Monday, February 01, 2021

No Blood for Oil: NHS workers and the 1991 Gulf War

The 1991 Gulf War was months in the making and just a few weeks in the fighting. After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, the US and its allies (including Britain) spent time building up a military presence in the region before launching a massive airborne assault on Iraq in 'Operation Desert Storm' on January 16 1991. The expectation was that this would be followed by a prolonged ground war but in the event this did not materialise - Iraq withdrew from Kuwait and after bombing retreating Iraqi troops the US military did not go any further, declaring a ceasefire on 28 February and giving Saddam Hussein a free hand to repress the uprisings against his rule that were erupting across the country.  Really it was more of a one sided massacre than a war - less than 200 'Coalition' combatants were killed by Iraq compared to at least 30,000 Iraqis bombed, burnt or buried alive (many others died as a result of sanctions preventing medical and other supplies being provided to Iraq). 

There was mass opposition to the war across the world, particularly on the weekend before the war broke out with huge demonstrations in many countries - including up to 100,000 marching from Hyde Park in London on 12th January 1991 in a march called by the 'Committee to Stop War in the Gulf' - banner pictured below. Around 30,000 took part in another London demonstration on February 2nd where the crowd in Hyde Park was addressed by Vic Williams who had deserted from the Royal Artillery in protest against the war (he was later jailed

I was working at the time in the AIDS Education Unit for Barnet Health Authority, based at Colindale Hospital in north London. It was quite a radical workplace - we had earlier initiated a hospital workers anti-poll tax group - and we progressed to organising an anti-war group. The NHS had been put on war footing on the expectation that there would be large numbers of British military casualties, but this never happened. There was though some impact on the health service. The following text is edited from something I originally wrote for my Practical History website, back in 1991.

'Hospital workers say No War for Oil' - A4 poster

War damages health and the health service: Health Workers and the 1991 Gulf War

The effects of the war on the NHS were not as dramatic as many people anticipated, for the simple reason that there were few allied casualties. Despite this it is worth looking at the plans that were made, at the embryonic resistance to these plans, and at how this resistance related (or could have related) to a wider anti-war movement.

From the moment British forces were sent to the Gulf, the NHS was included in strategic military planning. At the end of 1990 the Department of Health initiated Operation Granby. Instructions on war preparations (Gulf Contingency Planning- NHS Plan and Procedure Guide) were sent to Regional Health Authorities. These instructions were marked "restricted", to be "used only for briefing and action by senior staff, and not released to the general public or the media". In particular it was stressed that "No impression should be given to the Press or public that NHS beds are being cleared for military casualties".

But the same guidelines predicted that at least 65-70 beds a day would be required from each of the regions. Nationally managers were ordered to prepare up to 7500 beds for military casualties (there were of course no plans to put private beds aside in this way). Plans were also made to use the already stretched NHS ambulance service to ferry war casualties from airports to hospitals. In January Command Post Exercise, a full-scale practice, was carried out to test hospitals' preparedness, and to estimate how quickly wards could be cleared.

In the event large numbers of beds weren't needed for Gulf War casualties. Nevertheless, patients were affected as preparations were made. In February the health minister William Waldegreave claimed: "we do not believe that it will be necessary for patients to be turned away from hospitals, or for wards to be emptied at present". However in his own Bristol constituency, Cosham hospital closed three wards of 50 beds each through the redeployment of staff in anticipation of Gulf War casualties.

It was a similar story across the country. At John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford (near RAF Brize Norton), patients were turned out of wards, and operations were cancelled. At the Luton & Dunstable three operating theatres were closed in January, and admissions halted. Minor operations were cancelled and beds cleared at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. At the Woodlands orthopaedic hospital, near Leeds, hip replacement operations were postponed to keep beds free. And in Edinburgh, an 87 year old woman was told her operation at the Princess Margaret Rose Orthopaedic Hospital had been cancelled because a ward had been closed in readiness for Gulf casualties.

All of this came at a time when 4500 beds (1000 in London) had been closed as health authorities attempted to wipe out debts in time for the reorganisation of the NHS. In east London for instance, wards had been closed at Mile End and Whitechapel hospitals.

Working Conditions

Ward closures were accompanied by attacks on the working conditions of health workers. Many nurses were put on longer shifts and had leave cancelled (for instance in Newcastle some nurses were told to work 21 consecutive 12 hour shifts). In Enfield student nurses were asked to sign a piece of paper agreeing to 'volunteer' if needed. At Glasgow's Gartnavel hospital the training of psychiatric nurses was halted, when their tutors were transferred to the hospital's trauma unit.

At the end of January 1991 it was announced that nursing staff, midwives and health visitors would get pay rises ranging from 9.5 to 11.0 %, but that these would be phased in over seven months. The armed forces on the other hand were given an average 12.2% rise with immediate effect from April 1st.  Prime Minister John Major commented: "When many of our armed forces are on active service, we have concluded it would not be appropriate to ask them to wait for their full pay award" (never mind the health workers on active service trying to save lives instead of taking them).


Military reservists with medical experience were conscripted into the armed forces and sent to the Gulf. At least 25 reservists publicly refused to serve in the war, including Tim Brassil an ex-army nurse who went into hiding, saying: "as a nurse, I am disgusted that massive funding has become immediately available to fight a war when for years we have seen the National Health Service starved of funding". Jo Tetlow, a student nurse at North Manchester General Hospital, was equally adamant: "I face being called up as a medical reservist. But I am not going... I do not want to go and fight in a war about oil".

One again there were double standards for the public and private sectors. Of 10 physiotherapist reservists who appealed against call-up, five in private hospitals had their appeals upheld, five in NHS did not.

Health workers called up were not always replaced, so conscription hit services as well as the individuals concerned. For instance, two staff nurses were conscripted from Birmingham Accident Hospital, but nobody could be employed to take their place because recruitment had been frozen since November 1990.


It would be misleading to give the impression of mass active opposition to the Gulf War amongst health workers. A significant minority were involved in some anti-war activity though, and this could have blossomed into an important movement had the war lasted longer.

Early effects of the conflict were felt at Great Ormond Street children's hospital in London, where wards were closed because fewer private patients were coming from the middle east (the hospital relies on private sector income to help finance free health care on the site). Health workers at G.O.S. staged demonstrations demanding that the government provide funds to prevent cuts.

Later there were small demos linking the war to cuts in the NHS at the London Hospital in Whitechapel, the North Manchester Hospital, and in Leicester. Anti-war groups were set up in at least six London hospitals, and in Manchester the war was discussed at mass meetings at hospitals in the district attended by over 700 people.

At the hospital I worked at in north London, a small group of activists simply booked a room and put out a leaflet announcing the setting up of an anti war group. About 30 people from various backgrounds and unions turned up (more than we expected), with staff from both Colindale Hospital (Barnet Health Authority) and the neighbouring Public Health Laboratory Service. From this meeting various activities were organised including leafleting the local tube station, issuing a statement to the press, and making a banner to take on anti-war demos.

Barnet Health Workers Against the Gulf War leaflet, 1991

We also participated in the inaugural meeting of Health Workers against the War, which was attended by 120 people in London on February 17th with speakers including COHSE [health union] London secretary Pete Marshall and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn (the Labour Party leadership on the other hand supported the war.). This group planned a demo against the war at the Department of Health, but the protest was cancelled with the news that the war was more or less over.

Health Workers Against the War leaflet - the planned demo at Dept of Health on 28th February was cancelled as the war was over.

