Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dancing Questionnaire 7: Jeff, California

Our latest questionnaire has been completed by Jeff, who works in the wine trade in California, something that sounds very enticing on a grey October morning in South London (although looking at the news about fires in California, they might be envious of a bit of rain).

Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Don't remember this, exactly, but there's a picture of me dancing at a Grateful Dead show in 1973 or 1974, when I was 2 or 3. I do remember using a tennis racket as an air guitar and jumping off my toybox was I was 4 or 5. I think I had seen Elvis on television and was aping him, but now, for some reason, I always associate this memory with Ray Davies and Paul Weller.

What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Finding the ability to be absolutely at peace with myself, and losing all sense of self-consciousness, in a large crowd while dancing energetically, bizarrely, etc. And making a coupe of great friends.

What's the best place you've ever danced in?
There's a bunch... but went to a rave in La Paz Bolivia in 2000 where the dj was playing really good hard acid in an old colonial building at 3500m elevation. Great evening.

You. Dancing. The best of times….
Josh Wink dropping "Fool's Gold" just as the sun was rising over the Nevada desert at a big rave there in the mid-90s. Dancing with my dad at Burning Man in '98, when we were both off our heads on an assortment of things. A girl turning to me in the middle of Richie Hawtin's set at Glastonbury '95, and, smiling, asking "What have we done to deserve this?! " Wink, again, just after "Don't Laugh" came out, playing at a tiny club in LA. Dancing to James during their 2000 tour at MEN Arena. Weatherall at Heaven.

You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Taking something really, really weird at Glastonbury, and losing it a bit while Eat Static looped "Let them eat static" at volume ten. Tried to recover by focusing on a really kind - and gentle-looking girl to pull myself out, and telling her that she'd really helped me out. She looked at me, laughed me off, and walked away. Bad trip. Having parties shut down by the police. Having big parties canceled- the usual stuff...

Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places youve frequented?
My first party was a Doc Martin gig at a dis-used Vet's Hall in California in 1990. I became involved in the Southern California rave scene in the early-late 90s. Enjoyed several trips to check out the New York acid/hardcore scene during this time. Several trips to the UK for parties/dancing/records. Desert parties. Good raves in Peru and Bolivia...

When and where did you last dance?

Rather bizarrely, perhaps, to Morrissey, live, two weeks ago.

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

Very tough call. "Fool's Gold', probably... Or Vapourspace's "Gravitational Arch of 10".
All questionnaires welcome- just answer the same questions and send to Previous questionnaires here.

First Woman to Sing in Space

We have already discussed Yuri Gagarin's first song in space. A couple of years later, a woman's voice joined the ranks of space singers:

'On June 16th 1963, for the first time ever, a woman sang in space. The singer was Valentina Tereshkova, a 26-year-old Soviet cosmonaut and former textile worker, and the song was about her homeland, Mother Russia. Valentina had left the planet human beings inhabit, with all its diverse frontiers, to become the first woman and fifth cosmonaut after Yuri Gagarin to pioneer a new order of living in the unexpected dimensions of the universe... She remains to this day the only woman to accomplish a solo flight in space for three days'.

Tereshkova had been in a folk group, playing the domra (a Russian stringed instrument). In an interview she was asked 'During his flight Gagarin sang to Mission Control and he heard them play a popular song 'Moscow night'. You also sang during your flight, can you remember the words?'. She replied: 'They were something like this:

I see the black Heaven close to me
Beneath me the Earth is full of poppies
You are awaiting me Earth
I am flying, flying, flying.
My Earth until you call me back.'
This sounds like she may have made this up, in which case this would have the honour of being the first song written in space.

Source: Valentina: First Woman in Space, Conversations with A. Lothian (Durham: Pentland Press, 1993)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

San Francisco Bus Stop Rave

From Golden Gate Xpress, 22 September 2007:

People overflowed into the street and crowded around the westbound bus stop at Haight St. and Fillmore St on Friday night. They whooped and threw glow sticks in the air, dancing freely to music pumping out of the rigged bus stop and a nearby car, and green lights flashed from the tiny shelter where people usually just wait for the 6, 7, and 71 bus lines.

