Saturday, January 31, 2009

Crowds and Equality

"Within the crowd there is equality. This is absolute and indisputable and never questioned by the crowd itself. It is of fundamental importance and one might even define a crowd as a state of absolute equality. A head is a head, an arm is an arm, and differences between individual heads and arms are irrelevant. It is for the sake of this equality that people become a crowd and they tend to overlook anything which might de­tract from it. All demands for justice and all theories of equal­ity ultimately derive their energy from the actual experience of equality familiar to anyone who has been part of a crowd" (Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power, 1960).

Photo of crowd at Winter Enchanted 2006 (Adelaide) in front of DJ Alex Kidd by Sweet Unncertainty at Flickr.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Slim Gaillard, Jack Kerouac and Me

In Hanif Kureishi's latest novel, Something to Tell You, the narrator mentions being in a club in London in the late 1970s and meeting Slim Gaillard (1911-1991), prompting him to remark 'There can't have been many people alive with two pages devoted to them in On the Road... this was a man who'd known Little Richard and dated Ava Gardner, Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth'. It reminded me that I too once saw Slim Gaillard (1916-1991), in the late 1980s (1987?) playing in a room above the Alexandra pub opposite Clapham Common in South London, I believe at a Hi Note jazz club night. By this time he was an old man, singing songs and still doing his trademark stream of consciousness private 'o-reenee' dialect (apparently he was accompanied by Jason Rebello on piano).

Other than his age it wasn't vastly different from the scene described by Jack Kerouac in "On The Road" (written in 1951): '... one night we suddenly went mad together again; we went to see Slim Gaillard in a little Frisco nightclub. Slim Gaillard is a tall, thin Negro with big sad eyes who's always saying 'Right-orooni' and 'How 'bout a little bourbon-arooni.' In Frisco great eager crowds of young semi-intellectuals sat at his feet and listened to him on the piano, guitar and bongo drums. When he gets warmed up he takes off his undershirt and really goes. He does and says anything that comes into his head. He'll sing 'Cement Mixer, Put-ti Put-ti' and suddenly slow down the beat and brood over his bongos with fingertips barely tapping the skin as everybody leans forward breathlessly to hear; you think he'll do this for a minute or so, but he goes right on, for as long as an hour, making an imperceptible little noise with the tips of his fingernails, smaller and smaller all the time till you can't hear it any more and sounds of traffic come in the open door. Then he slowly gets up and takes the mike and says, very slowly, 'Great-orooni ... fine-ovauti ... hello-orooni ... bourbon-orooni ... all-orooni ... how are the boys in the front row making out with their girls-orooni ... orooni ... vauti ... oroonirooni ..." He keeps this up for fifteen minutes, his voice getting softer and softer till you can't hear. His great sad eyes scan the audience. Dean stands in the back, saying, 'God! Yes!' -- and clasping his hands in prayer and sweating. 'Sal, Slim knows time, he knows time.'

Slim sits down at the piano and hits two notes, two C's, then two more, then one, then two, and suddenly the big burly bass-player wakes up from a reverie and realizes Slim is playing 'C-Jam Blues' and he slugs in his big forefinger on the string and the big booming beat begins and everybody starts rocking and Slim looks just as sad as ever, and they blow jazz for half an hour, and then Slim goes mad and grabs the bongos and plays tremendous rapid Cubana beats and yells crazy things in Spanish, in Arabic, in Peruvian dialect, in Egyptian, in every language he knows, and he knows innumerable languages'.

Well in Clapham I don't recall bongos or people sitting on the floor, but I guess I was a 'young semi intellectual'! That was my only direct encounter with someone from the beat generation, other than once hearing Brion Gysin give a talk in Bedford library of all places (standing in for William Burroughs who didn't show- this was mid-80s).

More on the Alexandra and dancing in Brixton and beyond in late 1980s here

Dancing Questionnaire (11): Kate Aan De Wiel

Kate Aan De Wiel looks back on dancing all the way from West Ham to Cuba:

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Tap dancing lessons and an appearance as a Little Dutch Girl at West Ham Town Hall at the age of 3.

2. What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
The 'High' of dancing Cuban Rueda da Casino with a bunch of friends in front of a crowd of people.

3. Dancing. The best of times…
In Cuba, in the street with a crowd of Cubans dancing Cuban Salsa

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Realising that at my age, and with my knees, I should really pack up dancing.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
Country dances as a child at school.The Twist in the 60s, Mod dances in the 60s, etc etc in the 70s and 80s. Then discovering salsa and Cuba in the late 90s.

6. When and where did you last dance?
2 years ago at a club in Highbury, the Cuban Lounge at the Buffalo Bar on a Monday night - my favourite !

7. You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
El Tragico by NG La Banda .. and bugger the knees !

All questionnaires welcome- just answer the same questions and send to (see previous questionnaires)

Monday, January 26, 2009

'Men of the Nancy Type': London 1927

"In 1927 the charge of keeping a disorderly house at 25, Fitzroy Square, near Euston Station, was brought after a long period of surveillance by the police . The actual charge was that in the house there were: 'divers, immoral, lewd and evil disposed persons tippling, whoring, using obscene language, indecently exposing their private parts and behaving in a lewd, obscene and disorderly and riotous manner to the manifest corruption of the morals of His Majesty's Liege subjects, the evil example of others in the like case offending and against the Peace of Our Lord the King, His Crown and Dignity'.

Let's take a look at some of these heinous offences as related by police observers. Police Sergeant number 42 reported on January 3rd: "At 11.35. p.m. three men entered the basement door. The door was opened by a man wearing pyjamas... I saw them dance around him in the hall. At 12.20 four men were admitted by the man wearing pyjamas, who kissed one of the men as they entered. At this time the gramophone was playing in the front room, people were jumping and dancing making a very rowdy noise. I could hear the men in the front room singing and talking in effeminate voices. At 3.30. a.m. two men came out of the door. They were very drunk, vomited in the area, struggled up the steps and left."
On another occasion: "I saw a man standing at the door in a dressing gown. He kissed one of the men as they entered, laughed and shut the door. At 12.30. a.m. I saw four men walking in couples approach the house, they were cuddling.. one another as they walked and speaking in low effeminate voices ... They were men of the nancy type. "
….Several of the guests were followed after they left the house, with officers noting that the men cuddled each other whilst waiting for a bus. They were described as being 'powdered and painted'. The policeman who followed them said that they smelt strongly of perfume and guessed that, by their appearance, they were 'West-End poofs or male opportuners.'
Police photograph in the aftermath of the 1927 raid,
showing Robert Britt (second from left)
Because of what they had heard and seen the police considered it their duty to raid the house on the 17th January, 1927. They surprised six people in one of the rooms. Robert Britt, a twenty-six-year­old dancer, was wearing a thin black transparent skirt with gold trimming and a red sash tied around his loins. The ladies shoes he was wearing caused him to appear taller than the other guests. He was naked from the waist up. Other people in the room were either in pyjamas or partly dressed. It seems difficult today to understand what offence they might have committed and even in the twenties a legal dispute ensued as to what exactly a disorderly house was. Several of the defendants were found not guilty but Britt was sentenced to eighteen months hard labour and others up to six months without hard labour".

