Monday, June 30, 2008

The Mosh Pit - Simon Armitage

I enjoyed reading Gig - the Life and Times of a Rock-star Fantasist by the poet Simon Armitage. A man whose 'definition of a good gig' is 'more legs in the air than arms', his experience at a gig by The Wedding Present at Holmfirth Picturedrome in Yorkshire causes him to reflect on the mosh pit:

'the mosh pit is a community within a community and has a structure of its own, with a hard core of participants forming the main nucleus and lighter or less stable elements towards its outer edge. I've sometimes imagined that at the very centre there's a kind of sweet spot, like the eye of the storm, around which everything else revolves, a position of almost Buddhist­like tranquillity. But if it exists I've never found it. The mosh pit is an energized entity fuelled by excitement and adrenalin, and not always a pleasant place to be, though most moshers appear to abide by an unwritten code of practice that might be described as a kind of gentlemen's anarchy. Stage-divers will always be caught, crowd-surfers will always be rolled, and anyone who slips or stumbles will always be hoisted back to their feet. I've also noticed a discreet form of gallantry in the mosh pit, whereby female moshers are allowed a few more centimetres of personal space to perform their gyrations and are man­handled with greater sensitivity.
A gap tends to open up around the mosh pit - a sort of dry moat or buffer zone - and in my experience, this arc of no-man's-land is the most dangerous area of any gig. A combination of both the ripple effect and chaos theory are at work here: as it radiates outwards, the knock-on effect of any disturbance becomes magnified and exagger­ated as it travels, so that a relatively innocuous push or shove within the tightly packed core can result in the slewing and spilling of several bodies at the circumference. It's also a zone inhabited by the unconfident or inexperi­enced mosher, who are a danger to both themselves and others. But the main peril comes from the people on the other side of the moat, those who henceforth shall be referred to as the firemen. The firemen like Proper Music, not this kind of stuff, but have come to the gig because the venue has a late licence and anyway they're on the day shifr so have been asleep all day and now want Something To Do. They've gravitated towards the front of the venue because they're Not Scared, and as well as being tough they're also big, because they Work Out, and they don't like people coming too close, let alone pushing past. So with their pints clasped against their chests and their girlfriends manfully protected beneath their sizable shoulders, they form a semicircular wall of muscular flesh, through which very few enter and very few leave. Moshers who are thrown across the moat in their direction can expect to be propelled back at twice the speed, because even though moshing looks violent it is not Proper Fighting'.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gino Severini - futurism and dance

The credit crunch clearly hasn't hit the world of super-rich art collecting - last week Danseuse (above), a 1915 painting by the Futurist artist Gino Severini sold for more than £15 million at Sotheby's.

Unlike some of his Futurist contemporaries, Severini (1883-1966) seems to have been at least as interested in the flow of the human form as in that of machines, and a number of his paintings feature the figure of the dancer. Severini frequented dance halls and cafés when he was living in Paris before the First World War, including the famous Bal Tabarin nightclub in Montmartre which opened in 1912 and featured in one of his paintings.

Blue Dancer (Ballerina blu), 1912





Dynamic Hieroglyphic of the Bal Tabarin, 1912.





Sea=Dancer (Mare=Ballerina), 1914

Friday, June 27, 2008

Crackers 1976: daytime soul sessions in London

The Way We Wore by Robert Elms recalls the soul/funk sessions at Crackers in London in the mid 70s. This was by all accounts a very influential club - at DJHistory, Norman Jay, Fabio, Terry Farley and Jazzie B all mention its impact on them. There are a couple of other interesting points here. Crackers was another example of how in the 70s and 80s gay clubs provided a haven not just for lesbians and gay men but for all kinds of musical sub-cultures (see for instance the role of Louise's as hang out central for first generation punks). And what of day time clubbing? - Crackers had a packed session on Friday lunchtime, and there seem to have been day time sessions in London from the 1940s to the 1970s - hard to imagine now that people could get away with skipping work for a few hours in this way. Anyway here's Robert's account:

'1976, that legendary summer just heating up, we were on our way to small, hardcore clubs in Soho and Covent Garden. Two or three times a week heading into town, unknow­ingly beginning the process of trendification which would alter the fortunes of inner London. Dedicated groups of young, over­dressed soul-searchers headed through the often deserted streets of an unloved and unlovely city as the daytime temperatures kept climbing and the air became dense with heat and expectation. The Lyceum on a Monday night, Sombreros in Kensington on Thursdays: the Global Village, where Heaven now is, on Fridays, the 100 Club on Oxford Street on Saturdays. Most notable and most potent of them all was Crackers on Dean Street, on the edge of Soho itself and at the very centre of a world.

Crackers, little more than another dodgy disco to look at, was one of the most influential venues of any year, and by late 1975, into the fabled summer of '76, it was at the core of this still largely secretive inner London scene. We, for me, meant two or three of the boys from Burnt Oak, who had really got into it and wanted to push on. And as soon as you got to places like Crackers, where the best dancers were, the most righteous young black kiddies from Tottenham and Brixton, the best-looking girls, the most knowl­edgeable music buffs, the most daring dressers, you just knew you were in the inner sanctum.

The licensing laws at the time were so puritanical and arcane that this small gay club had to provide food. So all punters were handed a slice of Mother's Pride and spam as they entered and you could see these sandwiches littered round the dance floor at the end of the night.

