Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Dancing with Emma Goldman

The anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940) is perhaps best known today for one quote attributed to her: 'If I can't dance I don't want to be in your revolution'. It seems that she never actually said these words, but in her autobiography Living My Life her joy in dancing is obvious.

At one point she recalls her first ball in St. Petersburg, aged 15: "At the German Club everything was bright and gay... I was asked for every dance, and I danced in frantic excitement and abandon. It was getting late and many people were already leaving when Kadison invited me for another dance. Helena insisted that I was too exhausted, but I would not have it so. "I will dance!" I declared; "I will dance myself to death!" My flesh felt hot, my heart beat violently as my cavalier swung me round the ball-room, holding me tightly. To dance to death - what more glorious end! It was towards five in the morning when we arrived home".

After moving to the United States, she was involved in supporting a strike by Jewish women cloakmakers in New York's East Side in the 1890s, including dances for the strikers: 'At the dances I was one of the most untiring and gayest. One evening a cousin of Sasha [Alexander Berkman], a young boy, took me aside. With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade, he whispered to me that it did not behove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway. I grew furious at the impudent interference of the boy. I told him to mind his own business, I was tired of having the Cause constantly thrown into my face. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for, a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to became a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it. "I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody's right to beautiful, radiant things." Anarchism meant that to me, and I would live it in spite of the whole world - prisons, persecution, everything. Yes, even in spite of the condemnation of my own closest comrades I would live my beautiful ideal'.

Later in New York, Goldman met the veteran Russian revolutionary Catherine Breshkovskaya known as Babushka: 'At the Russian New Year's ball we greeted the advent of 1905 standing in a circle, Babushka dancing the kazatchokwith one of the boys. It was a feast for the eyes to see the woman of sixty-two, her spirit young, cheeks ruddy, and eyes flashing, whirling about in the popular Russian dance.'

So even if 'Red Emma' didn't say the exact words put into her mouth on posters and t-shirts, it would seem that they were a fair enough representation of her stance.

The picture of Emma Goldman was taken in around 1886 shortly after she left Russia in the wake of anti-semitic pogroms.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Stop the Violence

A sad weekend in London, with two young people out with their friends killed in separate incidents. Annaka Pinto (left), a 17 year old from Tottenham, was shot in the Swan Pub/club in Phillip Lane, Tottenham, North London.

Across town at The Works nightclub in Kingston, South West London, 23 year old Mikey Brown was stabbed to death.

Of course it's not just a London thing - in Miami a 15 year old has been charged with shooting dead Samuel Brown, 16, and Michael Bradshaw, at a party at the city's Polish American Club. Every weekend all over the world there are people being stabbed, shot, raped or beaten to a pulp at nightclubs and parties or on the way home afterwards.

On this site I try to focus on the positive possibilities of people coming together for music and dancing, but despite what I sometimes say I know that parties and gigs aren't really Motherships that lift people away from everyday life (or at least not always). All the shit of this society - violence, machismo, nihilism, addiction, despair - is played out on the dancefloor just like everywhere else. I don't have any great analysis of this, let alone solutions - do you?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Blinkers Instrument

I went to the degree show at Camberwell College of Arts yesterday and was struck by Georgia Rodger's video piece Blinkers Instrument, with its image of a woman plucking at a harp-like instrument physically connecting her eyes and her thighs.

The artist explains at her website: "In the gendered system of musical instrument classification, string instruments are Apollonian - external, public and masculine. In my contemporary response to this subject instead of the string instrument being representative of the external it is internalised and made bodily (as opposed to being worldly) by the player's elongated eyelashes becoming the plucked strings of the instrument. Compounding my subversion of traditional expectations, the blinkers cut off the player's visual perception of the world and force them to become more aware of the internal world. In respect to gender this feature also forces the aversion of the female player's gaze whilst super feminizing her by the ridiculous extension of her lashes". It put me in mind of Joanna Newsom (right) - well obviously she plays the harp, but also perhaps explores a similar territory of the boundaries between private introspection and public performance.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sheep Farming in the Falklands

The Celebrating Sanctuary refugee music festival last weekend (see earlier post) was rudely interrupted by the sound of assorted airborne killing machines flying past at low altitude. Indeed at Gabriel's Wharf on London's South Bank there was the surreal spectacle of a socialist choir (Raised Voices) performing a version of the Internationale being drowned out by military helicopters.

