Sunday, February 28, 2010

Dancing & Drumming at Lahore Sufi festival

Lahore Journal: Mystical Form of Islam Suits Sufis in Pakistan (New York Times, 25 February 2010)

'Thousands of Muslim worshipers paid tribute to the patron saint of this eastern Pakistani city this month by dancing, drumming and smoking pot. It is not an image one ordinarily associates with Pakistan, a country whose tormented western border region dominates the news. But it is an important part of how Islam is practiced here, a tradition that goes back a thousand years to Islam’s roots in South Asia.

It is Sufism, a mystical form of Islam brought into South Asia by wandering thinkers who spread the religion east from the Arabian Peninsula. They carried a message of equality that was deeply appealing to indigenous societies riven by caste and poverty. To this day, Sufi shrines stand out in Islam for allowing women free access.

In modern times, Pakistan’s Sufis have been challenged by a stricter form of Islam that dominates in Saudi Arabia. That orthodox, often political Islam was encouraged in Pakistan in the 1980s by the American-supported dictator, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. Since then, the fundamentalists’ aggressive stance has tended to eclipse that of their moderate kin, whose shrines and processions have become targets in the war here.

But if last week’s stomping, twirling, singing, drumming kaleidoscope of a crowd is any indication, Sufism still has a powerful appeal. “There are bomb blasts all around, but people don’t stay away,” said a 36-year-old bank teller named Najibullah. “When the celebration comes, people have to dance.”

Worshipers had come from all over Pakistan to commemorate the death of the saint, Ali bin Usman al-Hajveri, an 11th-century mystic. Known here today as Data Ganj Baksh, or Giver of Treasures, the Persian-speaking mystic journeyed to Lahore with Central Asian invaders, according to Raza Ahmed Rumi, a Pakistani writer and expert on Sufism. He settled outside the city, a stopover on the trade route to Delhi, started a meditation center and wrote a manual on Sufi practices, Mr. Rumi said... (full article here)

Friday, February 26, 2010

Shanghai Roller Disco

Interesting article from Shanghai Daily (10 February 2010) on roller disco dancing in Shanghai:

'The world has moved on from roller-skating disco, that oh-so-1980s fad immortalized in the film "Xanadu," but in China, dancing on wheels is gaining speed thanks to the nation's masses of migrant workers. While wealthy executives in trend-setting Shanghai would never be seen indulging in something so passe, roller disco is the entertainment of choice for the tens of thousands of migrants working in one of China's most expensive cities.

Most of these modern fans are in their 20s, too young to remember the craze that swept the United States some 30 years ago, and their ardor proves that disco is not dead. At Xinxiang roller-skating rink, the city's first and biggest roller disco, hundreds of migrant workers turn up every night to meet friends, listen to music and skate in a rink slightly bigger than a basketball court."When we first started 15 years ago, the people who came here to skate were local youngsters," says Yang Yong, one of the floor managers of the rink. "As the country started its economic reform, a lot of workers from other provinces came to the city, and now some of these migrants are also coming here for recreation and exercise."

... Roller disco started to become popular in China in the 1990s, but largely lost its appeal at the turn of the century, forcing hundreds of rinks across the country to close down. But in Shanghai, the migrant workers have helped keep the Xinxiang rink, and dozens of others, in business. Relocated to Lanxi Road last year from Anyuan Road in Putuo District, the 500-square-meter rink continues to attract a steady flow of migrant workers, who would spend the whole night there rolling to relax and recharge after a tiring day. Opening hours run from 1-5pm and 7 pm-1am. The afternoon hours are mainly for locals and students while the night hours are almost dominated by migrant workers. "More than 80 percent of our patrons at night are low-paid workers, that is about 400 people," says Shanghai-native Wang Hongsheng, the rink's manager. "They can roll to midnight."

One of roller disco's main attractions is affordability: with most workers earning between 1,000 yuan and 2,000 yuan (US$146-292) a month, having fun isn't easy in Shanghai. Entrance to the skating rinks costs a maximum of 18 yuan and renting four-wheeled skates costs 5 yuan with no time limit, while a normal charge in other roller-skating rinks in Shanghai is about 40 yuan per hour. As a matter of fact, migrants don't have to rent skates and roll. "They can come in, buy some beer, hang around, dance to the music, have some small chat, and make some new friends here," Wang says.

Crowds of migrant workers were speeding in circles skillfully on roller skates, with the ear-deafening pop music pouring from the loudspeakers. On the dance floor some were really shaking it in high spirit .Most of the migrant workers in their 20s come from the country's poor areas and didn't get much education. But they're eager to integrate into the metropolitan life like their urban peers. "I like meeting new friends here. We're young and we can go dancing, clubbing and anything just like other (urban) young people do," says 21-year-old Xiao Fang from Anhui Province. The girl, wearing heavy makeup and dressed to the nines, has been in Shanghai for three years and works in a nearby bathhouse."This place and the people here make me feel quite comfortable," she says as she sways to the music...'

(full article here)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Agit Disco mix

Stefan Szczelkun asked me to put together a selection for his Agit Disco series of mixes of political music. You can read my effort at his site as well as previous mixes by the likes of Simon Ford, Stewart Home and Tom Vague. I recommend that you spend some time browsing the whole site and its related blog.

I've decided to also post my selection here so that I can add links to a few of the music files which I believe are unavailable elsewhere as they come from old cassette tapes of stuff that has never been released. For a while you can also download the whole thing here as a continuous mix. It might not win any prizes for DJing, for a start there is no consistent sound as it covers everything from folk to techno via punk. But I can guarantee that there's some stuff here that you won't have heard before!

Tracklisting:

1. UK Decay – For my Country (1980)
2. Karma Sutra – Wake the Red King (1985)
3. No Defences - Keep Running (1985)
4. Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl (1993)
5. Chumbawamba – Fitzwilliam (1985)
6. Hot Ash - Bloody Sunday – This is a Rebel Song (1991)
7. Planxty – Arthur McBride (1973)
8. Half a Person – The Last of England (2006)
9. McCarthy – The Procession of Popular Capitalism (1987)
10. Joe Smooth – Promised Land (1987)
11. Atmosfear – Dancing in Outer Space (1979)
12. Roteraketen – Here to Go (1999)
13. Metatron – Men Who Hate the Law (1993)
14. Lochi – London Acid City (1996)
15. Galliano – Travels the Road (Junglist Dub Mix) (1994)
16. Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali - New Cross Fire (1981)
17. Afrikan Boy – Lidl (2006)
18. 99 Posse – Salario Garantito (1992)
18. The Ballistic Brothers – London Hooligan Soul (1995)

Introduction

I’ve spent many years cogitating on the politics of music and the music of politics so wasn’t quite sure where to start with an Agitdisco mix. So I’ve decided to loosely follow an autobiographical thread of tracks that I associate with politically significant moments in my life.

