tend towards the sentiments of the secular hymn that declares 'No saviour from on high delivers, No trust we have in prince or peer, Our own right hand the chains must shiver, Chains of hatred, greed and fear'. Still I guess I have moved to a position where I no longer see atheism as a necessary indicator of radicalism (for instance there are some quite dubious aspects of Richard Dawkins' politics in my view). Similarly I no longer assume that anybody who uses religious language is a superstitious bigot. And I can certainly appreciate a good hymn!

I have included three versions of this song here for your listening pleasure (just click on links to download).



Blyth Power - O Come O Come Emmanuel (MP3)
The first is by Blyth Power from a 1986 tape they put out called 'A little touch of Harry in the night'. Although they played countless anarcho-punk benefit gigs, Blyth Power always had a broader frame of reference than most bands on that scene (Shakespeare, Shelley, trainspotting) and liked to challenge the moral certainty and narrow-mindedness of some Crass punks - for instance by playing a hymn!

Belle and Sebastian - O Come O Come Emmanuel (MP3)

B & S's version was recorded live for a Xmas 2002 radio session at John Peel's house (the female part is sung by Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura). The band's Stuart Murdoch is one of the people who has challenged my bigoted conception that all Christians are bigots - a former church caretaker who is a sex-positive socialist (sample lyric 'she was into S & M and Bible studies, not everyone's cup of tea, she would admit to me').

Sufjan Stevens - O Come O Come Emmanuel (MP3)

Sufjan Stevens has released a whole series of Christmas albums with a mixture of his own and traditional songs, now nicely collected in boxed set, Songs for Christmas.

Have a good holiday!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rubbish soundtracks


Soundtracks can make a film, or certainly enhance it. For instance, the soundtrack to Juno is excellent, with its indie pop/anti-folk vibe perfectly complementing the feel of the film, and seeming true to the people in it. In the closing scene the main characters sing Moldy Peaches ‘Anyone else but you’ and it is entirely believable.

But sometimes soundtracks seem to bear no relation to the film - snatches of seemingly random tunes (or ones aimed at a similar demographic to the film) dropped in here, there and everywhere just to justify the existence of a soundtrack album. Most of the time this crass product placement goes in one ear and out the other, but sometimes the music jars so badly with the film that it ruins the moment completely.

The worst example I've come across recently is in the film Blood & Chocolate which I watched last night. In the scene in question, a handsome young American comic book artist and his beautful girlfriend (who is in fact a werewolf) are climbing over the rooftops of Bucharest, looking at the wolf statues on the remains of an ancient castle, while being trailed by other werewolves. Potentially a moment of tension and excitement - but what music was playing? Incredibly, Cash Machine by Hard Fi, a prosaic account of living in London, going to the cash machine and... er.... finding there's no money in your account. Yes, just the song you'd choose for a moment of Romanian lycanthropy! It's not a great film at the best of times, but that just about finished it off for me.

If anyone can think of a worse example of inappropriate soundtrack syndrome let me know.

Monday, December 22, 2008

December policing round-up

England (London): squatted pub evicted (Islington News, 19 December 2008)

'Bailiffs have evicted squatters who turned an empty Holloway pub into a late-night basement rave club.The squatters, who are believed to have moved in a month ago, were ejected from Tufnells in Tufnell Park Road on Tuesday morning... A bailiff, who did not wish to be named, said: “They didn’t really trash it that bad. They took their mattresses with them when they left. It was all very peaceful.”He added: “They put mattresses upstairs and turned the cellar into a club. One guy had a Buddha room with joss sticks and plants and a statue of Buddha.”'

England (Essex): 'Ten jailed after police battle at rave (Saffron Waldon Reporter, 11 December 2008)

'An illegal rave near Great Chesterford earlier this year which resulted in police helicopters from three forces being scrambled has resulted in 10 men being jailed. Chelmsford Crown Court was told on Monday that 60 officers were injured in the rave raid and were damaged. Objects thrown at police included glass bottles, cans, stones, metal poles, lighted pieces of wood, logs and mud and fireworks. Ten men, some of whom gave themselves up to police later after seeing themselves on BBC's Crimewatch, admitted violent disorder and were jailed for a total of almost 10 years. The court was told that officers from Essex, Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Herts, Beds and the Metropolitan Police were drafted in for the raid. As well as the defendants sentenced today another 34 were arrested for drugs offences'.

India: Mumbai drug testing (Times of India, 21 December 2008)

'The anti-narcotics cell (ANC) of the Mumbai police has sent summons to 36 people, including 10 girls, who have tested positive for narcotic substances at a rave party in Juhu on October 5. The state forensic laboratory submitted its second report on Friday, which contained the test details of the 36 partygoers. "They have to present themselves before the court or the police in a week's time," said deputy commissioner of police (ANC) Vishwas Nangre-Patil. "The second report submitted showed that of the 43 samples, 36 tested positive for Ecstasy. In the first report, 109 people had tested positive for drugs," he said... The police had booked 231 people for allegedly being under the influence of the narcotic substances. Those who tested positive for Ecstasy would have to appear before court and file fresh bail pleas'.

India: open air parties banned in Goa

'While hotels, big and small, will continue with their planned new year's eve programme, albeit on a smaller scale and with incentives attract tourists thrown in many feel the positive part of the ban on open beach parties from December 23 to January 5, will be the stopping of rave parties. The open air parties with their dubious links to drug peddling and consuming will be dealt with firmly, police sources told TOI. "Rave parties on the beach or anywhere else will not be allowed at all," IGP Kishen Kumar asserted. If any complaint is received, the police will "immediately" take action and stop the parties. "Besides, we will keep strict vigil on all such areas," he added. Police sources further said, "This year we haven't noticed rave parties as locals are not taking any chances in allowing them to use their place either." ' ( (Times of India, 21 December 2008)

'Unwilling to take the ban on beach parties lying down and feeling cheated by the state government's decision to ban open beach parties shack owners have decided to submit a memorandum to the government demanding compensation. Cruz Cardozo, president of the Goa Shack Owners Welfare Society, said that the government should either compensate shack owners for their losses or forfeit the license fee of Rs 30,000.... He said many shack owners are feeling the heat as they have paid huge advances to book bands and other entertainers for Christmas and New Year celebrations (Times of India, 22 December 2008)

Botswana: Nightclubs closed by police (Mmegi online, 26 November 2008)

'Lawyers acting for two Gaborone nightclubs will this week apply for the jailing of the Commissioner of Police for contempt of court. Others to be cited in the application, for defying a court order, include the Station Commander of Gaborone West Police Station and the section leader of a unit that raided the nightclubs on Friday night.

