Thursday, March 29, 2007

Sound Systems Ban at Luton Carnival?

From The Luton News, 27 March 2007:

'Police-run carnival' anger

Bedfordshire police appear to be digging in their heels over a ban on urban sound stages at Luton carnival. The force remains committed to keeping the dedicated music sites out of the May event for safety reasons. But carnival bosses say the police are simply dictating how the town celebrates its biggest day on the calendar.

Luton Carnival Arts Development Trust's Paul Anderson said: "They basically, flatly turned it down and we are still wondering why they are being opposed to it when the sound sites didn't have any incidents last year. We are starting to see a police-run carnival and that's not what we want."

A meeting on Thursday, between police, the carnival trust, the Afro Caribbean Cultural Development Forum and the Luton Sound Systems Forum, was the latest attempt by Luton Borough Council to find a solution suitable to all. As first reported in the Luton News, the urban and reggae sound systems, which attract thousands of people from across the UK, are set to be removed from the event at the insistence of the police. Supt Andy Martin, at Luton Police Station, said an objection raised by the police against four of eight music sites was based on previous experience of the carnival and was purely on the grounds of public safety.

Photo: Luton Carnival 2006

Monday, March 26, 2007

Death of Roller Disco

Following the closure of the Roxy this month, New York City's last remaining roller disco is due to close in April 2007. A news report this weekend stated: 'Roller skaters are hoping the wheels at the city's only remaining roller rink won't screech to a halt. At a demonstration in Crown Heights Saturday, people came out to support the Empire Roller Skating Center, which has been sold and is slated to close its doors at the end of April. After nearly 70 years of fun on wheels, the building is scheduled to become a storage facility'.

In 'Night Dancin'' (1980), a guide to the New York disco scene, Via Miezitis described the Empire in its heyday: 'Rainbows, clouds and blue skies cover the walls. Neon criss-crosses and circles mirror balls hung from high gymnasium-like ceil­ings and transform them into phosphorescent planets in outer space. More rainbow-colored neon outlines a large, square railed-off skating area contained within the main rink; the neon is re­flected on the ceiling and looks like a meteor or laser beams.

Over 1000 skaters cover thousands of square feet of roller rink. Human satellites, they orbit defy­ing gravity, dancing and speeding effortlessly through space. Some re­semble glider planes that float in the air; still others appear as precision per­formance jets as they whirl, dip, roll, fall and suddenly cut across the paths of other "planes." The Empire Roller Disco attracts the best roller disco skaters in the world, who perform their practiced and improvised disco routines regularly to disco beats spun by a regular disc jockey. The dee jay helps lead the skaters through the vari­ous peaks and dips of the speeding and furious en­ergy high that is roller disco at its best'.

Quotes and images from 'Night Dancin'', text by Vita Miezitis, photographs by Bill Bernstein (New York: 1980). There is a petition against the closure of The Empire here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Dancing Times 1943

One of my favourite pastimes is browsing through books and vinyl in car boot sales, jumble sales and charity shops, so I was delighted today to come across a stack of vintage dance magazines in Haynes Lane Market in Crystal Palace, South London (still plenty left there in the book stall there if that's your thing too).

The English magazine 'The Dancing Times' was 'a review of dancing in its many phases' covering ballet, ballroom and other styles. The March 1943 issue (cover here) included various reviews and an article on dance films with the headline 'colour films have come to stay'.

The adverts included ones for The Astoria and the Hammersmith Palais de Danse in London, two venues which have survived down to the present but which are both now under threat of closure.
Both of these venues in 1943 (during the height of World War Two) offered dances every day at 3 pm as well as in the evening. This was a time of more or less full employment so who was dancing at this time of day - shiftworkers? I am fascinated by this daytime dancing culture, which seems to have continued down to the 1970s (Robert Elms mentions going to a lunchtime disco club, and the mod daytime scene in the 1960s was famously described as The Noonday Underground by Tom Wolfe). Who has time to go out clubbing at lunchtime now if they're working, and even if they did where would they go? This is surely due a revival!
Adverts from The Dancing Times, March 1943:

Friday, March 23, 2007

Battle at the Roxy 1984

From the film Beat Street (1984), filmed at the Roxy in New York.

The Roxy, New York

As previously mentioned the Roxy club in New York closed this month. It opened in 1979 as a popular roller disco and, since 1991, had hosted a gay club on Saturday nights. Now it has been sold to developers - as the New York Press notes: 'sprawling redevelopment has engulfed much of the neighboring land on West 18th Street in recent years, and Roxy’s prime location directly below the soon-to-be renovated High Line made the former truck warehouse an irresistible target'. As it came to an end, the DJ played as the final record 'This used to be my playground' by Madonna.

In the early 1980s, the club was a critical stepping stone for hip-hop from Bronx scene to global phenomenon. As Jeff Chang describes it in his essential 'Can't stop ,won't stop: a history of the hip-hop generation':

"When Kool Lady Blue finally found a new home for her "Wheels of Steel" night, her club became the steamy embodiment of the Planet Rock ethos… To its ecstatic followers, the Roxy would become "a club that changed the world." In June [1982], Blue hung out a sign at the rink: COME IN PEACE THROUGH MUSIC. Her gamble was immaculately timed. She opened the club with all of the scene's leading lights at the beginning of a hot summer when graffiti and b-boying and hip-hop music was on everyone's minds.

