Thursday, August 13, 2009

5 words: Funky, Surrealism, Pirates, Exodus, 121

The '5 word meme' is just that - somebody gives you 5 words to say something about. Bob from Brockley gave me my five (as well as prompting Shalom Libertad and Waterloo Sunset to respond among others). If you want to join in, say so in a comment and I will give you five words to ponder.


A while ago, Cornershop declared that Funky Days are Here Again. What they didn't predict was that Funky would return as a noun rather than a verb, the name for the latest blending of bass and beats on UK dancefloors. It's always been hard to define funk, but there are certainly plenty who would argue that UK Funky doesn't have it (including Paul Gilroy). It's true that the rhythm owes more to house and soca than to James Brown, but who cares. I've always liked up on the floor female vocal anthems, so can only rejoice that a whole new seam of them has been uncovered in the disco goldmine. Check out Grievous Angel's Crazy Legs mix, which has the temerity to mix Brian Eno & David Byrne's Jezebel Spirit into Hard House Banton's Sirens.


When I first got interested in politics I was greatly attracted to Dada, Surrealism and the Situationists, initially through second hand accounts in books like Richard Neville's Play Power, Jeff Nuttal's Bomb Culture and indeed Gordon Carr's The Angry Brigade. The emphasis on play, festival and the imagination still resonates with me, but I would question the notion of desire as an unproblematic engine of radical change. Desire is surely formed amidst the psychic swamp of present social conditions and I would no longer advise everybody to take their desires for reality - sadly I have seen far too much of the impoverished desires of men in particular. Just look through your spam emails.


The untimely death of 'pirate' Paul Hendrich scuppered our scheme to raise the jolly roger and declare a pirate republic on a traffic island on the New Cross Road. Still the appeal of some kind of autonomous sovereignty beyond the reach of states lingers on- even if its contemporary reality of sailors held hostage in Somalia doesn't sound quite so romantic. I was also once in a short-lived Pirate Band, our one gig playing the yiddish potato song Bulbes in the Pullens community centre at the Elephant and Castle, supporting the fine indie pop duo Pipas.


I grew up in Luton but had moved away by the time of its greatest counter-cultural contribution, the Exodus Collective. I made it to a few of their events though, and their massive free parties were as legendary as their tenacity in defending themselves in the courts. If Rastafarians transposed the Exodus myth to Africa, the Exodus Collective were more modest - an actual practice of leaving the Town (and in particular the Marsh Farm council estate where some of the them lived) for parties in the Bedforshire countryside combined with plans to create some kind of alternative society of community housing and support. Some of the people involved are still keeping the faith, but Exodus itself seems to have imploded at the end of the 1990s. Not sure exactly why, but I guess it was the usual story of conflict involving drugs, money and personalities. Still the land of milk and honey did materialise briefly next to the M1 motorway.


121 Railton Road was a squat in a Brixton terrace that ran from 1981 to 1999. During that time it served as an anarchist centre, radical bookshop, meeting place, print shop, office for feminist and anarcho magazines and venue for countless gigs and parties, including the far famed Dead by Dawn events. As I lived in Brixton from 1987 to 1995 I spent a lot of time there, the best of times (dancing and chatting all night) and the worst of times (seeing somebody die in the street outside after a party I was helping with). And also the plain dullest of times, with seemingly endless meetings of bickering and intra-anarchist faction fighting.


Anonymous said...

interesting. around the same time that i discovered surrealism, i also discovered the bonzo dog band. two years later i ran away from home and joined a circus.

and i think you're right about the problem of our impoverished, if indeed not unreflective, tired and shopworn desires as a means of achieving some kind of social emancipation, but hasn't capitalism on some level always been about desire, or at least, some way of implanting/manipulating it? i mean, just read john berger's "ways of seeing," especially the final chapter on the role of glamour in advertising and publicity.

anyway, you got a nice blog here. this is my first visit and am enjoying it tremendously.


Transpontine said...

Thanks Les. Some interesting trajectories from Surrealism - one line leading to the Situationists and ultra-left, and another (particularly in England) being accommodated in a kind of Anglo Absurdism exemplified by the Bonzos and Monthy Python. Still tell us more about the circus adventure!

Yes I agree, desire is partly the engine that keeps capitalism going which is another reason to be sceptical of the Surrealist/situ notion of the unconscious/desire as inherently oppositional.

Having said that I am certainly not advocating a religious renunciation of desire!

Anonymous said...

absurdism, yeah. the things we could do with a rubber chicken...

but, deliriously, folks, after recently seeing a performance of an "absurdist" theater piece here in baltimore (that may be a tautology), i'm starting to wonder if absurdist art really wasn't a reaction on the part of the petty bourgeois when they discovered that the social space they inhabited wasn't really as infinite as they had been led to believe, and then, in a fit of pique, turned inward and began creating an art of dead ends and labyrinths in an effort to punish the rest of the world for having been cheated. just saying like (i'm afraid that phrase may be with us for a long time).

well the circus i was in was called major chumleigh's amazing traveling circus and combined pandemonium shadow show. the perceptive reader will doubtless recognize that the second half of the name was lifted directly from an early album by harry nilsson, something that can only be attributed to mr. chumleigh himself (the ripping off part, not the sweet and lyrical part). and yes, chumleigh was not his real name. we traveled around california in the spring and summer of 1972 with a troupe of about 23 (24?) people with absolutely no financing except what we could raise from one performance to the next. the style of the circus was very much based on our collective misapprehensions and misconceptions of what we thought an old-style european circus was like, filtered, of course through repeated viewings of fellini and chaplin films, coupled with hazy memories of real circuses we had seen as kids as well as the kind of children's tv shows we had all been exposed to growing up in the 1950s. we had mimes/clowns, a trapeze act, tumblers, a fire eater, a snake dancer, acts like that (no other animals, though, only the band). actually, i was the musical director, which meant that the soundtrack for the circus was a weird blend of strauss waltzes, nino rota style film music, eric satie, and a little avant-garde jazz thrown in. in fact, 2 of the musicians were conservatory trained.

look, as you can imagine, it was a somewhat raggle-taggle, somewhat haphazard kind of venture , but, nonetheless, it was a very transformative experience for most of us. i suppose we were diy before the term was invented. and, to be in agreement with the quote you have by christopher small about musicking, what really made the whole thing work was as much the times we were living through as anything we ourselves put into it.


bob said...

A great response - of course!

Miss E said...

Exodus was amazing!! They lasted until the early 2000s as far as I can recall... although my memory WAS a bit hazy by then, due to extreme squat party fatigue haha ;)

FYI the link that you provided for the Exodus section is dead. Maybe you could try searching for it on the WayBackMachine & resurrecting it for the purposes of this post?

Cheers for the post and the memories that it (sort of) brought back :)