Friday, April 30, 2010

...or maybe vote for Shakira? (more on Arizona, racism and immigration)

Last night I floated the idea of voting for Amerie in the UK elections (even though she's not standing!), on the basis that her critique of the new racist anti-migrant powers in Arizona showed that she was far ahead of the bulk of the British polity when it comes to racism and immigration. Good to see that Shakira too has joined the fight, visiting Phoenix yesterday especially to denounce the new Arizona Senate Bill 1070 law:

'I heard about it on the news and I thought, 'Wow', It is unjust and it's inhuman, and it violates the civil and human rights of the Latino community ... It goes against all human dignity, against the principles of most Americans I know... We're talking about human beings here'. Shakira also made a stop at the state Capitol in downtown Phoenix, telling a group of a few hundred community members that if the law were in effect, she could be arrested since she didn't bring her driver's license to Arizona. "I'm here pretty much undocumented," she told the crowd... "No person should be detained because of the color of their skin" (Washington Post, 28 April 2010).

The law, which is due to come in to effect in July, makes it a crime to be an 'alien' in the US without specific registration documents and requires police to check people's immigration status if they have a 'reasonable suspicion' . It will also make it a crime to give shelter to undocumented migrants, or transport them. Appalling, but not so different from the UK situation where employers are required to check papers and are increasing turning people over to the Borders Agency.

Still at least in the US, the She Wolf is on the case! Interview follows - 'People are people with or without documents':

Ricky Martin also said last night “You are not alone. We are with you... Put a stop to discrimination. Put a stop to hate. Put a stop to racism.”

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can I vote for Amerie? Racist immigration controls in Arizona and UK

So why put up a video for Amerie's 1 Thing at this late stage in the day? Well it's a great track and why can't I a put up a good song at the end of the week just because I like it.

But also because I can't bear to hear any more nonsense about immigration in the UK election campaign. The only decent thing said on the subject by Gordon Brown was when he called somebody 'a bigoted woman' for her comments about immigrants 'flocking' to the country. Of course he didn't mean to be overheard, and having been crucified by the press for it, it was back to business as usual in tonight's TV debate trying to out tough the Tories about 'illegal immigrants'.

Compare and contrast Amerie's very sensible analyis via Twitter: 'Consequences of this new Arizona immigration law are fightening to say the least...imagine the precedence if this law holds firm. Think about it: you're driving to the store, movies, walking down the street with a couple friends...u get stopped... oops, u don't have any id on u. So now you're off to jail or detained till someone can come prove ur a us citizen afterall, & the fact that most people who will be detained due to "reasonable suspicion" will happen to be brown complected goes without saying'.

Well she's absolutely right: as Robert Creamer argues, 'The Arizona of 2010 Is the Alabama of 1963... the new Arizona law requires that all police officers with a reasonable suspicion that an individual might not be in our country legally, must demand to see that person's papers. It also requires that each person who has immigrated carry those papers at all times or be in violation of the law themselves... In a free society people should never have to worry that the plainclothes police officer around the next corner has the right - even the obligation - to demand to see their papers simply because they have brown skin or are chatting with their friends in Spanish, or Polish, or Italian'.

Yet seemingly few people bat an eyelid when this kind of thing happens in the UK. I frequently see joint Borders Agency/transport police operations in London, where, similar to Amerie's scenario, people with dark skins and/or foreign accents who don't have the right ticket for the bus or train get pulled over and questioned about their immigration status - resulting for some in arrest, detention and deportation. Where is the outrage?! Can I vote for Amerie please?

(first heard about Amerie's comments via Dan Hancox)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Blair Peach, Southall and the Rasta folk devil

I posted last year on the 30th anniversary of the death of Blair Peach, killed during the anti-fascist demonstration in Southall, West London, on 23 April 1979. Papers finally released today by the Metropolitan Police show that they were well aware at the time that he must have been killed by the police Special Patrol Group, but nobody was ever charged.

There's a huge amount of material on the Met's site which I haven't had time to read through yet. One things I was struck by was an internal report to the Home Office written the day after by a Deputy Assistant Commissioner at New Scotland Yard. It gives the police account of the demonstration, which was called to oppose a National Front meeting in this largely Asian area (note that the NF chose St George's Day for its provocation, just as its successor the BNP chose the same day to launch its 2010 election manifesto last week).

The report is clearly an early exercise in putting together a police narrative that justified the violence used in what was to be described as a 'police riot'. For instance, it describes the notorious police assault on the People Unite centre, in which Misty in Roots manager Clarence Baker was put in a coma, as a defensive operation:

'A group of mainly rastafarians, squatting in a house in Park View Road, threw stones and smoke canisters at police. There were a number of police injuries and it was necessary for police to enter the building . There was considerable violence from those in occupation. Truncheons were used and there were injuries to the occupants and police -including two police officers who were stabbed. A variety of missiles were used, including paint which was thrown over police. Curry powder was thrown in policemen's faces'.

