Saturday, April 30, 2011

On (1997): Hierachies of Taste on the dancefloor

On was a free magazine put out in the mid-1990s by the people around the Big Chill - the editor was Pete Lawrence.



The 1997 'Winter Solstice' issue featured an article by Stuart Borthwick on 'Hierarchies... Taste... Hierarchies of Taste'. With more than a nod to Pierre Bourdieu, Borthwick denounced what he saw as the betrayal of 'the acid house revolution'. The mid-1990s was the time when dance music went supernova in the UK, and as Borthwick points out a time when some of the old baggage of the cultural industry came to the fore with super clubs and superstar DJs. Outside of the happy hardcore scene, hardly anyone talked about raving anymore - we were all clubbers instead. I agree with the thrust of what he says, though I always disliked the notion of 'you should have been there in 1988' - itself a brandishing of cultural capital - and I can assure you that in the clubs I was going to around this time there was still plenty of smiling and laughing! Not sure it's true either that previous 'style' scenes were just for 'middle class glamour-pussies' either - some of the key faces in the Blitz scene, like Boy George, were actually proletarian dandies. But some interesting thoughts here, and very resonant of the kind of discussions that were going on at the time.

Click on images to enlarge to read the full article - I have just transcribed extracts.


Hierarchies... Taste... Hierarchies of Taste - Stuart Borthwick


'The reason why I got in to the dance scene was because of its disruption of hierarchies, tastes, and hierarchies of taste. Let’s take them one by one. Hierarchies. The big one was class, but gender came a close second. Back in my teenage years, clubbing was something that was done by people with money. Look at the ‘significant’ club scenes prior to 1988. You’ve got eighties individualism and the style press working hand in hand, creating a vogue culture that only middle-class glamour-pussies could truly feel at home in. I was too young to go to Blitz, too young to get the nod from Steve Strange, but I never wanted to anyway. Too much posing. And then along came Acid House and, in the immortal words of the French academic Patrick Mignon, we witnessed the ‘democratisation of Bohemia’. Slipping into the dance void became a working-class thing to do. You didn’t need fancy clothes, you didn’t need a tailored suit, just something loose and baggy, something that would allow air to circulate whilst you were dancing, and might stand a chance of keeping you warm on the way home. Crucially you didn’t need lots of money or a record deal to be a fully paid up member of the scene. The modern dance audience doesn’t seem to understand what a relief this was, the extent to which this was a revolutionary change. As a young student in Liverpool I suddenly found myself no longer distinguishable, in either dress or attitude, from local youth, and it felt fantastic to be part of a new mass youth movement. The barriers were coming down between the increasingly divided youth tribes of the 1980s.

The relaxation of dress codes went hand in hand with the disruption of other specular hierarchies. Clubbing was no longer about looking, no longer about visual experiences, but about sonic architecture, about sound systems, about tunes and melodies and bleeps and blurps and the sound of a thousand nutters screaming. The chrome-filled spot-lit discos of the previous generation had been usurped in favour of tatty disused warehouses, basements underneath shopping centres, and the great British outdoors. Furthermore, we’d turned away from the stage, we had stopped looking for some ridiculous rock god, and started closing our eyes and dancing...'


‘The reason why I feel more and more disillusioned with, and alienated from, the contemporary dance scene is that I can see all the things that I thought had been destroyed in the late eighties coming back into existence… We’ve ended up with disastrous door/clothes policies, where you can’t wear what you want, even to the most underground of clubs. Door prices have gone through the roof, and top clubs have become the preserve of an employed elite. And with the focus on clothes we have witnessed the return of the gaze, clothing has been re-sexualised, and the old gender barriers re-erected...

