Monday, November 30, 2009

Yet more free party news

Electronic Farm celebrates the 20th anniversary of DIY Sound System, free party pioneers originally based in Nottingham. Nice interview, recalling among other things their role in the movement against the Criminal Justice Bill/Act: 'We ran a series of fundraisers in Nottingham - 'All Systems Go!' in conjunction with Smokescreen, Desert Storm, Breeze and Babble sound systems - we raised about 5 grand a time, which we spent on publicity and information - we did our best to oppose the CJB but they weren't going to let that one be stopped'.

Meanwhile out in the fields and warehouses, the party people struggle continues....

Suspected rave organisers bailed, BBC, 23 November 2009
Four men arrested on suspicion of being involved in the organisation of an illegal rave in Suffolk have been bailed by police. Officers were pelted with missiles when they tried to break up the event at a disused warehouse in Homefield Road, Haverhill, on Saturday night. More than 200 people were at the warehouse, which was cleared by 0720 GMT. Three men from Hertfordshire and one of no fixed address have been released on bail until January. A notice to close down the event was served at 0140 GMT and officers contained the area, which was cleared by 0720 GMT.

Swoop on Middleton barn rave Lynn News, 24 November
Police successfully disrupted an unlicensed rave in a barn at Middleton in the early hours of Saturday morning. Two men were arrested and music equipment seized when officers swooped on the barn shortly after midnight on Friday. A Norfolk Police spokesman said they found about 50 people and up to 15 cars at the event."Our priority is the safety of the public at all times. We acted swiftly to close down this event and continue to work closely with the landowner as we attempt to finalise the investigation," he added.

Two taken to hospital and one arrest at huge illegal rave, Northampton Chronicle & Echo, 16 November 2009
Two revellers were taken to hospital and one man was arrested on drugs offences at a huge illegal rave in Northamptonshire. The underground party took place in a barn in Bugbrooke Road, between Kislingbury and Bugbrooke, on Saturday night and police have confirmed an investigation is now under way following reports of criminal damage.

A spokesman for Northamptonshire Police said because of the number of people who attended, officers decided against breaking up the gathering and instead contained it all evening and into the morning. He said: "Police have contained an illegal rave which took place in a barn on farmland between the villages of Kislingbury and Bugbrooke. "By the time poilce arrived a large number of people had arrived and vehicles had been parked along the side of the road betweeen the two villages. "The venue itself was some way away from residential areas and noise disruption was minimal. " In light of the location and large number of people police took the decision to monitor and contain the eventand contain the event. "One arrest was made, a man from Essex on suspicion of drugs offences."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dancing Questionnaire (18): Pete from London

Next up is Pete, a one man link connecting jazz, mod and techno rave scenes. He is currently involved in the Young Unknowns gallery project on the South Bank.

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
When I was 8 my mother sent me to ballet lessons on Saturdays - in baggy football shorts because she couldn't afford tights. A mate saw me coming out of a lesson and grassed me up to other kids at school. It was all very Billy Elliot except I wasn't much taken by the music to bother fighting my corner.

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Dance has played a big part of my life since I was a kid in the 1950's, but I was in my 40's before the muse really took a hold. I'd become a world music fan in the late 80's then a guy came to share my flat who was big into techno, and for the first six months going to rave parties and clubs, my body just couldn't find a way to properly move with the sound. One night, seeing me struggling, a dancer whispered in my ear "Get between the beats". That tip stayed and the magic hasn't left me. I've since spoken to Africans who've said similar: "dance against the beat"

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
It was Xmas 1991 in a club called The Alarm (in Strasbourg where my nephew lived) and there it all fell into place.They had to drag me out of the place.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
An odd analogy springs to mind: In the same way a bad craftsman blames his tools, a good dancer can dance to any music. In my case there are limits - one is disco.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?
At 64 I've known many: Rock and Roll but I was a bit too young. At 15 it was Trad jazz , Ken Colyers Jazz club in Great or was it Little Newport St? I was happier with Modern Jazz, Mingus was a hero. I saw & bopped to Kenny Clark in The Blue Note, Paris in '62. Then the mod scene in which I felt at home, going to The Scene, in Soho, and The Lyceum. The 70's during my breaks as barman in Dingwalls, there was the The Average White Band.