UK Decay – For my Country (1980)

I grew up in Luton, where UK Decay were the best of the first wave punk bands. ‘For My Country’ is an anti-war song clearly influenced by the First World War poets (Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et Decorum Est in particular). I was at school when this came out and getting involved in politics for the first time, helping to set up Luton Peace Campaign which became the local branch of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, resurgent in the face of plans to locate Cruise nuclear missiles in Britain.

Karma Sutra – Wake the Red King (1985) download

In the mid-1980s I was very involved in the anarcho-punk scene in Luton. Political songs were ten a penny in this milieu, but I guess more significantly the singers (mostly) really meant it – there was no real separation between ‘entertainers’ and ‘activists’. The people going to gigs, forming bands, doing zines, were the same people going hunt sabbing and on Stop the City. At that time I seemed to spend large parts of my life in the back of a van, between gigs, demos and animal rights actions.

The main local band in this scene was Karma Sutra. For a little while I took my Wasp synthesiser down to their practices but it didn’t really work out, so I never played with them live. However, this demo tape version of their track Wake the Red King has my rumbling synth tone at the beginning. The title refers to Alice in Wonderland, I can’t make out all the lyrics but it sounds like the kind of situationist-influenced diatribe they specialised in – they later released an album, Daydreams of a Production Line Worker.

No Defences – Keep Running (1985) download

When people think about anarcho-punk they often have in mind lots of identikit sub-Crass/Conflict thrash punk bands. There was plenty of that – and some of it was really good – but there was also quite a lot of musical diversity, from more melodic humourists like Blyth Power to mutant funksters like Slave Dance. One of the most interesting bands on the whole scene were No Defences, who as far as I know never released a record apart from a track on a compilation album. They were mesmerising live, delivering monotone litanies of abuse and rage over sophisticated time signatures. I saw them at squat gigs in London (including at the Ambulance Station, Old Kent Road), and they came to Luton to play at a hunt sabs benefit gig we put on at Luton Library Theatre, also featuring Chumbawamba. This track was recorded that night (30.5.1985). – ‘we don’t live anywhere, no sense of being in the world…’

Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl (1993)

I was lucky enough to see some of the great post-punk women-led bands live, including The Slits, The Raincoats, Essential Logic, Au Pairs and the Delta 5. The feminism and sexual politics of that time have had a life long influence on me. Ten years later, these bands started getting their critical dues again with the birth of the Riot Grrrl and Queercore scenes. I used to go and see my late friend Katy Watson (of Shocking Pink and Bad Attitude feminist zines) DJing at London queercore clubs including Up to the Elbow and Sick of it All. Bikini Kill were the key US Riot Grrrl band: ‘when she talks I hear the revolution…’.

Chumbawamba – Fitzwilliam (1985)

I was living in Kent when the 1984-5 miners strike started and helped set up a Miners Support Group linked to strikers at the three local pits (now all closed). I was also in Ramsgate in 1985 on the day the Kent miners voted to return to work, ending the strike. It was an intense year for me of pickets, demonstrations, collections and many, many arguments. Chumbawamba played an important role in swinging the anarcho-punk scene behind the strike – initially some people had the ludicrous line of ‘why should I support meat eating men working in an environmentally unsound industry?’. Fitzwilliam describes the end of the strike in a Yorkshire mining village – ‘it won’t be the same in Fitzwilliam again…’ This song was released on ‘Dig This – A Tribute to the Great Strike’. Some years later, I was involved in the Poll Tax Prisoners Support Group (Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign) and we threw a party at our Brixton flat for a couple of people acquitted of charges relating to the 1990 poll tax riot – one of them an ex-miner from that part of Yorkshire.

Hot Ash - Bloody Sunday - This is a Rebel Song (1991)

I went to Derry in 1992 and took part in the demonstration to mark the 20th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when 13 people were killed by British troops. This song, from the 1991 Hot Ash album Who Fears to Speak, is about that event. At the start of this track there is a recording of the Jim O’Neill/Robert Allsopp Memorial Flute Band from New Lodge Road in Belfast. I was involved in the Troops Out Movement and prisoner support at this time and went on lots of Irish marches in London and Belfast. There were always flute bands on the march, giving rise to one of my pet theories (which may have no basis whatsoever) that there is a connection between the popularity of bass drum-led republican and loyalist flute bands in N.Ireland and Scotland and the popularity of bass drum-led variants of electronic dance music in these places (e.g happy hardcore and gabber in the late 1990s).

Planxty – Arthur McBride (1973)

Around this time I started to learn to play the mandolin, and began taking part in music sessions in pubs playing mainly Irish and some Scottish tunes. This was a new kind of collective music making for me, more fluid and inclusive than a band format, with less of a boundary between performers and audience – but with each session having its own unwritten rules of operation. The first song I sang on my own, at a party near Elephant and Castle, was the anti-recruiting song Arthur McBride. I learnt it from the version recorded by Planxty on their 1973 debut album. I saw Planxty play in Dublin in 1994, at a big May Day festival to mark the 100th anniversary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.

Half a Person – The Last of England (2006) - download

… from here it was a step to writing my own songs. This is a demo version of a little anti-nationalist ditty I have performed a few times, most recently in my ‘Half a Person’ guise at a benefit last year for the Visteon workers at Rampart Social Centre.

McCarthy - The Procession of Popular Capitalism (1987)

I enjoyed the indie-pop jingly jangly guitar scene in the second half of the 1980s and had some great nights at the Camden Falcon, a music pub at its heart. There was little in the way of explicit politics, although the cultivation of a ‘twee’ subjectivity also represented a refusal of ‘adult’ roles of worker/housewife/consumer and (for boys) of macho posturing. Bands like Talulah Gosh were later cited as an influence on the Riot Grrrl scene. McCarthy weren't really part of that scene but they had a similar sound combined with the much more overtly political lyrics of Malcolm Eden. This song is a typically Brechtian tale of penniless pickpockets and wealthy ‘Captains of Industry’, the latter singing ‘This is your country too! Join our procession, that's marching onwards to war’.