This impromptu rave, like the pillow fights, zombie days, and big wheel races that came before it, is an example of people in San Francisco deciding to create their own fun for free. These peaceful free-for-alls help people forget about all the stresses and serious concerns of the day and just cut loose for an exciting good time.

This rave was organized by Brent Lowteck, 25, a San Francisco native who has rigged bus stops at least five times before this. SF State alumni Leslie Carroll, 24, and Alex Oestreicher, 22, both heard about the rave on “It shows the character of the city, that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, that we can get together and have fun at a bus stop in the Lower Haight on a Friday night,” said Oestreicher... Bus riders were also surprised at the crowd cheering for the bus as they pulled up to their stop, but none were annoyed by the ravers, one saying it’s a great thing to do on a Friday night.

The police came to the site three times before 11:00 p.m. The ravers would turn off the music, light up cigarettes, and stand around waiting for the authorities to leave. As soon as they did, the party was back on... By 11:00, the crowd was about half as large, but the remaining few kept the party going, having fun for free and clutching their brown-bagged beer bottles as they danced into the night.

There's a video of an earlier event here.

Indian dance

A couple of interesting posts focusing on different aspects of dancing in Indian cultures.

Richard at Rough in Here... has become an enthusiast for Mujras , and has posted some footage of the dancer Megha so you can see what all the fuss is about.

Meanwhile Blackdown has an interview with a participant in the recent Navrati celebrations in London, a Hindu festival featuring nine nights of dancing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Derek Jarman and the colour of noise

I’ve been reading Chroma, by Derek Jarman (1994), I believe the last of his books published during his lifetime. It's a meditation on colour, all the more poignant as he was going blind at the time. At several points he talks about the colour of music:

- ‘the painter Kandinsky who heard music in colours said: "Absolute green is represented by the placid middle notes of a violin"’
- ‘It was on a tortoiseshell lyre that Apollo played the first note. A brown note. From the trees came the polished woods to make the violin and bass, which smuggled up to the golden brass. In the arms of yellow, brown is at home’
- ‘You set the colours against each other and they sing. Not as a choir but as soloists. What is the colour of the music of the spheres but the echo of the Big Bang on the spectrum, repeating itself like a round’.

This an ancient theme, going back at least as far as Pythagoras and various occult cosmologies linking musical notes, colours and heavenly bodies in a cosmic harmony. I particularly like the colour thought forms of Annie Besant and Charles Leadbeater, where they attempted to show the colour forms they believed were left by different kinds of music, the music of Gounod hanging over a church for instance. More recently there have been attempts to scientifically ascribe colours to sound, based on analysis of the frequency spectrum to identify pink noise, blue noise and so on.

Has anyone tried applying some of these ideas to current music? What does a dubstep thought-form look like hanging above a club in South London? What colour is grime?

Eskimo Song Duel

Before the soundclash, before reggae, before hip hop, there was the song duel:

‘In Alaska and in Greenland all disputes except murder are settled by a song duel. In these areas an Eskimo male is often as acclaimed for his ability to sing insults as for his hunting prowess. The song duel consists of lampoons, insults, and obscenities that the disputants sing to each other and, of course, to their delighted audience… The verses are earthy and very much to the point: they are intended to humiliate, and no physical deformity, personal shame or family trouble is sacred. As verse after verse is sung in term by the opponents, the audience begins to take sides; it applauds one singer a bit longer and laughs a bit louder at his lampoons. Finally he is the only one to get applause, and he thereby becomes the winner of a bloodless contest’

Source: Man’s Rise to Civilisation – Peter Farb (London: Secker & Warburg, 1969)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Disco was the only time we were equal