Interesting to see that the report invokes that 1970s 'black folk devil' (Gilroy) , the criminal Rastafarian - armed in this case with that most Unenglish of weapons - curry powder! Writing in that period, Paul Gilroy quoted some choice examples of anti-Rasta coverage in the British media. How about:

'Scotland Yard has alerted police forces in England and Wales about the infiltration threat by a West Indian mafia organisation called Rastafarians. It is an international crime ring specialising in drugs, prostitution, extortion, protection, subversion and blackmail... They favour red, high-powered cars, wear their hair in long rats tails under multi-coloured woollen caps and walk about with 'prayer sticks' -trimmed pick axe handles. They are known to police and intelligence organisations on both sides of the Atlantic as being active in organising industrial unrest' (Reading Evening Post, 1976, cited in Gilroy).

The notion of gangsters juggling global drug dealing with organising strikes seems hilarious now, but the consequences of these attitudes in legitimising repression against black youths were serious enough: 'Ideas of black criminality... intersect with racist common sense and, in that process, provide a wealth of justifications for illegitimate, discriminatory and of course illegal police practices at the grassroots level' (Paul Gilroy, Police and Thieves, included in Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, The Empire Strikes Back: Race and Racism in 70s Britain, 1982).

Back to that same police report I quoted earlier we can find another example of the barely concealed racism of the period with a statement that 'the violence was mainly from Asian youths, who appeared quite often to lose complete control of their emotions'. Tied up in this is a whole discourse of over emotional foreigners, of Asian males as not quite real men (the main Cass report on Blair's death likewise refers to 'a little Indian man, bleeding').

The police might have got a bit more careful about their language, but pumped up cops from the TSG (successor to the SPG) are still a threat to life and limb as shown by the death last year of Ian Tomlinson.

More on this:

- The-sauce puts police names to some of the blacked out gaps in the documents released today.
- Chris Searle at the IRR remembers Blair Peach, recalling his earlier arrest in 1974 for opposing a racist colour bar at the Railway Tavern in Bow.
- Blue Murder - songs about police killings including Blair Peach, to which I'd like to add another. London Hooligan Soul by the Ballistic Brothers includes the line: 'Blair Peach a crying shame. The NF and unmarked police vans. Who is to blame?'.
- John Eden, an old post on Reggae and the National Front with more about Misty in Roots and Southall.

Flyer for a 1979 benefit gig at Trinity Hall, Bristol for the Southall Defence Fund and People Unite, featuring Revelation Rockers, Stingrays, and The Spics.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance: Shakespeare on raving

The search for the linguistic origins of 'rave' and 'raver' continues. Jon, who does the interesting Alsatia history site, has found the earliest use so far of 'raver' as a noun. As he observes in a comment to an earlier post, Aphra Behn's 'Love Letters Between a Nobleman and his Sister' (1684) features the line 'Oh tell me in the agony of my soul, why must those charms that bring tranquility and peace to all, make me a wild, unseemly raver?'.

Going back a hundred years further, Shakespeare's work is the obvious place to look for the usage of words. Shakespeare doesn't use the term 'raver' but raving appears once in his work: the direction 'Enter CASSANDRA, raving' in Troilus and Cressida, 1602. He uses words 'rave' or 'raved' at least five times in his plays and poems, usually in the context of a verbal expression of madness.

Twelfth Night (1601-2) features this exchange about Malovolio:

MARIA: He's coming, madam; but in very strange manner. He is, sure, possessed, Mdam.
OLIVIA: Why, what's the matter? does he rave?
MARIA: No. madam, he does nothing but smile:

In Henry VI, Part Three (written in 1591), Queen Margaret's speech has a similar usage of the word:

I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
What, hath thy fiery heart so parch'd thine entrails
That not a tear can fall for Rutland's death?
Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad;
And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus.
Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance.
(Act 1, Scene 4).

I got quite excited to find 'rave' and 'dance' in the same sentence, as so far I haven't found any connection between the two before the 1940s, but in fact they are being contrasted here. Margaret has had young Rutland killed in the Wars of the Roses and is taunting the enemy Yorkists - she wants them to show their suffering (to mourn, to cry, to rave) to give her satisfaction.

Shakespeare's poem The Rape of Lucrece (1594) includes the curse:

'Disturb his hours of rest with restless trances,
Afflict him in his bed with bedrid groans;
Let there bechance him pitiful mischances,
To make him moan; but pity not his moans:
Stone him with harden'd hearts harder than stones;
And let mild women to him lose their mildness,
Wilder to him than tigers in their wildness.