The lawyers are instituting contempt of court proceedings after the police ordered the closure of Grand West and Satchmo's nightclubs last Friday night. The police claimed that the two nightclubs - both in Gaborone West - were operating without licences. The two nightclubs have been closed since Friday on police orders. The police action comes after the High Court granted an interim order that, among others, stipulates that the police should not harass the nightclubs following their application seeking an interdict against the police'.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

More vinyl archaeology

I've posted before on Excavated Shellac, a site dedicated to '78 rpm recordings of folkloric and vernacular music from around the world'.

But there are many more shellac/vinyl archaeologists out there. One of the most interesting sites I've come across recently (thanks to Bob from Brockley) is Locust Street, whose author seems to have set themselves the task of telling the history of popular music in the twentieth century year by year - starting with 1900, and now reaching as far as 1909. As well as music, there's lots of historical material and some great contemporary images.

Also of interest is Snap, Crackle and Pop, rediscovering 'The dusty sound of old records, other people's detritus picked up from boot sales, flea markets and charity shops. Forgotten music for our enjoyment'.

I just wish I had the time to listen to all this music... though careful what you wish for - plenty of people are finding themselves with more time on their hands at the minute, but without the money to enjoy it: it's called mass unemployment.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jitterbugging in London 1944

I've been spending a lot of time searching through the treasures to be found at the recently released Life archive of photographs. Among my favourites so far are this collection of shots taken by David E. Scherman at the Paramount Dance Hall in Tottenham Court Road, London in 1944. They show a couple in what appears to be a jitterbugging competition, and an African American soldier dancing with a British Women's Auxiliary Air Force member.


Friday, December 12, 2008

More on Sonic Torture

In the new journal Nyx - a noctournal (produced by people associated with the Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths College, New Cross), Mark Teare writes A Chapter in the Secret History of a Musick Yet To Be:

'Music's abilities to connect with the emotions and to alter our psychological state are being exploited and perverted in a number of ways in a variety of locations, from office or commercial spaces to clandestine interrogation cells. What we generally consider to be a harmless form of creative expression becomes a tool, coldly employed in the manipulation and control of populations, numb from the constant stimulus of programmed information'.

Teare mentions a number of uses of music as instrument of torture/warfare: in Panama 1993, when invading US forces surrounding the building where the dictator/former US client Manuel Noriega was holed up where 'troops bombarded the embassy with constant loud heavy rock music in an effort to drive Noriega out'; in the same year at the FBI siege at Waco, Texas, where the Branch Davidians 'were treated to marathon sessions of loud music in order to disturb their sleeping patterns and break morale inside the camp'; and in Iraq during the Fallujah offensive in 2004 when 'US troops engaged in psychological operations' used 'high powered speakers mounted on tanks and humvees'to play 'AC/DC, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Eminem and Barney the Purple Dinosaur at high volume for long stretches of time to disorientate and confuse the enemy'.

See also: Against Music Torture

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Against Music Torture

Tempting as it is to make cheap jibes about the torture of having to listen to Limp Bizkit under any circumstances, musical torture is a serious business. Playing the same songs over and over again at high volume without a break - sometimes for weeks on end - might not leave any bruises but it's easy to see how it could literally drive somebody mad. There have been many reports of the use of this kind of torture across the world, including in the secret prisons run by the US and its allies.

So the new Zero dB campaign (zero decibels = silence) against musical torture launched this week by Reprieve is welcome. So too is the support for this campaign by the Musicians Union and musicians including Tom Morello of Rage Against The Machine (RATM), Massive Attack, The Magic Numbers and Elbow. It must be very dispiriting as a musician to know that your song is being used in this way, especially if, like RATM's Killing in the Name Of, the practice is the complete opposite of the song's sentiments.

Looking through the list of songs that have been used in torture, it appears that they fall into a number of categories. Some seem to have been chosen because of their aggressive sound - AC/DC, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Limp Bizkit, RATM etc. Others though seem to have been chosen for their saccharine banality - perhaps the contrast between children's TV themes like Sesame Street or Barney the Purple Dinosaur and the reality of being tortured is itself an assault on people's sanity.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Mouse Organ and the Hoot Planet

The death this week of children’s programme maker Oliver Postgate (1925-2008) has prompted an outpouring of nostalgia from everybody raised on 1970s British TV. And I don’t see why I should be any different. Some of my earliest memories are of Pogles Wood and Noggin the Nog, but it’s really Bagpuss (made in 1974) and the Clangers (1969-74) that had the biggest impact, programmes Postgate famously made with his co-collaborator Peter Firmin in a cowshed in Kent. Music was an important part of both programmes.

For the unitiated, Bagpuss was set in a bygone shop run by a girl called Emily (played by Peter Firmin's daughter) - a shop where nothing was sold, but things just waited in the window for their rightful owners to claim them. The show featured folk songs sung by real folk musicians - John Faulkner (the voice of Gabriel the banjo-playing toad) and Sandra Kerr (the voice of Madeleine Remnant, the singing doll). But most memorable was the high pitched singing of the mice who shared the shop with Bagpuss the cat - and who maintained The Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ.

The Clangers was set on a planet populated by pink mouse like creatures and their friend the Soup Dragon (inspiration for Scottish indie band The Soup Dragons). There was also a cloud that floated over the planet dropping musical rain drops. In one episode, Tiny Clanger is floating in space on her music boat – with her friends the flowers - when she encounters the Hoot Planet, made up of musical horns. Later, her brother makes an ill-fated attempt to make a rocket ('now what has Small Clanger made - a rocket, I don't like the look of that') and a soup pipeline, something that is contrasted unfavourably with Tiny's invention, with the help of The Music Trees, of a Pipe Organ ('Listen. Music I wonder what that is?... Tiny clanger has made an organ... very good, yes now that is better, that is something really useful').

Not hard to read an implicit anti-militarist message here (music is better than missiles), not surprizing either as Postgate was an active peace campaigner for most of his life - see writing at his website. I actually saw him once in the 1980s speaking at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally in Canterbury. I also once met the grown-up Emily Firmin from Bagpuss in a squat in Brixton. Well I guess we all have to move on from cuddly toys, even magical ones that come to life when we're not looking - but it's nice to remember them too.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Bigger Slump and Bigger Wars?

Like many people around the world, I'm trying to get my head round the 'credit crunch' financial crisis. Six months ago there was pretty much the same amount of people, needs, goods, houses, productive capacity etc. as today. So how come, without anything fundamental changing, we have moved so quickly from 'boom' to 'crisis' with thousands of people losing their jobs? Clearly there is an irrational element in the economy that is more or less beyond the control of the people who pretend to be in control, let alone the rest of us. But beyond platitudes about the inevitable cycle of crisis in capitalism, understanding how and why is not so easy. If you want to get into these debates you could do worse that start at Radical Perspectives on the Crisis, which has lots of different takes on the matter.