"The regulars were Bam [Africa Bambaataa ]and Afrika Islam, and then Grandmixer DST, Jazzy jay, Grand Wizzard Theodore, Grandmaster Flash, and I'd rotate them," she says. "We had no booth. The DJ would be in the center of the floor on a podi­um. Everyone could see what he was doing, and he was kind of elevated to rock star status." On both sides of the DJ, large projection screens displayed Charlie Ahearn's slides of Bronx b-boys, rappers, and scenemakers. Nearby, the Rock Steady Crew convened all-night ciphers on the beautiful blonde wood floors.'"

Although it was "billed as the anti-Studio 54", the club attracted David Bowie, Andy Warhol, Talking Heads et al, facilitating the cross over of the music to a wider audience. One regular recalled "The crowds were very diverse. That was why I was so excited to be there. Suddenly this racially mixed group was having a good time partying in a room, which was a very rare thing. On the level of music and art, people were able to bridge all these boundaries."

The club was used as a setting for the 1984 film 'Beat Street', including the classic break dance battle between the Rock Steady Crew and the New York City Breakers (see next post for clip).

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Last Dance at the Roxy

Legendary New York club Roxy closed earlier this month. I'll post some more about its history soon - it hosted a gay club and roller disco up until the end, but also had a key role in the development of Hip Hop. For now here's some footage of the last night.

Australian Jazz Panic

From the archive - this is an article I wrote for Alien Underground 0.1, Spring 1995, a zine edited by Christoph Fringeli (Praxis Records) which promised 'techno theory for juvenile delinquents'.

The powers restricting "raves" in the Criminal Justice Act are not the first authoritarian response to a dance-based culture. The association of popular dancing with sex, intoxication, and black people has made it an object of moralist suspicion at various times in history. It was the jazz dance craze which swept across much of the west that was the source of both pleasure and panic in the 1920s, as Jill Matthews told a meeting of London History Workshop (an informal group of radical historians) in November [1994].

In Australia (where Jill comes from) the dance craze began around 1911 and really took off in 1917 with the arrival of the new "hot jazz" sound from New Orleans. Within a few years, dance halls holding up to 2000 people had opened in most Australian towns, with dances being held almost every afternoon and evening. Dance styles with names like the Whirligig, the Bunny Hug, the Turkey Trot and the famous Charleston (1926) rapidly succeeded each other in popularity, each lasting for a year or two before passing out of fashion. While these steps were highly formalised by today's standards, the emphasis was more on rhythm than on the more difficult to perform steps that existed before 1910, and this was part of their mass appeal.

Soon the dancefloors became a battlefield as the moralist backlash gathered momentum. Dance was condemned as sensual, barbaric and pagan by churches, with the Methodists leading the way in banning mixed dancing on their premises. Doctors got in on the act, with some claiming that doing the Charleston could cause death. There was a strong racist element, with black US jazz musicians being banned from the country in 1928 as part of the government's White Australia policy (supported by the Australian Musicians' Union).

Meanwhile professional dance associations sought legiti­macy by trying to distance themselves from the undisci­plined dancing masses. Their aim was to reimpose the boundary between the artist and the audience by insisting that dancing should be the preserve of properly trained experts. Such dance entrepreneurs reached a compromise with the anti-dance moralists on the basis of licensing respectable dances properly controlled by professionals. By the 1930s a range of local and national licensing laws and restrictions on building use had succeeded in regulat­ing and taming the dance craze.

The discussion after Jill's talk included parallels with the CJB and other situations. Somebody said that in France in the 1840s, particular types of dancing were banned and the police had the power to come on to the dance floor and arrest people (usually working class youths) for dancing in inappropriate ways. Not even Michael Howard has thought of that one yet...

Jill Matthews went on to write Dance Hall and Picture Palace (2005), a book about popular culture in Sydney from the 1890s to 1930s. I haven't seen a copy of this yet, but it sounds very interesting. Michael Howard, the Conservative Home Secretary behind the anti-rave Criminal Justice Act 1994 went on to oblivion.

Monday, March 19, 2007

I could have danced all night

At the weekend I took part with my daughter in a South London community musical production of My Fair Lady, featuring a cast and crew of 200 people from aged 5 to 65. It put me in a mind of an article I came across recently which was originally published in Movie Magazine in 1977. 'Entertainment and Utopia' by Richard Dyer discusses musical movies. At at time when many radicals would have viewed these as simply Hollywood propaganda, and a love of them as a form of 'false consciousness', Dyer sought to identify the utopian impulses behind their popularity:

"Two of the taken-for-granted descriptions of entertainment, as 'escape' and as 'wish-fulfilment', point to its central thrust, namely, utopianism. Entertainment offers the image of 'something better' to escape into, or something we want deeply that our day-to-day lives don't provide. Alternatives, hopes, wishes - these are the stuff of Utopia, the sense that things could be better, that something other than what is can be imagined and maybe realized. Entertainment does not, however, present models of Utopian worlds, as in the classic Utopias of Sir Thomas More, William Morris, el al. Rather the utopianism is contained in the feelings it embodies. It presents, head-on as it were, what Utopia would feel like rather than how it would be organized".

