Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ko-Uta: Geisha Blues

Ko-uta is a genre of Japanese music which developed from the 19th century. It literally means 'little song' and indeed the songs tend to be short, accompanied by the shamisen (a three stringed, long necked instrument). It is most associated with the geisha, for whom learning to master the shamisen is one of the traditional arts.

There doesn't seem to be a lot about it in English, other than Liza Dalby's book 'Little songs of the Geisha: traditional Japanese Ko-Uta' (Tuttle publishing, 1979). The author trained as a geisha, and has translated some of the lyrics (she has also put out a DVD, Geisha Blues). Some of them remind me a little of the blues or Greek rembetika, songs of sensuality, longing and intoxication - albeit with more of the natural world imagery found in Japanese lyrics and poetry.

One of the songs, 'Sake to onna wa', Dalby translates as 'Wine and women'. A song associated with wandering minstrels during the late Edo period (first half of the 19th century), it could be out of the Mississipi delta:

Wine and women
Balm for the soul
This floating world is
Women and wine
Just a taste, and now
Karma leads me to this fate
Praise the lord, praise the lord!
To heaven or hell,
Women and wine,
You and me, babe
Till the end -
With a honey like you
With me in hell,
Emma and Jizo might forget
They ever renounced the world.
Oh, the demon drink

[Emma is king of the buddhist helll, Jizo is a patron deity of traveller. The last word 'onigoroshi, literally means "demon killer" and was the name of a cheap type of alcohol which was the drink of these peripatetic minstrels, not able to afford sake' (Dalby)]

I haven't found much of this music online so far - I suspect that I need to be able to search using Japanese characters which I can't read - but there are some examples at

Ichimaru (1906-1997) was a singer and geisha who developed her own style of Ko-uta singing:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Riot Shield Sonic Attack

There's nothing like a global wave of  popular insurgency to prompt weapons manufacturers to think of new ways to hurt and kill people. Latest in the sonic warfare department is the riot shield wall of sound:

'Riot shields that project a wall of sound to disperse crowds will reduce violent clashes with police, according to a patent filed by defence firm Raytheon of Waltham, Massachusetts. The device looks similar to existing riot shields, but it incorporates an acoustic horn that generates a pressure pulse. Police in the US already use acoustic devices for crowd control purposes that emit a loud, unpleasant noise.

The new shield described by Raytheon produces a low-frequency sound which resonates with the respiratory tract, making it hard to breathe. According to the patent, the intensity could be increased from causing discomfort to the point where targets become "temporarily incapacitated". Acoustic devices haven't seen wide adoption because their range is limited to a few tens of metres. The patent gets around this by introducing a "cohort mode" in which many shields are wirelessly networked so their output covers a wide area, like Roman legionaries locking their shields together. One shield acts as a master which controls the others, so that the acoustic beams combine effectively'.

(New Scientist, 14 December 2011)

All sounds a bit like Michael Moorcock's Sonic Attack, recorded by  Hawkwind on the 1973 Space Ritual album:

'These are the first signs of Sonic Attack:
You will notice small objects, such as ornaments, oscillating.
You will notice a vibration in your diaphragm.
You will hear a distant hissing in your ears.
You will feel dizzy.
You will feel the need to vomit.
There will be bleeding from orifices.
There will be an ache in the pelvic region.
You may be subject to fits of hysterical shouting, or even laughter'.

See also: Kathy Acker - Empire of the Senseless; Sonic Cannon in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Massacres 1981 and 2011

Thirty years ago last week, on December 16 1981, nine striking miners were killed by the state at the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice. Three days previously martial law had been declared in Poland by General Wojciech Jaruzelski and the miners were on strike against military rule. Tanks, water cannon and then live ammunition was used in the clashes between police, troops and strikers.

The repression successfully pacified the movement in the short term, but the memory of the massacre fired up the next big wave of strikes in 1988, and within ten years of the killings most of those responsible were out of power. Some of those directly implicated in the massacre later went to prison.

Still the collapse of the Soviet Bloc precipiated by the Polish strikers and similar movements elsewhere did not unseat all the generals, secret policeman and bureaucrats in these countries. Some just changed their badges and got on with business as usual, nowhere more so than in Kazakhstan where the former head of the local 'Communist' Party Nursultan Nazarbayev became President of the newly independent country in 1991, holding on to power ever since.

Thirty years to the day since the Wujek massacre, on December 16 2011, tanks and military forces were used in battles in Kazakh city of Zhanaozen. More than 3,000 people assembled in the city in support of oil workers who have striking and protesting since May in support of better living conditions. Police and special forces attacked the meeting and opened fire on the strikers and their families. At least 10 people are reported to have been killed.

