Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Dance of Albion

Albion rose from where he labourd at the Mill with Slaves
Giving himself for the Nations he danc'd the dance of Eternal Death
(William Blake, The Dance of Albion, 1794)

Tomorrow is the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake. To mark Blake Day let's have a think about Blake and dancing. Blake uses dance in a conventional way as an image of joyful pleasure, as in this song:

I love the jocund dance,
The softly-breathing song,
Where innocent eyes do glance,
And where lisps the maiden's tongue.

But for Blake, carefree joys of innocence are always overshadowed by experience. The simple pleasures of life can be equally simply brushed away, like a fly:

Am not I A fly like thee?
Or art not thou
A man like me?

For I dance
And drink & sing:
Till some blind hand
Shall brush my wing.

Dancing for Blake is sometimes something terrible; in 'Milton', people seem to be dancing in a kind of hell:

Thousands & thousands labour, thousands play on instruments
Stringed or fluted to ameliorate the sorrows of slavery
Loud sport the dancers in the dance of death, rejoicing in carnage
The hard dentant Hammers are lull’d by the flutes lula lula
The bellowing Furnaces blare by the long sounding clarion
The double drum drowns howls & groans, the shrill fife shrieks & cries:
The crooked horn mellows the hoarse raving serpent

We need to bear in mind that Blake bore witness to the birth of the modern factory system and that the ‘Mills of Satan’ he describes were partly a visionary take on the realities of the giant mills of early industrialism. There is a sense in which music and dance are a relief for the labouring slaves of Albion but that even their pleasures are mis-shapen: ‘Los beheld The servants of the Mills drunken with wine and dancing wild With shouts and Palamabrons songs, rending the forests green With echoing confusion, tho' the Sun was risen on high’ .

Certainly, Blake warns, nobody should mistake the pleasures of the poor for consent for the status quo. As the Chimney Sweep says in his famous poem of the same name:

They clothed me in the clothes of death,
And taught me to sing the notes of woe.
And because I am happy, & dance & sing,
They think they have done me no injury:
And are gone to praise God & his Priest & King
Who make up a heaven of our misery

Thanks to Bob and V for reminding me of Blake's birthday. See also Blake in South London

Monday, November 26, 2007

The White Rose

The White Rose (die Weiße Rose) was an anti-fascist resistance group in Germany 1942-3, initiated by students in Munich. A number of its members were beheaded in February 1943 for distributing leaflets calling for the overthrow of Hitler, including Sophie Scholl (pictured), her brother Hans Scholl, Alex Schmorell, Willi Graf, Kurt Huber and Christoph Probst.

The film Sophie Scholl - The Last Days starts with Sophie listening to swing on the radio, and music was an important part of the lives of those involved.

Hans Scholl had joined an underground anti-nazi youth group in 1937 called d.j.1.11 (the German Youth of November 1 1929): ‘The group’s members developed attitudes and styles that would set them clearly apart. They were not nationalistic; and unlike the earlier Wandervogel, they preferred hitchhiking to tramping. For their group's name and in their writings they used lowercase letters, a modernist style reminiscent of the Bauhaus movement in art and architecture, and one that was reviled by the Nazi establishment. They sang Balkan folk songs, even American cowboy laments, played the Russian balalaika, and devoured banned literature’.

Conscripted to the Russian front as medics in 1942, Hans Scholl, Schmorell and Graf sneaked away to fraternise with the locals in farmhouses where they ‘sang folk songs, joined in the dancing, and provided the local people with schnapps and medicine’. Graf wrote: ‘In the evening we listen to Russian songs at a woman’s house. She works in the camp. We sit in the open air, behind the trees, the moon comes up, its rays falling in the spaces between the rows of trees, it’s cool, the girls sing to the guitar, we try to hum the bass part, it’s so beautiful, you feel Russia’s heart, we love it’.

In Hamburg jazz and swing had the biggest impact. A friend of the Munich group, ‘Traufe Lafrenz went home to Hamburg, bringing with her a batch of White Rose leaflets to show her old friends Heinz Kucharski and Greta Rohe. Like the Munich group these young people and their friends met regularly to discuss the arts and the dismal state of affairs. Unlike the White Rose, however, they were aficionados of American swing and jazz. This kind of American music had a secret, cultlike life of its own in Nazi Germany among certain groups of youths. Because it was officially frowned on and prohibited as a “racially inferior product” of the Afro-American blacks it exerted a magnetic allure. Its free rhythms, its wild expression of feeling in sound, and its erratic and improvised beat charged up young people and drove them to find records, listen to them together, and become almost embryonic cells of conspiracy’. 

It was from this milieu that the Hamburg branch of the White Rose emerged. Seven members of this group were executed, although Kucharski managed to escape from a train on the way to the execution site in the last days of the war.