Dyer describes some of 'the categories of the Utopian sensibility' to be found in the musical and how these 'are related to specific inadequacies in society'. The pairings of real tensions found in daily life and the utopian solutions found in the musical include:

'Scarcity (actual poverty in the society)' vs. 'Abundance (elimination of poverty)'

'Exhaustion (work as a grind, alienated labour, pressures of urban life)' vs. 'Energy (work and play synonymous)'

'Dreariness (monotony, predictability, instrumentality of the daily round)' vs 'Intensity (excitement, drama, affectivity of living)'

'Manipulation (advertising, bourgeois democracy, sex roles)' vs 'Transparency (open, spontaneous, honest communications and relationships)'

'Fragmentation (job mobility, rehousing and development, high-rise flats, legislation against collective action)' vs 'Community (all together in one place, communal interests, collective activity)'.

I'm not sure our little production quite embodied all these utopian possibilities - after all the sense of excitement and abundance in the movie versions is partly created by editing and a riot of colour and effects. But the sense of community was certainly quite tangible.
Picture: Audrey Hepburn singing 'I could have danced all night' in 1964 film version of My Fair Lady.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sonic Attack

Back in the 1970s/early 80s the Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV nexus explored the notion of sound as control, including how particular sonic frequencies might be used to trigger particular emotional and bodily states. The 1984 film Decoder (which included Genesis P. Orridge and William Burroughs in its cast) was based on the premise that muzak was being used in this way to control the population. There is certainly evidence that the military have sought to develop sonic weapons. According to an article in yesterdays' Guardian though sonic weapons are already widely deployed across Britain - against young people

'A black box emitting a high pitched pulsing sound designed to deter loitering teenagers is being used in thousands of sites around Britain just a year after its launch, prompting warnings from civil liberties campaigners that it is a "sonic weapon" that could be illegal. The Mosquito device, whose high-frequency shriek is audible only to those under around 25, has been bought by police, local councils, shops, and even private home owners, to tackle concerns over groups of young people congregating and causing disruption.

Less than 18 months after the device, produced by Merthyr Tydfil-based firm Compound Security, went into production, 3,300 have been sold - 70% of them in the UK.
So great has been demand that the company is now working on a more powerful, 50m-range model designed to be used in larger areas such as cemeteries and hazardous building sites, and is drawing up plans for a higher volume hand grenade version requested by the United States prison service to help tackle riots.

However, while some local authorities and police forces are highly enthusiastic about the Mosquito, campaigners Liberty are raising concerns about both the machine's legality and its effectiveness in addressing antisocial behaviour. A survey by the organisation has identified the device being used in every region of England except the north east, including in Merseyside, where police have mounted it on a car to drive to trouble spots. Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said: "At worst, the Mosquito is a low-level sonic weapon; at best, a dog-whistle for kids. Either way it has no place in a civilised society that values its children and young people and seeks to imbue them with values of dignity and respect. Degrading young people instead of providing opportunities for them is a tragic option whose long-term effect is frightening to imagine."

Liberty argues that the device is inappropriate, partly because it is indiscriminate, causing discomfort to and potentially driving away all teenagers in an area rather than specifically targeting those who may be causing trouble. Alex Gask, one of the campaign group's lawyers, said: "Our objection is that this device is clearly designed as a way of getting rid of young people as a problem and about seeing them as a problem rather than identifying specific behaviour they are engaged in and getting rid of that."

The Mosquito worked.... as an irritant, whose four-times-a-second high-pitched sounds began to affect young people only after 10 to 15 minutes'.
Source: Guardian, 17 March 2007.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

When the Waltz was Banned

The Waltz was the focus of outrage as the dance spread from Austria and Germany to France and England in the late 18th and early 19th century:

'[The Waltz] had a swing that demanded a new style of dancing, a close hold (to maintain balance), and a breathless turn of speed that was itself intoxicating. Naturally, the pleasure it gave to the couples who lost themselves in each other's arms, who pressed breast against chest and who, as the music whirled on, embraced each other more and more tightly, itself attracted strong criticism. In parts of Germany and Switzerland, the waltz was banned altogether. A German book proving that "the waltz is a main source of the weakness of body and mind of our generation" proved popular as late as 1799...

Byron himself displayed an extraordinary hostility to the dance. He objected to the "lewd grasp and lawless contact warm," especially between strangers; to the foreign origins of the dance and its adoption by the lower classes; and to the fact that "thin clad daughters" leaping around the floor would not "leave much mystery for the nupital night."

An article in The Times in 1816 about 'the indecent foreign dance called the "waltz"' fumed:

'National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adultresses we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced upon the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion'.

Source: Peter Buckman, Let’s Dance: Social, Ballroon and Folk Dancing (Paddington Press, London, 1978), p.124-7

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Dancing questionnaire 3 - Commie Curmudgeon

Bronx-based radical Commie Curmudgeon has completed our Dancing Questionnaire (also posted on his site), and very interesting it is too. Some threads and themes already emerging from these questionnaires, as well as documenting moments and places that don't deserve to be forgotten.

Can you remember your first experience of dancing?

Spinning around on the hallway floor to Meet the Beatles when I was about four or five years old.

What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?

Stopping traffic in the streets of Manhattan as part of a group that advocated for revolution (even if most of the gawking onlookers didn’t quite get it). All the while dancing. I did that a few times with the New York City branch of the global anti-capitalist-festival group known as Reclaim the Streets [RTS New York traffic sign pictured]. The best event was actually for a relatively small cause, to defend the community gardens, in the spring of 1999. We took over a street in the East Village for a while with little interference for a period that felt like hours. (Probably not as long – I forget how long it was.)