According to this report at libcom 'the Kazakh oil field workers established a “tent city”, in Zhanaozen’s main square, in June. When police tried to break it up in July, 60 of them covered themselves with petrol and threatened to set themselves on fire. Friday’s massacre took place in the same square'.

Say what you like about Sting, but to his credit he cancelled a performance at a government-sponsored festival earlier this year in solidarity with the strikers, saying 'The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change'.

Other UK interests have been less choosy:

' - The companies where most of the protesting oil workers work are partly owned by Kazmunaigaz Exploration and Production, which is listed on the London stock exchange and has often raised loans from London-based institutions;
- The UK is the third largest direct investor in Kazakhstan (after the USA and China);
- Tony Blair, the former prime minister, is being paid millions of pounds to lobby in the Kazakh government’s interests. Many other British businessmen and politicians help, too. Richard Evans, the former chairman of British Aerospace, is chairman of Samruk-Kazyna, a state-owned holding company that controls a big chunk of the Kazakh economy.
- The oil produced in Kazakhstan is traded in the offices of big oil trading companies and international oil companies in their London offices'.

Tomorrow - Wednesday 21st December 2011, 12 noon - there's a solidarity picket at the Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce, 62 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2QR.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Re-education' and forced haircuts for Indonesian punks

Frightening tale from Indonesia of repression of young punks at hands of Islamists:

/Dozens of young men and women have been detained for being "punk" and disturbing the peace in Aceh, Indonesia's most devoutly Muslim province. They are being held in a remedial school, where they are undergoing "re-education". Rights groups have expressed concern after photographs emerged of the young men having their mohawks and funky hairstyles shaved off by Aceh's police.They look sullen and frightened as they are forced into a communal bath.

But Aceh's police say they are not trying to harm the youths, they are trying to protect them. The 64 punks, many of whom are from as far away as Bali or Jakarta, were picked up on Saturday night during a local concert...

Aceh police spokesman Gustav Leo says there have been complaints from residents nearby. The residents did not like the behaviour of the punks and alleged that some of them had approached locals for money. Mr Leo stressed that no-one had been charged with any crime, and there were no plans to do so. They have now been taken to a remedial school in the Seulawah Hills, about 60km (37 miles) away from the provincial capital Banda Aceh. "They will undergo a re-education so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people," says Mr Leo.

But activists say the manner in which the young people have been treated is humiliating and a violation of human rights.Aceh Human Rights Coalition chief Evi Narti Zain says the police should not have taken such harsh steps, accusing them of treating children like criminals. "They are just children, teenagers, expressing themselves," she says. "Of course there are Acehnese people who complained about them - but regardless of that, this case shouldn't have been handled like this. They were doused with cold water, and their heads were shaved - this is a human rights violation. Their dignity was abused."

...Aceh is one of the most devout Muslim provinces in Indonesia, and observers say it has becoming increasingly more conservative since Islamic law was implemented a few years ago' (BBC News, 14 December 2011).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Art of Parties

This article 'Retort Goes to a Party' by Holley Cantine was originally published in the Autumn 1951 issue of Retort, a journal of anarchism, poetry, literature and essays edited by Cantine, with contributors including Paul Mattick, Kenneth Rexroth and Paul Goodman. It was reprinted in the Portland-based journal Communicating Vessels (Fall/Winter 2008-9). There are more Retort articles here - it was published in New York in the 1940s and 50s.

A 1950s report of a 1920s retro party might seem obscure even for this site, but there are some interesting reflections on the art of parties.

'On last March 24th, in Greenwich Village, a party, was thrown for the ostensible purpose of commemorating the 1920s. The editors of Retort, being at the time on one of their occasional visits to New York, attended. It was a fairly large party — upward of 100 people, most of them costumed in the styles of the period — either authentic or reasonably faithful representations. There was a competent Dixieland jazz band and an adequate amount of drink, the price of admission being a bottle. The party was held in a commodious sculptor's studio on the top floor of a loft building in a non-residential section of the Village, so there was both plenty of room and sufficient isolation to permit complete freedom from the usual urban inhibitions about noise.

Yet, in spite of all these manifest advantages, the party, as a party, and especially as an attempt to recapture the spirit of the '20s, didn't really come off. There was a good deal of boisterousness, some fairly wild dancing, and a determined effort on the part of the sponsors to keep things moving, but the atmosphere was not at all that of the period that was supposed to be commemorated, and the level of intensity that a really good party attains was never observable. The present writer, who has a very warm feeling for the '20s, perhaps because he was just a little too young to take part in the revels of that era, but old enough to have witnessed some of them, stayed on to the bitter end, hoping that  something might turn up, but unfortunately the evening just wilted away, and when at 3 or 4 in the morning the last remaining revelers began looking for their coats, it was as if nothing had happened.