Source: Sophie Scholl & The White Rose - Annette Dumbach and Jud Newborn (Oxford: One World, 2006). See also dancing under the Nazis in France.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Burial vs. Bauhaus

Popped into People’s Republic of Disco in Brixton for a little while last night, couldn’t stay for the messy mash up that was just getting going when we had to leave but spent some time listening to the music leaping across genres with, for instance, Burial’s South London Boroughs being followed shortly afterwards by Surfin’ Bird and I was made for lovin' you baby by Kiss. Thing is that’s exactly how my brain works, which is how the following occurred to me...

Has anybody else noticed that the bassline on Burial’s glorious dubstep anthem Archangel sounds remarkably like that on Bauhaus’s 1979 proto-goth classic Bela Lugosi’s Dead? The similarity doesn’t stop with the bassline either, the Bauhaus track has a very dubby feel, lots of space and reverb.

Lets’s take this flight of fancy a step further. Was the real origin of dubstep not South London in the last few years, but Northampton (home of Bauhaus) in the late 1970s? And what of Burial’s famed anonymity – could this be a ruse to disguise the fact that he is none other than Bauhaus’s Pete Murphy or maybe Daniel Ash?

Anyway I have spliced together a couple of samples from Archangel/Bela Lugosi so you can decide for yourself:

Bauhaus and Burial: samples from Bela Lugosi/Archangel (MP3)

Another point, if Burial’s Untrue is to dubstep what Goldie’s Timeless was to drum’n’bass in 1995, the crossover album that gets reviewed in the broadsheets etc., isn’t it interesting that both feature a key track referencing celestial beings – Archangel in the first case, Angel in the latter? Is there something about this ethereal aesthetic that smooths the way for acceptance more readily than say urban Londonism? A question rather than a criticism, I love both these tracks. Mind you I also love Bela Lugosi's Dead.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Human Hyperorganism on the Beach

'Thousands of bodies everywhere. In fact, just one body, a single immense ramified mass of flesh, all sexes merged. A single, shameless, expanded human polyp, a single organism, in which all collude like the sperm in seminal fluid.... [a] human hyperorganism... A kind of single being, living the same life, with the same fluids coursing through them, aquiver with the same passions' (Baudrillard, Fragments: Cool Memories III).

Photo of Reclaim the Beach party, London, 2006, by Georgina at Flicker. Baudrillard's comment was actually about Copacabana beach in Brazil.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ten Years On: 1997, a year of dancing dangerously

This chronology of raves, clubs and policing was compiled from the dance music press at the time (Mixmag, Muzik, Eternity, DJ etc.). Much of it is the familiar story of cat and mouse chases between police and sound systems in East Anglia, Wales etc. - just as happened in 2007. But some things have changed - no more Reclaim the Streets parties in England, and more positively people being able to go out dancing in the north of Ireland without having to worry so much shootings and plastic bullets.

January 1997, Scotland: Fusion close down operations in Grampian after police threaten the licence of any venues allowing them to put on events

January 1997, London: Club UK in south London loses its licence. The club had appealed against the council withdrawing its licence, but this was upheld by a magistrates court.

February 1997, Holland: Police confiscate vans containing tripods, sound systems and banners to prevent a Reclaim the Streets party outside the Amsterdam motor show. After police baton charge the crowd, there is free food, music and dancing with a huge bonfire in a market square [Earth First Action Update, March 1997]

February 1997, USA: A nail bomb explodes at the Otherside Lounge, a lesbian club in Atlanta, Georgia, injuring five people. The attack is claimed by the far right Army of God saying it is aimed at “sodomites, their organisations and all who push their agenda”.

February 1997, London: Battersea police licencing section announce they are to oppose the renewal of the public entertainments licence for the club Adrenalin Village, up for renewal by Wandsworth Council.

February 1997, Leicester: Hardcore club Die Hard raided by 50 police - everyone searched.

February 1997, London The Cool Tan the building in Brixton, previously evicted, is resquatted for two parties and then evicted after a fortnight.

April 1997, London: A man dies from a heart attack and 8 people are arrested when riot police raid a squat party in Putney.