Whats the best place you’ve ever danced in?

Again, with RTS, in the middle of 43rd Street near Broadway, on November 26, 1999. (This was for 'Buy Nothing Day', but also as a prelude to the protests in Seattle that were scheduled for November 30. Somebody asked me if I wanted to join a bus out to Seattle, and I declined, because I didn’t think I should take off from work. Hmm, how many times did I kick myself for that decision later on?) Anyway, it was pretty impressive that we stopped traffic right near Times Square. Though it didn’t last very long – 15 minutes? And many of the people got arrested. I didn’t get arrested – I had a knack for being invisible to the police back then. (It might have helped that I was slightly older than the others and wore slightly less conspicuous clothes. But I happened upon a video later and, as several other people commented, I actually was the wildest in terms of dancing. Not meaning to boast or anything…)

You. Dancing. The best of times….

RTS was good, but golden moments of post-punk youth were better. So… Dancing to a live show by The Monochrome Set in the early ‘80s in a club called the Starlight Ballroom, which was a big, no-frills place in a rundown section of Philly (I think it was Kensington), with about 50 people in the crowd. It was my 18th or 19th birthday, I was blasted in a nice way, and I loved to dance to The Monochrome Set, even though they weren’t known exactly as a dance band [sleeve of 'Alphaville' single, right]. I had good friends there to dance with too. I think that was when I was dancing with all the members of an all-girl art school, toy-instrument kind of noise band called Head Cheese. I went dancing a lot with Head Cheese, and that was fun, if a bit weird. (By the way, brush with fame(?)… The singer of that band, with whom I was fairly good friends for a while (by which I mean just friends, though I wasn’t lacking in other ideas now and then)…went on to form a New York City synth-pop band that had a Top 40 hit in the ’80s. The band was Book of Love, the song was “Boy” (popular especially with the gay set). But I was no longer friends with Susan. We’d had some kind of falling out over…what?…I don’t know…looking back on it, seems like nothing, from what I can tell…) .

You. Dancing. The worst of times…

Some benefit for the Direct Action Network Labor Solidarity Group, in 2001. The benefit was a flop, and I was going through not-so-good times with different members of the group, for different reasons (no, not going to go into it here). The band was some Irish band; I forget who, but they weren’t bad. I sort of danced alongside a few people, activists, who were the only other people on the dance floor. I got drunk, but not for good reasons. Everybody was drunk, but it was a crappy time.

Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?

Hot Club, Philadelphia, late ‘70s – a seedy little place, very punk, very intimate, and wild. That was great… Emerald City, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, late 1970s. Big, garish new wave club, very tacky, but with some incredible lineups and very underpopulated. Saw a double bill there of The Buzzcocks and The Fall in about 1979… Summer porch party in a five-person communal house in West Philly, 1981. One member of the house was in a band called the The Stick Men, who were like a rap-influenced version of the no-wave-funk band The Contortions. We were dancing to her record of The Sugar Hill Gang… Hurrahs, NYC, early ‘80s. Most outstanding experience was a Bauhaus show… Tier 3 and Mudd Club, NYC, early ‘80s. Both were clubs around Soho (if I’m remembering right). Tier 3 was much better, I thought, because it was more intimate and less trendy…. Little club in Tribeca (I forget the name), mid-late ‘80s; they were playing this stuff called “acid house” (loved it)… Limelight, a converted church in NYC, in the mid ‘90s. Not so great, and too trendy. Went to an Orbital show there, and did not have a good time – Orbital was OK, place was far too crowded, just not into pressing bodies with strangers (I can do that on the subway during rush hour)… Irving Plaza, NYC all the way from the mid ‘80s into the late ‘90s. Not a bad place. Had a lot of fun at a Chumbawamba show in about 1998(?) (though I’ve since then gotten very, very tired of Chumbawamba)… And, of course, dancing in the streets, and going to some small warehouse-type raves, with Reclaim the Streets…

When and where did you last dance?

The other night in my bedroom, with a wonderful long-haired cat (by which I mean, really, a cat – I’m not using slang). He clung to my shoulders while I danced around the room to “Sunshowers” by M.I.A [pictured left].

You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make you leap up for one final dance?

Right now… Probably the song that I just mentioned.
If you want to complete the questionnaire please do, either post it on your own blog or send to

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Grime Stoppers

Interesting article in last week's Time Out London about policing of grime nights:

"Imagine a society where the police force says which musicians can and can't perform. Actually, there's no need, it is happening already. So what has the Met got against grime?

Our Nightlife team has long rated DMZ at Brixton’s Mass. ‘We won’t do black nights, we just can’t have them here,’ says a member of the Mass staff who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘The police don’t want us to. They’ve told us not to put them on. The police now have this thing called Club Focus; we have to provide the name, address, date of birth and last three gigs for every DJ and promoter. We’ve had to hire someone full-time to keep on top of it. We don’t get any trouble at DMZ, it’s brilliant. The police are closing a lot of nights down in Brixton, soon black people won’t have anywhere to go.’ Perhaps DMZ escapes scrutiny because – despite being about bass-heavy, urban music – it avoids the grime tag.