Amazingly the hottest session at Crackers was on Friday after­noon, twelve until two-thirty. This was a direct revival of an old sixties tradition, when Friday lunch-hour had been a prime-time slot at Tiles, a late mod club. The idea was that nobody does too much work on Friday afternoons anyway, so who's going to notice if somebody is not at their desk or behind the counter for a couple of hours, and they're dancing or preening instead. Indeed half the crowd at Crackers on Friday were in their work-wear, office suits with the ties tucked in the pocket, hairdressers' smocks or even schoolboy blazers abandoned at the door. Others who somehow had avoided the pressure to work or study, and could make a performance of it, were attired to the nines. A young crowd, predominantly aged from sixteen to twenty-one, gathered from all corners of London to duck into this doorway amid the tacky shops and kiosks of the wrong end of Oxford Street, down the stairs and into a packed, darkened room, pounding with tough, black American tunes and throbbing with that almost tangible confidence which says this is the place to be.

The dance floor itself, a small sprung wooden square, was strictly for dancers, and by that I mean dancers. Anyone who ventured on to the square at Crackers had to have steps, and the bottle to produce them under the gaze of the unforgiving throng. Some of the top guys at Crackers are legendary still: Horace, Tommy Mac, Jaba, and the daddy of them all, Clive Clark, a charming black guy who went on to become a professional chore­ographer, but started out scorching the opposition on Friday afternoons in Dean Street. When these boys were on the floor, a circle would form to give them an amphitheatre in which to per­form. They would then pull out moves and steps with a wickedly competitive edge, legs flying like lasers, some new twist or turn eliciting spontaneous applause from the closely watching circle. Unlike northern soul, with its dervish spins and flailing kicks, its wild amphetamine abandon, the southern style was tight and precise: feet made rapid tap movements, knees were bent, hips sashayed, shoulders rolled, heads bobbed. The whole effect was somewhere between boxing and bopping. And if you couldn't cut it, you didn't go anywhere near the floor. Around the square stood contenders and pretenders, who rated their chances but hadn't yet stepped into the ring. Some enrolled themselves at Pineapple, the dance studio which had recently opened up round the corner in Covent Garden. They pulled on sweat-tops and legwarmers to learn moves from ballet, jazz and tap, provoking the craze for dancewear which would result in dodgy thick socks around ankles a few years later. Others simply spent hours on council estate carpets, honing their footwork, their dips and turns while avoiding the furniture.

Behind the dancers, at the bar, at the back, the rest of the club grooved and swayed, perpetual motion. My place, as a young suburban boy, was way at the back, bobbing and watching and noting and loving every super-saturated, hyped-up little minute of it. And then, come half two, the last strains of Dexter Wansel or Charles Earland still swirling around your brain, it was out. Blink­ing against the light, the sweat freezing on your face as you hit cool air, into the rushing maelstrom of Oxford Street.

Leg it over the road to Hanway Street, a charismatic, piss-smelling dogleg alley, where up the stairs of an unmarked doorway was Contempo. Contempo Records was the epicentre of the London black music world in 1976, entirely contained in a room about eight feet square above a Spanish bar with an Irish name, in a forgotten street. On Friday afternoons it was the only place to buy the records the DJs had been spinning over the road at Crackers. So punters literally queued up the stairs, shouting out names of songs and artists, or listening intently to the sides which had arrived in crates from the States that day, deciding whether that was the one to invest in'.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Colette: The Vagabond

I have posted here before on the French writer Colette (1873-1954). Her novel The Vagabond, first published in 1911, is a fictionalised account of her experiences as a dancer in the cafés chantant and music halls, and of the tension, for a woman in this period, between the demands of a respectable marriage and freedom - even if the price of the latter was solitude.

I was struck by this description of her dancing in front of the kind of bourgeois onlookers from whose domain she was in flight, with its sense of the dance itself a rejection of the constraints on the female body:

"I dance and dance. A beautiful serpent coils itself along the Persian carpet, an Egyptian amphora tilts forward, pouring forth a cascade of perfumed hair, a blue and stormy cloud rises and floats away, a feline beast springs forwards, then recoils, a sphinx, the colour of pale sand, reclines at full length, propped on its elbows with hollowed back and straining breasts. I have recovered myself and forget nothing.

Do these people really exist, I ask myself? No, they don't. The only real things are dancing, light, freedom, and music. Nothing is real except making rhythm of one's thought and translating it into beautiful gestures. Is not the mere swaying of my back, free from any constraint, an insult to those bodies cramped by their long corsets, and enfeebled by a fashion which insists that they should be thin?"

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Stonehenge 2008

Another summer solstice passes with me in London thinking I must try and get down to Stonehenge next year. At least 30,000 people made it though this weekend, braving the drizzle to await the sunrise at the stones.



OK so its not the full-on free festival of yore, but a one night gathering of thousands of people is a victory of sorts after the repression of the 1980s and 1990s when people were getting arrested for trying to get anywhere near to Stonehenge. Andy Worthington has some good pictures of celebrations there over the years.

See also Stonehenge 2007

Friday, June 20, 2008

Loie Fuller (Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks Dance Collection)

The Joseph Rous Paget-Fredericks Dance Collection at the University of California consists of 'approximately 2,000 original drawings, paintings and photographs, as well as scrapbooks and other dance memorabilia', collected from around 1913 to 1945.
There are some fantastic images online of dancers from this period, such as paintings of Anna Pavlova and photos of Chicago-born Loie Fuller (1862-1928). The latter was not only a pioneer of free dance, but of the lightshow - as early as the 1890s she was experimenting with different coloured gas lighting on silk in her dance performances. She 'held many patents for stage lighting, including the first chemical mixes for gels and slides and the first use of luminescent salts to create lighting effects' (source).

After seeing Fuller perform at the Folies-Berigere in Paris in 1893, the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé wrote:

‘Her performance, sui generis, is at once an artisitic intoxication and an industrial achievement, In that terrible bath of materials swoons the radiant, cold dancer, illustrating countless themes of gyration. From her proceeds an expanding web – giant butterflies and petals, unfoldings – everything of a pure and elemental order. She blends with the rapidly changing colours which vary their limelit phantasmagoria of twilight and grotto, their rapid emotional changes – delight, mourning, anger; and to set these off, prismatic, either violent or dilute as they are, there must be the dizziness of soul made visible by an artifice' (quoted in What is Dance?: Readings in Theory and Criticism By Roger Copeland, Marshall Cohen, Oxford University Press 1983).