April 1997, Luton: The Exodus collective win the right to appeal against eviction from their site by the Department of Transport

April 1997, London: Linford Film Studios in Battersea, south London loses its licence

April 1997, N.Ireland: Robert Hamill a 25 year old Catholic father of two, is kicked to death by Loyalists while on his way home from a dance at St Patrick’s Hall in Portadown. The attack happens in full view of police who refuse pleas to intervene. In March 1999 his family’s solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, is killed by a car bomb. She has been preparing to bring private prosecutions against those involved and the Royal Ulster Constabulary

April 1997, London: 5000 party in Trafalgar Square at the end of march for social justice in support of Liverpool dockers, organised by Reclaim the Streets. Police seize sound system at the end and arrest four people in the van, charging them with conspiracy to murder for allegedly driving through police lines (charges later dropped). 1000 riot police clear people out of the square

May 1997, London: Southwark Council refuse licence to Urban Free Festival (formerly held in Fordham Park, New Cross), after earlier given permission for it to take place in Peckham in July
May 1997, Wales: Police use helicopters and road blocks to stop free party at a disused quarry in North Wales, seizing the T.W.A.T. sound system and dispersing a 4 mile convoy of party cars to the English border (despite this two parties go ahead later)

May 1997, Manchester: Police and bailiffs evict treetop and tunnel protesters, including the Zero Tolerance sound system tied into the trees, at the site of the proposed Manchester Airport Terminal 2

May 1997, Brighton: Police action prevents parties at three venues in Brighton, but one goes ahead on a travellers site at Braepool on the outskirts of town. A Noise Abatement notice is served, and the Council begins legal action to evict the site [Big Issue, 4.8.97]

May 1997, Hull: 300 party at Hull Reclaim the Streets, with sand pits and dancing for three hours (no arrests)

June 1997, Bristol: Police make 22 arrests at Bristol Reclaim the Streets and confiscate the Desert Storm sound system

July 1997, N.Ireland: Police open fire with plastic bullets on young people returning from a teenage disco on the Falls Road, Belfast. A 14-year-old boy is left in a coma.

July 1997, USA: The Stonewall Inn in New York is once again under threat, scrutinised by the city’s Social Club Task Force because of concerns about noise levels and ‘illegal dancing” [Pink Paper, 8/8/97]

August 1997, Wales: Two people on their way to set up an open air party in Deiniolen, North Wales are stopped and strip searched by police, who set up road blocks to prevent the party going ahead.

August 1997, London: Local councillor calls for the Dog Star pub/club in Brixton to be closed, claiming it is a magnet for drug dealers.

August 1997, Surrey: Hundreds of people turn up at a free party in old chalk pits in the Mole Valley in Surrey by the time police turned up the next morning to serve a notice under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act most people had gone home [Guilfin, September 1997]

August 1997, Portsmouth: Police with dogs and video surveillance teams ring a common in Portsmouth and search people trying to attend the Smokey Bears Picnic; council byelaws banning music on the common are enforced and 10 people are arrested [Guilfin, September 1997]

Summer 1997, Surrey: Police close down a free party in a forest near Guildford put on by Timber sound system.

September 1997, France: Police in Paris close down five mainly gay clubs supposedly because of ecstasy dealing (Le Queen, Le Cox, L’Enfer, Le Scorp and Les Follies Pigalle). 2000 people march in protest with one banner declaring “Paris, capitale de l’ennui” (Paris, capital of boredom).

October 1997, Russia: Moscow gay club Chance is raided by “a team of men wearing special troops uniform, black masks and carrying automatic guns”. The special police claim to be searching for drugs; dancers are beaten up and abused a 90 people are arrested [Pink Paper, 17.10.97]
October 1997, Wales: 24 police raid a party in a private house in North Wales and impound the sound system. The Country Landowners Association have set up a Rave Watch scheme in the local area encouraging local farmers to tip off the police about possible parties

November 1997, Greece: police violently raid the ACID trance club in Thessaloniki.

November 1997, Norfolk: Police bust squat party at Thelveton Hall, an unoccupied country house in Norfolk, seizing the Brighton-based Innerfield Sound System and carry out intimate body searches. The house belongs to Sir Rupert Mann, but had been empty for seven years.

November 1997, Oxford: Police use a helicopter and horses in an effort to stop Oxford Reclaim the Streets party. Despite the seizure of the solar powered sound system, and the Rinky Dinky Sound System being escorted out of the city, 400 people party in the road [Peace News, December 1997]

December 1997, N.Ireland: Loyalist Volunteer Force open fire on a disco in Dungannon, County Tyrone, killing a doorman. Another man is killed in an attack on a bar in Belfast.

December 1997, Scotland: Street party halts traffic for 1.5 hours outside the Faslane nuclear submarine base . Several people injured by Ministry of Defence police.

December 1997, Wales: 22 arrests in police drug raid on Hippo Club, Cardiff.

December 1997, Israel: Trance outfit Juno Reactor are deported from the country, where they were due to be playing at a 5000 capacity rave, prompting the launch of a Freedom to Party organisation. “Indoor parties are usually legal, as opposed to outdoor parties which are usually not. But even so, many of the indoor parties are constantly being raided by the police” (Dream Creation July 1997)

December 1997, N.Ireland: Edmund Treanor killed and five injured in a Loyalist Volunteer Force attack on New Year celebrations at the Clifton Tavern, Belfast.

