Sunday, February 27, 2011

In remembrance of Ali Höhler

At this time of year it is customary to raise a glass to one of Germany's finest music critics: Albrecht (Ali) Höhler (1898-1933).

His exemplary practical critique was directed againt Horst Wessel, a musician, song writer and founder of a Nazi stormtrooper Schalmeienkapelle (shawm band - the shawn being a kind of oboe). Wessel was a leading Nazi party organiser in Berlin. Among other things he organised an attack on the local headquarters of the Communist Party in Friedrichshain, Berlin, during which four workers sustained serious injuries.

In January 1930 Wessel was shot in the head by Ali Höhler, seemingly at the instigation of members of the communist Roter Frontkämpferbund (Red Front Fighters League). Wessel died from his injuries a few weeks later and was buried on 23 February 1930 in a public funeral stage managed by Goebbels. Unfortunately one of his songs survived and became known as the "Horst Wessel Lied" and the official anthem of the Nazi Party.

When the Nazis came to power they killed Höhler and elevated Wessel to the rank of a holy martyr (one magazine wrote: 'How high Horst Wessel towers over that Jesus of Nazareth').

So here's to Ali Höhler - he had some fine tattoos too:

There's a Hamburg based punk band called Kommando Ali Höhler.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Berlin street art

Some pictures taken in Berlin earlier this month - mostly in Friedrichshain, but I think the last image of the astronaut was in Kreuzberg:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Night stirs the trees

Night stirs the trees
With breathings of such music that they sway,
Skirts, sleeves, tiaras, in the humming dark,
Their highborn heads tossing in disarray.

A floating owl
Unreels his silence, winding in and out
Of different darknesses. The wind takes up
And scatters a sound of water all about.

No moon need slide
Into the sky to make that water bright;
It ties its swelling self with glassy ropes;
It jumps from stones in smithereens of light.

The mosses on the wall
Plump their fat cushions up. They smell of wells,
Of under bridges and of spoons. They move
More quiveringly than the dazed rims of bells.

A broad cloud drops
A darker darkness. Turning up his stare,
Letting the world pour under him, owl goes off,
His small soft foghorn quavering through the air.

'By Achmelvich Bridge' Norman MacCaig (1910-96)
Image: The Sleeping Shepherd, Samuel Palmer (1805-1881)
The poem also put in my mind of a song title by Of Montreal - At Night Trees Aren't Sleeping

Friday, February 18, 2011

Datacide #11 Launch in Berlin

I went to Berlin recently for the launch of the new issue (number 11) of Datacide - 'the magazine for noise and politics'.

There were a couple of events. First up was a series of talks at Cagliostro, a bar in Friedrichshain which also houses the Praxis record shop (plenty of breakcore, noise and hard drum and bass vinyl with some radical literature too - funny seeing Aufheben, the German-titled English communist magazine on sale in Germany). Praxis is the label started by Christoph Fringeli who also initiated Datacide. Note the extremely rare Association of Autonomous Astronauts slipmat in the shop:

I gave a talk based on my article in the magazine, Dance Before the Police Come, looking at the different ways the state tries to regulate clubs, raves and parties. I also reflected on the role of sound systems in the recent student demonstrations in the UK.

Nemeton spoke about the Tea Party movement and the radical right in the US, also based around her article in Datacide#11 . She dismissed claims that it simply represents a grass roots popular movement, highlighting the role of Fox media and established right wing politicians in launching and promoting it.

Riccardo Balli missed his flight from Italy but gave a reading of his short fiction piece ' 333 bpm' the next day.

Then on the Friday night there was a launch party at Subversiv, a housing project with a bar and brick basement. Berlin nightlife gets going late, the music started about one and the dancefloor peaked around four. Hard breaks and beats were supplied by DJs from Berlin, Bologna, Los Angeles and Essex including Christoph Fringeli, Balli (Sonic Belligeranza), Kovert, Baseck (Dark Matter), Nemeton (Dark Matter), LT, Cannibal Brother. I missed the last couple as I had to leave to get to the airport. But it was a good party and the notion of praxis as the unity of theory and action was certainly embedded in the event with at least four of the DJs also writing articles for the new Datacide.

[In the basemenet of Subversiv - the red poster sets out the venue's rules: 'Diese Party ist ein Freiraum in dem Sexismus, Transphobe, Homophobe, Mackertum, Antisemitismus and Rassismus KEINEN PLATZ haben' ( approximately 'this party is a free space in which sexism, transphobia, homophobia, macho behaviour, anti-semitism and racism have no place')]

Subversiv is one of the few squatted projects left in Berlin from the period after the fall of the wall when vacant properties were occupied en masse. Many of these were subsequently licensed in deals with the local government, but as the buildings have been sold off to developers and private landlords most have been evicted.

The day before I arrived another high profile squat was evicted in Friedrichshain, with 25 residents cleared from the Liebig 14 tenement block. The eviction was a big deal, the day was announced in advance and thousands of cops swamped the streets to make sure it went ahead.