(thank to Fed by Birds for pointing me in the direction of this archive)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Dancing Questionnaire (9): Tracy K - 'music was everything and the possibilities were endless'

Tracy K recalls nights out dancing from Tamworth to Tokyo, via London and Aberystwyth. The tale of dancing in Tokyo with Belle and Sebastian made me very jealous

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?

I can remember my mum, who had me at 19, dancing me round the room as a baby to Aretha Franklin and Sam and Dave. I know I've inherited my dancing gene from her!

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?

Too many to mention, but I've met a lot (a LOT) of my significant others in clubs, so I would say the dance as mating ritual. I would also have to mention the kind of shamanic ritual of mass dancing to Jah Wobble at Glastonbury in the 1990s and dancing onstage with Belle and Sebastian in Tokyo to Dirty Dream #2 on my 33rd birthday.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…

Being at a generic indie club in 1995 at the Marquee with my very best friend in the world and realising we were the only two women in a sea of cute indie boys. Being young, single, moderately attractive and a feeling that the music was everything and the possibilities were endless.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…

Again, London in 1995, having been dumped by charming bastard, I went to see Gene at the Forum and cried my eyes out in the moshpit to Olympian. Alone at the aftershow club, I danced broken hearted to The Smiths, pursued hopelessly across the floor by a lad in a Morrissey shirt too shy to make eye-contact. Pathetic...in both senses!

5.Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?

Aged 11, I frequented the local youth club, which had an excellent nightclub room: I tended towards the Mod, with my southern soul mum and ska loving dad, so it was The Jam, Madness etc all the way back then.

Aged 16-18, my male friends and I went into Tamworth's premier (ie only) club, fondly called the Imbecile (Embassy). We would storm the floor for the token indie half hour (The Cure/Smiths/Pixies/Wonder Stuff etc) and then sup our cider and black morosely for the rest of the night. this was enlivened by regular trips to Rock city in my mates' clapped out mini. Very heady days!

Aged 18-21, university days. My friends and I went to the local footy Club on a Friday night every Friday night for 3 years. A mixture of poppy chart stuff, cheesy old music and the occasional cool track. We all loved dancing and had little routines to Loveshack etc. We could never work out why we almost never got asked for the end-of-the-night slowie, when we were a group of 13 girls who were inseparable...hmmm...

Aged 21-25 and then again from 28-30. A downstairs club in a seafronty hotel in Aber, painted black, which attracted the local Goths, indie, metal and mistfit kids [The Bay Hotel, Aberystwyth]. I was DEVOTED to this place, I went 3 times a week and danced my arse off every week, always one of the first on the dancefloor, always one of the last to leave. The happiest and most carefree times of my life. I met the best people, heard the best music and felt at home there. Actually, I felt like the queen of the scene there. Everyone knew each other, there were never any major stresses or fights (there was a cheesy nightclub upstairs, a similar atmosphere but more fights) and it had a devoted crowd of habituees. Wonderful place, I miss it still.

Aged 29-32. Moved to London, went to lots of okay clubs but discovered the After Skool Klub (not a horrible school disco type place, despite the name), the right mixture of indie, retro and classic music with kids who just didn't care. I took lots of people there, used to love staggering out in the early hours of a summer morning and watching the sun rise sitting by Embankment. Around this time I also used to go to the Metro midweek: there's always something special about clubbing midweek, when everyone else is going to work in an hour or two and you have just staggered out of a dingy basement, mascara in rivulets down your face and your clothes soaked with sweat. Around this time I met a girl who was a great dancer, we danced for the love of dancing. People thought we were lesbians, because we were so in synch with each other. People are generally idiots though.

Now. I go out dancing less frequently, though the will is still there and I get itchy feet about 11:30 on Saturday nights. Our local club is a bit too student disco for me these days and I can't take anywhere seriously that actually plays Razorlight. I look back fondly at my dancing days and think they were some of the happiest of my life: the freedom, the music so loud it's in your blood, the hypnotic state you get into when the dj keeps them coming, the sense of communion with people you love, the ritual of getting ready. I love all of it. I miss all of it.

6. When and where did you last dance?

I had a little dance at the ASK with my friend a couple of Saturdays ago, but she was working, so it wasn't for long. Before that, it was my hen night in Manchester the weekend before and we danced in a mental little basement club which played Fun Boy Three and Sinatra. A couple of my best mates who had stamina and cocktails running through our veins. Magic!

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?


Probably Pixies Debaser or The Breeders Cannonball. The Cure's Boys Don't Cry would do it too, or Stevie Wonder's Superstition. I love a good bassline...

All questionnaires welcome- just answer the same questions and send to transpontine@btinternet.com (see previous questionnaires)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Revolution Girl Style Now!

Riot Grrrl was probably the ultimate zine-driven scene. While punk, for instance, threw up fanzines written by people who wanted to document the new music of the late 1970s, with riot grrrl the zines came first. Molly Neuman and Allison Wolfe, who formed key scene band Bratmobile, first put out Girl Germs zine in 1990. They then gave a name to the emerging movement with Riot Grrrl zine, the first issue of which came out in June 1991. Toby Vail, meanwhile, put out Jigsaw zine as a result of which Kathleen Hanna got in touch and they started Bikini Kill – inevitably the best-known of the Riot Grrrl bands also put out a zine of the same name.