December 1997, Brighton: 27 people arrested as police try and close down New Year’s Eve squat party in Brighton; people throw bottles at police.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kill the Spirit of Gravity: Nietzsche on Dance

The 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche clearly appreciated dance, and in his imagining of the “the glowing life of the Dionysian revellers” he seems to be not only looking back to Ancient Greece but anticipating future raves. I would be interested in finding out more about his own experiences of dancing, as opposed to writing about it, so if anybody has any knowledge of this, let me know.

“Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.... Now the slave is free; now all the stubborn, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice or ‘shameless fashion’ have erected between man and man, are broken down... Each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, blended with his neighbour, but all as one with him... In song and in dance man expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak; he is about to take a dancing flight into the air... He feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy... He is no loner an artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the Primordial Unity” (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872)

"I should believe only in a God who understood how to dance. And when I beheld my devil, I found him serious, thorough, profound, solemn: it was the Spirit of Gravity - through him all things are ruined. One does not kill by anger but by laughter. Come let us kill the Spirit of Gravity!" (Of reading and writing, Thus spake Zarathustra, 1883)

"Do not cease your dance, sweet girls! No spoil sport has come to you with an evil eye, no enemy of girls... How could I be enemy of divine dancing, you nimble creatures... A dance-song and a mocking-song on the Spirit of Gravity, my supreme, most powerful devil" (The Dance Song, Thus spake Zarathustra, 1883)

"And once I wanted to dance as I had never yet danced: I wanted to dance beyond all heavens. Then you lured away my favourite singer. And then he struck up a gruesome, gloomy melody: alas, he trumpeted into my ears like a mournful horn! Murderous singer, instrument of malice, most innocent man! I stood prepared for the finest dance: then you murdered by ecstasy with your tones! I know how to speak the parable of the highest things in the dance - and now my greatest parable has remained in my limbs unspoken!" (The Funeral Song, Thus spake Zarathustra, 1883).
Photos via Flickr from Tel Aviv, Israel - top by Orenziv of a rave, October 2007; bottom from Love Parade 2004 by Ehud

Friday, November 16, 2007

Everything is Now - Toni Morrison

We've discussed house rent parties in pre-WW2 Harlem here before. Toni Morrison's novel 'Jazz' is set in Harlem in the 1920s. First published in 1992 it is an imaginative reconstruction of Harlem life rather than a contemporary decsription. Nevertheless her depictions of parties ring true, not just for Harlem but for many other times and places:

Before the lights are turned out, and before the sandwiches and the spiked soda water disappear, the one managing the record player chooses fast music suitable for the brightly lit room, where obstructing furniture has been shoved against walls, pushed into the hallway, and bedrooms piled high with coats. Under the ceiling light pairs move like twins born with, if not for, the other, sharing a partner's pulse like a second jugular. They believe they know before the music does what their hands, their feet are to do, but that illusion is the music's secret drive: the control it tricks them into believing is theirs; the anticipation it anticipates. In between record changes, while the girls fan blouse necks to air damp collarbones or pat with anxious hands the damage moisture has done to their hair, the boys press folded handkerchiefs to their foreheads. Laugh­ter covers indiscreet glances of welcome and promise, and takes the edge off gestures of betrayal and abandon...

Two arms clasp her and she is able to rest her cheek on her own shoulder while her wrists cross behind his neck. It's good they don't need much space to dance in because there isn't any. The room is packed. Men groan their satisfaction; women hum anticipation. The music bends, falls to its knees to embrace them all, encourage them all to live a little, why don't you? since this is the it you've been looking for.

Her partner does not whisper in Dorcas' ear. His promises are already clear in the chin he presses into her hair, the fingertips that stay. She stretches up to encircle his neck. He bends to help her do it. They agree on everything above the waist and below: muscle, tendon, bone joint and marrow coop­erate. And if the dancers hesitate, have a moment of doubt, the music will solve and dissolve any question...

Anything that happens after this party breaks up is nothing. Everything is now. It's like war. Everyone is handsome, shining just thinking about other people's blood. As though the red wash Hying from veins not theirs is facial makeup patented for its glow. Inspiriting. Glamorous. Afterward there will be some chatter and recapitulation of what went on; nothing though like the action itself and the beat that pumps the heart. In war or at a party everyone is wily, intriguing; goals are set and altered; alliances rearranged. Partners and rivals devastated; new pairings triumphant. The knockout possibilities knock Dorcas out because here- with grown-ups and as in war­ - people play for keeps.

Also of interest: A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem

Friday, November 09, 2007

Dancing Questionnaire 8: Beyond the Implode

Martin from Beyond the Implode with tales of drunken dancing and snogging from Dunstable to St. Petersburg. Don't think we've met yet, despite both having spent time in dodgy Luton clubs, New Cross Venue, the Swan in Stockwell, Megatripolis and doubtless other places.