Source: In Darkest London: antisocial behaviour 1900-1939 - Steve Jones (Wicked Publications, 1994).

India: moral vigilantes attack women

In an incident of moral policing in Karnataka, a group of men in Mangalore attacked a group of women in a pub on Saturday afternoon.The attack was carried out by members of the Sri Ram Sena, who said they had received complaints from the public about the presence of young women. The five or six women in the pub were chased out and hit by the self-appointed moral police....

"About 15 to 20 activists, reportedly belonging to Sri Ram Sena [Hindu nationalist group], barged into the pub late last night and assaulted boys and girls dancing there," said Inspector General of Police (Western Range) A M Prasad. Even the girls were not spared by the agitated activists who chased and thrashed the victims when they tried to flee from the pub on the busy Balmatta Road in the heart of the city, eyewitnesses claimed...

Prasad said the attackers accused the pub owner of allowing the boys and girls to dance and act in an "obscene manner"... "Those people (attackers) simply came in and started beating the girls. It was a bad scene. Our waiters tried to stop them but they did not listen and kept assaulting the girls," pub owner A Krishna said.

(source: NDTV, 25 January 2009)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Headphone Space

Despite expressing scepticism about the sonic limitations of headphone-based Silent Disco, I agree with the sentiments of Future Next Level's Ode to Headphones. He is undoubtedly right that 'Headphone space is quintessential to the appreciation of music' but also correct that it only really works with decent cans. The fact is that despite the ever expanding quantity and accessibility of music, the quality of the listening experience is in some ways in decline. Many of us listen to a lot of music with tiny earbuds, on mono ipod docks, or on the crappy speakers on laptops and phones. When we listen through a decent pair of headphones instead it can be a revelation - there's just so much sound which is just not reproduced properly on any of the above.

I had one such memorable experience of headphone space when I first got the Burial album. I walked from New Cross to Kennington, via Peckham and Camberwell, listening to it on the big conspicuous headphones that I wouldn't normally advise people to wear on the streets of South London. Anyway that just added an appropriate edginess to the mood, mixed in with pleasantly melancholic memories sparked by the locations and the music's invocation of the ghosts of parties past (in my case wandering past places I used to go like the boarded up Imperial Gardens club and Camberwell Squatted Centre, this sense was very tangible). Anyway the point is that it was the headphones that allowed me not to only to hear the music in all its depth, but to immerse myself in the moods it conjured up, changing my relationship to the places I was passing through - music as a soundtrack not a background distraction.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Dancing the Twist, 1963

Old home movies are a fascinating source for how people actually danced in the past. This is a great clip of a New Year's Eve party in 1963 - not even sure where, it looks North American (the clip was posted by Candadian-based Fun with Stuttering)

One of the things that interests me is at what point did it become acceptable for a single woman or man to go out on the dancefloor and dance on their own - without being asked to do so by and with a member of the opposite sex first (chiefly by a man asking a woman)? Before the Second World War, social dancing in Europe and America seems to have been very much 'couple dancing'. Perhaps jitterbugging/jiving was a transitional point - while the dancing was still couple based it did not require the constant physical contact between dancers. I have found references to women dancing on their own, or with each other, in London during the war.

In this 1963 film, there are couples dancing but also people dancing on their own, or rather dancing as part of a group without being attached to a member of the oppiste sex. There is a woman on the edge of the group doing the Twist in her own space, and two women doing the Twist opposite each other. So perhaps the Twist was a step towards the modern dancefloor, where by the disco period couple dancing was confined largely to the slow dance at the end.

Pop Feminist tells me she's doing some research on the Twist, look forward to seeing what she comes up with.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sound of Silence

'Imagine walking into a party where everybody is wearing wireless headphones and is singing and dancing to an inaudible beat. This was the vision of the founders and creators of the Silent Disco' (more here)

Hmmm... it's one thing people dancing with headphones at a flashmob style event, but I am deeply sceptical about silent club nights , with people paying good money to wear headphones (the above quote is from an article about a Silent Disco night in Bath next month) - even if they are listening to a mix broadcast to them by the DJ rather than to their own individual soundtrack.

The problem is that even if people are dancing in synchrony to the same music (see Global Raver's criticism of iPod raves), the common soundtrack is only part of the collective experience of dancing - even in the loudest club there is generally the possibility of some kind of conversation, something that is presumably not possible while listening to music on headphones.

In addition what goes in through the ears is only part of how we sense music. Dance music in particular entails feeling the bass in different parts of our bodies. I really noticed the absence of this last year when I saw Kode 9 DJing in what is usually an indie pub in New Cross (Amersham Arms) - playing through a bass-lite sound system set up for bands, it felt like a key part of the music was missing. With headphones even more of the music must be missing - you just cannot generate the same bass sensation through the ears alone.

Of course I've nothing against the Silent Disco people, I'm sure it's fun as a novelty. My real concern is that it might pave the way for the future with 'noise pollution' being used as an excuse to require clubs to replace speakers with headphones. That really would be the end.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Boy George

I won't be joining the tabloids in gloating over the fate of Boy George, jailed last week for 15 months for 'handcuffing a male escort to a wall and beating him with a chain'. I don't want to defend his actions - he seems to have got stuck in druggy paranoia, with bad consequences both for himself and others - but I hope he gets out soon and doesn't get too hard a time inside.

I am sure he can handle himself though - not just through his legendary bitchy wit (as highlighted in his entertaining autobiographies Take it Like a Man and Straight) but through his physical presence. As I recalled in a previous post, I remember seeing him at Turnmills in the mid-1990s standing head and shoulders above most of the crowd and built like a working class Irish South London geezer - which is actually part of what he is.

I was never a great fan of Culture Club's music, but I did appreciate the global gender confusion they caused. I actually liked Boy George's DJing though - people were snotty about him not being able to mix, but he wasn't just a celebrity putting on obvious tunes. He put out some great dance tracks on his More Protein label, including Lippy Lou's wonderful lesbian white ragga pop house anthems Freaks and Liberation.
Anyway I am sure we haven't heard the last of Mr George O'Dowd.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

We dead lie unburied

War in Gaza, and (less publicised) war in Sri Lanka, war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, not to mention Afghanistan and Iraq. It's too soon to say whether and how these tragedies will be commemorated in song, but some of the earliest known ballads deal with the misery and suffering of war, offering a kind of counter-narrative to the patriotic sagas of kings and generals.

These examples are from the Han Dynasty period (202 BCE - 220 CE). Remarkably, the government of the time established a Bureau of Music (the Yueh-fu) which collected popular ballads and song. As a result lyrics from this time have survived for over 2000 years.

