Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dancing Questionnaires (13): Tom from Cardiff

Tom from Vamos a Bailar: Salsa in Cardiff and Around steps up:

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Dancing to a rhythm’n’blues band in the 1970s on the beer-soaked linoleum of Cardiff’s notorious – and long-demolished – New Moon Club.

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
My answer to this changes all the time, because it always relates to the most recent dance where I really make a connection with a partner.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
Paris last summer. Free dancing on a warm Saturday night in the open air on the banks of the Seine, and then Sunday afternoon in Barrio Latino: I was on form and the dancers and the music were great.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Cattle markets in Cardiff Students’ Union in the late 70s, trying to pluck up the courage to ask for a dance.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?
I used to jump about in an uncoordinated way at parties in the 70s. Myself and my (straight, male and female) friends also used to go to gay clubs and dance to disco music around the same time. I only got seriously into dancing around seven years ago: I’ve become addicted to dancing LA-style and more recently Cuban salsa (and the group version ‘rueda de casino’). I also dance merengue and bachata (dances from the Dominican Republic) and reggaeton if I’m sufficiently relaxed, though strictly speaking I'm too English and middle-aged for the latter.

6. When and where did you last dance?
Last night in Jumpin’ Jaks, Cardiff. A great night.

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
Este te Pone La Cabeza Mala’ by Los Van Van.

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

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dancing Questionnaires (12): Abbey from Boston

The latest dancing questionnaire has been completed by Abbey who lives in the Boston, MA area. Her summer camp dancing adventures reminded me of going to youth club discos and dancing round in a high kicking circle to Hi Ho Silver Lining by Jeff Beck as well as the perennial awkwardness - for boys and girls - of that last slow dance. We also played the B-52s at that youth club, who would have thought they would end up in the pop canon, but I guess they have - in fact only last week I played Love Shack out withn my ukulele band.

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Dancing in my family room to a video of a Parachute Express concert as a very small child. Ever since I've know what music is, I've danced to it.

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Probably when I was at the dances at my camp last year. A slow song came on, and instead of wandering around and feeling awkward about not wanting to dance with guys, all of my friends and I broke into faux-ballet moves and just...let go. It wasn't embarrasing, it wasn't awkward, it much fun.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
It all happens at camp for me. We're all dorks, on the fringe of society at home, but when we get together, we just go crazy. Not just at the dances, but one incredible moment when it started pouring rain, and instead of running for cover, we danced. And sang Bohemian Rhapsody, but that's a longer story.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
I was at a dance at home, at a private boy's school that my friend goes to. He invited me and a few of my friends, and after slight worry over the sex-deprived boy schoolers, we decided to go. A guy asked me to dance, and I was weirded out, since that never happens to me, but I said yes. ...Before I realized what was happening, he started grinding with me. I was freaked out, and had no idea what to do, just sort of stood there until he stopped, said it was nice to meet me, and walked away. Apparently I'm not a very good grinding partner, which is nice, because I find it disgusting.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?
Not much. I'm pretty young, pretty sheltered, and live in the most boring place in the universe. So the craziest I get is school or camp dances, or randomly instigated dancing in random places with my friends. We're awesome like that.

6. When and where did you last dance?
If you mean seriously danced, it was at the winter semi-formal at my school, and it was some crazy awesome fun (as long as we avoided the sea of grinding taking up most of the dance floor). But for any dancing, the last time would be in the car, with my brother and dad, dancing in my seat when Revolution by the Beatles came on the radio. I make it a point to dance pretty much every day.

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
American Pie. It's played last at every dance at my camp, we know all the words, it's packed with traditional dance "moves" and called responses to the lyrics. It's the one song I've danced to that really affects me emotionally. This could actually be said about a few canon songs from my camp, including Tunak Tunak Tun, Love Shack, and the Time Warp.

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

Clubbed to Death

I've posted this before at my south east London blog, Transpontine, but am reposting here as a follow up to the earlier Club UK post on crime, drugs and London clubbing.

Raving Lunacy: Clubbed to death – adventures on the rave scene (2000) is by Dave Courtney - sometime East Dulwich resident, former Southwark Council dustman (at Grove Vale depot), and celebrity villain. Must admit I’m not big on the loveable gangster genre, violence isn’t glamorous - it’s brutal, bloody and leaves behind grieving children who are damaged for life. In this book, Courtney plays up to his image and some of the stories can no doubt be taken with a pinch of salt. Still, he does a service in documenting the early days of acid house and raving in late 80s/early 90s South London.

By his own account, Courtney went to some of the first 'acid house' events in London - Shoom in Thrale Street, Southwark and the parties held in old prison museum in Clink Street by London Bridge: 'The Clink was wicked... Very druggy and very housey place, full of proper hardcore havin'-it-larger's in there. And it was good cos it had all these individual cells so it was like having loads of little VIP lounges'.

