Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Temporary Autonomous Zone

In his essay on the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), Hakim Bey considers 'TAZ as festival', the party as liberated space and time:

"the dinner party is already "the seed of the new society taking shape within the shell of the old" (IWW Preamble). The sixties-style "tribal gathering," the forest conclave of eco-saboteurs, the idyllic Beltane of the neo-pagans, anarchist conferences, gay faery circles... Harlem rent parties of the twenties, nightclubs, banquets, old-time libertarian picnics--we should realize that all these are already "liberated zones" of a sort, or at least potential TAZs. Whether open only to a few friends, like a dinner party, or to thousands of celebrants, like a Be-In, the party is always "open" because it is not "ordered"; it may be planned, but unless it "happens" it's a failure. The element of spontaneity is crucial.

The essence of the party: face-to-face, a group of humans synergize their efforts to realize mutual desires, whether for good food and cheer, dance, conversation, the arts of life; perhaps even for erotic pleasure, or to create a communal artwork, or to attain the very transport of bliss- in short, a "union of egoists" (as Stirner put it) in its simplest form-or else, in Kropotkin's terms, a basic biological drive to "mutual aid." (Here we should also mention Bataille's "economy of excess" and his theory of potlatch culture.)"

Photo by Prof-B, taken at Mutek, Montreal, 2006

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Rent Parties

"House rent parties were a facet of Harlem life even before the Depression. An outgrowth of parlor socials and church suppers held to raise funds for church needs, house rent parties aimed at helping dwellers of Harlem's railroad flats meet rents that skyrocketed monthly. Neighbors brought all kinds of food—fried chicken, baked ham, pig's feet, pork chops, gumbo, potato salad, and more—to which a supply of bootleg liquor was added. An admission was charged, and the piano players supplied the entertainment. "James P. Johnson, Willie "The Lion" Smith and Fats Waller became great favorites," Ellington recalled. "For ten bucks a shot, they somehow made appearances at three or four different rent parties on a good Saturday night," which did not end until sometime on Sunday.

It has been suggested that the house rent party grew in popularity as a reaction of blacks to their exclusion from Harlem clubs like the Cotton, Connie's Inn, Smalls' Paradise, etc. There was dancing—the bump, grind, monkey hunch. The pianist, assisted at times by a drummer who muffled his traps by covering the head with a blanket, sought to approximate orchestral effects, which, perhaps, helps explain the character of stride piano".

Source: The Jazz Age: Popular Music in the 1920s – Arnold Shaw (Oxford University Press, 1987)

"Although house-rent parties once flourished in the black neighborhoods of Chicago, Detroit, Washington D.C., and other cities, they have become most closely associated with Harlem. During the 1920s and 1930s (and even into the 1940s), such parties formed the backbone of Harlem nightlife, and became for many working people not only an enjoyable and affordable way to dance and socialize but also an economic necessity. For the reasonable admission price of between ten cents and a dollar, plus the cost of liquor and food, guests could dance, drink, flirt, and gamble, while the hosts collected enough money to pay the landlord for another month.

The house-rent party evolved out of traditions that were several generations old by the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance. Since the late nineteenth century, African-American families in the rural south had enjoyed Saturday night barbecues and fish fries, complete with music and dancing, at events called "frolics" or "breakdowns." By the turn of the twentieth century, African-Americans in southern cities were throwing dance parties expressly to raise money. Dozens of couples would cram into tiny apartments, and the sometimes painful results of dancing in such confined spaces led to the term "shin-digs" to describe these events, though they were also referred to as "stomps," "boogies," "breakdowns," "skiffles," "scuffles," "struggles," "shake-me-downs," "chitterling rags," and "struts."

To prepare for a rent party, hosts would clear all furniture (except for the piano) from the front rooms of the apartment, take up the rugs, replace regular lightbulbs with more sensuous colored ones, and sometimes rent folding chairs from a local undertaker. Some hosts would even hire "home defense officers" (HDOs), to bounce unwelcome guests and squelch incipient brawls. The highlight of any rent party was the music, often provided by a single piano player, a series of pianists, or even a three-or four-piece musical ensemble. Well-known pianists such as "Fats" Waller, James P. Johnson, and Willie "the Lion" Smith regularly made the rounds at rent parties, where musicians competed in "cutting contests" to determine who was the most talented. Bootleg liquor, usually homemade corn whiskey (called "King Kong") or bathtub gin, was sold by the pint or in quarter-pint portions called "shorties." For an additional price, guests could purchase southern-style meals that usually included some combination of hoppin' John, fried chicken, fried fish, chitterlings, mulatto rice (rice and tomatoes), gumbo, chili, collard greens, potato salad, and sweet potato pone. The party would often last until dawn, or until someone summoned the Black Maria (the police patrol wagon) to break it up.

In order to attract a large number of paying guests, hosts advertised their parties using "rent party tickets." Often, they enlisted the help of the "Wayside Printer," a middle-aged white man who walked the streets of Harlem with his portable press. For a modest fee, he stamped the party information onto tickets about the size of a business card. Interestingly, these tickets always identified rent parties using such terms as "Social Party," "Social Whist Party," "Parlor Social," or "Matinee Party." Other, less elevated terms included "Too Terrible Party," "Boogie," and "Tea Cup Party." Tickets often incorporated popular slang phrases, lyrics from current songs, or bits of poetry. One ticket from 1927 implored: "Save your tears for a rainy day, / We are giving a party where you can play / With red-hot mammas and too bad She-bas / Who wear their dresses above their knees / And mess around with whom they please." Another reasoned: "You Don't Get Nothing for Being an Angel Child, So You Might As Well Get Real Busy and Real Wild."

