Monday, January 30, 2023

Chris Killip (1946-2020): photos of punks, pits and more

Some great images of 1980s North East (among other places) in the Chris Killip retrospective at the Photographers Gallery

There's quite a few shots of Gateshead anarcho-punks in around 1985, where Killip documented nights at The Station, the venue set up by Gateshead Musicians Collective. Lots of Crass, Conflict and Flux of Pink Indians t-shirts.

The miners strike also features, with images from Easington colliery in the Durham coalfield and the 1984 Durham Miners gala (featured here previously)


Sunday, January 22, 2023

And the Rabbit's Name Was...

Chinese New Year on 22 January 2023 marked the start of the Year of the Rabbit, reminding me of the Chinese legend of there being a rabbit on the moon. Actually there seems to have been folklore about a lunar rabbit or hare in various parts of the world, prompted by the shapes to be seen from earth on the moon's surface.

The basics of the Chinese legend were relayed to the crew of Apollo 11 in July 1969 as they prepared for the first human moon landing. Reporting a press story, somebody at NASA mission control in Houston told them:

'Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-E has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported'.

The connection with space programmes doesn't end there. China's own lunar space programme is named after Change'e, and its first lunar rover Yutu which langed in 2013 is named after the jade rabbit.

All of which brings me to the A&E Dept's 'The Rabbit's name was...',  a classic slice of 303 drenched London acid techno from 1994  which starts with the Houston NASA sample. The track was written and produced by DDR (Dave Lalouche) and Julian Liberator, and engineered by 'D.A.V.E. the Drummer' (Henry Cullen) at his Punishment Farm studio. Cullen started out as the drummer in Back to the Planet, festival favourites of the early 1990s who started out at the Peckham Dolehouse squat. I believe the original Punishment Farm studio was upstairs in the Harp of Erin pub in Deptford. The 

track was released on Stay Up Forever records, founded by the Liberator DJs and responsible for many of the big tracks on the London free party scene in the 1990s. We may have been partying in the gutters but some of us were looking at the moon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Prolekult - Marx, Debord, Crass and more...

London based 1990s label Prolekult was influential in popularising the hard/acid trance sound, but its visual imagery really stood out with record labels each featuring radical left icons. Their first release in 1993, Sourmash's Passport to Paradise, set the tone with Karl Marx.

From there it was an eclectic mix of the good, the not so good and the ugly of radical politics depending on your particular perspective... Let's just say I don't think all of this lot would have got along!

Bertolt Brecht

Che Guevera


Andreas Baader of the Red Army Fraction

Wasn't sure of who this was - but reliably informed on twitter that its Russian revolutionary artists Mayakovsky, Malyutin and Cheremnykh in 1919

'No Justice, No Peace, Resist the CJB' (Criminal Justice Bill) - image from 1990 Poll Tax Riot

Rosa Luxemburg

Leon Trotksy

Helen Steele and Dave Morris - the much spied upon McLibel Two

Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party

'Welcome to the future: let me breathe'

Malcolm X
Mexico Olympics 1968

Stephen Lawrence


Harvey Milk

Aung San Suu Kyi

The Clash


'Chairman Gonzalo' of the Shining Path in prison in Peru

Guy Debord - Down with the Society of the Spectacle

Tony Blair and John Major - Zero Difference

Paris 1968

Anarchist clash with police in Barcelona, before or during the Spanish Revolution (thanks to @semicoda for spotting)

Situationist Rene Riesel - confirmed by @andrew_wilson_a on twitter

Keith Narey, Bradford Socialist - featured on 1997 release Vuture  Shoque by Logique (Kult 23). I had some difficulty identifying him, but @casperpottle on twitter recognised the photo from his local pub, The Brewery Tap in Bradford. He seems to have been a larger than life figure well known in the Campaign for Real Ale as well as Militant who sadly died celebrating Labour's victory in the 1997 general election.