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
The earliest was probably throwing myself around to the theme tunes of TV shows like "The Professionals"and "Weekend World". You need a good, driving, dynamic theme tune to injure yourself to, and "Weekend World" ticked all the boxes with its crashing guitar blitz, tense drumming and moody organ. I was quite disappointed, years later, when I found out that particular piece was actually recorded by a '70s prog rock band called Mountain - I preferred imagining that it was knocked up by some eccentric 'TV jingle expert', frantically chain-smoking and directing a school-aged rock group in the London Weekend Television studios.

This primitive slam dancing would go on for weeks until I had permanent carpet burns and severe bruising, or til my dad kicked me out of the living room. After that, it was probably doing the Adam & The Ants "Prince Charming" dance at my (much) older sister's wedding reception in 1981 - well, until I realised that a bunch of pissed-up, middle aged Irish relatives were staring at me, causing me to bottle out and hide under a table.

But my first real communal dancing memory was a girl's birthday party. We were all about 7, I was wearing my MY SISTER WENT TO MALTA AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS LOUSY T-SHIRT t-shirt and me and some snot-nosed girl called Sheilagh were grooving to rubbish like "Young Guns", "D.I.S.C.O" and the one that went "Hands up, baby hands up, gimme your heart gimme gimme..." etc.

2. What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
I can't identify one most interesting / significant thing - for me what was significant was the fact that, when I was younger, I considered myself a right ming-mong who'd never be able to cut it on any dancefloor. So just dancing at all without incurring any fatal consequences or humiliation was quite nice.

I don't really take dancing that seriously, I tend to arse around doing 'rave spaz' hand movements. I picked up a few tips on the dancefloor over the years, though. Some woman told me that men should dance with their knees rather than their hips, as it reduces jerky shoulder movements. I don't know if she was having me on, but as a result I've danced like M.I.A ever since. Also, if you do that '70s disco thing where you form 'V'-signs with your fingers, and then drag them across your eyes, it's a good way of reassuring people that you don't spend all your time practising in front of a mirror and that you're not going to start pelvic thrusting all over their legs.To be honest, as long as it's the right vibe with the right people, I could dance at a Norwegian country and western night and have a good time.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
A fair few. There was the time I went to see The Damned and the Anti-Nowhere League at the Astoria in1994. I'm not really a big fan of either band, but that was such a laugh, like splashing through a lake of spilt beer at a medieval public execution. Spoddy kids across the globe owe a debt of gratitude to Sid Vicious for inventing pogo dancing, anyone can do it and all it takes is a bit of basic stamina. I liked the unspoken code of honour at punk gigs, like if someone slipped over and hit the deck, everyone would clear a space around them and help them back up to their feet. There was a fat psychobilly bloke down the front of the gig, whose 'dancing' solely consisted of violently lashing his fists out in front of him, sending the occasional skinny punk reeling. At some point I just thought, "Sod it, it can't hurt THAT much", and gleefully flung myself into his path. He whacked me in the chest and I went flying, but I was too busy laughing to feel any pain. I used to love going to Slimelight too, I think I had some sort of affinity for dancing to EBM (which I hardly ever listened to at home) because I ended up getting snogged by random strangers on a regular basis.

I did my first vial of poppers there. I've never been a heavy drugs user, but I liked amyl nitrate because it gets straight to the point and makes you feel like your heart's about to come drilling out of your chest 'Manic Miner' style - you also avoid hours of talking shit about the hidden meanings of Smiley Culture lyrics. My favourite night at Slimelight was when I 'pulled' (or 'was pulled' more accurately) by some punk girl who later vomited all over herself at Angel tube station. She was barking mad but very sweet. Bizarrely, I still wonder how she's doing these days.

Megatripolis at Heaven was good fun, like running around inside a techno LSD carny. But one of my favourite nights out was New Year's Eve '98, me and my flatmate Kev had ended up in a pub in Edgware called The Railway. We were doing the standard, skint "This is such a rip-off, what a crap night" moaning when some incompetent DJ came on and started (very poorly) mixing "Renegade Master", a pile of big beat records, Run DMC etc. The whole pub suddenly transformed into the best nightclub in the world, we were rolling around the sticky carpet, trying to 'breakdance' with local bikers, people grabbing the DJ's microphone and giving surreal shout-outs to their bedridden grandmas...just good, dirty chaos all round! The whole thing fizzled out around 4am when the police turned up, the last thing I remember was a skeletal guy in nerdy glasses, a Santa hat and his boxer shorts, dancing with one of the barmaids to "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" on the pool table and waving a poolcue around like a sword, while a couple of incredulous cops tried to get the DJ to sober up enough to unplug his decks.

