Wednesday, March 31, 2010

1990: Trafalgar Square Memories

Today in London has been cold and wet. Twenty years ago today, on March 31st 1990, things were much hotter in every sense of the word. It was the day of the biggest of the demonstrations against the hated poll tax. With hundreds of thousands of others I marched from Kennington park to Trafalgar Square, where one of the largest riots ever to take place in central London soon kicked off.

My memories of the March 31st 1990 are fragmentary, not just because of the passing of time, but because of the sheer disorientation of senses on the day.


There was no conspiracy to riot on the day, but on the other hand most people knew, and many hoped, that something big was going to happen. There was no single flashpoint either - things just seem to be surging up all over the place. For me, it was in Whitehall that it first became clear that this was going to be something more than one of those ritualised skirmishes between police and parts of the crowd.

As the bit of the march I was on came up to Downing Street, there was some pushing and shoving and the odd can being chucked. I stood on the green opposite to see what was going on, and shortly afterwards there was mass panic as people scrambled to get out of the way of a police charge, possibly precipitated by the pulling down of a flagpole. Running round the backstreets I ended up in Trafalgar Square which was already packed though fairly peaceful. Most people were probably unaware of what was going on down the road, but there was a sense of expectation, of an imminent explosion. The heat and the noise was incredible, loads of people drumming and chanting. Something was coming to the boil but nobody knew quite what. There was a creeping awareness that the police were losing control, and anything was possible. An off licence in the square had its windows put through and people helped themselves to bottles of drink.

The point the violence really reached the square was when two police vans drove at high speed into the crowd. What the point of this was I don’t know, but it was a miracle nobody was seriously injured. People went mad, although their aim wasn’t always very good. The friend I was with got hit by a stray brick and we retired to the steps of St Martin in the Fields to recover.
People had occupied a building site overlooking the square, and for a while things seemed to calm down in the square as everybody’s attention focused on a lone topless man climbing high to the top of a crane with a pay no poll tax placard on his hand, framed by the smoke from a fire someone had started on the site. Although this spectacle temporarily pacified the crowd, it felt now as if there was no going back. The starting of a fire seemed to mark the crossing of a boundary beyond the unwritten rules of political demonstrations with a bit of argy bargy then home in time for tea.

In front of the church, the fighting resumed. Windows had been smashed in the South African embassy and a small fire started (this was in the last days of Apartheid remember). People were throwing anything they could get their hands on at the cops, and every so often a line of mounted police would charge into the crowd. This was a Grand Old Duke of York strategy because they had no means of clearing the square, and every time they charged the crowd would part and then reform, to be met by the police charging back again.

Where the horses failed, baton charges did no better. Their only effect seemed to be to drive some of the most combative sections of the crowd out of the square and into the West End. I think I was in the first wave of people running up St Martins Lane. I passed a bloke handing out rivets and small bits of metal to people as they ran - there might not have been a conspiracy, but that doesn’t mean that people were unprepared. In the Lane some people ahead of me turned over a car, and windows were being smashed all over the place, like in a car showroom.

After this things become a bit of a blur. I can still picture scenes clearly- police on Charing Cross Road using plastic crates for cover as they ducked bottles; groups of people forming and dispersing, strolling along in all directions with no police in sight, windows breaking, a line of riot cops or some horses appearing from somewhere, a mad sprint through the back streets of Soho, people looting for the hell of it (I saw a woman take one boot from a window display as some kind of souvenir, and a young Chinese bloke sprinting down the road with a guitar from one of the music shops), bumping into friends with news of burning cars and other adventures, sirens and burglar alarms. As it got dark I found myself on Tottenham Court Road with people heading up towards Euston Tower trailed by van loads of cops. It was time to go home.

It didn’t feel like a desperate struggle, it was more like a carnival. Normal time was suspended, and every moment had a strange intensity.

I know it wasn't just the demonstration/riot that led to the poll tax being scrapped - there was a large movement organising for non-payment of the tax, sustained over a couple of years. But it certainly was an important moment in that struggle and I am sure that no one who was there on 31st March 1990 will ever forget it.

See also Stalker; Uncarved For lots more accounts written at the time see this collection at libcom. There was quite a hangover - 340 people were arrested, keeping me busy in prisoner support for the next year, but that's another story.

I don't recall too many great anti-poll tax anthems - but there was Don't Pay the Poll Tax by The Exploited.

Photographer David Hoffman's iconic image of the day

Monday, March 29, 2010

South East of the Thames Border Infection Mix

Last week I took part in Border Infection, an event at Goldsmiths in New Cross themed around borders, migration and creativity. My contribution was to lead a radical history walk/talk around New Cross and Deptford. In the evening there was a party at the Amersham Arms, with the highlight a great DJ set by Ges-E and Osmani Soundz from Nasha records (Eastern-flavoured bassism). I also played a set, in effect a soundtrack after the fact to the walk, featuring music linked to the area - specifically stuff that could be placed on a loose South London bass continuum from 70s reggae to current UK funky. Here's my selection:

South East of the Thames Border Infection Mix - Neil Transpontine (download full mix here)

1. TT Ross - Imagine: released on Dennis Harris's Lovers Rock in 1978, the label that named a whole genre of soulful reggae. The label was based in Harris's studio at 13 Upper Brockley Road, SE4.