Lethal [Bizzle] released his dynamite single ‘Pow’ in 2004 and was immediately cast straight into the centre of the grime scene. The same single, says Khan [his manager], caused the police to refuse to let him play anywhere. [Lethal says] 'There hasn’t been a proper rave up in, oh man, I couldn’t even tell you. Certain areas get silly dickheads going, and there’s the possibility that something might happen. If it does, it’s the artist’s fault. When indie kids jump around, it’s moshing. When black people do it, it’s a riot.’

I put all this to DI Darren Warner of the Met’s clubs and vice department: ‘Part of our ethos as police officers in London is to create a safe environment. Our ambition is to risk assess every nightclub in London but obviously we can’t. Clearly, if it’s a Duran Duran tribute night, we’re not going to be expecting too much of a problem. What that actually means is that we ask venue owners to complete some forms and send in some basic details of what they want to do. We risk assessed 130 events in January and, in the past three months, only two events have been cancelled by us. There are only so many options we’ve got if we think that an event is going to cause harm: we can beef up the venue’s security, we can beef up the policing, or the absolute outside option, we can cancel it.’

‘Which events did you cancel?’‘I can’t say, but the reality is, there just aren’t that many grime nights.’‘But isn’t that because the police won’t let them take place?’‘We can’t ignore recent events, let’s put it that way. If a promoter has had violence at an event, and they’re putting on a similar club night in two weeks, we’d be negligent if we didn’t try and provide a safe environment.’

‘So if someone’s putting on a grime night, how do they go about dealing with the police?’‘They should email us ( about the specific night. We’d like to know about it and we’ll go through them on an individual basis. This isn’t genre-targetted, not at all. I’d like to say that our approach works. We’ve seen a significant reduction in violence and gun crime in the clubs we risk assess.’ " (full article Time Out London, March 7 2007)

This isn't a simple story of 'racist police clamping down on black music' - though that is the effect. The problem of macho idiots throwing their weight around with guns and knives is real enough, but the police dictating who gets to play out is to say the least worrying and effectively smears whole genres of music as being somehow responsible for gun crime. Also last week "Radio One DJ Tim Westwood [was] banned from playing at the Ministry of Sound because of safety fears. He was due to play at the club in Elephant and Castle in front of guests including hip-hop artist Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles. Police stopped the non-ticketed event after fears it would get out of control" (Evening Standard, 9 March 2007).

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Anais Nin: Dancing in 1930s New York City of Rhythm

The writer Anais Nin (1903-77) lived between Paris and New York in the 1930s, and her diaries provide a vivid account of bohemian nightlife in this period. In the latter city, it was the clubs and rent parties of Harlem that were the big draw. The journals describe a 1934 trip with the psychologist Otto Rank:

"Harlem. The Savoy. Music which makes the floor tremble, a vast place, with creamy drinks, dusky lights, and genuine gaiety, with the Negroes dancing like people possessed. The rhythm unleashes everyone as you step on the floor. Rank said he could not dance. 'A new world, a new world,' he murmured, astonished and bewildered. I never imagined that he could not dance, that he had led such a serious life that he could not dance. I said: 'Dance with me.' At first he was stiff, he tripped, he was confused and dizzy. But at the end of the first dance he began to forget himself and dance. It gave him joy. All around us the Negroes danced wildly and grace­fully. And Rank sauntered as if he were learning to walk. I danced, and he danced along with me. I would have liked to dance with the Negroes, who dance so spontaneously and elegantly, but I felt I should give Rank the pleasure of dis­covering freedom of physical motion when he had given me emotional freedom. Give back pleasure, music, self-forgetting for all that he gave me".

A few months later (April 1935) she was back, this time with the writer Rebecca West and the actor Raymond Massey: 'to Harlem, first to a nightclub, to hear some singing, and then to a private apartment. Everyone was dancing and drinking. Half white people, half black, beautiful women, well-dressed men, and jazz, it was intoxicating and magnifiicent, the laughter, the dancing, but I miss the intimacy which grows out of such parties in Paris. Here it is all jokes, banter, evasion'.

Nin's descriptions of black people can certainly be read as patronising, but nevertheless in an era of segregation the very fact of mixed dancing was remarkable.

She perceived a clear link between music and the moods of a modern city. Her night out with Otto Rank concluded 'Driving home the radio in the taxi continues the jazz mood. New York seems conducted by jazz, animated by it. It is essen­tially a city of rhythm".

Later she writes "The radio plays blues. Paris, New York, the two magnetic poles of the world. Paris a sensual city which seduced the body, enlivened the senses, New York unnatural, synthetic; Paris-New York, the two high tension magnetic poles between life, life of the senses of the spirit in Paris, and life in action in New York".

Source: The Journals of Anais Nin, Volume Two: 1934-1939.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Indian Rave Bust

Last week in India, near the city of Pune, police arrested 271 at a rave at a rural farmhouse. Seven people accused of organising the party and various drugs offences were remanded in custody at Yervada jail. They face charges under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

The arrested party goers have garnered some sympathy. In a leader, the Times of India (7 March 2006) noted that 'The list of seizures from the Pune rave party doesn't look particularly incriminating — beer cans, marijuana, cigarettes, music systems, motorbikes, mobile phones and the like', particulary as at this time of year the majority of the population of north India 'was having a party where controlled substances were dispensed'. The latter is a reference to the spring festival of Holi when many partake of a drink containing bhang (derived from the cannabis plant)). The article concludes 'we don't really need a replica of Taliban's moral police — it's a cop-out to reduce policing to hanging out undercover at bars and parties in an attempt to safeguard public morality'.