The occasion was apparently an event to remember the 25th anniversary of the Falklands War. The crowd in Whitehall and around Buckingham Palace was the opposite of the diverse crowd of New Londoners gathered on the other side of the river - mainly white and looking back nostalgically to past imperial adventures. A crowd that cheered Margaret Thatcher in a ceremony that 'concluded with the massed ranks singing Rod Stewart's contemporary hit I am Sailing, with rear admirals, former squaddies, Prince Charles and the prime minister's wife seen joining in'.

The Falklands/Malvinas conflict was a squalid affair. On the one side was the fading Argentinian military dictatorship facing growing unrest, on the other a Conservative government in its first term of office keen to blood its armed forces and rally patriotic support after a year of mass unemployment and urban riots. Over 900 people died in an argument about which flag would fly over a sparsely populated group of islands in the South Atlantic.

The short but bloody war inspired a number of songs, the best of which is undoubtedly Shipbuilding, written by Elvis Costello and Clive Langer for Robert Wyatt, and later recorded by Costello himself on his Punch the Clock album. This lament links the war, unemployment and industrial decline, featuring the lump-in-the-throat lyrical gem 'diving for dear life, when we could be diving for pearls'.

The Argentinian Junta had been sold British arms prior to the conflict, a point highlighted by Billy Bragg in his Island of No Return: 'I never thought that I would be, Fighting fascists in the Southern Sea, I saw one today and in his hand, Was a weapon that was made in Birmingham'. Bragg had only bought himself out of the army in 1981, so had had a lucky escape from being dispatched 'to a party way down South'.

The most sustained assault on the war and its instant mythology came from Crass. When How Does It Feel To Be The Mother of 1000 Dead? was released in 1982 there were calls in Parliament for it be banned. It is a fairly straightforward anarcho-punk anti-war rant with lyrics like 'Throughout our history you and your kind have stolen the young bodies of the living to be twisted and torn in filthy war'. The following year's Sheep Farming in the Falklands is more specific, sticking the boot into 'Winston Thatcher', The Sun newspaper and the monarchy: 'The Royals donated Prince Andrew as a show of their support, was it just luck the only ship that wasn't struck was the one on which he 'fought'?" Their most audacious act was to feature a picture of Falklands 'hero' Simon Weston on their album Yes Sir I Will. The title came from the badly-burned Weston's reply to Prince Charles wishing him to 'get well soon'. For Crass such apparent servility to crown and country simply meant obedience to the war machine.

There were other punk efforts. The Exploited released Let's Start a War (said Maggie one day), while New Model Army's Spirit of the Falklands saw the war as a cynical diversion from the home front: 'The natives are restless tonight sir, Cooped up on estates with no hope in sight, They need some kind of distraction, We can give them that'.

Rod Stewart's Sailing wasn't written for the Falklands (it actually came out in 1977), but this dreadful dirge has twice been pushed into the patriotic service. As well as being adopted as an unofficial anthem for the Navy in the Falklands War, it was also the record that was officially declared as the Number One Single in the Queen's Jubilee Week 1977, widely believed to have been a ploy to disguise the fact that the best selling record was actually The Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Big solstice celebration at Stonehenge this morning: 'An estimated 20,000 people gathered at the stone circle in Wiltshire, in southwestern England. Dancers writhed to the sound of drums and whistles as floodlights colored the ancient pillars shades of pink and purple, and couples snuggled under plastic sheets.' The authorities now allow a time limited access for the gathering at this time of year, a long way short of the old free festival but a step forward compared with virtually no access at all except for paying customers in the 1990s.

Andy Worthington's excellent book 'Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion' is the counter-cultural history of people's efforts to gather there. The state's brutal crackdown on the Stonehenge Free Festival in the mid 1980s is covered in depth, culminating in the infamous 'Battle of the Beanfield' on 1 June 1985 when riot police battered and arrested 420 travellers in a field in Wiltshire. The various Druid groups celebrating there are also documented.

Less familiar to me were the gatherings at Stonehenge earlier in the 20th century. A report from 1930 stated that 'Girls and boys danced by the lights of motor-cars which lined the road to the music of gramophones and a complete jazz band'. The following year 'Some erected portable tents by the roadside. Music was provided by several gramophones at various points outside of the enclosure and minstrels enlivened the vigil with mandolin selections'. He includes a great photo from the 1963 summer solstice of crowds including druids inside the stones with 20-odd sharply dressed mods looking down from the lintels.

Ibiza and Sheffield

Trouble for some of the biggest names on the European clubbing circuit. In Sheffield, Gatecrasher nightclub (formerly The Republic) burnt down this week.