We fought South of the City Wall

We fought south of the city wall.
We died north of the ramparts.
In the wilderness we dead lie unburied, fodder for crows.
Tell the crows for us:
'We've always been brave men!
In the wilderness we dead clearly lie unburied,
So how can our rotting flesh flee from you?'
Waters deep, rushing, rushing,
Reeds and rushes, darkening, darkening.
Heroic horsemen fought and died fighting,
Flagging horses whinnied in panic.
Raftered houses we built,
And south, alas! and north;
If grain and millet aren't reaped, what will you eat, Lord?
We longed to be loyal vassals, but how can that be?
I remember you, good vassals,
Good vassals I truly remember:
In the dawn you went out to glory, At nightfall you did not return.

At Fifteen I Joined the Army

At fifteen I joined the army,
At eighty I first came home.
On the road I met a villager,
'At my home what kin are there?'
'Look over there- that's your home!'
Pine, cypress, burial mounds piled, piled high,
Hares going in through dog-holes,
Pheasants flying in through rafter tops;
The inner garden grown wild with corn,
Over the well wild mallow growing.
I pound grain to serve for a meal,
I pick mallow to serve for broth.
Once broth and meal are cooked
I'm at a loss to know whom to feed,
I leave by the gates, look east.
Tears fall and soak my clothes.

Source: Popular Songs and Ballads of Han China, Anne Birrell (University of Hawaii Press, 1988)

Sudan: arrests for 'indecent dressing'

'Police yesterday arrested a number of youths in a raid at Bor Freedom Square where thousands of youth gather to perform their normal Sunday traditional dances and wrestling. The youths were detained over indecent dressing styles. The incident happened shortly after the youths have already started their activities (wrestling and dancing) at different points of the overcrowded Freedom Square. The police arrived in large numbers and started amassing young men and ladies accused of dressing indecently in public places. The captives were assembled at the police headquarters and later released after having been warned not to ever attempt to dress like that other time' (more at Jonglei State News, 19 January 2009)

Wonder what the offending clothes were?

Monday, January 19, 2009


Simon Reynolds kicked off a week of posts about The Sweet with the provocative question 'was there in fact a better British hard rock vocalist of the 1970s than Brian Connolly of The Sweet?'. Of course die-hard 1970s rockists would have been horrified at the very suggestion of admitting The Sweet to the hard rock canon - a glam pop band who didn't even write their biggest hits.

But anybody listening to tracks like Ballroom Blitz or Teenage Rampage now would surely have to agree with joint songwriter Nicky Chinn that 'the records sound quite raw and punky... this was pop that had an edge: there were hard guitars, there were crashing drums'. Not only that but the songs were short, punchy and relatively fast compared with some of the ponderous 'real' heavy metal of the time - what Barney Hoskyns has called 'The beefed-up, turbo-charged 'Chinnichap' sound - bubblepunk'.

The band even had a proto-punk attitude several years before The Sex Pistols, as Chinn recalled: 'We were doing "Ballroom Blitz" on Top of the Pops, and all day Steve [bassist Steve Priest] had been acting a bit strangely. After the opening bars of the song, he turns round with his back to the camera, and on the back of his leather jacket were the words FUCK YOU'. Unsurprizingly, this was never broadcast by the BBC.

Even their gender bending is often derided, because unlike Bowie they didn't learn it from Lindsay Kemp. They are sometimes bracketed with Slade as 'brickies in eyeliner' (to use Siouxsie Sioux's memorable phase). But for a generation of pre-pubescent children like me watching in awe on Top of the Pops it probably had a bigger impact than Bowie, if only because they were so ubiquitous. As glam blogger the Stardust Kid puts it: 'In most respects glam rock is totally fake, but to young kids like me it was real and alive. It may have been 'Brickies in eyeliner' but to the kids it was 'stardust for the dudes''.

I'm not sure I would go as far as Barney Hoskyns in suggesting that The Sweet influenced black American style from George Clinton to Prince, but who know maybe he's right that 'Space-age glam also played a large part in the look of P-Funk. George Clinton was funk's own Roy Wood, while Bootsy Collins - the rhinestone-encrusted overlord of space bass - was the Sweet's Steve Priest on Pimpmobile overdrive'.
But I do agree with Todd Haynes (director of glam celebration Velvet Goldmine) that glam was 'the result of a unique blending of underground American rock with a distinctly English brand of camp theatricality and gender-bending. And for a brief time pop culture would proclaim that identities and sexualities were not stable things but quivery and costumed, and rock and roll would paint its face and turn the mirror around, inverting in the process everything in sight'.

From Youtube - The Sweet on Top of the Pops in 1973 performing Blockbuster - all silver platform shoes and gold catsuits. The band were sometimes accused on stealing this riff from David Bowie's Jean Genie - in fact both of them probably took it from The Yardbirds 'I'm a Man', itself a cover of Bo Diddley - orginality is often over-rated!

Most quotes from Glam!: Bowie, Bolan and The Glitter Rock Revolution - Barney Hoskyns (London: Faber: 1998). Brian Connolly (top) and Steve Priest (bottom) on the cover of German teen magazine Bravo, 1973 (sourced from Cover Browser)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Radio Days

I've been spending a lot of time this weekend hanging round in a car. What has made it all bearable is the radio. Despite having weeks worth of music on my pc, and more music at my disposal than I will ever have time to listen to, radio still offers something else - the unknown and unexpected. Of course this is not true of most stations, but in London at least the airwaves are still crowded with pirates and sometimes community stations with short term broadcasting licences.

So on Force FM (106.5) I listened to DJs Ade and Frisk discussing the relative merits of nu garage, Bumpy 4/4, old skool garage, Bassline and UK funky. They were definitely most in favour of the first two, but the whole thing reminded me of the role of pirates as hothouses for the proliferation of micro-genres and mutations of the 'nuum. More importantly the music was good, Todd Edwards 'When angels sing' a standout track. On Rinse FM there was the inevitable God Made me Phunky, a UK funky take on an old house track that was itself inspired by a 1975 Headhunters track - from the first wave of funk... making me think about the shifting fortunes of the term funk in music - something that for a long time has conjured up a sense of retro-fixated scenes like acid jazz but now reclaimed for the latest twist in urban music... And so on.

Radio has always been important to me. When I was at primary school we used to gather round a small transistor in the lunch break and listen to the chart rundown, in the days of T.Rex and The Sweet. As a teenager I genuinely listened under the covers to the John Peel show, my mind being blown by punk - I can vividly remember hearing Stiff Little Fingers 'Suspect Device' for the first time in my bed. Years later I first heard jungle on a summers day in Brockwell Park (Brixton), lying on the grass and twiddling the dial.

Today all kinds of music are more easily accessible than ever, but there are also mechanisms to keep the unexpected at bay, like lastfm and Itunes Genius- 'if you like this here some more of the same'. Most radio stations, from Kiss to Xfm, are programmed on the same basis of giving their 'core demographic' what they expect to hear. But on the edges of the dial there are still surprizes to be found.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pseudo flashmob at Liverpool Street Station

Earlier this week there was an apparent flashmob at Liverpool Street - several hundred people dancing in the railway station. But it wasn't a unlicensed gathering for the pleasure of dancing in public - it was in fact arranged by mobile phone company T-mobile to film an advert.