Many Western travellers have taken part in raves in Goa, but fewer are aware that there is a growing indigenous rave scene in India. Those arrested included students, air hostesses and call centre employees, part of a new globalised workforce plugged into an international dance culture circuit. Indian press reports noted that the details of the party were posted on (an Israel-based trance party site), while amongst those arrested were 12 foriegn nationals including a German DJ, two Palestinians and an Iranian. An Irish woman party organiser called Shaina was said to be on the run. Music and dance cultures break down national and other artificial social boundaries in sometimes surprizing ways...

Photo: disconsolate party goers the morning after.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Rave Magazine 1950s

This US magazine cover is from 1954. By this point the word 'rave' was already being used in London to describe all night parties in the jazz scene.

Was it being similarly used in the US? I suspect that this magazine was using 'rave' in the earlier sense as in 'rave reviews' or even 'raving mad'. Buddy Holly seems to have this sense of raving - rather than dancing -in his 1958 hit 'Rave On':

"Rave on, rave on and tell me, Tell me not to be lonely, Tell me you love me only, rave on to me".

If anyone can find evidence of 'rave' being used as a noun to describe a party in the USA in this period, or even earlier, I would be interested to hear about it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Flogged for dancing - Saudi Arabia

A Saudi Arabian judge sentenced 20 foreigners to receive lashes and spend several months in prison after convicting them of attending a party where alcohol was served and men and women danced, a newspaper reported Sunday. The defendants were among 433 foreigners, including some 240 women, arrested by the kingdom's religious police for attending the party in Jiddah, the state-guided newspaper Okaz said. It did not identify the foreigners, give their nationalities or say when the party took place.

Judge Saud al-Boushi sentenced the 20 to prison terms of three to four months and ordered them to receive an unspecified number of lashes, the newspaper said. They have the right to appeal, it added. The prosecutor general charged the 20 with 'drinking, arranging for impudent party, mixed dancing and shooting a video for the party' Okaz said.

Guardian Online, 4 February 2007

Dancing questionnaire 2 - Scott Wood

Scott Wood describes himself as 'a fortean, veggie, wanna-be writer'. He is the promoter of South East London Folklore Society, runs Valley of the Skitster blog and contributes to Transpontine. The picture of Scott the dancing bear was taken by Baggage Reclaim in Deptford on May Day 2006.

Can you remember your first experience of dancing?

The earliest one I can remember (so it may be my first) was dancing with my Auntie Jean in Wellington College Social Club to Apache by The Shadows and my insisting I slide under her skirts as often as possible. It wasn't any weird Auntie-love this either, I was way too young for that; I just liked sliding along the floor.

Whats the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?

I didn't notice; I was dancing.

Whats the best place youve ever danced in?

Stonehenge, though it was a bit edgy. See also question next question.

You. Dancing. The best of times….

The Treworgey Tree Fayre, 1988, to Culture Shock and, also, the Poison Girls, a Turku club in Fethiye to a bloke with a lute in 2005, on a sofa in a nightclub in Camberley many years ago to I-don't-know-what-indie-tune, out of my skull and dressed like a pirate in Brighton last year to some mash-ups, bare-foot to Papa Brittle at Royal Berks Hospital Social Club. Around the Jack-in-the-Green while dressed as a bear outside the Market Porter (Greenwich) on May Day 2005. That sort of thing.

You. Dancing. The worst of times…

Getting the fear from the massive wreaking-crew at a Meteors gig / Giving the mother of the bride a black toe-nail at a friends wedding / Having a Faith-No-More fan thrown at me and spraining my wrist at the Agincourt in Camberley/ Going arse-over-tit at an anonymous nightclub in Reading many, many years ago while trying to impress a girl / Realising, suddenly, in the middle of dancing, that Born Slippy by Underworld is really, really boring to dance to / Orbital at Somerset House: I'm not a huge fan and dancing on cobblestones doesn't half fuck your knees up.

Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places youve frequented?

Gigging and clubbing history could go, though: anarcho-punk and crustie punk, greebo, goth, noise-nic, erm. Hang, on, sorry, slotting music I've danced to and moments of my life into specific categories is quite a spirit-crushing exercise. I'm a music lover and am not, or ever have been, part of any 'scene'.

When and where did you last dance?

The kitchen, last week. I think it was to a track by Loney, Dear. Last public dancing was to various eighties indie and indie-pop tracks at a mates house in Birmingham on New Years Eve.

You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?

She-La-Na-Gig by PJ Harvey (left)

The 'dancing questionnaire' is something I've designed to try and get a sense of the diversity of people's experiences of dancing and musicking. If you want to contribute, feel free to answer the questions yourself and send to

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Once Upon a Time in New York

Excellent BBC4 documentary this week. Once Upon a Time in New York: The Birth of Hip Hop, Disco and Funk was only an hour long when any of the subjects are worthy of a series, or even a channel of their own, but it did convey a sense of the excitement of a very fertile time. It is arguable whether New York was singly the birth place of these genres, but it is undoubtedly true that in a 6 or 7 year period (approx. 1975-1982) the city was a sonic laboratory producing mutant musical strains that shaped the next thirty years of popular culture (so far). Not to say that New York wasn't important before or since - the film covered some of the pre-history with the Velvet Underground and the Stonewall riots (showing a contemporary newspaper report with the headline 'Homo Nest Raided. Queen Bees are Stinging Mad').