Management response

NHS managers were unsurprisingly hostile to anti-war activity. Manchester Royal Infirmary managers banned an anti-war meeting, threatened to sack staff for talking to press, and told nurses they would be under Ministry of Defence control. In Barnet health authority, managers cancelled a booking for a meeting, and pulled down leaflets, as well as applying informal pressure (such as letting activists know they were being talked about amongst senior managers). There were also cases of people being threatened with disciplinary action for wearing anti-war badges.

Partly this was because in the new NHS culture, the power of managers had been increased. Everybody else was supposed to do as they were told, and certainly not to think, speak or act for themselves. There had been many cases of people being disciplined for exposing cutbacks or other problems in their hospitals. Nationally, NHS management seemed to be trying to create a climate of fear sufficient to intimidate even those groups, such as nurses, whose professional code of conduct obliged them to blow the whistle when patients interests were at risk.

The prospect of health workers speaking out in war time was a threat to more than just NHS managers. It threatened to undermine the censorship about the bloody reality of the conflict. The propaganda offensive reached new heights during the Gulf War. To people in the West it was presented as a high-tech video game in which the human casualties were invisible [in this sense, Baudrillard famously wrote that 'The Gulf War did not take place'].

Media manipulation extended to the health service, where plans were made to put information under military control. The Department of Health instructed managers to "liaise with Army District HQ about information being provided". Quite conscious attempts to mislead people were organised. In January confidential Department of Health guidelines for press officers were leaked. These included model answers to deal with media enquiries. One said: "NHS staff and hospitals have plenty of experience of dealing with the effects of toxic chemicals and with infection". This message for public consumption was contradicted in the secret guidelines which stated "The management of chemical warfare casualties will present new problems for doctors ...the compound likely to be used differs from those encountered in ordinary toxological practice".

Undoubtedly if military casualties had been treated in hospitals here they would have been kept largely hidden from view. Only sanitised images of smiling squaddies with their limbs intact would have been allowed on our TV screens. The weak link in this propaganda war would have been health workers who would not only have known the full extent of injuries but would also have heard what the war was really like from the injured troops.

Health workers against the war membership card

Welfare or warfare?

During the Gulf war, plans were made to re-open hospital wards for military casualties which had previously been closed due to cuts. The government offered to provide funds for this which had previously been denied (although significantly the government didn't provide these funds immediately- £9.5 million had been spent on NHS war preparations by late February 1991 which the government offered to refund at a later date).

A Health Workers against the war leaflet pointed out:

 "One Tornado costs £20 million, one Challenger costs £3 million. Meanwhile Mrs Kendrick form Christie Hospital has been refused essential drug treatment costing £3000. Managers said it was too expensive! Last year 312,000 NHS operations were cancelled. Now 7500 hospital beds have been emptied for war casualties... With the money they spend every hour on this war we could build three hospitals, or run 90 hospital wards or give Mrs Kendrick her drugs."

Similar links were made by the radical AIDS direct action group ACT UP during a "Day of Desperation" in New York on January 23. Protestors forced the CBS national evening news off the air when they invaded the set shouting "Fight AIDS, not Arabs". When 500 activists also shut down Grand Central Station for an hour during the evening rush hour, they floated a large banner reading "Money for AIDS not war" to the ceiling with helium-filled balloons.

As always, comparing health and military expenditure clearly demonstrated our rulers' priorities.

Extracts from documents:

Link up to fight the cuts - Great Ormond Street Health Workers Group, Leaflet, October 1990.

'We are all here to today to demonstrate against the cuts which management have said have to be implemented within this hospital. These cuts have catastrophically affected our N.H.S., and are basically the result of Government underfunding.

As health workers, we want to be able to offer our patients the greatest possible care. This notion is in complete conflict with that of management who care only for sticking within budget limits. As far as we are concerned, health is not a budgetable commodity. Management have argued that the cuts will not "unacceptably" affect patient care. I'm sure that most workers within this hospital feel that safety levels (the balconies), and patient care, often fall short of acceptable levels now, due to inadequate staffing levels, stress, etc. We should not forget either that by implementing these cuts we are inevitably going to threaten the lives and welfare of those children and their families who are unable to be admitted. We must stop these cuts.

The Gulf Crisis

At the meetings held last week Sir Anthony informed us that the Gulf Crisis has already affected this hospital's revenue due to loss of income in our private sector, as well as increasing inflation in oil prices which will result in price rises in pharmaceutical, heating and other fuel bills. This again is going to reduce the already short budget even further. Why are we in the Middle East?

 1) To try and keep the price of oil down.

 2) To distract our attention away from our deflated economy.

 3) To encourage us to put our nation's interest before our own.

This war must end. It threatens the lives of millions in the middle east and it is now endangering our health and our jobs'.

Press statement by Barnet Health Workers Against the Gulf War:

Barnet Health Workers Against the Gulf War statement, 1991
(OK sticker says 'Hospital Workers' not 'Health Workers', think we settled on the latter to be inclusive of people working in NHS but not in hospital)

'So far the war in the Gulf has been presented as a virtually bloodless affair, or even as a glorified firework display. One American journalist went so far as to describe the bombing of Baghdad as looking like "sparklers on the 4th of July". Given the amount of bombs and missiles that have been used in the first week of the war however, there must already have been many casualties. And as the war progresses many more ordinary people on both sides face being killed or maimed.

As workers in services concerned with preventing loss of life, we are opposed to the needless slaughter now being carried out in our name in the Gulf.

We are also concerned about the effects of the war on the health service, and on our working conditions. At least 7500 hospital beds have been put aside to treat military casualties. As the war wounded are brought home, other patients in need face being turned away. North West Thames Regional Health Authority is considering cancelling operations and discharging hospital patients. In some parts of the country health workers have been told that they will face compulsory overtime and the cancellation of leave.

We are not opposed to the treatment of British soldiers (or Iraqi prisoners of war) in our hospitals. However this should not be provided at the expense of the needs of other patients and health workers. At the very least, private hospitals should be taken over before NHS beds are used, and full funding should be provided to cover the extra costs of treating military casualties.

The best way of preventing the latest threat to our health service is to put a stop to its cause: to put a stop to the war. This would save many lives in the Gulf. Many more lives could be saved if the millions of pounds being spent on the war were to fund a decent health service for all'.

Health workers against the war petition

Friday, January 22, 2021

Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95

by Neil Transpontine

[first published in Datacide: magazine for noise and politics, number 13, 2013]

It is now twenty years since the British government first announced that it was bringing in new laws to prevent free parties and festivals. The legislation that ended up as the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 prompted a mass movement of defiance with long lasting and sometimes unexpected consequences.

Many people would see the origins of the story in the Castlemorton free festival in May 1992. Thousands of people had headed into the English West Country in search of the planned Avon Free Festival. After a massive police initiative – Operation Nomad – they ended up at Castlemorton Common in the Malvern hills. The festival that kicked off there featured sound systems including Bedlam, Circus Warp, Spiral Tribe and DiY. It soon became too big for the police to stop as up to 40,000 people from all over the country gathered for a week long party – many of them attracted by sensationalist TV and newspaper coverage.