We’ve seen the return of seriousness to dance clubs. Back in the late eighties and early nineties the dance floor was fun, everyone was giggling and laughing and blowing whistles and shouting and screaming. You simply don’t get that anymore, everyone is holding on and concentrating rather than just letting go… No one is smiling, no-one is laughing, everyone is paying too much attention to the mix, too much attention to the DJ…'


'All those hierarchies of taste inverted or destroyed in the late eighties and early nineties have been resurrected. Clubs full of poseurs, and anyone too prole-like knocked back on the door… In short the chin strokers have created a nice little enclave where hedonistic working-class folk are most definitely not welcome, because they’re simply tasteless, darling…

All musical tastes, and all hierarchies of taste, are social constructions. The distribution of ‘cultural capital’ invariably mirrors the distribution of ‘real capital’, and I’m on the side of the have-nots… I’m on the side of those who have no style, because style is seriously over-rated, because style is something that is used to keep people down. Style is, for want of a better word, ideology. I’m against dance snobs. I’m against the trainspotters. I’m against those who worship DJs, even brilliant DJs. I’m against those who think they’re somehow better than the next generation of dance music fans. I’m for those dance music fans who might not know much about Derrick May, but know what they like. I’m on the side of the oppressed'.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

We live to tread on Kings

O gentlemen, the time of life is short!
To spend that shortness basely were too long,
If life did ride upon a dial's point,
Still ending at the arrival of an hour.
An if we live, we live to tread on kings

William Shakespeare - Henry IV, Part I (1597)



Charles Windsor, who's at the door?
At such an hour, who's at the door?
In the back of an old green cortina
You're on your way to the guillotine

Here the rabble comes
The kind you hoped were dead
They've come to chop, to chop off your head

Hundreds of bound big business men
Hacks from The Sun, military men
So many rich men weep in despair
On and on into Trafalgar Square

Here the rabble comes
The kind you hoped were dead
They've come to chop, to chop off your head

These once peaceful streets
The scenes of revenge you had not wished to see
Revenge is so sweet to those who have never known anything sweet

McCarthy - Charles Windsor (1987)



God save the Queen
the fascist regime,
they made you a moron
a potential H-bomb.

God save the Queen
she ain't no human being.
There is no future
in England's dreaming

Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need.
There's no future
there's no future
there's no future for you

God save the Queen
we mean it man
we love our queen
God saves

God save the Queen
'cos tourists are money
and our figurehead
is not what she seems

Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
all crimes are paid.

When there's no future
how can there be sin
we're the flowers
in the dustbin
we're the poison
in your human machine
we're the future
you're future

God save the Queen
we mean it man
we love our queen
God saves

God save the Queen
we mean it man
there is no future
in England's dreaming

No future
no future for you
no fufure for me

Sex Pistols - God Save the Queen (1977)



Tear me apart and boil my bones
I'll not rest till she's lost her throne
My aim is true my message is clear
It's curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear

The Stone Roses - Elizabeth my Dear (1989)




Jewels drip red and I don't sound proud
Treason is ambition, I want dead procession
All we got unholy left-overs of a compromise
Leaving us like butterflies trapped in frost

Ceremony rape machine
Love wont corrode you
Ceremony rape machine
Love wont corrode you

England's glory lives on in world wide genocide
So celebrate buchenwald as her majesty's heir
Now an obsolete face on a currency of illusion
No matter what we own we can't buy freedom

Throw myself against you cos you ain't frail
Underneath silk riches sixty six million giving slaves
This needle of religion's gonna rust my skin
Tear out and exit obeyance of created sin

Faces pressed at gates of anniversary torture
Without these fake images we'd never bow down
Don't need this history but we still accept
Conscripted into a past that invents our guilt

Manic Street Preachers - We Her Majesty's Prisoners (1992)

(see also the Manic Street Preachers' song song Repeat -'Repeat after me, f*ck Queen and Country... Death sentence heritage, Repeat after me, Death camp palace, Useless generations, Dumb flag scum')



Class War - Better Dead than Wed (1986)

A few suggestions for your anti-Royal wedding party - other suggestions welcome!

See also: Funk the Wedding 1981
; Repeat After Me, F*ck Queen and Country. K-Punk has a great 1983 quote from William Burroughs: 'What hope for a country where people will camp out for three days to glimpse the Royal Couple? Where one store clerk refers another as his 'colleague'? ... God save the Queen and a fascist regime ... a flabby, toothless fascism to be sure. Never go too far in any direction is the basic law on which Limey-Land is built. The Queen stabilizes the whole stinking shithouse and keeps a small elite of wealth and privilege on top...' (more here)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Police attempt to harrass benefit gigs in South London

FITwatch report that police officers visited two South London venues in dubious circumstances last weekend:

'On Saturday 23rd of April and Sunday 24th of April, the Metropolitan Police attempted to harass and intimidate the management of two established and fully licensed venues with intelligence gathering - or 'fishing' - exercises. The two venues, both in the Borough of Lambeth in South London, were set to host benefit parties for FITwatch and London Student Solidarity Campaign respectively.

