Monday, May 31, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
The Common was the scene of a few parties in this period. Test Pressing has reproduced Whose Smiley Now? an article about it from The Face (August 1982), written by Sheryl Garratt:
"'Mental, Mental, Let's go fucking mental!' There were stories last year of people dancing to police sirens, traffic noises, anything to stretch the Summer of Love out a little longer, but never before have I seen people dancing to a generator. It started when a sound system was set up on Clapham Common on the Sunday morning after a Saturday all-nighter, the party simply carrying on in the middle of this South London park. Word spread, and the following week clubbers truned up for a repeat performance. 1,000 people danced their Sunday away on the grass while police took souvenir snapshots from nearby buildings.
When the same thing happened one week later the police took a more active part and refused to allow the sound van onto the common... Towards the end of the afternoon the heroes of the day arrived. These were the people shouldering a hired generator and a home stereo, bringing much of the crowd to its feet in anticipation. The generator all but drowned out the music, but the chants were loud, the atmosphere hot, and with a few hundred people packed protectively around the sound source, the police retreated, with a hail of bottles and cans following amiably in their wake. Surprizingly (but given that no-one was doing any real harm, sensibly), they didn't return. 'It's only a matter of time' said one obvserver with relish, 'before there's a riot'."
I wasn't at these 1989 parties, but I was on Clapham Common on Sunday April 30th 1995 when a 3,000 strong march against the Criminal Justice Act ended up there. There was a May Day festival in progress there with bands and marquees, but neither the police nor the festival organisers (the GMB union) were keen to allow the United Systems anti-CJA rig on to the Common. It pulled up alongside the park, and we danced on the grass. I came across some photos from that day by David Minuk, an American visiting London at the time:
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
In the poverty-stricken parts of Jamaica off the tourist trail, people have long since been caught up in the crossfire between the interlocking miltia of the 'security' forces, gangsters, and the main political parties. In May 1997 for instance, three women and a six year old child were shot dead by state forces in Tivoli Gardens (see Amnesty International report). In July 2001, at least 20 people died there in a similar operation.
Tivoli Gardens has an important place in musical history. Aside from its role in reggae and dancehall (including the weekly Passa Passa street parties), it gave its name to a whole genre of UK drum and bass: 'The term "jungle" first emerged on a Rebel MC sample in 1991. This terms is associated with an area of Kingston, Jamaica, called Tivoli Gardens, known as "the Jungle" and frequently cited in"yard tapes" (Les Back, New ethnicities and urban culture: racisms and multiculture in young lives, 1996).
Here's a couple of old classics, sadly still relevant.
From 1978: U Roy - Peace & Love in the Ghetto:
From 1976: Junior Murvin - Police and Thieves ('in the street, scaring the nation with their guns and ammunition').
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The building itself was quite impressive, a spacious but run down Georgian mansion that was most recently the New Lansdowne Club (a working men's social club I believe). The party after the talk didn't really get going while I was there, some interesting chat notwithstanding. But I did get to hear this great reggae track:
I'd like to dedicate this to the memory of Romano Alquati, who died last month at the age of 75. Despite very little of his work being translated into English (as far I can find), Alquatti was very influential, through his involvement in Italy with Quaderni Rossi (Red Notebooks) and Classe Operaia (Working Class), in formulating notions of workers autonomy, class composition and workers inquiry which were central to the development of Operaismo, a Marxist current stressing self-organisation and working class power as a motor of social development.
Monday, May 24, 2010
The novel is set in an alternative then-present; Reagan is US president but life is the worst aspects of that time intensified. In scenes in New York and Paris (among other places), we are shown a world of despair, addiction, disgust and violence. It is a dystopia without redemption -the interpersonal relations between characters are marked by abuse, rape and loathing. The best that its main protagonist Abhor (half woman/half robot) can achieve by the end is this realization: 'I didn't as yet know what I wanted. I now fully knew what I didn't want and what and whom I hated. That was something'.
Class war is taken for granted - at one point she describes the use of sonic weapons to kill the poor:
'In the white noise the cops arrived so that they could kill everybody. Round revolving cars emitted sonar waves. Certain sonar vibrations blinded those not in cars; other levels numbing effectively chopped off limbs; other levels caused blood to spurt out of the mouths nostrils and eyes. The buildings were pink... The cops' faces, as they killed off the poor people, as they were supposed to, were masks of human beings. And the faces of the politicians are death'.
The promises of liberty and democracy are mocked:
'New York City, my home, Liberty... Liberty, shit. The liberty to starve. The liberty to speak words to which no one listens. The liberty to get diseases no doctor treats or can cure. The liberty to live in conditions cockroaches wouldn't touch except to die in'.
'These days the principal economic flow of power takes place through black-market armament and drug exchange. The trading arena, the market, is my blood. My body is open to all people: this is democratic capitalism'.