“Disco was the only time we were equal. No one cared whether you were black or white – no one even knew. We were using the culture and the clubs to elevate our thinking. It was revolution in a primal way… If you think about it, the whole movement was run by women, gays and ethnics: Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Grace Jones… I mean the Village People were revolutionary! People who would never even stand in a room with a gay person were dancing to San Francisco, and that’s what was so subversive about disco. It rewrote the book”

Blues Dance, West London, 1980s

'Blues dance is walking on the edge of Babylon and claiming cultural space. Black youth articulate their experiences and forge alternative aesthetics in opposition to dominant culture. On a winter's night when the moon is frozen and chill breeze take a walk, music drop from sound system like heavy lead. Dub voices chant all de while shaking the roof in full charge. The youth dance in combat formation, back to the wall and forward motion only. They've come from all over the Grove and beyond; for this is a vigil of testimony and incantation threaded through Reggae rhythms. The trumpets take a turn and they come with force. The sounds, dub wise, jus stretch big and broad…

Voices saturate the cramped basement and rise with the morning mist. The people here are below ground level and socially they occupy strategic locations for all of society is within scope. There are few real opportunities for the youth to fulfill their potential in Babylon so they walk the edge of downpression and focus their visions beyond the dreadlines of the night. Seeds of hope grow in their hearts and the Dee Jay chats with a fresh surge of melody…

The echo chamber hits the words unto the concrete walls and the bounced sound, a receding thud races across the area. Blues dance transcends mere cultural opposition. It is particularly significant for the ways in which Black Youth explore and create musical forms and textures using available technologies. Many sound systems own equipment they have partly constructed or adopted to suit their own needs. Speakers are built with appropriate wood to achieve desired sound densities. The sound chamber is made tight to maximise the sound output. A good speaker should be able to accommodate the bass line and drum calls and give them appropriate tone and resonance…

The microphone is the symbol of dialogue. The Dee Jay engages the past and present simultaneously, livening up the session with varying delivery styles and subjects. The Blues dance is a school of social and political education and everyone comes with something to give and take away. They come for a communal affirmation of their own personal experience and they celebrate with spirited choruses when the Dee Jay calls.

The history of the sound system in Britain has produced many styles and forms popularised by two generations of Dee Jays and sounds. They include Coxsone Outernational, Unity, Sir Lloyd, Turbo Supreme, People's War, Channel One High Power, King Tubby's HiFi, Saxon, Sister Culcha, Lorna Gee, Smiley Culture, Ranking Ann, Pato Banton, Mad Professor, Asher Senator, Sister Audrey, Macka B, Martin Glynn and Tippa Irie. The Dee Jay tradition echoes that of the Calypsonian and hip hop rapper. Historically they are all rooted in the role and function of the African griot as the eyes and ears of the community’.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2007

It ought to be a crime

Conversation in my house tonight:

"Did you hear that DJ Andy Kershaw got convicted yesterday"

Rose (my daughter), in all seriousness: "what did he do, DJ badly?"

Yes, it really ought to be a crime.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Japanese Silk Workers Songs

In late 19th century and early 20th century Japan, thousands of young women workers were recruited from villlages to work in the cotton and silk mills. The work was hard with long hours and dangerous conditions, and even outside of work the companies controlled their workers' lives, keeping them in dormitories and controlling their movements.

'Many did not get out of their dorms until the end of the year when they were allowed to visit their homes for New Year's. In order to keep the girls confined, factories built tall fences around the compounds - much like those of a prison camp. In fact, factory girls used to sing:

Working in a factory is like working in a prison
The only difference is the absence of iron chains'

In 1927, silk workers went on strike in Okaya. They 'marched through the town of Okaya singing labor songs, one of which went:

Harsher than prison life is life in the dormitory
The factory is like hell
The foreman is the devil,
and the spinning wheel is a wheel on fire

I wish I had wings to fly away to the other shore,
I want to go home, over the mountain pass,
to my sisters and parents.'