Management at Brixton's 'Jamm' were puzzled to find Police officers arrive on Saturday 23rd April asking questions about a FITwatch benefit that they had branded an 'illegal rave'. Management soon set them straight, though - reminding them that it was a perfectly legitimate and legal venue... On Sunday 23rd of April, management at 'The Grosvenor' in Stockwell were quizzed by Police about an upcoming benefit party on Mayday (Sunday May 1st) as a fundraiser for the London Student Solidarity Campaign - who are a self-organised group of arrestees and defendants from the student demonstrations of late last year. The officers in question also seized posters for the event' (full story here).

The event at Jamm went ahead, featuring Alabama 3, and hopefully the Stockwell event will too. Both venues have a long history of hosting various benefit gigs over many years. I remember going to Poll Tax Prisoners and Irish Republican benefits at the former when it was the Old White Horse twenty years ago. The Grosvenor is south London punk central, hosting the ScumFest punk festival among many other events. It is a worrying development that the police seem to adopting the time-discredited technique of a 'quiet word' with the management to discourage such events. Given the influence that the police have on whether venues get their licenses, this kind of approach can be - and is designed to be - very intimidating.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Long hot summer starts early in Berkshire and Bristol

An early start for the long hot summer of 2011, with the warm weather prompting people to head out on to the streets and thegreat outdoors.

Two weeks ago, police broke up a party at Devil's Highway on land between Bracknell and Crowthorne in Berkshire, but not until about 1 pm on the Sunday after around 1,000 people had partied all night (see report at Get Bracknell, 10 April 2011). The party was seemingly put on by Koalition sound system (looks mighty crowded on the dancefloor!):



Last weekend there was a party in the woods near Catmore in West Berkshire. The police arrived at 4 am to close it down, but were prevented from doing so and the party continued until 11 am on Sunday. According to the BBC (18 April 2011), six people were arrested and sound equipment was seized. Thames Valley police claimed: 'This was an illegal rave which at times descended into violent disorder. When our officers tried to stop the event at around 4am, lots of missiles were thrown, which included burning wood. Thirteen officers and a police dog were injured in total. Fortunately, the rave happened in a very isolated location so there was minimal impact on the neighbouring community'. In that case it would probably would have been better for all concerned if the party had been left to get on with it.

Bristol

Then there was Bristol on Thursday night this week, with a full scale riot in the Stokes Croft area after police raided the Telepathic Heights squat. Barricades were set up, a police car destroyed, and a Tesco store attacked. This film shows something of a carnival atmosphere with crowds of people milling around the street - note the bit where some people get hold of police riot shields and run up the road with them.



There was some heavy police violence, with even the local Labour MP complaining that she was shoved by a cop. As Oli Conner reports, people were injured in by police batons and dogs, with people taking photos being targeted by police (see also report at The Commune).

Apparently there were also saxophone players on a bus stop outside the squat during the riot, and the strains of Summertime could be heard...

See also: St Pauls Uprising 1980; Bristol parties 1611 and 2006.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Justice 4 Smiley Demonstration Today

Just got back from today's Justice 4 Smiley Culture demonstration in London, pretty impressive with maybe a couple of thousand people heading from Wandsworth Road, along the Albert Embankment, over the river, past Parliament and on to the Metropolitan Police HQ at New Scotland Yard.

A striking aspect of the campaign is that they have used the higher profile death of an internationally-known reggae artist to shine a spotlight on many other less publicised deaths in police custody. The families of some of these took part in the march. Sean Rigg died in a police van at Brixton prison in 2008:




Kingsley Burrell died in Birmingham last month after being detained by police. A speaker from the Campaign 4 Justice 4 Kingsley Burrell spoke at the rally today:



Asher Senator speaking (Smiley's musical collaborator from his school days and later with Saxon Sound System):

There was a determined atmosphere on the march, the noise reminded me a bit of Notting Hill Carnival, with whistles, drums and conflicting basslines from the various sound systems.