On Wednesday night (2nd February) a march of a couple of thousand people in the area was stopped by the police short of its destination, and there were clashes followed by cat and mouse chasing through the streets with groups heading off causing mischief. I saw smashed bank windows and lots of graffiti, and apparently windows were broken at the O2 centre (big corporate entertainment centre similar to its London counterpart).

The full contents of Datacide #11 are as follows:

Datacide events - page 3
Political news compiled by Nemeton - page 4-5

“Hedonism and Revolution: The Barricade and the Dancefloor” by Christoph Fringeli, page 6
“Dope smuggling, LSD manufacture, organized crime & the law in 1960s London”
by Stewart Home, page 8
“Shaking the Foundations: Reggae soundsystem meets ‘Big Ben British values’ downtown” by John Eden, page 12
Tortugan tower blocks? Pirate signals from the margins” by Alexis Wolton, page 16
“Dancing before the police come” by Neil Transpontine, page 21
“From Subculture to Hegemony: Transversal Strategies of the New Right in Neofolk and Industrial” by Christoph Fringeli, page 24
“From Conspiracy Theories to Attempted Assassinations: The American Radical Right and the Rise of the Tea Party Movement” by Nemeton, page 28
“How to start with the subject. Notes on Burroughs and the ‘combination of all forms of struggle’” by R. C., page 37

“Sonic Fictions” by Riccardo Balli, page 40
“Digital Disease” by Dan Hekate, page 45
“Infra-Noir. 23 Untitled Poems” by Howard Slater, page 46
“Office Work” by Matthew Fuller, page 48

Record Reviews, page 52

“Beat Blasted Planet. An interview with Steve Goodman on ‘Sonic Warfare’” by Matthew Fuller and Steve Goodman, page 58
“Free Parties” by Terra Audio, page 60
“This is the end… the official ending” by Gorki Plubakter, page 61

The Lives and Times of Bloor Schleppy (11), page 62
Charts, page 63

Available now for EUR 4.00 incl. postage – order now by sending this amount via paypal to praxis(at), or send EUR 10 for 3 issues (note that currently only issues 5, 7 and 10 are still available, but you can also pre-order future issues.) Also from the Praxis Webshop.

The zine is now available in London, currently exclusively at the 56a Info Shop, 56 Crampton Street, SE17.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dancing in the Dark - Bert Williams

'These were bright new monied times in which society people were encouraged to enjoy the primitive theatrics of those who appeared to be finally understanding that their principal role was now to entertain. Listen. The wail of a trumpet as it screeches crazily towards heaven and then shudders and breaks and falls back to earth where its lament is replaced by the anxious syncopated tap tap tapping of clumsily shod feet beating out their joyous black misery in a tattoo of sweating servitude. Performative bondage'

Dancing in the Dark (2005) by Caryl Phillips is a fictionalised account of the life of Bert Williams (1874-1922), a Bahamas-born performer who became famous on the American stage in the era when black actors were expected to wear 'blackface' to conform to white audience's expectations.

As such it is a beautifully-written reflection on the role of the black performer in a racist context, whose very achievements come at high personal and collective cost. Williams was in some ways a groundbreaking figure - co-writer of the first black production on Broadway (In Dahomey, 1903); the only black performer in Ziegfeld's follies before the First World War; helping to spread the cakewalk dance craze across the USA and then to England on a visit here; and a singer in the early days of the record industry. But his success was predicated on him continuing to play the stereotypical role of the dim-witted 'darky' and when he attempted to step beyond this the response was hostile. Williams was one of the first black film actors in the now lost Darktown Jubilee (1914), but the sight of a zoot suit wearing black leading man provoked near riots among white audiences.

'Others will come after me to entertain you, and they will happily change their name and put on whatever clownish costume you wish them to wear, and dance, and sing, and perform in a manner that will amuse you, and you will mimic them, and you will make your money, but know that at the darkest point of the night, when no eyes are upon them, these people's souls will be heavy, and eventually some among them will say no, and you will see their sadness, and then you will turn from them and choose somebody else to place in the empty room, or nudge onto your empty stage'

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Georgina Cook exhibition

Looking forward to this on Thursday, the launch of an exhibition of photographs by Georgina Cook (Drumz of the South) at the LAVA Gallery 1.11 Kingly Court, Carnaby Street, London, W1B 5PW.

The opening on Thursday, 17th February runs from 6- 9.30pm with music from Martelo and Skipple. The exhibition is open daily from 17th- 23rd February, 11am-7pm, Sunday: 12pm-6pm.

Georgina is second to none in evoking the sense of being out dancing through photography, as well as documenting nightlife (and much else) in London and elsewhere. See her History is Made at Night Dancing Questionnaire here.