Hosts would distribute these tickets to friends, neighbors, and even strangers on the street corner. Sometimes, hosts targeted a specific population, such as Pullman porters, interstate truck drivers, or black tourists. Other hosts simply tucked the tickets into elevator grilles or apartment windows. Drumming up a good crowd was important, for competition was fierce; as many as twelve parties in a single block and five in an apartment building, simultaneously, were not uncommon in Harlem during the 1920s. Although rent parties raged every night of the week, the most popular evening was Saturday, since most day laborers were paid on Saturday and few had to work on Sunday. The next favorite party night was Thursday, when most sleep-in domestic workers were off-duty".

Source: Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance

Saturday, January 27, 2007

King of the Ravers is Dead

Last month saw the death of Mick Mulligan, the English jazz trumpeter described in the 1950s Melody Maker as the King of the Ravers - and the man sometimes credited with inventing the use of the word 'rave' as a description of a wild party.

As Mulligan's bandmate George Melly describes it in his book Revolt into Style (1971), "It was inevitable that the spontaneous if mysterious enthusiasm which sprang up all over wartime Britain for an almost forgotten music, Negro jazz of the 20s, should lead eventually to an attempt to reconstruct the music and, by the end of the war, there was already one established band, the George Webb Dixielanders. Within a year or two the revivalist jazz movement had spread to every major city in the British Isles, and it was in the jazz clubs of the late 40s that what might be considered the dry-run for a pop explosion first took shape".

Melly has described this period of 'Revivalist Jazz' more fully in his autobiography, Owning Up (1965). It was apparently in the early 1950s that 'Raves' were first organised, all night jazz parties in Soho and elsewhere. According to Melly "The word 'rave', meaning to live it up, was as far as I know a Mulligan-Godbolt invention. It took several forms. The verb as above, 'a rave' meaning a party where you raved, and 'a raver', i.e. one who raved as much as possible. An article once described Mick as 'The King of the Ravers'. During a National Savings Drive in 1952, Mick and Jim derived a great deal of harmless amusement by ringing each other up every time they saw a new poster and reading out its message with the word 'Rave' substituted for the word 'Save' 'help britain through national raving', 'wanted 50,000,000 ravers,' etc. Mick and I were the first people to organize all-night raves, and they were an enormous social success, but a financial loss".
These original raves prefigured some of the later similarly named scenes, with their all night bohemian ambience, sex and intoxicants: "At seven a.m. the band played its final number and we'd all crawl up out of the sweat-scented cellar into the empty streets of a Sunday morning in the West End. Hysterical with lack of sleep, accompanied by a plump art student, her pale cheeks smeared with the night's mascara, I'd catch the Chelsea bus and try to read the Observer through prickling red eyeballs as we swayed along Piccadilly, down Sloane Street, and into the King's Road. Then a bath, one of those delirious fucks that only happen on the edge of complete fatigue, and a long sleep until it was time to get up and face the journey to Cook's Ferry or whatever jazz club we were playing that evening" (Melly, Owning Up).

Mulligan and Melly's raves took place in their basement rehearsal room in Gerrard Street, Soho. Nearby 'in an enormous basement in Windmill Street, just off Piccadilly', Cy Laurie held 'all night raves' in his jammed cellar-club. Laurie won "the adherence of the recently self-styled Beatniks (until that year they had called themselves existent­ialists), Soho layabouts and the art-school students' being rewarded with 'a shocked article in the People with photographs of necking couples lying on the floor and a wealth of salacious moralizing".

As well as basement clubs, there were "river-boat shuffle" held on boats: "Everybody knew everybody. We all squeezed on to a little boat which chugged up-river to Chertsey. At the locks there was jiving on the tow-paths. Beryl Bryden swam to enthusiastic cheers. The music and the moving water, the bottled beer and the bare arms, melted into a golden haze. The last defiant chorus from the band as the ship turned in midstream before heading for the pier in the warm dusk sounded really beautiful".

By the mid-1950s a new rave scene was developing as 'revivalist jazz' began to make way for 'trad jazz'. We will return to this in a future post.
Photo: Mulligan on trumpet with George Melly, his bandmate in Mick Mulligan's Magnolia Jazz Band.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Nu Rave

Naturally the hype about Nu Rave is bound to give us older ravers cause for wonder. Simon Reynolds, reflecting on The Klaxons, notes the abscence of any real sonic reference points to rave music - they are basically a guitar driven band after all. Nevertheless he still suggests that the 'fact that the Ghost of Rave, in however mis-shapen a state, stalks the culture again signifies something, surely. It announces a lack, speaks of a yearning'.

To a certain extent, 'rave' is just one more seam in the gold mine of past counter/sub cultures, a mine well explored by The Klaxons with their arch references to Burroughs ('Atlantis to Interzone' ), Crowley ('Magick') and Pynchon ('Gravity's Rainbow'). The term Nu Rave seems to have started as a joke, or perhaps more accurately a tongue in cheek hook for the music media coined by the KLF-literate Joe Daniel of Angular records, who released The Klaxons' first single. Nevertheless there is a tangible phenomenon with The Klaxons and a number of other bands standing aside from from the worst boring blokes with guitars indie-rockist counter-revolution.