There's so many: Chaguaramas, but I'm bad remembering names and that same venue became a Punk place [The Roxy] where I pogoed to Johnny Moped. The 80s I remember House at The Brain, but African did it most for me then, and I went to WOMAD three years running. Then on after it was Techno everywhere!

6. When and where did you last dance?
Celebrating my 64th birthday in a Paris Bar called Rosa Bonheur, last August.

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
You must be kidding!

All questionnaires welcome - just answer the same questions in as much or as little detail as you like and send to (see previous questionnaires). Quick disclaimer: please note that people who complete the questionnaires do not necessarily share the wider views expressed at this blog on politics, sex, drugs or disco!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Dorset, Dancing, Ecstasy and Dream

'It was a fine September evening, just before sunset, when yellow lights struggle with blue shades in hairlike lines, and the atmosphere itself forms a prospect without aid from more solid objects, except the innumerable winged insects that dance in it. Through this low-lit mistiness Tess walked leisurely along...

Approaching the hay-trussers she could hear the fiddled notes of a reel proceeding from some building in the rear; but no sound of dancing was audible -an exceptional state of things for these parts, where as a rule the stamping drowned the music. The front door being open she could see straight through the house into the garden at the back as far as the shades of night would allow; and nobody appearing to her knock she traversed the dwelling and went up the path to the outhouse whence the sound had attracted her.

It was a windowless erection used for storage, and from the open door there floated into the obscurity a mist of yellow radiance, which at first Tess thought to be illuminated smoke. But on drawing nearer she perceived that it was a cloud of dust, lit by candles within the outhouse, whose beams upon the haze carried forward the outline of the doorway into the wide night of the garden.

When she came close and looked in she beheld indistinct forms racing up and down to the figure of the dance, the silence of their footfalls arising from their being overshoe in "scroff"--that is to say, the powdery residuum from the storage of peat and other products, the stirring of which by their turbulent feet created the nebulosity that involved the scene. Through this floating, fusty debris of peat and hay, mixed with the perspirations and warmth of the dancers, and forming together a sort of vegeto-human pollen, the muted fiddles feebly pushed their notes, in marked contrast to the spirit with which the measure was trodden out. They coughed as they danced, and laughed as they coughed. Of the rushing couples there could barely be discerned more than the high lights - the indistinctness shaping them to satyrs clasping nymphs - a multiplicity of Pans whirling a multiplicity of Syrinxes; Lotis attempting to elude Priapus, and always failing.
At intervals a couple would approach the doorway for air, and the haze no longer veiling their features, the demigods resolved themselves into the homely personalities of her own next-door neighbours. Could Trantridge in two or three short hours have metamorphosed itself thus madly!

She did not abhor dancing, but she was not going to dance here. The movement grew more passionate: the fiddlers behind the luminous pillar of cloud now and then varied the air by playing on the wrong side of the bridge or with the back of the bow. But it did not matter; the panting shapes spun onwards.

They did not vary their partners if their inclination were to stick to previous ones. Changing partners simply meant that a satisfactory choice had not as yet been arrived at by one or other of the pair, and by this time every couple had been suitable matched. It was then that the ecstasy and the dream began, in which emotion was the matter of the universe, and matter but an adventitious intrusion likely to hinder you from spinning where you wanted to spin'.

(Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbevilles, 1891)

(Pictures - top, Nastassja Kinski in the 1979 film version of Tess; bottom, people dancing in a barn in Dorset 2008 by Caiusp at Flickr)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


It started in Los Angeles last summer and is now being touted as the new breakdancing.

From Hip Hop's new steps, New York Times, 20 November 2009:

“Jerking started off in L.A. as just a little inner-city dance,” said one of the New Boyz, Earl Benjamin, 18, known as Ben J. “We used to search for it on YouTube and we noticed it had potential to be bigger than it was. It was like when you first saw break dancing: it has so many different parts, and when you get the dance down pat, you wanted to do it all the time. It reminded you of how fun hip-hop used to be.”