Check out her Flickr photostream for lots of her work.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Chris Wood - Hollow Point (a song for Jean Charles de Menezes)

A while ago, I did a post on songs about people being killed by the police (Blair Peach, Liddle Towers etc.) At tonight's Radio 2 Folk Awards, the best song award was given to another: Chris Wood's 'Hollow Point' is about the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes by police at Stockwell underground station in 2005.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Egypt: Singing for Revolution in Tahrir Square

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has seen an explosion of new forms of social life and mutual aid as people organise to live as the regime totters. The collective occupation of urban space in Tahrir Square and elsewhere; the establishing of autonomous field hospitals to treat the injured; the formation of street committees to maintain security and hygiene; all this alongside the attacks on the institutions of the state (police stations, prisons, ruling party HQs). According to one eye wtiness account:

'Though the regime continues to struggle, practically little government exists. All ministries and government offices have been closed, and almost all police headquarters were burned down on January 28... During the ensuing week and a half, millions converged on the streets almost everywhere in Egypt, and one could empirically see how noble ethics—community and solidarity, care for others, respect for the dignity of all, feeling of personal responsibility for everyone - emerge precisely out of the disappearance of government' (The Egyptian Revolution: First Impressions from the Field - Mohammed A. Bamyeh).

Naturally music and dancing has been part of this explosion: 'Between protesters roaming around shouting sarcastic anti-government slogans into handheld microphones, others attracting the crowd with original poetry, and young bands playing music, the sit-in in Tahrir Square has turned into a street festival' (The Politics of Persistence at

A number of commentators have mentioned the popularity in the protests of the songs of Ahmad Fu’ad Nigm and the late al-Shaykh Imam. There's an excellent article at Jadaliyya on Singing for the Revolution, which includes the lyrics to their very apt song I Am The People. In this article, Sinan Antoon offers a critique of the notion that events in Egypt can be understood as inspired by 'Western' ideas and technologies:

'Yes, new technologies and social media definitely played a role and provided a new space and mode, but this discourse eliminates and erases the real agents of these revolutions: the women and men who are making history before our eyes. Members of our species have done that before, you know... As if the inhabitants of the region didn’t have a long history of struggles and revolts against all kinds of oppressors, indigenous, but mostly foreign colonizers (white men, by the way). As if liberationist inspiration has only one boring trajectory always emanating from the west and then heading east. As if the uprising in Iran wasn’t an inspiration as well. But why do I even have to expect the citizens of the civilized world to know about the strikes, riots, uprisings, intifadas and protests of previous decades. As if there wasn’t a proud and potent revolutionary tradition and a collective memory crowded with symbols, martyrs, moments, poems, and songs about freedom and justice. One of the rallying chants in Tunisia was a line from the Tunisian poet Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Shabbi (1909-1934) “ If, one day, the people want life, fate must yield"...'

Here's some singing on Friday's Day of Departure demonstration in Cairo with a guitarist leading a chorus (rough translation: 'Down Down Hosni Mubarak, Down Down Hosni Mubarak ... The people want to dismantle the regime .... He is to go, we are not going ... He is to go, we won't leave ... We all, one hand, ask one thing, leave leave'

One final thought...

Why do people keep going on about the 'Arab revolution' and the 'Arab Street' as if people there are fundamentally different from the rest of the world? Even in the Middle East, the notion of the 'Arab revolution' excludes millions of people who don't define themselves as Arabs - most people who live in Iran and Israel for starters.

What's going on in Egypt and Tunisia is linked to movements against austerity, unemployment and rising prices across the globe. I know Trafalgar Square isn't Tahrir Square, but there are even parallels with the recent demonstrations in the UK - see for instance the prominent role of school students in the Tunisian events as in London (and in France and Greece in the last couple of years). Of course, in Egypt and Tunisia they have been confronting repressive dictatorships as well as economic misery, but here too there are parallels with other parts of the world - Chinese bureaucrats must be shaking in their boots as well as Egyptian, Syrian and Iranian ones. The scenes in Tahrir Square resemble nothing so much as Tiananmen Square in the days before the suppression of protests in Beijing in 1989 - hopefully this time with a happier ending.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin works on two levels -above ground the 'Field of Stelae' conveys a sense of scale, like a vast expanse of anonymous tombs.

In the exhibition below ground the focus is on named individuals. A small sample of life stories from the Shoah puts it on a human scale - real people shown going about their lives before they were cut short - musicians whose music was silenced, murdered dancers, lovers, mothers, sisters.

Alice Dreifuss (born 1910) in a Fasching (carnival costume) in Altdorf in 1927; she was murdered in January 1943 in Auschwitz-Birkenau

'Belgrade, 1924: members of the Demajo, Arueti and Elkalay families at a picnic. A friend of the Demajo family hid the photos in a box dug in the ground in Belgrade. Rafael Pijada saved the rest of the photos under Bulgarian occupation in Macedonia'. Chaim Demajo, the accordionist on the left, was shot in October 1941 near Belgrade.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Langston Hughes - Dream Variations (1926)

Langston Hughes was born on this day (1 February) in 1902. Here's his great poem Dream Variations (1926):

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me-
That is my dream!

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening...
A tall, slim tree...
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.