The commonality between some of the more interesting newish bands is not really an imagined link to 'Rave' but an intelligent, anti-cool, playfulness, with a desire to create interesting situations rather than just fulfill a Brits school business plan. It is noteable that as well as The Klaxons, Art Brut, The Long Blondes, The Violets and Bloc Party all first released stuff through Angular, a small indie label whose 2003 New Cross compilation created an explosion of interest in the corner of South East London where I live. Actually most of the 'New Cross Scene' bands weren't from the area (The Klaxons and Violets were), but playing in local venues like the (sadly gone) Paradise Bar gave them a crowd and a leg up. Angular has functioned like some earlier classic indie labels such as Postcard or even Crass's label, content to put out one or two tracks by bands they like to introduce them to the world and then leaving them to make their own way. Angular reference points include riot grrrl and indie pop rather than the tedious 60s/70s bloke rock canon. As well as launching (or maybe fabricating) 'Nu Rave', Angular have also been credited by the NME with inventing 'art punk'.

Musically, all of this is quite diverse, but what has been exciting - and perhaps following in some kind of rave trajectory - has been a sense of adventure, of stepping outside the normal confines of predictable outfits and gigs, a sense of the crowd and not just the band. An excitable New York Times journalist may not have been entirely geographically or otherwise accurate in the following description: "The new rave scene is a small, tightly connected movement of artists, D.J.’s, bands and partygoers forged in a series of warehouse parties that, beginning in 2003, were organized by a gang of artists called the Wowow Boys, in New Cross, a ragtag neighborhood of students and boarded-up buildings southeast of London Bridge. As in the 1990s, the gatherings attracted newly formed bands that were eager to create an environment "where the specific aim was to party", said Jamie Reynolds, the bass player of the Klaxons'.

But there have been real warehouse parties -we went to one at The Old Seagar Distillery in Deptford last year (where The Klaxons played), there have been parties in Peckham, and yes there's even been the obligatory police presence without which no self-respecting youth scene is complete (see this report of a squat party in Shoreditch last July, pictured). The Klaxons, with their ear for melody, may be heading for bigger things, but less radio friendly outfits like Lost Penguin will no doubt be blasting party goers for a while longer. All we need now is a moral panic to really kick things off, but with so many first time ravers now writing for the British press, this looks unlikely.

(photo sourced from PopScene).

Burns Night

Rituals and other social occasions are defined by different mixtures of particular musics, intoxicants and behaviours. For Burns Night (25 January) the basic recipe is simple enough - whisky, Scottish music , a few Burns poems, maybe some haggis... Still, even with this recipe there's plenty of room for improvisation and last night saw a spontaneous Burns Night at 56a InfoShop - a small radical bookshop tucked behind a food co-op near the Elephant and Castle (South London). The shop has one of the largest stock of anarcho-punk CDs in London, so for music we turned to Oi Polloi's recent album of Scottish Gaelic punk (did play some more traditional Battlefield Band and Corries later). A bottle of Islay Mist was the beverage of choice, shared with anybody passing through provided they were prepared to open the collected poems of Burns at random and read a verse or two. A couple of nice Berliners told us about their place in the former East Berlin, a big ex-squat called Subversive with its own unlicensed bar and dancefloor downstairs. We dreamt of pulling something off like this in South London... maybe one day. Altogether... 'There's threesome reels reels, there's foursome reels, There's hornpipes and strathspeys, man, But the ae best dance ere came to the land Was-the deil's awa wi' the Exciseman'.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hammersmith Palais to Close

"Hammersmith Palais - the legendary London music venue immortalised in song by The Clash - is to be demolished. The decision to close the venue was taken by Hammersmith and Fulham councillors in a meeting on Monday. The building is expected to be bulldozed to make way for office blocks by developers Parkway Properties. No date for the closure has been given"(BBC News, 24 Jan. 2007)

Lights go out at London’s rock venues
"The very fabric of cool, young London is in danger of disappearing as bean-counting property developers take over some of the capital’s most famous venues. The legendary Astoria on Charing Cross Road, and stars’ favourite the Stepney night club are both doomed and now the Hammersmith Palais... is facing the bulldozer.

Radio London DJ Robert Elms, whose parents met at the Hammersmith Palais, is incensed.“It’s all about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing,” he said. “We’ll never get these wonderful places back and they will never be replaced. These things mean so much to Londoners – the place they first saw a gig or fell in love . This should be about a lot more than just money.” The Palais in its various guises has been central to the British music scene since the 1920s, when it played a leading role in the introduction of jazz to the UK. During the war it hosted tea dances, and went on to showcase generations of the biggest names in rock and pop.

Like the Stepney, which is to be replaced by a five-storey building of one and two bedroom flats, its nemesis is a private property developer. Meanwhile, the Astoria in Charing Cross Road is also facing the final curtain as contested plans for Crossrail call for its demolition. Its only hope lies in the precedent set by the Electric Ballroom on Camden High Street, which was saved two years ago when Tube redevelopment plans were ditched after a public outcry.That said, a new planning blueprint is looming which could once again put the Ballroom at risk. And with the value of offices rocketing by more than 20 per cent last year and shops by more than ten per cent, the capital’s iconic buildings look set to remain hot targets for investors" (London Paper, 24 January 2007)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Music and Passion were Always in Fashion

"The Copacabana, the famed New York nightclub that entertained the smart set with a young Frank Sinatra in the '40s and was the inspiration for Barry Manilow's signature song in the '70s is looking for a new home again. Its third incarnation, on a commercial block on West 34th Street, has been condemned by the city to make way for an extension of a subway line".