It was the biggest unlicensed gathering of this kind since the state had smashed the Stonehenge festival in the mid-1980s. What made Castlemorton different was not just the soundtrack but the crowd. The free festivals of the 1970s and early 1980s grew out of a post-hippy ‘freak’ counter culture, later reinvigorated with an infusion of anarcho-punks and ‘new age travelers’. The growing free party scene in the early 1990s included plenty of veterans from such scenes, but also attracted a much wider spectrum of ravers, clubbers and casuals. The traditional divide between marginal sub-cultures and mainstream youth scenes was breaking down as people from all kinds of social, cultural and style backgrounds converged to dance together in warehouses and fields. What’s more, the movement seemed to be expanding rapidly beyond anybody’s control.

Castlemorton, 1992

Soon there were calls for new police powers. In a parliamentary debate in June 1992, the local Conservative MP, Michael Spicer, spoke of the festival as if it had been a military operation, describing it as ‘the invasion that took place at Castlemorton common in my constituency, on Friday 22 May… On that day, new age travellers, ravers and drugs racketeers arrived at a strength of two motorised army divisions, complete with several massed bands and, above all, a highly sophisticated command and signals system’. He went on, ‘The problem of mass gatherings must be dealt with before they take place… chief constables should be given discretionary powers to ban such gatherings altogether if they decide that they are a threat to public order’.

In fact, there were already laws that the police could have used at Castlemorton, the problem was they were more or less unenforceable because of the sheer numbers involved. Another Conservative MP told parliament, ‘There is only so much that one can do once a crowd of 20,000 has assembled. It would have been of no benefit to local residents that May weekend if insensitive action had provoked a full-scale riot’ (Charles Wardle MP, 29 June 1992). As the Government put its mind to new legislation a key focus was on how to stop such numbers assembling in the first place.

In the meantime, it was by using existing laws that the state sought to make an example of people suspected of being involved in organising Castlemorton. At the end of the festival the police ambushed vehicles leaving the site. 13 people – most of them associated with Spiral Tribe – were arrested and charged with ‘conspiracy to cause a public nuisance’, carrying a likely jail sentence if convicted. Legal proceedings dragged on for nearly two years, until in March 1994, the jury acquitted all defendants of conspiracy after a ten week trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court. By that time Government actions seemed to show that it was the whole free party and festival movement that was in the frame.

The Government signaled its intention to bring in new powers against ‘raves’ in March 1993, and in November of that year confirmed that this would be included in a new Criminal Justice Bill with what a Government minister described as new ‘pre-emptive powers to prevent a build up of large numbers of people on land where the police reasonably believe that a rave will take place’ (Hansard, 23 November 1993)

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill was brought before Parliament in January 1994 and included increased police powers to stop and search people, and to take intimate body samples; provisions against squatters and travellers; and the criminalisation of many forms of protest with a new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’. And then there were the infamous ‘powers in relation to raves’. These included giving police the power to order people to leave land where they were setting up, awaiting or attending a ‘rave’, and to direct anybody within five miles of a rave away from the area. The police were also authorised to seize vehicles and sound systems before or during a rave.

Of course all this involved some tricky legal definitions – what made a ‘rave’ different from any other gathering of people where music was being played, such as an opera festival? Hence the notorious definition of a rave as ‘a gathering on land in the open air’ with music that ‘includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’. Ironically by this point hardly anybody involved was still calling these events ‘raves’ – a word that already sounded dated was soon to become enshrined in law.

The movement against the Bill grew quickly out of the overlapping squatting, road protest and free party scenes. In October 1993, Advance Party was launched after a meeting in a squatted launderette in north London. As they declared soon after: ‘‘Unite to Dance! For the right of free assembly. Our music, our festivals, our parties, our lives… Enuff’s Enuff!. Defend the vibe against road blocks, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of rights, laws unfairly used, Criminal Trespass act, Anti-squatting laws, Caravan sites act, Public order act and general harassment and mass criminalisation… Join the Advance Party Collective” (Advance Party Information, Issue 1, February 1994).

If Advance Party was specifically linked to the free party scene, the Freedom Network sought to be a slightly broader network of ‘squatters, travellers, free party organisers, hunt sabs, road protestors etc’. By 1995, they said that they were made up on ‘80+ independent local groups who are trying to wake up their communities to the dangers of the Act’.

Around the UK, groups opposed to the Criminal Justice Bill came together. The scope of the movement is shown in ‘The Book’ a ‘directory of 200 active collectives in the UK’ published by Brighton activists in 1995. More than 60 groups were listed as having an ‘Anti-CJA’ focus (by this point ‘the Bill’ had become ‘the Act’ as it had passed into law). As well as the national contacts such as Advance Party and Freedom Network, numerous local collectives were included: Freedom Network local groups in Cheshire, Leeds, Lincoln, Manchester, Oxford and elsewhere; Campaign or Coalitions ‘Against the Criminal Justice Act’ in Dorset, Exeter, Hull, Isle of Wight, Leicester, Norfolk etc. North of the border the Scottish Defiance Alliance was made up of ‘over 30 different organisations from Glasgow’.

Freedom Network benefit gig at Cool Tan in Brixton, the squatted former dole office

In these early days of the internet, there was some information available online through Green Net and pHreak (an ‘underground culture’ online network). But these were very limited and few people had internet access. Written communication was still mainly by the old methods of print, paper and post. Important sources of information included Squall: Magazine for Assorted Itinerants and the various local Free Information Network newsletters. There were various zines including Pod (‘the magazine for DIY culture’), Frontline and later Schnews, developed in Brighton as a weekly printed round up of resistance to the Act once it had become law. There was also coverage in Alien Underground, predecessor zine to Datacide.

Another medium of information was ‘video magazines’ featuring footage of protests and related news, such as Undercurrents (based in Oxford), Conscious Cinema (Brighton) and Hackney based HHH, who put out a ‘Criminal Injustice Bill’ special in 1994.

But it was primarily through the network of underground parties, clubs and gigs that news of the CJA spread through stalls, leaflets and word of mouth. In 1994, it seemed that virtually every party flyer had an anti-CJA slogan on it, and there were numerous benefit events.

Squatted spaces were important as bases of opposition, some short-lived and some lasting for months or longer. CJB activists initiated the six week occupation of Artillery Mansions, a 3,000 room empty building in Westminster first squatted in February 1994 (nicknamed ‘New Squatland Yard’ because of its proximity to the Metropolitan Police HQ at New Scotland Yard). Cool Tan, a squatted ex-unemployed office in Brixton, hosted many anti-CJA benefit parties, as well as housing the office for the Freedom Network. In North London, there was the Rainbow Centre in a squatted church in Kentish Camden Town, and in Brighton, the Justice? Collective squatted a Courthouse. In Oxford, riot police evicted an occupied empty cinema within 24 hours of it being squatted by anti-CJA activists in August 1994; 200 people later demonstrated in the city centre against police actions (Squall, Autumn 1994). There were also CJB ‘protest squats’ in Swansea (a church hall), Rugby and elsewhere.

Also significant were the big free festivals still taking place in London parks, linked to the squatting scene but having permission from Councils to party for a weekend: not pseudo-free festivals behind big fences with lots of private security, but proper sprawling mildy-chaotic events with sound systems, dance tents and lots of bands. Two of the biggest were the Deptford Urban Free Festival and the Hackney Homeless Festival. Up to 30,000 people attended the latter in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington in May 1994 with acts including anti-CJA bands such as The Levellers, Co-Creators, Fun-Da-Mental and Back to the Planet. 30 people were arrested later after riot police piled in after the festival outside the Robinson Crusoe pub.