Soon he started a club of his own: 'near the Elephant and Castle, I found a viaduct arch beneath the mainline railway track running over John Ruskin Street... The Arches was the first all-night, illegal rave in London... All the other clubs in London shut at about 2 am but mine was still banging at 8 o'clock in the morning! ... Under this great big curved, black and red railway arch roof there was the scaffolding gantry holding the DJ on the decks, massive speakers either side and the lights hanging above; and below that this heaving mass of lunatics just going completely mental, arms in the air, whistles and foghorns blowing... Steam and joint smoke hung like a fucking fog, people were dancing on speakers and scaffolding... we'd have a girl walking round in a Playboy Bunny outfit with an ice-cream tray round her neck full of ready-rolled spliffs for a quid each - Get yer Joints 'ere!' And big plastic dustbins filled to the top with ice and free apples and Ice-pops... we had a mad mixture of people: from hardcore ravers, professional clubbers, black geezers, white geezers, plenty of women, football hooligan nutters going all smiley, hardnuts softened by Ecstasy... I had names DJing there before they became superstar DJs like they are now - Danny Rampling, Carl Cox, Fabio & Grooverider, Brandon Block'.

The police at the nearby Carter Street station were not happy, and eventually it was raided by 'army of 150 police, with some fuckers called No 3 Area Territorial Support Group in flameproof overalls, bulletproof body armour and steel hel­mets with radio microphones, carrying an angle grinder, a hydraulic ram, sledgehammer'. 26 people were arrested and one person was apparently later jailed for five years for his part in running the club.

Later he was involved in putting on free open-air raves - 'I bought a massive removal van with a diesel generator ·and drove in on to fields or grasslands. Tooting Common was one. Peckham Rye was another... I'd open up the back of the lorry, set up the DJs decks and put these dirty big speakers outside. We'd get eight, nine hundred people up there really going [or it. Speakers booming it all out. And cos I didn't charge no one the law had a job Slopping me doing it. It just started attracting loads of gay blokes, which is something I hadn't counted on. But then it was the Common, the well known shag-spot for gay geezers doing some fresh air cruising, so I guess it made sense'.

He also ran a club for a while at the Fitness Centre in Southwark Park Road: 'It used to be the hottest place. It was this windowless basement space made for about 30 geezers to work out in; not two hundred people to get off their tits'.

Then he put on a club called 'Crazy Mondays', at Futures on Deptford Broadway, a club owned by Harry Hayward (later as a 'retired gangster', the Chair of Deptford Action Group for the Elderly): 'It ran from 6 a.m. Monday morning till about 2 p.m. in the afternoon... there was villains, hardcore ravers, pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, lap dancers, strippers, drag queens, club owners, club promoters, club dancers, celebrities, sports stars (Nigel Benn and Gary Mason were there), doormen, bar staff, waitresses, croupiers, gamblers, cab drivers, sex club people - basically, mostly everyone that had· worked over the weekend in the nightclub trade watching other people having a good time, all came down to mine to have their own'.

Courtney was evidently in that generation of crooks who saw the money-making opportunities in the club scene but he is also obviously a true believer, extolling the wonders of ecstasy and raving in breaking down racism in London and challenging his own anti-gay prejudice.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nigerian Islamists ban Dancing on Screen

Islamic authorities in Kano State (northern Nigeria) have been enforcing a ban on showing 'singing and dancing on screen' claiming it is 'necessary to protect Hausa culture against the influence of Indian Bollywood films, hugely popular in northern Nigeria'. In December 2008, film maker Iyan Tama was jailed for releasing a film without the approval of Islamic censors, and featuring singing and dancing. Last month a mob attacked his home and threatened his family (source: BBC News, 29 January 2009)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Club UK in Wandsworth: Love, Ecstasy and Crime

Heading out to Kew Gardens over Christmas, we drove through Wandsworth. As always on that journey through South West London, my partner and I reminisced incredulously about how we used to drag ourselves for miles across the capital by public transport to visit that part of the city. And we weren't alone - because from 1993 to 1996, Wandsworth was the home of Club UK, attracting people from all over London and beyond to queue in Buckhold Road next to the Arndale Shopping Centre.

Like many new clubs at this time, it was launched in a blaze of publicity about its luxurious decor and facilities. Like most, the reality was that the money was mainly spent on the sound system, and it was in fact a 'utilitarian, cavernous warehouse' (to quote DJ magazine), with 3 different music rooms - the 'techno room', the 'pop art room' and the main room . Promoter was Sean McCluskey, who was also involved with the Leisure Lounge.

There were two main nights. On Fridays, it was Final Frontier, a techno/trance night put on by Universe (who promoted the Tribal Gathering festivals with the Mean Fiddler). The flyer below exemplifies the rhetoric of that scene, with its talk of a 'our weekly marriage of spirituality and technology in perfect harmony' and its call for 'No rules, no limits and no sell out'.