The club opened in 1941 on East 60th Street at a time and featured acts including Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jimmy Durante and Sid Caesar, not to mention "the Copa Girls, a troupe of leggy, fresh-faced dancers. Joan Collins and Raquel Welch got their start in the troupe". After closing for several years in the early 70s it was reopened as a disco in 1976. In the early 1990s, the club moved from 60th Street to West 57th Street, then about a decade later it reopened on West 34th Street.

The club has been given notice of eviction by July 2007. The club currently offers a 15-piece orchestra that plays mostly salsa music, 'Live Tropical Bands, Copa Girls & Cabana Boys with DJ's playing Tropical Music in the Main Show Room, including Merengue & Bachata. The Lower Floor, Carmen Miranda Disco, features American Music with top DJ's playing Hip Hop, Reggaeton, Freestyle, House, Old School and General Top 40 Dance Music'.

Source: Backstage, 23 January 2007; Copacabana New York

Monday, January 22, 2007

Manchester Free Party Raided

Account One, Manchester Indymedia: "Last night (21st Jan 2007 ) about two thousand party goers were attacked by police whilst attempting to attend a free party in the Manchester area. The A57 was closed for about 2 hrs when police forced party goers out of a warehouse and on to the streets. A street battle ensued, the police were kitted with riot shields and truncheons whilst the ever resourseful ravers could only defend themselves with what was discarded on the roadside. The police charged with a roar and set their dogs on those not retreating fast enough. Many people were injured with each wave of the truncheon-wielding, dog-using police lines. Bricks were gathered, thrown, barricades were formed, stormed and then reformed again as revellers and police fought a pitch battle right into the centre of town"

Account Two, Manchester Indymedia:"The rave which was due to start at around midnight was already filling up by around 11pm, nearly half an hour before the police arrived, and the premises were protected under section 6 "squatters rights" due to it being the permanent residence of a small number of people. The police upon entry ignored this warning therefore violating section 6 rights and proceeded to use extreme force on people who were showing no resistance and breaking no laws. This behaviour was carried out under supervision and instruction of the attending Detective Inspector. By this time already there were tens of people who had been beaten with police batons, bitten by Dog units for not moving fast enough and been thrown around by the police themselves. Upon leaving the venue, a large crowd was gathering outside in anticipation of the rave. This group numbered upwards of 800 people, who were breaking no law by simply standing outside the compound. It was at this point that the police saw necessary to form a line complete with riot units, and rush the crowd with both dogs and batons, again attacking people who were unfortunate enough to either not have moved fast enough, or fallen down in the road. When more police backup did arrive, they drove their cars at the crowd, knocking people down and injuring at least a couple of people. When the next wave of riot police moved against the crowd, these injured people were not able to move fast enough and were subjected to more abuse.

Although the majority of the crowd were peaceful, there were a handful of trouble makers who smashed the side window of a passing taxi and threw rocks at a passing ambulance vehicle. These people were stopped by the rest of the crowd who did not appreciate this behaviour and ensured no other civilian property was damaged".

Account Three, Manchester Evening News, 22 January 2007: 'Crowds of revellers at an illegal rave clashed with police after officers with dogs moved to break up the event... Between 500 and 1,000 people were at the event at a disused car showroom on Hyde Road in Belle Vue, Manchester.... The rave was being held at a showroom that was formerly used by Yes - the car-credit company - and is located close to the Showcase cinema. Four people were arrested for public order offences and held overnight."

See also: Manchester Rave Systems Alliance

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pleasure Creates Life

"Pleasure creates life. We do not want forced, guilt-ridden pleasures anymore. We want no more pleasures severed from total sexuality, pleasures cut off from the omnipresent body of the will to live. Amorous embrace is eternal witness to life, in it distance and time are abolished, and because of it, because intense measures push the barriers set up against them steadily back, because we are returning to the common spring, to the fundamental unity of life, we hold as absolute certain that making primal utterly free activity [gratuite] dispenses forever with governing and being governed, punishing and being punished, violating and being violated, judging and being judged. In one single movement it abolishes the dialectics of death which rule over survival".

Source: Raoul Vaneigem, The Book of Pleasures, 1979.

Photo: Night of a Thousand Stars, Rivoli Ballroom, Brockley (South London), 1990s.


I have amended the tagline of this site from 'the politics of dancing' to 'the politics of dancing and musicking'. On this site I don't want to just focus on dance music scenes in the narrow sense, e.g. soul, disco, house etc. I am interested in other kinds of scenes - for instance I am planning to write about anarcho-punk - but on the other hand I don't want to focus on bands and songs. I am interested in what happens when people come together in a particular place and move and socialise to music - whether or not they are actually dancing, and whatever the soundtrack.

That's where the term 'musicking' comes in. It was coined by musicologist Christopher Small in the context of defining music as a verb rather than a noun: 'To music is to take part, in any capacity, in a musical performance, whether by performing, by listening, by rehearsing or practicing, by providing material for performance (what is called compos­ing), or by dancing. We might at times even extend its meaning to what the person is doing who takes the tickets at the door or the hefty men who shift the piano and the drums or the roadies who set up the instruments and carry out the sound checks or the cleaners who clean up after everyone else has gone. They, too, are all contributing to the nature of the event that is a musical performance'.