I liked the footage of the club scenes - Edie Sedgwick dancing at Andy Warhol's Factory, a packed David Mancuso's Loft, punters at CBGBs with John Cale, Debbie Harry (right) and Talking Heads in the crowd. Footage of DJ Kool Herc driving around with massive speakers in his car and block parties, an early Blondie performance at CBGBs doing a cover version of Martha & The Vandellas 'Heatwave'. Most hilarious was a TV report from the British 'News at Ten' direct from the dancefloor at Studio 54 with the hapless reporter saying that it was 'difficult to know exactly what it is that attracts people here'. Perhaps he should have asked Wayne County, Nile Rodgers or Nelson George who int he programme recalled sex and drugs on the club's balcony.
If you are in the UK and have freeview or cable, I think you can catch this programme repeated tomorrow (Friday) at 10 pm


'Being against war, telling stories, singing in the shower - these are the signs of a pleasant disposition'
(Jean Baudrillard, Fragments: cool memories III, 1991-95: London, Verso, 1997).

Baudrillard's died yesterday - if this isn't used as his epitath can somebody put it on my gravestone? Two JBs dead within three months - Jean Baudrillard and James Brown, that would be an interesting party.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Parties raided on three continents

1. Cambridgeshire, England

"Police officers were attacked with fire extinguishers as they tried to break up an illegal rave at a disused factory on the edge of Warboys. Nine people were arrested and another was taken to hospital and later released after an eight-hour illegal rave took place overnight on Saturday and Sunday. Police from Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Suffolk were called to break up the rave, which had attracted about 300 people but, when they arrived at about 12.30am on Sunday, fire extinguishers were sprayed and thrown at the officers... Police also seized several thousand pounds worth of music equipment and a number of vehicles. "

Source: Hunts Post, 21 February 2007

2. Suffolk County, New York, USA

"Suffolk County Police arrested 11 people following an investigation at a rave party in Copiague. Officers began investigating the party at the Third Rail Lounge last Saturday, and found that liquor was being sold without a license"

Source: Empire State News, 20 February 2007

3. Sydney, Australia

"A large dance party near Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens was shut down yesterday and 26 revellers were arrested following a police crackdown on illicit drugs. Officers with drug detection dogs raided the harbourside Azure V party at Fleet Steps... The dance party's website, run by iRIS Group Productions, said more than 5000 people - including some of "Sydney's [and the world's] most buffed and beautiful" - were expected to attend the eight-hour gay and lesbian event. But the party was shut down at 9pm following the raid, which police said was part of a operation targeting drug use and supply in The Rocks Local Area Command.... Another reveller, who did not provide his name, questioned the police's motives in shutting down the party. "As a patron of last night's Azure harbour party, I find it hard to believe the NSW Police shut down the party for the concern and health of the people at the party... they ejected 5000 people out of what was a medically supervised and policed event onto the streets to fend for themselves."

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 2007; photo of pre-raid party by 8lettersUK

The Ravers Next Step: into the 1960s

In previous posts we have looked at the revivalist jazz raves organised by Mick Mulligan and Cy Laurie in 1950s Soho. From the mid-1950s a new scene was developing, based around 'traditional jazz'. The musical distinction was that while the former favoured the 1920s jazz band sound found on Chicago recordings by Louis Armstrong and others, advocates of the latter claimed that the real New Orleans sound was to be found in the music of players who had never left the city to head North, unlike Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. This search for the ever-receding holy grail of authenticity was mocked by some at the time. Jeff Nuttall recalls that "Uncle John Renshaw, a band­leader of the time, used to say with some irony 'I'm in the sincerity racket, meself.'"

Despite its antiquarian musical roots, the trad jazz scene (and the related skiffle scene) was very much a youth sub culture of 'ravers'. Nuttall recalls that in the mid-1950s:

"Soho was alive with cellar coffee-bars, where skiffle and jazz could be played and heard informally and where the rich odour of marihuana became, for the first time, a familiar part of the London atmosphere. Sam Widges was the most popular. Also there was the Nucleus, the Gyre and Gimble, the Farm. They were open most of the night and often the management would leave you to sleep where you sat. It was a place to stay in the dry if you didn't want to go home. It became obvious that parental control was going to stop at about the age of fifteen for a large number of young people. Teenage wages were going up and so were student grants. It was becoming possible to push the leaky boat of adult delusions a little further away. The Soho Fair, which ran annually for three years [1955-7], was a festival of the ravers. Bands and guitars and cossack hats and sheepskin waistcoats flooded out of the cellars and into the streets. It was so good that it had to be stopped, so good that it was in the first Soho Fair that the real spirit of Aldermaston was born'. Trad jazz bands provided the soundtrack on the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament marches to or from Aldermaston nuclear weapons base from 1958 (picture of dancers is from 1958 march).