I must admit I tend to see flashmobs as a kind of free party-lite version of Reclaim the Streets. There's something rather apologetic about turning up somewhere, having a quick bop in near silence and then disappearing after half an hour. On the day in 1996 when Reclaim the Streets met up at Liverpool Street, thousands of us closed down the M41 Motorway for the afternoon, with big sound systems. We certainly didn't get a positive write up in the Daily Mail.

Still I guess the flashmob still offers the transgressive thrill of temporarily transforming a transport hub or a shopping centre into a party zone in the company of strangers. Liverpool Street station has seen some genuine flashmobs. There was last year's Tube Party as well as the event when hundreds of people wore Rick Astley masks and sung Never Gonna Give You Up (1980s pop hit - probably unknown to anybody reading this outside of the UK). In October 2006, there was a Mobile Clubbing flashmob, with a crowd dancing to their ipods.

But a choreographed telephone advert is a fake copy of something that has already been diluted.

There was a genuine flashmob today though at Heathrow airport, protesting against plans for a third runway. It doesn't seem to have involved much dancing, other than a large conga dance procession.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Astoria closes

I've mentioned before that the Astoria in London was threatened with closure, but now it has actually happened. This week's Demolition Ball was the final gig. Earlier in the week 'Alan McGee, founder of Creation Records, said the Astoria, which opened as a cinema in 1927 and became a concert venue in 1976, had "a lot of soul and character". He added: "In Paris or Mexico places like this don't get knocked down, they get revamped. It's criminal they're knocking down these iconic buildings." For years it hosted the G.A.Y. club - with its guest appearances from Kylie Minogue and other gay pop faves, as well as gigs by the likes of Nirvana, Belle & Sebastian, Augustus Pablo (first London gig), Madonna, Blur and Richey Edwards in his final appearance with the Manic Street Preachers in 1994. It was also a ballroom during and after the Second World War.

The 2000-capacity Astoria is being bulldozed as part of a railway scheme, along with two neighbouring spaces which will also disappear - the 1000-capacity Astoria2 club (formerly LA2) and the Metro , a cellar club where mod/soul/indie night Blow Up has been running since 1993.

Lots more Astoria memories here

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Benjamin Péret: songs of the eternal rebels

Benjamin Péret (1899-1959) was active in the Surrealist movement from its formation until his death. Among other things he edited at one stage the journal 'La Révolution surréaliste'.

His most substantial prose work is the surrealist novel 'Mort aux Vaches et au champ d'honneur' - literally 'Death to the Cows and to the Field of Honour' but sometimes translated as Death to the Pigs (since Vaches was used as slang for cops).

To give one example of its striking imagery, it features a section where the sobs of cinema goers form a sea of tears that floods the world:

'Suddenly the sun yawned like a dog waking up, and breath reeking of garlic polluted the atmosphere. A kazoo came and fell in to the heap of barbed wire the broom-seller was tangled in. He grabbed it and blew into it. A long whine and several tears emerged, which burst and expelled lumps of foam all around, which floated on the sea of tears. Delighted, the broom­seller continued to blow into the kazoo, continuing to to produce teary fireworks which burst into foam and settled all about him... When the sea of tears was covered over with a thick rug of foam, circumstances changed rapidly for the broom-seller, who had the unfortunate notion of lying down on it. Barely had he stretched out when the kazoo's whimpering became extraordinarily loud. They were no longer whimpers but veritable roars which destroyed his eardrums and slowly dug a tunnel through his head'

Like other Surrealists, Péret used automatic writing as a technique to discover the marvelous in everyday life: 'The marvelous, I say again, is all around, at every time and in every age. It is, or should be, life itself, as long as that life is not made deliberately sordid as this society does so cleverly with its schools, religion, law courts, wars, occupations and liberations, concentration camps and horrible material and mental poverty'.

His experiences in the French army in the First World War made him a pronounced anti-militarist, as well as being vehemently anti-clerical - Mortes Aux Vaches includes images of 'A general trampled by reindeer' and dogs sniffing dead priests. The photograph here was originally published in La Révolution surréaliste (1926) with the caption 'Our colleague Benjamin Péret in the act of insulting a priest'.

Péret was one of the first of the Surrealists to break with Stalinism. In the early 1930s, living in Brazil (with his wife, the singer Elsie Houston) he joined the trotskyist Communist League. In the Spanish Civil War, he worked first with the independent socialist POUM and then an anarchist militia fighting on the Aragon front. Later he was part of a group called the Union Ouvriere Internationale which broke with the trotskyist movement over the latter's defence of the Soviet Union as a degenerate workers state (see this biography of Ngo Van Xuhat for more about this)

In a 1949 poem, A Lifetime, Péret looked back on his long association with Andre Breton and wrote of:

'the songs in raised fists of the eternal rebels thirsting for ever new wind
for whom freedom lives as an avalanche ravaging the vipers' nests of heaven and earth
the ones who shout their lungs out as they bury Pompeiis
Drop everything'.

Main source: Benjamin Péret, Death to the Pigs and Other Writings, translated by Rachel Stella and others (London: Atlas Press, 1988). The best source online is L'Association des amis de Benjamin Péret (in French)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What is it?

It was my birthday recently. Some friends who know my penchant for small stringed instruments - I play mandolin and ukulele and also have a baglama - brought me back this instrument from Morocco:

It's shaped like a camel-skin covered frying pan, with a tubular neck. It has three strings and makes a bass sound with a satisfying rattle. Can anyone tell me any more about it - what it is, how it's played, what kind of music it's associated with? I've come across a mention of a North African instument called a guenbri which kind of fits this description. I know there's a few musicologists reading this blog - can you help?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Woofah Issue Three

Woofah issue three has been out for a month now, but it's taken me a while to get round to reviewing it. If you haven’t seen previous issues, it’s a lovingly produced glossy A5 zine, aiming to cover reggae, grime and dubstep. As well as taking seriously musics that are under-represented in print (in my view), the contributors also have a strong sense of the way music emerges from connections between people in specific places and scenes, from their life journeys through these times and spaces, and from the sonic dialogue that is opened up when sounds created in a particular zone are transplanted somewhere else.

In the latter respect, I was fascinated to read the interview with The Bomb Squad (legendary producers of Public Enemy, among others). In the latest twist in the Black Atlantic dialogue, these African Americans have been seriously checking out dubstep made by people in England many of whom in turn would have grown under the influence of their groundbreaking hip hip productions. It’s all about the bass – ‘It’s dark, it’s heavy. At the same time its rebellious’ (Hank Shocklee).