Final Frontier flyer, January 1995 (click to enlarge)

Saturdays was a house night, with a dominant soundtrack of the kind of anthems despised as 'handbag house' by tedious musos, but which I loved (and indeed still do- hooray for funky!). Yes lots of disco diva vocals and four to floor rhythms. When I think of Saturday nights at Club UK, the tracks that come to mind are things like Your Loving Arms by Billy Ray Martin (the Junior Vasquez Soundfactory mix), To the Beat of the Drum by La Luna, Wildchild's Renegade Master, Push the Feeling On by the Nightcrawlers. Oh and that piano break track with the sample of Blur's Girls and Boys (Pianoman - Blurred).

Club UK flyer, February 1995 (click to enlarge)

What made Club UK special was a crowd of 1400 people for which the term 'up for it' seems completely inadequate. I can still vividly picture walking in there for the first time on a Saturday night - as soon as we stepped through the doors it felt like we were in the middle of an explosion of energy. The track playing was Reach Up (Papa's got a brand new pigbag) by Perfecto Allstarz - the whole place was erupting, there didn't seem to be any sense of a separate dancefloor, everybody in the place was dancing including the bar staff. You would meet all kinds of people there from public school kids (there were press reports of Etonians being suspended for taking drugs there) to squaddies - I remember on that first visit chatting to a couple who had done a bunk from a local children's home to be there.

Club UK was the opposite of cool, in every sense of the word. It was a sweatbox with little or no air conditioning, condensation dripping off the ceilings and sometimes unbearably hot and crowded. One night when we there they had to open the fire exit into the Arndale to let people breathe - so there was an impromtu chill out area on a balcony overlooking the deserted shopping centre (pretty sure this was on their second birthday party, July 1st 1995, with Danny Rampling playing). I remember sucking ice pops to try and cool down. The place was ecstasy fuelled, so many people would go the whole night without buying a drink. Many dubious clubs at that time used to turn off the water in the bathrooms so that people had to buy water from the bar. I don't recall Club UK going to that extreme, but sometimes the cold water taps were reduced to a dribble and they certainly made a small fortune selling their own brand of bottled water. Like in many clubs, there were many random acts of kindness as strangers offered each other sips of water on the dancefloor.

South London Press, 17 October 1995 (click to enlarge)

One hazard was the sporadic police raids. The first one was in December 1994 on a Friday night. Then in October 1995, 150 police raided it on a Saturday. Operation Blade involved dogs, horses, and the Territorial Support Group. 800 clubbers were turned out on to the streets, and many searched. 10 people were arrested. The police raid on Club UK was carried out with TV cameras in attendance, correctly described by the clubowners as a 'media circus'. It seems the raid was deliberately timed to provide a story on which to hang the launch two days later of a new anti-drugs campaign called SNAP (Say no and phone). Ironically the police launched this campaign at Club UK's South London rival, The Ministry of Sound, a place where drug use was just as widespread.
Mixmag, November 1995 (click to enlarge)

With hindsight, there were though some dodgy people around Club UK. As in the United States when prohibition of alcohol led to the Mafia control of drinking clubs, the prohibition of drugs like ecstasy created a huge market for UK gangsters to fill.

In December 1995, three men were found shot dead in a Range Rover in a country lane near Rettendon in Essex: Tony Tucker, Pat Tate and Craig Rolfe. There are different versions of why they were killed, as they had many enemies from their involvement in violence and drug smuggling. But it is well established that Tucker ran security at Club UK. According to Tony Thompson in 'Bloggs 19: the story of the Essex Range Rover Triple Murders' (London: Warner, 2000), 'Controlling the doors of a club instantly means that you control who sells drugs inside. Tucker began to charge dealers 'rent' of around £1000 per week in return for granting them exclusive access to the club... in March 1994, twenty-year old Kevin Jones died at Club UK in south London after taking ecstasy. In a bid to track the source, police put two of the club's suspected dealers under surveillance and discovered they had been paying Tony Tucker, the man responsible for security at the club, £1000 per weekend for the exclusive rights to sell ecstasy and cocaine'. Thompson also suggests that Tucker supplied the ecstasy to a dealer at Raquels nightclub in Basildon, the source of the infamous E that caused the death in November 1995 of Leah Betts at her 18th birthday party.

In a statement to police after the murders, Christoper Hall of the (unrelated) Club UN in Tottenham stated: 'I first met Tony [Tucker] when I was operations director for 'First Continental' the Hollywood chain of nightclubs. The directors of this company was Marios George Ellides and Chris George Ellides. My duties at that time included the operation of each club my role was a supervisory management role. At each club the security staff were controlled by Tony Tucker. The clubs were Hollywood Romford, Hollywood Ipswich, Club Art Southend, Club UK Wandsworth'.

The Rettendon events are fictionalised in Jake Arnott's novel True Crime, where one of the characters declares: 'It's who runs the doors, Gaz. That's what this thing is going to be all about. It doesn't matter who runs the club, who promotes the event or whatever. It's who's in control of security, that's going to be the thing. That way you decide who can bring in drugs and deal inside the place'.
The real story of criminal gangs in the 1990s club explosion remains untold. That gangsters like Tucker controlled the drugs trade in clubs is not surprizing, but as they made more and more money it seems likely that some must have crossed over to investing profits in buying and running clubs. It would be interesting to know where some of the money came from for some of the high profile new clubs that opened in that period. And its a sobering thought that in any counter-culture/alternative scene where drugs are prominent, you are only ever a few degrees of separation away from a thug with a gun.