Joe Smooth – Promised Land (1987)

In the early 1990s I started going to squat raves and then to a whole range of techno and house clubs. This turned my conception of music and politics upside down, along with other aspects of my life. As a result I have come to see the political significance of a musical event as arising from the relations between people rather than the content of a song or performance. So, for instance, a crowd dancing together in a field to a commercial pop record might be more subversive than an audience in a concert hall listening to socialist songs. Dancefloors and festivals can be important for the constitution of communities and political subjects, almost regardless of the soundtrack. Promised Land is a Chicago house classic that combines this affirmation of community with a hope for a better world, articulated in the religious language frequently used in Black American music: ‘Brothers, Sisters, One Day we will be free. From Fighting, Violence, People Crying in the Streets’. I once heard Chicago legend Marshall Jefferson play this track at a club in Shoreditch.

Atmosfear – Dancing in Outer Space (1979)

I was involved in the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (AAA) from 1995 to 2000. My node of the network was Disconaut AAA, and I was particularly interested in the way space had been used as a speculative playground in jazz, disco and funk, a zone into which could be projected utopian visions of life beyond gravi-capital, racism and poverty (think Sun Ra's Space is the Place or George Clinton's Mothership mythos). Atmosfear's Dancing in Outer Space is a lesser known UK disco/jazz funk classic – this is a Masters at Work remix of the track.

Roteraketen – Here to Go (1999) download

The AAA put out a Rave In Space compilation, and I contributed to this track on it with Jason Skeet (DJ Aphasic). Actually my contribution was mainly supplying the sample and the name. Rote Raketen (red rockets) was the name of a communist cabaret troupe in 1920s Germany. The sample is from Yuri Gagarin's first space flight. I have an ambivalent attitude to the US and Soviet space programmes, undoubtedly rooted in Cold War industrial militarism, but also representing a period of optimism in the possibility of the continual expansion of human subjectivity. One day community-based spaced exploration will be a reality!

Metatron – Men Who Hate the Law (1993)

I was involved with various projects at the 121 Centre in Brixton in the 1990s, and regularly attended the Dead by Dawn nights in the basement playing some of the hardest techno and breakcore to be heard anywhere. Again it was the crowd, the conversations and the antagonistic sonic attitude that constituted the music’s political dimension rather than any lyrical content. Praxis records was the driving force behind the night, this track is from Christoph Fringelli’s Metatron EP, Speed and Politics.

Lochi – London Acid City (1996)

There was a cycle of struggles in the 1990s UK that encompassed the anti-road movement (Twyford Down, Claremont Road, Newbury…), squat parties and Reclaim the Streets. The soundtrack was often a particular variant of hard trance/acid techno associated with the Liberator DJs and Stay Up Forever records. This track was the scene’s ultimate anthem, I believe it was the first record played on the famous Reclaim the Streets party on the M41 motorway in London in 1996. I took part in the party and later was involved in the RTS street party in Brixton in 1998.

Galliano – Travels the Road, Junglist Dub Mix (1994)

The various radical movements of the early 1990s coalesced in the campaign against the government’s Criminal Justice Act in 1994, which brought in new police powers to deal with protests and raves. The high point was a huge demonstration/party/riot in London’s Hyde Park, which I documented in a Practical History pamphlet at the time, ‘The Battle for Hyde Park: Radicals, Ruffians and Ravers, 1855-1994’. This track is from an anti-CJA compilation album called Taking Liberties.

Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali - New Cross Fire (1981)

In the last few years I have been doing a lot of research into the radical history of South East London. This has included helping put on the Lewisham '77 series of events commemorating the 30th anniversary of the anti-National Front demonstrations, and marking the wider history of racism and resistance in the area. A key historical event was the New Cross Fire in 1981, in which 13 young people died. This is one of a number of reggae tracks about the fire, demonstrating how sound system culture functioned at the time as a means of alternative commentary on current events.

Afrikan Boy – Lidl (2006)

… today that alternative commentary is still alive in grime. I was involved for a while in No Borders and became very aware of the experience of those living at the sharp end of the regime of immigration raids, detention centres and forced deportations. Afrikan Boy, from Nigeria via Woolwich, gives voice to that experience on this track, as well as shoplifting adventures in Lidl and Asda!

99 Posse – Salario Garantito (1992)

I have been influenced a lot over the years by radical ideas and practice from Italy and have visited a few times, most recently last year when I took part in the Electrode festival at the Forte Prenestino social centre in Rome. I first visited in the early 1990s, when I went to the Parco Lambro festival in Milan and visited Radio Sherwood in Padua. 99 Posse are an Italian reggae band named after the Officina 99 social centre in Naples; the title of this song relates to the autonomist demand for a guaranteed income for all, working and unemployed. It comes from a compilation tape called Senza Rabbia Non Essere Felice (Without anger, no happiness) put out in around 1992 by the Centro di Communicazione Antagonista in Bologna.

The Ballistic Brothers – London Hooligan Soul (1995)

Released in 1995, this is a look back over 20 years by the Junior Boys Own posse. It’s their history rather than mine, but there are several points where it overlaps with my own… house music, Ibiza, ‘old bill cracking miners heads’, ‘The Jam at Wembley’, ‘A poll tax riot going on’.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From this moment, Twitter ends and tactics begin

Earlier in the week it seemed that every other tweet from the twitterers I follow was telling the world to #saveplasticpeople. In quickly disseminating news of the threat to close the London club, this was an exemplary case of new media communication. Naturally a facebook group was also set up for people to immediately express their solidarity.

But then what? There is a sense that all of this virtual politicking often goes nowhere. Breathy accounts of how twitter was going to bring down dictatorships have been replaced by more sobre assessments of the resilience of well organised regimes confronted with slacktivism and what Annabelle Sreberny has termed the 'mousy solidarity' of clicking on petitions. Communication might be an essential part of developing social movements, but communication alone does not constitute a movement. Clouds of tweets and facebook posts can vanish as rapidly as their meteorological counterparts.