2. Johnny Osbourne -13 Dead: this and the next four tracks all relate to the 1981 New Cross Fire, when 13 young black people died in a house fire at 439 New Cross Road.

3. Sir Collins and His Mind Sweepers - New Cross Fire: Sir Collins - or Charlie Collins -was involved in the famous Four Aces club in Dalston. His son was DJing at the New Cross party and died in the fire. I have added a sample from a BBC news report in January 1981.

4. Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali - New Cross Fire (1981): I have added a sample of Sybil Phoenix discussing racism in late 1970s and the setting up of the Moonshot Club in New Cross, youth club for young black people and scene of mass meetings in the aftermath of the fire.

5. Linton Kwesi Johnson -New Craas Massahkah.

6. Benjamin Zephaniah - 13 Dead and Nothing Said.

7. Mad Professor & Jah Shaka - Gautrey Road Style. The Mad Professor had his Ariwa studio at 42 Gautrey Road, SE15 in the 1980s. Jah Shaka was based in New Cross.

8. Brown Sugar - I'm in love with a Dreadlocks - another release on the Lovers Rock label from 1977, written by John Kpiaye, guitarist at Dennis Harris's studio, with Dennis Bovell as sound engineer. Brown Sugar included singers Kofi (later a solo artist) and Caron Wheeler (later of Soul II Soul).

9. Brinsley Forde - Can't tek no more of that - the sound of the closing scene of the great reggae sound system film Babylon, shot around Deptford and Brixton in 1979.

10. Dizzee Rascal - Can't tek no more - he's from East rather than South East London, even if his career took off via a Deptford studio, but since this track from last year's Tongue'n'Cheek album samples Babylon it's on the list.

11. Southside Allstars - Southside Riddim - this and the following two rap tracks offer a gritty realist take on South East London life, doing their bit to undermine gentrification by reminding everybody that the area has gangs and violence as well as estate agents!

12. Tinie Tempah - South East of the Thames

13. Blak Twang - Dettwork South East

14. Controlled Weirdness vs. Excentral Tempest -South London Bass/South East: my mix combining South London Bass by DJ Controlled Weirdness with South East, a rap by Excentral Tempest (now Kate Tempest).

15. Kyla - Do you Mind: a bit of an obvious funky anthem I know, this comes via Digital Holdings, the New Cross studio used by producers Crazy Cousinz. There's a continuity between Lovers Rock and UK Funky I think, expressing the soulful current of London bass culture as the flipside to the dread, beat an' blood current.

16. Leslee Lyrix - a short extract from the 1983 Ghettotone vs. Saxon sound system clash at Lewisham Boys Club, featuring Leslee Lyrix as Ghettotone MC. In his other guise as Dr William (Les) Henry he has published an essential book about sound system culture, What the Deejay Said: A Critique from the Street. Overlaid on this are samples from a short film, Voice for the Voiceless, made by some Goldsmiths students in 2008, with Les Henry and Les Back discussing the significance of sound systems and specifically nights in the Crypt at St Pauls in Deptford. I had a small role in this film, mainly supplying them with the soundtrack after a drink with the film makers in the New Cross Inn.




Voice for the Voiceless Uploaded by nickstreet83.

[the sound quality on the mix is variable, some of it ripped from vinyl and cassette and then thrown together on Audacity, but hope you'll agree that the content is all good... Also posted at Transpontine. Previous Agitdisco mix here]

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kenneth Anger - Invocation of My Demon Brother

Struggled through the rain today to catch the very last hour of the Kenneth Anger exhibition at the Spruth Magers Gallery in London. It was small, but definitely worth the effort. The main focus was a continuous showing of his 1969 film Invocation of My Demon Brother. Described by Anger himself as an '“an attack on the sensorium”, it is a collage of rapidly shifting colours and imagery - ritual scenes, tattoos, Hells Angels, Anton LaVey, Marianne Faithfull, Lenore Kandel, semi naked bodies, troops jumping out of a helicopter - all set to a minimalist noise soundtrack from Mick Jagger, who is glimpsed briefly at The Rolling Stones '69 gig in Hyde Park.

Inevitably there are versions on Youtube, but if you do get the opportunity to see it on a large screen do take it as the impact is much stronger.





The exhibition also featured prints of stills, including this one of Marianne Faithfull as Lilith in his film Lucifer Rising:


... and this one of Anais Nin as Astarte:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dancing at the Peckham Experiment

Here's an interesting chapter in London dancing history - a dancehall in a groundbreaking health centre in South London. The Pioneer Health Centre in Peckham, South London (1935-50) has been seen by many as a precursor of the National Health Service. Some have argued though that it was in fact more radical than the NHS, including the anarchist Colin Ward who sadly died last month. He reviewed the main book about the Centre (Being Me and Also Us: Lessons from the Peckham Experiment by Allison Stallibrass) in New Statesman and Society, September 29th 1989, and indeed recalled his own visit there for a meeting of the London Anarchist Group. For him the Peckham Experiment was an exercise in mutual aid and self-help preferable to the top-down bureaucratic model of the NHS. The building still stand in St Marys Road, but has been converted to flats. Here's his review:

Kenneth Clarke expostulated to a radio interviewer the other day: ‘We’ve never run the health service as some kind of workers’ cooperative.’ More’s the pity, I would say. But the real tragedy is that we have never run a health service, only an illness service. By stressing the word health, I don’t mean preventive medicine. I mean the pursuit of the conditions for personal, family and social well-being. There was one unforgettable experiment in this direction, and it died with the foundation of the NHS. This was the Pioneer Health Centre at Peckham.

For people like me, curious about the preconditions for resourcefulness and independence, it was a verification of our deepest convictions. The founders were a husband-and-wife pair of doctors, Innes Pearse and George Scoot Williamson. In 1938, they wrote about their Family Health Club: ‘It seems that ‘a sort of anarchy’ is the first condition in any experiment in human applied biology. This condition is also that to which our members most readily respond…’

It began much earlier, in 1926, when after welfare work in south London they concluded that most urban dwellers were so ‘de-vitalised’ that babies were born deficient in health. To study the characteristics of health they devised the idea of a family club, to be joined on two conditions, first, that the whole family must join; and second, that families must agree to a periodic medical examination.They started in a small house run as a club until 1929. The next step was to raise the money from charitable trusts to move to a purpose-built family club big enough to be self-supporting from subscriptions. By 1935 they had raised the cash and built the Pioneer Health Centre, designed by Sir Owen Williams. It was glass-walled inside and out, as the Peckham biologists needed to observe what members actually did. The centre of the building was a swimming pool, and there was a theatre, a gymnasium and a children’s nursery on the ground floor, with dance halls, a cafeteria, a library and medical rooms.

It ran from 1935 to 1939, and after the war from 1946 to 1950. It ended in 1951 after all efforts to get it adopted by local authorities or the NHS had failed. Since ‘health centres’ had become part of official doctrine after the National Health Service Act of 1946, the directors approached the Ministry of Health to incorporate it into official provision.

They failed for five reasons: first, it was concerned exclusively with the study and cultivation of health, not with the treatment of disease; second, it was based exclusively on the integrated family, not on the individual; third, it was based exclusively on a locality, it had no ‘open door’; fourth, its basis was contributory (2s 6d – 12 and a half pence – per family per week), not free; and fifth, it was based on autonomous administration, and so didn’t conform to the NHS structure.

The centre died but the idea did not. Pioneer Health Centre Ltd still exists and in the past ten years has ensured the republication by the Scottish Academic Press of all the old Peckham reports. The same publishers have just brought out, at £7.95, a new study called Being Me and Also Us: Lessons from the Peckham experiment. The author is Allison Stallibrass, a Peckham veteran and author of that modern classic of child development, The Self-Respecting Child.Her book is fascinating from several points of view. First, she has sought out people who were members as children or young parents and gathered their recollections of what the place meant in their lives. It is an enormously impressive testimony. Second, she shows how ahead of their time the Peckham pioneers were.

They were founder members of the Soil Association and took on a farm to ensure that members could buy nutritious bread, milk and vegetables and to provide holidays in the sun. Fifty years later, old Peckham hands remember that delicious bread. Third, she demonstrates how the preoccupation with the family was not a limiting, but an enlarging, factor. Members gradually accepted all the children as part of the family, while children and adolescents related to all the adults.Finally, she asks and ventures answers to the question: could we replicate the experiences of Peckham today? The original building cost about a fifth of the typical super-cinema of the period, though it was expensive to run. A modern equivalent would be far more useful in any community than the standard local ‘leisure centre’ which caters for a narrow band of the population and has no links with the ideology of self-catering, health-counselling, personal and social autonomy.

I only went there once, in 1949. I listened to Scott Williamson wittily addressing a meeting of the London Anarchist Group, and I visited Innes Pearse when she retired to Argos Hill windmill in Sussex. I never realised until I read this book that they must be considered as the truly creative figures in 20th century social medicine.



See also: Anarchism and the welfare state: the Peckham Health Centre by David Goodway:

'A different age group had caused mayhem on the opening of the new Centre in 1935, when the building was still uncompleted and much of the equipment intended for the children had still to arrive. Each day after school there was an invasion by crowds of kids, aged from seven to sixteen, who ran along the long open spaces and up and down the staircases, screaming, committing minor vandalism and making thorough nuisances of themselves. All the adults urged strong disciplinary measures - all except Williamson, who insisted that order would eventually be implemented by the children themselves as they responded to stimuli provided for them.

To this end [Lucy H.] Crocker was taken on the staff with the brief to resolve the problem. She was to discover that unsupervised children were excluded from the two places in the building, the swimming-pool and the gym, they found most appealing. Her solution was to develop a 'ticket system' whereby children could gain access to a preferred activity on obtaining a signed chit on each occasion from a member of staff cognisant of their physical abilities. This necessitated the children's continual interaction with an orderly, rational adult society and was found to foster responsibility, apparatus being returned to its designated place without request. 'The child is quick to respond to a mutually sustained order in society', as Pearse and Crocker were to put it. Within eighteen months of the reopening the screaming and running were no more and 'there were at last signs of order', Crocker recalled: 'not the quietness due to external discipline but the hum of active children going about their own business'.

This handling of the rowdy schoolchildren exemplifies the fifth condition on which the 'Peckham Experiment' depended: the maintenance of autonomy, autonomy not just for the adults but for their children also. Williamson and Pearse had no doubt that as biologists studying the human organism they had to deal 'with free agents', for 'any imposed action or activity becomes a study of authority, discipline or instruction...not the study of free agents plus their self-created environment'. In 1938, possibly foolhardily, they spoke warmly of 'a sort of anarchy', believing that 'a very strict "anarchy"...will permit the emergence of order through spontaneous action...' But although Williamson spoke to the London Anarchist Group on several occasions during the 1940s - chaired by John Hewetson, the GP editor of Freedom - he objected vehemently to the paper's coverage in 1951 of the announcement of the winding-up of the Centre (articles for which Colin Ward was primarily responsible), and which pointed to its anarchist, indeed revolutionary, nature. Williamson proclaimed: 'I am not an anarchist, nor do I believe in anarchy - not even the Kropotkin type'.

In truth, Williamson seems like A.S. Neill, the progressive educationalist, to have been an anarchist in both theory and practice, while denying he was one. Frances Donaldson (whose husband Jack was to manage the social floors in the Centre until they were running smoothly) had this to say about his remarkable disposition:

"...his lack of paternalismas far as this is humanly possible, was complete. He was not interested in how people should behave, or in how they might be made to behave, but only in how they did behave in any given circumstance...this made for a kind of democracy in the Centre which I doubt has ever been seen anywhere else...He had a rooted objection to the leader in society, regarding him as someone who pushed around the human material he wished to study in spontaneous action, and who exerted the force of his personality to drive more ordinary people out of the true of their natural behaviour into activities unsuited to them and which they half-consciously disliked. "

So while the 'health overhauls' enabled individuals to learn what they might be suffering from, the doctors did not direct them what to do, allowing them to make informed, autonomous choices. A visitor, who learned from Williamson that a man had 'a most dreadful hernia', asked why then had it not been treated and was told: 'It's his hernia. It's up to him when he wants to get it fixed up'. The condition of autonomy goes far to explain why the people of Peckham regarded the Centre as their own, filling the building with their autonomous activity. Clubs were formed and run by their members for a great range of pastimes, including camping, badminton, boxing, fencing and tap-dancing, while skills would be shared in, for example, dressmaking, woodwork, first aid and choral singing.'

The Pioneer Health Foundation site, which has lots more information, states that the polished cork tiles covering the floors were ideal for dancing, and that 'Amongst the many who made the most of it were the teenagers, freed at last from the streets, using the whole building intensively, exploring the whole community, and visibly thriving on it. The whole edifice used to rock on Saturday nights when the Long Room was packed with dancers, of all ages, dancing to the strains of the Centre's own band, directed by a most energetic member, a bookmaker by profession' (Jack Donaldson).

Photos from Pioneer Health Foundation - not sure when they were taken, I am guessing 1940s. Cross-posted from Transpontine on account of the dance content.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hot Stuff - Alice Echols on Stonewall

I haven't got hold of a copy of Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture by Alice Echols yet, but there's a very interesting interview with her at Salon. Here's what she has to say about the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York:

'In some ways, it's not surprising that the Stonewall Inn became the birthplace of what many people consider the modern gay liberation movement: It was a dancing bar. The Stonewall had two dance floors, and it was unusual because most bars in New York City did not allow gay men to dance. The one in the back was often filled with black men and Latinos, and the jukebox was soul. There was a lot of getting down on that dance floor, and that led to a kind of sexual expressiveness.

There's this great quote I have in the book, that at other bars you could only get into the longing for a particular person -- and think, "Oh, he's cute" -- but you couldn't do anything about it. At the Stonewall, the dancing forced a kind of physical intimacy and, I think, gave the men there a sense of wanting more and yearning for more, which then got expressed in the Stonewall Riots.

It's very telling that when the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist Alliance started up in New York, one of their key activities was to organize dances where many of the movers and shakers of the disco world were first exposed to disco. I think it's very hard to disaggregate dancing from protest. Dancing is a protest especially from men who were surveilled and harassed. That's one of the reason why disco featured music that didn't stop. You didn't want it to stop, because that in itself was a kind of rebellion...


Once gay bars became decriminalized, the mafia pulled back somewhat and you saw these different venues cropping up, like private clubs. Dancing became a part of what Richard Goldstein calls the "psychic intifada." The music was so damn loud that the reticence and inhibition that characterized the gay piano bar could no longer be had. You had to dispense with the chitchat, which led to greater sexual explicitness'.

Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship: rock against racism in the 1950s?

Jazz musician John Dankworth died last month. As this BBC film from 1959 shows, one of his early achievements was to chair the Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship, founded in 1959 to combat the activities of the White Defence League. As well as Dankworth, members of the campaign included Cleo Laine, Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan (looking very like a young Billy Bragg), Humphrey Lyttelton, and folk singer Karl Dallas.



As described at Love Music Hate Racism, Colin Jordan's White Defence League later merged as part of the first British National Party in 1960, with Jordan's former comrade John Tyndall later going on to form the National Front and then the current BNP. Jordan, who was once jailed for trying to burn down synagogues, was later the fuhrer of the British Movement leading a motley crew of neo-nazi skinheads to nowhere in the 1980s.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Digital Economy Bill

If you haven't wised up about the Digital Economy Bill going through the UK parliament, you should do so quickly.

Whatever you think about the ethics of file sharing, this music & film industry inspired legislation represents an attempt to bring in some dangerous powers. It proposes disconnecting people from the internet for alleged file sharing, without even a trial where people can contest what they are accused of. In cutting off broadband access to the many people who may use one connection, it also amounts to a form of collective punishment. It also proposes blocking offending websites, a power that would no doubt be used to censor the internet. Finally open wi-fi would be threatened, since whoever was providing it could be held accountable for the actions of those using it.

As for the ludicrous attempts to suggest that downloading is killing music, let's just remember that people have been making music, and indeed making a living from making music, for thousands of years. The period in which a significant but small proportion of musicians have made the bulk of their living from the sale of recordings has lasted only about 50 years. Maybe that is changing, but the capacity to make, perform and disseminate music is arguably stronger than ever. Music isn't going away, even if the record industry in its current form seems to be.

Anyway there's lots of material about the Bill at the Open Rights Group site. They have called a Stop Disconnection demonstration at Parlimament on Wednesday, 24 March at 17:30. For a good rant, see Penny Red's A State-sponsored book burning parade:

'This is a vile, vituperative piece of legislation, driven by corporate lobbyists and blithely ignoring public interest. It's a Faustian pact between a dying government and antique, anti-innovatory music and publishing industries who are as terrified now as manufacturers of illuminated manuscripts were in 1455 when they got their hands on the Gutenberg Bible and saw the page turning on a world of easily-exchanged ideas that they could not monetise or control'.

Friday, March 19, 2010

African clubs in Israel

Interesting short article about African clubs in Israel:

'On a chilly Friday in a basement on a graffiti-lined street, about 100 African men and a handful of women move to upbeat, deep-voiced Nigerian music. Red and green disco lights swirl overhead. Bolli Impanem wears a red-and-white soccer jersey as he flits between dance floor and DJ stand.

“I don’t go to Israeli clubs,” says Mr. Impanem. He moved to Israel in 2000 from Nigeria to play soccer for Hapoel Beer Sheva, a pro club, but stayed when he married a Dutch woman. "Somebody slapped me once at a club and it was embarrassing.... So I made a place for me to dance.”

Israel’s African population numbers about 20,000, although no exact figures exist because of illegal migration. First, Ghanaian migrant workers came in the 1980s, followed by other laborers. Today most Africans in Israel are asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea...

... Impanem’s basement disco is camouflaged. The heavy metal front door is down a staircase at the back of a nondescript, fluorescent-lit driveway. For Nelone Key, a South African without working papers, the basement is a place to forget about his frustrations, such as not finding a job despite a university education. “I just like to dance sometimes,” he says.

Full article: Christian Science Monitor, 16 March 2010.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Musicians Deported by UK Border Agency

The campaign is continuing against the points-based immigration system restricting artists visting the UK (discussed here before) is continuing. The Manifesto Club Visiting Artists Campaign handed in a petition at 10 Downing Street this week against the system, signed by 10,000 people amongst whose names I recognised Sukhdev Sandhu, Michael Moorcock, Tacita Dean, Jeremy Deller, Charlie Gillett, and, fantastically, Arthur Brown, God of Hellfire.

They have also produced a dossier, Deported: Artists and academics barred from the UK which highlights many cases, including the following:

'Gabriel Teodros, USA, hip-hop artist: Statement from Gabriel Teodros: “I was invited to the UK by a university to perform and participate in an academic conference, and was detained for eight hours at London-Heathrow before being sent back to the States, for reasons that were unclear. This has personally cost me thousands, ruined months of plans, and your own border agents could not even answer questions regarding your laws. I may tour the entire world but will never fly back into London. These laws are a wall so many artists & educators can not find a way around, the arts and culture in your country will suffer.”