Small's intention is to critique the idea of music as a one directional process from performer to passive audience. For him 'musicking.. is an activity in which all those present are involved and for whose nature and quality, success or failure, everyone present bears some responsibility. It is not just a matter of composers, or even perform­ers, actively doing something to, or for, passive listeners. Whatever it is we are doing, we are all doing it together—performers, listeners (should there be any apart from the performers), composer (should there be one apart from the performers), dancers, ticket collectors, piano movers, roadies, cleaners and all'. Musicking is not just about live performance: dancers in a club, somebody walking down the road with an iPod and people whistling in the bath are all musicking too in Small's definition.

For Small, musicking is no small matter - it helps constitute our social world: 'The act of musicking establishes in the place where it is happening a set of relationships, and it is in those relation­ships that the meaning of the act lies. They are to be found not only be­tween those organized sounds which are conventionally thought of as being the stuff of musical meaning but also between the people who are taking part, in whatever capacity, in the performance; and they model, or stand as metaphor for, ideal relationships as the participants in the perfor­mance imagine them to be: relationships between person and person, be­tween individual and society, between humanity and the natural world and even perhaps the supernatural world'.

Source of quotes: Christopher Small, Musicking: the meaning of performance and listening (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1998).

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dancing outdoors, Arizona

Pinal County prohibition on outdoor dancing is as ridiculous as it is out of date

Pinal County must be sponsoring its own rendition of the 1984 movie “Footloose,” with the county zoning department filling the role of the uptight and repressive minister played by actor John Lithgow. “These dances and this kind of music can be destructive...”

That’s the only way we can explain Tuesday’s ridiculous order from a county hearing officer for the San Tan Flat restaurant south of Queen Creek to pay a $5,000 fine because some people jump up and sway their hips while enjoying food, drinks and music under the Arizona night sky... County officials say San Tan Flat was transformed into an illegal house of boogie when some customers started to feel the rhythm anyway. Outdoor dance halls are banned in Pinal County, after all....

What’s next, county planners writing out dancing tickets at the upcoming Country Thunder music concert? Dance police roaming backyards to put a stop to any dos-ados at graduation parties and wedding receptions?... somebody should check to see if Kevin Bacon is ready to break out his rebellious footloose shoes again. “There was a time for this law, but not anymore. This is our time to dance.”

Source: East Valley Tribune, January 19, 2007

Friday, January 19, 2007

Save Stepney Nightclub

From yesterday's London Paper:

Clubbers at a London venue where Pulp filmed their Common People video (pictured) have launched a campaign to save it from being demolished and replaced with a block of flats. Developers have applied for permission to knock down Stepney Nightclub, which has also been used by Justin Timberlake, Amy Winehouse, and Nick Cave for photo and video shoots.The east London club, which features an original 70s illuminated disco floor, would be replaced with a five-story building of one and two-bedroom flats. There are also concerns that the development could damage the character of the pub the club is attached to, the 350-year-old George Tavern – a listed building.

Deborah Coughlin, who works in the George said: “There are probably more artists per square metre in the East End than anywhere else in the country, and there are so few places to perform, it’s such a shame to lose one. The club epitomises 70s glamour – it’s full of leather and mirrors as well as the amazing light-up floor. It has an awful lot of history.” Swan Housing, the developers who paid almost £1m for the nightclub last summer, have submitted plans to Tower Hamlets Council to replace it with flats. A petition has been launched to save the building.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Midnight Notes


No Light

No Time

No Work






Quote: Midnight Notes
Photo: Singapore December 2006 by Abrilon

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Disorderly Houses, 18th century England

"In 1757 the following Bill, presented by Sir John Fielding, was passed by Parliament: 'Any house, room, garden or other place which in London and Westminster or within 20 miles of the environs, not being licensed as a public dancing place, allows music or other entertainment of the same kind, shall be regarded as a disorderly house or place, and any authorised servant of the law may enter and arrest all persons found therein. Every person who owns such an unlicensed house, shall pay £100 sterling, and in addition suffer the punishment that the law has ordained in the case of bawdy houses.'

We saw that many of the ' tea-gardens ' and places of amusement fell victims to this law, especially towards the end of the eighteenth century. Those that remained dis­appeared with the outward spread of the town".

Source: A History of English Sexual Morals – Ivan Bloch (London: Francis Aldor, 1936).

Monday, January 15, 2007

'Dancing is not a crime!' - New York City

Metropolis in Motion is fighting to legalize dancing in New York City by repealing its arcane cabaret laws. They say: 'Ever since NYC Mayor Rudolph Giuliani created the Nightclub Enforcement Task Force in 1997 to enact his "Quality of Life" campaign, the city has been waging a war against nightlife culture and industry. The most lethal weapon in the city's arsenal aimed against nightlife are Prohibition-era laws known as the "Cabaret Laws". As clubs, bars and lounges are fined, padlocked and shut down, citizens lose places that foster social interaction and artists have fewer places to express themselves'

In July 2006, Metropolis in Motion held an open-air dance outside of Mayor Bloomberg's mansion to bring attention to NYC's cabaret laws. Several hundred people danced and chanted 'dancing is not a crime'.