Meanwhile in Ibiza, the authorities have closed down three of the island´s best-known clubs: Bora Bora and Amnesia for one month each; and DC10 for two months, effective immediately. The Government says its actions are a response to reports from local police and Guardia Civil of the use and sale of drugs in these clubs during the 2005/2006 seasons.

Drugs in clubs in Ibiza? Surely not! This reminds me of the scene in Casablanca where the police inspector (played by Claude Rains) orders the closure of Rick's Cafe with the words 'I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here'. The Ibiza tourist economy is based around drugs and dancing, but maybe that's the tension that is being played out here: while some factions of the local establishment benefit from this (club owners, mass tourism hotels) others would prefer to reposition Ibiza as more of an elite holiday destination - the argument comes down to 'can we make more money out of a small number of rich people or a large number of poorer people').

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

London South Bank

One of the best things about being in London in the summer is taking in the free music events, official and unofficial, along the South Bank of the Thames. Over the years, I have seen some really memorable gigs there, notably Natacha Atlas and A Man Called Adam, both of them outside the National Theatre with a fake lawn temporarily covering the concrete square.

The last couple of weeks have been particularly busy. On Sunday, the Celebrating Sanctuary event took place as part of Refugee Week, gathering 'together established and emerging refugee musicians, dancers and artists to celebrate the positive cultural contribution of refugees to the UK'. At the two outdoor stages and a large yurt, I caught performances by The Destroyers, a Birmingham-based Balkan dance band, the Ahwazi Group, playing music from the Arab minority in Western Iran, and some Armenian dancing. As stated on the festival website, 'In music there are no borders. When you have no borders, you have no refugees.’

The weekend before saw the official reopening of the Festival Hall after its refurbishment. On the terraces outside we saw up and coming South London appalachian enthusiasts Indigo Moss and Billy Bragg doing a set of buskers standards such as Goodnight Irene and Underneath the Arches.

Outside of the official programe and further along the river, No Fixed Abode managed to get a sound system down on to the sand at low tide for a free party (pictured). There have been Reclaim the Beach events here since 2000.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Rik Gunnell and The Flamingo

An obituary in The Guardian today for music promoter Rik Gunnell (1931-2007). The clubs he was involved in were critical in London music in the 1950s and 1960s, most famously The Flamingo in Wardour Street where 'In the club's basement, black and white people mingled to an extent unknown elsewhere in London in the 1960s. Judy Garland dropped in to the club's AllNighter, and Christine Keeler played off her lovers there. A who's who of British rock and R&B appeared at the Flamingo under his aegis and a breathtaking roll call of Americans, including Stevie Wonder, Bill Haley, Patti LaBelle, John Lee Hooker and Jerry Lee Lewis'.

Other clubs he was linked to included 'Studio 51, a jazz club where the new bebop was played' after World War Two; the 2-Way Jazz Club (from 1952); the Blue Room (also 1952), featuring modern jazz; The Star in Wardour Street; Club Basic in Charing Cross Road; and Leicester Square's Mapleton hotel. The latter became an all-nighter called Club Americana in 1955 , and Gunnell started extra nights there as Club M which became popular with 'African-American servicemen based then in Britain; and 'Caribbean and African settlers of the Windrush generation'. He moved to the Flamingo in 1958; when it closed in in 1967, Gunnell took over the Bag O'Nails in Kingly Street.

Good stuff on 1960s British r'n'b and soul at Brown Eyed Handsome Man.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Global Party Politics

This month's round up includes neo-prohibition in the US, drug testing in a Thailand nightclub, sound systems at the G8 and a rave in a Welsh forest.

USA: Parents jailed for son's party (source: The Hook, Charlottesville, 14 June 2007)

Two parents were jailed for 27 months for serving alcohol to teenagers at their son's party in their own home in Charlottesville. Police raided the party back in 2002, after a long drawn out court process George Robinson and Eliza Kelly started their sentences last week. The parents had wanted to have a safe party at home to prevent the far greater risk of young people drinking and driving elsewhere. This is after all the country where most people can drive by age 15 1/2, own a firearm at any age, join the Army at age 17, and buy cigarettes at 18 - but not have a drink until they 21.