Elsewhere an article on the history of UK Dub follows a route from Jah Shaka’s Dub Club at the Rocket on London’s Holloway Road through to Aba Shanti’s University of Dub at Brixton Recreation Centre, while Soulja of FWD recalls London and Essex hardcore and garage nights at places like Telepathy in Stratford, the Berwick Manor Club and Grays (Grays Inn Road) on her journey through to becoming dubstep promoter and working with Rinse FM – nearly 14 years on air as a London pirate despite crackdowns including an ASBO that banned one of the people involved from going above the 3rd floor of any building!

You can get it here. and you really should.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Light Behind the Curtains

The break of dawn is not always the end of the party, but it is usually the beginning of the end. If nothing else, the first rays of daylight are a warning that the spell is breaking and that the special quality of night as a period outside of the normal rules of daytime (work, school etc.) is fleeting. In the 1920s, Herman Hesse described a moment at a party when 'a feeling that it was morning fell upon us all. We saw the ashen light behind the curtains. It warned us of pleasure’s approaching end and gave us symptoms of the weariness to come'. For him this was a signal for a last joyful burst of energy 'we flung ourselves desperately into the dance once more'.
A more doleful image of a party's end occurs in great Sicilian novel The Leapoard by Tomasi di Lampedusa (1958):

'The ball went on for a long time still, until six in the morning; all were exhausted and wishing they had been in bed for at least three hours; but to leave early was like proclaiming the party a failure and offending the host and hostess who had taken such a lot of trouble, poor dears. The ladies' faces were livid, their dresses crushed, their breaths heavy. "Maria! How tired I am! Maria! How sleepy!" Above their disordered cravats the faces of the men were yellow and lined, their mouths stained with bitter saliva. Their visits to a disordered little room near the band alcove became more frequent; in it were disposed a row of twenty vast vats; by that time nearly all were brimful, some spilling over. Sensing that the dance was nearing its end, the sleepy servants were no longer changing the candles in chandeliers, and the short stubs diffused a different, smoky, ill-omened light. In the empty supper room were only dirty plates, glasses with dregs of wine which the servants, glancing around, would hurriedly drain; through the cracks in the shutters filtered a plebeian light of dawn. The party was crumbling away…'

This pessimistic perspective is in keeping with the theme of the novel. Its main character, Fabrizio, Prince of Salina, is dying and reflecting melancholically on the fading away not only of his own life but of a way of life as the Sicilian aristocracy decays in the face of Italian unification - the party is over in every respect. For him 'The crowd of dancers... seem unreal, made of the raw material of lapsed memories, more labile even than that of disturbing dreams'. A young couple dancing may be 'sweet and touching' but they too are mortal and doomed: 'his gloved right hand on her waist, their outspread arms interlaced, their eyes gazing into each other's. The black of his tail-coat, the pink of her interweaving dress, looked like some unusual jewel. They were the most moving sight there, two young people in love dancing together, blind to each other's defects, deaf to the warnings of fate, deluding themselves that the whole course of their lives would be as smooth as the ballroom floor, unknowing actors set to play the parts of Juliet and Romeo by a director who had concealed the fact that tomb and poison were already in the script'.

Still the end of the night doesn't have to signal despair. In Camera Obscura's great party song Let Me Go Home (a favourite floorfiller at How Does it Feel?), 'Daylight appears through the curtains and nobody cares, Supremes in our dreams, Do we quit bein' obscene on the stairs?'. Anyway, sometimes the end of the party holds out the promise of something more: 'Well the room goes boom to the sound of temptations and more, Twisting and turning that girl's looking good on the floor, Well the four walls they collide, Until the blue-eyed girl decides to let me go home'.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Songs about Dancing (5): Sophisticated Boom Boom

I was walkin' down the street,
And it was gettin' mighty late.
Well, the truth of the matter is,
This poor girl had been abandoned by her date.

When, from out of nowhere,
Came this music loud and clear.
Let me see, from over there?
(No, from over there.)
Over there? (Yeah.)

Well, I open up the door,
And much to my surprise,
The girls were wearin' formals,
And the boys were wearin' ties.

And I feel that I should mention,
That the band was at attention.
They just stood there, oh, so neat,
While they played their swingin' beat.
So I grabbed this little boy,
Who came struttin' 'cross the room,
And I say, "What's that?" And he say,
Sophisticated boom, boom.
It's been long overdue, Sophisticated boom, boom.
We been need'in' somethin' new, Sophisticated boom, boom.
Now stand up straight and tall, Like your back's against the wall.
Take two steps forward (Boom, boom.) (Boom-boom, boom-boom)
And shake your hips. (Boom, boom)...

Sophisticated Boom Boom by The Shangri-Las was originally a b-side to Long Live Our Love in 1966. It was written by George "Shadow" Morton. The song title was also used as the name for a cool Scottish girl band in the early 1980s and for Dead or Alive's first album in 1984. The Shangri-Las were from Queens (NYC) - perhaps the song describes going through a time tunnel in 1966 and coming across a Vampire Weekend gig in Brooklyn in 2007.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Queer Albert Hall

'Queer urban culture was the site of diverse intersecting modes of queerness and "normality," coalescing around their desires for homosex, sociability, and intimacy. These antagonisms crystallized in two prominent annual events: the Chelsea Arts Ball and Lady Malcolm's Servants' Ball -both held at the Royal Albert Hall.

1926 Chelsea Arts Ball (from Getty Images)

The former, in particular, was a centerpiece in the metropolitan social calendar, a New Year's Eve costume ball that attracted massive media attention and crowds of up to 7,000 socialites, artists, and ordinary Londoners in elaborate fancy dress. These "true pageants" were, observed Kenneth Hare in 1926, notable for their "variety, inventiveness, vivacity and colour." For many men, becoming part of this carnival gener­ated a palpable sense of release. Hundreds of working-class queans flocked to both balls, discarding the masks they wore in everyday life, wearing drag, dressing outrageously, and socializing unashamedly while never appearing to be anything out of the ordinary. In so doing, they were further protected by the Albert Hall's unique legal status: it was outside the Met's operational sphere. For once, temporarily and locally, men could fully escape police sur­veillance.

A 50-feet high mermaid designed by Ronald Searle for the 1954 Chelsea Arts Ball
(from Perpetua - Ronald Searle tribute blog)

The results were spectacular. In 1934, one observer described "groups of men dressed in coloured silk blouses and tight-hipped trousers ... lips ... rouged and faces painted. By their attitude and general behaviour they were obviously male prostitutes."...