Naturally there was lots of Smiley Culture's music, Police Officer in particular getting aired outside Parliament and Scotland Yard. This number also got people singing at the end


Friday, April 15, 2011

Noise at Night - 1595

An early regulation against noisy parties ('revyling') was included as Rule 30 in London's The Lawes of the Market in 1595. Seemingly it was less of a problem if people beat their wives or servants, as long it was before nine o'clock!

'No man shall after the houre of nine at Night, keep any rule whereby any such suddaine out-cry be made in the still of the Night, as making any affray, or beating hys Wife, or servant, or singing, or revyling in his house, to the Disturbance of his neighbours' (Rule 30 of The Lawes of the Market, 1595)

Source: Emily Cockayne, Hubbub: filth, noise and stench in England 1600-1710 (Yale University Press)

10 Brit-Funk Greats

At the Salvation Army charity shop on Deptford High Street this week I came across this classic 12" from 1980.



I knew it was a sign that I had to get around to finishing the long delayed post on Brit-funk (or jazz funk as some prefer to call it). I will spare you the analysis now and let the music speak for itself, but suffice it to say that it is incredible to me that so little has been written about the outpouring of UK dance music creativity in the late 70s/early 80s compared with the amount that has been written about punk and post-punk from the same period.

I have chosen ten hit tracks which some true soul boys and girls might slightly turn their nose up at for being a bit obvious - but these were the soundtrack to the weddings and school discos of my childhood so I will try and be true to that.

Real Thing - Can you feel the force? (1979)



The Real Thing were the forerunners. The band started out in Liverpool in 1970 and indeed the title of their 1977 album Four from Eight references the Liverpool 8 area (Toxteth). They had a string of soul hits (notably You to Me are Everything) but had definitely embraced the funk by the time of 1979's Can you Feel the Force? Mention of the Force obviously links this to the wave of Star Wars pop from that time, but really this is a nice slice of disco utopianism: 'You can feel the pressure lifting off your head, People who make war are making love instead, This could be the dawning of another time, Hatred is a stranger we can see the sign... Peace and love forming everywhere, Can you feel the force?'

Loose Ends - Hangin' on a String (1985)



Real Thing brothers Chris Amoo and Eddie Amoo also wrote songs for others including early material for early 1980s London trio Loose Ends. The band featured vocalist and guitarist Carl McIntosh, vocalist Jane Eugene, and keyboard player and founder Steve Nichol. In 1985, Hangin' on a String became the first British track to top the US R'n'B chart.

Heatwave - Boogie Nights (1977)



Heatwave were an international outfit rather than British as such, but they were started in London by ex-US serviceman Johnnie Wilder and his brother Keith. Among the musicians they recruited to the band was keyboardist Rod Temperton who wrote the biggest hit, Boogie Nights (reached number 2 in UK and US charts). Temperton later wrote songs for Michael Jackson - yes the guy who wrote Thriller, Off the Wall and Rock with Me came from Cleethorpes!

Light of the World - Time (1980)



Light of the World were a north London band whose members spawned many other Brit-funk projects (see below). Also check out their great London anthem, London Town

Central Line - Walking into Sunshine (1982)



A great track by Central Line that was remixed at the time by Larry Levan of Paradise Garage fame. The person who posted this on youtube mentioned that he saw this band at the California Ballroom in Dunstable in the 1970s supporting Heatwave. My mum and dad first met at that place some years before, so I guess I owe everything to that place.

Beggar and Co - Somebody help me out (1981)



Beggar and Co. was formed by three members of Light of the World. They also worked on Spandau Ballet's funk workout Chant No.1 ( Don't Need This Pressure On).