Source: Mikiso Hane, Peasant, Rebels and Outcastes: the Underside of Modern Japan (New York: Pantheon, 1982, p.185-196.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

We would think her raving

There is a style of 1970s/80s US radical feminist writing that takes 'man-made language' to task, disavowing the patriarchal voice with its impassive claim to objective authority, and developing a discourse that foregrounds personal subjectivity and poetic language. It is a 'raving' discourse that reclaims elements of experience seen as being denied as 'hysterical'. This style is particularly associated with Mary Daly, but is also found in Susan Griffins's Woman and Nature - The Roaring Inside Her (1978). The following are some extracts from the latter on dancing and music. I am particularly struck by the immersive conception of music as a wave that sets us in motion.

Our dreams - what lies under our stillness

This above all, we have never denied our dreams. They would have had us perish. But we do not deny our voices. We are disorderly. We have often disturbed the peace. Indeed, we study chaos - it points to the future... Many of us who practiced these arts were put on trial. We stood at the gates of change, but those who judged us were afraid. They claimed the right to order the future. They would have had all of us perish, and most of us did. But some kept on. Because this is the power of such things as we know - we kept flying through the night, we kept up our deviling, our dancing, we were still familiar with animals though we were threatened with fire and though we were almost to a woman burned. And even if over our bodies they have transformed this earth, we say, the truth is, to this day, women still dream.


Yes, we are
dancing, oh yes, we are
dancing, oh yes, we
dance, whenever we
can. Now we
move together.
Tambourine. The joy.
Tambourine and pipe.
The joy in me. Tambourine,
pipe and violin.
The joy in me that
I see in you
. Tambourine,
tambourine. tambourine
and pipe. And if we should
violin, tambourine,
violin, if danger over
takes us
, tambourine
and pipe, we must
stay together
, violin
and harp, we must
not forget
. Violin, pipe,
tambourine and harp.
Now we move together.
Feeling dances through us.
We move our feet together.
We do this dance.

Tambourine, tambourine,
harp and violin.
We dance
to be free
. harp,
harp and pipe,
free to live our lives,
tambourine and harp,
the way we dream.
Tambourine and
harp. If
one of us falters
violin, violin, violin,
danger over takes
, violin, violin,
we must not forget,
tambourine, tambourine,
what happens to one, pipe
and harp, happens
to us all.
we move together, this
music rushes through
us, we dance with
the wind, to the
singing of the trees…

Her vision

She sees lives half lived becoming whole. She reads stories that have never been written. Sees whole cities grow up, and the new growth of forests that were razed long ago. She sees all kinds of marvels far beyond what we ask her to see, things, she says, we could not even dream. We would think her raving, but she speaks to us so sweetly of what she says can be, that we too begin to see these things.


The string vibrates. The steel string vibrates. The skin. The calfskin. The steel drum. The tongue. The reed. The glottis. The vibrating ventricle. Heartbeat. Wood. The wood resonates. The curtain flaps in the wind. Water washes against sand. Leaves scrape the ground. We stand in the way of the wave. The wave surrounds us. Presses at our arms,, our breasts. Enters our mouths, our ears. The eardrum vibrates. Malleus, incus, stapes vibrate. The wave catches us. We are part of the wave. The membrane of the oval window vibrates. The spiral membrane in the cochlea vibrates. We are set in motion by what moves outside our bodies. Each wave of a different speed causes a different place in the cochlea to play. We have become instruments. The hairs lining the cochlea move. We hear. To the speed of each wave the ear adds its own frequency. What is outside us becomes us. Each cell under each hair sends its own impulse. What we hear we call music.

Monday, October 08, 2007

All Night Rave, London 1966

We’ve previously noted how the word ‘rave’ was used in the late 40s and 50s for late night jazz parties in London and elsewhere. Moving into the 1960s, ‘rave’ continued to be used for parties on the emerging psychedelic scene

In October 1966 there was an ‘All-Night Rave’ at the Roundhouse in Camden (North London), a disused railway engine shed. The event was held to mark the launch of the underground newspaper International Times . On the bill were Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, both playing one of their first London gigs. In his ‘Watch Out Kids’ (1972), Mick Farren recalled the night:

‘It was a new kind of celebration. The Roundhouse, then, was a vast, filthy circular building. Loose bricks, lumps of masonry and old wooden cable drums littered the floor. Slide and movie projectors threw images on a screen of polythene sheeting that had been hung at the back of a rickety, makeshift stage. The only way into the building was up a single flight of shaky wooden stairs. At the top Miles and Hoppy passed our sugar cubes. According to legend one in twenty was dosed with acid. Mine wasn’t.