There were several anti-CJA music compilations, notably ‘Taking Liberties’. With a cover design by Jamie Reid, it featured acts including Transglobal Underground, Orbital, Test Dept, The Orb, The Shamen, The Prodigy, Galliano and DreadZone. A house tracks compilation ‘No Repetitive Beats’ was also put out. Autechre released their Anti-EP on Warp Records with a message declaring that two of the tracks ‘contain repetitive beats. We advise you not to play these tracks if the Criminal Justice Bill becomes law. “Flutter” has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played under the proposed new law. However, we advise DJs to have a lawyer and a musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment’

While all this was going on the police were certainly not waiting around for new powers. There was to be no repeat of Castlemorton – the following year (1993), a massive police operation was mounted to stop an attempt to hold an Avon Free Festival, culminating in a police road block that closed the M5 motorway – ’12 people were arrested for Blocking the Highway – exactly what the law had been doing earlier on’ (Festival Eye, 1993). In the South of England, police established Operation Snapshot to gather intelligence on parties, festivals and travellers, with the Southern Central Intelligence Unit maintaining a database with personal details and vehicle registration numbers of thousands of people. The Luton-based Exodus Collective also faced an ongoing campaign of official harassment. In February 1994, a police seizure of equipment and arrest of collective members prior to a planned party led to 4,000 people surrounding the local police station.

If all this fuelled a culture of opposition to the Criminal Justice Act, its public presence was marked by a series of three large demonstrations in London in 1994. The first major event was called by Advance Party on May Day 1994. Around 20,000 people took part: ‘all those involved in the alternative culture, ravers, protestors, squatters, travellers and all sorts, came together… it was a jubilant display of people power’. It started off in Hyde Park and ended in Trafalgar Square: ‘Eventually the armoured vehicle rave machine kicked in and the whole square erupted into dance and party’ (Frontline, No.1, Summer 1995). After the demo, sound systems including Sunnyside, Vox Populi and Desert Storm (whose armoured vehicle had been in the Square) put on a party in woodland on Wanstead Common in East London.

The second demonstration took the same route on Sunday 24 July with estimates of the numbers attending ranging from 20,000 (police) to 50,000 (organisers). Politically there were a number of tensions – the established Left, the Socialist Workers Party in particular, had woken up to the emerging movement. Their organisational skills may have helped increase the turnout, but some complained that something that was fresh and creative was being funnelled back into the traditional routine of A to B marches with speeches at the end. 

Still, it certainly didn’t feel like a traditional demo at the end. Trafalgar Square once again became a big party, with people playing in the fountains on a sunny day, lots of drumming and some music from the then ubiquitous Rinky Dink cycle powered sound system. There were clashes with police in Whitehall, after some people tried to scale the gates guarding the entrance to Downing Street. Police on horseback charged the crowd there, and 14 people were arrested.

The largest march against the Criminal Justice Bill took place on October 9th 1994 shortly before it became law. Perhaps 100,000 people took part, this time ending up in Hyde Park. Trouble started after police tried to block two lorries with sound systems entering the park:

‘A big crowd was gathered around dancing in the streets and refusing to be intimidated. There were people on top of a bus stop and at one point a couple of people even climbed on top of a police van and started dancing. The police put on riot gear, a few missiles were thrown, and somebody let off some gas, but after a standoff it was the cops that backed down and let the trucks carry on. The lorries headed off into the park with the crowd partying on and around them. People pulled police barriers across the road behind the crowd to prevent the police horses who were following from charging into us’ (The Battle for Hyde Park: radicals, ruffians and ravers, 1855-1994).

'The Battle for Hyde Park: ruffians, radicals and ravers, 1855-1994'
(written by me as part of previous Practical History project)

Police horses charged the crowd but were driven back out of the park. For several hours the park was a largely police-free autonomous party zone, while at the edges police launched baton charges and were repelled with bottles and sticks. Many people were injured on the day, and 48 arrested. Later the police launched “Operation Greystoke” to identify and arrest more of those involved, and the courts ordered the press to hand over film and photos to the police.

Right wing newspaper the Daily Mail carried the headline: ‘Revolt of the Ravers’ going on to report that the ‘flashpoint came when thugs opposed to legislation against raves tried to turn the park into a giant party’ and warning readers of ‘The ravers who call the tune- behind a front of legitimate protest, the underground party organisers who have spread misery throughout the country – music that became a rallying cry for violence’ (Daily Mail, 10 and 11 October 1994).

Within the movement there was a polarised debate about violence that became characterised as ‘Fluffy’ vs. ‘Spiky’ or ‘Chill the Bill’ vs ‘Kill the Bill’. Leaflets from the fluffier faction repeatedly urged people to ‘keep it sweet, keep it right, remember this is a peaceful fight’. One activist later reflected: ‘We wasted a lot of time feeling forced to pick between two equally-badly-defined boxes… Either you were a ‘fluffy’ and all that implied: you’d gladly lie down and let the police ride their horses over you… Or you were ‘spiky’: hard as nails and twice as loud…threw things from the back of the crowd and managed to injure or just offend most of your fellow demonstrators’ (Schnews at Ten, 2004). If there were certainly some very na├»ve ideas about how good vibes could sway the powers that be, it was also true that many more traditional ‘revolutionaries’ were out of their comfort zone in the unpredictable arena of techno-charged collective sociability and found it hard to conceive of escalation beyond the usual horizon of set piece confrontations with the cops.

The Act finally became law in November 1994 – the next day, five people climbed on to the roof of Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament and unfurled a ‘Defy the CJA’ banner. Later in the month several hundred people protested in Home Secretary Michael Howard’s front garden in Folkestone, Kent (Schnews, 23 November 1994).

At the end of that month, the police evicted the squatted Claremont Road in East London, preparing the way for the houses to be demolished as part of the M11 motorway development. A TV programme covering the police’s ‘Operation Garden Party’ included the classic line: ‘Claremont Road was notorious among locals for its psychedelia, squatters and new age travellers. But everyone living in this time-warped street of the 60s knew the rave had to end sometime’.

Hunt saboteurs and road protestors were soon being arrested for the new offence of ‘aggravated trespass’, but it was not until April 1995 that all the anti-rave powers came into full effect. Soon the powers were being used. In May, the first seizure of equipment took place when police broke up a party on a traveller site in Rendlesham Forest, Suffolk. Road blocks were set up to turn people away, and vehicles and equipment were seized from Cheba City Sounds, Virus and Giba sound systems (Schnews, 12 May 1995).

By this point there were different views about how to proceed. With the political process seemingly exhausted, many of the sound systems took the view that it was time to get back to basics. Pulling together under the umbrella of United Systems ‘the International Free Party Network’, they argued: ‘Free parties, and gatherings, along with the right to attend a free celebration, will not be saved by political campaigns, by TV chatshows, by magazine articles, by speech makers or celebrity appearances. Nor by flyers, newsletters, posters or stickers. Only free parties can save free parties!!! Only by the continued ‘input’ into our culture may our culture survive’.

In Spring ‘95, they reported ‘Every single weekend, without fail, since the enstatement of the act a huge party has gone on, without interruption from the law. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes seven soundsystems. A brand new wave of enthusiasm has swept the country as ‘every posse and crew out there’ has said ‘fuck it’’.