So where does that leave us in relation to something like saving a club like Plastic People from closure? If, as Gramsci would have it, the art of politics begins with an analysis of relations of force, a starting point would be to consider in more detail who our opponents are, what are their weaknesses, where the immediate battleground is to be found (e.g. when and where are decisions made). At the same time, we should consider who our allies are and our actual and potential strengths.

But Gramsci also famously distinguished between the 'war of manouevre' and the 'war of position'. The former refers to the immediate fighting on the battleground, the latter to the wider struggle to mobilise across society to achieve political ends. In relation to Plastic People, the quick war of manoeuvre might be appropriate for the urgent task of dealing with the pressing threat from Hackney Council and the local police, but the war of position is necessary to shape the context in which such decisions take place and to confront the wider criminalisation and over-regulation of forms of musicking and dancing. Is it possible to move beyond just complaining about individual club closures and mobilise a movement that can challenge the whole basis on which they happen - including the notions that music and dancing require the advance approval of the state (licensing) and that the 'war against drugs' and crime should be waged on the dancefloor?

This might seem like a fantasy, but in the mid-1990s there was a significant movement in the UK against the anti-rave measures of the Criminal Justice Act. Mass demonstrations might not have stopped the law, but they did strengthen the whole free party scene so that when the law came into effect it was not able to vanquish a highly-motivated and organised culture. More recently in New York there has been a campaign against the clampdown on nightlife that has included open air parties outside the Mayor's house, with people chanting 'dancing is not a crime'. If grime is being driven out of the public sphere in London, can't we bring grime en masse to City Hall? As Reclaim the Streets demonstrated in the 1990s, sound system + truck + crowd = all kinds of possibilities.

All of this would require communication, yes even using twitter and facebook, but also the harder slog of organising, mobilizing and taking action with our bodies as well as our virtual selves. In relation to Plastic People, there do seem to be signs that physical people are prepared to do more than just tweet with, for instance, suggestions of a meeting to set up some kind of 'Friends of Plastic People'.

(sharp eyed situationist-spotters will have noticed that the title of this post is derived from Raoul Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life: 'from this moment, despair ends and tactics begin').

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

seOne club closes

With the future of both the Ministry of Sound and Plastic People seemingly in jeopardy, news comes of one of London's largest clubs biting the dust. SeOne, based in the railway arches by London Bridge, issued a statement yesterday:


"It is with great sadness, that I must inform you that ‘seOne London’ ceased trading on Monday Afternoon, 22nd February 2010. After eight long, hard and exciting years, seOne London has fallen victim to the recession and hard times felt in nightclubs all over the UK. I would like to thank all the promoters, DJ’s, clubbers, staff, suppliers and anyone who has worked and partied in these now Legendary railway arches. seOne London 2002 – 2010"


seOne could hold up to 3,000 people but of late had seemingly found it difficult to fill other than on Saturday nights. Among other events it hosted Moondance raves and Torture Garden nights. In its previous incarnation as the Drome it hosted Ken Campbell's legendary 22 hour epic The Warp in 1999.

The club achieved a certain notoriety amongst tobacco addicts for its policy of charging smokers for a wristband in order to access an often overcrowded caged smoking area (later replaced with a bigger area accessed by smokers having to supply their thumbprints). In common with other venues in the area, its license conditions required it to impose a policy of not letting people in without having official photographic ID such as a passport or driving license, scanned and kept on computer by the venue. I am sure many people would feel reluctant to pass over this personal information to god knows who, and now the company has gone out of business you do wonder what happens to all this data.

All of this followed the shooting dead of 24 year old Erol Davis inside the club in October 2008. While quite rightly we should be concerned about blanket restrictions on clubs being imposed by the authorities, let's also not forget those macho idiots with guns and knives who are wasting lives as well as ruining nightlife.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Plastic People under attack

Following yesterday's story about the threat to the future of the Ministry of Sound, news that another London club is in more immediate danger: Plastic People in Shoreditch.

According to a new facebook group, Keep Plastic People Alive, 'THE POLICE ARE TRYING TO SHUT DOWN PLASTIC PEOPLE. There is a notice outside the door saying there are 2 reasons why the Police want to take the license away. 1/ PREVENTION OF PUBLIC NUISANCE 2/ PREVENTION OF CRIME AND DISORDER. Plastic People have until the 11th March to appeal'. Hackney Council have apparently received an application relating to the club from the police under the Licensing Act 2003 to 'review premises on prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance basis'.

This would seem to follow on from a police/council visit in December. The Hackney Gazette (16 December 2009) reported:

'Some of Shoreditch's trendiest hotpots were rapped this week in a joint Christmas crackdown from Hackney Council and Hackney Police. A new team of officers - known as JEDI - discovered evidence of cocaine in the female toilets and DJ booth of Plastic People in Curtain Road. Seven clubbers were also turned away from Hoxton Pony in Curtain Road and Cargo in Rivington Street after testing positive for drugs whilst queuing .And officers discovered problems with health and safety and noise levels at Elbow Room on Curtain Road.

Both Plastic People and Elbow Room have said they will work with the council to improve their standards of safety. Cllr Alan Laing, cabinet member for neighbourhoods said: "Pubs and clubs in party areas like Shoreditch, have a responsibility to the community who drink in them and the people who live around them. Through our joint enforcement efforts, we are sending out a clear message that those that fail to comply with the law will not be allowed to continue pedaling a raw deal in Hackney".

There is incredulity amongst regulars about the club being singled out. As one person testified on facebook: 'I have never, ever seen any trouble at Plastic People, it has always had the soundest crowd and atmosphere, once I dropped my wallet on the floor, asked at the bar at the end of the night on the off chance someone had handed it in and a complete stranger walked over and handed it to me, still with all cards, money etc ... in it, testament to the kind of lovely people who go to Plastics. These allegations are utter bull shit! This is an amazing venue, with the best sound system in London, that supports amazing music. If Plastic People is shut down it will be a travesty'.

With the Foundry in Shoreditch now scheduled for demolition there are concerns that having done the job of making the area fashionable, clubs and bars are beginning to be displaced by gentrification.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Ministry of Sound under threat?