'The NYC cabaret law was created in 1926 in an effort to curtail wild behavior in nightclubs, particularly the interracial mixing that was happening in jazz clubs. The law initially limited licenses to establishments serving food or drink featuring three or more musicians or three or more people “moving in synchronized fashion.” It also stipulated that only musicians “of good character” could be licensed to play. In 1961 the law was amended to restrict cabarets to manufacturing and commercial zones, and in 1967 the “good character” musician requirement was nixed. In the late ’80s, the courts declared the three-musician rule unconstitutional. Although musicians have won the battle, dancers are still fighting to repeal the law. Today, only 244 licensed cabarets exist.' (New York Press)

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Notting Hill Blues

Some memories of early London ‘sound system culture’ in Notting Hill, late 1950s and early 1960s, a period punctuated by the 1958 riots as black people defended themselves from organized racist attacks and police indifference:

‘Then in fifty-eight you had a lot of shebeens, you call it that, a social situation, there was nothing because of the no-coloured policy, no blacks, no coloureds in homes, entertainments, there was nothing really for black people so you had to create your own social environment. The Jamaican people created particularly the reggae, ska and bluebeat. And Fullerton, a chap called Fullerton, was a tailor and bought his first house in Talbot Road. He had a basement and we used to have blues dances and stuff. Everybody used to get down there and get down. You had people like Duke Vin who used to play with big speakers, all these things that we have now is part of our culture, discotheques were actually born out of Caribbean culture.

You had a certain club that a lot of us never got into called the Montparnasse that was on Chepstow Road, the corner of Chepstow and Talbot, but round the corner was the Rio on Westbourne Park Road. Then you come further down, then Larry was in a place there with Johnnie at the corner of Ledbury Road and Westbourne Park and that was called Fiesta One. And right next door to it it had the Calypso. That what I call there, is no more than about 800 yards square. Then when you leave there you come to the corner of Colville Road and Elgin Crescent and some Barbadian guys have a club in the basement. Then Sheriff had his gym/club. It was a wild - when I say wild life you understand me - sometime you don't reach the West End. I used to hit the Grove like about four o'clock of the evening and leave there about quarter to five in the morning.

The police didn't take kindly to it. A lot of things made them annoyed. The music was too loud, they didn't like blacks period gathering in any kind of situation, and the selling of drinks which was outside [the law], because you couldn't get a licence, so you had to sell drinks, So you had to break the law. All this got under their wick. The shebeen didn't survive. The police, well they survived in a sense; the police used to regularly raid them, kick their boxes in, kick their speakers in, but sheer will, just natural perseverance. That aggravated the blacks no end and gave them the determination to persevere and the whole police hatred came out of that.

Anything which happens with the blacks and the police is inherent in the early stupidness of breaking their sound systems, costing them money, and indirectly disrupting their social pattern. It carried on after the riots, way into the sixties. The riots didn't do much for change. All the riots did was establish that you can't take liberties with black people, that's what it established, you've got to stand up and defend yourself. You're not going to back off.

Source: Notting Hill in the Sixties - Mike Phillips (Lawrence and Wishart, 1991)

'As early as the 50's people like Duke Vin and Count Suckle had carved names for themselves as sound system operators in the area, playing at basement sessions and parties. For Black people such entertainment was crucial in the face of the undeclared but effective colour bar in white pubs and clubs. Few appropriate places could be found for these sessions popularly known as 'Blues'. They happened in front rooms as well as abandoned basements. Police raids occurred with predictable regularity. One brother has vivid memories:

"Wherever you come from, you had a feel for the music. The people dem didn't too care where you come from. Dem people didn't have a prejudice like island thing, you know. For the youth dem, it was just oneness. Like when you finish work in a factory on a friday night, this is where you go, Blues dance. All de doors close and sounds just a drop in you head. Its like a refuge still. It remind you of home, the feel of it. From Blues sessions a culture develop. I remember one on Winston Road, played by a brother called Jucklin. One night in 1963 the door just kick down and policeman just step in and you hear funny sound, sound system switch off. Dem just bust up de dance! We couldn't understand it. De older people dem did know because it happen to them. A couple of brethren get fling on police van and get charge with obstructing police officers on de Monday morning"'

Source: Behind the Masquerade: The Story of Notting Hill Carnival – Kwesi Owusu and Jacob Ross (London: Arts Media Group, 1988)

See also: The Politics of Partying by Gary Younge (2002) for the road from the 1958 riots to the Notting Hill Carnival; Tom Vague’s account of this period in Notting Hill

Drag Ball in London, 1879

Under the headline “An extraordinary ball — men dressed as women,” the cutting [from a local East End newspaper of 1879] tells of a dance held in the Zetland Hall in Mansell Street on the evening of Friday 25 April. Three detectives attended the event and witnessed “some sixty or seventy per­sons dancing… Although quite half of the dancers were in female attire, the officers soon discovered that there were not half-a-dozen women in the place, the supposed females being merely men dressed up in women’s clothes.” It continued: “These, how­ever, danced together, kissed each other and behaved in any­thing but an orderly manner.” Needless to say, the dance organiser, Adolph Voizanger, was fined £20 and costs or, in default, threatened with two months’ hard labour. However, the newspaper was keen to point out that the police were sticklers for thor­ough research: “The officers stayed at the hall from about ten pm on the Friday night until four the next morning”

Source: Pink Paper, 6th February 1998


‘Some claim this dance received its name from a devil in woman's shape who appeared in Seville in the twelfth century, and who labeled it the zarabanda. In the sixteenth century, certainly, the dance and the song that accompanied it were considered by a Jesuit historian to be indecent in its words and disgusting in its movements. Even Cervantes described it as having "a diabolical sound." So seriously did the Spanish authorities take the threat of the zarabanda (which the rest of Europe, less concerned by its devilish origins, altered to saraband) that in 1583 anyone caught singing or reciting its words was to be punished with two hundred lashes, in addition to being exiled (if female) or sentenced to six years in the galleys.