Prolekult was a sub label of Hooj Choons founded by Alex Simons and Red Jerry (Jeremy Dickens) in 1990. They put out a lot of big house tunes, notably Felix's "Don't You Want Me" (1992) co-produced by Red Jerry and Rollo. The thinking behind the Prolekult label, and the labels, is set out in the booklet accompanying the 1997 Prolekulture compilation:
"We started Prolekult up in the spring of '93 as a harder alternative to the more commercial-oriented house we'd been involved with up until then. There was never much of a gameplan involved, just a bunch of preferences and prejudices: a liking for hard, having-it, often Euro-flavoured trance and total indifference to the up-its-own-arse electronic doodling that characterised the UK techno scene at the time.

Sourmash's Pilgrimage To Paradise was a good tune to kick it all off with, emanating as it did from the UK, but packing the punch of a Beltram / F. De Wulf / Orlando Voorn record. Getting off to a start like that, we'd hoped to overcome our sense of musical Europhilia and carry on signing banging home-grown material, but it wasn't to be. Of the twelve tracks included here [on the CD], three quarters were licensed from European labels, reflecting the failure on our part to consistently find the kind of material we were after here in the UK. We're not sure what that says about us, or the UK, or both ...or neither, but we like the vibe surrounding the very up-for-it free party scene that's developed over the past few years and the producers that are now emerging from this sector of the underground are kicking arse. Proper UK acid business.

When it came to adopting a name, logo, etc, for the label, as unreconstructed lefties, we turned to socialist political history for inspiration. "Prolekult" is an adaptation of the Russian word "Proletkult" which was a workers cultural organisation set up in 1907 by the socialist exiles Alexander Bogdanov and Maxim Gorky. The theory went, in simple terms, that at a time when Russia's Tsarist dynasty was at the weakest and most vicious stage in its squalid history, the Bolshevik party was to lead the political opposition, the unions to lead the economic opposition and the Proletkult the cultural opposition. Perhaps the best known work to come out of the Proletkult was the post-revolutionary films of Eisenstein (Strike, Battleship Potemkin), but within a year of his rise to power in 1921 Stalin had effectively stripped the Proletkult of any autonomy, vibrancy or relevance, turning it, as he did all other genuine bases of working class expression, into just another instrument of state power.

Obviously, none of this has much direct relevance to the records we put out as the lack of vocals involved makes overt political statement difficult ("you gotta have house" repeated a few times on Neurodancers' Wippenburg [sic] - the only vocal on the twelve tracks - isn't exactly "Blowing in the Wind" is it?) but it made a change from the cod-futurism to be found on the sleeves and logos of so many techno/trance labels and, in terms of lefty icons over the last two hundred years, we knew we had an extensive reserve of imagery to draw upon. There was also the quiet hope on our part that by using pictures of long-forgotten working class heroes we'd be making our own tiny contribution to the rehabilitation of these political giants who have effectively been written out of our history. We thought that even if the odd person here and there asked "who's that?" then the labels and imagery would have transcended their original role as mere packaging and taken on a higher role as potential consciousness-raisers (man). Unfortunately it soon became apparent that no one gave a toss about which old trot we wheeled out next and after three years and seventeen releases I can safely say that we could put Donald Duck on our next release and no one would bat an eyelid...

...When we first decided to use socialists/revolutionaries etc we had assumed it would all pan out in neat chronological order, beginning with Marx and ending wherever, of course within three or four releases it had all gone. Last minute desperate scrabble to find someone reasonably relevant the night before label copy and image due at the printers etc. and to be frank the odd dubious character go used for expediencies sake". Nevertheless they meant it and included potted biographies in the compilation,,

(if you search prolekult you can listen to all this on soundcloud, spotify and all the usual places)

Friday, December 30, 2022

Carolee Schneemann: Body Politics

So much to see and think about in the Carolee Schneemann retrospective 'Body Politics' at the Barbican Art Gallery in London. Dance, performance, visual art and more centred around the body, feminism, anti-militarism and a critique of established art practice. A few highlights for me:

Noise Bodies (1965)

 Schneemann and collaborator James Tenney created a 'body sound system' attaching metallic objects and other materials to their bodies that were activated as they moved around. 