To the connoisseur of parties — and in the '20s, the party was an art form with many zealous devotees, not a few of whom gave their lives as a result of their single-minded dedication to art — a party is not really successful unless something happens other than the usual banalities of passings out, corner seductions, et al. Exactly what is supposed to happen is impossible to foresee (this is the chief charm of the party as an art form). At some point in the evening, usually well after midnight, when the more inhibited guests have gone home and the rest are sufficiently liquored up to be ready for anything, a sort of spirit of the party begins to take over, fusing the participants into a spontaneous organic whole which is capable of very curious and memorable acts.

At the party in question, the focal point of the evening was the so-called Charleston Contest, and had the party been sufficiently alive, this could have been the spark that started things moving. As it turned out it was merely an exhibition of rather extreme dancing (none of it the Charleston) with most of the people reduced to spectators while a dwindling number of couples competed. I can recall parties in the '20s when an event of this nature suddenly evolved into a mock revival meeting or voodoo ceremony, with everyone taking part, or at least experiencing the excitement — a sort of pseudo-religious ecstasy that could be quite breathtaking.

Of course, such a performance is only possible in an entirely spontaneous andabandoned atmosphere, and the heavy aura of self-consciousness that hung over this party was a serious detriment to even bogus spirituality. Perhaps we who have endured the terrible '40s are unable to recapture the fine, free and essentially naive gusto for wickedness that characterized the lighter side of the '20s. The '20s, despite the fond belief of its Flaming Youth, was — at least in perspective — a very innocent period. There was something ingenuous and good-natured about its revolt against Victorianism. The bottomless pit that the First World War had opened up before the Lost Generation was a shallow ditch compared to that which our generation has witnessed, and the consequent cynicism was childlike and lighthearted, in comparison to the numb apathy that is characteristic of the more advanced youth of today.

The "wild" party was the perfect vehicle for expressing this spirit, especially since, as the result of Prohibition — that last desperate stand of the forces of Puritanism — the simple act of taking a drink was transformed into a wicked and excitingly illegal event. (Today, the youth must resort to the more deadening narcotics to achieve a similar thrill). A party in the '20s that commemorated the '90s was a lively, good-natured spoofing of the previous generation's foibles; we of the '50s, with our prevailing atmosphere of doom and disintegration, are hardly in the proper mood to give the same sort of treatment to the youthful follies of our parental generation'.

Police and Parties in England: November 2011

Dorset: 'Illegal Rave blocked by Police' (Bridport News, 1 December 2011)

'Lyme Regis police blocked an illegal rave that was set to attract hundreds of revellers after it was advertised on the internet. The party was publicised on social networking site Facebook as a public event with camping, fireworks and live music. Police in Lyme Regis received a tip-off about the event and discovered that various DJs were lined up to perform in a field from 8pm to 6am.

Community beat manager PC Richard Winward said: “We had no idea where it was so we made some inquiries and discovered who the organisers were. We discovered that it was going to happen on Saturday, November 19 in a field off the A35 at Wootton Fitzpaine. We realised of course that it must not go ahead because it was illegal and would have caused huge disruption to people living in the area.” The organisers were three 19-year-old men from Lyme Regis, Umborne in Devon, and Exeter.

"We told the organisers that they did not have permission and the rave would not take place, and if it did go ahead or if they made any more preparations they would be arrested We also told them that unless they removed the pallets and breeze blocks, which legally counts as preparing for a rave and if they didn’t put a notification on Facebook that it had been cancelled, they would also be arrested.”

PC Winward said the organisers agreed to postpone the rave until they obtained the correct licences and permissions. But some determined revellers still threatened to turn up at the field, so police were forced to blockade the area'.

Hampshire: 'Illegal rave in Andover stopped by police' (BBC, 21 November 2011)

'An illegal rave in a disused industrial unit in Hampshire has been shut down. Police officers followed social media websites to locate the site of the rave which was being set up at the Walworth Industrial Estate in Andover. About 70 officers broke up the gathering by dispersing people travelling to the music event on Saturday night. Three men, from Wales, Gloucester and Hampshire, were arrested and sound equipment was seized by police. A 36-year-old from Llanishen, Wales, and a 19-year-old from Alton, Hampshire, were both arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and using electricity without authority. A 37-year-old from Gloucester was arrested on suspicion of using electricity without authority'.