For better or worse we know almost nothing of the actual dance in its original form. Apparently it was once a sexual pantomime, for in Barcelona couples twisted their bodies to the rhythm of castanets, and by the time it came to Italy the breasts of the dancers were allowed to collide and the lips to kiss. But from being erotic it became a gliding, processional dance, and it ended up as part of an instrumental suite. It was introduced to the French court around 1588, and was a favorite of Louis XIII, not to mention his minister Cardinal Richelieu. It remained popular well into the seventeenth century, since Charles II of England often called for it to be played. Perhaps it is an example of what happened to the dances of the people once they got to the court: their rude energy was canalized into something fit for the most delicate disposition—even if they became somewhat anemic on the way’.

Source; Peter Buckman, Let’s Dance: Social, Ballroon and Folk Dancing, p.88 (Paddington Press, London, 1978). The picture is of a Spanish actor dancing the zarabanda at the Paris Opera, published in 1636.

Zazous: dancing under the Nazis in France

'Dancing, particularly upon Sundays, had been the rage among young people before the war, but after the Occupa­tion was banned both by Vichy and the Germans. The Germans were wary because such gatherings of young people might cause unrest. Vichy had other reasons: dancing was held to be indecorous when so many Frenchmen had been killed or were languishing in prisoner-of-war camps; it would encourage fraternization with German soldiers; it might promote promiscuity…Nevertheless, in early 1942 the prohibition began to be flouted. Cardinal Gerlier noted with regret that even some Christian families were infringing the ban, which he deplored because 'among all the different forms of recreation, dancing is the one that expresses joy most fully'. There was too much misery abroad and, he added in a reference to the Germans, it was wrong 'to dance under the gaze of those who observe us'.

Those ever-present 'observers' had lifted the ban in the occupied zone for their own troops by mid-1941 but had left the decision regarding French civilians to the Vichy authorities for 'if [they], in spite of the disgraceful defeat of their country, wish to dance, it is in the German interest not to prevent their so doing'. Since Vichy continued the prohibition, many private dancing schools, which were allowed, sprang up to circumvent the ban. Learning ballet and ballroom dancing was suddenly found to be a very popular activity. Measures were therefore taken to control the schools by imposing stringent conditions: not more than fifteen couples per session were allowed to take part; enrol­ments had to be for at least five sessions; apart from the dancers, only parents could be present; the sole musical accompaniment must be a piano or a gramophone; no drinks whatsoever could be served; advertising of classes was for­bidden.

The high fees demanded by the schools limited their clientele and frequently they were patronized by middle-class 'zazous', the contemporary equivalent of the 'teddy-boys' and their partners. Descriptions of this gilded youth vary. Simone de Beauvoir terms them rebels against the Revolution Nationale, wearing long hair 'a la mode d'Oxford', sporting umbrellas… and generally comporting themselves in an anarchic, Anglophile fashion… They affected an outlandish garb: the young men wore dirty drape suits with 'drainpipe' trousers under their sheep­skin-lined jackets and brilliantined liberally their long hair, the girls favoured roll-collar sweaters with short skirts and wooden platform shoes, sported dark glasses with big lenses, put on heavy make-up, and went bareheaded to show off their dyed hair, set off by a lock of a different hue. The 'zazous' used English expressions, read American literature, and delighted in crooning, in the style of Johnny Hess, 'Je suis swing, dadoudadou/ Dadou la. . .oua. . .oua.'

But the 'ploutocrato-zazous', the exponents of jazz, were not held in esteem by the extreme collaborationists. Vauquelin, of the Jeunesses Populaires Franchises, held them to be 'the victory of democratic besottedness and Jewish degeneracy . . . the product of twenty years of Anglo-Saxon snobbery on the part of decadents . . . the proof ... of the physical and moral degradation of a section of our young people'. Vauquelin's squads of bully-boys were ordered to 'get them'. Thus on June 14, 1942 the squads carried out raids at Neuilly, in the Quartier Latin, and on the Champs-Elysees, cropping the hair of any 'zazous' they could find.The police joined in the hunt as well.

Youth will none the less be served. Thus, as the war dragged on, the ban on dancing was increasingly disregarded and the 'bals clandestins' flourished. In the countryside the jeunesse Agricole Chretienne reported in 1943 that dancing was going on in almost every canton of the Rhone, not only in isolated barns and remote houses, but even in the small towns. In Paris students danced in bars off the Boul' Mich' and 'la jeunesse doree' in more sleazy establishments near the Etoile. Dancing, jazz, outlandish dress became marks of a veritable counter-culture of youth, one which differed from that of the Resistance because it was effete, but never­theless anti-killjoy, anti-prudish, and, in the final analysis, pro-Allied'.

Source: The Youth of Vichy France – W.D. Halls (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1981)

Bristol: a tale of two parties

1. Bristol area, 1611

'The village of Rangeworthy, a few miles north of Bristol, was a detached part of the large parish of Thornbury… In 1611 the vicar decreed that the customary Whitsun revel should no longer begin on the sabbath. The villagers obediently curtailed their celebration to Whit Monday; it was preceded by a sermon of 'near three hours'. During the afternoon the constable of Thornbury Hundred, John Parker, was called to the scene. He found, he told Star Chamber, 'a most disorderly, riotous and unlawful assembly' engaged in 'unlawful games and most beastly and disorderly drinking'. The ringleaders, Parker decided, were four 'unknown persons who passed under the name of musicians, all of them being strangers having no habitations thereabouts nor appertaining to any nobleman or man of worth' - vagrants or master-less men, in other words. He tried to arrest the musicians and put them in the stocks, but was resisted by the villagers, who surrounded the stocks and rescued them. According to Parker, he and his handful of assistants were badly beaten up.