Dialectics of Liberation (1967)

Schneemann lived in London for a while (in Belsize Park) and staged a 'happening' at the Dialectics of Liberation event at the Roundhouse in 1967 - famously attended by among others Allen Ginsberg; Stokely Carmichael, R D Laing and Herbert Marcuse. The exhibition includes some interesting documentation with Schneemann clearly unhappy about some of the disorganised arrangements and her marginalisation as a woman artist.

Mortal Coils (1995)

This later work mourns the passing of friends and like minded spirits including Derek Jarman, recalling a final meeting with him in a Covent Garden cafe- 'We blew somber kisses. I walked away knowing we couldn't meet again'.

The exhibition continues until 8 January 2023

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Northern Carnival Against Racism in Leeds 1981: Specials and more

The Northern Carnival Against Racism in Leeds was I think the last of the great Rock Against Racism festivals, taking place in July 1981 as riots spread across the country. The following report is from Rock Against Racism's Temporary Hoarding zine, August 1981:

'We had a great day. Anyone who came along to the Great Northern Carnival against Racism as it snaked through the city centre or as it rocked Chapeltown got the message. Love music, hate racism, have fun and fight for a future with the Carnival. It's a pity only the people of Leeds heard. The march through town was amazing, the Law didn't know what was happening. Their estimates were 7,000 on Woodhouse Moor swelling to 20,000 for the park. Anyway that's all guess the weight of the cake stuff and any way you look at it it was the biggest demo Leeds has ever seen.

It was big, it was loud, it was multi racial, it was a militant and happy. There were only 40 cops on the march but we stewarded it with black and white skins.

When the March reached the park, the sound system has already filling the park with militant rhythm. We spent all afternoon sitting in the sunshine, buying anti-racist balloons and anti-nuclear hotdogs and rocking to the sounds of Barry Ford, the Au Pairs, Misty in Roots and the Specials. The message is clear from the stage: I ain't gonna work on Maggie's farm, there are 22 women political prisoners in Armagh jail and the sound from another ghetto about to explode.

But why did we have the carnival in Leeds? We wanted it here and we made it happen here. It's not just the NF [National Front] dogs at Elland Road football ground and it's not just the Nationality Bill those other animals are putting through parliament at the moment. The fascists have knifed people in our town, last September Anthony Clarke died and the local BM [British Movement] organiser went to jail for it. Blacks don't walk alone in town at night anymore. Jewish cemeteries are daubed with swastikas and the nazis come up to Chapeltown in cars at night'.

A report of the Carnival by Joanna Rollo was included in Socialist Worker, 4 July 1981:

.'The day began with a march to the city centre. Around 4000 left the assembly point. There were ANL [Anti Nazi League] banners from all over the north and some from the Midlands as well. There were floats some with bands on board, themes ranging from "stop the deportation of Asians" to "Punks against the Cruise". The Rebel float had his own band – No Swastikas from York. The two hour long march was brilliantly stewarded by black and white skinhead gangs from Leeds and Sheffield. And they had quite a job on their hands because by the time it reached Chapeltown where the Carnival was held the numbers had swelled to 20,000 and the march was spreading right across the streets. But there wasn't a single arrest and rumours that the Nazis were planning an attack the match came to nothing (a miserable 300 NF and BM members staged a half-hearted crawl through the city centre later that afternoon and ended up fighting each other).