Thailand: Police Check North Pattaya Disco (Pattaya City News, 9 June 2007)

'At 3:00am on Saturday, Khun Prateep, the chief of the Banglamung District, accompanied by his officers as well as local police raided a popular entertainment venue on Second Road in North Pattaya. Their aim was to check the licensing of the large disco-cum-nightclub as well as checking the ID’s of patrons and staff and searching for illegal substance use.The Banglamung officials said all the licenses were in order and no underage revelers or staff were found, although three customers, one Thai man and two Thai ladies, failed the test for the presence of methamphetamine in their systems. The three were taken back to Soi 9 station for further investigation'

Germany: Sound Systems at G8 protests (source: various Indymedia reports)

A week of demonstrations greeted the G8 summit of world leaders in Heiligedamm at the beginnng of June, with sound systems to the fore in a number of protests. A 'Street Rave' was held as protestors blockaded the road and railway at the East Gate of the summit site for 36 hours. In Rostock, a Reclaim the Streets party was broken up by police, whilst a demonstration in support of migrants rights ended with 1000 people defying a police ban to follow a sound system to gather at the city's harbour (picture left).

Wales: Cops raid rave in the forest (Denbeighshire Free Press, 14 June 2007)

'NORTH Wales Police pulled the plug on an illegal rave at Clocaenog Forest, involving party-goers from the Merseyside area. Officers were informed of a rave by residents living near the forest on June 8. A team of local police officers, supported by colleagues from Rhyl and Colwyn Bay travelled to the site to service a notice to quit to 30 people who had gathered for the rave. Clocaenog Forest has become a popular site for staging illegal raves, otherwise known as free parties, during the summer months over the years.

Ravers from across North Wales and the North West are informed of the gatherings by word of mouth, email or text messaging. South Denbighshire Inspector Mike Hughes said the exact site of the raves vary, but they are generally held within the forest. "They are very well organised and those attending can come from many miles around, including from a wide area of North West England. One of the main issues is that party-goers may think they are in a remote area, but these events actually present considerable disturbance to those who live in the forest or nearby villages, due to noise and traffic," said Inspector Hughes."The other issues are those of public safety and that these may be in breach of licensing legislation that govern temporary events." People at the scene were well organised, providing their own rubbish sacks for recycling, portable generator, a sound system, a marquee, as well as personal tents to camp for the weekend, Inspector Hughes explained'.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ted Heath & Nat King Cole Shake Up Birmingham Alabama '56

The Ted Heath Orchestra were the ultimate in British pre-rock'n'roll light entertainment (Ted is pictured in 1958). The same could be said in the US for Nat King Cole. If their style was as non-confrontational as could be, they could still shake things up in the racist southern states of the USA, as was shown on their tour together in 1956. Ronnie Chamberlain, who played sax for Heath recalled:

‘We went on the road with Nat King Cole and he was attacked. It was horrible. We were booked to play in Birmingham, Alabama, and the guys in his trio were absolutely scared stiff saying, 'We don't want to go there man.' We did our show first and when Nat came on they insisted that the curtain was drawn in front of us so they couldn't see the white band accompanying this 'nigger' singer as they called him. That's how they talked down there, 'Are you with this nigger group?' We couldn't believe it. Leigh Young, Lester Young's brother, was the drummer with Nat and he was the MD and of course we couldn't see him through this curtain. It was absolute chaos and we just had to stop. In the end they relented and pulled back the curtain and big applause went up from the audience. Then there was a commotion and a guy came running down the aisle, jumped onto the stage and was on top of Nat and got him on the floor. The concert stopped immediately and we all went off. I felt really sick and went outside and puked, it frightened me so much. Poor Nat was in a terrible state and the audience were just as shocked as we were. In those days they had segregation with the whites one side, and the blacks the other side but the whole audience were as one, and afterwards someone stood up and apologised for the terrible behaviour to Nat and the band' (source: Talking Swing: the British Big Bands by Sheila Tracy, 1997).

British music paper New Musical Express (April 13 1956) also reported this incident: "One of the world's most talented and respected singing stars, Nat "King" Cole, was the victim of a vicious attack by a gang of six men at Birmingham (Alabama), during his performance at a concert on Tuesday. His assailants rushed down the aisles during his second number and clambered over the footlights. They knocked Nat down with such force that he hit his head and back on the piano stool, and they then dragged him into the auditorium. Police rushed from the wings and were just in time to prevent the singer from being badly beaten up. They arrested six men, one of whom is a director of the White Citizen's Council - a group which has been endeavouring to boycott "bop and Negro music" and are supporters of segregation of white and coloured people. The audience—numbering over 3,000—was all white" (note Chamberlain remembered the latter differently).