Viewed from this standpoint the Rangeworthy revel pitted a group of law-abiding reformers against a crowd of violent, drunken louts. To the villagers it seemed very different. Their defence was based on a familiar system of values. 'By all the time whereof the memory of man is not to the contrary', they declared, the revel feast had been held in Rangeworthy during Whitsun week. Its purpose was 'the refreshing of the minds and spirits of the country people, being inured and tired with husbandry and continual labour… for preservation of mutual amity, acquaintance and love… and allaying of strifes, discords and debates between neighbour and neighbour'. It had always included innocent diversions like 'wrestling, leaping, running, throwing the bar' as well as dancing and 'other honest sport'. On the day in question there was no excessive drinking - just a few young people dancing while the musicians played and some of the older inhabitants lingered to watch on their way home from the sermon. This idyllic scene was shattered only by the arrival of the arrogant constable, who provoked the crowd by his 'reviling speeches' against the dancers and musicians… They denied obstructing him, though they admitted that nobody had lifted a finger when Parker called for assistance.'

Source: Revel, Riot, and Rebellion: popular politics and culture in England, 1603-1660 – David Underdown (Oxford University Press, 1985)

2. Bristol area, 2006

'Bristol Police attacked would be party goers and pedestrians attempting to walk up Cumberland road in the early hours of Sunday morning and used pepper-spray against those inside the party. Police had arrived at the scene earlier in the night to put an end to a free-party which was happening in an unused warehouse on Cumberland road. Despite causing no public nuisance, being sufficiently away from residential properties and set back from the road thus causing no road obstruction the police presence to stop the party was huge. A helicopter, three riot vehicles, at least 6 police cars, a police dog unit and mounted section were all at the scene in an attempt to crack down on this non commercial recreational activity…

In spite of their numbers, the police’s attempt to shut the party down was unsuccessful. A small group of officers who entered the building to turn the music off were met with a crowd unwilling to be silenced. After refusing to stop the music a number of people behind the decks were pepper sprayed directly to the faces. The flagrantly abusive police behaviour in this instance instantly galvanised the crowd to surge the officers towards the exit. With the officers just outside the building a defiant partygoer plummeted from the ceiling hanging on the chain to close the roller-shutter which due to the loss of power was too stiff to do manually from the ground. The police safely outside and at least 400 safely inside the sealed building, the party went on.

Meanwhile outside, the police, undermined by the solidity of the rave inside, and unwilling to leave it be, began to try and clear the area of anymore would be party-goers. Given the numbers inside the utility of expending resources in order to evict the no more than 30 people from the surrounding area was questionable. Logic notwithstanding however the police formed a line across the road. Shielded, with batons in hand and backed up by horses and dogs, at approximately 3am police baton charged the people remaining outside. A number of people were brutally beaten with batons as they ran away and at least two violent arrests were made of people posing absolutely no threat to the police themselves or the maintenance of public order.Within ten minutes of carrying out this violent attack the police presence completely dissolved leaving the party to its own devices save for a small number of officers who later returned to monitor the harmless proceedings. This change of tactic after having made some token arrests and venting their anger at their failure on innocent bystanders demonstrates the fickle nature of the policing of parties, which represents more of a test of crowd control tactics, a show of strength and intimidation than a genuine attempt to protect the public good. Indeed any genuine attempt to serve the public interest would consist of leaving harmless partygoers to have fun.'

Source: Bristol Indymedia

Moonlight dances not allowed

Regulations posted in the dance halls of Lansing, Michigan, c. 1920:

Rules and Regulations for Public Dance Halls

1. No shadow or spotlight dances allowed.
2. Moonlight dances not allowed where a single light is used to illuminate the Hall. Lights may be shaded to give Hall dimmed illuminated effect.
3. All unnecessary shoulder or body movement or grotesque dances positively prohibited.
4. Pivot reverse and running on the floor prohibited.
5. All unnecessary hesitation, rocking from one foot to the other and see-sawing back and forth of the dancers will be prohibited.
6. No loud talking, undue familiarity or suggestive remarks unbecoming any lady or gentleman will be tolerated.


1. Right hand of gentleman must not be placed below the waist nor over the shoulder nor around the lady's neck, nor lady's left arm around gentleman's neck. Lady's right hand and gentleman's left hand clasped and extended at least six inches from the body, and must not be folded and lay across the chest of dancers.
2. Heads of dancers must not touch.


No beating of drum to produce Jazz effect will be allowed.

Any and all persons violating any of these rules will be subject to expulsion from the hall, also arrest for disorderly conduct.


Source: Vice: an anthology – ed. Rupert Davenport-Hines (Hamish Hamilton, London)

Dance to the Music

People have always come together to move to music. In the process communities have been created, social divisions challenged, pleasure exalted over work and a billion relationships have blossomed. At the same time dancing bodies have often been subject to regulation – rules about when, where and how they can move, rules about who is allowed to dance with who, rules about what dancers can wear and put inside their bodies… That, in essence, is the ‘politics of dancing’.
This site aims to be a celebration of dance as an affirmation of life in different times and places, sometimes dangerous times and places.
(the title of this site comes from the tagline of the film 'The Last Days of Disco')