Norfolk (Lynn News, 28 November 2011)

'Police seized sound equipment and a vehicle used to transport it from those believed to be the organisers of an illegal rave shut down on Sunday in Feltwell. The unlicensed music event was held at a Fire Ride, between 4am and 1pm, where it is thought that around 200 people attended. Superintendent Dave Marshall said: “The Constabulary takes such incidents very seriously. “We will take action to deal with anyone intent on causing disruption and nuisance within our local communities. Such events are unsafe and we will continue to prosecute, seize and destroy the equipment of anyone found to be involved.”'

Buckinghamshire (Leighton Buzzard, 2 December 2011)

'Thames Valley Police has charged a 20-year-old man with public nuisance following a rave at Ivinghoe Beacon in October. [RB] of Haverhill, Sussex, was charged with the offence yesterday and is due to appear at Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court on December 19. The offence relates to an illegal rave attended by more than 600 people which took place in the early hours of October 2'.

Somerset: 'Seven arrested for illegal rave' (Somerset County Gazette, 18 November 2011)

'Police arrested seven people and seized sound equipment after breaking up an illegal rave at Nuctombe Bottom near Timberscombe recently. More than 600 people descended on the site without permission, prompting police to move in and break up the rave following complaints from angry residents. Police said the noise was so intense that it could be heard up to four miles away in Minehead'.

Lancashire: Police Scupper New Year's Eve Party (Burnley Citizen, 2 December 2011)

'Plans for a New Year’s Eve rave in Colne have been refused after strong objections by Lancashire Police. Promoters Small Trees wanted to stage the event at an industrial unit off Burnley Road, Primet Bridge but PC Mark Driver, Pennine policing division licensing officer, raised concerns on how an expected crowd of up to 500 could be managed. Further worries centred on internet promotional promises of £2 drinks for everything except spirits. The borough’s licensing committee issued a counter-notice against the event'.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The strike in London

I went on strike on Wednesday November 30th against changes to pensions for public sector workers - against in short having to work for longer and pay more to receive less. The goverment initially tried to play down the numbers on strike - but even by their own figures around a million were on strike, the largest number for at least  30 years. The unions suggested the number was more like 2 million. 

Started to write an in-depth post about capitalism, crisis, the weakness of both the state and its oppenents etc. But that will have to wait for another day, probably another year! Instead, here's some pictures and short commentary from the strike in London - all taken on the demonstration in central London (attended by up to 50,000 people) unless otherwise stated.

'Debt enchains us, work exhausts us, you disgust us'

'Revolution is the ecstasy of history'  - banner on picket line at Goldsmiths College in South London.
Nice slogan, even if begs the riposte 'what you mean you love everybody on Saturday night, but can't face gettting
out of bed by Wednesday'

The Occupy London banners were impressive : 'All power to the 99%'

The sound system behind the Occupy banners kept people dancing, righteous reggae and dancehall
among other sounds, but the track that led to a frenzed explosion of energy from hundreds of people was
'One Step Beyond' by Madness!

Nostalgia Steel Band on the march. Clare is angry - and she's not alone!

New architecture of control - police temporary metal barriers in Trafalgar Square
After the main demonstration, 21 people were arrested during an occupation of Panton House near Leicester Square, headquarters of  mining company Xstratahe whose CEO Mick Davies was said to be the highest compensated CEO of all the FTSE 100 companies in the last year, receiving pay and shares ot a value of £18,426,105. 37 people were also arrested in Dalston, ironically outside the CLR James Library. Seemingly they had been part of a mobile group with sound system moving between picket lines in Hackney.

 See also: The Big Strike in South London for more photos and reports.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Police use UV ink at Occupy Montreal

Bouncers tricks and bass lines at the eviction of Occupy Montreal:

'Occupy protesters “branded” with UV ink: Montreal police borrow tactic from club bouncers to stop protesters from returning to public square

Occupy protesters in Montreal were dismayed to find they had been marked by police with a special ink that is only visible in UV light after being arrested during a raid of Victoria Square Friday. Police told CTV Montreal they borrowed the technique from bouncers at clubs and bars and it is meant to mark protesters who might return to the square.