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Let's Twist Again

"The Twist, superseding the Hula Hoop, burst upon the scene like a nuclear explosion, sending its fallout of rhythm into the Minds and Bodies of the people. The Fallout: the Hully Gully, the Mashed Potato, the Dog, the Smashed Banana, the Watusi, the Frug, the Swim. The Twist was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia. The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul what the Supreme Court could only write on the books. The Twist was a form of therapy for a convalescing nation..

They came from every level of society, from top to bottom, writhing pitifully though gamely about the floor, feeling exhilarating and soothing new sensations, release from some unknown prison in which their Bodies had been encased, a sense of freedom they had never known before, a feeling of communion with some mystical root-source of life and vigor, from which sprang a new appreciation of the possibilities of their Bodies. They were swinging and gyrating and shaking their dead little asses like petrified zombies trying to regain the warmth of life, rekindle the dead limbs, the cold ass, the stone heart, the stiff, mechanical, disused joints with the spark of life.' (Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice, 1968).

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dancing Questionnaire 6: Bridget

I met Bridget in my local park in South London this week, here's her questionnaire.

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Country dancing and maypole dancing at primary school, aged around 7, is very vivid. I know I must have skipped around before that, as my parents used to play a lot of folky music and go to hippy festivals (Albion fairs), but I don't really remember dancing at home that early. The country dancing is vivid because of the expansiveness of it in space, the need to learn so many details, the need to interact with fellow children.

2. What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Dancing under the stars at a festival was revelatory because I wasn't dancing (embarrassedly and unsuccessfully) to attract anyone for a change, and realised it didn't have to be that way.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
Indoors, on my own or with family, expressively and without self-consciousness, with our disco ball on. I think 'wow, if other people could see me they'd say 'you're a really good dancer' ' Sometimes I leave the blinds up a bit and wonder if anyone can see in.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…

At a ceilidh a few years back. I thought all that country dancing at school would pay off. I was rubbish. I'm just not able to follow rules where the body is concerned. I can't count and know my left from right and keep moving and be graceful. I kept thinking 'If they could see me in my living room on my own, they'd think 'she can dance, actually.' '

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
- Country dancing 7-11 at school (quite a lot, it was a tiny Norfolk school, and my mum taught there, and she is a music teacher & folky)
- Dancing to Abba with friends in our living rooms, aged 9-11
- Early experience of school discos in the giant hall at North Walsham Girl's High School. Mostly girls, sometimes all girls. 1977, Frigging in the Rigging, the headmistress is called and pulls the plug on the music system. Discovering new kinds of music around 1979-1980 was very formative. I liked all that bouncing around to punk and Madness.
- Then, late night discos in North Walsham, Cromer, Mundesley etc, every Friday night. 1980-1982. Discovery of boys and snogging. Dancing was all about getting that. It was really scary and where my dancing insecurities were born. Besides, I've always had trouble hearing at all against music, so would get really anxious as I couldn't dazzle with conversation. The more pernod and black I had, the more I could dance.
- Sixth form 1983-85 - was very arty & Gothy, quite a lot of time was spent at gigs, not always dancing. But when I did, lot's of moody arm-swinging Morrissey style.
- 1985-1992 - Long period here of studenty-grungy-ness, but with increasing sophistication. I went through an unfortunate phase of being involved with bikers & heavy metal - used to go to Hungry Years in Brighton for head-banging (picture right, from here). The horrified 'what-was-I-doing?' reaction from that was to get into retro basement Latin Jazz clubs, frequented by some really snazzy dancers in cocktail dresses. People didn't used to dress up so much like that then. I used to feel humbled & very unglamorous.
- 1992 - I started working such long hours and moved to London I stopped going out, dancing was occasional and home-based, or the odd single-song boogie.
- 2005 - Discovered that my daughter has a great talent & enthusiasm for dancing - we dance together. She wants to be Madonna. Feel happier about dancing when I go out now, especially if she's with me. We just went on holiday, where they had music shows most nights and we had a great time dancing to tacky music.

6. When and where did you last dance?
Last night, to some home made rhythms with my 7 year old. Trying to show her what syncopation meant.

7. You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
Probably something Latin by Tish Hinojosa or Joyce, but if I was living entirely in my childhood memories by then, then probably Dancing Queen.

Previous Questionnaires here. If you would like to complete on, please see box to right.