I haven't linked dancing to sex yet - in 2002, I was down the Stockwell Swan with my then girlfriend. I've never been bewitched by someone dancing before but she completely blew me away, she seemed to transform herself into a snake goddess and did this odd dance in the middle of the floor. There were blokes craning their necks to get a look, it was something else, Ididn't dare go near her in case I broke the spell. I'm not making this up, and I wasn't on drugs. I just stood by the side of the dancefloor with my jaw scraping the floor. I remember telling myself, "Lap this up and enjoy every minute of it, because special moments like this don't last forever, and one day it'll all be gone" - and sure enough, me and the cowsplit up in 2003.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
I remember an extremely unpleasant night in Ritzy's nightclub in Dunstable, which was situated in a shopping precinct - it was just a commercial club, playing chart music and a bit of house. I can't even remember why we'd bothered going there, but it was a complete nightmare. Groups of blokes who hadn't managed to pull were just roaming around beating the shit out of anyone they took a disliking to. Somebody got glassed in the toilet and then it all erupted, with two sets of blokes clashing, I can still remember seeing puddles of blood all over the floor and smeared up one of the cubicle doors. Outside, some bloke had collapsed in a heap on a metal bench and a group of lads were surrounding his comatose body, gobbing all over him and shouting stuff like "piss on the fat cunt".

There was a similar night in Mirage in Luton. The upstairs used to be for 'alternatives', whereas the downstairs area was a dance area. It operated on a kind of segregation basis, as if you had this 'peaceline' running across the back stairwell, so the punks/ goths / indie kids and 'straights' didn't come into contact with each other. It's funny to think these(mostly) gentle, polite kids were upstairs listening to grunge and Rage Against the Machine wailing about fucking up the system, while, downstairs (where we ended up one night) some squaddie would be kicking bejayzus out of another bloke and girls would be decking each other to "Saturday Night" by Whigfield.

Worst was last year when I went to Russia with some girl and it transpired she was actually on the rebound. I decided to get as drunk as possible, hoofed back a bottle of Russki Standart Platinum, and set out to dance myself into oblivion in some seedy Euro-techno club. Instead I ended up falling over, landing on my thumb and leg and having to be carried outside by her and her friends. The next day I had a nearly flight back to London, but when I got to Heathrow my hand had swollen up and I couldn't actually stand, so I had to be helped to arrivals by the cabin crew, which was highly embarrassing. I ended up in Whittington Hospital being X-rayed, patched up and prescribed a course of anti-flams and hobbling back home (it took me half an hour to walk a normal 10 minute distance). It was kind of full circle back to where I started, crashing into things and getting injured.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
Not really, it's kind of scrambled, but as a rough sketch: 1992-1994, London punk / riot grrrl bands; 1994-1996 - Megatripolis for techno, Lazerdrome in Peckham for jungle, Venue, New Cross, for indie / punk bands, Goldsmiths Tavern, New Cross, for the odd anarcho band, and Slimelight for goth / industrial.Ever since then, various clubs, ranging from outright commercial cattle markets to excellent dancehall nights like Kevin Martin's and Loefah's BASH in OldStreet.

6. When and where did you last dance?
That tendon-ripping night in St Petersburg, unless you count coolly nodding and shuffling (A BIT) at a grime night in East London a while back.

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

It'd have to be "Body of an American" by the Pogues, a real mosh out way to go, preferably accompanied by streams of Talisker and (despite having quit earlier this year) a last Marlboro Light. Oh, and a couple of ex-girlfriends dabbing their eyes with a hankie as I drop to the ground and convulse around a bit at the end.

All questionnaires welcome- just answer the same questions and send to transpontine@btinternet.com (see previous questionnaires)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Autonomous Spaces

Extracts from a call for transnational days of action for squats and autonomous spaces:

'On Friday the 4th and Saturday the 5th of April 2008, we call for two days of demonstration, direct action, public information, street-party, squatting... in defence of free spaces and for an anti-capitalist popular culture.

Through these two days, we want to help create more visibility of autonomous spaces and squats as a european/global political movement. We want to develop interconnections and solidarity between squats and autonomous spaces. We want to keep linking our spaces with new people and new struggles, and support the creation of autonomous spaces in places where there has not been a history of this kind of action. We want to build, step by step, our ability to overcome the wave of repression falling on us....

For centuries, people have used squats and autonomous spaces, either urban or rural, to take control of their own lives. They are a tool, a tactic, a practice, and a way for people to live out their struggles. For decades, squat movements across Europe and beyond have fought capitalist development, contributing to local struggles against destruction; providing alternatives to profit-making and consumer culture; running social centres and participatory activities outside of the mainstream economy. Demonstrating the possibilities for self-organising without hierarchy; creating international networks of exchange and solidarity. These networks have changed many lives, breaking out of social control and providing free spaces where people can live outside the norm...