Hi-Tension - Hi-Tension (1978)



North London Brit-funkers founded by brothers David and Kenneth Joseph. See also their British Hustle

Freeez - Southern Freeez (1981)


Freeez was initiated by John Rocca. Could equally have included their Arthur Baker produced electro classic IOU. Light of the World's Jean Paul Maunick was also in this band for a while, before he went on to form Incognito - the band that carried the torch on to the next generation of British funk bands in the 1990s Acid Jazz scene.

Imagination - Music and Lights (1982)


Formed in 1981, Imagination were and wore the campest of the Brit-funk outfits, headed by lead singer Leee John. I never really forgave him for saying that he voted Conservative at some point in the 1980s, but I guess you could make a case that that was just one of many ways that he refused to conform to other people's expectations of what a Black British man should do - even if you still have to wonder what a Black gay man was doing voting Tory.

Linx - You're lying (1980)



So back to Linx, who in my view made some of the greatest tracks from this time. As well as this song, they also had a hit with the outstanding Intuition among others. The band was formed by David Grant and Peter Martin. The former went on to have solo hits, the latter joined post-punk industrial funk band 23 Skidoo.

Well could do a lot more than ten, but that's enough to start with. Will leave you now with a question which I may come back to in another post: 'Soul and funk were a more significant factor in preventing support for racist parties like the National Front in the 1970s and 1980s than punk, reggae and Rock Against Racism. Discuss'.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mission Accomplished but the Beat goes on

Today is the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's trip into space, the first human to leave the planet's atmosphere - and the first to sing in space (let's not forget either Valentina Tereshkova who followed him a couple of years later and may have sung the first song written in space) .

Once again this has got me thinking about my
Disconaut days with the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1995-2000 - explained here for the unitiated). The following text looks back on that period. I wrote it for 'See you in Space: the Fifth Annual Report of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts' (London, 2000).

Mission accomplished but the beat goes on: the Fantastic Voyage of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts
- Neil Disconaut

"Why the blue silence, unfathomable space?
Why the golden stars, teeming like sands?
If one ascended forever, what would one see up there?"

(Arthur Rimbaud, Soleil et Chair/Sun and Flesh, 1870)

What would it be like to step into space? Beyond earth's gravity, its economy, its laws, what wonders would we discover? What unknown pleasures would we stumble across on our trip to the stars? The mission of the AAA has been to attempt some tentative answers to these questions.

Our criticism of state and commercial space agencies has been precisely that they have been closed to the new possibilities of space. Instead of relishing the eruption of the marvellous they have attempted to smother it with all the baggage they have dragged behind them from earth - money, power, heroism. The Space Industry is like Michael Moorcock's 'Singularity... forever seeking to impose its simplified and sterile laws upon multiversal variety', against whom are ranged the 'Chaos Engineers who delight in all forms of experience' (2).

With a tiny fraction of their resources the Chaos Engineers of the AAA have travelled much further in the past 5 years than NASA & co. have done in almost 50 years of space exploration. Despite this a common reaction to the AAA has been that we were creating some kind of grand metaphor. Of course what we were doing did pose broader questions about the use of technology, the struggle over space with a small 's', and so on. But we have also seriously engaged with Space - experiencing zero gravity, talking to interesting members of the British Interplanetary Society and dissident space researchers like Millennium Twain and directly confronting the militarisation of outer space.

Yes we were serious, and have demonstrated that community-based space exploration is really possible. But we have never let the present social and political barriers to its full development stand in the way of experiencing some of its wonders in the here and now. This is why the AAA has put so much effort into creating situations where people have been able to step outside of their usual roles and try things they have never done before. Sometimes we have referred to these as training sessions, but really they have been less about preparation for some future task than about prefiguring the actual experience of being in space. Put simply the AAA has created its own space where interesting things have happened.

In many ways the AAA mode of operation has in itself been an experiment in collective elaboration of ideas. From somewhere in South London a notion spread and a network developed. Each new connection added its own ingredients to the mix so that what emerged was an unpredictable and constantly shifting creation that refused to be confined to art, science, music, politics, magic or any other specialist category, and that crossed the arbitrary borders dividing our home planet. Of course there are examples in literature of disparate writers creating a shared world (the Cthulhu mythos developed by HP Lovecraft and others springs to mind), but the AAA has never been confined to the realms of fiction. A closer parallel might be the Church of All Worlds in the US which started out from the pages of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and became an actually existing and influential eco-pagan group moving (in several directions) away from the author's dubious vision.