But still... who can forget those nights in Wandsworth.

More memories, flyers and mixes on the Final Frontier and Club UK groups at Facebook. Great to remember all the good nights, but let's not forget those who didn't make it: Andreas Bouzis (18) and Kevin Jones (20) who died after collapsing at the club.

F.Scott Fitzgerald - May Day

F. Scott Fitzgerald's story May Day, first published in 1920, is an account of a drunken night in New York in May 1919. Drunk socialites dance and argue before hitting an all night cafe, drunk soldiers attack socialists in the streets. He describes the different stages of alcohol intoxication, from feeling good to fighting: 'At the second highball, boredom, disgust, the monotony of time, the turbidity of events, sank into a vague back­ground before which glittering cobwebs formed. Things became reconciled to themselves, things lay quietly on their shelves... as he sipped his third highball his imagination yielded to the wann glow and he lapsed into a state similar to floating on his back in pleasant water'. Before the end of the story, the same character has been in a brawl with bouncers.

A key setting is a dance to a jazz band at Delmonico's, with the author conjuring up its smell: 'From the room she had left drifted out the heavy fragrance left by the passage to and fro of many scented young beauties - rich perfumes and the fragile memory-laden dust of fragrant powders. This odour drifting out acquired the tang of cigarette smoke in the hall, and then settled sensuously down the stairs and permeated the ballroom where the Gamma Psi dance was to be held. It was an odour she knew well, exciting, stimulating, restlessly sweet - the odour of a fashionable dance'.

Fitzgerald also notes the trance-like sensation of dancing and its stimulation of memory : 'this dance, first of its kind since the war, was reminding her, with the accelerating rhythm of its associations, of something else - of another dance and another man... another roving beam... threw flickering shadows and changing kaleidoscopic colours over the massed dancers. Edith had danced herself into that tired, dreamy state habitual only with debutantes, a state equivalent to the glow of a noble soul after several long highballs. Her mind floated vaguely on the bosom of her music; her partners changed with the unreality of phantoms under the colourful shifting dusk, and to her present coma it seemed as if days had passed since the dance began. She had talked on many fragmentary subjects with many men. She had been kissed once and made love to six times... her mind was passive now, her senses were lulled to trance-like sleep; only her feet danced and her voice talked on in hazy sentimental banter'.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Free Radio

Must admit I know very little about pirate radio outside of England, but here's a few interesting stories that caught my attention:

Florida: One Love Radio (ABC Action News, 12 February 2009)

.... the Winter Haven Police Department arrested Anthony Davis after searching his Lee Avenue in Winter Haven. Detectives found audio mixers and DJ equipment and a 100 watt transmitter that they say Davis was using to broadcast his reggae music style radio station on 87.9 FM.
Complaints about his station came from a local Orlando TV station, Channel 6 which uses the freqency for their TV audio. Davis called his station format "One Love Radio". A third degree felony charge of unlawful transmission of radio frequency was filed against Davis who told detectives he worked as a security guard in Haines City.

Israel: RAM FM (Ynet news, 4.7.08)

RAM-FM, an English-language radio station broadcasting from a Jerusalem studio, was shut down by police on Monday for transmitting without a proper permit. The West Bank station broadcasts Western music in an attempt to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together. The station's headquarters are located in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where it broadcasts on 93.6 FM.... The station's headquarters are located in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where it broadcasts on 93.6 FM...The station attracts a diverse audience of tens of thousands, from Israeli soldiers and Palestinian students to West Bank villagers, English speaking immigrants, migrant workers and foreign diplomats. It is one of the numerous pirate radio stations broadcasting throughout Israel, which are often blamed for dangerous disruptions in airport air traffic communications and interference in regular radio broadcasts. (see also this)

Free Radio Berkeley - Liberating the Commons

'Within the first year after the initial broadcast of Free Radio Berkeley [in 1993], it became clear that the Free Radio Movement was part of a much larger global endeavor. Community radio is rooted in the struggles of people for a just and humane existence. Whether it was: Bolivian tin miners establishing radio stations in the late 1940’s as part of a campaign to improve working conditions; Radio Rebelde’s role in the Cuban Revolution; Czech citizens creating clandestine radio stations after the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 by the USSR; or the supportive role of community radio in the recent uprising by indigenous people in Bolivia to reclaim their natural resources – community radio has always been a tool of expression and organization... After the first coup against Haitian President Jean Bertrand Aristide, Free Radio Berkeley supplied transmitters to peasant organizations fighting against the coup. Transmitters also went to both the Chiapas jungle and the urban streets of Mexico City... Embracing Free Radio as a form of media expression that is genuine and real is the first step on the road to liberation from the society of the spectacle. Only by coming together as communities can people begin to: form the relationships that really matter, tell the stories which impart a collective identity, history and purpose; dance, sing and celebrate life together; and forge new bonds of commitment and support. Free Radio is the Peoples Drum'.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Datacide Archive Online

12 years of articles from the great 'noise and politics' zine Datacide are now online. Spend some time there, it will be worth your while!