But they apparently weren’t so forthcoming with at least one protester. “They wrote on my hand with a permanent marker and then after I felt something pointy and metallic scraping across my skin,” wrote protester Nina Haigh on Facebook, continuing: 'I immediately asked “What are you doing” and they simply said we wrote on you with a pen and showed me a bunch of various pens in her hand. I didn’t argue about it and I was unable to look at my hands as they were tied behind my back with zipties. As soon as I was released I looked at my hands and there was no ink on them from a pen. …

This morning we tested my hands under a black light and sure enough there was a number 2! The freaky thing is this is IN my skin, washing my hands and scrubbing with abrasives will not get this off…. perhaps in several months of my skin cells renewing themselves if will eventually fade.What ever ink that is in there is irritating my skin slightly and its a very terrible feeling that they put a substance in my body with out my consent and then later lied about it' (Salon, 30 November 2011).

This took place during the eviction of the Occupy Montreal camp on 25 November, as reported in The Link, 29 November 2011:

'In the end, Occupy Montreal didn’t go out with a flash bang, but with a bass line. Exactly six weeks after the global Occupy phenomenon came to the city, Victoria Square was a place transformed, then transformed again.  Gone was the intricate maze of shelters and structures. Gone were the kitchen and library areas. And gone were many of the inhabitants of the tent city, kicked out by members of the Service policière de la Ville de Montréal on Nov. 25.

Still, despite the naked landscape of the square compared to the bustle and crowds that had been a mainstay for the past month and a half, on Saturday afternoon, a few hundred people came back to the site to discuss what they had been a part of, and where the movement will go now.  Unlike the violent end to the Occupy camps in New York, Oakland, and UC Davis, Montreal’s version didn’t end in clashes with the cops—instead, it ended with a concert. Local legends Bran Van 3000 performed a stripped-down set marked with the refrain, “Love is in the air.” [Bram Van 3000 are best known in the UK for their track Drinkng in LA]...

Today, the tents have been torn down, and the inhabitants have all gone back to wherever they came from. All that’s left is the question that’s been levied at the movement since the beginning: what’s next? What do you do when a protest predicated on the physical occupation of a location no longer physically occupies that space?

“That’s a good question,” said di Salvio. “Even in the middle of summer we were wondering what was going to happen in the winter. We’re human, and it gets very cold". Rather than look at the winter as a time for bonds to weaken, di Salvio, who had also paid a visit to New York City to check out Occupy Wall Street, thinks that breaking up the camp will result in different kinds of organization—digital and physical—that will lead to bigger things when the temperatures rise again in the spring...It’s almost like a tour: you go and reinforce and recharge to meet up again next summer.”

Saturday, December 03, 2011


'Spannered' is a new novel by Bert Random, published by Spannered Books, a new small press based in Bristol.

Described on the cover as 'a book about free parties, friendship and dancing', it is essentially an account of one weekend in Bristol in 1995 centred around a warehouse party, but its evocative descriptions will echo with anybody who has been to free parties anywhere or anytime then or since. It's all there - the highs, the lows, the intense friendships, the casualties, the transformation of some derelict zone into a temporary playground... And of course the music.

The chapter headings are tracks from that period (e.g. The Pump Panel's Ego Acid, Starpower's Renegade 303 from the Chris Liberator/Dave the Drummer 'Stay up Forever' stable). Writing about music without lyrics is notoriously difficult, but the author has a real sense of the physical impact of a snare, a kick drum or a blast of 303 on the bodies of dancers. Especially the latter - it's all about the acid, 'Bristol-style techno - the hard, dense kick drums are circled by fine-tuned cymbals and snares, dirty, squelchy, sub-bass notes rumble under our feet, while sweeping strings and swirling acidlines collide up above. The duelling 303s churn away...'

As a historical document capturing the mood of a specific time and place this book is bang-on, but it also has some broader reflections on dancing. At one point on the dancefloor, the narrator feels 'a link with something primeval, not just with my immediate environment, not just with the shit-hot party going on around me. A link with something deeper than that. I feel a connection to my own history of dancing... I'm possessed by everyone who has ever been moved by music. I feel a link to distant drums of warning and celebration, to the force of rhythm on our cerebral patterns and genetic muscle memories. I remember all this in a split second'.

If the author has felt compelled to write a novel 15 years after the events described, it is presumably because like many of us he recognises that one night can last a lifetime: 'Those moments, those movements, those sounds, those feelngs - they all really happened. The afterglow from sharing those experiences with thousands of people - with hundreds of thousands of people over the years - can keep you warm for a long time, if you let it'.

Detail from illustration by Silent Hobo in Spannered
The book also features some great illustrations by artists including Silent Hobo, Boswell, Nik III, Natalie Sandells and Rose Sanderson.

You can get the paperback for a mere £8.99 from the Spannered Shop, and there is also an e-book version. Ideal Christmas present for anybody who was there, wishes they were, or wonders what it was like (and indeed still is like in free parties today, although obviously some things have changed in the past decade and a half).