South London club the Ministry of Sound is objecting to a proposed building development which it claims could threaten its future. As part of the regeneration programme for the Elephant and Castle area, developer Oakmayne is planning a 41 storey block, to include 335 flats, next to the club.

According to an article in Southwark News (18 February 2010):

'Lohan Presencer, Ministry of Sound CEO, fears placing so many residents in an 'enterprise quarter' for businesses will force his club to pack up and leave. He said: "The bottom line is we are very fortunate to exist in a non residential area. If there are 300 residential apartments directly opposite the Ministry of Sound, and if any one of those residents had any issue with somebody outside their apartment at three or four in the morning they could legitimately complain to the Environmental Health Officer.They could take that to a licence committee and challenge our licence. If our licence is challenged and it has a sufficient lobby behind it, regardless of our history here, we could lose it."

A report by Southwark Council officers regarding the plans confirmed this. It stated 'The MofS will therefore be open to enforcement action under the nuisance provisions of the Environmental Protection Act'.'

Misery Unsound

Personally I have always been decidedly ambivalent about the Ministry for its role in pioneering the 1990s superclub phenomenon, with incessant branding, VIP lounges, and multiple mechanisms to fleece punters. In their case too, there were stories of dubious competitive practices. A court heard allegations in January 1999 that the Ministry had sent an undercover team with newspaper reporters to try and prove evidence of drug dealing at arch rival Cream in Liverpool (Mixmag, Feb 1999). And we've mentioned here before that in 1995 they hosted the police launch of an anti-drugs campaign on the back of a stage managed police raid on Club UK days before.

Then there's the dodgy political connections. MoS was set up by old Etonian James Palumbo, son of the property developer Lord Palumbo. He hired his cousin James Bethell (the 5th Baron Bethell) as Managing Director, a Tory activist who worked for Conservative Central Office in the 1997 election and later stood unsuccessfully as the Conservative candidate for Tooting in the 2005 election. Palumbo hedged his bets though in 1997, lending Labour's Peter Mandelson a chauffeur-driven car during the election.

Still nobody can deny it's been an important club for dance music for nearly twenty years, and like most people who have been out dancing in London in that time I've had some memorable nights there. I particularly remember going there shortly after my daughter was born. The look on the bouncer's face when my partner had to explain what the breast pump in her handbag was for was priceless.

There doesn't seem to be an immediate danger of the club having to close, but they are right to identify that there is a medium term threat. When the warehouse was converted to a club in 1991, it's neighbours were civil servants in office buildings that were empty at weekends. An influx of residents, particularly the kind of well-connected wealthier citizens who know how to get their own way, would doubtless result in complaints and attempts to restrict the club's licence.

There is a broader issue here of how nightlife in cities tends to flourish in economically marginal zones, such as abandoned/converted warehouses and railway arches. As land values increase and areas are gentrified, these spaces are squeezed out along with the musicking/dancing cultures they sustain. We have already seen this happen around Kings Cross in London, and similar developments have been noted in Paris. Will South London's clubs around the Elephant, London Bridge and Vauxhall be next?

Update, November 2013: this row is still rumbling on. Southwark Council refused the development planning permission, but London Mayor Boris Johnson has called the decision in - which means that he takes the power away from the local council to decide whether or not it goes ahead. Decision is due this month- so the Ministry is crawling to Johnson with this hideous superhero image... Of course Johnson is another old Etonian like James Palumbo (who is still Chairman of the Ministry of Sound group).

More proof of Palumbo's political promiscuity - on top of his previous Tory and Labour links outlined above,  last month he was made a Liberal Democrat life Peer ( 'Baron Palumbo of Southwark') on the back of donating more than £700,000 to the Liberal Democrats. Yes he now has political power in the House of Lords without a single vote being cast for him thanks to making money from people dancing. That's democracy folks...


Friday, February 19, 2010

Southwark Clubbing History

Excellent article by Tim Burrows in the Daily Post (5 February 2010) on the clubbing history of Southwark. There's even a helpful map for the South London disco tourist. Among the places featured are:

- the Royal Oak, Tooley Street (demolished to make way for the Hilton hotel) - the location for Nicky Holloway's pre-acid house Special Branch soul/disco nights in the 1980s, where Danny Rampling, Pete Tong and Gilles Peterson also DJed.

- Dirtbox warehouse parties in Tooley Street (where Hay's Galleria now stands) put on by Phil Dirtbox with DJs including Jay Strongman and Rob Milton.

- Shoom - Rampling's early acid house night, held in the Fitness Centre on Thrale Street (Southwark Bridge end).

- Clink Street - home to the RIP parties in 1988, legendary hooligan house: 'Chelsea fans and Arsenal fans would warily eye each other up but later on they’d be having a right good chat and dance, just chilling, which was obviously due to the ecstasy' (Mark Easton).

- Jacks, 7-9 Crucifix Lane - still going, this was the venue for Andy Wetherall's Sabresonic parties in the mid-1990s.

- Cynthia's Robot Bar (later Club Wicked, now Astria), 4 Tooley Street - location for 21st Century Bodyrockers, electroclash AcidHousePunkRock nights in 2002.

Much of this activity took place amidst the ruins of dockside industry, but before the developers moved in. Until the 1960s, the Pool of London between London Bridge and Tower Bridge was a thriving dock, but it was all over by the end of the 1970s. The article quotes Rampling: “It was rundown. The whole south side of the river was a series of closed warehouses and industrial units, so it was like a ghost town after dark. But the night spots that sprang up drew people into the area from far and wide.” In this supposed wasteland, London acid house and rave culture was born.

The Daily Post is a temporary free newspaper linked with the Red Bull Music Academy, a month long series of musical happenings with its HQ also on Tooley Street.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More on the Met and Grime

Following on from last week's post on the policing on funky and bashment in London, here's an excellent article by Dan Hancox on the impact of the police clampdown on grime in London's clubs. This is still very much in effect, to give one example quoted by Dan:

'in August 2009 Urban Affair at the Indigo2 was shut down, deemed ‘high risk’ because their 696 paperwork had the dates of birth for two artists missing. The organisers had booked an allstar cast of performers, headlined by Wiley and Tinchy Stryder, forked out for tens of thousands of flyers and a cross-media advertising campaign, and were offering to put on a supplementary £4,500 worth of airport-style security to assuage any safety concerns. Legally, there was even plenty of time to resubmit the form with the missing details included, but the venue, panicked by the Met’s interference, had already taken the decision to cancel. It’s bureaucracy as a weapon: blunt, stupid and pretty terrifying, piles of paperwork used to bury license holders, to browbeat them into just not bothering with grime'.