Online for the first time you can now read my article from the latest Datacide 10:

Neil Transpontine: A Loop Da Loop Era: towards an (anti-)history of rave
"We are all familiar with those superficial overviews of ‘popular culture’ in which the same clichéd images are used to denote entire social movements – a few naked hippies at Woodstock standing in for the 1960s counter-cultures, a couple of Mohicans for punk and some gurning ravers in smiley t-shirts for twenty years of electronic dance scenes from acid house to breakcore. In this way history affirms the status quo by suggesting that nothing fundamental ever changes, and the multiple possibilities of negation and creation opened up by these movements are denied... There is no single history but numberless trajectories that converge and pass through the various sonic, social and chemical phenomena grouped under that unstable term ‘rave'...."

Sunday, February 08, 2009

You're on hold

I've just read a short pamphlet 'Muzak to my ears: Canned Music and Class Struggle: Public Space and Muzak as Policing'. I will write a review of this at some point, but one thing that struck me was the reflection on the music used when you phone a bank or other institution while you are kept on hold: 'music is now used as environmental material to enhance sales techniques and marketing, usually to soothe the nerves and irritation of impatient phone callers but, as Ballard points out, also to jangle the nerves and exacerbate the irritation of dissatisfied service customers, probably to make them stop holding on'. It includes a great quote on this from JG Ballard (I think sourced from the book Elevator Music):

"...the subject is fascinating - all part of mood-control. For me the intentions of background music are openly political, and an example of how political power is constantly shifting from the ballot box into areas where the voter has nowhere to mark his ballot paper. The most important political choices in the future will probably never be consciously exercised. I'm intrigued by the way some background music is surprisingly aggressive, especially that played on consumer complaint phone lines and banks, airlines and phone companies themselves, with strident, non-rhythmic and arms-length sequences that are definitely not user-friendly."

In the course of my own personal credit crunch I have spent a fair amount of time waiting for calls to be answered, and yes the music remains more than irritating - but at least suggests that you are waiting in a queue with some prospect of speaking to a human being, even more frustrating is going round and round in circles through endless menus of options (press 1 if you would like to get further in debt, press 2 if your house is going to be repossessed etc.) - none of which include the possibility of any kind of conversation.

Still if you think listening to Music on Hold is bad, spare a thought for the Call Centre workers on the other line - wearing headphones all day and therefore susceptible to serious damage to their hearing from Acoustic Shock caused by 'a sudden, unexpected noise, often delivered at a very intense frequency'.

'Muzak to My Ears' is available as a pamphtelt from Past Tense publications, c/o 56a Infoshop, 56 Crampton Street, LondonSE17 3A (£1.50 including post and packing, cheques made payable to A. Hodson. Most of the text is available online here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Liverpool Street Closed by Silent Dance

Even though I stand by my critique of last month's T-Mobile pseudo-flashmob, the advert may have had the effect of amplifying the real silent rave phenomenon, judging by last night's events in London:

'Liverpool Street Station was overrun by dancers who had congregated on the concourse for a silent disco, organised via the social networking website. The crowd, who were all listening to music through headphones, broke into dance at 7pm on Friday night in a scene which aped the advert which was filmed at the station last month. The flash mob caused police to close the station for around 90 minutes due to fears of overcrowding. Participants, some of whom had travelled hundreds of miles to take part, said the station was so packed that there was no room to dance. Some revellers climbed on top of a ticket office to perform their routines, while others climbed notice boards and other station furniture... Word of the the event, called Liverpool Street Station Silent Dance, was circulated on the internet through Facebook.

Jennie Tuck, 16, a student from London, said: "It was an amazing atmosphere. Everyone assembled underneath the departures board and watched the clocks for a 10 second countdown to seven o'clock. When the clock struck seven, everyone went mad. People were dancing and screaming and jumping up and down. One guy completely stripped off and loads of others were crowd surfing."

A City of London Police spokeswoman, who was on the scene said: "We had to close the station because it was completely overcrowded. There were around 12,000 people here" (source: Telegraph, 7 February 2009).
On Facebook, people already seem to be planning a similar event in Trafalgar Square next Friday 13th February at 7 pm. What we really need is somebody to turn up with a sound system on a truck to really take this to another level.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Dancing and Class Formation

How do social classes come about? From a Marxist point of view, class is defined by people's relationship to the means of production - there are those who own (or who own substantial share holdings in) banks, factories, land and various large companies, the 'independently' wealthy who don't rely on a wage to survive. Then there are the mass of the population without reserves, who can only make a living by selling their labour. In this perspective, the middle class doesn't really exist - as most middle class people are also only a couple of pay cheques away from the same destitution as the rest of the proletariat.