Riot Grrrl – revolution girl style now! (Black Dog Publishing, 2007) gives due weight to the zine and DIY dimensions of the movement, with a chapter by Red Chidgey on Riot Grrrrl Writing. She argues that the zine ‘manifestoes were a form of wish fulfilment, conjuring up in words whatever the authors wanted to see happen in real life… “Riot Grrrl was about inventing new titles”, says Jo Huggy, ”you think up some name for a fantasy revolutionary group of girls, spread the ideas of it about and hope, for someone, it’ll come true”'.

In England, key riot grrrl band Huggy Bear declared in their Her Jazz manifesto (printed in their Huggy Nation zine, 1992): ‘Soon truckloads of Girl Groups and Girl/Boy Groups will be arriving to storm onto our platforms to start the riot they’ve been dreaming and plotting in the many hours spent waiting, growing taller with anticipation’.

Thus the bedroom dreams of a post-punk feminist youth movement gave birth to just that, initially in early 1990s Olympia and Washington DC and then in the UK and elsewhere.

The scene struggled to cope with a media onslaught, and the record industry was soon repackaging a diluted form of girl power with The Spice Girls. Nevertheless, Riot Grrrl inspired girls (and boys) across the world to form bands and write, and there continue to be riot grrrl networks to this day.

Riot Grrrl was also one of the final pre-internet movements. As Beth Ditto notes in her foreword to the book, it was ‘Built on the floors of strangers’ living rooms, tops of xeorox machines, snail mail, word of mouth and mixtapes’. In the pre-internet world ‘the main means of communicating and networking… was through exchanging zines and writing letters’ (Julia Downes). Erin Smith, who published the early Teenage Gang Debs zine recalled, there ‘was something special about having this pen-pal and then kind of calling on the phone, and then hearing about this other person, and then reading their zine, and then mailing your zine out to people and just hoping somebody’s going to understand it’.

Internet communication is much quicker and broader – I know that within minutes of writing this somebody on the other side of the world will be reading it. But arguably communication is often shallower than the exchange of gifts implied by sending tapes, zines and letters to kindred spirits.

This book is a good start at documenting Riot Grrrl, though inevitably there are gaps. In the chapter Poems on the Underground, Cass Blaze covers the UK music influenced by riot grrrl in detail. She considers Huggy Bear, Mambo Taxi, Voodoo Queens and the crossover with the indie-pop scene. I would have liked the US Riot Grrrl music scene to be treated in similar depth. The link with the related queercore scene could also have been explored more, with bands like Sister George in the UK and Tribe8 in the US.

There's lots of good Riot Grrrl stuff out there online - you could start with The Riot Grrrl Manifesto, The Riot Project and Riot Grrrl Online Blog.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dance there upon the shore;
What need have you to care
For wind or water’s roar?
And tumble out your hair
That the salt drops have wet;
Being young you have not known
The fool’s triumph, nor yet
Love lost as soon as won,
Nor the best labourer dead
And all the sheaves to bind.
What need have you to dread
The monstrous crying of wind?



Words: from W.B. Yeats, To a Child dancing in the Wind , 1916; image by Mitch J Johnson via Flickr.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

More disco police action

England: "Illegal ravers stayed behind to tidy up!" (Northampton Chronicle, 11 June 2008)

'The 500 ravers who broke into a farm on the outskirts of Northampton for an illegal party stayed to tidy up the mess before police moved them on. The partygoers managed to hack through a metal clasp and open the steel gates into the field near Sywell off the A43 where they remained for almost 24 hours over the weekend. Landowner Michael Bletsoe-Brown said he could hear the music from his home, at least three miles away.

He said: "It's the third time this has happened in three years, and we really thought we had got the gates secured because we put a metal clasp on, which you're not supposed to be able to break. Somehow they managed to get in and once they're in, there's very little anyone can do about it. The police don't have the resources to be able to come and herd them all off and, if they did, we would be left with all the ravers' mess and rubbish, which was our biggest concern. As it was, the best way to deal with them was to leave them until they decided to move, which finally happened at about 4pm on Sunday." Mr Bletsoe-Brown said the rave, which resulted in two arrests for drugs offences, was well organised...

Northamptonshire Police detained six people for causing a public nuisance, as well as seizing two vans with sound equipment and stopping two motorists who were driving without insurance.

England: Immigration Disco Raid in York (Yorkshire Post, 9 June 2008)

A restauranteur targeted in an immigration raid thought she was the subject of a stag night prank when 30 police officers poured in and handcuffed her and five other people. Soo Fong, the owner of Cantonese restaurant the Willow, in Coney Street, York, was questioned alongside her husband and four members of staff, including the chef. Mrs Fong, who has had the business for 35 years, was in her office when the officers, in black and wearing balaclavas and helmets, stormed the building on Friday night.

She said: "The disco starts at 10pm and I thought they are coming early tonight. "When they handcuffed me I found it hilarious. At first I thought it was a stag night and I played along with it. My husband was very worried because they got him handcuffed and wouldn't tell him what they were doing." Mrs Fong said police checked her staffs' papers before they were released. She claimed: "Three of my full-time staff have work permits and the other staff are legally resident or students. They arrested nobody and after an hour and a half we managed to get the restaurant opened."... The joint operation between North Yorkshire Police and the Borders and Immigration Agency followed tip-offs about the alleged employment of illegal immigrants and legal immigrants disbarred from working.

USA: Detroit Police bust funk terrorist cell (Detroit Free Press, June 3 2008)

Officials at a west-side art gallery were consulting with attorneys Monday after a Detroit police raid Saturday morning left 130 partygoers with loitering tickets and 44 vehicles impounded. Police said the raid targeted illegal after-hours alcohol sales.