A Jamaican steel band played on the stage… Paul McCartney came by in an Arab suit. For the first time in my life I saw joints being passed around openly in a public place… A band called Soft Machine played from the floor as a weird biker rode round and round them… Across the room an Italian film crew filmed a couple of nubile starlets stomping in a mess of pink emulsion paint. As we lurched into shot we were told by the producer ‘Fuck off, you’re spoiling the spontaneity’. We stumbled off to watch a bunch of freaks dragging an old horse-drawn cart around the building’.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

More Dead by Dawn

Some more on Brixton mid-90s speedcore night, Dead by Dawn, following my previous post.

John Eden has pointed me in the direction of Controlled Weirdness's Unearthly Records site, where there are some more Dead by Dawn flyers - from where I sourced the following:

A short history of Dead by Dawn (Praxis Newsletter, August 1994)

'We would like to set the facts straight for those Cultural Studies students who intend to write their dissertations about us. This is our story so far.

A chance meeting on Blackfriars Bridge between a member of the Praxis DJ team and a senior executive of the 121 Centre Management Committee, revealed a shared interest in the dark secrets of Freemasonry (top Vatican banker Roberto Calvi was found hanged beneath Blackfriars Bridge in 1984, £23 grand in various currencies stuffed in his pockets, believed to have been a victim of the forces of Masonic mind control).

Well anyway, a subsequent chat over chips and beans revealed that these rogues had far more in common than just an unhealthy obsession with conspiracy theory. They both felt a desparate need to wreak havoc on the jaded and boring London club scene. Soon plans were afoot to do a once-a-month techno all-nighter at the 121 Centre in Brixton, to create an experience that would reflect the energy and experimentation of the music they both so dearly loved.

The idea is so simple, but very effective. An evening of noises that assault the mind and body, kicking off with a talk/discussion for the party-goers to digest and then the hardest, fastest, weirdest techno available on vinyl, mixed together, at no expense spared, by the wickedest DJs in London.

Also supplied for spiritual refreshment during the evening is an electronic disturbance zone and anti-ambient space. Records, zines, free information and other weapons are available and a cheap bar for people to blow their giros on.

So what have the talks been about? Well, so far we've had - Advance Party and Squash giving detailed information about the Government's plans for universal conformity with their Criminal Justice Bill and its attacks on ravers and squatters; the London Psychogeographical Association explaining how chaos theory is a ruling class conspiracy; the Lesbian and Gay Freedom Movement discussing what sex would be like in an anarchist society; the editors of Underground, the London-based filthy free newspaper for the demolition of serious culture, demonstrating the possibilities of electronic art, encouraging us to make love to computers and conceive an army of bastard cyborgs, as well as revealing plans for the transmission of strange signals on the Fast Breeder computer bulletin board; and an evening with Stewart Home, chatting about his life, work, techniques for psychological warfare on the ruling class and why he wants to smash the literary establishment.

So this project continues: Dead by Dawn on the first Saturday of the month, operating beneath the underground, inciting the invisible insurrection of a million minds.

John has also gone to the trouble of digitalising some sections from the Dead by Dawn album, released on vinyl at the 23rd and final party in 1996. As well as tracks by various people who played at DbD, the album includes short recordings of people chatting at the parties and other background noise (as well as someone talking about DbD on a London pirate station). This makes it quite a unique audio document - it's rare for there to be any record of the conversations people have in clubs, in all their stoned/intense glory. Check it out: Download Dead by Dawn samples (MP3)