1920's London Nightclub

This is an extract from the 1929 silent movie, Piccadilly, featuring a dance sequence with two of the film's stars, Gilda Gray and Cyril Ritchard. The nightclub used in the film was The Cafe de Paris, still going today despite a bomb landing on the dance floor in 1941 and killing 80 people.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

English Councils target 'Rave Renaissance'

In a press release this week, the Local Government Association has warned of a ‘Rave Renaissance’ and that 'Illegal raves could sweep the nation again this summer with many taking place around festival days... Raves and free parties first emerged in the UK in the late 1980s and dominated youth culture until the mid-1990s. The last couple of years has seen a rave revival, with 'Nu Rave' music acts growing in popularity among mainstream audiences. Communication via the internet and the ease of mobile phone technology also make illegal raves easier and quicker to organise than back in their heyday when word of mouth was key. Under the Licensing Act 2003 organisers of such events have to apply to their local council for a licence each time they want to stage an event'. The press release helpfully tells us that 'Nu Rave refers to a style of music fusing elements of disco, electronic and punk'.

The LGA, which speaks on behalf of local authorities, states that 'War will be waged against illegal ravers'. It has put together a plan for councils including a mixture of carrot and stick:

'• If an illegal event is being organised help the organisers apply for a temporary event licence on suitable land and within the confines of the law;
• Work with the police and local landowners; set out plans and powers, such as injunctions and seizing of sound equipment;
• Gather intelligence of future events by scanning the internet and by visits to pubs and clubs where messages and event flyers can be found;
• Ask landowners and residents to remain vigilant, particularly around festival days and bank holidays.
• Consider setting up designated ‘free party’ sites to avoid damage to the countryside and a hotline for the residents to call if they have concerns about illegal events taking place'.

All of this effort is justified on the basis that raves 'cause irreparable damage to the countryside and ruin the lives of local residents whilst putting their own lives at risk'. Is this true? Sure these events can be annoying for some, and there are sometimes idiots in attendance who do stupid things. But events often take place in the middle of nowhere with no real damage.

Last weekend for instance 'police were prevented from stopping an 18-hour music event attended by more than 400 people in a forest near Swaffham. Under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 a rave must involve at least 20 people trespassing on land and playing loud amplified music while causing serious distress to local residents. Norfolk Police said they could not act against the gathering because it was in a remote location and could not meet the criteria of causing any distress to residents' . As for damage, the alleged cleaning bill of £500 for 'a massive rave at the Horsey Gap beauty spot' (also in Norfolk last month) hardly suggests a 'trail of destruction' and certainly nothing like the damage routinely caused by the army on Salisbury Plain and other parts of the countryside, let alone the permanent devastation of green space by council-licensed developers all over the country.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Yuri Gagarin - first song in space

Following yesterday's post on the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, I am starting a series of posts of space sounds. Pride of place in my cosmic record collection is this 7 inch from 1961, Conquest of Space, released to commemorate the first trip by a human into outer space by Yuri Gagarin on 12th April.

It includes recordings of Gagarin entering the spaceship ("In a few minutes I shall be launched into outer space in a powerful cosmic ship") and from the trip itself, not to mention some bars of the song that Yuri Gagarin sang during his return to earth - the first song to be sung in space (apparently it was The Motherland Hears, the Motherland Knows, tune by Shostakovich) . Unfortunately its not actually Gagarin's version on the record.

Obviously the record is very much a project of the Cold War, complete with a speech by Krushchev and Gagarin thanking the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But it is an also an artifact of a more optimistic period in which human subjectivity seemed to be expanding and the Situationist International declared that 'Humanity will enter into space to make the universe the playground of the last revolt: that which will go against the limitations imposed by nature. Once the walls have been smashed that now separate people from science, the conquest of space will no longer be an economic or military “promotional” gimmick, but the blossoming of human freedoms and fulfilments, attained by a race of gods. We will not enter into space as employees of an astronautic administration or as “volunteers” of a state project, but as masters without slaves reviewing their domains: the entire universe pillaged for the workers councils' (I'm not sure about the pillaging bit, but agree with the spirit).

Well so far the future hasn't worked out as planned - no leisure society, no moonbase alpha -but some of us are still hopeful.

A couple of MP3s to download if you're so inclined, one of this record and another featuring a sample from it - the latter a track put together by me and Jason Aphasic under the moniker Roteraketen for the AAA compilation 'Rave in Space' (must admit my main musical contribution was bringing the sample)

Conquest of Space - Yuri Gagarin (1961) - MP3

Roteraketen - Here to Go (2000) -M4A

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Space is the Place

A pleasant evening at the Camberwell Squatted Centre in South London last night, spent watching the fantastic Sun Ra film Space is the Place, as well as a short film about the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (AAA). Later I played some of my extensive collection of space-themed music. Last night this included everything from Pharoah Sanders (Astral Travelling) to The Rezillos (Flying Saucer Attack) via Klaxons (Gravity's Rainbow), with some Derrick Carter (Tripping among the stars) thrown in.