... Seen in formal terms, said Sally Sommer, a dance historian who teaches at Florida State University, jerking may merely be a cousin to the “lambada or the twist.” It is certainly, Ms. Sommer said, less physically demanding than krumping or vogueing or the other highly skilled and innovative urban forms of dance. But the lambada was a fad. The twist was a fad. And jerking, its adherents say, has a cultural resonance that goes beyond the Reject and the Tippy Toe. “Jerking is a movement, almost like in the ’80s when rap started,” said Tammy Maxwell, the manager of the Ranger$ and the mother of Julian Goins. “There’s a style to it, and a music and a lifestyle and all the kids have really jumped on it.”

The Ranger$ Jerkin in JerkVille (dancing doesn't get started until about 1:20):

New Boyz, "You're A Jerk":

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dancing Questionnaire (17): Georgina, Drumz of the South

Next up with a Dancing Questionnaire it's Georgina/infinite, artist, photographer and the South London bassnik responsible for Drumz of the South and much else besides. Another respondent who I haven't yet met but whose path has crossed mine - in this case as recently as last Saturday night when somebody said to me 'Georgina's here somewhere...'

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Not specifically, but I have vague memories of dancing at family parties and weddings and of winning a primary school competition with friends doing "The Locomotion."

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
Nothing specific, but generally,all the amazing and interesting people that I've met and photographed on dancefloors in London and around the world. Dance has definitely changed my life.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
Very stoned and deep in a trance at Forward>> or DMZ; I used to particularly love dancing to Youngsta. Dancing on a bar in Paris on a college trip. Dancing to I Feel Love at home when I should've been doing the housework. In a House tent at Secret Garden Party Festival in 2007 with my friend Breezy. It was pretty wild. I can't say much more about it!!

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times…
Having my camera stolen at a gig cos I was drunk, dancing and careless. :(
Generally getting toes trodden on by stiletto's or bum pinched by stupid men!

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?
1996-99 (aged 15-18) I'm not afraid to admit it....The Blue Orchid and Metropol in Croydon- under 18's, over 18's dancing to garage in high heels! I would take them off at the end of the night and walk to Crazy Chicken for a burger and chips with sore feet and blackened soles.

1999-2001 (aged 18-20) Beautiful People at Metro in Oxford Street and various Rock/Metal concerts where I really learnt to dance.

2001-2005 (aged 20-23) Drum n Bass nights at The Black Sheep Bar, followed by every other DnB & Jungle night in London around that time.

2004-09 (aged 23-28) FWD>> & DMZ. Dubwar, Subdub, Platform 1, D.O.T.S. Dubstep / Bass for the soul.

Also plenty of festivals and carnival over the years!

6. When and where did you last dance?
The Dodo's gig at The Scala last Monday evening.

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
I can't choose between Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love' or 'Red' by Artwork.

Photo: Georgina pictured taking pictures at DMZ.

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hyperdub at Corsica Studios

The Hyperdub night at Corsica Studios (Elephant & Castle) was excellent on Saturday, with two awesome live appearances. Kode9 and Spaceape were intense, but due to moving around, saying hello to folks and then being squeezed to the back, I only caught the latter half of the set. I was luckier for King Midas Sound - squeezed at the front instead - and they were outstanding on their first London gig. The project is a collaboration between Kevin Martin (of The Bug fame), Roger Robinson and Hitomi.

Must admit I did think of early Massive Attack when they were playing, something which Jonny Mugwump has already criticised (see link below). It's not so much that they particularly sound like Massive Attack, but in some ways there's a similarity of approach. On the first Massive Attack album they magnificently filtered the then current state of dance music (including hip hop) through a UK reggae sound system sensibility. King Midas Sound do something similar, except in the interim there's a whole lot of other stuff that's been added to the mix, from techno to dubstep. The KMS album is out next week, and not having heard it I don't want to overdo the hype, but on the evidence of the live show there is potential for it to have a similar impact to that first Massive Attack album as a sonic landmark that crosses over to a wider audience.

There's a couple of good new KMS interviews out there - John Eden at FACT and Jonny Mugwump at The Quietus).

(photo - Roger Robinson under the spotlight on Saturday)

Corsica Studios and La Provincia

Corsica Studios is located in a railway arch directly underneath Elephant and Castle station so joins the list of great railway arch clubs which I will eventually get round to writing about. Two good-sized rooms with nice sound system plus a bar overlooked by a picture of Dickie Davies (yes really). At the back there's a covered outside area shared by the other railway arches, including La Provincia, a Latin America club frequented mainly by Colombians. Thanks to a Spanish speaking member of our party we ended up in there for a while too.