But I digress. The point I want to make is that the objective economic conditions for classes are only part of the story - as the radical historian E.P. Thompson argued in his The Making of the English Working Class, for classes to become social actors with a particular world view, acting in their perceived interests, a cultural process has to happen in which people develop common ways of socialising, thinking and acting. For Thompson, class is not just about "so many men who stand in a certain relation to the means of production" and class formation "is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history".

So where does dancing fit in with this? With a nod to Jurgen Habermas, Geoff Eley extended Thompson's idea to talk of "a working class public sphere", a self-conscious independent culture with its own publications and diverse organisational forms. He argued that in addition to formal political meetings, there emerged in the nineteenth century "new forms of collective sociability" that created "a distinct public space of independent working-class activity". Dancing was part of this, with Eley identifying the tea parties and balls of the Chartist movement as examples of this collective sociability.

But dance aspects of the public sphere are not specific to the working class. Anyone who has read Jane Austen knows how important balls were in the early industrial period as a means for the wealthier members of society to meet, interact and ultimately marry and reproduce. Over time they were one mechanism by which landed aristocrats and new money bourgeoisie came to form a new dominant class (or rather for an existing dominant class to accommodate newcomers).

Something similar happened in the 1960s, as the doors of the ruling class opened to admit new moneyed stars from the media and entertainment industries. Once again dancing - this time in 'Swinging London' nightclubs - facilitated this. Terence Stamp (left) a working class boy turned actor who benefited from this recalled: 'In the sixties, amongst ourselves, our age group, there was an absolute coming together. And what made the coming to­gether was basically music and dancing. In a way it was a new aristoc­racy. But the main thing was that there was suddenly access between the classes. Had the sixties not happened, I would never have been able to spend the night with a young countess because I would never have met her. And as the great Mike Caine once said to me, 'You can't shag any­one you don't meet.'"

Of course social mobility between classes is not to be confused with classlessness - the former implies the continued existence of classes, just with the potential for a few to move up and down the ladder. As Shawn Levy has written of that era: ''As the sixties emerged, proponents of the the­ory of classlessness could point to the likes of Quant and Stamp and the Beatles and a dozen other exceptions- people who'd broken into a new class where talent and the wealth that followed success mattered more than who your parents were. But it was inarguably the case that this mer­itocracy- with its members-only restaurants and nightclubs -was just as exclusive as the old upper class of money and birthright; you may no longer have needed to be born to position but earning it was, arguably, a harder and rarer feat. And, too, entrance to the new world only lasted as long as the traditional elite chose to allow it. "The rich people let us play in their back garden for a few years," said tailor Doug Hayward, "and then they said, 'Right, lads, very nice, you've all had a good time, now let's get back to it".'

Sources: E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 1963; Geoff Eley, ;Edward Thompson, Social History and Political Culture: the. Making of a Working-Class Public, 1780-1850', in H. J. Kaye and K. McClelland (eds.), E.P. Thompson: critical perspectives, Cambridge, Polity, 1990; Shawn Levy, Ready Steady Go! The Smashing Rise and Giddy Fall of Swinging London, 2002.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Zines, Blogs and the Historical Record

Simon Reynolds writes in the Guardian about the continued existence of printed zines in the age of the blog (he's also put up an interesting series of interviews with zine editors here, including John Eden of Uncarved/Woofah). Simon concludes:

'What's going on here is what academics describe as "slippage of the auratic". Walter Benjamin theorised about the "aura" possessed by the singular artwork, the painting or sculpture, in the age of mechanical reproduction. Yet as digital culture takes over, "aura" is being conferred on things that not long ago would once have been considered mass produced and characterless. In the age of the webzine and MP3, it is solid-form cultural artifacts – vinyl records, vintage DJ mixtapes, yellowing magazines – that become attractive in the face of the infinite dissemination and seeming ephemerality of web culture.'

I agree that part of the attraction of zines might be a nostalgia for material culture in the age of digital reproduction. But as a sometime wannabe social historian there is also something special about the printed zine as a contemporary artifact of a specific time and place. When I pick up, say, a riot grrrl zine from the mid-1990s, it tells me many things - not just what the writer was thinking at that time, but where they were based (from the address), what wider scene they were linked in with (from the listings) etc.

A future historian relying on blogs won't have to search through obscure archives in search of old hardcopy documents but they will face other obstacles. For a start blogs are much harder to locate in time and space - posts may be dated, but they can be revised, edited and re-written, making it difficult to be sure what is a contemporary record of something and what is something amended with hindsight. Many blogs don't even state what country they are published from, let alone city, so linking utterances to people's actual experiences of particular scenes is also problematic.

But the biggest problem is that while printed sources can last for many years, blogs can be deleted at will by the authors or other parties. In some cases the only documentation for something occurring can we wiped from the historical record because somebody forgets to pay their bill, because a host company goes out of business or because somebody is embarrassed by their juvenilia.

So please don't delete your websites and blogs even if you are sick of them - and if it's really good, maybe think about printing out a hard copy and sticking it in a library somewhere. Or maybe do a zine and send me a copy!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bad Attitude - music reviews from radical women's newspaper (1995)

Bad Attitude was a 'radical women's newspaper' published in the early 1990s from 121 Railton Road, Brixton (among other things, home to the famous Dead by Dawn speedcore nights). Some of the women involved it had previously been involved in the young women's zine Shocking Pink, including my late friend Katy Watson. Here from issue 7 (1995) is one of Katy's music columns.

Welcome to my second review column of punk/indie women's bands. I'm pleased to say that this time a much higher propor­tion of them are independent/DIY bands, rather than on major labels, which I think is something worth supporting. Once again, I've only mentioned things that I found reasonably enjoyable. Is this a good idea? I don't know. Maybe you'd like to tell me.

So first off it's time to get your leopard-print bikinis on and... Spend the Night with the Trashwomen! For this is the title of my most highly recommended LP of this issue. It's by the Trashwomen, as you might guess, and is entirely wonderful. The style is garage, as in Sixties-style surf songs, a little like the Cramps, only belting along at about twice the speed and very cheaply produced which makes it seem even more rough'n'ready'n'fab. There are quite a few instrumentals and their lyrics are mainly along the lines of love, sex and dates, except for the self-explanatory 'I'm Trash'. So not a night out with Sheila ]effreys (not that I've anything against her). Several songs are complete classics, to my ears. It came out last year and I don't even know what made me buy it. I can only think it was the hand of the Goddess. (On Estrus records) And now it seems they have a favourably­reviewed live LP out....

Also in garage area though slightly more punky is a 4-track EP Punk or Die by Pink Kross, who are three girls from Glasgow. 'Doll core', apparently. The first track 'Drag Star Racing Queen' is a real cracker. I loved it. Catchy, thrashing, tuneful, fast, with lyrics either winning or daft, depending how you're prepared to take them. The other three tracks aren't as wondrous, but who cares when the first one's so brilliant? (Bouvier)

36C (LP) by Fifth Column, a Canadian dyke band. The first song, 'All Women are Bitches', is a classic, one of the best things I've heard this year - a powerful and catchy piece of pop-punk. But after that I found the others a let-down. The tunes are good, the singer has a fine voice and the lyrics are feminist, but it's all much slower. On the other hand if you appreciate melodic guitar songs this is good stuff. Personally I wish I'd just bought the 7" of 'All Women .. '/Donna'. (K records)

Alien's Mom (3-track 7") by Tribe 8. A San Francisco dyke band, much thrashier than the above. The title track is an OK thrash-punk tune with likeable lyrics about a woman leaving her husband for another woman. As for the drippy B-side - some things are best kept to ones therapist. I like Tribe 8 a lot, but this isn't the best I've heard from them. (Outpunk)

Out punk Dance Party (compilation LP). A variety of mainly north American dyke and queer bands from hardcore punk to one rap number. It gets off to a great start as a house beat familiar to any gay club-goer is wiped off the turntables with a satisfying needle­screech, but the tracks themselves are vari­able. Includes a good 'un (though not new) from London's own Sister George and I found the CWA rap story pleasantly amusing, plus a couple of the boys' bands a pretty good. However, though this could have been the definitive queercore comp, only half of it is up to scratch. (Outpunk)

You're Dead (4-track 7") by lovable young­sters the Frantic Spiders. I think this is their first record (?) and in their letter they say "this is very old and not indicative of the rousing live experience that Frantic Spiders are famed for". This may be, but all the same it's not bad. It's punky pop at a good pace, quite clear-sounding and there's a funny metaillic sound to the guitar, like slide guitar wthout the slide, which is also good. 'Retard' is the most memorable song, but don't they know it's not nice to call people that? (Weirdness).

American Thighs by Veruca Salt (LP) The most mainstream-indie of this issue's reviews. It sounds very much like The Breeders, ie US alternative pop-rock, tuneful, female vocals, expensive production, loud bits... quiet bits ... To be honest this is a bit too slow and mild to be my cup of tea, but I can see it's not bad, the guitars have a reasonable grind and if you like that sort of indie e stuff, you could well like this. The single, Seether, taken from the LP, is fairly lively and rockin'. (Both on Hi-Rise/Minty Fresh).

Suck (4-track 7") by Witchknot : I sup­pose this is roughly in the vein of hardcore but it has the unusual addition of a fiddle. They're six women from Bradford and I'd describe it as being something like a cross between the Dog Faced Hermans (one of their favourite bands, it seems) and the Au Pairs. Political lyrics, a strong vocalist and a fairly dissonant sound. And can you beat 'Pianist Envy' for a song title? (£2 (payable to D Taylor) from Witchknot, PO Box 169, Bradford, W Yorks BD7 1YS.)

I also got hold of records by a couple more all-women bands (both from the US) though I don't know how recent they are. 7 Year Bitch are feminist punksters whose EP Anti­disestablisbmentarianism (the longest word in the English language - don't say you don't learn anything here) is pretty good fast polit­ical hardcore, though the lyrics are stronger than the tunes. 'Dead Men Don't Rape' is an obvious crowd-pleaser. (Rugger Bugger) I also found a split single called Can We Laugh Now? with Thatcher On Acid on the other side. Musically this is good, though paradoxi­cally the lyrics are a bit irritating. (Clawfist)

Also worth checking out are US dyke band Team Dresch. Basically this is a little too gentle for my taste, but more mellow types might like it. I got a 3-track 7"; 'Hand Grenade' and 'Endtime Relay' are good, melodic guitar pop with a nice catch to them, a little dreamy­sounding. The other song 'Molasses in January' seemed painfully slow to me, but on the whole I'd recommend it. (Kill Rock Stars)

At the other end of the scale are Delicate Vomit, an all-women punk band from Newcastle. In case you hadn't guessed from their having 'vomit' in the name they are towards the hardcore end of punk. I haven't got a record to review, but the one song I heard sounded interesting.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Pope promotes another fascist

No it's not just disco bombing Islamists who think that people who enjoy nightclubs deserve to die. Pope Benedict 'has promoted to bishop an ultra-conservative Austrian clergyman who called Hurricane Katrina "God's punishment" and condemned the Harry Potter books for "spreading satanism"... Gerhard Maria Wagner, 54, is to become auxiliary bishop in the Austrian city of Linz, where he is viewed as a controversial figure by churchgoers and clergy alike. In 2005, he wrote in a parish newsletter that Hurricane Katrina was an act of "divine retribution" for the sins of a sexually permissive society.

He said it was worth considering whether environmental catastrophes should not be seen as a result of "spiritual environmental pollution" - a type of "divine retribution" for New Orleans' relaxed attitude towards sexual promiscuity and homosexuality. "It is surely not an accident that all five of New Orleans' abortion clinics, as well as nightclubs were destroyed," he wrote, adding: "It's not just any old city that has gone under, but the people's dream city with the 'best brothels and the most beautiful whores'.' (more in today's Guardian)

The news comes just a couple of weeks after another extreme right wing bishop, the holocaust denying Richard Williamson, was readmitted to the Church.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Pakistan: Eunuch Dancers Protest

The Hijras of Pakistan, sometimes described as 'eunuchs', are generally gay transvesites/transsexuals, some of whom have had some kind of sex change operation. Life for them is tough, with harrassment and poverty. For many of them, dancing at weddings and other functions is a key source of income. They have been organising in defence of their rights, as shown in this week's protests following the arrest of several Hijras on their way home from dancing:

'Over 100 eunuchs on Tuesday protested against Taxila police’s alleged excesses outside the senior superintendent of police’s (SSP) office. Shemale Rights President Bobby led the protestors, who carried placards and banners with messages against police. A large number of policemen and traffic wardens stayed up there until the eunuchs dispersed following the suspension of three policemen accused of torturing, looting and detaining five eunuchs in Taxila...

Bobby told reporters that the three policemen in question had held five eunuchs from a village on January 23 night when they were on the way home after performing at a dance function. She alleged policemen tortured eunuchs and snatched Rs 150,000 cash, jewelry and five cellphones from them during confinement. She demanded that eunuchs be released and culpable policemen be punished.

(Pakistan Daily Times, 28 January 2009)

As many as three eunuchs sustained wounds in police baton-charge when they tried to go to the SSP’s office for withdrawal of an FIR [First Information Report] against their colleagues who were booked at a function in Taxila and sent to the Adiala Jail. Police baton-charged eunuchs, including Bobby, Sana and Gul, in front of the SSP’s office near Peshawar Road. They were protesting against the arrest of eunuchs at a function in Nawababad, Taxila. Police had arrested Sitara, Aalia, Robina, Saim and Akmal when they were dancing at a function on January 23 and sent them to the Adiala Jail. All Pakistan Eunuchs Association President Bobby told ‘The News’ that the Taxila Police had arrested five eunuchs when they were dancing at a function and sent them to the jail after registering cases against them. Police also snatched Rs150,000 from them, Bobby added. According to Bobby, the arrested eunuchs had not committed any crime rather they were dancing which is the only source income for them. Bobby said that eunuchs wanted to stage a peaceful protest but police baton-charged them in which three eunuchs were wounded...

Earlier, some 200 eunuchs gathered in front of the SSP’s office and blocked the Peshawar Road. They carried banners and placards inscribed with different slogans against police. When they tried to enter the office of the SSP (operation), police officials started beating them with batons. In retaliation, eunuchs pelted stones and eggs on police. They tore uniforms of some police officials during the scuffle that continued for half an hour. They also broke windowpanes of SSP’s office. However the situation was controlled after SSP (operation) Sardar Maqsood reached the spot. The traffic on Peshawar Road remained blocked during the clash between police and eunuchs.

(The News - Pakistan - 28 January 2009)