' The Pipe Band, Pakistan, pipe musicians. Members of the Pakistani pipe band – due to perform at the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow – were unable to attend when their visa applications were rejected. The World Pipe Band Championships at Glasgow Green is said to be worth an estimated £7 million to the city economy. SNP MSP for Glasgow Anne McLaughlin called on the UK government and Border Agency to reverse their decision. “The Pipe Band are international ambassadors and Glasgow’s Pipe Band Championships is an international celebration. This kind of decision gives Scotland a bad name and shows up the shambles within the UK Border Agency.”'

'Taisha Paggett, USA, dancer and choreographer: A member of collective Ultra-red, visiting the UK to participate in a workshop (legally a ‘business visitor’), was advised by another member who had become aware of confusing new legislation, not to say she was an artist. She followed her fellow member’s advice, but Immigration became suspicious. Searching her luggage, they found a copy of the email with the fellow member’s advice printed out, and deported her from the UK for deception with no right to return for ten years'.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Park Lane Squatters

Article in the Observer magazine at the weekend (14 March) about the people behind last month's party at a squatted mansion in London's Park Lane:

'On Thursday 11 February, 3,000 revellers descended in numbers normally only seen at festivals to a derelict Mayfair mansion in Park Lane. They had been invited by the party's organisers, CTL (it stands for whatever you want it to: "call the landlord", "come to life"), to sample the high life of decadent parties and seven-storey mansions normally reserved for the very rich. The ensuing chaos reached new heights of madness when the Metropolitan police riot squad turned up and proceeded to charge at the crowd outside before storming the building and chucking the last dregs of excited youth back on to the street' (full article here).

The sympathetic article contrasted with some of the shock horror stories in the tabloids at the time, such as the Daily Mail: 'Riot police raid £30m Mayfair squat after 2,000 people show up to Facebook party 'gone wrong'... the 'perfect tenants' decided to throw the most destructive party possible. After advertising a 'Night of Mayhem' on Facebook, hundreds of drunken revellers turned up at the address - on the corner of the appropriately named Dunraven Street'.

Taking over empty buildings in this way has a long and honorable history in London, from the 'Wild Beatnik Parties' of the 1960s, 1980s warehouse parties and the free party movement of the 1990s and beyond.

Shame though that the Observer article had to reproduce the usual stereotypes about most squatters: 'the majority of the collective is middle class and educated to high levels; they all have other places they could be. They are not the typically greasy, uneducated and unwashed junkie face of squatting. They aren't homeless either. These are young people disillusioned by the choices society asks them to make'. The whole tone seems to suggest that nice, arty middle class squatting is morally superior to people taking over empty buildings out of mere need. And just because most people putting on parties or occupying buildings for housing aren't media darlings or the sons and daughters of the chattering classes doesn't mean that they are 'greasy, uneducated and unwashed junkies'.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lesbians banned from Mississippi Prom

A school in Misssissippi has cancelled its prom dance rather than allow a lesbian student attend with her girlfriend. Here's the full story from the ACLU, 11 March 2010:

'The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today against a Mississippi High School that has canceled prom rather than let a lesbian high school student attend the prom with her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo to the event. In papers filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students at the school and charges Itawamba County School District officials are violating Constance McMillen’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression.

“All I wanted was the same chance to enjoy my prom night like any other student. But my school would rather hurt all the students than treat everyone fairly,” said McMillen, an 18-year-old senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi. “This isn’t just about me and my rights anymore – now I’m fighting for the right of all the students at my school to have our prom.”

Today’s filing comes after Itawamba County School District issued a statement yesterday saying they were canceling prom, following a letter from the ACLU and the Mississippi Safe Schools Coalition demanding that they reverse their decision. McMillen said that before that happened, school officials had told her that she could not arrive at the prom with her girlfriend, also a student at IAHS, and that they might be thrown out if any other students complained about their presence at the April 2 event.

“Itawamba school officials are trying to turn Constance into the villain who called the whole thing off, and that just isn’t what happened. She’s fighting for everyone to be able to enjoy the prom,” said Kristy Bennett, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “The government, and that includes public schools, can’t censor someone’s free expression just because some other person might not like it.”

In today’s legal complaint, the ACLU asks the court to reinstate the prom for all students and charges that the First Amendment guarantees students’ right to bring same-sex dates to school dances and cites cases holding that other parties’ objections don’t justify censorship. The ACLU also said that the school further violates McMillen’s free expression rights by telling her that she can’t wear a tuxedo to the prom.

“It’s shameful and cowardly of the school district to have canceled the prom and to try to blame Constance, who’s only standing up for herself. We will fight tooth and nail for the prom to be reinstated for all students,” said Christine P. Sun, Senior Counsel with the ACLU national LGBT Project, who represents McMillen along with the ACLU of Mississippi.