As someone who is always as fascinated by the crowd and dance styles as the music when I go out, it was interesting to compare the two. Dress codes weren't that dissimilar - jeans and t-shirts predominating, though a bit smarter in La Provincia. Gender balance was similar too - fairly evenly matched, but with more men than women. Hyperdub though was very crowded, whereas in La Provincia people were sitting round tables.

And the dancing was very different - in La Provincia it was exclusively salsa dancing couples, whereas in Corsica there wasn't room for much more than nodding heads, shuffling on the spot, and hands in the air for the more enthusiastic. At Hyperdub a lot of the dancing was in rows facing the front, which means people are mostly looking at the back of the person in front of them. Understandable for a live performance, but something I have never really understood when it's just a DJ. I don't think I ever saw this before the 'superstar DJ' boom in the late 1990s, in fact I distinctly remember noticing it for the first time at the famous 1999 Armand Van Helden vs. Fatboy Slim clash where they DJed in a boxing ring in the middle of Brixton Academy. Not proposing that people should start trying out strict tempo Latin moves to dubstep - though that might be fun - but there is something to be said for shifting the balance back from the DJ to the dancefloor as the centre of attention.

Anyway just some thoughts rather than criticisms, it was a good night enlivened even more by this sense of these different dance worlds coexisting in time and space in a corner of South East London. Some more reviews of the night: Uncarved, Yeti Blancmange, Vice Magazine (from where this Moses Whitley photo comes).

(cross posted at Transpontine)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dancing Questionnaire (16): Kevin, The London Nobody Sings

The Dancing Questionnaire series has been slightly dormant of late, so I've invited a few people to have a go - though anybody is welcome to participate. Next up is Kevin from Your Heart Out and The London Nobody Sings, the latter an excellent blog featuring a daily song about London. One of the things I like about people's answers to these questionnaires is the connections that emerge - how people at different points in their life journeys cross paths in particular places (not necessarily at the same time), or enjoy similar tunes at opposite ends of the earth.

I haven't met Kevin, as far as I know, but like many of the respondents, I am sure we have shared a dancefloor sometime. In Kevin's case I am wondering whether we might have bumped into each other, literally, at The Camden Falcon in the indie pop heyday (remember seeing Jasmine Minks there) or perhaps more recently on one of my occasional visits to How Does it Feel? in Brixton. Anyway here's Kevin's Dancing Questionnaire:

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?
Yes, there was a scout hall near my home in Bexleyheath which held a weekly disco for several years. This was for primary school kids, and as it was '73-'75ish there was lots of Gary Glitter, Suzi Quatro, Hues Corporation, George McCrae etc. Wonderful. Still remember winning a copy of Ken Boothe's Everything I Own for being best dressed one week.

Suzie Quatro - she so invented punk

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?
I remember particularly a few years ago going to a Labour Party event in a stately home/hotel in North Wales in a work capacity, and while everyone was networking a few of us went to dance in another hall where a DJ was playing some old soul tracks more or less to himself, and after a while the guest of honour sneaked out (a Welsh Assembly minister) and joined us, literally dancing round her handbag. Beautiful summer evening, and it just suggested music as a common bond, overcoming boundaries, making friends, no words needed ...

3. You. Dancing. The best of times…
Probably 1980s going to see underground pop groups like the June Brides, Jasmine Minks playing to horribly small crowds but having a whale of a time dancing with abandon.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times
I really feel uncomfortable in large crowds with flashing lights (unsociable so-and-so). I have particular unpleasant memories of a Ramones gig at The Lyceum where the punks all seemed to be 7 foot tall and were slam dancing madly. It just seemed horribly macho and boring.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?
Well, Alan McGee's Living Room, Dan Treacy's Room At The Top, Bay 63 were regular haunts in mid-'80s. Later put on own events with live groups/old soul discos etc in West End pub function rooms, then into the '90s becoming obsessed with drum 'n' bass/Mo' Wax trip hoppy stuff though only occasionally getting to places like the Heavenly Social due to shift work patterns. More recently outings seem to be confined to '60s soul type events.

6. When and where did you last dance?
Around my living room, waltzing to a Ewan MacColl song.

7. You're on your death bed. What piece of music would make your leap up for one final dance?
Candy Skin by the Fire Engines.