The AAA assembled its own tool box of techniques, dreams and ideas between which numerous unexpected connections arose. Disconaut AAA undertook our own survey of possibilities with our 'Means of flight: an alphabet for autonomous astronauts' from Alchemy to Zebedee. But the ground covered in this was scarcely more fantastic than some of the real combinations of people and places that emerged. Children building their own full size model of a spaceship in Vienna... grown-ups playing on swings and roundabouts... passers-by getting to grips with the intricacies of 3-sided football in Hyde Park and Honor Oak... walking into the office of Lockheed death corporation wearing a space suit.... raves in space in Bologna and elsewhere... a motley crew of marxists, musicians and the curious being put through their astral aerobics by a ritual magician on Hampstead Heath.... balloons, airplanes, Space 1999 costumes, vinyl, video, endless e-mail rants about communism, art and Zoe Ball...

So why stop now? Well even the wildest of adventures can become routine, startling ideas cliches and the most radical gestures a source of light entertainment. Space imagery has become increasingly banal and retro, featuring in numerous adverts and pop videos. We don't want to be the space industry's court jesters when capitalism itself is being openly contested, as seen in Seattle and the City of London in the last year.

The AAA has been a radical movement from the future operating in the present - now the present is catching up with us. Already we are seeing mass opposition developing to the militarisation of space (see the recent action at Menwith Hill in Yorkshire) in and before long space will become a major arena for all kinds of social struggle (3). As the first space mutineers jettison their bosses and head out into the galaxy to create new autonomous communities they will tell stories to their children about those who saw it all coming, way back in the 1990s. Or perhaps, like in the film Terminator, they will send help back into the past - to 1995 to be precise - to form a network dedicated to community-based space exploration, thus setting in motion a chain of events leading to their eventual success.

"But look at the sky! - It's too small for us,
If we feared dying of heat, we'd stay on our knees"

(Arthur Rimbaud, Le Forgeron/The Blacksmith, 1870).

Notes:

(1) Mission Accomplished... but the Beat Goes On is the title of the Rezillos LP recorded live at their 1978 farewell gig in Glasgow. The Rezillos were responsible for such Disconaut faves as Destination Venus and Flying Saucer Attack.
(2) Michael Moorcock, Blood: a Southern Fantasy (1995).
(3) For information on this check the website of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.



Destination Venus more than darkness lies between us
Twenty million miles of bleakness - human weakness
Holding my receiver I can feel you coming nearer
Probing through the airwaves clearer - clearer clearer

Destination Venus - My heart was never slow
Destination Venus - Where you are I'll always go
I hear your voice on the radio

Further modulation of the frequency rotation
Triggered waveband activation - near elation
Somewhere in the distance I could hear a voice one instance
Then it faded from existence - no persistence

(Rezillos, Destination Venus, 1978)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Brixton Uprising 1981

Thirty years ago this weekend Brixton exploded in the middle of Operation Swamp 81 - a police operaation that saw almost 950 mainly black young people stopped and searched in the area. It was the start of a period that saw uprisings up and down the country, reaching a peak in July 1981.

It was April 1981,
Down in the ghetto of Brixton,
That the babylon cause such a friction,
That it bring about a great insurrection,
And it spread all over the nation
It was truly an historical occasion
It was the event of the year
And I wish I had been there
When we ran riot all over Brixton
When we mash up plenty police van...
When we mash up the Swamp '81

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Di Great Insohreckshan



Great new version of this released last week produced by Hiatus (featuring LKJ):



From back in the day, Roy Rankin & Raymond Naptali - Brixton Incident



Prince Hammer - Brixton Trial and Clashes ('we never stop fight until we black nation free, from Bablyon wicked pain and misery'):



Monday, April 04, 2011

The dance wound through the windless woods

And in a wild and sudden dance
We mocked at Time and Fate and Chance
And swept out of the wattled hall
And came to where the dewdrops fall
Among the foamdrops of the sea,
And there we hushed the revelry;
And, gathering on our brows a frown,
Bent all our swaying bodies down...