There's not a lot of musical guidance on this issue, but one exception is Stereolab's brilliant Ping Pong (1994):



The lyrics are a neat summary of a marxist take on the cycle of boom and slump:

it's alright 'cos the historical pattern has shown
how the economical cycle tends to revolve
in a round of decades three stages stand out in a loop
a slump and war then peel back to square one and back for more

bigger slump and bigger wars and a smaller recovery
huger slump and greater wars and a shallower recovery

you see the recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry for things will look after themselves
it's alright recovery always comes 'round again
there's nothing to worry if things can only get better

there's only millions that lose their jobs and homes and sometimes accents
there's only millions that die in their bloody wars, it's alright

it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing
it's only their lives and the lives of their next of kin that they are losing

Of course the scary thing about this particular take on crisis theory is the suggestion that slump is followed by war before recovery - an argument that is sometimes put forward to explain the mid-20th century (1930s depression - 1940s war - 1950s/60s - post-war boom). Since then there have been lesser crises which have not been resolved through war, so let's not get even more gloomy and start scanning the skies for missiles. Still there are tough times ahead, and competition between economically desparate global powers could fuel increasingly dangerous conflict - unless an international movement emerges to challenge this drift.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Form 696

Form 696 sounds like the name of a Belgian industrial outfit (oh no that was Front 242) but is actually a pernicious example of bureaucracy - to be precise it is a form that the Metropolitan Police (Clubs Focus Desk/Clubs & Vice Unit) in London is 'asking' all licensed premises to fill in for music events. The promoter and the venue are required to list 'all artistes, the acts, sound systems, other promoters performing' (including DJs) with details including name, address, telephone number and date of birth.

It is not actually a legal requirement to complete the form - not that you would know that as it states 'This form must be completed by the licensee in consultation with the promoter'. The reality is that if the police express concerns about a venue's license it is likely that the license will be taken away - so when the form says that ' full co-operation is regarded as demonstrating positive and effective venue management' everybody knows that this is an implied threat. In England and Wales, the Licensing Act 2003 requires venues to have a license from their local council to sell drink and/or allow music and dancing - and councils are obliged to take into consideration the views of the police.

Controversially, the form singles out particular kinds of black music, asking 'Music style to be played/performed (e.g. Bashment, R'n'B, Garage)' . As I said before when discussing the Met's apparent crackdown on grime, this is a bit more complex that 'the man trying to stamp out the kids' music'. People really are being murdered at some club nights - at the seOnelub in October for instance - and it is true that some kind of music nights seem more likely than others to attract this kind of violence. But the police already have the powers to stop people carrying guns and shooting people - so is it really necessary to label entire genres of music as implicitly criminal and to require police approval for the the simple human act of making music and dancing?

Pressure group UK Music (headed by ex-Undertones singer Feargal Sharkey) is seeking a judicial review of the use of the form, arguing that it will discourage venues from putting on music (see article in Independent). A facebook group Stand Up to Form 696 already has over 3000 members and there is also a Scrap 696 petition. You can read the actual form here.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Guns N' Roses still crap shock

Something for World AIDS Day tomorrow, 1 December:

Simon Reynolds has efficiently scraped off his shoe the 'vigorously polished turd that is "Chinese Democracy"' by Guns N' Roses. Whoever this album was 'eagerly awaited' by, I was not one of them - I would apply Reynolds' diss of the album to their entire career: 'redolent of the 4-hour erections induced by Viagra: engorged but devoid of desire, a meaningless show of strength'.

What I'd forgotten about until today was a row about their political dumbness early in their career, with their 1989 song 'One in a Million' and its lyrics about 'niggers', 'immigrants' and 'faggots' who 'spread some fucking disease'. In London, AIDS activist group ACT UP protested at Virgin Megastore demanding that an AIDS information sheet be added to the album to counter its 'racist and homophobic lyrics'. Axl Rose's later comments that he wasn't homophobic because he liked Elton John were laughable; not so funny is the fact that it was later covered by nazi band Skrewdriver.

The report of the action comes from 'ACT UP Action News' (London, June 1989). Note next to it there is also a report of an ACT UP Sylvester Memorial in May 1989 at the Fridge nightclub in Brixton, featuring Jimi Somerville (Bronski Beat/The Communards) and Andy Bell (Erasure). The great Sylvester died from AIDS in December 1988. Give me Dance (Disco Heat) over anything G N'R have done any day of the week.
[click on picture to see enlarged image]

Shocking Pink and Clause 28

Shocking Pink was a feminist zine put out by a collective of young women in London, including my friend Katy Watson who died in the summer. As the organiser of last year's Women's Library Zine Fest! described it 'Shocking Pink, which ran from the late 1980s to early 1990s, billed itself as a “radical magazine for young women”. Part magazine with serious political coverage, part school-club magazine (if your classmates were hot-headed, deliciously witty, rebel grrrls) this magazine pre-dated riot grrrl zines with its fusion of sass, cultural appropriation and sprawling biro-made doodles all over the margins and type face'.

I've scanned in some pages from a 1988 issue (click on images to enlarge), a time when the Conservative government was embarking on a New Right 'family values' moral crusade. Most notably a law known as Clause 28 was introduced which prohibited local authorities from 'promoting homosexuality'. This issue of Shocking Pink gave prominence to the movement against the Clause, with a two page spread on a big demonstration in Manchester on 20th February 1988.

What I like about this report is that it is based around a tape recording of the event, giving a real sense of what it sounded like - the crowd running under a bridge and wailing 'Wooo Wooo', chanting slogans and singing songs.

Extracts: 'Where are we? There's people dancing in the street here, the Police are trying to move them on'... 'Singing Dykes - We're abseiling, we're abseiling, down a washing line to the lords, we're abseiling, never failing, we're abseiling against the clause'... 'This is a violin woman, she's excellent she uses just her voice and works with the violin and drumbeat. It's kind of melodic, I think you'll like it (SCREECH SCREECH, WHINE, WAIL... PUT YOUR LAWS DOWN YOUR DRAWS, WE ARE GONNA STOP THE CLAUSE).
The abseiling song refers to a famous protest against the clause, also featured in this issue, next to a Shocking Pink 'Guide to Party Games' including 'Musical Riots: Rules - while the music is playing all the girlies run around gaily (no offence). When it stops all run into the streets with arms eg bricks, metal piping, broom handles and other ordinary household weaponry. Then smash windows (whilst shouting a lot. This can be difficult to do at the same time)'

Friday, November 28, 2008

Notting Hill Carnival Under Threat - Again

For the umpteenth time, the future of Notting Hill Carnival is under threat, with complaints from the police and the Conservative Council of the 'Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea' about the failure of organisers to get the festival closed down by night-time, among other things. From the London Evening Standard, 28 November 2008:

'The Notting Hill Carnival faces cancellation next year amid grave concerns over public safety. Council chiefs have threatened to withdraw their support for the annual street party unless organisers dramatically improve their preparations. They claim this year's event was let down by "profound organisational failure" and it is their duty to avoid the 2009 carnival being marred by similar chaos.