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Autumn Free Parties in England

'No arrests made as police shut down rave at rural site'
(Northampton Chronicle & Echo 13 October 2009)

'An illegal rave was shut down by police in Northamptonshire, who surrounded the encampment and trapped partygoers inside. A call was made to the force during the early hours of Sunday, following complaints about the rave near Horton. A spokeswoman for Northamptonshire Police said that when officers arrived they found "a large number" of revellers hosting the illegal party at a rural site in Yardley Chase. She added: "There were approximately 40 vehicles found on arrival. Officers sealed off all the entrants to the site and did not allow anyone to leave. Those who had already left and were attempting to return were denied entry. No arrests were made at the scene." The police helicopter was also called to the scene, shortly before 1.30am on Sunday'.

'Illegal rave in North Petherton'
(This is Somerset, 15 October 2009)

'An illegal rave in North Petherton was shut down by police within hours of starting on Saturday night. Swift action by the Avon and Somerset Constabulary ensured illegal ravers were stopped when reports were received of around 200 people blasting loud music in Kings Cliff Woods off Cliff Road at 11.30pm. Officers raced to the scene and found around 50 cars parked up. The North Gate entrance to the woods was open and the lock had been broken. The operation to close down the music and empty the site of the would-be revellers was completed by 2.30am without any problems. Safer Stronger Neighbourhoods beat manager PC Richard Tully said: "Our prompt action in tackling this illegal rave hopefully sends out a strong and powerful message to would-be organisers that we will not tolerate this kind of illegal activity and we will respond swiftly to concerns of local people.

'Up to 3,000 people took part in an illegal rave'
(Telegraph, 1 November 2009)

'Up to 3,000 people took part in an illegal rave in an old factory, according to Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP. The Mid Bedfordshire MP said the youths were playing loud music and taking ecstasy all night, while they had no access to water at the Wavendon Heath site in Bedfordshire.
"We have 3,000 kids taking ecstasy with no water and a kid could die any moment. They're still arriving in droves and there's no safety here at all, there are no toilets, there are no facilities for them", she said. "There's no safety here at all, there are no toilets, there are no facilities for them." She criticised the police for failing to act decisively.

The rave is believed to have started at about 3am on Sunday and was eventually stopped by police in the afternoon. Police later estimated that the number of ravers was between 200 and 450. A spokesman said: "We had some intelligence to suggest that a rave was planned in the vicinity of Milton Keynes/Woburn but information was too vague for us to act initially. At the point where we became aware of the location of the rave, at about 0200 GMT, it was under way with above 200 people present. Given the danger of trying to move people, some in an intoxicated state, near to a quarry in the dark and wet, it was decided it was safer not to attempt to move them but to monitor the situation." She added that there had only been three noise complaints up until 6 am'.

'Stark warning to rave organisers'
(Beccles and Bungay Journal, 30 October 2009)

'Norfolk and Suffolk police have issued a stark warning to anyone planning to organise an illegal rave in the county this weekend.There is a zero tolerance approach to such events, which are unsafe and disruptive to our local communities. They will be working closely with colleagues in Suffolk and will share information and provide additional police units to specifically target rave-goers or anyone suspected of involvement in the organisation of a rave across the two counties.

Chief superintendent Tony Cherington said: “I want to make it quite clear that we will use all necessary resources to prevent, disrupt and close down illegal raves in this county. We have issued this warning as we approach the Halloween weekend. “We will continue to take a hard line against them and seek to prosecute and seize and destroy the equipment of anyone found to be involved in their organisation. We will be putting on a significant police presence this weekend to achieve our aims.” Following the successful disruption of previous unlicensed music events, Norfolk Constabulary has again made arrangements with surrounding forces to share resources to disrupt or stop any such events.Last weekend, following a rave in the Feltwell area, over 150 vehicles were stopped and a number of arrests were made for vehicle offences and drink driving. A large quantity of sound equipment, amplifiers and music was also seized.Members of the public are also being urged to play their part and support police action by remaining vigilant over the coming days and by reporting any suspicious activity which may lead them to believe a rave is being organised...'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

London Sound Survey

London Sound Survey is an ambitious and 'growing collection of Creative Commons-licensed sound recordings of places, events and wildlife in the capital'. You can, and probably should, spend a lot of time there listening to some very evocative, and well-recorded London soundscapes. Current favourites of mine are recordings of buskers including a child playing the accordion for money on the London underground, and a Saxophonist playing the Girl from Ipanema against a background of sirens in Old Compton Street. There's also the sound of a riot in progress on May Day 2001.