'Let him have time to tear his curled hair,
Let him have time against himself to rave,
Let him have time of Time's help to despair,
Let him have time to live a loathed slave,
Let him have time a beggar's orts to crave,
And time to see one that by alms doth live
Disdain to him disdained scraps to give.

In Cymbeline, it is madness itself that raves: 'not frenzy, not Absolute madness could so far have raved, To bring him here alone;'

Finally, in Titus Andronicus (written in the early 1590s), Lucius passes sentence on Aaron that he should be starved to death:

'Set him breast-deep in earth, and famish him;
There let him stand, and rave, and cry for food;
If any one relieves or pities him,
For the offence he dies'.

Two of these examples link raving with craving for food. The same scene of Titus Andronicus also includes the line 'Good uncle, take you in this barbarous Moor, This ravenous tiger, this accursed devil'. Another possible line of enquiry - rave and ravenous?

Friday, April 23, 2010

Somali Rap and Radio

From Waayaha Cusub (from Reuters Nairobi, 9 April 2010):

For centuries, Somalis used poetry and songs to pass protest messages to powerful rulers they were too afraid to confront directly. Now, some young Somalis are using rap to speak out against Islamists who they say are using religion to wage war in their country. The 11-member Waayaha Cusub band, currently in exile in neighbouring Kenya, wants its rap lyrics to encourage fellow Somalis to stand up to Islamist rebels known as al Shabaab.

They have handed out at least 7,000 free copies of their newly-released album titled "No To Al Shabaab" to residents in Nairobi's Eastleigh neighbourhood, home to many Somali migrants. "We will wipe out the fear of our people that no one can speak out against al Shabaab. We will show our people that we can challenge them," said Shine Abdullahi, the group's founder... "They are unkind, teach terrorism, and worthless lessons, they blindfold, and cause pain, inject drugs, that lead to actions, force them to kill their fathers and relatives," one of the group's raps goes.

The group's only female member, Falis Abdi Mohamud, is a rebel in her own right. In one video, the 23-year-old is not covering her head as most Somali women do, and is wearing tight jeans. "They criticise me and say 'she is not Muslim because of wearing a trouser'. I am Muslim," she said. "I want to reach my people. I will not stop my mission because of fear or other people's desires. History will tell who is right and wrong."

Mohamud was born in the southern town of Kismayu that is now an al Shabaab stronghold. The insurgents have banned music in areas that they control and allow only Arabic Koranic chanting. Waayaha Cusub toured the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland in July but Mohamud hopes to perform in her hometown one day. "The trip to Somalia was great. That is when I realised people like our music, and it really gave us confidence not to stop our campaign because a few people who dislike us." The group's youngest member is 15-year-old Suleqa Mohamed, who is a student at an Eastleigh school.

Most of them want to return to Somalia and live off their music when peace returns but currently survive on sponsorships by businessmen and Somalis in the diaspora. Their songs have angered some people. Even in the relative stability and security of Kenya they have been attacked. Gunmen shot and wounded Abdullahi in 2007. He believes the attack was because the group released a series of songs criticising Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia and suicide bombings by the insurgents. Even mobile phone text message threats from al Shabaab sympathisers in Kenya and Somalia have failed to intimidate Abdullahi.

He says he will never be cowered by what he calls "religious warlords" who present an awful image of Islam to the world. "The attack was aimed at silencing the group, but that did not work," he said, showing scars on his stomach from a bullet and the surgery that followed. "We will not allow anyone to silence us. They misread our religion and kill people. They are cursed," he said...

(Here's one of their tracks - this one is not really hip hop, but a great slice of hypnotic dance music . There's lots more stuff at their youtube channel)

Interview with K'naan (Chicago Tribune, 7 April 2010)

'Gangsta rappers have been known to boast about how mean their hometown streets are, but none of them comes from a more violent ‘hood than K'naan. Born Keinan Abdi Warsame in 1978, K’naan grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia, amid one the most brutal civil wars in history.When he was 13, K’naan and his family fled Somalia and took refuge in New York and finally Toronto, where they still live. Coming from a family of performers and poets, K’naan naturally gravitated toward the arts to make sense of his new home and to process the trauma that nearly overwhelmed him in Africa (three of his friends were killed in the conflict). A poet, spoken-word artist and rapper, he has spoken out about his home country’s plight at the United Nations and recorded two albums, the latest of which is “Troubadour” (A&M), released last year. The album blurs the boundaries between spoken word and hip-hop, and incorporates everything from heavy metal to reggae.