Among the key failings identified by Kensington and Chelsea council, which hosts the parade, was the failure to recruit stewards until just three weeks before the event leaving little time for training. This year's carnival, attended by about one million people, descended into a riot on its final night with a large mob pelting police with bottles and bricks, leaving more than 40 officers injured... '

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dancing at the Royal Exchange

Last week - 18th November - people gathered outside the Royal Exchange in the City of London (financial district) for a mobile clubbing event. You know the kind of thing, flashmob meets up and people dance to their own music on their headphones, then disperse. Life in London and Make Shift Media were there - the latter reporting 'There were babies, and men in suits, and cyclists, and students, and hipsters, and hippies… they were swaying, and rocking out, and popping, and skanking... Every once in a while a spontaneous cheer would erupt, people would throw their arms up and whoop and dance harder for a minute. So much fun to be among city strangers, staying warm in the chilly November night, all boogying down!'


As the financial crisis deepens, perhaps so does people's focus on the financial districts of London and other cities. In London at least this is an area that many people never go to unless they work there and it can be quite ghostly at weekends when less people are around. So it's good to see some streetlife returning to the area that was once the heart of London life, not just banking. Further east at Canary Wharf there was also o a Halloween dancing on the grave of capitalism event with ghosts and witches (on the same day there was an anti-capitalist Zombie Walk in Amsterdam).


The place where people danced last week outside the Royal Exchange in London was where hundreds of (mainly) punky protestors were penned in by police during the March 1984 Stop the City 'Carnival Against War, Oppression and Destruction'. And in June 1999, thousands took part in the riotous Carnival Against Capital in the area, with music from large mobile sound systems, not just from ipods. More to come I am sure...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Datacide 10 conference and party, Berlin

An excellent event in Berlin last month (October 31st) to mark the launch of the 10th issue of Datacide magazine (see programme). The venue was K9 in Kinzigstrasse, in the Friedrichshain part of the city - an area with some surviving traces of the mass wave of squatting that followed the fall of the Berlin wall. The venue itself was formerly squatted but now has some kind of regularised existence, with housing, a couple of bars and a dancefloor space downstairs. Handily it is just around the corner from the record shop run by the Praxis/Datacide crew in Mainzer Strasse - 'Tricky Tunes: Bassline Provider' the sign says - catering for all your breakbeat/dancehall needs if you are in the area:
In the daytime at K9 there was a conference with contributions loosely themed - as is Datacide 10 - around the historification of rave and electronic music cultures.

Christoph Fringelli talked about ‘Hedonism and Revolution’ with particular reference to the movements of the late 1960s/early 1970s. His starting point was a critique of the dismal figure of the professional revolutionary proposed by Nechayev in the 19th century – the notion of a single-minded man with a mission and no emotions that influenced the practice of both some Bakuninist anarchists and Bolsheviks. The movements of the late 1960s by contrast initially combined political radicalism with a practice of pleasure – there was ‘cultural rupture hand in hand with political rupture’. In West Berlin in the late 1960s for instance there were at least 100 radical bars. Soon though there was a re-emergence of traditional political formations, with both the German SDS (Sozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund) and American SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) giving birth to orthodox Marxist-Leninist parties that became increasingly dismissive of the counter-culture.

Hans Christian Psaar (Unkultur) gave a talk entitled 'Kindertotenlieder for Rave Culture', taking issue with the way utopian visions of the party as temporary autonomous zone can disavow the labour that constitutes the basis for the party, ignoring questions such as who built the sound system, who is serving the drinks, who's working in the factory where the vehicles were made? Or, as I pondered later when I was helping Hans sweep up fag ends from the dancefloor at the end of the party, who cleans up afterwards?

Lauren Graber's 'Countervailing Forces: Electronic Music Countercultures and Subcultures', drew on the work of Sarah Chambers (Club Culture) and Arun Saldanha (Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race) - both of whom criticise taking sub-cultural self-definitions as 'alternative' and 'underground' at face value. One of the questions posed by her discussion was whether the kind of music played in a scene affected its liberatory content - is a squat bar playing breakcore intrinsically more radical than the same place, with the same crowd, playing punk? Lauren defended noise and broken beats as a ‘radical practice’ to ‘get out of standardisation’, not surprizing given her affiliation with Darkmatter Soundsystem (Los Angeles). I agree with this as one strategy, but it's not the only one - experimental scenes can still generate their own rules, styles and fashions, while I'm sure we've all been in situations where the cheesiest pop track has soundracked the most exciting moment. Ultimately it's the social relations that develop between people around music and dancing that matter, rather than what tunes are playing - although I would still argue that some kinds of music have more potential than others.

Alexis Wolton talked about the history of UK pirate radio from the BBC’s first use of the term ‘pirate’ to describe Radio Luxemburg in 1933. He distinguished between an early wave of 1960s offshore pirates like Radio Caroline and Radio Invicta broadcasting from the North Sea, overtly political free radio (rare in the UK, best exemplified in Italy by Bologna’s Radio Alice in the 1970s) and the wave of dance music stations from the early 1990s using tower blocks to broadcast the tunes the official stations neglected and to create ‘a psychic space outside of the monopolies’. Along the way he mentioned various pioneers such as the 1970s/early 80s South London soul station Radio Jackie, and celebrated the continuing vibrancy of unofficial broadcasting - on the weekend before 71 pirate stations were broadcasting in London.

'Shaking the Foundations: Reggae soundsystems meet Big Ben British Values downtown' by John Eden (Uncarved/Woofah) was a freewheeling history of the impact of reggae sound system culture on the UK, tracing a line from the the first London sound system, started by Duke Vin when he moved from Jamaica in 1955 (with arguably the first sound system night being put on by him in the same year in Brixton town hall), through the tribulations of the 1970s (Notting Hill carnival riots, Misty/People Unite and the Southall anti-fascist clashes of 1979), to today's different scenes. Along the way he opposed the attempts of policy makers to create artificial integration by imposing 'national values' from above with the organic process of people coming together through music, dance, sex and drugs.

Stewart Home's Hallucination Generation talk explored some of the forgotten byways of the 1960s counter-culture, partly prompted by his investigations into the life of his mother, Julia Callan-Thompson, who was involved in the 1960s/70s hippy drug scene in Notting Hill. He referenced Terry Taylor, the author of a 1960 novel that seems to have been the first work of fiction in England to mention LSD - and in which incidentally, the hash-dealing/using mod narrator slags off the speed-using trad fans (see mod vs. trad). More generally, his talk caused me to reflect on how in 'counter cultures' defined at least partially by drugs, claims to freedom and autonomy are undercut by the fact that you are only ever a couple of steps away from a gangster with a gun and all kinds of nefarious business/criminal/security services activities.