All of this is having an appreciable impact, so that 'the music’s never been more popular, nor harder to hear in public':

'Thanks to downloadable mixes and internet radio, the London underground has been broadcast to the world in the last few years. But while this democratisation is a good thing, in London itself underground black music has been forced into the private sphere, away from the clubs. Grime was always meant to be club music: inheriting its BPM from garage, it was that bit too fast to simply be the British hip hop. Yet in 2010, the music has been relegated from clubs to be heard mostly through the pale grey beehive of PC speakers, or in the solitary isolation of headphones. In this context, common experience, enthusiasm and debate occurs globally on internet message boards, but not communally, locally, in the bars and clubs of the capital. Grime has been banished from real, physical London'.

The full article was published in Daily Note, 11 February, a free newsheet linked to the Red Bull Music Academy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

ATV: 1978 interview

Alternative TV were one of the few signficant early British punk bands to to eschew the obvious music industry route of signing for a big label - indeed they avoided retricting themselves to the 'punk brand' and took various left turns into more experimental music and free festivals. In this November 1978 interview from the radical magazine The Leveller, Mark Perry of ATV - who also edited the famous punk zine 'Sniffin Glue - expounds on his DIY philosophy with Deptford Fun City records, EMI and class



Click on images to enlarge - I haven't transcribed the whole thing, but here's some sections:

How is it done at Deptford Fun City?
With ATV we go in and produce the record ourselves, cut it and get it pressed. That way, it you do it wrong it's all your own fault. I sit down and design the cover. We get the photos taken, nick a SLADE sticker. We organise and distribute the ads - all dwon the line. It's all about doing it yourself.

I don't worry about anything. Record companies make you worry, come up and say, 'Look I don't think there's a single there lads'. So you get these 18 year old kids going mad trying to make a hit single... and they've signed for five years.

Tom Robinson says he signed with EMI because he wanted to reach the largest possible audience.
We get to 5000 people on Deptford Fun City. Directly to them -crash. The profits come right back to us and we put it into the next record. We don't own oil wells and all that. Tom Robinsom sells 20 -30,000, making profits for EMI, which I don't think is a good thing. The people who really wanted it would've bought it anyway. You don't know what dastardly things people like EMI are into.

Why have you never done a Rock Against Racism gig?
There's a lot of bands doing it and I don't think it needs ATV. In the end it's down to if you enjoy a RAR gig and I never have. What we did enjoy was the SUS benefit in Deptford. SUS - the campaign against the vagrancy laws - was a little thing run by the blacks in the community. RAR's more of an organisation ... I went on the march, but didn't fancy the gig [Carnival]. What they're doing's great. But RAR needs a wham-bam, Generation X type band. And we're not like that. A band can't change the world. And I still think there'd have been a fair few there at the Carnival without any bands. No, playing for nothing and selling albums cheap are the positive productive things you can do for people.

And that's why you did the free tour with Here and Now, the squatter/hippie band from Ladbroke Grove?
Yeah, we went on the tour. They did 30 dates, we did 15 of them. They did us a good turn by organising it and we did them one by making an album of it, 'What you see is what you are', with them on one side and us on the other. It was funny like when we played at Stonehenge, quite a few punks came along and were really freaked out standing next to these long-haried hippes. Another free concert we did there were three bands - all playing for nothing -which isn't bad. This kid comes up to me 'What you playing with this bunch of hippies for? Why don't you play down the club?" I said 'Look you've saved a quid aint' you? Have a couple more drinks'.

You chose the name Alternative TV because that's what pisses you off more than anything, the brain-softening mass media?
Power is in the hands of those rich enough to buy it, especially in culture. Because if everybody was involved we'd all do it so much better. Look at kids in school bashing around in the music room, playing great music on cymbals and all that. Then when they get out of school, with all the trash put out on the radio, they forget about the music room. I think it's a shame. I played xylophone, violin, trombone at school. I'm still like that now. So-called hip kids are all guitarists - that's all they do. They play All Right Now, play solo just the way it is on record.

No, most people with the arts thing in their bonce know nothing about life, use it to buy white powder. The people who need it can't get it. I really hate Harpers & Queen - they went all through punk and decided it was finished. Five pages on my life and I hated those bastards. They don't know what it's all about. They're living in Chelsea with their rich Daddies. If they lived up the road from Mullins, a big factory in Deptford, with their Dad watching ITV, buying the Mirror and Sun ... They don't know about things like people having to find a flat, your Dad getting chucked out the docks 'cos the docks have closed.

Where do you live?
With my Mum and Dad in Deptford, where I was born.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dancing Questionnaire (20): Smith3000, Expletive Undeleted

Next up on the Dancing Questionnaire, is Smith3000 of Expletive Undeleted blog and much more besides - 'did fanzines as a kid, promoted bands like the Membranes and Bogshed in Scunthorpe, first DJed in Darlington in 1984, moved to Leeds, was a founder member of techno collective Microdot, DJed on Leeds pirate Dream FM for five years, freelanced for NME, Mixmag and iD, started after-hours Ministry of Shite parties, moved to Manchester. Now write a blog and occassionally DJ at our 'early doors easy listening and bossa nova' do Easy Tiger with the lovely Jeanie'.

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
My parents used to buy a bit of chart music and I remember us all doing some awful synchronised hands-on-hips dance to Mud’s Tiger Feet in the front room, over and over and over again. Wikipedia tells me this would have been 1974, so I will have been nine. I got a rush.

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
I met my girlfriend when I was DJing early doors in a bar in Manchester a few years ago and persuaded her to stay out later than she planned so we could go to a club where a mate was playing. It was on the dancefloor there that I began to really understand exactly how fantastic she was. We’re still together.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
A lot of is to do with women and drink and drugs. If I’m dancing, I’m probably in a pretty contented state of mind anyway. But I have two happy moments that immediately spring to mind: Glastonbury’s experimental music field, sometime in the early 90s. Underworld played through Pink Floyd’s quadraphonic soundsystem for like 12 hours or something and me and my then girlfriend were tripping and dancing and acting daft pretty much the whole time.