All over Europe, repressive agendas are being pushed by governments. They are attacking long-standing autonomous spaces such as the Ungdomshuset in Copenhagen, Koepi and Rigaer Straße in Berlin, EKH in Vienna and Les Tanneries in Dijon, squatted social centres in London and Amsterdam, Ifanet in Thessaloniki, etc. In France, squats have become a priority target for the police after the anti-CPE movement and the wave of actions and riots that happened during the presidential elections period. In Germany, many autonomous spaces have been searched and attacked before the G8 summit. In Geneva and Barcelona, two old and big squatting "fortresses", the authorities have decided to try to put an end to the movement. Whereas it is still possible to occupy empty buildings in some countries, it has already become a crime in some others. In the countryside, access to land is becoming harder and communes face increasing problems from legislation on hygiene, security and gentrification by the bourgeoisie and tourists. All over Europe, independent cultures are being threatened.

Several months ago we saw running battles in the streets of Copenhagen and actions everywhere in Europe in an explosion of anger at the eviction of the Ungdomshuset social centre. Since then, and with a few other big resistance stories that happened over the last months, we've managed to renew the meaning of international solidarity...

We're calling for an international preparation & coordination meeting on November 24th & 25th 2007, in the autonomous space "Les Tanneries", located in Dijon, France. It is a squatted social centre in a post-industrial environment, occupied since 1998. Thanks to years of struggle against the city council owning the buildings, the project has reached a certain degree of stability. It hosts a collective house, a gig room, a hacklab, a free shop, an infoshop, a collective garden, a library... We hope that many of you will be able to join.

Full call here, contact april2008 at squat dot net for further information.

Kent police take to the woods

Following a summer of police harrassment of parties in East Anglia, their colleagues in Kent seem to be getting in on the action:

Endings Wood (BBC, 4 November 2007, 7 November 2007)

'Four men have been arrested after hundreds of people joined in an illegal rave in Kent.
Kent Police said about 300 revellers were at the party near Sittingbourne, on Saturday night.
Sixty officers were called to the scene at Endings Wood, which police said was privately-owned land. A spokesman said the alarm was raised around midnight. Officers were still moving people from the scene in the early hours of Sunday. Police said the four men were being held on suspicion of public order and drugs offences'.

'Ravers at the party near Sittingbourne on Saturday night said officers were kicking and punching girls in the head and "indiscriminately beating people". Assistant Chief Constable Dave Ainsworth refuted the claims, saying 55 officers were there, but out of the 300 revellers just three were arrested. "That doesn't sound like an excessive use of force in my view," he said.
"Most of the people, and the organisers themselves, complied with the requirement of the law to actually shut the event down."

One of the revellers at the event at Endings Wood told the BBC that he was now using crutches after he was allegedly hit with a police baton. Daniel, from Canterbury, said: "I saw one of my friends pushed onto the floor and literally being stamped on by the police. I dived down to try and help him up and... I was hit across my right knee with a metal baton." He claimed a friend was also knocked unconscious with a baton and then kicked while she was on the ground.'

Lynsted (Kent Police, 4 October 2007)

'Police are asking landowners in mid Kent to remain vigilant, particularly in rural areas, to the possibility of illegal raves taking place. It follows a team of officers intercepting a rave in private woodland in Lynsted on Sunday morning (30 September). Police were called at around 7am to a suspected rave where they discovered around 150 people along with a stage and sound equipment. After liaising with the landowner, police began to seize equipment and check all the vehicles at the site. Subsequently two people were arrested on suspicion of theft of a motor vehicle and possession of a class A drug'.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The great disco debate

Richard from Commie Curmudgeon and Rough in Here... has taken issue with some of my earlier pro-disco posts, suggesting that I have exaggerated its utopian dimensions. He says:

'I was just a young teenager when disco had its heyday in NYC with Studio 54, not even of drinking age during most of that time, but I have a pretty clear memory of some things as an outside observer, such as the overblown elitism involved in that venture and much of the disco scene. Studio 54 was famous for having a door policy, something that didn't really exist in the punk scene until the Mudd Club and Danceteria (which policy I always disliked), and Studio 54 widely advertised the idea that you could get on their long line to participate in this big competition to prove you were glamorous or chic enough to get in. It was probably their biggest selling point.

Disco may have promoted a sort of liberation for oppressed identity groups, and it may have inverted the usual standing of some of these groups in society, but the disco scene, especially as manifested at '54, enforced a class elitism and system of hierarchical selection all its own. The argument that this movement was so utopian because it was run by women and gays could be countered with the argument that a woman also got elected to run the British government in the late '70s, and look how egalitarian she turned out to be.