I began accumulating this collection when I was part of the Disconaut node of the AAA (1995-2000). The premise of the AAA was a global network committed to challenging the state and corporate monopoly of space through the development of community-based space exploration programmes. Within this network, Disconaut AAA focused on dance music as a vehicle for space exploration. Some of the Disconaut material from our Everybody is a Star! newsletter is archived at Uncarved, but the full story of the AAA remains to be told - and maybe the story isn't finished yet, as AAA Kernow (not unconnected to Nocturnal Emissions) apparently relaunched itself last month. I have reflected on the AAA experience elsewhere and will be considering all of this further at this site, but for now here's the founding text of Disconaut AAA:

Disconauts are go! (from 'Everybody is a Star!', no.1, 1996)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 01, 2007

Dancing Santa Faces Deportation

No One is Illegal in Vancouver are fighting against the deportation of an Iranian refugee, well known in the local community for his dancing.

"Refugee claimant Iraj Ghahremani, 70, has danced as a "Santa Claus" in North Vancouver's Iranian new year festivals since he fled Iran in 1999. But now that Canada has denied him refugee status and ordered Mr. Ghahremani deported next week, the Iranian community fears it will lose a dancer much-loved by children, and that Mr. Ghahremani will be imprisoned in a country where it is forbidden to dance in public.

"I want to bring happiness to the Persian community," Mr. Ghahremani said. "Right now dancing in Iran is forbidden, it's suppressed, they don't like that kind of happiness." Ray Negini, a friend, added: "He helped people and has made the children laugh. He is a humorous person who will not be abandoned. No one can replace him."

Mr. Ghahremani plays Haji Firouz, a boisterous traditional figure whose songs and dances herald the coming of Norouz, the Iranian new year. Clad entirely in red with a pointy hat, Iranians liken him to Santa Claus - a well-known figure in traditional celebrations who has little meaning in religion. This was his favourite character when Iran was under the regime of the shah, which crumbled under the Islamic revolution in 1979. Among the reforms demanded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomaini in the new Islamic Republic was a strict prohibition against dancing in public.
"Religion mixed with the government, and the fanatic part was that no one could dance," Mr. Negini said. "Iraj abandoned [dancing] because the government wouldn't allow him to do that." Mr. Ghahremani became an activist in the Islamic Iran, said Davood Ghavami, his lawyer and community advocate. Mr. Ghahremani was arrested for membership in the opposition party, the National Front of Iran. When he was released, he came to Canada in 1999 and claimed refugee status' (more here)

Dancing Questionnaire 5: Charles Donelan

Charles Donelan has sent in this fascinating questionnaire covering his dancing odyssey through some legendary clubs in New York and elsewhere with a cast including Madonna and the Jesus & Mary Chain. Charles writes regularly on arts and entertainment for the Santa Barbara Independent, but really should get working on that book on 1980s New York!

Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
First ever was probably to some classic rock cover band in the junior high cafeteria. Or was that the gymnasium? But really dancing—for me that started in New Haven , CT , USA around 1979. People danced to the new wave and punk music of the time, but that was where I also began to hear the first Sugarhill records, and to dance to James Brown, Fela, and Parliament/Funkadelic at parties in dining halls or at people’s apartments. This was fun but still essentially random, just college kids messing around.
By the time I moved to New York City in 1982 I had discovered the Mudd Club, Danceteria, and the Peppermint Lounge, where people were dancing to the Bush Tetras, the Feelies, James White, Konk, ESG, and other new wave bands of that era. But this was also when “The Message” broke, and a lot of other great early hiphop, and I can remember hearing it for the first time on club dance floors at places called things like “Fallout Shelter” that closed after a month and thinking this is big. At first people did the same new wave style dance to the hiphop beats, bent at the waist and knees, crossing their arms and legs rhythmically, low in front, and popping up at exciting moments, and spinning 360 or 720 degrees. When I started working as the elevator boy at Danceteria in 1983 (flyer left), the second floor dance area had a range of steady DJs who were all in Rockpool—Mark Kamins, Ed Bahlman, Walter Durkacsz, and Johnny Dynell—and they all had the signature New York sound—a mix of hiphop, disco, rock, funk, and what we now call “80s,” all filtered through these really loud, really noisy sound systems and mixed with way too much cheap phase shifting etc. All the kind of cheesy effects that you can still hear on something like Armand Van Helden’s New York a Mix Odyssey CD.