Patrons described commando-dressed copss, some heavily armed, bursting into a popular monthly party at the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit - widely known as CAID - about 2:20 a.m. and forcing people to the floor at gunpoint. Some patrons described police as abusive, said Aaron Timlin, CAID's executive director. "There were serious civil liberties issues here," said Timlin, who said the crowd was composed largely of young suburbanites.

One patron, identifying himself as Derrick, posted a detailed account on MySpace. It read in part: "One man claimed he was an attorney. The man stood on his knees, asking the police what was happening, explaining his occupation as an attorney. He was promptly kicked in the back, and forced onto his hands."

... The raid took place in its gallery in a 119-year-old building on Rosa Parks Boulevard north of West Warren. The party under way Saturday morning was the monthly Funk Night, at which gallery members dance to funk music. The party usually starts at midnight and lasts until about 5 a.m. The reported heavy-handed police presence elicited derision on some art and music Web sites. The Metro Times' music site carried a headline that read: "DETROIT POLICE BUST FUNK TERRORIST CELL."

Monday, June 09, 2008

Seven (more) songs

The seven songs meme is still doing the rounds - it goes like this:

'List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they’re not any good, but they must be songs you’re really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they’re listening to'.

I must admit I've already had a bite of the cherry at my South Londonist blog Transpontine (having been tagged by Rough in Here and Someday I will treat you good). Now I've been tagged here by Simon Reynolds, and since I go through all the effort of maintaining two blogs, I don't see why I shouldn't have two shots at this.

Rather than spending time thinking about what my current seven favourite songs are (which is a bit Hi Fidelity for my taste) I'm just going to list some found objects - seven songs I heard over the weekend that meant something to me.

Something old

B-52s - Give me back my man ('I'll give you fish, I'll give you candy')- because this was the first record I danced to at a friend's party on Saturday night at a pub in Kings Cross. It reminded me of all the other parties where I've danced to this band, to this track/Rock Lobster/Planet Claire/Love Shack/Party Gone Out of Bounds.




Something new

Black Kids - I'm not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance. Because this was one of the last records I danced to on Saturday, a Robert Smith-channeling refusal to assist a love rival with two left feet. There's a good even dancier remix of this one floating around (and Kate Nash has already covered it).

Something borrowed

Roy Davis Jr. - Gabriel (Large Joints Remix) - well not so much borrowed as a steal, 20p from a car boot sale in Rotherhithe on a mix cd (Sound of the Pirates - the garage sound of uk pirate radio mixed by Zed Bias). Garage angelology - you see the the archangel of love popped by to tell you that 'one love was the focus of the true message'. So take your communion on the dancefloor: 'Dancing soon became a way to communicate, Feel the music deep in your soul'.

Something blue

Leonard Cohen - Famous Blue Raincoat - because I sat down on Sunday with the assorted strummers of the Brockley Ukulele Group and played this. I note, via Bob from Brockley, that another seven songs respondent, From Tehran with Love, chose no fewer than 5 Cohen songs. As long as the worlds greatest Canadian-Jewish-Zen Buddhist songwriter remains venerated by some in predominately Muslim Iran, there is hope for the world (the Iranian singer Farhad Mehrad has covered some Cohen songs)

Something in a movie

Belle and Sebastian - Expectations - a long time favourite of mine which I was delighted to hear on the soundtrack to the teen pregnancy movie Juno, which I watched on Saturday. 'Your obsessions get you known throughout the school for being strange, Making life-size models of the Velvet Underground in clay'.

Something in a book

Huggy Bear - Her Jazz - because I am reading a book about Riot Grrrl. This still sounds a fresh and urgent call to arms -'Girl Boy Revolution Yeah'.

Something on TV

2 Unlimited - No Limits - because the video was on one of those freeview music channels on Friday night as part of one of those 50 cheesiest pop songs ever programmes. I do have a soft spot for late 80s/early 90s production line techno-pop, it’s a toss up between Technotronic and 2 Unlimited for the techno-pop crown. It amuses me that they are both from Belgium, at the time also home to the super-credible house/techno label R&S. In the high street/holiday resort clubs of the time it was 2 Unlimited rather than Joey Beltram that filled the floor. I remember being in a club in West Belfast (think it was in Turf Lodge) and when they played ‘Get Ready for This’ loads of people started chanting IRA in time to the chorus. That was a lesson for me in how the products of the pop production line get used in ways the producers could never dream of.

I tagged some people last time who responded including Uncarved and Speakers Push Air. Looking round it appears that most people I know in both the music and South London neighbourhoods of the blogosphere have already been tagged, so this time I am just going to leave it open. If you fancy listing seven songs, just go for it.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Rape

Songs about rape is an excellent post at Uncarved, taking to task people who play around with rape in music and contrasting it with a couple of harrowing women's accounts of the real thing.

Fluxus and musical notation

At Tate Modern last month, the Long Weekend (24th to 26th May) included a series of free concerts featuring musical scores and events by Fluxus artists. I saw a performance of Ay-O’s ‘Rainbow No. 2 for Orchestra’ ('A totally inexperienced orchestra plays a 7 note major scale on various instruments' – in this case including banjo, bagpipes and harp); Takehisa Kosugi’s MICRO 1; the 1963 piece F/H Trace by Robert Watts ('A French horn is filled ping-pong balls. Performer enters the stage, faces the audience, and bows toward the audience so that the objects cascade out of the bell of the horn into the audience'); and a Willem de Ridder flute piece (performed by the man himself).

Other musical events which I didn’t see included performances of Yoko Ono’s Sky Piece for Jesus Christ (1965 - a chamber orchestra is gradually wrapped in bandages) ; Anagram for Strings (Yasunao Tone, 1963); Alison Knowles conducting her Newspaper Music (1965 – performers read from newspapers in time and volume according to composer’s instructions); Solo for Balloons by George Maciunas (see image); and various responses to La Monte Young’s Draw a Straight Line and Follow It.