Q: What were your memories of growing up in Mogadishu? What about the music there? Did it have an impact on you as a child?
A: I grew up in the Mogadishu of dreams. During an idyllic and optimistic time, and music [was] almost its Siamese soundtrack. I remember realizing very early how music could so seamlessly go from being fun in one moment, to deadly serious in the other. A song would play in the record player at home, and you could sing along loudly and then another would come, and mom would turn it down swiftly, as the song might be considered what they called "anti" - usually music with subliminal poetic messages against the government' (full interview here)

Somali anger at threat to music (BBC News, 7 April 2010)

'Radio stations broadcasting out of Somalia face a dilemma this month after a powerful Islamist militant group ordered them to stop playing music. Saying that the playing of music was un-Islamic, Hizbul-Islam announced on Saturday that stations had 10 days to take it off air. The punishment for failing to comply was not specified but 11 radio stations based in the capital, Mogadishu, are thought to be directly affected. If they drop music, they stand to lose listeners. If they ignore the warning, they face the wrath of the militants.

Music-lovers in the war-torn country are indignant at the idea they will not be able to tune into their favourite pop, which is largely recorded abroad, in North America and the UK. However, there appear to be limits to Hizbul-Islam's ability to make good on any threat. Somali pop music, ranging from the plaintive songs of Abdi Shirre Jama (aka Jooqle) to the hip hop and rap of K'Naan, is widely on sale in Mogadishu.

It can be heard playing in the tea shops of the government-controlled area, which amounts to about a third of the capital, says local BBC reporter Mohammed Olad Hassan. Somalis have to be more discreet about music in non-government areas. Al-Shabab, the country's other big militant group, are known for their own strict interpretation of Islam, frowning on music and cinema.

"You can see drivers on passenger buses playing music inside the government-controlled area, then turning it off when they cross into non-government territory," our reporter says. Pop music is genuinely popular in Mogadishu and many people resent being "bullied" into what they can hear on the radio, he adds. Hizbul-Islam would have all music, right down to the jingles, taken off air, he says. "Deny a Somali his music and his poetry, and you deny him his voice," says Christophe Farah, a journalist of Somali descent in London...'

Somali stations air animal noises to protest extremists' music ban (CNN, 13 April 2010)

'Roars, growls and galloping hooves replaced music Tuesday on some of Mogadishu's radio stations in a protest of a ban on music imposed by Islamic extremists. Radio Shabelle, along with the stations Tusmo and Hornafrik, were responding to threats from Muslim militant groups that believe music is un-Islamic and want it prohibited. Mogadishu's 14 private radio stations stopped playing music Tuesday after Hizbul al-Islam, an Islamic extremist group, issued a 10-day ultimatum. The threat was backed by the main militant group al-Shabaab, which has been linked to al Qaeda. A statement from the National Union of Somali Journalists said several stations received calls, warning them that there would be consequences if they failed to comply with the ban within 10 days.

But the three stations decided to broadcast the noises instead of music. Radio Shabelle announcers could be heard speaking on air, backed by the sounds of hooves, ocean waves, gunfire - even the roars and growls of big cats'.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Russian Flashmobbers attacked by Nazis - then arrested

'Young people who gathered to celebrate spring by blowing bubbles at an annual flash mob in central St. Petersburg were attacked by a group of suspected neo-Nazis who mistook the gathering for a gay pride event, flash mob organizers said...Some 500 people stood blowing bubbles on the steps of Gorkovskaya metro station and in the surrounding Alexandrovsky Park at about 4 p.m. Sunday — the agreed time for the start of the flash mob — when about 30 men ran up and started beating them and firing rubber bullets.

Several people fell to the ground before the attackers fled at the sight of approaching OMON riot police officers. A reporter saw officers detain at least one attacker. Police also detained about 30 bubble-blowers for five hours on suspicion of walking on the grass, a charge that they denied, organizers said. Unconfirmed media reports said at least two participants were injured, one with a concussion and the other from a rubber bullet from an attacker’s gun.... The annual bubble-blowing flash mob, known alternatively as “Dream Flash” and “Soapy Peter,” presents itself as nonpolitical and mostly attracts teenagers... Several minutes after the attackers struck, OMON police declared the flash mob an illegal gathering and started to drive the participants, many of whom continued to blow bubbles, away from the metro and then out of the park with the aid of two police vehicles. “Put away your bubbles,” one police officer barked through a megaphone'.

(full story at Moscow Times, 21 April 2010)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Prom Politics: No Dirty Dancing in Licking Valley

Kind of fascinated by the politics of the prom, that seasonal culture war on the dancefloor. We don't have anything quite like it in Britain, even if some schools have started imitating the US custom of an end of year dance. I don't really have much sense of the reality of it all, but obviously have been exposed to thousands of renditions of it in every single American teen TV series/film ever - who can forget when Angel turned up at Buffy's prom? Already this year, we've had the 'lesbians banned from prom' saga. Last year there was the case of boy suspended from Baptist school for attending his girlfriend's prom. From Hanover, Ohio comes news of the next battleground:

'Licking Valley High School is continuing its campaign against dirty dancing for this year's prom. The school's administrators have searched for ways to outlaw what they deem inappropriate dancing, such as grinding. "We've been through several different dances with different ways of enforcing it," Principal Wes Weaver said. "Really, nothing's worked."