The dance wound through the windless woods;
The ever-summered solitudes;
Until the tossing arms grew still
Upon the woody central hill;
And, gathered in a panting band,
We flung on high each waving hand,
And sang unto the starry broods.


Friday, April 01, 2011

March for the Alternative in London

Some reflections on last Saturday's anti-cuts March for the Alternative in London (March 26th)... I knew it really was going to be a big one from the moment I left home. The fact of the demonstration was everywhere, graffiti, stickers, a bus full of people talking about the demo. I knew it was going to be bigger still when I got to Kennington Park to join the South London feeder demonstration (see pictures here). This was organised independently of the main demonstration, and the police had contacted the organisers in the week to urge them to cancel it, claiming it would be a tiny failure. In fact by the time we reached Westminster Bridge there were at least two thousand people on it, and I was already noticing that it wasn't just the usual political and union activists - there was my daughter's music teacher, some random people from work, even the guy who sits drinking at the corner of my road.

We crossed Westminster Bridge to the sounds of Get Up, Stand Up (Bob Marley version) on a bicycle sound system. I assumed we must have been near the start of the march because the crowd stretched as far back along the Embankment as I could see. But then I heard that the front of the demonstration had already reached Hyde Park.

The size of the crowd has been estimated as half a million, significant for a number of reasons not least of which is that this big a demonstration is almost beyond the need for representation. A small protest is to an extent dependent on the media to communicate its intent to the wider public, but in this case a good proportion of the public were actually there or would know somebody else who was. Half a million is more than one per cent of the adult population of Britain, and everyone who was there can probably think of 4 or 5 people who said they intended to go but couldn't because of family commitments, illness or other reasons.

The core fact of the demonstration - that a huge number of people are opposed to the cuts and are beginning to take action against them - was viscerally felt by everybody who was there, not to mention the many other people in central London who saw it. And many other people who weren't there would have heard about if first hand from somebody who was. In this context the fact that some of the press and TV coverage may not have accurately reported what happened is arguably less significant.

'Millionaire Boys Club' - 'Tax is for the little people':



Trafalgar Square - 'Strike like an Egyptian':




Much of the commentary since the march has focused on a supposed distinction between the peaceful main demonstration, the non-violent direct action of UK Uncut (including the occupation of posh food store, Fortnum and Masons in Piccadilly) and riotous 'Black Bloc' anarchists. Of course a great diversity of tactics was in evidence and not everybody agreed with everything that was going on , but things were much more fluid than a categorisation of the crowd into three distinct blocs would suggest.

There were thousands, maybe even tens of thousands of people, who headed off the main march route into the West End with a sense of wanting to take things a stage further than just a rally in Hyde Park. All round Mayfair, Oxford Street, Piccadilly and Trafalgar Square there were people in the streets. This crowd was much more diverse than just young people in black, all kinds of folk were hanging around caught up in the excitement. A sense too that while not everybody was up for it, many were glad that people younger, fitter and with less to lose than them were acting out the rage they felt.

The actual violence was fairly sporadic and limited, as was the window breaking - what was much more widespread was a diffuse sense of wanting to go beyond business as usual.
Sound Systems
Lots of sound system action - ranging in sophistication from back packs, via speakers in bike baskets to sophisticated bike trailers. Thought I saw Rinky Dink Sound System, one of the original cycle powered rigs from Reclaim the Streets in the 1990s.


There was a sound system next to the line of riot police outside the occupied Fortnum and Mason's (above), and while I was there another one cycled past seemingly called the Tolpuddle 6 sound system, complete with pictures of the Dorset agricultural workers transported to Australia for starting a union in the 1830s. They were playing Got to be Real by Cheryl Lynn, great 70s disco classic and indicative of the diverse music being played on the day. I heard drum & bass, dancehall, reggae, punk, techno and dubstep - including this guy doing human beatbox wobbly bass dubstep in Trafalgar Square:


Back pack sound system:



Sound system in a push chair:



Tolpuddle 6 Sound System:


Also heard reports that at Oxford Circus the crowd chanted the Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers theme at police - as widely used on the student protests before Christmas.