All of these works from the early 1960s high point of Fluxus are characterised by a playful approach to performance and notation, as well as an implicit critique of the role of the artistic or musical specialist – in the programme Alice Koegel (curator) notes: ‘One of the most unique aspects of Fluxus was the ‘free license’ that artists gave one another in interpreting their works. In fact, many Fluxus objects and performances began as a text or score open to interpretation by anyone at any time’. An invite for the Festival of Misfits in London in 1962 declared: 'We make music which is not Music, poems that are not Poetry, paintings that are not Painting, but music that may fit poetry, poetry that may fit paintings, paintings that may fit... something'.

Related territory is explored in an article by Simon Yuill in the latest edition of Mute magazine, All problems of notation will be sold by the masses. Yuill compares the recent practice of livecoding – where music is generated by writing and playing around with software code – with previous collaborative experimental efforts to step outside of traditional musical notation, including Cornelius Cardew and the Scratch Orchestra (1969-1972) and the work of jazz musicians such as Sun Ra.

I was struck by the fact that Ornette Coleman used the term ‘free playing’ in opposition to the term ‘improvisation’ ‘on the grounds it was often applied to black music by white audiences to emphasise some innate intuitive musicality that denied the heritage of skills and formal traditions that the black musician drew upon’ (Yuill). He quotes Coleman’s statement that ‘during the time when segregation was strong… the [black] musicians had to go on stage without any written music. The musicians would be backstage, look at the music, then leave the music there and go out and play it… they had a more saleable appeal if they pretended to not know what they were doing. The white audience felt safer’. As someone’s who shares Simon Reynolds’ (and evidently Steve Albini’s) instinctive suspicion of some aspects of jazz improvisation, this is music to my ears

(I freely admit that my scanty knowledge of jazz precludes making any meaningful judgment about it. I vividly remember a conversation at a party years ago - it was in a squat in St Agnes Place in South London- in which I had this epiphany that the universe of music is full of more worlds than anyone could have time to fully explore in one lifetime. Later I decided that I would never again force myself to try and like music that didn’t appeal to me just because it was cool when there was so much music that did appeal to me that I didn’t have time to listen to. For me at least, life is too short for jazz - or at least it has been so far. Like a bit of Sun Ra though!)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

News of the World, UFO and the Rolling Stones 1967

This week's protest at the Daily Mail put me in mind of another series of music-related demonstrations against a right wing British tabloid newspaper: the News of the World. In February 1967 the News of the World tipped off police about drug use at a party at Redlands, the Sussex country home of Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. The police raided the house and in June 1967 Richards and fellow Rolling Stone Mick Jagger were jailed for drugs offences.

In his book Watch Out Kids (1972), Mick Farren put the event in the context of a wider police crackdown in the period:

"The authorities weren't slow, either, in getting their shit together to deal with the hippies. As early as March 1967, regional drug squads were formed to deal with the "drug problem" (the only drug problem most of us experienced was not getting enough). In a grand showcase on the first weekend of their operations, this new glossy narc squad managed to bust over 150 hippies, including the Rolling Stones and the IT offices. In subsequent weeks hundreds more kids were busted, in their homes, on the street, or in clubs.

A club being raided by the narcs is a strange experience. One moment there is music, lightshows, dancing: everything normal, and then, suddenly, the band falls apart, the house lights come on and hundreds of people are shuffling about, dropping pills and pieces of ·dope. There are uniforms everywhere. The audience is hastily segregated by sex and dividing screens are erected. Everyone is then searched. This can be a swift frisking or an order to strip, this depends totally on the individual cop's attitude. It is sad that a lot of pigs tend to adopt the manners of Gestapo officers in B-­feature war movies. If you're clean it's okay to leave, in fact, you are forced to leave, and even to go home, by police stationed in the street outside. It doesn't matter that you've broken no law, and paid for a good deal more entertainment. In the eyes of the drug squad you are guilty by association and lucky not to have been arrested. In this kind of raid it's women who suffer most. Women of 23 and 24 without means of proving their age find themselves hauled in on suspicion of being under age…'

On the day Jagger and Richards were convicted (29 June 1967), Farren was involved in organising a protest:

'The general opinion was that a protest should be made the same evening at the News of the World building. Everyone split to spread the word, and agreed to meet at midnight for the demonstration. Those of us who were left went to the house of one girl's parents where there were two phone lines which we were confident were not tapped. For the next three hours we called people solidly telling them (a) to show up at midnight in Fleet Street, and (b) to start calling people they knew to tell them about it.

At about a quarter to twelve we arrived at the News of the World to find that about fifty freaks had shown up. It was disappointing, but it didn't last. From then on hippies began to show up in droves, until by twelve-­thirty the narrow streets around the newspaper building were thronged with a weird assortment of people. Hippies came with drums and flutes, political heavies in leather jackets. Superstars drove around the building in limousines. A rock band equipment manager blocked the street with his truck.

The police were totally unprepared. Accustomed to protests that were planned and publicised for weeks in advance, they had no rules for dealing with these dial-a-mob tactics. It took them at least an hour to raise a force capable of dealing with the 1,500 freaks paralysing the newspaper building. So unprepared were the police that most of the people they did arrest had to be released because the arresting officers could not be found in the confusion.

The protests continued for two more days. The second day (Friday) the audience at UFO, the weekly rock/multi-media concert, left the club and marched to Piccadilly, where they found the police, equipped with dogs, waiting for them. After an hour of scuffles and abuse the crowd returned to the club, where a number of people were treated for cuts, bruises and dog bites.