Unfortunately we don't have sound recordings from the past, a gap which London Sound Survey seeks to fill by including some written descriptions of historical London sounds, such as this account of a London market from Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor (1861):

'A bootmaker, to 'ensure custom', has illuminated his shop-front with a line of gas, and in its full glare stands a blind beggar, his eyes turned up so as to show only 'the whites', and mumbling some begging rhymes, that are drowned in the shrill notes of the bamboo-flute-player next to to him. The boy's sharp cry, the woman's cracked voice, the gruff, hoarse shout of the man, are all mingled together. Sometimes an Irishman is heard with his 'fine ating apples', or else the jingling music of an unseen organ breaks out, as the trio of street singers rest between the verses'.

Here's a couple of other descriptions of London noises I have come across which London Sound Survey might want to add. The first is from Virginia Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway, set immediately after the First World War:

'For having lived in Westminster—how many years now? over twenty,— one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can’t be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June'.

The second is a description of Deptford Market from Geoffrey Fletcher's The London Nobody Knows (1962):

'Saturday morning is the time to see the human element at its richest in Deptford, and in the crowded High Street are all sorts of buskers and street entertainers whose presence gives additional character to the street: an organ grinder, perhaps, whose instru­ment is more properly termed 'a street piano' (there is still one firm left hiring out the' pianos' in London, near Saffron Hill: look for the pictures of Edwardian beauties on the panels of the organ), one-man bands, sellers of Old Moore's Almanack and so on. Today, a couple of stocky, red-faced men take their stand under the railway bridge - one plays an accordion and the other sings 'The Mountains of Mourne'. Appropriately, too, for Irish ideas are not lacking in Deptford - witness the large pub charmingly named The Harp of Erin and here today at the Catholic Church a gaudy Irish wedding takes place. As the bride and groom assemble on the steps, they are joined by their families and friends, the women in pale blue and the men in navy-blue suits. All wear large pink carnations, and the men's faces, each creased in a wide grin, are all red from the application of yellow soap. Small boys, also in blue suits and with even shinier faces, cross their legs uneasily, and the accordion plays 'The Meeting of the Waters'... '

Monday, November 09, 2009

Rock Around the Cock (1978)

A feminist critique of rock written in the immediate post-punk period. It was published in London-based radical magazine The Leveller in October 1978.

'LINDSAY COOPER, ex Henry Cow, now in the Feminist Improvisation Group, looks at rock and sexuality:

The Sex Pistols didn't like Glen Matlock, their first bass player, because he put minor chords in his songs. Minor chords are pouffy they said. It's a crude way of putting it but then rock has never been subtle in its presentation of masculine and feminine, homosexual and heterosexual. But no-one ever asked why the subtle, melodic changes of the minor chords should be reserved for gay men and, by implication, women

Rock has been always about sex. Jazz and blues were both originally various forms of sexual slangs. It wasn't till the sexually explicit words and beat of the blues got mixed up with puritanical country music that white music fans discovered there was more than just kissing and cuddling. It was rock 'n' roll.

Elvis's thrusting pelvis left little doubt about what he was expressing. This new explicitness brought with it a music of genuine teenage rebellion with a threat of sexual liberation which proved as potent and threatening as communism to 'straight' America. It shook up traditional sexual values, even if it didn't change them much. The sexuality of the music was very much part of the dancing that went with it.

Later, this cathartic and liberating element in dance would be lost, as sixties rock culture focused more on the superstar performer. Music and dance changed from being a substitute for sex; hip easy listening like the Eagles and Jackson Browne ­became a background accompaniment to sex.
But this concern with sexuality is not about sexual liberation. Rock remains a machismo cult, a rebellion of young men against old. Its sexual content reproduces and caricatures existing values.