One new year’s eve at the Band on the Wall in Manchester, at a gig by A Certain Ratio and Fila Brazillia, drunk but completely synchronised with an equally drunk then girlfriend. We tripped the light fantastic. It felt like a scene from a musical. And I also have very happy memories of making shapes at a birthday party for Bob Marley in Jamaica, at Bora Bora on the Playa den Bossa in Ibiza, on a podium at la Terrazza in Barcelona, the Mardi Gras in Kings Cross in Sydney and at Robodisco at Planet K in Manchester. When it got to 6am and the light started to come in through the glass roof during Back to Basics residency at the Pleasure Rooms always felt very special. Maybe it was just the drugs. And the night that I met my lady, of course. I could go on all night here.
Back to Basics, Leeds - detourning Jamie Reid's God Save the Queen d├ętournement

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times...
I had a bit of a funny turn at the Big Chill a few years ago where I inadvertently did too much MDMA and got some intense visual hallucinations (every surface of everything had like a layer of cling film hovering about a centimetre above it) which was kind of okay - but eventually I became utterly disorientated and incoherent and would have been up shit creek if I’d not had a mate with me. I also ending up puking so hard I did something to my diaphragm (which hurt for weeks afterwards). I had to go for a lie down.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?
I always used to dance at punk and indie gigs but as far as clubbing goes, I went to places like the Limit and the Top Rank in Sheffield, Spiders in Hull and the Ad-Lib in Nottingham.The club where I was first a regular was the Baths Hall in Scunthorpe in the early Eighties, where they stuck a dancefloor over the pool in winter and Steve Bird used to play punk, indie, alternative stuff and a little bit of reggae. Big tunes (for me at least) were stuff like Puppet Life by Punilux, Where Were You by the Mekons, Walls of Jericho and Nag Nag Nag by the Cabs, Follow The Leaders by Killing Joke and anything by the Stranglers. It was fucking brilliant. John Peel always used to say that the Baths was his favourite gig. We believed him.

I lived in Leeds during the late Eighties / Nineties and haunted places like the Well Funked Society at the Phono, Dig at the Gallery, Joy at the Warehouse, Kaos at Ricky’s, the Dream all-nighters at the Trades in Leeds, Back to Basics at the Music Factory, and Hard Times in Huddersfield, plus odd dances at the West Indian Centre and blues like Les’s and 45s in Chapletown.

In Manchester, Mr Scruff’s Keep it Unreal things is always good, as was the Robodisco and Electrik Chair and anything that Chris Jam or Rob Bright are DJing at.

6. When and where did you last dance?
When Weatherall did the one-deck wonder thing at Electrik bar the other week.

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
If I’ve got the energy, Le Freak by Chic. If not, Sweet Love by Anita Baker for one last erection section, propped up by my long-suffering missus.

All questionnaires welcome - just answer the same questions in as much or as little detail as you like and send to transpontine@btinternet.com (see previous questionnaires).

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

French for Cartridge

French for Cartridge are celebrating the release of their new album Liquorice (Dinner with Daisy records) with a week-long residency 'pop-up shop' at Speedies, the retro shop in Shoreditch.



Last night they did a short acoustic set with Catherine Kontz (keyboards, vocals and stylophone) and Henri Vaxby (guitar, vocals and autoharp) accompanied by DJ Walde's human beatbox - the striking black haired figure standing in front of them in the photo is in fact a mannequin. Often described as 'art pop', they certainly have plenty of interesting time signatures and experimental touches as befits a band originally formed by students at Goldsmiths music department in New Cross with a mission to make 'atonal pop' music. But the pop part of the equation is also very much present with otherworldly melodies and strong songs. Henri, incidentally, is also part of Finnish indie popsters Icons of Elegance.

The rest of the week at Speedies (81 Redchurch Street London E2) includes varous sound installations and performances, including of John Cage's Cartridge from which the band took their name (I believe the 'French for' bit was added later to avoid confusion with another similarly monikered band). On Friday 12th February from 7:30 there's the Liquorice album launch party with support from KawaKawa.

Oh in line with the album's name there's also a selection of free liquorice sweets and some nice liquorice tea!


Full details of events over the week at the band's website. From the album, here's 'Oooh!' (film by Riccardo Arena):

Monday, February 08, 2010

Funky & Bashment in police firing line

Thanks to Uncarved for pointing me in the direction of this South London Press story (1 February 2010):

'Strict new operating conditions have been imposed on a popular nightclub that was forced to shut when police learnt a doorman had been targeted for a gangland hit. The Mass nightclub in Brixton had 36 new operating conditions added to its premises licence by councillors after cops called for it to be reviewed. Lambeth’s licensing subcommittee heard the club was closed on December 26 at the request of police. They had received intelligence a doorman was to be shot in retaliation for a brawl in which he was alleged to have been involved at a club in Farringdon, north London.

Sgt Steve Strange said police took the decision to serve a 28-day closure order on Mass the next day because a verbal agreement with the club not to use “a certain security firm” had been broken at a time when tensions between rival gangs were high. He said: “We know there are disputes between gangs, and gangs have affiliations to certain promoters and venues. “We are taking steps to keep warring – and I don’t use the word lightly – factions apart. This has been a problematic club and the main reason is the type of music that is played... ‘bashment’. We know it attracts gang members.”

The club appealed against the closure order in court and a judge agreed it could open for three pre-planned events over the busy festive period, including the annual Torture Garden fetish club New Year’s Eve Ball. Stan Chicksand, owner of Mass, told the committee the club had already agreed with the police not to stage further bashment – a type of reggae dancehall music – or funky house nights...'

What is clear from this report is that the police in London are still 'profiling' events based on the kind of music they play, with funky now very much in the firing line alongside bashment and grime.

This is despite the fact that following outcry over the Metropolitan police's Form 696 - which they ask venues to fill in with details of club night - it has been amended to take out the question about what kind of music would be played (a question about the ethnicity of the crowd has also been removed). The Form does still ask for details of the promoter and DJs, presumably the police have now decided that with this information they can infer the music and crowd for themselves.