You can show your support at the Let Constance Take her Girlfriend to the Prom facebook group, to which more than 100,000 people have signed up.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Absurd rave trial drags on in Italy

So you went to a party when you were a student four years ago - and now you're having to sit in a court room facing prosecution as a result. This is the absurd situation in Italy, where the court room in Varese was packed out last month for the latest hearing for 113 defendants charged in relation to a party held at Caldè near Lake Maggiore in June 2006.

Around 500 people, many of them students, attended an unauthorised 'rave party' held in and around old furnace buildings on private land near the shores of the lake. The police set up roadblocks and stopped people as they were leaving the party, as a result of which the 113 were charged with complicity in aggravated invasion (trespass) of the land.

Local papers have queried the use of the court room associated with Mafia trials, noting that in 'this case this case, however, the defendants are normal young people of Varese and surroundings. The trial has been adjourned again until June 2010.

Source: VarezieNotizie, 26 February 2010 ; Varese Laghi 25 February 2010.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Girls who are boys who like boys to be girls

'Nine men dressed in women's clothing were arrested on New Year's Eve in the discotheque of a Manama, Bahrain, hotel and charged with public debauchery, the United Arab Emirates' Gulf News reported this week. Police reports cited by the paper said the men were "heavily made up and wearing provocative outfits" while soliciting fellow patrons. The reports said the men were from different Arab countries but did not specify their nationalities. The paper noted that Bahrain has been seeking to crackdown on perceived homosexual behavior, which is illegal in the Persian Gulf nations, by introducing tougher immigration measures and prompt deportations'.

(Los Angeles Times, 6 January 2010)

'The UAE government has launched a campaign against what it describes as masculine behaviour among women. Under the slogan "excuse me I am a girl", it has launched a series of workshops, lectures and TV programmes. The aim, the UAE authorities say, is to help women avoid what is seen as "delinquent behaviour". That is how the social affairs ministry in the emirates describes what would in some other societies be known as homosexuality or transvestitism. Officials from the ministry told the local press that "masculine behaviour" among young girls was first spotted in special care homes. There were no studies available that describe the extent of the phenomenon in the rest of the Emirati society, they said, but it is believed to be common in girls' schools.

A social worker in charge of the campaign, Awatef al-Rayyes, was quoted as saying that this kind of behaviour could be attributed to a number of causes including the unfair treatment of wives by their husbands and lack of mixing between the sexes. This, she said, could lead to girls feeling more secure in the company of other girls and some may adopt the male role by having their hair cut short or by putting on a man's voice'.

(BBC World, 12 March 2009)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Freddy's: a Brooklyn bar facing demoltion

If one threat to music venues is over-regulation through increasingly onerous licensing laws, another is gentrification. As land and property values rise, spaces of conviviality (pubs, bars, clubs) are often swept away by developers to be replaced by upmarket residential and retail buidings. In London, the clearest example is The Foundry in Shoreditch, facing demolition to make way for a hotel.

City of Strangers notes a similar case from New York, where Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn is facing demolition to make way for the huge Atlantic Yards Development. City of Strangers 'started hanging out in the very late 90’s, when I still lived in Fort Greene. It was nice having a good bar in walking distance. In those pre-hipster days, there weren’t many bars in Brooklyn with found video loops broadcast on a TV over the bar, or that played the whole Velvet’s Banana album or the Ramones or 80’s British punk. The back room featured everything from hardcore to experimental jazz'.


If the developers get their way, 16 high rise buildings will soon replace not only Freddy's but a whole neighbourhood, including many pesky low rise buildings with controlled rents. Freddy's patrons - some pictured below -have threatened to chain themselves to the bar to block its eviction.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Telepathic Fish

When the ambient scene emerged in the early 1990s, I was somewhat ambivalent about the notion of whole clubs dedicated to low tempo electronica. It might have been perfect for winding down after a night out, or even for taking a breather from the dancefloor in a chill out room, but perhaps not for someone who habitually spent time in such rooms impatiently tapping feet and demanding 'can we go and dance again now?' The first such club night I went to was at Jacksons Lane Community Centre in Highgate - I think it might even have been called the Ambient Club (anybody else got any recollection of this?). The ex-punk in me bridled at a club with most people sitting down on mattresses round the outside. But you sit down too, relax a little and hey... it's not so bad!

One of the first series of dedicated ambient nights started out in South London courtesy of a collective who styled themselves Telepathic Fish. In his book 'Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds' (1995), David Toop recalls:

'Telepathic Fish grew from... origins as a small squat party to a growing public event with its own fanzine, Mind Food. "It's like being in someone's living room", Hex/Coldcut 'Macpunk' Matt Black said to me in October 1993 as we watched somebody step around the inert bodies, the dogs on strings and the double baby buggies, carrying a tray of drinks and eats. On that occasion, held in Brixton's Cool Tan Arts Centre, Telepathic Fish ran from noon until 10 p.m. on a Sun­day. You could buy Indian tea and cheese rolls (the latter constructed in situ with a Swiss army knife) from a low table set up in one corner of the main room. This looked for all the world like a 1960s' arts lab: bubble lights, computer graphics, Inflatables, sleepers, drone music, squat aesthetics.