1947 Chelsea Arts Ball, taken by Tony Linck, sourced from the Life Archive

From the early 1930s the organizers of both events were increasingly exercised by these "disgraceful scenes," and a nagging sense that men's behavior was somehow out of control. In 1936, Lady Malcolm herself wrote cryptically - apparently in some desperation-to the Times: 'Each year I notice at the ball a growing number of people, who, to be frank, are not of the class for whom the ball is designed. It is what it is called- a servants' ball, and I am jealous that it shall go on deserving that name."Both balls employed private stewards to maintain "order" and exclude "undesirables." From 1933, having failed to secure a police presence, Malcolm employed two ex-CID officers to remove any identifiable "sexual perverts." From 1935 tickets were sold with the proviso that "NO MAN IMPERSONATING A WOMAN AND NO PERSON UNSUITABLY ATTIRED WILL BE ADMITTED". On entry, men's costumes had to be approved by a "Board of Scrutineers." Whatever they tried, however, the organizers could neither keep the "Degenerate Boys" out nor adequately contain their visibility; indeed, they often struggled even to identify them amidst the fancy dressed crowds. In 1938, an observer thus described the "extraordinary number of undesirable men at this Ball who were unmis­takably of the Homo-Sexual and male prostitute types." Well into the 1950s, the balls remained, in Stephen's words, "a great Mecca for the gay world."

Working-class men reappropriated two high-profile public events, creat­ing a space at the center of metropolitan culture in which they could be together and socialize free of the constraints that braced everyday queer lives.'

1947 Chelsea Arts Ball, taken by Tony Linck, sourced from the Life Archive

Quote: Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 - Matt Houlbrook (University of Chicago Press, 2005) - I couldn't find any specifically drag photos, but these images certainly show that this was some party.

George Brecht

George Brecht (1926-2008), Fluxus artist, died last month.

His many sound pieces included 'Drip Music' (1959): 'For single or multiple performance. A source of dripping water and an empty vessel are arranged so that the water falls into the vessel' and 'Comb Music' (1959): 'For a single or multiple performance. A comb is held by its spine in one hand, either free or resting on an object. The thumb or a finger on the other hand is held with its tip against the end prong of a comb, with the edge of the nail overlapping the end of a prong. The finger is slowly and uniformly moved so that the prong is inevitably released, and the nail engages the next prong. This action is repeated until each prong has been used'.

Photo is of him performing 'Solo for Violin' (1964) at 359 Canal Street, New York City during Flux Fest at Fluxhall - a piece for which the score reads simply 'polishing'.

Friday, January 09, 2009

More Soho Nights: Hand Jive

More on Soho Nights from today's Guardian:

'... in 1956, I heard about this new dance craze called hand-jiving. So I made a number of visits to a coffee bar called The Cat's Whiskers in Soho. Cliff Richard used to appear there. I remember the place was crowded with young kids when I arrived. It was pretty late, but not after midnight. In those days, midnight was the witching hour; things closed up after that. I did not speak to anyone, but I do remember the atmosphere was very jolly. Wholesome would be a good word. And the reason they were jiving with their hands was just because there was precious little room to do it with their feet. Everyone was doing it, which was quite a bizarre sight.
The craze just fascinated me. It seemed like a strange novelty, but it really caught on. There were quite a few variations they could do, like one called the mashed potato... What's more, hand-jiving was an activity that everyone shared and had a go at in their own particular style. Not being a great jive artist myself, it was one of the things I could do, and I used to join in. .

Ken Russell's work features in Soho Nights, at the Photographers' Gallery, London W1 (0845 262 1618), until 8 February.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dancing Questionnaires (10): Onomé Ekeh

From Brooklyn, Onomé Ekeh recalls a life in dance from New York to Switzerland:

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
No. It must have been when I was preverbal. I was always inclined to dance.

2. What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Entering a trance and replicating slash imbibing the moves of dancers far more advanced and superior to me.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
8 hour jags with a gallon of water, emerging at 10 a.m in the morning in a cloud of baby powder--thanks to the rocksteady crew types who need the stuff to be fluid.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Crowded. Cokeheads. People bogged down by alchohol, parking on the dancefloor. Insensitive DJs...

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
Early in my NY career, I would go to BoB a bar on Eldridge St. on the lower east side on Wednesdays and Fridays'--this was pre-Giuliani, crowded, free, old school funk till dawn. Then I was introduced to "The Loft" on Avenue A, classic deep house on Saturday nights, shortly thereafter, The AfterLife (Deep House) which started from 3 am in a small theater company space in Tribeca--actually round the corner from what came to be known as "Body and Soul", sort of the last stand- a "Tea Party" from 4 to 10pm on Sundays. Classic house with Danny Krivits, Kim Lightfoot and others. Finally plagued by tourists and people on drugs...

6. When and where did you last dance?
At a cinderella type club in Zurich, Les Halles -which is normally a restaurant but on Christmas Day it turns into a fabulous dance party, straddling the balance of electric disco and paris house...

Sylvester, photo © Clay Geerdes

7. You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
Hmmm. Sylvester (pictured), (You Make Me Feel) Mighty Real? Disco Inferno? Most anything 70s disco would raise me from the dead...

All questionnaires welcome- just answer the same questions and send to (see previous questionnaires)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cildo Meireles

Only a few days to go of the exhibition by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles at Tate Modern (London) - it closes on 11th January. If you haven't been yet, I strongly recommend it.
The exibition starts with some of his earliest work from the 1970s under the Brazilian military dictatorship, including his Insertions into Ideological Circuits which involved printing political messages on banknotes and Coca-Cola bottles and putting them back into circulation.
Several of the installations feature sound elements. Fontes is a room full of 1,000 clocks ticking in different rhythms and 6,000 suspended rulers making their own sound as people push through them. Babel )pictured) is a tower built of around 800 radios, bursting out white noise which shfits as you move around it. It is also a kind of museum of the radio age -or what the artist has described as ‘an archaeological sample of events - with old style valve radios at the bottom and smaller transistor radios at the top.

Red Shift is a room set up like a domestic environment with everything - furniture, food, objects - in red. Watch out for a copy of Ottowan's D.I.S.C.O. in red vinyl (seriously). The final room, Volatile, is quite magical. If you've never waded barefoot through talcum powder by candlelight, now is your chance. But be warned - there will be probably be long queues for this and the Red room, so you might want to get there early.

More on Babel:

'The fact that the radios gathered together in this installation are tuned in to many different stations underscores, moreover, the notion that, even within a context of growing interrelationship between peoples, it might be possible to generate and assert difference. In opposition to the social entropy proclaimed in the narrative of Genesis, the demise of a universal language - and the subsequent end of a presumed transparency of meaning in the spoken language of all the inhabitants of the world - might in fact be associated with the interruption of a colonial rule that imposed the language and culture of a single nation upon everyone, and therefore constrained the emergence of alterity. Connected yet different, members of that network cannot thus be associated with exclusive interests nor reduced to a uniform amalgamate, being better understood as individual parts of a 'multitude' which produces and shares that which it imagines it holds in common.

However, the other elements that make up Babel problematise this communal utopia, indicating that the expression of various opinions is an insufficient condition for the most equitable division of power between distinct human groups. From the first glimpse of the work, it is obvious to the visitor that the radios piled up by the artist to form the tower are bearers of the most varied technologies - from the obsolescent to the excess of resources. This diversity may be understood as an index of the unequal access of nations (and also of the many social strata within each one of them) to the power of communicating with that which is distant and, by this token, of asserting that which they deem to be important. In fact, the 'right to narrate' that all nations and communities constantly claim - the right to be heard, recognised and represented is always conditioned by the hierarchical (albeit disseminated and dispersed) control of technological media and political instruments through which it is exercised, thus rendering such media and instruments integral parts of the 'ideological circuits' that anesthetise difference and block change in stratified societies.