Interestingly the focus on funky, bashment and grime doesn't exactly square with the Police's own report on Form 696 presented to the Metropolitan Police Authority's Communities, Equalities and People Committee in September 2009.

The report notes that:

'For the period June and July 2009, 166 crime reports were confirmed as relevant to this report, as being linked to a nightclub or a public house. The 166 reports consisted of 1 Murder, 1 Attempted Murder, 151 GBHs, 3 Threats to Kill, 6 Firearms related offences and 4 Affray or Violent Disorder. From the confirmed sample of 166 crimes, 85 were linked to a venue with a music event at the time...

All events were found to include a variety of music types. For example “Funk, House music, Indie, Pop” is given as a description of the music played on the night. The music types have been broken down by the number of times they appear in the sample:

48 events are described as including RnB.
32 events included House music.
31 events are described as including Commercial or Pop music.
26 events are described as including Funky House.
20 events included disco or dance music.
16 included Hip Hop.
10 events included Indie.
8 included Rock.
5 events included Soul.

Other music type combinations included any of the above and Bashment, SOCA, Afro Beat, Hip Hop, Garage, Jungle, Cheesy Classics, Clubs Classics, Funk, Electro, Old Skool, Drum & Bass, African Reggae, Lovers Rock, Bhangra, Grime, Dubstep, Arabic, Irish, Latin, Salsa, Oldies, Uplifting, Soulful, and Reggae.

From this the report somehow concludes that 'the likely profile of music events where a serious violent or weapon related crime has occurred' would include the music type being 'RandB, House, Funky House and similar'. But in the list above, commercial pop was ahead of funky, and grime and bashment barely feature. Can't recall a cop saying that the problem with a club was that is played chart music, despite by definition it being popular with a lot of people, some of whom must be criminals. Why don't they just come out with it and say that that the music they are targeting is the kind that it is likely to attract large number of young black people? Although the profile of victims and suspects also doesn't support this focus:

'Victim Ethnicity:
White European – 66
Dark European – 5
Black Afro/Caribbean – 39
Asian - 8
Oriental - 2
Arabic – 1 each


Suspect Ethnicity:
White European – 62
Dark European – 12
Black Afro/Caribbean – 54
Asian - 5'.


As discussed here previously, violence around clubs in London is a real phenomenon, but shooting and stabbing people is already against the law. The current position amounts not only to blanket discrimination against particular types of music, but to the deliberate prevention of whole parts of the community socialising on their own terms to their soundtrack of choice. The intent might not be racist, but the effect is. A similar 'preventative approach' is not taken in other contexts - how often is a football match cancelled because it might attract violence, even when everybody knows in advance that it's going to kick off.

Policies like this do actually impact on the evolution of music itself. Since a lot of dance music is produced specifically for clubs, the drying up of opportunities to play out particular sounds leads to people switching their energies elsewhere. It is certainly arguable that the reduction in grime nights in London at police instigation has led to a stalling of the genre, with funky filling the gap. Some grime DJs switched to funky when they couldn't get gigs - now funky too is coming in for attention.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Linda Rondstadt Sonic Warfare in Arizona

The use of music for sonic warfare, torture and crowd control has been a recurring theme at this site. An interesting example occurred last month in Phoenix, Arizona where the music of Linda Rondstadt was used by the authorities in attempt to drown out a crowd of demonstrators that included - Linda Rondstadt!

The occasion was a demonstration against the notorious anti-immigration policies of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, which have included immigration "sweeps" in Hispanic neighborhoods, making prisoners wear pink handcuffs and old-fashioned striped jail uniforms, and detaining arrested migrants in outdoor tent-based jails. At least 10,000 people took part in the demonstration, including singer Linda Rondstadt and Zack de La Rocha (of Rage Against the Machine). The protest was organized by the Puente movement, along with a coalition of immigrant rights groups, including the National Day Labor Organizing Network

According to a Press Association report (16 January 2010): 'the marchers walked from a west Phoenix park to the Durango Jail Complex, a collection of five jails, where officials played music, including a record by singer Linda Ronstadt, to drown out noise made by protesters'. Police also used pepper spray and horses against demonstrators.

Anyway, the protestors had their own sonic weapons of chanting, music and dancing - including these traditional dancers:

Photo by javiersoto3tvp at twitpic




More reports: People's World; Fires Never Extinguished

Thursday, February 04, 2010

That Kind of Girl

Hipsters, Flipsters & Finger-Poppin’ Daddies - Stewart Home

Intesresting review at 3am magazine of the latest in the BFI's Flipside series of reissues of 'lost' 1960s and 1970s British films. Will have to check these out, especially That Kind of Girl (1963), which evidently features some footage from the early days of 'swinging London', including El Sombrero coffee shop in Kensington, beatnik joint and later gay club and early punk hang out, the Latin Quarter cabaret club and an Aldermaston 'Ban the Bomb' march.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Up a Tree in New Orleans

I have been to a few parties in my time, but dancing in a tree house is something I haven't done.
In the past year there's been a series of parties in New Orleans in a big tree house in the grounds of the NOLA Art House, an old Creole mansion (built c.1870) where loads of artists live and work. The tree house is a 5 storey structure, apparently including a pool (not sure if that's up the tree or on the ground nearby).

The place looks amazing. According to one party goer: 'For anyone who's been in the tree house, the fact that anything at all is keeping it up is only slightly reassuring. When the installation is full of people dancing to music spun by DJs, the whole structure reverberates with the beat. The shaking is not so fun when you're standing on an isolated pod and the only person who can help you off is busy taking pictures of your terrified face'.

Lot's more about it here. They are having a Mardi Gras Festival of the Rising Sun in February - prompted by the story that the The House is said in several guidebooks to be the original House of the Rising Sun. Sadly I'm in New Cross rather than New Orleans, but if you're in the area check it out.

Monday, February 01, 2010

In the kitchen at parties

I like the places where the night does not mean an end
where smiles break free and surprise is your friend
and dancing goes on in the kitchen until dawn
to my favorite song that has no end
(Bonny Prince Billy, You remind me of something)

1950s couple by Elliott Erwitt found via A Cup of Jo

1966 U.S. house party by Guess Zoo at Flickr

2008 kitchen party in St Paul by Surlygrrrl at Flickr

1880s sheet music cover for songs by African American songwriter James A. Bland