Previously, administrators have explained the type of dancing that is prohibited, have asked students to stop dancing and have implemented more chaperones and a "penalty box." This year, Weaver and Assistant Principal Shane Adkins met with junior and senior class officers to discuss solutions, which might include just not playing problematic music. "There are people who have gone to a totally slow-dancing evening," Weaver said, adding that other solutions included theme proms with music from the 1950s or '60s.

Licking Valley isn't the only school dealing with the issue. A school in Washington is requiring its students to sign a release agreeing not to grind while at prom. Schools in Wisconsin, Rhode Island and New Hampshire also have banned grinding.

After meeting with class officers, Weaver and Adkins were approached by a group of students inquiring about planning an alternative dance on prom night, May 1. "We can't keep somebody from doing that," Weaver said. The rumors of an alternative dance, which Weaver didn't know any details about, led him to send a letter home to parents that discussed the issue at school and informed them about the possibility of a dance not sponsored by the school taking place that night. "I will want our parents to know this is what is going on," he said.

The prom still will include normal happenings, such as crowning a king and queen and slow dancing, while school officials are trying to brainstorm other ideas, too - some of which have been rejected by students, such as having games available. "That was not something that they were receptive to," Weaver said.

This isn't Licking Valley's first time addressing inappropriate dancing during prom. In 2008, more than half of attendees had left by 9:30 p.m. because of a disagreement with the number of chaperones, a group of students told The Advocate. Weaver is certain the school will work through the issue. "That dancing fad will go away, and we'll be able to go back to having prom," he said'.

Hilarious - if they're worried about lewd thoughts they should do something about the name of that school! And as for desexualising the event by way of a 1950s theme - well, have they never seen Grease? As for the outcome of the Mississippi lesbians not welcome prom, this was a poignant comment by Eric Zorn at the Chicago tribune (Stench of history hangs over prom in Mississippi, 11 April 2010):

'There were two private high school proms last weekend in Itawamba County, Miss. One was the official prom in Fulton, sanctioned and publicized by the school. The other was the unofficial — but real — prom in Evergreen. Background: The Itawamba County School District canceled the regular prom in the face of a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union after Constance McMillen, a lesbian student, had been denied the right to buy tickets for herself and her girlfriend. The announced compromise was this private prom in Fulton, at which all were welcome.

Yet only the lesbian couple and handful of other students, including some with learning disabilities, showed up. The straight kids and mainstream kids were dancing away in formal attire at the shindig in Evergreen. It was reminiscent of a story told by The Birmingham News about what happened in the spring of 1965 to the first African-American girl to integrate Jones Valley High School in that town: "(Carolyn King) spent all Saturday getting ready, fixing her hair, slipping into the pink floral dress her mother finished the week before. … She and her date drove … toward the high school gym. They turned the corner. The gymnasium was dark, empty … White mothers of the prom planners had kept the location of the Jones Valley High prom a secret so she couldn't attend."

Teens sometimes don't know any better. I, for one, was not always as kind as I should have been to schoolmates who were different, and it's a regret that I carry to this day. And occasionally you'll find parents who also don't know any better. Bigots. Fools. Haters. But in Itawamba County in 2010, just like in Birmingham in 1965, virtually an entire community of parents and teens had to conspire to pull off this infamous act of hatred and exclusion'.
Come on folks, Buffy brought a vampire to the prom and nobody batted an eyelid!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Malcolm McLaren: malevolence, subversion and style

'I was born Malcolm McLaren just after the war in 1946, a war baby, a baby boomer as my generation's come to be known, born on the cusp of change in a culture of necessity when you only consumed what you needed to survive; but by the dawn of the 1960s I arrived in a culture of desires when you only consumed what you didn't need to survive. My story is a story of greed, power, malevolence, subversion and with it heaps of style. To be frank it is the history of pop culture, albeit a personal and subjective one, that has taken up more than 50 years of my life and times'.

'The band's greatest moment may have been in 1977 during the Queen's Silver Jubilee. There was to be a Royal flotilla that would proceed down the Thames as the sky erupted with fireworks. I decided to create our flotilla with our own fireworks. We hired a boat. Funnily enough the boat was called the Queen Elizabeth and departed from Charing Cross Pier at about 6:30 in the evening. As the Sex Pistols played its version of God Save the Queen, loud, raucous, rude, our flotilla passed beneath the Thames bridges and the band's supporters swung from the lamposts, dropping pots of yoghurt I remember, cheering like mad groups of artful dodgers. I was arrested. Our portrait of the Queen with a safety pin through her nose was printed in the papers, and God Save the Queen became a best selling record. Even though it was banned not only from the radio but from most conventional consumer outlets'.

(say what you like about Malcolm McLaren but that Silver Jubilee moment was such a breath of fresh air. A rare, and entirely successful intervention against the dreadful royalist consensus of 1977. I was at school at that time and it was a real thrill reading about the exploits of the Pistols as I went about on my paper round. At a time of patriotic street parties and ubiquitous union jacks it felt like somebody was screaming NO, and the success of the record showed that they were far from being alone. Quotes from Malcolm on his BBC radio programme From the Forties to the Noughties. South Londonists see also Malcolm McLaren in New Cross).

Friday, April 16, 2010

London Pirate Frequencies

London Pirate Frequencies is a nice short film presented by Matt Mason, tracing the story of free radio from the 1950s/60s forts in the Thames Estuary through to London tower blocks today. Current stations featured include Kool FM, Rinse FM and Flex FM.

I like Mason's comment about the contradiction between pirate radio's audibility and its invisibility: 'the thing about pirate radio in London is it's kind of everywhere, it's hidden in plain sight. If you turn on the radio, you tune the dial left to right you'll find a station but if you look around you you're not going to see them and they're literally all over the place. They're in residential neighbourhoods, in big tower blocks... there are pirates transmitting, about 80 stations across the city still exist today'.

There's a bit of a debate about whether the internet is killing off free radio on FM. It's true that anybody can now stream music via the internet without taking risks climbing up tower blocks and breaking the law. Most of the established pirates now also broadcast online and reach people all over the world - perhaps in the future they'll just be token FM broadcasts to give a sense of realness/London grounding to the deterritorialized online operation.

What I would miss about the loss of FM is the sheer randomness of coming across an unexpected signal while scanning the frequencies. Also radio is in some ways harder to censor than the internet. Repressive governments, like in China, can block access to websites but anybody with a radio can pick up a signal without the police or anybody else knowing they're listening to it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Big Brother's got Google: US immigration restrictions on musicians

We've previously covered the campaign against the draconian new immigration restrictions on musicians and artists entering the UK, but of course this isn't just an issue in this country.

An article by Bill Shoemaker at online music journal Point of Departure highlights the difficulties in musicians getting visas to work in the USA. He notes that the rules have tightened up:

'making the process even more byzantine and expensive than before. Fees to the government and States-side facilitators regularly exceed $2,000 (including a $200 pay-off to the American Federation of Musicians), particularly if the applicant wants anything resembling a timely decision; that requires a grand for what the government innocuously calls “premium processing,” the value of which is reportedly shrinking. Additionally, applicants face sundry charges for courier delivery, special photographs, and a biometric passport; the extortive telephone rates for enquiries that invariably yield the same information as the forms are optional. The costs are prohibitive'.

In the past musicians from the European Union playing low key non-commercial gigs have usually been able to enter the USA without visas - now this too has changed:

'Big Brother’s got Google... Even though Europeans can enter the US without a visa, they must fill out an online form on the US Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) site 72 hours prior to arrival in the US. Persons entering as tourists who have previously been issued work permits are flagged for review by airport-based authorities. By the time a musician presents his or her passport, a thorough online search has most likely been conducted, and even meager door gigs have come on the radar. Two recent cases point up how European musicians are now snared.

In the first case, the musician was originally coming to the US for a recording session, which can easily be kept on the down low – and, technically, does not require a visa if the musician is not paid while in the US.. But, in the weeks before his trip, word of his arrival had spread, and offers of door gigs and jam sessions ensued. His processing at the immigration station upon arrival went a bit too quickly, he thought at the time. He was then approached as he waited for his bags: There’s been a technical problem; please follow us; etc. The musician then spent hours in the immigration room. His passport and ticket were taken, presumably to negotiate his return flight. After many trivial questions, authorities showed him the search listings for the little gigs and jam sessions. He claimed he wasn't making any money on these gigs, and wasn't aware that what he thought were informal jam sessions had been formally announced, but the Feds didn’t buy it. The musician was allowed three phone calls to US numbers; he was then fingerprinted and escorted onto the plane for the return flight. His passport was not returned to him until his arrival in Europe.

In the other case, the musician was just about to clear immigration when they found a work permit from a few years ago in his passport. He was then Googled. When they discovered his two gigs, he was taken aside and handcuffed. After a three-hour interrogation, he was taken to a Federal facility, where he spent the night in a cell. His cell phone and computer were confiscated. He was able to reach his parents, who managed to get their embassy to call immigration officials, who would not either confirm or deny that the musician was being held. He was deported the next day. One of the uglier features of this episode is that the musician was berated by an official who repeated the accusation: “You have come here to steal our money.”

As argued here previously we should be wary of pushing for musicians to have special immigration privileges - they are no more (or less) deserving or in need than many other people trying to move across borders. In a world where we are told that there should be no restrictions on the free movement of capital and commodities, it is the restrictions on the free movement of all human beings that we should be contesting. But the fact that people from different parts of the world are being prevented from the simple human act of sharing music throws the inhumanity of the global borders regime into sharp relief.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Drinking, dancing, fingerprinting

Interesting article from Australia on clubs scanning ID and even taking fingerprints as a requirement of entry. I am aware that some clubs in England have begun scanning in photographic ID (e.g. clubs by London Bridge) but not aware of any taking fingerprints too at the same time - though the now closed SEOne club did apparently take thumbprints of people accessing smoking area. As this article implies, would you want your personal details held by club security?

'A big night out: drinking, dancing, fingerprinting' (Saffron Howden, Sydney Morning Herald, 27 March 2010)

'Somewhere in Perth's central business district is a building containing the names, ages, addresses, photographs and unique fingerprint codes of thousands of revellers who danced and drank at Sydney's Home nightclub last year. Home, in Darling Harbour, began trialling a biometric ID scanning entry system nine months ago. Patrons lined up before six large terminals to have their photo taken, and their driver's licence and right index fingerprint scanned. The information was copied and sent to Western Australia, where it is stored on a secured central database by the system developers.

While Home is the only NSW venue to use fingerprint technology at present - there are 13 nationwide - various forms of ID scanning are being quietly rolled out at other nightspots. Among them is Hotel Cremorne on the lower north shore. Since November the nightclub has required guests to submit to a photograph and ID scan as they line up on the street to enter on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights...

Not everybody is convinced ID scanning is appropriate at nightclubs. Home said NSW police suspended the club's fingerprint scanning three months ago over privacy concerns. There has also been a spike in complaints about ID scanning to the Federal Privacy Commissioner, who warned there were ''major security risks'' if companies held onto the data.

The commissioner, Karen Curtis, is investigating the issue and reviewing advice to clubs to encompass the surge in new ID-capture technologies. ''We have … anecdotally noted a general increase in complaints in recent years,'' she said. ''The majority of the complaints concern unnecessary collection of personal information and the issue of anonymity, although some also involve other issues such as security concerns and lack of notice. 'There are major security risks if organisations hold on to large amounts of personal information for lengthy periods of time, including possible identity fraud.''' (full article here)

Friday, April 09, 2010

Nepal: Thank God it's Friday (morning)

People all over the world look forward to going out on Friday night, seemingly in Nepal school students can't wait that long and bunk off school to go dancing at Thank God its Friday parties on Friday mornings:

'Continuing its crackdown on dance bars and discos running in the capital city, police took into custody around a hundred school and college students from a popular discotheque in Sundhara area on Friday morning. A police team carried out a raid at Babylon disco in the busy market center Sundhara today morning and found mostly teenage students enjoying themselves in a revelry mood while still in their school or college uniform.

... pandemonium was let loose when police suddenly raided the disco while the students were busy dancing to the beats of the disco music. There was big confusion as students tried to flee from the disco to escape police arrest. It is estimated that there was more than 300 students at the disco at the time of the raid. Many managed to flee from there, police said. Most of them had bunked their school and colleges to be at the "morning disco". The Metropolitan Police has started to crackdown on dance bars and discos in the capital citing such night establishments pose threats to law and order situation (Nepal News, 19 March 2010).

'Nearly 300 students were arrested in Babylon Disco of Sundhara on Friday morning at 10 am in a series of raids on dance bars, discos and restaurants of the capital. The raids were carried out two days after the police swooped down on X Bar in Sundhara and other dance bars on Wednesday... The discos usually organise parties on Friday targeting students who bunk classes to attend them. The students have been taken into custody in Hanuman Dhoka Metropolitan Police Range and Nepal Police Club of Exhibition Road. Police said that the students were caught consuming alcoholic drinks and drugs. It is reported that the police has begun its investigation into the incident. The proprietor of one of the discotheques has also been arrested. According to the police, the students would be subjected to medical tests for alcohol and drugs' (Himalayan Times, 19 March 2010)

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Spring Free Party Season

With Spring in England in full effect, the outdoor party season is taking off. I know that some parties are an inconvenience to neighbours (though not always significantly so), but I still take some pleasure in the fact that more than 20 years after the first acid house parties of the late 1980s, and despite increasing police powers over that period, people are still taking to the outdoors to dance and party when the opportuntiy arises.

Northamptonshire rave village sealed off by police (BBC News 4 April 2010)

'A village in Northamptonshire was sealed off overnight to allow officers to break up an illegal rave. Police were called to Kilsby, near Daventry, after residents reported hearing loud music.
A police spokesman said an "effective containment" was put in place around farmland and the village, to prevent more people arriving at the rave. Officers broke up the event, made arrests and seized vehicles and sound equipment, he added'.