My first and foolish action was to sit on a mattress which has been out in the rain for a month. For half an hour, only professional interest keeps me from screaming out of there in a shower of sparks but then I relax. No, it's fine. This is ambient in the 1990s - the 1960s'/70s'/80s' retro future rolled into a package too open, loose and scruffy to be anything other than a manifestation of real commitment and enthusiasm. Tel­epathic Fish was started by a group of art students and computer freaks - Mario Tracey-Ageura, Kevin Foakes and David Vallade - who lived together in a house in Dulwich. Later, Chantal Passemonde moved into the house, shortly af­ter the parties had begun. Kevin was a hip-hop fan, David liked heavy metal and Chantal listened to the ambient end of indie music: Spacemen 3 and 4AD label bands such as This Mortal Coil. There were no shared musical visions; simply an idea that the environment for listening to music could be different...

For the first party, held in the Dulwich house, six hundred people turned up through word of mouth and Mixmaster Mor­ris DJd. Then they planned a May Day teaparty. The fliers were teabags. Mixmaster Morris wanted a German ambient DJ, Dr Atmo, to play at the party, along with Richard "Aphex Twin" James, a recent addition to Morris's wide circle of friends and fellow psychic nomads. "We realised that the whole party was going to be too big for the place we were going to have it," explains Chantal, "which basically was a garden, so we rushed around. Morris knew some people and we found this squat in Brixton, which was run by these completely insane people. Just real squattie types, right over the edge. It was from Sunday tea on May bank holiday and people just turned up in dribs and drabs all through the night. We got Vegetable Vision in to do the lights. We ran around and got mattresses from on the street round Brixton and we had some of my friends do­ing the tea. We made lots of jelly and there was plenty of acid about. That went on for about fourteen, fifteen hours, with people lying around. That was the first proper Telepathic Fish, May 1st, '93".

So, the first party was in a house in East Dulwich (anyone know where?), the second in a squat in Tunstall Road, Brixton, and then there was at least one at Cool Tan, the squatted ex-dole office in Coldharbour Lane, Brixton. I went to many parties in that place, but don't think I was at that one.

Mixmaster Morris was living in Camberwell at the time (may still do for all I know), he put out a track with Jonah Sharpe called Camberwell Green. He was also involved in the mid-1980s with running a club called The Gift in New Cross - where was that?

(cross posted from my SE London blog, Transpontine)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dancing flashmob riot in Berkeley

Last week in Berkeley, California, a flashmob dance party on the University ended up in a riot as students protesting against cuts in education funding took their party off the campus and into the streets.

According to Occupy California: 'In Sproul Plaza of UC Berkeley, hundreds gathered for a dance party that began around 10pm on Thursday, February 25. At the peak of the party (around 12am) the 250 people dancing surrounded the loudspeakers as together they moved farther into campus'.

After temporarily occupying a vacant University building, the mobile party moved off campus and into surrounding streets: 'Some 500 people were present, a combination of observers and protesters. The dance party continued to rage on as more and more people took the intersection, by now at least three hundred. Then without a clear reason, the police began to descend on the people in the streets. Some ran to the sidewalks to observe from a distance, others stood their ground, refusing to move. The police pushed people with their batons, the protesters pushed back and some were caught in the middle. Then an officer grabbed a woman at random and smashed her head to the ground... What had started as a dance party and occupation quickly turned into a direct confrontation with the police, whom had been following the protesters through out the night'. Shop windows were smashed and some bins set alight.

The context is an ongoing movement of student occupations and demonstrations across California prompted by cuts in education funding and increases in tuition fees.

Monday, March 01, 2010

A Cultural History of Night

From 'The Minotaur & the Maze: A Cultural History of Night #1' by Darran Anderson:

'Night might well be just technically the period of time when the sun is below the horizon. Yet it is also another vast transformed world, one which has its own vast and myriad culture; in poetry alone, the Aubade and the Alba (shared odes between lovers who must be tragically separated at dawn), in music the Nocturne (a rhapsody of, and for, the night). For all their beauty, these forms do little to describe to us what the night truly is, what this curse is that afflicts us at the dimming of every day?

In a sense, night is another frontier, alongside space and the ocean depths, that we’ve yet to truly tame. We may have mapped the entire landmass of the earth with GPS but controlling the hours after sunset eludes us. We may throw up a 24-hour garage like some outpost of civilisation or lines of streetlights but they are merely train-tracks through savage country. The nocturnal walk through the streets, familiar by day but changed utterly by night, can be a disconcerting experience. The dark brings out the undesirables that dare not show their faces in the cold light of day. “All the animals come out at night - whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal” in the words of that gentle misunderstood soul Travis Bickle. That is its curse and its glory, when buoyed by the dutch courage of drink we choose to embrace it and join the ranks of the damned. “Most glorious night!” Byron wrote, himself no stranger to hedonism, “Thou wert not sent for slumber!”'

Full article at 3am magazine