In a 1962 New Statesman article, George Melly described 'An All-Night Rave at the Alexandra Palace', a "'trad' ball" where "Band followed band from 9.30 P.M. until 7.30 A.M. the next morning. The audience were dressed almost without exception in 'rave gear'... the essence of 'rave gear' is a stylized shabbiness. To describe an individual couple, the boy was wearing a top hat with 'Acker' painted on it, a shift made out of a sugar sack with a C.N.D. symbol painted on the back, jeans, and no shoes. The girl, a bowler hat with a C.N.D. symbol on it, a man's shirt worn outside her black woollen tights. Trad' dancing in the con­temporary sense is deliberately anti-dancing. When I first went to jazz clubs, there were usually one or two very graceful and clever couples. But today the ac­cepted method of dancing to trad music is to jump heavily from foot to foot like a performing bear, pref­erably out of time to the beat... Trad musicians have chris­tened these self-made elephants 'Leapniks'." The Acker referred to here was Acker Bilk, the jazz clarinettist and unlikely musical figurehead for late 1950s/early 1960s ravers.

The trad jazz scene as a youth movement was soon to be overwhelmed by The Beatles and everything that followed. In the semi-situationist journal Heatwave (1966), Charles Radcliffe included the ravers in The Seeds of Destruction, a ground-breaking survey of 'youth revolt':

"The Ravers... had some Beat characteristics and rather tenuous connections with the anti-bomb movement but their main preoccupations were Jazz clubs and Jazz festivals; this was the period when ersatz traditional (Trad) Jazz, as purveyed by Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and others was inordinately popular. Partly Trad's popularity arose in reaction to the decline of the small fifties Beat scene; it was easy to dance to and Jazz clubs were among the few places where teenagers could do more or less as they wished without adult interference. Partly it arose because the musicians did not take themselves too seriously and were often simply good-time Ravers".

Ravers' dress was a kind of "'music-hall-cum-riverboat-cum-contemporary-folk-art' with Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament symbol decorated bowlers, umbrellas, striped trousers, elegant jackets. The chicks had long hair, wore ban-the-bomb type uniforms (duffle coats, polo-neck jerseys, very loose around the hips, and jeans). The Ravers were, on the whole, distrusted by other groups with whom they came into contact; the Beats used the term 'Raver' derogatorily and the nuclear disarmers treated Ravers' 'superficiality' with superior amusement and occasional annoyance... The Ravers, as such, died with the 'traditional' Jazz boom but the 'Raver philosophy' continues and there are once again groups calling themselves Ravers. The term has likewise regained its approbatory meaning after the frequent critical use by the CND generation".

Here we have a phenomenon that was to re-emerge with 'ravers' from the 1980s onwards - the use of the term as a put down by the would-be serious minded.

The George Melly quote is reproduced from 'Revolt into Style: the pop arts' (1970); Jeff Nuttall from 'Bomb Culture' (1969). Image source: Science and Society Picture Library. For more on Heatwave, see the excellent Dancin' in the streets! Anarchists, IWWs, Surrealists, Situationists & Provos in the 1960s as recorded in the pages of The Rebel Worker & Heatwave, edited by Franklin Rosemont and Charles Radcliffe, Charles H. Kerr Publishing Company, Chicago. 2005

We would love to hear some first hand accounts of 1950s/60s raves - photos too would be great. If you were there why not leave a comment, or email

How Does it Feel to be Loved?

I went down to How Does it Feel to be Loved? at the Canterbury Arms in Brixton last month, which describes itself as a 'a london club night playing indie pop, northern soul, tamla motown, girl groups, and sixties heartbreak'. The guest DJ was Celtic Soul Brother No.1 and ex-Dexys Midnight Runner Kevin Rowland (pictured here on the night), and the dancefloor was suitably busy.

Rowland played a mixture of (mainly 70s) soul, r'n'b, reggae and disco classics, highlights for me including The Love I Lost, Walk Away Renee, Young Americans and Everything I Own (full set list here). I would have expected a bit more Northern Soul, but resident DJ/promoter Ian Watson did oblige with some of this mixed in with Motown and indie pop (Smiths, Camera Obscura, Belle & Sebastien etc.)

There's something quite singular about the music policy of this club, rewriting pop history around handclaps and heartbreak rather than more familiar categories like 'soul' and 'indie'. As I wrote elsewhere after an earlier visit 'a lot of indie/alternative music is based on an imagined rockist trajectory back to punk which denies soul/pop influences. For me there is a definite thread of broken hearted yearning for a better life from a female (or non-blokey male) perspective linking Diana Ross and Dusty Springfield to Morrissey and Stuart Murdoch.'

Rowland's last track was 'No Fun' by The Stooges and played in this context even this didn't sound so much like a punk precursor as a mutant take on the motown sound (they were a Detroit band after all) - just listen to those handclaps!

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ungdomshuset Eviction

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Copenhagen in angry protests against yesterday's police eviction of Ungdomshuset (the 'Youth House'). There has been a Reclaim the Streets party, barricades and tear gas. Solidarity actions have taken place all over Europe.

The occupied house has functioned as the major alternative social centre in the city since 1982. Its role as a free party venue has been important. A recent communique calling for more Youth Houses asserted: "We are fed up with commercial discotheques, stinking with profit greed and discrimination. We want genuineness, honesty and a life we have influence on. We are tired of social events closing when the party is at its peak, because nobody wants to work for free in a club with a boss. We decide when to close and start our parties, where they take place and what's going to happen. We don't have to consider tickets and profit, because we don't care if we make money or not. Our culture is not about money, power and control".