Rave gear to be shredded after seizure (Yarmouth Mercury, 31 March 2010)

'Illegal rave equipment worth more than £2000 is set to be destroyed after it was confiscated by police. The seized sound system will be placed into an industrial shredder at Delmonte Garage on Concorde Road in Norwich tomorrow at 3pm. Inspector Mike Brown said; “This is a clear message to rave organisers. The date is significant as it would be foolish for anyone to hold an illegal event over the Easter period.It will not be tolerated, your equipment will be seized and it will be disposed of. These events are not harmless, they cause significant disruption and cost to the rural communities they affect. For the public and landowners these actions are further evidence that we have listened to their concerns and of our commitment to stopping raves from taking place anywhere in the county.” The equipment was seized from the successful disruption of an unlicensed music event at Shotesham, Norfolk'.

Sidbury (Sidmouth Herald, 26 March 2010)

'Annoyed Sidbury residents were subjected to a sleepless night on Saturday after hundreds of people turned up to an illegal rave .Police resources were so stretched that they were unable to break the party up until 8am - four hours after the first report. Sergeant Andy Turner, of Sidmouth Police, said: "Officers attended and did their best to disperse the rave but they were unsuccessful.A lack of police resources was compounded with two serious road traffic collisions in the area. "

Around 200 ravers - some from as far away as Bristol - turned up to the party on a secluded piece of woodland called Core Copse on East Hill Strips. Music started blaring at around 1am but the first call to police was at 3.40am. Three officers went to the scene after the first report and six officers managed to shut it down at 8am. At the time of the rave police were also dealing with the search for a high-risk missing person."Saving someone's life will always take priority," added Sergeant Turner."We have shut down several raves at this location before they have started, and if it had been under normal circumstances we would have done the same this time. "Residents have our sympathy but they can be assured that we are not letting it go."

There were around six raves on the popular East Hill Strips last year and police are now looking at ways to lock them down altogether.They will be contacting local landowners, Devon County Council and other agencies to find a "long-term solution". Enquiries are continuing to find out who was in charge of the weekend rave. Details of vehicles seen at the party have been put on the police database and officers are following a number of leads. Sergeant Turner said it could be difficult to track the organisers down as it is thought different people are responsible for each event'.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Ravers of Disunion

In previous posts on the origins of rave, ravers and raving, we have established that the use of these terms in relation to parties goes back as far as the 1940s and were used fairly widely in British jazz and later counter-cultural scenes from then up until at least the end of the '60s. The use of the words rave/raving as in over-enthusiastic ('raving mad', 'rant and rave') go back at least as far as the 14th century.

But when was the word raver, as in one who raves, first used as a noun? So far the first example I have found is from a 1704 translation of Plutarch's Morals which criticises 'Triflers and Ravers' in the context of 'Lies, fawning Speeches and deceitful Manners'.

A similar meaning was clearly implied in an 1845 article in the Institutes of the Christian Religion which states 'Let all the hired ravers of the Pope babble as they may'. Similarly an article entitled Public Opinion published in the United States Democratice Review, (Issue 3, March 1856) denounces 'your loudest ravers of disunion' alongside 'your Ism-ites, your Free-soilers, your Arch-Agtitators' in the context of the lead up to the American Civil War.

Still haven't found any use of these terms in relation to parties and dancing before the 1940s though - but will keep searching at the quite addictive Google News Archive and Google Books.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Radio Sutch

A short lived episode in the history of pirate radio was Radio Sutch, initiated by English rock'n'roller Screaming Lord Sutch (1940-1999) in 1964.
After a couple of weeks broadcasting from a fishing trawler, Sutch and his co-conspirators squatted a disused anti-aircraft defence fort in the Thames Estuary. According to his biographer, 'Radio Sutch launched from the Shivering Sands for on 27 May... Those who listened to the station recall that Sutch would play his own records and read horror stories on air late at night... "We broadcast Lady Chatterley's Lover and Fanny Hill to break up the nights" said Stuch "We used to play a lot of Max Miller albums, which at the time were banned from the BBC, just because he was a bit saucy".' To pay for it Sutch sold late night air time to American evangelists who broadcast taped Bible classes in the early hours.

Sutch sold the station to Reg Calvert in September 1964, who took it over and renamed it Radio City. Calvert was to be shot dead two years later in a row over ownership of a transmitter (there's much more about all this at Offshore Echoes) . Sutch went on to become a political prankster, standing as a joke candidate in elections for his Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
Source: The Man who was Screaming Lord Sutch by Graham Sharpe (Aurum Press, London, 2005).