Around 1983 everyone started to go to the Roxy roller disco on Thursday nights to hear Afrika Bambataa. There was crazy break dancing going on there, with an “Everbody”-era Madge right in the middle of it [Madonna's was the last record played at the Roxy's gay club earlier this year - even if she didn't turn up personally - Neil] . Malcolm Mclaren hired young teenage doubledutch rope jumpers from Harlem to perform at 3 in the morning to premiere “Buffalo Gals.” My gf and I were in the Roxy VIP with Daryl Mac, Run, and John Lydon. If you want an idea of what the sound was like, think the loudest system ever, turned up. Each week they premiered a song—I can remember being there for the premiere of “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.” To make the people really dance, Afrika played just the first two bars of “Hey Mickey!” for five minutes.

2.What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Connecting with other people. There are certain things that only come out on the dancefloor, and great music takes people far out of themselves. I have met and befriended individuals through going out dancing who have changed my life, and my interest in nightlife has had an impact on my career. But the most significant things that happen while out dancing are the excitement of the moment and the intensity of the memory impressions that it leaves.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
Nell’s on West 14th circa 1986-90 had a great, small, dark basement dancefloor. It is perhaps best known as the place where Tupac’s New York sexual assault charges began. Nell’s had a really strict door policy, but it was still done by coolness, rather than how much money people planned to spend. The cover charge was $5, and they took it from pretty much everyone, at least for the first year. For at least the first two full years we had the run of the place on Thursdays, which was the best night. The DJ, who is still working, and is a wonderful dancer, was Belinda, and I am convinced that she was responsible for breaking Eric B. and Rakim to the right people in New York . Her signature song was “For the Love of Money,” she played a lot of hiphop, and it was the most exciting dance floor you could imagine. It often had combinations like Tupac, Kate Moss, a Haitian drugdealer, Prince, his bodyguards, the Beasties, and Linda Evangelista all dancing at the same time in a group of no more than 200. That was fun.

So was the next big place to open, which had a much harder edge to it. Mars was in the Meatpacking district and it was opened by Rudolf of Danceteria and Yuki Watanabe, his Japanese backer. This place looked out on the Hudson River through metal pilings and had a neon sign over the dance floor that said DRUGS. The records that broke there include the the late 80s Public Enemy hits, the Soul II Soul record, “Keep on Movin’,” which was incredibly influential in New York, and a whole bunch of other classic hiphop of the late 80s and early 90s.

The best of all New York clubs in the 1980s was the World. This was an abandoned Ukrainian dance hall in the lower east village that was 100 feet from the Toilet, the city’s most notorious heroin spot. The World had a super-strict, totally countercultural door policy, and hosted the U.S. debuts of such talents as the Jesus and Mary Chain and the Pogues. I think that dancing to Street Fighting Man at the Jesus and Mary Chain show at 3 am because the band still had not gone on, and being happy about it, might qualify as the best of times ever.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Afterhours at Save the Robots on Avenue B… with real vampires.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
New York City , see above, and in Southampton , New York , in the potato barns turned nightclubs of the late 1980s and early 1990s. These parties were good, with mostly pop music, but this is also where I got my earliest exposure to techno. Places I traveled to where dancing occurred include London, from about 1981 on, where I went to whatever clubs I could find in timeout; does anyone remember a place in an old theater that had a raked dancefloor? That was something. So was Leigh Bowery (pictured). I saw a very good Pogues show at the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden in 1986 I think, and I danced to Haircut 100 at the ICA on or around New Years of 1981. Then there’s Los Angeles , where I went to a vintage warehouse rave in the early 1990s with people who would not do that today. LA has a funny dance club/nightlife history, with 80s hair metal giving way to hard house somewhere around 1993, and lots of the same people somehow attending. The most recent great dance scene I have witnessed was in South Beach Miami for Winter Music Conference 2007. Miami has some of the energy of New York back in the day.

6. When and where did you last dance?
I danced on Saturday night at the Wildcat Lounge in Santa Barbara , California to hard contemporary house. It was Memorial Day weekend, a big holiday here, and I felt I saw almost everyone I know, because Santa Barbara is a small town.

7. You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
Caravan by Duke Ellington.

1983 Halloween flyer for Danceteria, New York from the excellent Danceteria blog - where there is a whole archive of flyers from this period.