My own talk expanded on my article in the new Datacide "A Loop Da Loop Era: towards an (anti)history of ‘rave’", with the starting point a critique of this year's '20th anniversary of house music' nostalgia in the UK. Aside from the obvious point that house music and even its UK reception goes back further than 20 years, I wanted to think about some of the deeper roots of what became known as ‘acid house’ and later as ‘rave’ and to consider some of the disparate trajectories that converge on the dancefloors of London, Manchester and Berlin from the late 1980s - such as the phenomonon of groups of disaffected young Europeans organising themselves arounds slices of Black American vinyl that goes back to the jazz age. I used Jeremy Deller's ‘The History of the World’ - which famously explores the affinities between Acid House on the one hand, and the Brass Bands associated with mining villages in the north of England on the other - as an exemplar of how interesting connections could be traced between apparently disparate social and cultural scenes.
Blackmass Plastics and Controlled Weirdness stumble into the morning light after the party. The 'keine homezone fur faschisten' banner outside K9 translates as 'no safe haven for fascists' - the place has had some hassle recently from nazi 'autonomous nationalists'.


Later the action moved downstairs to the dancefloor for a 'day of the dead' party, with a good crowd (200+) and dancing, drinking and chatting until well into the next day. There was no plan to recapitulate the historical dimension of the talks, but it kind of worked out that way. After The Wirebug (Dan Hekate) had warmed things up with some laptop noise action, DJ Controlled Weirdness really turned up the heat at around 4 am with a set that started out with House Nation, headed through piano break hardcore before moving into darker territory that finished with Soundproof's Bring the Lights Down. That set it up nicely for Blackmass Plastics, prolific producer of bass heavy breakbeats in all flavours with his own Thorn Industries and Dirty Needles labels, as well as Rag and Bone records and Combat Recordings.

DJ Kovert was next, an object lesson in how to play hard and very very fast but still keep people dancing - the track that really got people excited was Current Value's Faith with its 'heaven isn't heaven anymore' sample. Anybody can bang on some speedcore/broken beats/experimental noise that leaves people leaning against the walls and stroking their chins - the trick is to do so while teasing the dancing body's expectations of regularity, so that it teeters in suspension on the edge of giving up before being pulled back into motion. The effect is like being on the Waltzers at the fairground - where you seem to be heading at high speed in one direction but are suddenly spun round the other way at the same time.

Throughout the party, visuals were supplied by X-Tractor with projections including distorted images of Walter Benjamin, Marx, Bakunin, Gramsci and Louise Michel.

All in all the event couldn't really have gone any better. John Eden has written up his own report at Uncarved, and is also selling copies of the essential Datacide 10 for a mere £2.50 at his uncarved shop.

My first time in Berlin, it was a busy weekend so didn't do much sightseeing - but was pleased to see there was a Hannah Arendt street by the new Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Gyre & Gimble Coffee House: London 1950s

In the ongoing documentation of the history of London nightlife, I have mentioned before the cellar coffee bars of the West End in the 1950s. One such place was the Gyre and Gimble Coffee House (obviously named after the line in Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky), situated near to Charing Cross Station in John Adam Street.

In 1956, Johnny Booker (1934-2007) took over as manager of the Gyre and Gimble (sometimes known as 'the G's') and began to play music there with friends who became the nucleus of The Vipers, one of the foremost bands in the 1950s skiffle scene. They had a number of hit records, with Booker (recording as 'Johnny Martyn') as one of the singers). Other musicians hung out at the coffee house, including folk guitarist Davey Graham, Long John Baldry, Rod Stewart and soon-to-be English pop star Tommy Steele (as writer and fellow G's habitué Michael Moorcock recalls).

In the book The Map is not the Territory, artist and Situationist Ralph Rumney, recalls an encounter in the G&G with Steele that the latter would probably rather forget (he doesn't mention in his 'Bermondsey Boy' autobiography):

"There was a place called the Gyre and Gimble in a basement in Adams Street that one used to go in at night. and you'd buy a coffee and they'd let you nod off on the table. And Tommy Steele used to come in there and twang on his guitar and sing and make an awful racket, and all of us were just trying to have a quiet kip and we kept telling him to shut up and he wouldn't. And I had a very large friend at that time - Gerald, he was called - who was a bit of a thug...

Anyway, he came down one night - well, he used to come down every night - but he came down one night and Tommy Steele was twanging away as usual - Rock Island Line and skiffle - Rockin' with the Caveman - it was really tiresome. because he didn't have much of a repertoire in those days. And from the top of the stairs Gerald yelled out STOP THAT RACKET. and Tommy Steele didn't. So Gerald just put his hand on the banister, leapt over it. and landed on Tommy Steele, feet first. and cracked about four of his ribs, so he had to be taken to hospital. Which got us barred for about three days [laughs]. And we never saw Tommy Steele there again".

There's a more positive account at the excellent Classic Cafes: 'A dingy narrow doorway, with the name of the establishment in barely-legible swirly lettering, led down stairs which opened up into a very large basement area. The smoky dive had low crude wooden tables and chairs and the whole place had a rustic feel. A sort of menu was scrawled on one of the dark walls, but I had no appetite for eating there. Most of the customers looked as though they had not seen daylight for some time. The coffee however was very good and in generously large cups... Polly and I became regulars at the Gyre & Gimble and joined an informal group of pseudo-intellectuals who used to meet there on Sunday evenings. They had dubbed themselves The New Day Dadaists and in the spirit of Marcel Duchamp discussed ideas to mock the art establishment. They even got as far to putting out an advertisement for an exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite painting at a derelict house in Bloomsbury. Really radical'.

Certainly some interesting cross-cultural/counter-cultural traffic through this place, prompting questions about connections real or imagined: did anarchist Sci-Fi writer Moorcock know Rumney? Was the latter one of the 'New Day Dadaists'? Could history have taken a different turn so that Rod Stewart ended up with the Situationists in Paris in May 1968 instead of touring the States with the Jeff Beck Group?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Miriam Makeba

South African singer Miriam Makeba died yesterday. An outspoken opponent of apartheid, she had her passport confiscated by the South African state in 1960 and had to live in exile for 30 years.

The following song, Khawuleza, was recorded for a Swedish TV programme in 1966 - she links it to black children in the townships watching the police turn up for a raid and calling Khawuleza Mama (Hurry Mama - i.e. 'don't let them get you').

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Classic Party Scenes (5): Beat Girl (1960)

The Soho jazz clubs of the 1950s (discussed in previous post) act as the setting for the film Beat Girl (1960), in which art student Gillian Hills runs away to be a crazy Soho beatnik and then a stripper in a club run by Christopher Lee.