Lyrics of every kind of rock music, from cock rock to teenybop, insult women and glorify dominant male sexuality:

Under my thumb, the girl who once had me down
Under my thumb, the girl who once pushed me around
It's down to me, the difference in the clothes she wears
It's down to me, the change has come, she's under my thumb
Ain't it the truth babe (Rolling Stones)

The notorious, male sexual posturing of cock rock with its pumping beat and arrogant style underpin an aggressive sexuality which often spills over into violence at concerts. You can't wipe out the memory of the brutal killing at Altamont or the uncheckable violence of Sham '69 fans
I'm not saying that women don't enjoy this type of music. For the screaming girl fans, the Rolling Stones were a lot more exciting than their fumbling boyfriends. Also the 'romance' of the hit singles may well have seemed more real than their own.

You don't have to say you love me, Just be close at hand
You don't have to stay forever I will understand
(Dusty Springfield)

It's no answer to say 'there have always been women performers'. For rock culture has always turned them into sexual objects (like Debbie Harry) or makes them , into Armatrading-type cults.

What they can do is limited. They can be singers but rarely instrumentalists; they're so good at conveying emotion but are limited musically. Their voices are invariably controlled by production techniques, geared to a market that is used to a manufactured femininity.

In a recent TV show Helen Reddy was told that she would have to have elastoplast over her nipples and shave her armpits. She refused. Panic ensued. The situation was saved by a compromise. She would wear elastoplast over her nipples but not shave her armpits.

Women performers like Dory Previn can sing about how they're pissed about by men, but never about understanding this oppression or changing it.

As elsewhere, rock shows women as idealised, unreal male-fantasy people; the all-understanding women, the dependable women, the women who won't come up with the sexual goods and so on. The range of images for women performers, accepted by the public and the music biz, is very small.

Men are allowed to be sexually ambiguous like Bowie and Jagger or downright unmasculine like Tom Robinson and Elvis Costello. But female sexual ambiguity is short on popular appeal. Only Patti Smith (and she's a poet) can get away with it. An image which challenges female stereotypes is even harder to pull off. Would we have had Poly Styrene and Siouxsie (of the Banshees) without the ­general challenge of punk?

But you can't just talk about rock's sexism in performances and record lyrics. It comes from a profit-making industry "selling people what they want", which is not in business to challenge its own existence. It can be forced to make concessions like Tom Robinson's Glad To Be Gay and Right On Sister but this is a drop in the ocean alongside the unending volumes of heterosexist records streaming off the presses.

Chris Brazier of the Melody Maker can criticise The Stranglers for their sexist attitudes but he fights hopelessly against the endless 'tit 'n' bum' ads for records and sexist articles by other writers.

So if rock is virtually about male sexuality how can it be changed? No real breakdown of rock machismo is going to happen until more women are playing music and women who work in rock aren't automatically slotted into being just 'sexy chicks'.

One optimistic sign is that over the last two years music has started to have a far greater political impact and context than it's ever had. Although experience has taught women that a rise in leftist consciousness can still exclude any awareness of sexism.

At a Rock Against Racism gig, the Fabulous Poodles started to play a song about schoolgirls. Several women objected. The band became abusive. An exchange of sharp letters ensued in RAR's mag, Temporary Hoarding. The women accusing RAR of not taking sexism as seriously as racism, when in effect there was no difference between the two. The organisers replied that the band would never have learnt how women felt if they hadn't mounted the gig and how difficult it was to ensure politically 'sound' bands.

In Europe the reaction against anglo-american cultural imperialism has produced a lot of political rock music, most of it being made independently of the music industry. The number of women musicians involved can be counted on the strings of one guitar, and the audiences are predominantly male, but the collective, unmacho approach of most of the European political groups is making more than cosmetic changes in the music and its performance.

In Sweden there is a well established political music movement which is utterly male dominated, but also an autonomous women's culture including several rock bands.

What is it, I'll rape it
(the Who)

In Italy, where mass political consciousness is high and where the left-wing parties are actively involved in putting on rock concerts, the whole context of rock performance is obviously very different. The Stormy Six, probably the most interesting of the Italian political/independent groups do at least sing about sexual politics: "This is not a political song"' they say with endearing irony, "because it's about sexual politics" and launch into a bitter rock parody using preposterous macho gestures and lyrics about monogamous romantic love.