In this climate, an effort was made to organise a festival on a similar scale to Castlemorton as an act of mass defiance. The 7/7 ‘Mother’ of all festivals was widely publicised in advance and the police were determined to prevent it, co-ordinating action across the country with helicopters and road blocks. On the weekend of July 7th 1995, they carried out dawn raids on the houses of people believed to be involved in organising the party, including Debbie from United Systems and Michele from Advance Party, and charged eight people with ‘conspiracy to cause a public nuisance’ (charges later dropped). They used Section 60 of the new CJA to set up five mile exclusion zones around potential festival sites at Corby (Northants), Sleaford (Lincs.), and Smeatharpe (Devon). They also seized and later destroyed the sound system belonging to Black Moon, a free party collective based at Buxton, Derbyshire. Three people were prosecuted under Section 63 of the CJA for failing to dismantle the rig quick enough, the first arrests under this part of the Act.

Thousands of people took to the roads in search of the festival, and despite the efforts of the police several smaller parties did happen, including at Grafham (where over 1,000 people partied) and at Steart Beach near Hinckley Point in Dorset where 150 vehicles managed to gather. But there were to be no more big, unlicensed free festivals and there haven’t been since.

Twenty years later the police are still making use of their ‘anti-rave’ powers, but nevertheless free parties are still happening all over the country. For a start, the Act only ever covered parties in the open air, not those in buildings. Open air parties in remote areas still go ahead because they are unreported, or because the police cannot mobilise the resources to close them down. Clearing even a few hundred people from a beach or field in the middle of the night is still not easy.

The Act had some unintended consequences, perhaps chiefly in uniting large parts of a generation against the Government. In September 1994, Brighton’s Justice? wrote an open letter to Home Secretary Michael Howard: ‘We are writing to thank you for the positive effect the Criminal Justice Act has had on our community. Your attempt to criminalise our culture has unified it like never before… Your inspiration has made us work closer together. Networking is happening across the nation – Road Protestors and Ravers, Gay Rights Activists and Hunt Saboteurs, Travellers and Squatters and many more’.

One result of this unity was the development of new tactics. After the ‘Battle of Hyde Park’, the Metropolitan Police paper The Job warned ’The business of allowing large, mobile sound systems in political demonstrations is a serious new problem that we will have to deal with’ (October 14, 1994). The practice of combining sound systems with protest was soon to be taken to the next level by Reclaim the Streets.

Their first big party took place in Camden High Street in May 1995, where 1,000 blocked the road and partied. But it was the ‘Rave Against the Machine’ on 23 July 1995 that really upped the ante with a sound system in an armoured car and thousands of people dancing on an occupied Upper Street in Islington. The anti-capitalist/alter-globalisation movement that developed over the rest of the decade had its roots in the anti-CJA campaign, culminating in the huge ‘Carnival Against Capital’ in June 1999 where the pounding of sound systems accompanied riotous scenes in the financial heart of the City of London.

Another effect of the repression of festivals and free parties in the UK was their spread on continental Europe, the virus transported by sound systems leaving Britain – some for long periods, some just for a break in sunnier and less hassled environments. Spiral Tribe had first headed to France in the aftermath of Castlemorton and in the summer of ’94 they were joined by others who collectively detonated the ‘Teknival’ explosion. In Milau in the South East of France, Spiral Tribe, Bedlam, Circus Irritant and Desert Storm were among the UK systems joined by local crews such as Nomad and Psychiatrik. In August, the largest Teknival so far took place in the hills of the Massif Central, brought there by 200 vehicles. The first Czech teknival took place that summer too, and at the end of the year there was a New Year’s Eve event in Vienna (Frontline, Summer 1995). Soon enough the authorities in some of these countries were framing their own new laws, but once again the genie was out of the bottle and could never completely be put back in.

There was some paranoia in the mid-1990s that the Criminal Justice Act was just the start of a more generalised offensive against dance music that would soon close down clubs as well as free parties. But this was not to be. Instead the CJA had the effect of strengthening the commercial clubbing sector as people were driven indoors to places licensed by the state for dancing – even if some of them were run hand in glove with gangsters! Mainstream dance music publication Mixmag (Jan. ’97) was to look back on 1996 as the year ‘Everything Went Nuclear’, as corporate superclubs expanded their brand, superstar DJ fees went through the roof, and huge commercial festivals like Tribal Gathering took off.

Recently UK business magazine the Economist reported ‘raving is back, but in a calmer, more mainstream form… From the Teddy Boys to the Sex Pistols, British popular music history is full of examples of edgy outsiders who horrified the establishment, then, not much later, dominated it. Rave, it seems, has taken its place in that pantheon’ (The new ravers: repetitive beats, 17 August 2013). Whether the emancipatory potential of beats and bass has really been exhausted remains to be seen, but the Criminal Justice Act of the mid-1990s was certainly a key turning point for everyone involved.

Back copies of Datacide, including this one, can be ordered here

Neil Transpontine (2013) 'Revolt of the Ravers – The Movement against the Criminal Justice Act in Britain 1993-95' in Datacide: magazine for noise and politics, 13.

This article was published (without pictures) in Datacide magazine, number 13, 2013. A version of it has been up on their website for some time but facebook is not currently allowing links from that site to be posted. For that reason I have decided to repost it at this site. 

I gave a talk based on this article for the Datacide 13 launch event held at Vinyl in Deptford in October 2013. The article also served as the starting point for an event on the anti-CJA movement held at the May Day Rooms in October 2014.

See also on the CJA:

Marching against the CJA, July 1994

Eternity report of July 1994 anti-CJA demo

Friday, December 04, 2020

Everybody is a Star! - Disconaut Association of Autonomous Astronauts (numbers one and two)

Once upon a time I was Neil Disconaut, with my partner Juleigh Disconaut we constituted the Disconaut node of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1995-2000). The premise of the AAA was a global network committed to the state and corporate monopoly of space through the development of community-based space exploration programmes. Activities included music (raves in space), three sided football, talks, writing, protests and some actual engagement with space researchers. There were groups in England, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Holland, Austria, Canada, USA, New Zealand among other places, each with their own particular interests. Within this network, Disconaut AAA focused on dance music as a vehicle for space exploration. 

Everybody is a Star! was the newsletter of Disconaut AAA, of which four photocopied issues were produced between 1996 and 1999. Here's issues One and Two.

Everybody is a Star! Number One, Winter 1996/97

Disconauts are go! 

Forget Apollo, NASA and the Space Shuttle... the most exciting explorations of space in the last 30 years have been carried out through music.

Emerging on the radical fringes of jazz in the 1950s, Sun Ra (1914-1993) and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra  (as his band was later known) set the space vibe in motion with interstellar explorations like “Space Jazz Reverie”, “Love in Outer Space”,  “Disco 3000" and the film “Space is the place” .

Described by one critic as a “comic strip version of Sun Ra”, George Clinton developed his own funky cosmic Afronaut mythology in the 1970s through his work with Funkadelic and Parliament. For instance the album “Mothership Connection” (1975) is based around the concept of aliens visiting earth to take the funk back to their own planet.

Sun Ra and Clinton’s work can be read as a sort of sci-fi take on Marcus Garvey. While Garvey dreamt of Black Star Liners shipping black people from slavery across the ocean to an African utopia, they leave the planet behind altogether.

Space continued to be a preoccupation during the 1970s disco boom. Derided by rock critics for its lack of serious content, disco had a distinct utopian element. In disco, the intensity of pleasure on the dancefloor was reimagined as an ideal for living rather than just a Saturday night release.  The implicit fantasy was of a “Boogie Wonderland” where music, dancing and sex were organising principles, rather than work and the economy. “Lost in music, feel so alive, I quit my nine to five” as Sister Sledge put it.

In the unpromising social climate of the 1970s, this wonderland was sometimes projected into space. Earth, Wind and Fire (who recorded Boogie Wonderland) combined elements of Egyptology and sci-fi with albums like “Head for the Sky” (1973) and All n All (1977) with its cover pic of a rocket taking off from a pyramid. In the late 1970s there was a rash of space themed disco hits like  Sheila B. Devotion’s “Spacer” and Slick’s “(Everybody goes to the) Space base” (1979), the latter imagining the space base as disco and social centre rather than military-industrial installation.

Some of these space records can be viewed as simple cash-ins on the popularity of Star Wars and similar films of this period, but was there something deeper going on? While the sale of disco records reaped big profits for the record companies, the logic of the dancefloor was potentially at odds with the society of domination. On the floor, pleasure was elevated above the puritan work ethic and hierarchies of class, race, gender and sexuality were (sometimes) dissolved.

Discos (like today’s dance spaces) could have been the launchpad for explorations of different worlds on earth and beyond, powered by the Dance Disco Heat energy generated on the floor.  In this light the disco icon par excellence, the glittering mirror ball, has to be re-evaluated. Detailed archaeological investigations of the alignment of these spheres of light suspended high above the dancefloor will doubtless reveal that they were installed to equip dancers with a rudimentary astronomical knowledge to help them find their way around the universe.


They never reached the moon!

The Apollo ‘moon landings’ between 1969 and 1972 are presented by NASA as the highest point of the space programme, and as a model for all future adventures. In reality nothing better demonstrates why it is unfit to explore anything more exciting than the inside of the Science Museum.

A favourite question for conspiracy theorists worldwide is whether the moon landings actually happened or whether the whole thing was faked in a TV studio like in the film Capricorn One. If we give NASA the benefit of the doubt and allow that it may have sent a rocket somewhere it is clear that they never reached the moon, or at least not the moon as it has been known through the ages.

This was not the moon of heretics, pagans, lovers or night-time revellers. The moon of tides, madness, goddesses, rituals of drink, drugs and dancing. Neil Armstrong and his mates did not have the imagination for the kind of space travel needed to reach this moon. All they were able to reach was a lump of rock somewhere - possibly in orbit, possibly in New Mexico somewhere.

How did they mark the momentous occasion of the first landing on July 21 1969? The first thing they did was plant an American flag like it was just another piece of imperial real estate. By 1969 there were very few places left in the world where it was safe to do so. Losing the war in Vietnam and with flags burning everywhere else, perhaps the whole space programme was an attempt to find a place where the Stars and Stripes could fly unmolested.

The Apollo 14 ‘moonlanding’ in 1971 witnessed another amazing leap of fantasy and imagination when Alan Shepard became the world’s first lunar golfer. Billions of pounds and years of effort culminated in the staging of the first lunar open. All over the world, people are being uprooted and ecosystems bulldozed to build golf courses, sanitised homogenous outdoor playgrounds for the rich. Judging by the Apollo programme a similar fate awaits the whole universe if NASA have their way.

The Apollo programme shows that no matter how many miles NASAnauts may travel they will never get anywhere because in their heads they will still be in the suburbs of white middle class america, travelling across the universe opening golf courses and fly-through Macdonalds.


My day in Space

“I wanted to dance as I had never yet danced: I wanted to dance beyond all heavens” (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra)

In the summer of 1995 I had the pleasure of spending a day in Space. Thousands of people from all over the world have journeyed to Space in recent years. This legendary dance club in Ibiza provides an excellent illustration of the possibilities and limitations of dance cultures as a means of leaving this world behind.

Clubs in Britain tend to be confined indoors at night. Space turns this on its head, opening in the day and with an outside dancefloor. We turned up at about 11 am after a very pleasant breakfast of coffee, croissants and speed. Some people had come straight from a hard night’s dancing elsewhere, many of them crashed out on cushions in the corner or on wicker chairs on the outside terrace. Much of Ibiza is Brit-dominated, but here there was a better mix of nationalities and sexualities than on the Starship Enterprise.

The ceiling inside the dark interior of the club is decorated with stars - a map of our destination? Further evidence of the club’s potential is found on the edge of the outside dancefloor, where there are several giant propellers. People danced in front of them to keep cool, but there is little doubt that as well functioning as air conditioning fans these machines could be used as starting motors to help propel Space into space.

The music was wall to wall anthems, like Todd Terry’s Weekend and, the Hardfloor remix of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke. The atmosphere never reached fever pitch, but there was an intimation of that feeling - the disordering of the senses, waves of noise and light flowing over and through the body... That feeling in the centre of the floor, where the outside world has already been left behind and it is easy to believe that the whole place could take off and never come back.

In view of this potential it is not surprizing that the state takes various measures to contain dancing and prevent us reaching the stars.

In many countries only approved businessmen get permission to run clubs. The high prices they charge - some clubs in Ibiza charge £30 a ticket, with small bottles of water costing £3 a bottle in Space - effectively rations dancing, limiting the amount of time people spend dancing, and the amount of people dancing at any one time. The hours people can dance are confined, by rules which state that clubs have to shut at particular times. Within the clubs enemy agents patrol to sabotage preparations for flight - in Space the security wore police style uniforms and patrolled with truncheons.

Above all great efforts have been expended to prevent people dancing under the stars themselves, the ideal conditions for spaceflight. In the UK It is virtually impossible to get official permission to dance outside at night, and non-commercial parties have been targeted by legislation such as the Criminal Justice Act.

Ibiza is different to Britain in that people can and do dance all day and all night (if they can afford it) , and the normal relations of night, day, work and play are suspended. But this is confined as a temporary holiday experience, which most people only experience for a week or two.

All this prevents the energy generated on the dancefloor from reaching the critical mass necessary for space flight, as well as preventing a terminal drain of the energy needed to sustain the global system of profit, production and domination.

It was for this reason that on this occasion Space failed to take off and on leaving the club we found ourselves wandering down a beautiful beach in the sun rather than walking on the moon. Still it definitely beat the Holloway Road at 4 am...

Disconaut AAA

AAA was launched in April 1995 as a non-hierarchical network of local, community-based space exploration programmes. Here Comes Everybody!, the first annual report of the AAA, details some of the activities of the many AAA groups worldwide (available for £2.50 from Inner City AAA, BM Jed, London WC1N 3XX).

Disconaut AAA (c/o Practical History, 121 Railton Road, London SE24) will be focusing on developing the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.  Everybody is a star! is named after a 1979 track by Sylvester (1946-1988), also responsible for such otherworld explorations as "Dance Disco Heat", "Do you wanna funk" and "You make me feel mighty real".

[original printed on white paper, 4 pages A5. Just to be clear, we never subscribed to the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked - the article 'They never reached the moon' was a play on Leonard Cohen's 'they'll never ever reach the moon, At least not the one that we're after'. The physical moon was reached but not the one of imagination]

Everybody is a Star! Number Two, Summer 1997

Take a dancing flight

Exactly 30 years after NASA launched the Apollo space programme, Disconaut AAA  has unveiled its own Dionysus Programme.

When Apollo One caught fire on the launch pad in 1967 it marked the start of  the US government's biggest ever space effort. But why Apollo? If pagan deities was the name of the game there were plenty of others to choose from. To answer this we have to turn to Fred Nietzsche, 19th century German philosopher and dance enthusiast.

In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche identified two antagonistic cultural tendencies with the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo was associated with restraint, control, order and rationality. The rituals of Dionysus on the other hand involved music, passion, wine, intoxication, and the dissolving of boundaries.

As part of the military industrial complex, seeking to extend the control of the imperial order through the conquest of space, NASA’s programme could only be the Apollonian. The Dionysus Programme has been launched in direct opposition to Apollo and its successors, to put into practice Disconaut AAA's mission to explore the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.

The starting point for the Dionysus Programme is Nietzsche’s description of “the glowing life of the Dionysian revellers”: "In song and in dance man [sic] expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak; he is about to take a dancing flight into the air... He feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy... He is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art". Phew, all this without MDMA.

Disconaut AAA are attempting to apply this insight into the links between dance, ecstasy and flight as we leave the twentieth century. For some years experiments have been carried out in a global network of underground laboratories of pleasure. We can now report some of our preliminary findings:

The Dionysus Programme has accumulated extensive evidence of near-flight experiences on the dancefloor. Participants typically report sensations of 'rushing', of accelerating velocity, of the body tracing a line of flight and of leaving behind 'the real world' and establishing a direct connection with the wider universe. There are clear parallels here with the effects on the body and the euphoric feelings of escaping gravity associated with 'lift off' by more traditional means.

In the Dionysus Programme we have tried to break the tyranny of liquid-fuel rocket propulsion and to identify alternative fuel sources and means of transport. In the process we have experimented with a range of easily ingested chemicals, some of them derived from plants, others artificially manufactured. These substances have contributed some invaluable insights and certainly have a role, particularly in maintaining the stamina needed for long flights.  However we have to report that several of our experimental human probes which were successfully blasted beyond the atmosphere with chemical propulsion quickly crashed down to earth and vanished without trace, while others are now drifting aimlessly in space circumscribing ever decreasing circles around their own navels.

The Dionysus Programme has conducted a whole range of tests with extremely high tempo electronic sounds. Our hypothesis was that a continual acceleration in beats per minute would enable us to reach earth's escape velocity and take off. Unfortunately after prolonged uninterrupted exposure to these tests the ship began to break up and several participants showed signs of exhaustion and in some cases nausea.  Future experiments will attempt to reduce the risk of side effects by introducing greater variety and rhythmic complexity.

Ill-fitting space suits have been an ongoing problem in the Dionysus Programme. A major difficulty has been the rigid masculine character armour which even some potential astronauts seem unable to discard. Dance cultures provide a space where it is possible to escape the confines of a fixed identity and explore a range of subjectivities and possibilities. Sadly a lot of men in particular seem afraid to appear as anything other than cool, serious and controlled. Clearly this is incompatible with the flexibility required in space. Disconaut AAA are developing fun fur and sequin space suits to help overcome this.

The present efforts of the Dionysus Programme are geared towards the Dreamtime project, through which AAA groups around the world are imagining what life will be like in autonomous communities in space. Dance settings provide a unique opportunity for collective dreaming, not the passive dreams of sleep but the visions of the lived body in perfect motion.

Here we are not only able to think about life in space, but to feel what it will be like to live in an autonomous community. Nietzsche described this sensation: “Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man [and woman]  reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.... Now the slave is free; now all the stubborn, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice or ‘shameless fashion’ have erected between man and man, are broken down… Each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, blended with his neighbour, but all as one with him".

By creating autonomous zones in our own parties on earth we can create conditions that prefigure autonomous communities in space. To do this we have to neutralize the negative effects of various black holes which suck energy out of dance cultures, such as commercial promoters and the police. This will be the focus of the next stage of the Dionysus Programme.

Spice in space

“When you go and see a careers officer,” ponders Mel C, “and you sit down and say, “I want to be a spaceman”, instead of responding ‘Go study astrophysics’, they go. ‘Yeah, but what do you really want to do?’ That is so wrong” (Spice Girls, Guardian, May 1997)

Stay up forever

In 'Voyage to the Moon' (1649), Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac described an attempt to reach the Moon by tying bottles of dew to the body. The idea was that when the Sun came out, the dew would rise, taking the body with it. On the face of it, this looks unlikely but the nocturnal nature of the Dionysus Programme should make it comparatively easy to test. We will need:

- a large green open space for dew maximisation;

- proximity to a site of astro-magical significance at a summer solstice (when the sun's energy is at its height);

- several thousand people prepared to stay up all night and still have the energy to fly at dawn;

- at least one sound system.

 After a night of dancing, participants will roll in the long grass, covering their bodies in a fine suit of dew. They will then join hands and dance in a circle as the sun rises, waiting to take off.

Stonehenge on June 21st has been chosen as the ideal location. Unfortunately there are indications that the state will attempt to sabotage the Dionysus Programme by seeking to prevent this experiment, so all potential astronauts are warned to be ready to defend themselves.

Disconaut AAA

The Association of Autonomous Astronauts is a non-hierarchical network of local, community-based space exploration programmes. Dreamtime is upon us, the second annual report of the AAA is available for £3.00 from Inner City AAA, BM Jed, London WC1N 3XX.

Everybody is a star! is the newsletter of Disconaut AAA (c/o Practical History, 121 Railton Rd, London SE24). Issue one is still available with articles on Disco, Ibiza and the Moon. If you want a copy send an SAE. 

In issue No.1 we outlined the links between dance music, radical utopianism and space exploration. We have since become aware of other publications interested in these connections.

· Ego magazine (80a St Augustines Road, London NW1 9RP) includes an article Space is the Place which considers funky futurism in the work of Herbie Hancock, Juan Atkins, the Jedi Knights and many others.

· Rickey Vincent’s excellent history Funk: the music, the people and the rhythm of the one (New York, 1996) devotes a whole section to George Clinton and “The metaphysics of P: the Mothership Connection”

[original printed on green paper, 4 pages A5]

'Disconauts are go!' was later reprinted in 'Dreamtime is Upon Us! The Second Annual Report of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts' (1997).

Previous AAA posts:

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

Summer Solstice 1999: AAA on Parliament Hill

Military out of space - AAA at J18 Carnival Against Capital 1999

AAA at Brixton Reclaim the Streets 1998

Skinheads as Independent Travellers in Space

We were brought up on the space race, now they expect us to clean toilets

Other AAA archive material:

AAA Archive (ex-Parasol AAA)

Uncarved AAA archive 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Reclaim the Streets: Bristol and Oxford 1997

A couple of reports from Mixmag magazine of Reclaim the Streets parties  in 1997-

'Police Seize Desert Storm Truck After Reclaim the Streets Party' (Mixmag. August 1997)

'A truck and equipment belonging to the Desert Storm sound system was seized and two of its occupants charged with conspiracy to cause a public nuisance after a Reclaim the Streets party in Bristol on June 21st. An exuberant-yet-peaceful march from Castle Park was followed by a four hour rave on a major dual carriageway with two sound system playing techno and jungle to between 400 (police estimate) and 1500 (RTS estimate) people... 

...trouble flared when mounted officers and dog handlers dispersed the remaining crowd. In the ensuing scuffles, 22 people were arrested for public order offences, criminal damage and assault... The Desert Storm truck was seized the following day, and the sound system is currently planning a series of benefit parties to replace its loss'.

'Reclaim the Streets party strikes in Oxford' (Mixmag, January 1998)

'Police have failed to stop an Oxford Reclaim the Streets party despite ugly clashes... protestors outflanked police and occupied the busy Cowley Road area on November 1st [1997]. A series of clashes arose as police attempted to seize a van containing the KSN sound system, but eventually police had to admit defeat and let the party continue. A five mile exclusion zone had been declared under 1994's Criminal Justice Act. Inspector David Whittaker said that his original intention had been to "prevent an obstruction of the road" but they had "obviously failed". According to RTS estimates, more than 1,000 people danced at the peak of the party. Three men were arrested for possession of cannabis... In Sydney, Australia, police adopted a more laidback approach as Enmore Road was blocked - and between 2,000 and 3,000 enjoyed a trouble-free day' 

See also:

Brixton Reclaim the Streets, June 1998

J18 Carnival Against Capital, Reclaim the Streets 1999


Thursday, November 26, 2020

Ultimate Leisure Workers Club

The Ultimate Leisure Workers Club is an interesting project based in Vilnius in Lithuania focused around the radical politics of clubs and parties:

'Insurgent workers’ minds and bodies turned u on dance-floors long ago, anticipating their liberation from the factory's mechanistic discipline. Clubs were sites that integrated political education and entertainment; social recovery and antagonistic social articulation. Then arrived the weekend, ripe with evening temptations, as both a working class victory and a bargain with capital for an ever more dutiful submission to the pains of the working week. Whether mere toxic retreats into a world of purchased pleasures serviced by instrumentalized hospitality workers; or as maddening aspirations toward collective self-abolition in the crushing beat of capitalist ruins, spaces of nightly leisure are energized by a social desire for what Kristin Ross calls communal luxury: a communistic drive for collective prosperity that capitalism recuperates and exploits.

The Ultimate Leisure Workers' Club hopes to draw from these political potentials, linking up with groups and individuals involved in the struggle to open new terrains for social liberation and communal joy in the night and beyond'.

They are holding an online assembly next week, and as part of it me and Christoph will be giving a talk:

The Club is the Centre of the Invention of New Needs: Dead by Dawn, 30 Nov 2020, 19h (UTC+2)

'Neil Transpontine and Christoph Fringeli will discuss the seminal Dead by Dawn parties held between (1994-1996) at the squatted 121 Centre at Railton Road Brixton. Crossing self-publishing, visual and sonic experimentation, exploratory theory, social spaces, new communications technologies and the emergence of ludic and networked politics, the Dead by Dawn parties were a catalyst for exploring a leisure time clawed back from the social compulsion to labour.

Christoph is the founder of Praxis Records and the editor of Datacide magazine for noise and politics. He was part of the collective responsible for Dead by Dawn. Neil Transpontine attended Dead by Dawn and has written about it for his blog History is Made at Night. He is a regular contributor to Datacide magazine'

Other speakers include Annie Goh, Kristin Ross, Agne Bagdzunaite, Mattin, Noah Bremer, Arnoldas Stramskas and Valda Stepanovaite. Full details here

For previous posts about Dead by Dawn see:

Dead by Dawn, Brixton 1994-6

More Dead by Dawn

Monday, October 26, 2020

Protest and Survive- CND reborn, October 1980

The massive October 1980 Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament 'Protest and Survive' demonstration in London represented the rebirth of the 'Ban the Bomb' movement that had been largely dormant since its previous high point in the 1960s. The reason for this revival was that nuclear war was once again seeming a real possibility as the Cold War began to hot up. 

In 1979 Russian forces had entered Afghanistan in support of the beleaguered  pro-soviet government. The ascendancy of the new right to power in Britain and the USA saw a cranking up of anti-Russian rhetoric from Thatcher and Reagan, soon to be followed up with the deployment of a new generation of nuclear missiles in Europe.

The British Government's publication of its 'Protect and Survive' booklet in May 1980 only made the nuclear nightmare more tangible, with its absurd advice for turning your home into a fall out shelter amidst nuclear war. This was parodied by EP Thompson in his 'Protest and Survive' pamphlet published by CND shortly afterwards.

'We must protest if we are to survive. Protest is the only realistic form of civil defence. We must generate an alternative logic, an opposition at every level of society. This opposition must be international and it must win the support of multitudes' (E.P. Thompson, Protest and Survive, 1980)

Photomontage artist Peter Kennard produced a memorable image of a skeleton reading the Government publication as well as designing the leaflet/poster for the demonstration set for 26th October 1980.

I was at sixth form and with a group of friends that year had set up Luton Peace Campaign (soon to be Luton Nuclear Disarmament Campaign) which quickly grew to having over 100 members. Similar groups were springing up all over the country. We organised a couple of coach loads to go to London for the march and were amazed at the turn out, variously estimated as between 50,000 (the police) and 100,000 (Socialist Organiser). For the first time I had a real sense of how the efforts of small groups of people meeting in pubs and kitchens could coalesce into a mass social movement.

As reported in the Daily Mirror (27 October 2020):

'Britain’s ban the bomb movement was reborn yesterday with a massive show of strength. More than 60,000 demonstrators jammed London streets for the biggest nuclear disarmament rally in 17 years. The day started with a huge inflatable mushroom ‘cloud’ being floated above Hyde Park as the demonstrators gathered under a sea of banners. The protesters then brought traffic to a standstill as they marched to Trafalgar Square…

There were hippies, punk rockers, skinheads and supporters of all ages. A girl on rollerskates joined the protest. So did a band of Buddhist monks. 12 people were arrested and charged with minor offences such as threatening behaviour and obstruction. Scuffles broke out as one group tried to march down Whitehall towards Downing Street and Parliament. But a line of policeman headed them off and the rest of the demonstration was peaceful'. 

The NME (1 November 1980) gave the demo a full page report which likewise highlighted the diversity of the crowd:

'There were punks and 'Schoolkids against the Bomb' and nuns and MPs and messages of support from intellectuals in the USA. There were youthful banners bearing slogans like “Grow up or Blow up“ and “Don’t Cruise to Oblivion”... Peggy Seeger sang. The Pop group and Killing Joke played... E.P. Thompson was the smash hit, though, earning a huge ovation with his characteristically stirring words: “I wasn’t sure about this six months ago” he said. “But we can win. I want you to sense and feel your strength".  An NME photo showed 'Buddhist monks from Milton Keynes'  perambulating 'pacifist veterans including Philip Noel Baker and first CND secretary Peggy Duff' in their wheelchairs.

The mushroom cloud inflatable in Hyde Park
(from 'Socialist Organiser', 8 Nov. 1980)

The speakers included MPs Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock, actor Susannah York, EP Thompson and Bruce Kent of CND. I was excited that The Pop Group and Killing Joke were playing in Trafalgar Square at the end of the rally, though it was one of those occasions when the crowd was so big (and the PA so small) that you had to be up front to really experience the music - and I wasn't.  Luckily I got to see The Pop Group at their peak earlier that year at the Beat the Blues Festival at Alexandra Palace.

The Pop Group on stage in Trafalgar Square

Apparently The Specials had also been due to play but this didn't happen due to Department of Environment restrictions about the extent and volume of the music. As the Government department responsible for Trafalgar Square the DoE  'ruled that the event is a rally and not a concert, and therefore the PA must not exceed 2.5 kilowatts' (NME, 25 October 1980).  A poster also mentions Peggy Seeger and Mikey Dread as being on the bill.

A poster from Liverpool advertising the demo

Killing Joke played five tracks including Wardance and Requiem.  The Pop Group set was their last live performance (at least until they reformed in 2010) and included an early version  of 'Jerusalem', a dub retake on Blake's poem which vocalist Mark Stewart would later record.  The  early prototype version played in Trafalgar Square can be heard on 'The Lost Tapes', included as part of the Mute reissue of Stewart's 'Learning To Cope With Cowardice'.