Even though they occupy the same space in the exhibition room, using the same means of transmission, these many different radios allude to the simultaneous presence, among different peoples or even within a single nation, of distinct social times. Thus they symbolise the asymmetrical distribution of power that allows for the assertion of sovereignties and the decentralised yet effective command of the mechanisms that structure exchanges between distant places.
The drone produced jointly by all of the sets also suggests that the immeasurable quantity of information transmitted by radio in the contemporary world - as well as by television and even more so by the internet - eventually obscures the content of intended communications, emptying them of clearly discernible meanings. Within any given transmission frequency, the number of stations is great enough for their broadcasts occasionally to overlay each other, mix or even cancel one another out. Thus, the listener is alienated from the speech of others less through scarcity than through excess of information, provoking a 'negative ecstasy of radio'. It is an ecstasy that reduces differences not by rendering that which is communicated more transparent but, on the contrary, by rendering indistinct each discourse that desires to affirm itself as unique. Paradoxically, this erasure of alterity becomes all the greater as the means of communication needed for its expression become more widely disseminated.'
From: 'Where all places are' by Moacir Dos Anjos in Cildo Meireles, edited by Guy Brett (London, Tate, 2008)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Weekend Free Parties, Oxfordshire and Devon

Police break up illegal rave (Oxford Mail, 6 January 2009)

'Teenagers accused police of being heavy-handed when they arrived in the early hours of the morning to break up an illegal rave in Carterton. According to eye-witnesses at the party, up to seven police cars, a riot van, dog handler and an ambulance were summoned to the scene at a warehouse on the South Industrial Estate off Black Bourton Road, Carterton.

More than 30 young people, mainly teenagers from the town, gathered after midnight and into the early hours of Saturday. Officers seized sound equipment and made several arrests. Police said an 18-year-old was arrested for possession of cannabis and theft of a vehicle — a fork lift truck removed from the industrial unit — and a 19-year-old for burglary. Thames Valley Police spokesman Toby Shergold said the warehouse had been broken into and a rave was set up at about 1am.

Unemployed teenager Jack Murphy, 18, of Dovetrees, Carterton, was among those arrested. He has not been charged with any offence. He told the Oxford Mail: “We all gathered there by word of mouth. There was a full sound system and a DJ. It was going okay when all these police suddenly came in. Some fighting broke out with them and there was a bit of violence. It got a bit out of hand.”

Another Carterton teenager, Chris Baughan, 19, said: “I got there after it started and there were about 30 people having a good time. Suddenly all these officers turned up. There were about six or seven police cars, a dog unit and ambulance. It looked well over the top.” He claimed one youth — aged about 15 — suffered a broken nose and was taken to hospital. It is understood the warehouse was not damaged despite being broken into.'

Police Halt Rave (Devon24, 6 January 2009)

'An illegal rave on an area of land between Honiton and Sidmouth was shut down by police. Officers were called to East Hill Strips at 2am on Saturday, December 27, after it was reported that there were between 60 and 100 vehicles on the site as well as open-air sound equipment. Traffic officers carried out a number of road-side breath tests but they all came back negative.The DJ was told to pack up his sound equipment and police were eventually able to disperse people at around 10am'.

Monday, January 05, 2009

'Wild Beatnik Parties', London 1964

'Beatnik Parties took over Nash House - Wild Parties Held

In the past week some 15 young people have been arrested and charged with various offences under the Vagrancy Act in connexion with 6 Carlton House Terrace, London… The handsome Nash terrace which for the past three weeks has been the scene of wild beatnik parties, overlooks the Mall near the Duke of York’s Steps. Early this century it was a private address. Then some of the houses were taken by clubs, including the Savage Club, the Union Club and Crockfords. Today many of the houses including No.6 are vacant...

Yesterday morning the door to No.6 was open and there was a strong smell of beer. Inside, among the dirt and falling wallpaper, piles of sacking had been placed on the floor and slept on. There were jagged gaps in the grimy windowpanes.

The young people in their jeans and sandals had moved off. Some of them were drowsing in a favourite corner of Trafalgar Square. They sat on a low wall, wiggling bare feet in the sun, most of them grubby and unshaven, and told me about the wild parties that had been drawing people like themselves from all over the country to the deserted house.

Art of Living Soft

The sessions began around midnight, after the public houses closed, and went on most of the night. Those who wanted to sleep used sacks. Afterwards they all moved off to the parks to sleep, then assembled in Trafalgar Square to wait for the next night.

A few of them were students. One girl with long, fair hair relatively clean, and brushed, said she was an art student from Birmingham, in London for five weeks. Another girl in a leather jacked grimaced and said she was a clerk from Newcastle, down for the weekend. Three young men were unemployed. One boasted with a Scots voice that he was an art student – he was studying the art of living without work…

The Carlton House Terrace days, they feel, are over – the place will be heavily watched by the police. ‘After all this publicity’, the Scotsman said, waving a Sunday newspaper in the air, ‘we’ll have to find another place. But it won’t be difficult. There’s plenty of empty houses’

Source: Times (London), 31 August 1964; the building is now the headquarters of the Royal Society. The Institute of Contemporary Arts is also based in Carlton House Terrace. In June 1977, the Squatters Action Council took over number 14 Carlton Terrace, but were evicted by the Police Special Patrol Group who claimed they posed a security risk as the building was on the route of the Queen's Silver Jubilee procession (source: Squatting: The Real Story).

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Soho Nights

Showing at the Photographers Gallery in London at the moment is Soho Nights, an exhibition of photographs of London nightlife in the 1950s.

There’s a group of 1957 pictures taken by Ken Russell in the Cat’s Whisker (above), a Soho coffee bar, with a quote from a Daily Mirror article Teenagers of Soho (1.4.1957): ‘It’s so crowded the girls “hand jive” to the band as there’s no room for dancing’. The suggestion seems to be that hand jive developed because that was all there was space to do – wonder if that’s true?

The Cat's Whisker was in Kingly Street, and was an important venue in the skiffle scene - see this 1957 article from Time Magazine: 'Into umbrous, ill-ventilated underground caverns, seemingly as necessary to life as the air-raid shelters where some of the visitors were born, thousands of bemused young Londoners squeeze nightly to stomp and holler their approval of Britain's latest musical mania: U.S. rock 'n' roll, commercial hillbilly and folk music, warmed over and juiced up in a mishmash called skiffle... To the Soho hipsters who swelter and suffocate for it in the Cat's Whisker, the Côte d'Azur or The Two I's, skiffle is brand-new'.