In France the growth of an indigenous rock culture has been less consciously political and Magma, the group who virtually singlehandedly started it, presented a quasi-mystical concept of masculinity with their superman philosophy (more serious by far than the Bowie of Oh You Pretty Things) and authoritarian stage presence. Their influence is waning, but can still be felt in the Belgian Univers Zero, who see being an all-male group as a problem, but whose stern, tormented-male image is unlikely to attract many women musicians.

You'd better watch out baby
Here comes your master
(Jimi Hendrix)

But it is in women's bands that the problem of sexism and constructions of sexuality in performance are being specifically tackled. For women musicians, the choice to work in all female bands comes as much from the positive effect of working with other women as from the problems of working in mixed bands, either inside or outside of commercial music (even if you can get work you're likely to be just a token woman/sex object or -­only marginally better - token feminist).

Every woman should be
What her man wants her to be

(Marvin Gaye)

Women's bands are not negatively separatist (that's much truer of men's bands) or a refuge for the incompetent (women's music is developing fast considering that most of the performers have for obvious reasons had relatively little experience), but a way of getting away from performance being equated with sexual performance as defined by men, and of exploring different relationships between performers and between performers and audience.

The importance of a women's musical culture developing independently from the music business, however, shouldn't undermine what women are doing in commercial music and in mixed political/independent groups -the main thing is that we are now actively redefining sexuality in rock instead of hoping that the few enlightened stars would do it for us'.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1909-2009)

'But that music is a language by whose means messages are elaborated, that such messages can be understood by the many but sent out only by few, and that it alone of all the languages unites the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable - these facts make the creator of music a being like the gods and make music itself the supreme mystery of human knowledge' (Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Raw and the Cooked, 1969)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

We Must Refuse Boredom

Georges Bataille, The Sacred Conspiracy, 1936

'It is time to abandon the world of the civilized and its light. It is too late to want to be reasonable and learned, which has led to a life without attractions. Secretly or not, it is necessary to become other, or else cease to be.

The world to which we have belonged proposes nothing to love outside of each individual insufficiency: its existence is limited to its convenience. A world that can’t be loved to death – in the same way a man loves a woman – represents nothing but personal interest and the obligation to work. If it is compared with worlds that have disappeared it is hideous and seems the most failed of all of them.

In those disappeared worlds it was possible to lose oneself in ecstasy, which is impossible in the world of educated vulgarity. Civilization’s advantages are compensated for by the way men profit by it: men of today profit by it to become the most degraded of all beings who have ever existed.

Life always occurs in a tumult with no apparent cohesion, but it only finds its grandeur and reality in ecstasy and ecstatic love. He who wants to ignore or neglect ecstasy is a being whose thought has been reduced to analysis. Existence is not only an agitated void: it is a dance that forces us to dance fanatically. The idea that doesn’t have as object a dead fragment exists internally in the same way as does a flame.

One must become firm and unshakeable enough that the existence of the world of civilization finally appears uncertain. It is useless to respond to those who are able to believe in this world and find their authorization in it. If they speak it is possible to look at them without hearing them, and even if we look at them, to only “see” that which exists far behind them. We must refuse boredom and live only on that which fascinates'.

Monday, November 02, 2009

She refused to be bored - Zelda Fitzgerald

'the Flapper awoke from her lethargy of sub-deb-ism, bobbed her hair, put on her choicest pair of earrings and a great deal of audacity and rouge and went into the battle. She flirted because it was fun to flirt and wore a one-piece bathing suit because she had a good figure, she covered her face with powder and paint because she didn't need it and she refused to be bored chiefly because she wasn't boring. She was conscious that the things she did were the things she had always wanted to do. Mothers disapproved of their sons taking the Flapper to dances, to teas, to swim and most of all to heart. She had mostly masculine friends, but youth does not need friends - it needs only crowds...'

Zelda Fitzgerald (pictured), Eulogy on the Flapper, 1922.

The above quote was the partial inspiration for my favourite song - Being Boring by The Pet Shop Boys. The lines of the opening verse are: 'I came across a cache of old photos, and invitations to teenage parties.“Dress in white,” one said with quotations, from someone’s wife, a famous writer in the nineteen-twenties'. Apparently singer Neil Tennant actually did recall an invitation to a party from his own teenage years featuring the above quote, with Zelda Fitzgerald both 'someone's wife' (though she was more than that) and one source of the 'we were never being boring' chorus.