Not sure if the dance scene is in a real club or a studio - the music is by the John Barry Seven and the scene also features a young Oliver Reed dancing in a check shirt (about four minutes in):



The film was released in the US as 'Wild for Kicks', with the following trailer promising a 'vivid and shocking portrayal of modern youth who grow up too soon and live it up too fast' with 'beat girls and defiant boys':

Friday, November 07, 2008

Are you trad or mod? (London 1958)

A great piece from 1958 (not sure what paper) - journalist Anne Allen goes on a tour of London jazz clubs to try and understand the split between 'trad' and 'mod' jazz. As is clear from this article this was not just a musical dispute between the fans of 'traditional' New Orlean jazz and modern jazz - there were also stylistic differences. This was a critical junction in post-war youth culture - from the jazz enthusiasts of London run two different trajectories, the dress down trad-beatnik-hippy line and the sharp dressing-working class dandy-mod line (with the original mods being modern jazz enthusiasts):

"We went to Cy Laurie’s, a home of ‘Trad’. Down steep stairs to a room lighted only near the band and in the corners we found a hundred or so youngsters, average age about 20. Most of them were in the midst of a hectic jive session. Some were glued to the walls in gloomy concentration on the music.

Some members come three or four times a week and being in the swim is manifested by a sort of nightmare uniform. Long straight hair for the girls, black or scarlet stockings, fisherman’s knit sweaters reaching to the knees or long tube dresses.

Little beards were common and a lot of the men had tight-cut trousers with a distinctive stripe. I was told that the thing of the moment, exclusive to this club, was the turning round of clerical collars.

The overwhelming impression was of heat. The amount of thick woollen clothing currently fashionable must be nearly insupportable after hours of lightning-quick jiving...

I got nowhere in my efforts to find out their jobs. They just did not admit to working although some were obviously bona fide students.

Had we dressed the part for this club we should not have been allowed into the other club we visited – the Flamingo, the home of Modern jazz. Even silk mufflers are frowned on here and the manager insists on lending a tie to anyone with out one. Most of the members came to listen. Only a few danced, and then in a minute space with the least possible movement

Three bands played while we there. No single one could possibly maintain the pace throughout the whole evening. There was almost no pause between numbers and the music was ear-splitting.

There was less of a social club atmosphere here… Again and again I was told ‘it depends what band is playing. We follow the band’. Such is their devotion that they come from as far away as Nottingham and Bournemouth. A little older than the Trad fans down the road they also seemed more steadily employed – shipping clerk, apprentice printer, builder, shop assistant, music student. The list was endlessly varied.

...And never forget that they are not licensed for drinks, and the two we saw were absolutely rigid about the ‘Members Only’ rule… nowhere did we find anything stronger to drink that a ‘coke’.

See also London Jazz Clubs 1950s. Thanks to Steve Fletcher for sending in this clipping - he is actually in the photo on the left - and for this flyer from the Cy Laurie Jazz Club at 41 Great Windmill Street in Soho. Note the invitation to 'Dance or listen to Jazz! Styled in the New Orleans idiom'. The club was indeed open every night of the week with bands including Bill Brunskills Jazzmen, the Graham Stewart Seven, the Brian Taylor Jazzmen and of course the Cy Laurie Band - sometimes with a skiffle group - skiffle also emerged from this scene.


Memories, flyers and clippings from this scene or any other always welcome - email address is in right hand box.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Iraq: cleric calls for dancing ban

'A cleric's call to ban partying and dancing in the Shiite holy city of Karbala has triggered a heated debate among residents, just when they had begun living without fear of hardline militias. In his Friday sermon, Sheikh Abdel Mahdi al-Karbalaie, the representative of revered Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on residents of Karbala to put a halt to dancing, partying, listening to music loudly and displaying "provocative" women's garments in shops...

The call from Sheikh Karbalaie, aide of Ayatollah Sistani who is known as a moderate religious leader, has divided the local population, with many welcoming the sermons and others terming it an attempt to return to the "dark old days". During the former regime of Saddam Hussein, Iraq was known for its more secular lifestyle but after he was toppled in 2003 by invading US-led forces, local Shiite militias began enforcing a strict Islamic code of living. Attacks on shops selling music CDs, women's beauty products and dresses were common in Karbala as the militias, mainly loyal to radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, became the city's new moral police. Sameer, a shopkeeper who used to sell women's dresses, recalls how one day militiamen stormed his shop and ordered him to put a veil even on the dummy of a model. "At that time there was a woman in my shop and she asked the militiamen why they didn't go and veil dummies of male models in other shops," said Sameer, who gave only his first name'.

Source: AFP 26 October 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dancing in the Streets: Revolution in Portugal 1974

In April 1974, decades of fascist rule in Portugal were brought to an end in a coup staged by left wing military officers. In the weeks and months that followed there was a mass upsurge of nearly 50 years of repressed energies, with strikes, demonstrations and factory occupations. A good account of these events is contained in Portugal: The Impossible Revolution by Phil Mailer, from which this vivid description of May Day demonstrations in Lisbon is extracted. It is a great example of the explosion of the carnivalesque in the context of a revolutionary festival - dancing in the streets with all possibilities open. Although the movement ultimately subsided, fascism was permanently vanquished, and the Portuguese colonies - including Angola and Mozambique - gained their independence.

We have never seen anything like it before. The whole of Lisbon is out, the emotion beyond belief. All morning the radio has been calling for 'calm and dignity'... We stand at the corner of Alameda and try to absorb it all: the noise, the spirit, the joy surging out in floods, after half a century of being bottled up...

This is the day of the workers and all Lisbon is here... I could cry. Others are weeping already. All day we march, lost in different parts of a crowd half a million strong. Flowers, carnations everywhere. Along the way, people are offering water to demonstrators, from their windows...

Young workers are dancing to the music. Police cars go by, with demonstrators on top of them. A bus passes, the driver tooting his horn in rhythm with other noises. There's no telling where that vehicle will end up: it's going in the opposite direction to the destination written on the front. The emergency exits of all buses are open, flags protruding from every window. A group of youths pass, 'the Gringos of Samba' according to their banner. Their Latin-American music is very catching. More people begin to dance. A group of students pass shouting 'O Povo armado jamaissera vencido' (an armed people will never be defeated). People laugh at this subversive variation of the 'official' slogan. The whole thing is confusion. People are cheering anything and everything. Someone shouts 'Viva Spinola, viva o communismo'.

We go to the house of certain young singers whose songs had been banned.Their records, censored, were rarely played on the radio. Everyone is drinking. A singing session ensues, which after an hour moves back to Rossio. We stay there, sitting on the ground, until 3 am, singing, watching people jump into the icy cold fountain. Finally, exhausted, I decide to go home. I shall never forget that First of May. The noise, the noise, the noise is still ringing in my ears. The horns tooting in joy, the shouting, the slogans, the singing and dancing. The doors of revolution seem open again, after forty eight years of repression. In that single day everything was replaced in perspective. Nothing was god-given, all was man-made. People could see their misery and their problems in a historical setting. How can words describe 600,000 people demonstrating in a city of a million? Or the effect of carnations everywhere, in the barrels of rifles, on every tank and every ear, in the hands of troops and demonstrators alike?....

A week has passed, although it already feels like many months. Every hour has been lived to the full. It is already difficult to remember what thepapers looked like before, or what people had then said. Hadn't there always been a revolution?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Party Police Round-Up

Australia: Riot Police called to Sydney Rave (In the Mix, September 1 2008)

'A secret warehouse party in Sydney’s Inner West was shut down by police early on Sunday morning, causing unhappy revelers to spill onto busy Parramatta Road, forcing its closure for around 90 minutes. Riot police and the dog squad were called to the party by concerned residents, and it’s estimated the illegal warehouse rave had between 1,000 and 1,500 party goers. The party was split over three floors of the abandoned Parramatta Road warehouse, but it was closed by authorities around 1am. Ravers on the building’s top floor are said to have showered police with bottles when asked to leave, and news reports indicate authorities are now on the hunt for the people responsible, as well as the event’s organisers'.

'I was at the party on Saturday night, standing directly behind decks on the drum n bass stage when the riot police invaded. The news reports state there was no damage to police vehicles or property, but what about the damage to the equipment caused by the over zealous police who stormed in and smashed both turntables and attempted to smash the mixer (about $5,000 worth of damage) and then they pushed and shoved and bashed everyone they could get their battons on. This was complete overkill and so unnecessary. there were no arrests on the night so clearly the "riotous partygoers" were non existant'.

England: 'Curfew order on man at rave' (Lynn News, 23 October 2008)

'A Swaffham man who went to a rave when a court had ordered him not to, now faces a curfew to keep him indoors seven days a week. [RW]... was caught by police on the record decks of an unlicensed music event at Gayton Thorpe in August, Lynn Magistrates heard on Tuesday.In April, a Norwich court had given him a two-year community order with a requirement he was “not to attend a rave or other unlicensed musical event”. [RW] admitted he had carried out an unauthorised licensable activity at Gayton Thorpe and accepted he was therefore in breach of the order.

... police became aware of the rave after a Gayton estate employee called them at midnight on Saturday, August 16, and said there were a number of cars and people gathering near his home... police found [RW] wearing headphones on the sound decks and he was arrested. Items taken by officers included 12 speakers, two generators, three turntables and five mixer-boxes. In a police interview, Walsh described the equipment as a “suicide rig” in that it was expected to be seized... The bench decided to revoke the original order and replace it with a new two-year order with a curfew, meaning [RW] will now have to stay at home from 8pm to 6am seven days a week for six months.

India: 'Police raid rave party' in Mumbai

'In one of the biggest police swoops in recent times, cops barged into a Juhu pub on Sunday night and picked up 240 youngsters on suspicion of 'doing drugs'. Nine of them, including an Israeli national, were arrested for peddling and distributing narcotic substances. The other 231 were made to undergo blood and urine tests and released on Monday afternoon after spending about 12 hours at the Azad Maidan police club' (Times of India, 7 October 2008)

'Blaring trance music, smoke-filled dance floors and stoned youngsters are no longer confined to just Goa or farmhouses in Mumbai's outskirts. Nightclubs and pubs in the city are fast becoming hotspots for rave parties. The busting of a rave party in Juhu is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg, say police officials. "Youngsters form a huge pie of the clientele. With higher disposable income and easy accessibility to high-end drugs, Mumbai is soon becoming popular," said a senior ANC official, requesting anonymity. Rave parties are characterised by high entrance fee, extensive drug use, chill rooms and even open sexual activities in some cases, said a senior officer from the Narcotics Control Bureau, Mumbai, on condition of anonymity. Apart from youngsters from affluent families, the upwardly-mobile people employed in BPOs and KPOs, film personalities, industrialists are also part of the clientele. "Attendance can range from 30 ravers in a small club of tens. While techno music and light shows are essential for raves, hard drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy and LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) have become an integral part of the rave culture," observed a senior cop.' (India Info, 7 October 2008 - KPO=Knowledge Processing Outsourcing, BPO= Business Process Outsourcing, i.e. IT, call centres etc.).

'The next time you get a whiff of a rave party in your neighbourhood or see a hippie-looking character trying to pass on drugs to youngsters, just dial a number and help the police.
The Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) of the Mumbai police has introduced helplines for people to give information about suspected drug peddlers and about those consuming drugs. “We are aiming at maximum participation by people. We need their support to help us remove drug menace from our society,” said Vishwas Nangre Patil, deputy commissioner of police, ANC' (DNA Mumbai, 1 November 2008)

Monday, November 03, 2008

For Laika

Thanks to John Hutnyk at Trinketization for reminding me that today is the 51st anniversary of the launch of Spuntnik 2, with its passenger Laika the dog becoming both the first mammal in space and the first space fatality a few hours later.

I've discussed the first songs in space by a man and a woman, but perhaps the honour should go to a dog whimpering in zero gravity. There have been quite a few Laika references in music - indeed there's both a Finnish band called Laika & The Cosmonauts and a UK band, Laika (who I once saw at the Venue in New Cross supporting, I think, Spirtitualized Electric Mainline).

The best of a number of songs referring to the dog is by Arcade Fire - not so much a song about the dog as one evoking the sadness of Laika being sent away to die as a metaphor for the fate of an errant brother ('Our mother should have just named you Laika! It's for your own good, It's for the neighborhood').

Sunday, November 02, 2008

DIY Punk Singles

From the mid-1970s there was an explosion of independent music labels that coincided with the birth of punk. Some of these labels were one off do-it-yourself affairs- perhaps a band putting out one single on their own label and then disappearing. Others, like Rough Trade, became reasonably substantial businesses - with all the contradictions that implies in trying to steer an alternative course in a capitalist market. Still, at the very least the independent labels provided an outlet for some interesting, innovative and challenging music that the big labels would never have touched - as well as for quite a lot of rubbish that would never have seen the light of day if the band/label had ever sought a third-party opinion on the quality of their work!

There are some good websites and music blogs trying to document this eruption of 7 inch vinyl creativity. Most are seemingly compiled by people digitising their old records and scanning the sleeves (the latter are great social historical artifacts in their own right) and sometimes the vinyl itself in various glorious colours.

45 Revolutions is the blog linked to the bible for this kind of music - 45 Revolutions by Mario Panciera, an encyclopedia aiming to be the definitive guide to punk, mod, powerpop and new wave singles issued in the UK and Ireland from 1976 to 1979. The book itself is nearly 1200 pages long and covers 3000 singles.

Killed by Death Records covers a slightly broader time scale and demonstrates that the post-punk DIY single phenomenon was not limited to the UK, Ireland, America and Australia- the site includes lots of Swedish examples too.

Always Searching for Music has more of the same (but also some 1980s stuff) with a 1977 French example from Warm Gun.

Worthless Trash is good too, perhaps more power pop than punk-centred with stuff mainly from UK and Belgium.

Punk 77 is not a music blog with MP3 files, but does exactly what is say on the tin with lots of information about UK punk bands from 1976 to 1979.

You need to check these sites regularly, as music files are often only available for a limited period of time (though the pictures and text are still interesting on their own). Warning, this can be very addictive - I have spent the last week listening to 1977 classics from the likes of The Dils ('Class War' and 'I hate the rich'), The Nosebleeds ('Ain't been to no music school') and Some Chicken ('New Religion').

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Datacide conference and party in Berlin

I'm going to be in Berlin on Friday taking part in this... If you're within several hundred miles you should try and make it down!


Datacide Conference 2008 and Party
DIA DE LOS MUERTOS, 31.10.08
K9, Kinzigstr.
910247 Berlin-Friedrichshain
Doors open 15.00; Conference start at 15.30
Christoph Fringeli: Introduction - A brief introduction to Datacide, where it’s coming from and a brief introduction to the new issue and the conference.

Christoph Fringeli: Hedonism and Revolution
Will true pleasure only exist after the revolution, or will it be indispensable to even lead to the revolution?Proclaiming the revolutionary as a “doomed man” without “personal interests”, the anarchist Sergey Nechayev set the pace for an ascetic image of the revolutionary that would be picked up by the direct heirs of Bakuninism: the Leninists. An “ideal” of a person without desires and only one passion - the revolution - was supposed to bring about a society of human fullfillment, something that had to go wrong, and end in the misery of the Maoist and Trotzkyist sects. But there has always been a hedonist counter-tendency to this, from Fourier to Sexpol to the Commune movement and the counter cultures of the 60’s to the 90’s. CF will examine some of the tensions and discussions that took place in the 70’s and ask if they have any relevance now.

Neil Transpontine (History is Made at Night): A Loop Da Loop Era: towards an (anti)history of ‘rave’
In 2008 the UK media have been full of stories about the ‘20th annversary of acid house’. Neil Transpontine critiques this conventional history, and celebrates instead the multiple trajectories that converge and pass through the various sonic, social and chemical phenomena grouped under that unstable term ‘rave’. It is a story that takes in not just 303s and 808s but gay riots, carnival uprisings and underground jazz clubs in 1940s Europe.

Stewart Home: Hallucination Generation
Looking at some of the more occulted aspects of the counterculture in 1960s London. How some of the key figures in the development of the scene rarely make it into the histories. Terry Taylor the first person to mention LSD in a British novel, and the inspirationfor both Absolute Beginners and Mister Love and Justice by a better known writer Colin MacInnes. Detta Whybrow and the first major LSD distribution network in London after the drug was made illegal. Alex Trocchi, drug dealing and black powers. Plus the Notting Hill’s problematic writers of the 1950s who later occupied positions on the outer fringes of the counterculture.
John Eden: Shaking The Foundations: Reggae soundsystems meet ‘Big Ben British values’ downtown
John Eden will examine the contribution reggae soundsystems have contributed to British culture and identity, and what they can teach the global mp3 generation. John has contributed writing to a vast number of independent publications over the years and currently co-edits Woofah magazine – “a completely DIY rag covering reggae, dubstep and grime”. He has run his own uncarved.org website since 1997. He began unleashing his musical taste on the world in the mid 80s by wrestling all-comers off the stereo at house parties and standing guard whilst his carefully compiled cassettes played. More recently he has contributed sets to the respected Blogariddims podcast series and played records at a bewildering array of obscure London venues.
Hans-Christian Psaar: Kindertotenlieder for Rave culture.
It's a common myth in music subcultures to think of themselves as independent. But what happens? Commodities get produced and sold on the market to consumers. No matter if those consumers wear dreadlocks or suits. Rebellion and subversion are labels to sell capitalist goods in the cultural industry. Be creative! Have fun! Those are the new imperatives of post-fordist capitalism and its cultural economies. The talk will show on the examples of The Prodigy and Kid606 how rave music is branded and sold.
Lauren Graber: Countervailing Forces: Electronic Music Countercultures and Subcultures
This paper will open with a discussion of how counterculture and subculture have been defined, and then ask what is at stake when we seek to assess divergent avenues within electronic music in these terms. Central to the operational imperative of subculture is the solidification of style and genre - visible and audible signs connoting sameness and belonging. The tactics of visibility and disappearance enacted as subcultural and countercultural everyday practices will be drawn out through a commentary on the book “Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race” and other oppositional tendencies in experimental electronics.
Alexis Wolton: Tortugan towerblocks: Pirate signals in the 90s
After a clampdown on pirate activity at the end of the 80s, the housing estates of London saw a renewed explosion of pirate stations in the early 90s. During the 90s commentators enthusiastically linked the pirate stations with Hakim Bey’s ideas on pirate utopias, information networks and self-organisation. A decade later the pirates still exist, their relationship to the world radically changed by the internet, but the positivist optimism of 90s technoculture has waned, many of its hopes recuperated by Capital.A discussion of the history and legacy of pirate radio, the theories of self-organisation that accompanied it and current ideas on participatory media.
OPEN ENDED PANEL DISCUSSION
PARTY:
noise:_____from 23h
Mario D’Andreta (Alien City Soundscapes)
Line Destruction (Spine)
Circuit Parallele (Spine, Hekate)
The Wirebug (Hekate, Coven H, London)
DJ Controlled Weirdness (Unearthly, London)
Blackmass Plastics (Dirty Needles, U.K.)
Kovert (Criticalnoise.net, Datacide, London)
El Gusano Rojo (Hijos de Puta)

Monday, October 27, 2008

Excavated Shellac

One of my favourite quotes is from Walter Benjamin: “A chronicler who recites events without distinguishing between major and minor ones acts in accordance with the following truth: nothing that has ever happened should be regarded as lost for history” (On the Concept of History, 1940). This is the method I try and follow with History is Made at Night - no detail is too small for recording.

Many others in the blogospere seem to be operating on a similar basis, documenting every available piece of evidence relating to their particular obsession, nowhere more so than in relation to music. As an example one of my recent discoveries is Excavated Shellac, dedicated to '78rpm recordings of folkloric and vernacular music from around the world'. Here you will find fantastic old recordings from all around the world not to mention images of some gorgeous slices of vinyl and their archaic labels.

Critiques of blogging sometimes give the impression that it is all about ill-informed comment and subjective rants. Granted there is plenty of that, but there is also lots of good qualilty research in progress and primary source material being put out there on blogs. My only concern is how fragile this is - held on private sector browsers, and at risk of being deleted if the blogger loses interest, or perhaps dies. Our collective cultural databank is being extended by the efforts of a million bloggers, but at the same time whole chunks of the social memory of the human species get wiped just because somebody can't afford to keep up their broadband payments.