There’s also a series of photographs taken by Charles ‘Slim’ Hewitt at Cy Laurie’s trad jazz club in 1954 (examples below). They were originally taken for an article featuring the club in Picture Post magazine that is included in the exhibition, ‘Blue Heaven in the Basement’ (10.7.1954) : ‘it is a hypnotic, ecstatic, musical experience… There are no non-partisans. The dancers are expert and frenzied… On Friday nights there is always a queue of black and blue jeans quietly intent on forcing the “House Full” sign’.

The exhibition includes a whole series of shots that were not used in the Picture Post piece and they are very striking and timeless – multi-racial dancers in jeans, striped tops, bare feet.

Cy Laurie’s Jazz Club was held downstairs at Mac's Rehearsal Rooms at 41 Great Windmill Street, Soho, and opened in 1953 - see previous posts on this scene.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

More on Form 696

The row is continuing about the Metropolitan police discouraging grime nights and other black musics, and its use of the now notorious Form 696. The Music Producers Guild has added its weight to the campaign against the form, with MPG chair Mike Howlett saying he feels 'this is a gross infringement of civil liberties and a form of racial discrimination. We also feel that this will deter the staging of live musical events, stifle free expression and possibly penalise certain genres of music and ethnic audiences'. The Voice newspaper has also highlighted the campaign, with an interview with Pete Todd, promoter of grime night, Dirty Canvas.

I've just come across an old story from the South London Press which throws some light on police tactics. In April 2007, the police invited South London club owners to a meeting at the Ministry of Sound to discuss gun crime in clubs. At the meeting Sergeant Mick Meaney of the Met's specialist S019 firearms unit told club owners: 'If you're playing a violin string quartet you're not going to get a steaming gang turn up. These people go to certain places and they are attracted by the music. If the music being played is attracting a certain type of crowd, don't play the music'. (South London Press, 20 April 2007).

That's the problem in a nutshell. As I've said before, gun crime in clubs is a real threat. As I've also said before, the police already have powers to deal with it - and for firearms police to dictate what kind of music Londoners can party to is a highly dubious state of affairs.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Banning Christmas

Still a few days to go of the Twelve Days of Christmas festivities. In the 16th century though, protestant churches in Scotland sometimes tried to ban mid-winter celebrations - even Christmas carols - as pagan and papist:

'at St Andrews, in 1573... the kirk session, the local unit of church govern­ment, punished a number of people for 'observing of superstitious days and specially of Yuil-day.' The following year it made a particular example of a baker, for filling his house with lights and guests on New Year's Day and shouting 'Yuil! Yuil! Yuil!' In that year, too, the kirk session at Aberdeen tried fourteen women for 'playing, dancing and singing of filthy carols on Yule Day at even'...

From 1583 the Glasgow kirk sessions ordered that those who kept Yule were to be excommunicated and also punished by the secular magistrates. A few years later bakers at Perth were questioned for making 'Yule Bread', and in 1588 the Haddington presbytery forbade the singing of carols at this time. In 1593 the minister of Errol equated this pastime with fornication and in 1599 the local elite of Elgin prepared for the season by forbidding 'profane pastime ... viz. footballing through the town, snowballing, singing of carols or other profane songs, guising, piping, violing and dancing.' In that decade also a piper from Dunblane was forced to promise not to play upon Christmas Day or any other old festival, having been hired to do so by Yuletide revellers in villages along the Allan Water.

The same sorts of record (which are all that we have) also make clear the large amount of opposition which these measures encountered. The ruling at Glasgow had to be repeated four times up to 1604, a sure sign of resistance to it. At Aberdeen in 1606, thirty years after the campaign of repression began, the kirk session had to condemn anew 'the superstitious time of Yule or New Year's Day' and direct that henceforth the citizens should not 'presume to mask or disguise themselves in any sort, the men in women's clothes, nor the women in men's clothes, nor otherways, be dancing with bells, other on the streets of this burgh or in private house'. The Elgin session ruling of 1599 had been the third, and most detailed, of its kind within five years. Every one of those before had been defied by revellers disguised by blackened faces, masks, handkerchiefs, or fancy dress; traditional festival costume now assuming a practical advantage. So was this order, by at least two young women going abroad attired as men. At Yule in 1603 a man rode through the town with a cloth over his head, while another was accused of 'singing and hagmonayis' at New Year. Two years later a set of Aberdonians got into trouble by going through the streets 'masked and dancing with bells'.

Source: Ronald Hutton, Stations of the Sun: a History of the Ritual Year in England (1996)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

New Year's Eve

I know millions of people have been partying and having a good time in the past 24 hours (from a free party in Kent to Melbourne where 40,000 partied at Sensation rave at the Telstra Dome. So sorry for highlighting two bad news stories, one tragic, one farcical but with serious implications for people who live in the Maldives and enjoy dancing.

Thailand: 61 die in nightclub fire (Guardian, 1 January 2009)

'The death toll from a fire at a Bangkok nightclub, packed with New Year's Eve revellers, has risen to least 61 with 200 people injured... The cause of last night's fire was unclear; some clubbers blamed it on fireworks while others said it had been caused by an electrical fault in the Santika club. Video footage of the disaster showed bloodied, bruised and burned victims being dragged out of the still burning, two-story club, or managing to run through the door or shattered windows. "We were all dancing and suddenly there was a big flame that came out of the front of the stage and everybody was running away," Oh Benjamas told Reuters. Another survivor told how the ceiling caved in, burying victims in the rubble...'

Maldives: Islamists spoil the party

'Disco organisers have blamed the ministry of Islamic affairs for the poor turnout at their New Year’s Eve events after the ministry asked police to ban all discos on the night... Ibrahim Manik, the organiser of a disco held at Dharubaaruge hall said many young people were afraid to attend the discos after it was announced that they were illegal and would be stopped by police... Although the discos were not banned on the night, organisers say they were continually disrupted by police officers inspecting the venues every hour. Security was tight all over the Male', with hundreds of police officers patrolling the streets, in particular in areas where discos were being held... A 26-year-old woman, who did not wish to be named, said she was very annoyed with the ministry’s decision.“I can’t believe it. I planned to go to a disco but changed my mind when the announcements were made saying they were cancelled,” she said. Likewise, Seni Naim, 18, said her friends were planning to go to a disco but decided against it after the ministry’s announcement' (Maldives News, 1 January 2009).

The ministry of Islamic affairs appealed to the Maldives Police Service on Wednesday to end to all the discos organised for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Police sergeant Ahmed Shiyam confirmed Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, the minister of Islamic affairs, had made an official request to the police commissioner, Ahmed Faseeh, for police to take action regarding this matter... Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the state minister of Islamic affairs, said the ministry had formally requested the police stop the discos from taking place because they were contrary to Islam. He added the ministry had received complaints from the public. “We have received hundreds of complaints asking for a ban on the DJs,” he said. “So, the number of people who are against having DJs is greater than the number who wants them. Even a police official has informed us that they have also been receiving complaints.” he said. According to Shaheem, it is haram or forbidden in Islam for both sexes to dance together (Maldives News, 31 December 2008).