On the Saturday things got a little heavy. Late in the evening between two and three thousand kids showed up in Fleet Street again, with the intention of blocking the street so the Sunday newspaper could not be shipped out. The police, this time, really had their shit together. In addition to uniformed pigs operating in force, hurling people back on the sidewalk and attempting to split the crowd into small groups, detectives and plain clothes men mingled with the demonstrators with orders to "pick out the ring leaders." As I was pushed across the road by the uniformed squad four of these infiltrators grabbed me, dragged me into a door way and worked me over with their fists and boots.

Joe Boyd, like Mick Farren, was involved in running the UFO club in London's Tottenham Court Road. In his book 'White Bicycles: making music in the 1960s' (2005) he recalled the night of the second protest, Friday 30th June 1967 as the peak of the sixties:



For the UFO audience, the Stones' bust represented the sinister collusion of circulation-seeking editors, treacherous grasses and killjoy drug squads. Jagger and Richards may have been wealthy superstars, but they were counter­culture heroes, too. Hoppy had also been busted that spring (after a plainclothes man reached, conjuror-like, behind his sofa and pulled out an evidentiary plum) and had just been sentenced to eight months in Wormwood Scrubs. Ads and editorials in the International Times, posters around UFO and graffiti in Notting Hill Gate reminded everyone of the injustice. A bucket was circulated at the club, the money going to a legal defence fund for drug busts.

We decided to close the club after the first set and parade through the West End, finishing off with a protest in front of the News of the World building in Fleet Street. The West End at 1 a.m. on a Friday night was nothing like as busy as it is today, but there were quite a few 'normals' about, and they gaped as we rounded Piccadilly and headed for Leicester Square, then down through Covent Garden towards Fleet Street. Our destination was a letdown: the News of the World building was dark and silent. Firebrands among us started planning a blockade of the Sunday paper and an assault on their vans the next night.

The long walk in the night air, the hostile stares from the 'straights' and the threats from the police had energized everyone, so the club was packed and buzzing when Tomorrow hit the stage about 4 a.m. The unity of spirit between audience and musicians was tremendous: Twink had been at the head of our two-hundred-strong column. Tearing into 'White Bicycle', they had never sounded tighter. At some point Skip from The Pretty Things took over on drums as Twink grabbed the microphone and plunged into the audience. Howe's playing moved to another level of intensity, sending the dancers leaping into the cones of light as Twink crawled along the floor, hugging people and chanting 'Revolution, revolution'. Everyone was high - on chemicals or adrenalin or both. You really did believe in that moment that 'when the mode of music changes, the walls of the city shake'. The tide of history was with us and music was the key.

The bill for this glorious moment was presented a month later. The News of the World may not have known who we were before that weekend, but they certainly did afterwards. The fruits of their plotting burst forth on the last Sunday in July: beneath a grainy, out-of-focus shot of a bare­breasted girl, the front page screamed that she was fifteen years old and that the photograph had been taken at the 'hippy vice den' known as UFO. Our normally stoic landlord buckled under police pressure and evicted us.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Blackshirt Parade: Emos, Flappers and The Daily Mail

On Saturday at least 200 people demonstrated outside the offices of the Daily Mail in London against its coverage of 'emo' - after a young My Chemical Romance fan committed suicide the paper ran a story headlined 'Why no child is safe from the sinister cult of emo (photo by Abbi London - more reports and reflections at Thrash Hits).

There's been some incredibly patronising coverage but I think it's great. The Daily Hate needs to be called to account more often for its ludicrous 'reportage', and hopefully these mostly young MCR fans will be inoculated for life against its daily tirades against migrants, gypsies and other affronts to the enraged Middle England Right Wing.

Flappers

'Emos' are far from the first group of young people to be targeted by The Daily Mail. Way back in the 1920s there was "an obsession with the moral and physical deterioration of British men and women" with the Daily Mail worrying about civilisation being destroyed by women not breeding enough thanks to short hair and lesbianism. Young women enjoying themselves dancing and partying – so-called ‘Flappers’ – were particularly criticised. There were "hysterical attacks in the Daily Mail and Daily Express on the irresponsible behaviour of the 'Flappers', those selfish and irresponsible young women who were alleged to be pursuing an energetic social life and sexual emancipation. In the process, the pundits claimed, they ceased to be real women in both the psychological and even the physical sense. Referring darkly to women 'with short hair, skirts no longer than kilts, narrow hips, insignificant breasts' the Express warned: 'this change to a more neutral type can only be accomplished at the expense or the integrity of her sexual organs'".

When it was proposed to allow women to vote at the same age as men, The Daily Mail waged a vigorous campaign against it, arguing that women would be more likely to vote Labour: "In a bizarre campaign the Mail carried daily headlines that screamed: 'Men Outnumbered Everywhere'; its editorials exploited Conservative fears by suggesting 'Why Socialists Want Votes for Flappers" and they urged 'Stop the Flapper Vote Folly'".

Fascists

In its recent tirade against emo, the Daily Mail described it as a 'trans-Atlantic import' whose 'followers dress in black, favouring tight jeans, T-shirts, studded belts and sneakers or skater shoes. Hair is all-important: often dyed black and straightened, it is worn in a long fringe brushed to one side of the face'. In the 1930s though the Daily Mail was quite keen on people dressed in black clothes - as long as they were members of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists. It's quite well known that the Daily Mail once had an article headlined 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts', but this was not just a one-off throwaway comment:

"This pattern of support for the BUF in the Conservative journals culmin­ated on 5 January 1934 when the Daily Mail published its notorious head­line: 'Hurrah For The Blackshirts!', thus inaugurating six months in which it promoted the movement. There was nothing anomalous about this initiative. Lord Rothermere had been heaping praise on fascist dictatorship throughout the 1920s…. Rothermere controlled a large slice of the press including the Daily Mail, Sunday Dispatch and Evening News, as well as several dozen provincial newspapers. He lauded the BUF as a modernising, virile, British movement, above party politics and above all as 'the Party of Youth'. 'The Blackshirt Movement', enthused the Mail, 'is the organised effort of the younger generation to break the stranglehold which senile politicians have so long maintained on our affairs.' There followed a systematic campaign of promotion in which the Sunday Dispatch turned itself into a house journal for the BUF. Not content with regular features on 'What the Blackshirts Are Doing' and biographies of the leading personnel, it endeavoured to engage its readers' involvement in the movement. In April 1934 the news­paper offered free tickets to major rallies including the one at Olympia in June 1934 and £1 weekly prizes for readers' letters on 'Why I Like the Blackshirts'. Winning entrants wrote: 'The Blackshirts place King and Country before personal motive. Up to the present, no party has done much good for the community', and 'I like the Blackshirts because they stand for Empire Unity, the re-establishment of British prestige and the reawakening in the British public of pride in the nation' The Sunday Dispatch also carried frequent reports on female fascists along the lines of 'Girl Blackshirt Attacked' and 'Beauty Joins the Blackshirts', as well as pictures of women practising ju-jitsu, fencing and physical exercise."

So you see whether you like My Chemical Romance or not, you should certainly be on the side of their fans expressing their disgust at The Daily Mail.

All quotes from Martin Pugh, Hurrah for the Blackshirts - fascists and fascism in Britain between the wars (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005).

See also: News of the World 1967; Mexico Emo bashing

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tube Party in London

The dust is still settling after last Saturday night's party on the London underground. For people outside of London, the basic story is this: a new Conservative Mayor has been elected for London - Boris Johnson (replacing the socialist Ken Livingstone). One of his first acts was to ban drinking on the London underground train system, a ban due to come in on the 1st June. On Facebook various groups were set up calling for a party on the Circle Line on Saturday 31st May- a final drink and a protest against prohibition (the Circle Line trains, as the name suggests, go round central London in a loop rather than from A to B - ideal for parties as there is no endpoint where the train stops and everybody gets off).

So on Saturday, thousands of people converged on the Circle Line, some in fancy dress. Lots of people had a great time. At Liverpool Street station, where people were evacuated from the train, there was a sound system and mass dancing in the station. Obviously there was some chaos, with the police closing down six tube stations over the night, and 17 people getting arrested later after some drunken behaviour (perhaps not that many considering the numbers, and maybe not that many more than on average weekend). There's loads of photos, accounts and film footage all over the web - a video from Space Hijackers shows people dancing to The Prodigy's Out of Space with a sound system in the carriage (and pausing when the train gets into the station so as not to draw attention to themselves):



There's a rare positive press report by Johann Hari, 'They arrested the gorilla!' (Evening Standard, 02.06.08):

'On the concourse at Liverpool Street station, two men dressed as Tower Bridge are dancing a slow waltz. Their partners are a gorilla and a sex doll that has Boris's beaming face. This is not a strange dream: it is the last party of Ken Livingstone's London. When I first signed up on Facebook for a final boozy toast to Ken on the Tube, I imagined a few hundred people would appear - but I underestimated my city. As I enter the station, the crowds begin: goths and bankers, Asian teenagers and posh white women, all waving their bottles of Guinness and Blue Nun. The plan is that we will all clamber on to the first three Circle line trains to leave the station after 9.02pm. As I push through, I bump into a man who is on his knees, a tube in his mouth, with his friend pouring lager directly into his gullet. A chicken carrying a banner which says "People Not Profit" tells me: "Boris symbolises everything we hate. He's not our London." Every time a train pulls in, the crowd whoops and yells "Ken! Ken!"

Hundreds heave on to the first party-train, but as it leaves the Tannoy announces: "This is a security alert. Evacuate immediately"... More than a thousand people throng in the centre of the station [Liverpool St] , and I mingle among the booze fumes and costumes. A lean Brixton-boy says: "I think the drink ban is probably a good idea - but let's party!" Then the crowd is suddenly united with one chant: "Boris is a wanker!" A group of Essex lads dressed as the Village People stand high on the platforms above, leading a stationwide cover-version of YMCA. A conga line forms and, at 10.17pm, a sound system covered with Free Tibet stickers appears. We all begin to dance, and there is a random cry of "Dalai Lama! Dalai Lama!"

At 11.01pm, boys gyrate on top of ticket machines, and a girl rides the information sign like it is a pony. A friend who got on the party train calls. "They arrested the gorilla!" he cries. At 11.14pm some idiot starts smashing bottles. Other people tell him to stop, and a few guys start trying to clear up the crunchy carpet of cans and bottles so it doesn't look so bad. But it's too late: the police, who have been watching from the platforms above, swoop... The police form a line and start pushing people out. A few more protesters foolishly throw bottles. Everyone is chanting again. Pushed out onto Bishopsgate, the crowd looks now as if it will dissipate. But then, suddenly, a bongo-player appears from nowhere, and we all begin to dance again, long into the night. Looking with a smile at the throng, a girl dressed as a Fifties starlet in a shimmering dress, hands me a biscuit, and says: "This is so London, isn't it?"

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Ballroom Dancing Made Easy (1942)

I am fascinated by old dancing manuals - this example is 'Ballroom Dancing Made Easy' by Robert Brandon, first published by C.Arthur Pearson Ltd, London in 1936, and then revised in September 1942. I like the notion of people trying to teach themselves the Slow Foxtrot from a book in the middle of the Second World War.

The English ballroom dancing phenomenon successfully translated a range of dances from across the world into rigid routines with the gendered foosteps of 'gentleman' and 'lady' clearly laid out. How far the tango, as precribed here, reflects the origins of tango in Argentina is another matter. Over time a fixed repertoire of dances developed - this book advises that only four main dances are essential: the Waltz, the Slow Foxtrot, The Quick Step and The Tango.