The Carnival was remarkable. and not just for the numbers. It was the youngest, most working-class carnival yet, and there were more black youth than ever before – 50%. Looking out over the vast crowds The Specials singer Neville said "it's like a zebra crossing, black-and-white, black-and-white as far as you can see". And it put paid to the idea that all skins are Nazis because skins came in  their hundreds to hear the best the best anti ban-racist bands around – The Specials, Barry Forde, Misty and the Au Pairs – and dance and cheer alongside their black friends. It was a great day and a real slap in the face for Nazis everywhere'

Interview with Terry Hall

The Specials were riding high at this point and were no doubt the biggest draw on the day. Terry Hall was interviewed about the Leeds carnival for Temporary Hoarding by Leigh Bayley of 2 Tone

Why did you agree to play the Leeds carnival?

Because in Leeds there were a lot of racial problems so we thought it was the ideal place to play

Did you enjoy the day?

Yes. It was good. We played with Rico in Bristol the night before. I got up at 7:30 and travelled to Coventry, had a bath and drove to Leeds. We arrived only half an hour before  we went on stage.  I would have liked to have gone on the march, but we didn't have time. It was a good turnout.

There was no mention of the carnival in the National press. this is a sad reflection on the media, what are your comments?

The media is not interested in peacefulness. It is only interested in violence and what will shock people. They are not interested in a good time and peace because that does not make news. All good news is bad news. All the bad things that are happening go straight into the paper. They do not want to know about people having a good time.

Why do you think the riots have started? Do you see it as a movement against repression, unemployment, high prices, racism?

I think it is a hell of a lot of things, like unemployment. People have absolutely nothing to do. Take Coventry – you can't go to see a group. You can't go down the pub. I think a lot boils down to the price of cheeseburgers. Rioting is the only way  people can communicate. If they sent letters in an orderly fashion to Margaret Thatcher, she would not take any notice. It is the only way people can protest.

I am interested in the things that are happening with the kids, I am very interested in the youth. I am 22 now but two years ago I was a youth. I do understand what it is like because I used to be in gang fights all the time. When I used to fight it was only because I wasn't involved in anything else. I was unemployed, I was 16 but the leaders don't take any notice. I was watching a programme ‘Body Talk’ about Coventry and it was like they had to make use of a scapegoat for all the problems.

The problem is there are bad people whether they are black, white, whatever. The colour has nothing to do with it. There are nasty people who do bad things. Whether it is a black person doing bad things or a white person doing bad things it doesn't make any difference. Racism is just an excuse. It's just a word.

Do you think Mrs Thatcher can take all the blame? Has the government really left the youth on the shelf?

She is responsible. It is her government who are making the decisions so they must take the blame for what is happening. She chose to be prime minister and by making that choice she must take the blame. I blame the people who voted for her. They are so shortsighted. People say ‘let's give he woman a chance’. Well sex is just not important. If you are a fool it does not matter if you are male or female.

Do you think Labour could have avoided the trouble?

I never say what could be. Because you could say if there was a nuclear war tomorrow the rioting would end. Just what is happening today is important and what happened yesterday has happened. It is today that you have got to think about. As for Mrs Thatcher I think she should be put on the dole.

Are you disappointed that people haven't taken more notice of 2 Tone’s message of racial harmony?

Yes. Really it is just because people still think that the colour of the skin is important. I'm white but I'm not proud of it. I would paint myself green if it would make any difference. But 2 Tone is a very small thing. We are going to carry on and that is all we can do.

Terry Hall interview in Temporary Hoarding

Another report from TH: '20,000 people marched through Leeds to tell all racists everywhere just where to go. Fascist allsorts only managed 200 through the town centre in the afternoon, 30,000 popped along to the Barry Ford Band, the Au Pairs, Misty and The Specials in Potternewton Park'

Leeds Rudies

In the lead up to the Carnival, SW (4 July 1981) included an interview with Neville Staple and Lynval Golding from the Specials and an interesting feature on Leeds Rudies, a gang of young black and white ska fans involved with the Carnival: ''Rudies do what we please, how we please, when we please. We're black and white together, we look good and we show we're having fun - always dancing' (click to enlarge)

Centrespread montage from Temporary Hoarding, August 1981 with images from the summer riots

See also: