Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mawazine Festival Stampede

Tragedy last weekend (23 May) at a festival in Morocco (full story at BBC News):

'At least 11 people have been killed in the Moroccan capital Rabat, following a stampede at a world music concert. Some 40 were injured when a wire fence collapsed at the Mawazine festival. The incident happened on Saturday night, when some 70,000 spectators were packed into the Hay Nahda stadium to see Moroccan singer Abdelaziz Stati. The nine-day-long event has featured such international stars as Kylie Minogue, Algerian rai singer Khaled, Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder...

The festival was drawing to a close when the stampede occurred. Shortly after midnight on Sunday morning, thousands of spectators hurried to leave and a wire fence toppled over. According to police, five women, four men and two children died in the ensuing crush.

Governor of Rabat Hassan Lamrani blamed the stampede on an attempt by some concert goers to rush out of the stadium by jumping security fences. "At the end of the concert and despite the existence of seven gates, a group of citizens decided to go over the metal barriers to have a quick exit," Mr Lamrani said. But one of the dozens of concert-goers injured in the crush told Reuters news agency police were partly responsible for the incident. "The doors were closed by the police and we were forced to leave the stadium from some places not destined for this purpose. The police did not intervene".'

Simon Broughton at Songlines was at the festival, and puts across a positive perspective:

'...Most of the concerts are free. I was just there for the last four days of the nine-day festival, but it has a line-up unmatched by few festivals anywhere in the world. International artists included Kylie Minogue (no thanks), Sergio Mendes, Solomon Burke, Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder; world music artists included Fanfare Ciocarlia, Amadou & Mariam, Khaled, Eliades Ochoa, Ska Cubano, Faiz Ali Faiz, Buika, Ojos de Brujo, Alim Qasimov and more It was predictably the Moroccan performers that attracted some of the biggest crowds – the most extraordinary I saw was female chaabi singer Daoudia who played a violin Arabic style, propped on her knee, and sang songs, with a back-line of men on frame drums, that drove her audience into a frenzy. It was these Moroccan gigs that elicited the wildest reaction in the crowds too, and on the final night, Stati’s concert was relocated from the centre of town to the Hay Nahda football stadium bcause of the huge crowds he was expected to draw. Despite the shadow of the tragedy, my overwhelming memory of Mawazine is of thousands of people enjoying music of every kind'

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Independent Electronic Music Festival in Rome

I am doing a talk in Rome in a couple of weeks (Saturday 13 June) as part of an Independent Electronic Music Festival. It's happening at the Forte Prenestino Occupied Social Centre. I don't know too much about it yet but it appears to be a weekend of minimal techno/breakbeat (line up here), with talks from contributors to Datacide (apart from myself including Christoph Fringeli, Hans Christian Psaar and Alexis Wolton). I will be riffing around the article on dance music history I wrote for Datacide and talked about in Berlin last Autumn. Anyway if you're in the area, come and say hello.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Turkey: State bulldozers Roma Settlement

The destruction of a Roma area of Istanbul once famous for its music and dancing:

'Anti-riot police supervised this final phase last week of the demolition of Sulukule, a neighborhood on the European bank of Istanbul once home to a vibrant community of musicians and artists whose rhythmic songs and belly dancing served as the city's musical heart.

Similar scenes have been repeated across the country as municipalities, supported by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), drive home a programme of urban renewal, destroying ramshackle and often unsanitary housing in favour of new tower blocks, often many kilometers (miles) outside localities.

But the demolition of Sulukule caused controversy as it razed an ancient community of Rom gypsies who can trace their history in the suburb back to Byzantine times. "A big thank you to the municipality," said Celep, who is unemployed. Thanks to them I will sleep on the street with my wife, my new-born child and the four-year-old. We have no where to go."

.... local activist Hacer Foggo of a group called the Sulukule Platform estimates that closer to 5,000 people, the bulk of them members of the minority, are being displaced, and all to benefit the ruling party and its allies. "Who is going to buy the houses that they will build here? It will be the profiteers, those close to the AKP," she said. "The idea is to expel the poor from the city centre and put the rich in their place."

Turkish media reported a few months ago that several AKP members and figures close to the party were allegedly among the prospective buyers of the new houses. Foggo said the resettlement will break up a community that has survived through centuries thanks to a tradition of solidarity and mutual aid. "Here at least everyone knew each other, the rent was very low and the local grocer always gave you credit," she added.

Sulukule welcomed generations of residents from other parts of Istanbul who came for music, booze and belly dancing before a ban in the 1990s by conservative governments shut its colorful neighbourhood taverns.

...It means the end of a millennia of history, according to British researcher Adrian Marsh, a specialist on the Roms of Turkey. Sulukule was the oldest known settlement in the world of Nomadic Roms, said Marsh, first mentioned by a Byzantine scribe in 1054. His writings speak of "Egyptians" living in black tents along the fortress walls and eking out an existence thanks to their belly dancers, fortune tellers and dancing bears, Marsh said.

After Constantinople -- as it was then known - fell to the Turks in 1453, Sulukule's dancers and musicians became fixtures of the opulent nights at the Ottoman court. "Demolishing Sulukule is not the same as demolishing just any other gypsy slum, the way it happens all over Turkey and Europe," said Marsh."It is the annihilation of the memory of an entire community."

Source: AFP 18 May 2009; see also this report at

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Night at Rampart

An eclectic night of music at RampART Social Centre in Whitechapel last weekend (Saturday 16th May). I started off in my Half a Person punk-folk-persona playing a few covers with mandolin (including Angelic Upstarts’ Who Killed Liddle Towers, Hefner’s The Day That Thatcher Dies and Crass’s Do they owe us a living) plus a few of my own numbers.

Next up was Double Negative, violin/xylophone/sax (?)/bouzouki combination. Somebody told me to expect Brechtian sea shanties, but I’m not sure that quite captured their sound, they had a pleasing John Cale-like drone going on with the bouzouki/violin combination and they did a stretched version of Ewan McColl’s Dirty Old Town.

Just when you thought it was going to settle into an evening of four course string instruments, up came Femii with an r’n’b PA, including an encore where he got his girlfriend on stage – thought she was going to sing along or dance but actually she just sat down while he sung her a love song.

Then John Eden (Uncarved) had us all dancing to a dancehall set, including that great Heatwave General Levy/Lily Allen mash up (Mad LDN).

Anyway the musical and social mix was all good, like similar squatted projects around the world Rampart -pictured below - sometimes struggles with the contradiction between a language of community inclusion and a reality of tending to be a hang out for a particular sub-cultural scene (typically youngish, white, child-free, activists with ‘alternative lifestyles’). Still at least they have managed to keep something going in the face of serious pressure, particularly a violent raid by taser-wielding police in the aftermath of the G20 protests last month.

The Visteon Dispute

All of this was in aid of the ex-Visteon workers fighting for better redundancy terms having lost their jobs at the car parts factory in Enfield, north London. Along with workers at Visteon factories in Belfast and Basildon they were told with minutes notice that the company had gone bust and that they should go home and expect minimum redundancy payments. At Belfast and Enfield they occupied the factories, while at Basildon they picketed the plant.

Their’s has literally been a Post-Fordist struggle, as the Visteon factories were previously owned and directly managed by Ford. The workers transferred to Visteon had been promised that they would retain their Ford terms and conditions, including redundancy terms that were considerably more generous than the statutory minimum, and this was at the heart of the dispute. In the end Ford has agreed to underwrite an improved offer to the ex-Visteon workers, and the dispute has now ended with them considerably better off than they were at the beginning. So, some kind of victory – though far short of keeping their jobs.

But the Visteon speaker at the Rampart benefit also gave voice to some frustration, since not all workers would benefit equally – the staff being on three separate types of contracts according to when and how they were employed. Whereas in the Ford(ist?) period, huge numbers of workers employed by a single firm could secure common terms and conditions, the break up of such companies into smaller firms has resulted in a fragmentation of conditions, so that even people in the same workplace can be paid differently for the same job - and be paid different amounts if they get made redundant.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Vietnam: Karaoke, Ecstasy and Dancing

'HO CHI MINH CITY — It is early evening and another night of singing has begun in earnest at Style Karaoke, a plush club where high-flyers in Vietnam's commercial capital come to let off steam. Music blasts from behind the glass doors of the small rooms where groups gather to sing and, as the rhythm takes hold, to dance. And that, the communist government says, is the problem. It wants to ban dancing at karaoke bars in what reports have said is a bid to limit drug use.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism posted the proposed ban on its website last month and invited public comment on the move, its latest attempt to clamp down on lawlessness at the popular singing venues.
But at Style and other neon-lit clubs on Su Van Hanh street, the heart of karaoke entertainment in the city formerly known as Saigon, the proposal is dismissed as unworkable.

"I think it's not feasible because these people who go to karaoke want to relieve their stress," says Dang Duy Thanh, the gel-haired manager of Style. "If we just force them to stay there singing without feeling comfortable, that's not right".

Le Anh Tuyen, head of the culture ministry's legal department, reportedly sees things differently. Tuyen, who five years ago warned that karaoke was linked to prostitution, was quoted by the VietnamNet news website last month as saying the drug ecstasy would be used in karaoke rooms if dancing was not banned. "Ecstasy always goes with wine and music," he said. "In my opinion, karaoke is a cultural activity which is always latent with social evils'.... Tuyen told VietnamNet the government has statistics about the use of ecstasy at karaoke bars, but the report gave no data. "I'm sure the real number of cases is higher than in our statistics. Evils will not be prevented without banning dancing," he was quoted as saying. "In our country, karaoke often goes with ecstasy and prostitution."

... "It's not right to ban us from dancing in karaoke clubs," said one K-T customer, who arrived with a laptop bag on his shoulder. "Maybe they should ban dance bars where they have prostitutes. If they just make a general ban on dancing in karaokes, it's not reasonable."

"It's impossible" to ban dancing, says Dang Duc Han, standing in a T-shirt, his arms folded, outside the Karaoke 64 club he manages. "If people feel in the mood they will dance", Han says as customers ride up on their motorcycles, and a child with a toy bicycle brushes against his leg. In 2006 Vietnam banned alcohol in karaoke bars - but in practice drinking continues - while a year earlier it stopped issuing licences for bars, karaoke parlours and dance halls. Earlier draft legislation even called for karaoke clubs to be shut down, after Tuyen said many served as brothels. In his interview with VietnamNet, Tuyen admitted inspectors were not able to check karaoke clubs very often and said "people themselves must obey the rules".

More here: AFP, 18 May 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Taliban in Ohio

'Teenager Tyler Frost has been suspended from his US Baptist school for breaking strict 'no dancing' rules by attending his girlfriend's prom, in a situation reminiscent of the film Footloose. Officials at Heritage Christian School in Findlay, Ohio, had warned 17-year-old Tyler that he would be suspended and prohibited from attending his graduation if he went to the dance over the weekend with his girlfriend.

Tyler said he didn't think going to the dance was wrong even though his fundamentalist Baptist school forbids dancing, rock music and hand-holding... However, he signed a contract at the beginning of the school year promising he would refrain from the activities, and it came to haunt him when he asked his principal to sign a permission slip to let him attend the prom.

"(Word I might be suspended) kind of caught me off guard," Frost said. "I was kind of shocked that he was going to take that drastic of a measure." . Tyler's principal, Tim England said: "When the school committee ... set up the policy regarding dancing, I am confident that they had the principle of fleeing lustful situations in mind ... should a Christian place themselves at an event where young ladies will have low-cut dresses and be dancing in them."

(full story: Telegraph, 13 May 2009)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Chris Gray

Stewart Home notes the passing last week of Chris Gray: 'Chris is probably best known for his brief membership of the Situationist International and being one of the key figures in the Notting Hill (west London) based King Mob. Chris was the editor and translator of the first English language anthology of French Situationist texts Leaving The 20th Century: The incomplete works of the Situationist International (1974), a book that over a long period was to have an enormous impact'.

Gray is sometimes credited with an unintentional role in the conception of The Sex Pistols. According to The End of Music, a text written by former King Mob members Dave and Stuart Wise, 'Chris Gray had the idea of creating a totally unpleasant pop group (those first imaginings which were later to fuse into The Sex Pistols)'. The Chris Gray Band never seems to have got any further than some graffiti around London, but arguably this notion may have been one of the influences on Malcolm McLaren and Jamie Reid in their involvement in punk.

I tend to agree with Stewart that the notion of The Sex Pistols as situationist prank or recuperation is overplayed, although both Reid and McLaren were involved in the late 1960s London radical milieu in dialogue with the situationists and American groups like Black Mask - a scene in which King Mob were the most significant pole. What is certainly true is that the idea of punk as a straightforward 1976 year zero revolt against the previous 'freak' counter culture is a myth - with many of the key players previously involved in the harder edge of the pre-punk underground (not just Reid and McLaren - think about Joe Strummer and the Elgin Avenue squatters). In this sense at least punk did owe something to the likes of Chris Gray and the other late 60s/early 70s malcontents of Notting Hill and elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Spain: Moroccan Migrants targeted in Disco Raid

'The SOC –SAT union in Almería has accused the National Police of racism in raids which took place in El Ejido on Saturday, which ended with 70 immigrants faced with deportation orders from the country. The union describes the operation as repressive and completely disproportionate, and allege violence and aggression on the part of the police in the raids which took place, mainly, they say, against citizens from Morocco. Europa Press names the sites as a disco in Santa María del Águila, the Poniente hospital and two central streets – Calles Almería and Manolo Escobar.

SOC-SAT reportedly claims it to be part of a state policy to blame the immigrants for the crisis and unemployment affecting the country. There were concerns also of a minimum target which may have been set for deportation orders from Spain. The union said it will send a report to the Andaluz Ombudsman, and has announced a protest demonstration for a week this Friday, the 22nd May.

(Source: Typically Spanish, 13 May 2009)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Disco Police in Thailand

'Deputy Chief of Pattaya Police Police Sub-Lieutenant Sutham Choasritong and about 30 police officers raided the Hollywood discotheque located on Pechtrakul Road, Central Pattaya, in the morning of 26 April. There at this famous night spot, officers stopped the revelry and detained 500 customers, both Thai and foreigners. Officers then made both an identity check and urine test on a number of suspect people. It turned out that only 8 people proved drug positive and were taken away for further questioning' (source: Pattaya People)

In a similar raid at the same venue in 1998, all 600 people present were required to give a urine sample for a drugs test.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dancing in Lahore

'Lahore is a city that has to fight for its cultural survival. The growing influence of the Taliban, although hundreds of kilometres to the north-west, has been mirrored by a more insidious, creeping attack on culture throughout the country. On Jan 2, the bullet-ridden body of Shabana Gul, a dancing girl, was dumped in the centre of Mingora, the north-western district of Swat’s main town.But the growing cultural conservatism has had more subtle reverberations.In December, Lahore’s High Court barred the graceful and elaborate dancing girls, who first developed in the Moghal courts 400 years ago, from performing in public, on the grounds that they were too sexually explicit.

A group of theatre owners challenged the ban, which forbade the girls to dance barefoot and ordered them to cover their heads and shoulders, and won an appeal in court in March.A cultural promoter, said the ban on dance – known as the mujra, and which officials attempted to ban during the 1980s – is a symptom of a more dangerous trend in Pakistani society.“If the government engages in moral policing, it gives vigilantes licence to do the same. It fuels intolerance and de-secularisation by violence and intimidation and opens the door to extreme jihadi Islamic movements,” he said. In March, the High Court barred two female singers from recording new albums after ruling that they sang sexually explicit lyrics'.

Full story in the National, 17 May 2009; see also CNN 3 May 2009.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Paris Commune 1871: Dancing in the Debris

On this day in 1871 (the 16th May) there was a unique party in Paris during the days of the Commune. The occasion was the destruction of the Vendôme Column Column, built in to celebrate the might of Napoleon’s imperial forces. The Commune issued a decree pronouncing that the Column was to be abolished since it was ‘a monument to barbarism, a symbol of brute force and glory, an affirmation of militarism…’

And so it came to pass that the column came crashing down (pictured below). Louis Barron, an eyewitness/participant recalled: ‘This colossal symbol of the Grand Army – how it was fragile, empty, miserable… The music played fanfares, some old greybeard declaimed a speech on the vanity of conquests, the villainy of conquerors, and the fraternity of the people, we danced in a circle around the debris, and then we went off, very content with the little party’.

For Kristin Ross, this ‘attack on verticality’ was symbolic of the ‘horizontal’ nature of the Commune itself, characterised by ‘antihierarchical gestures and improvisations…extending principles of association and cooperation into the workings of everyday life’.

Sadly the forces of empire and order were soon take their revenge, massacring up to 25,000 supporters of the Commune in the streets of Paris.

Source: Kristin Ross, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune (1988).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Free Parties

First whiff of summer and for many people it's time to head out to the fields to party.

May Day (Friday 1st) in North Wales saw a party at Dorothea quarry, Talysarn. A police helicopter was scrambled and police set up road blocks to limit access to the site, but two sound systems did manage to keep going until Saturday morning when they were seized by police.

Last Saturday night hundreds of people partied on farmland off the A28 in Chilham, Kent, before police closed down the party on at 5 am the next morning. There was also a party at a farm near St Neots in Cambridgeshire, prompting complaints from the farmer that police failed to close it down.

In Somerset last month, near Wellow, party goers were attacked by heavies with dogs, presumably acting on behalf of landowners. One said: "Four men with four Alsatian dogs turned up and pushed over our sound system and speakers.We told them we would leave immediately but they started dragging people from cars and setting the dogs on people dancing. I saw a young girl being dragged across the floor with the dogs attacking her. It was disgusting. What sort of grown man would beat up a 16-year-old girl?". Another witness was a mother: 'Gael, who accompanied her son and his friends to the party to ensure they were safe and had a lift home, said: "My own son was dragged through the window of my car by these men. "The young people who were at the party were not doing any harm. They were simply dancing in a field with their friends. The music they were playing wasn't excessively loud; I could still hear my own music I was playing in the car over it. They are good kids who want an alternative to standing around on the streets drinking. They organise the parties because there is no other form of entertainment for them locally."'

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Visteon Benefit

This Saturday there's a benefit for the Visteon workers at the Rampart Social Centre (15 Rampart Street, London E1). Music includes a set from John Eden (Uncarved) and I will be doing a few songs in the guise of shambling mando-folk-punk project Half a Person.
The workers at Visteon occupied the factory in Enfield on Wednesday 1st April. The previous day, in a 6-minute meeting, they were told that the European company, with plants in Belfast, Basildon and Enfield, was going into administration and that they could come and collect their possessions the next day, with no wages due. They are continuing to maintain a 24-hour picket outside the factory. A deal is being offered, but there are outlying concerns so the struggle continues. For more details and information on how to help out, visit:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dancing Questionnaire (15): Piotr from Warszawa

Our first dancing questionnaire from Poland:

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
I was probably 6 and had rhythmic lessons in kindergarten I went to. I was told (or my mother was) that I had no sense of rhythm and cannot attend the lessons. Actually I didn't enjoy them because I was a very very very calm (and even sad) child. The second one is when I was on a wedding of my parents' friends and I was dancing with a girl my age (I was 7 or 8) to a Polish wedding music - it's called disco polo (keyboard melodies and pre-programmed rhythms + cheap folk melodies and sentimental lyrics). The third time I was 10 - and I went to a summer camp and I was dancing to stuff like Ace Of Base, Guns'n'Roses, Metallica (slow dance to "Nothing Else Matters") - basically early 90's eurodance and rock stuff popular in Poland.

2.What’s the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Nothing at all, just pure physical joy. Recently I noticed I'm a better dancer and am more open to sounds when completely sober than after 5 or 6 beers, however I have a feeling of absolute joy and fulfillment while being on booze and hearing Fleetwood Mac "Everywhere". I just can't help it ;) . I never did any drugs to dance.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
Many times. Moshing to Polish pop-punk bands in the age of 15. Joe Strummer tribute nights after he died in 2002 and dancing like mad to all rockabilly stuff put between Clash songs Moshing like mad to Pixies in 2004 in Berlin. Indie-pop parties in Warszawa few years ago. Hearing Fleetwood Mac "Everywhere". Hearing MIA "Jimmy". Hearing "You Spin Me Like A Record" and "Last Night The DJ Saved My Life". House party in a club in Prague from about 7 to 10 in the morning after a night of wandering through the city (my friends took xtc I was just on alcohol) .

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Anytime when you act as if you are having a good time and for whatever reason you keep pretending

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you’ve frequented?
1990's - eurodance, Spice Girls, Babylon Zoo, Scatman John, Chumbawamba, George Michael, Michael Jackson - this is what we were dancing to in our school parties.

1999-2002 - rock and punk, mainly live music in Warszawa, not caring about danceability of the music I listen to and bands that I watch

2004-2009 - internet era: indie gone electro gone BLOG HOUSE gone dubstep, bassline and even hiphop or ironic eurodance etc. (everything melted together), started going to clubs in 2004 when I began earning money, before I didn't go to clubs on weekends; sometimes I choose more strict styles - go for a techno show, when the guy like Redshape from Berlin comes but usually local DJs blending many styles

6. When and where did you last dance?
Last Saturday in an awful (from musical point of view) place called Klubokawiarnia in Warszawa - they play very bad housed-up versions of biggest dance hits like Blue Monday or rhytmically numb housed up r'n'b (you have 4x4 + r'n'b vocals), and all djs play almost the same set and cannot really mix well. Awful place, but my friend from London came and she chose this club.

Picture of clubbers at Klubokawiarnia by Twisted Karolina at Flickr

7. You’re on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
Probably I could pick something more energetic, but "One For The Heads Who Remember" by Skream seems appropriate.

All questionnaires welcome - just answer the same questions in as much detail as you like and send to (see previous questionnaires)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Fahrenheit 451

Contemporary debates about the social impact of personal music devices were anticipated in Ray Bradbury's dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, first published in 1953. Many years before the Sony Walkman, let alone ipods and music playing mobile phones, Bradbury imagined a world in which most people permanently wear 'Audio-Seashells'.

Montag, the novel's main character rejects them, but his wife is plugged in day and night: 'In her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk coming in'.

It is a world in which books are banned and Firemen have been redeployed to track them down and burn them (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature book paper catches alight). In this context, Bradbury presents the Seashells as part of an apparatus of mind numbing distraction along with the 'Four-wall televisor' (a living room with a screen on all walls) and an endless diet of sports and light entertainment. This apparatus prevents critical thinking, communication and anything but the most superficial relationships between human beings: 'the walls of the room were flooded with green and yellow and orange fireworks sizzling and bursting to some music composed entirely of trap drums, tom-toms, and cymbals. Her mouth moved and she was saying something but the sound covered it'.

Oskar Werner and Julie Christie in Francois Truffaut's 1966 film version

Montag's fireman boss justifies the system to him as one that has smoothed out all social contradictions: 'If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides of a question to worry about; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war.... Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy'. Against this, 'A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it."

Ultimately the distraction proves fatal, the city's inhabitants engrossed in soap opera and music as the bombs down on them.

For me the critique of information vs. thought certainly has some validity, but I've always been uncomfortable with the familiar complaint that people are spending too much time enjoying themselves with 'trivial' pleasures (often made by men against women as is largely the case in F451). Yes, there's something disturbing about people turning a blind eye to the horrors and atrocities around them, though equally it is true that many of these horrors have been perpetrated precisely by men who have rejected the domestic and the intimate in pursuit of higher 'ideals', heroism and power. Maybe the world would be a better place if Hitlers, Stalins and their ilk were content to spend more time dancing to the radio.

The elitism that such a stance implies is apparent in Bradbury; at one point he refers to 'The most dangerous enemy of truth and freedom, the solid unmoving cattle of the majority'. I would have thought the dictatorship of a minority is at least as big a problem.

There's also a fear of music at work here, a fear of being engulfed, invaded, penetrated by sound: 'A great thunderstorm of sound gushed from the walls. Music bombarded him at such an immense volume that his bones were almost shaken from their tendons; he felt his jaw vibrate, his eyes wobble in his head. He was a victim of concussion. When it was all over he felt like a man who had been thrown from a cliff, whirled in a centrifuge and spat out over a waterfall that fell and fell into emptiness'. Sounds like my idea of a good night out!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program

Ras G hails from South Central Los Angeles via outer space and seems to be consciously placing himself in the afro-futurist tradition of Sun Ra and George Clinton.

Last year Ras G and the Afrikan Space Program put out an album called Ghetto Sci Fi with tracks including Beyond the Sky, Afrikan Space Rhythms and Sign Me Up, with its double-edged sample at the beginning about the requirement for all aliens to register with the National Space Administration.

Last month he put out another album, Brotha from Another Planet. Nice review at Bama Love Soul which should whet your appetite: 'you would most likely need an extraterrestrial being to translate some of the sounds he manages to construct/deconstruct..but definitely in a good way. At first listen you begin to hear influences of the unpredictable free jazz styles (though not a jazz album) of Sun Ra, Coltrane, and Horace Tapscott, the heavy, in the red, Dub bass drops of King Tubby, and undoubtedly the dustiest, dirtiest drums of hip hop peers J Dilla, and label mate Flying Lotus. Add randomly scattered static, scratches, vocal samples from various films and records, crazy left and right pans (especially if you listen through headphones) and you are ready for some serious space traveling'. Check out Alkebulan from the album here - a video with lots of clips from Sun Ra's Space is the Place.

Still finding my way around all this, but all I've heard so far sounds great. There's an interview with him here (where he sings the praises of London bass including dubstep and grime):

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Ayman Udas: a Singer Murdered in Pakistan

'A rising musical star was allegedly shot dead by her own brothers in the conservative city of Peshawar in Pakistan last week after she had appeared on television. The murder of Ayman Udas, who was in her early thirties and newly married, has shocked the city’s artistic community because it symbolises a backlash against women and cultural freedom in an area that is increasingly dominated by Islamic fundamentalists.

As a singer and song writer in her native Pashto, the language of the tribal areas and the NorthWest Frontier province, Udas frequently performed on PTV, the state-run channel. She won considerable acclaim for her songs but had become a musician in the face of bitter opposition from her family, who believed it was sinful for a woman to perform on television.

Ashamed of her growing popularity her two brothers are reported to have entered her flat last week while her husband was out and fired three bullets into her chest. Neither has been caught' (Sunday Times, 3 May 2009 - full story here)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Lola Montez and the Spider Dance

Lola Montez (1821-1861) lived a short but interesting life. Born Eliza Gilbert in Ireland, she reinvented herself as 'Lola the Spanish Dancer' on the London stage in 1843 before spending time in Paris, Munich, Switzerland, San Francisco, Australia and New York - attracting lovers and scandalous stories along the way. She became particularly known for her Spider Dance, which involved her shaking imaginary tarantulas out of her clothes and stamping on them. It was evidently loosely based on an Italian dance (perhaps linked to tarantism). This short description of her is taken from The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old West by Dee Brown (1958):

'No western stage performer ever equaled the glamorous Lola Montez in creating an aura of seductive mystery and exquisite scandal around her personality. Whether or not Lola was an actress is debatable - she was more in the class of modern burlesque queens - but the dubious legends of deli­cious sinfulness which she deliberately spread abroad and carefully nourished have spun down through the years until they are a part of the fabric of western history.

With her sensational spider dance, Lola burst upon San Francisco like a bombshell, making excellent copy for the newspapers with stories of her many marriages and her claim that she was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron. Offstage she dressed in the Byronic mode, wearing black jackets and wide rolling collars. Bronze-skinned, blue-eyed, she made a striking appearance strolling along the San Francisco streets, with two greyhounds on a leash and an enormous parrot upon her shoulder. She constantly smoked small cigars, forced her way into gambling saloons forbidden to women, and played tenpins with any male daring enough to take her on.

"A tigress," said one newspaper writer, "the very comet of her sex." Lola's celebrated spider dance shocked and titillated her audiences; the spiders were ingenious contraptions made of rubber, cork, and whalebone. She gave a spectacular bene­fit for an audience of San Francisco firemen, and they show­ered the stage with their fancy helmets and almost smothered her with enormous bouquets of flowers'.