If disco had these great liberating qualities for identity groups, it featured and promoted some pretty regressive attitudes as well. One might add that disco was characterized by a complete retreat from the overtly radical or even liberal politics of so much popular music (especially black dance music, if I recall correctly) in the '60s and early '70s. Disco had good qualities too, which were carried over into techno and a lot of related dance music in later years (which would take another, very long comment to spell out), but if my memory serves me correctly, calling it an egalitarian utopia is a bit of a stretch'.

Today I went to an exhibition in London of photographs of 'New York's Nightlife in the 1970s' by Allan Tannenbaum (example left). The exhibition at The Draywalk Gallery, off Brick Lane, was promoted by Deep Disco Culture and if indeed it was truly a representation of 70s disco culture I would have to agree that Richard was right. Many of the photos were of Studio 54, and while some of the scenes looked liked fun, there was clearly an emphasis on wealth and celebrity and more than a whiff of 'fuck the proles' upper class decadence.

But from all I have read and heard, I do not believe that disco can be reduced to Studio 54 and similar scenes. Tim Lawrence is one of many who have persuasively argued that the origins of disco were quite distinct from its later manifestation. In an article entitled In Defence of Disco (again) (New Formations, Summer 2006) he puts forward the following account:

'The disco that riled the gathering forces of the New Right was born in cauldron conditions. Lacking alternative social outlets, gay men and women of colour, along with new social movement sympathisers, gathered in abandoned loft spaces (the Loft, the Tenth Floor, Gallery) and off-the-beaten-track discotheques (the Sanctuary, the Continental Baths, Limelight) in zones such as NoHo and Hell's Kitchen, New York, to develop a uniquely affective community that combined sensation and sociality. Developing a model of diversity and inclusivity, participants established the practice of dancing throughout the night to the disorienting strains of heavily percussive music in the amorphous spaces of the darkened dance floor'.

The subsequent opening of Studio 54 in April 1977 as 'the glitziest and most exclusionary venue of the disco era.... steamrollered the ethical model of the downtown party network into smithereens... Whereas the dance floor was previously experienced as a space of sonic dominance, in which the sound system underpinned a dynamic of integration, experimentation and release, at Studio this became secondary to the theatre of a hierarchical door policy that was organised around exclusion and humiliation, as well as a brightly-lit dance floor that prioritised looking above listening, and separation above submersion... Whereas the dance floor had previously functioned as an aural space of communal participation and abandon, it was now reconceived as a visually-driven space of straight seduction and couples dancing, in which participants were focused on the their own space and , potentially, the celebrity who might be dancing within their vicinity'.

In disco the lyrical content was rarely political in the way some rock and soul was, as Richard identifies, but this can only be seen as a retreat if we judge music solely by what it says. A negative critique that explicitly refuses to affirm the way things are is one part of any radical social movement, and this is something that we find for instance, in some punk - essentially the sound of saying NO. But movements also need to be constitutive, that is to develop new more liberatory relationships between people involved. The latter was the contribution of the best disco dance floors, 'generating and spawning a model of potentially radical sociality' (Lawrence) quite different from the audience at traditional gigs, a contribution that has been played out in different dance music scenes ever since.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dead can Dance

Today and tomorrow the Day of the Dead is celebrated in Mexico: 'The country vigorously embraces its dead during these days. It drinks, sings and dances with them. This is the most ostentatious festivity of the year—more exuberant than either Easter or Christmas. It illustrates the special relationship that Mexico seems to have with death—a laughing, mocking familiarity that is embodied in the portrayal of grinning paper mache skeletons performing life’s everyday tasks. Dancing on someone’s grave, an action that carries such negative connotations in the rest of the Christian world, here represents a reaching out of the living to the dead, a reunion in the most festive spirit' (Oaxaca Times).

While on the subject of Oaxaca and remembering the dead, it is the first anniversary this week of the killing there of indymedia journalist Brad Will and three protestors during an uprising.

Electric Ballroom to be Demolished?

Camden Council in north London seem to have agreed last week to the demolition of The Electric Ballroom. I must admit I haven't been there since some acid jazz club in the 1990s, but it is a music venue with a long history. It apparently opened up as the Buffalo, an Irish dance hall in the 1930s, became The Carousel in the 1960s, and then The Electric Ballroom in 1978. Famous gigs there included 2 Tone nights in 1979 (with Madness, The Specials, Dexys Midnight Runners), followed by Joy Division, The Clash, Talking Heads, The Pogues, The Smiths in 1983, Public Enemy and loads of others. Clubwise, it hosted Jay Strongman's Warehouse funk sessions from 1983 then in the early 1990s the gothy Full Tilt and the housey Crush.

Its apparently impending demise follows the closure earlier this year of another famous London venue, the Hammersmith Palais.
Any good Electric Ballroom stories/memories?