Still, it is a class war without hopeful outcome - in Paris the impoverished and oppressed Algerians stage a successful revolution, but nothing much changes, the cops still think they rule the streets.
At one point Acker seems to describe her method - an attempt to move beyond the language cut ups that she employed in her earlier work to a strategy of transgression:'That part of our being (mentality, feeling, physicality) which is free of all control let's call our 'unconscious' Since it's free of control, it's our only defence against institutionalized meaning, institutionalized language, control, fixation, judgement, prison.
Ten years ago it seemed possible to destroy language through language: to destroy language which normalizes and controls by cutting that language. Nonsense would attack the empire-making (empirical) empire of language, the prisons of meaning. But this nonsense, since it depended on sense, simply pointed back to the normalizing institutions.
What is the language of the 'unconscious'? (If this ideal unconscious or freedom doesn't exist: pretend it does, use fiction, for the sake of survival, all of our survival.) Its primary language must be taboo, all that is forbidden. Thus, an attack on the institutions of prison via language would demand the use of a language or languages which aren't acceptable, which are forbidden. Language, on one level, constitutes a set of codes and social and historical agreements. Nonsense doesn't per se break down the codes; speaking precisely that which the codes forbid breaks the codes'.
Twenty years after this, transgression as radical strategy seems equally exhausted. Yesterday's taboos are all over the internet and the TV. Still there's no doubt that Kathy Acker's premature death in 1997 silenced a powerful and radical voice.
Friday, May 21, 2010
Club wise it was probably best known for Club Dog, which brought the free festival/squatter spirit indoors from the mid-1980s and became one of the first places where that scene, with its psychedelic and world music vibe, began to cross over with the emerging rave scene. In 1996 the pub briefly became the Powerhaus, part of the Mean Fiddler group, and then closed down.
My main memories of the place are of a club called The Far Side, which I went to a few times in 1994/5. It was one of those places where DJs and sound systems from the squat/free party scene played, like the Liberator DJs . I've just scanned in a couple of spacey flyers which give a feel for it -'Get over to the Far Side - revel without a pause - spinning trippy trancey techno, delightfully deep house and pleasurable progressive for your entertainment'. The flyer for September 1994 (below) also has the topical Fight the Criminal Justice Bill slogan at the bottom.
September 1994 flyer
Frankly my memories of all the places I went to at that time tend to blur a little, but I do recall some great music and searching for a bagel round Finsbury Park before getting the first train back to Brixton the next morning.
January 1995 flyer
See also London RIP (picture of Robey today from Ewan-M at Flickr)
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
According to San Francisco Indymedia, on Saturday May 8th 2010, 'many LGBTQ folks held a picket and protest in San Francisco's Union Square, and the lobby of the Grand Hyatt, to show solidarity for the hotel workers who have been forced to work without a contract since August 2009. The protest, which featured music and dancing, also is calling for a boycott of the hotels that have failed to give their workers equal opportunity... San Francisco's annual Gay pride is approaching and many queers stay in hotels when they visit, so the local GLBTQ community is asking them to join the boycott, so workers can be treated fairly and equally in San Francisco. There are also a few GLBTQ folks who work for those hotels or corporations. So if, or when you come to San Francisco don't want to get caught in a bad hotel. The protest was sponsored and held by' "One Struggle One Fight" and SF Pride at Work/HAVOQ'.
Monday, May 17, 2010
'Just a quick note as someone who danced in the 1950s off and on the Aldermaston Marches - I'd like to defend the dancing against some of the derogatory descriptions by the likes of George Melly, who even in much later life would not tolerate dancers from distracting audiences while he was performing.
'Skip-jiving' (sometimes abbreviated to 'trad') during the second phase of the music was in fact quite skilled and far from clumsy. At the culmination of the 1961 Aldermaston March for example there was a massive trad band ball at the Lyceum Ballroom which is the first time I saw a dance floor pulse in time with the music. The collective feet all hitting it at the same time, and with the special force of skip jive that consisted of a steady skip step, resulted in the necessary stomp effect. I'd never seen a floor move up and down a good two inches before. It was funny seeing the regular teds standing on the sidelines utterly amazed at this variety of unkempt enthusiasts pounding away so enthusiastically.
The 'out of time' jibe comes in my opinion from musicians who have difficulty in keeping a steady rhythm given their natural tendency to speed up, particular on the British scene where they seldom attached much importance to a reliable rhythm section. Thus while it was true at that Lyceum gig that the tempo's of the dancers and the musicians began to separate - depending on which band was playing, the fault in my opinion largely lay with the bands. Having had much more experience of this kind of thing in later life, and the ability to make comparisons with dancers and the musicians from Harlem's former Savoy Ballroom, it seems safe to suggest that a mass of dancers who are able to fall collectively into one rhythmic groove keep excellent time. Bands have to be attuned to respect this, and back then of course few of us had a clue about what we were really doing. The Lyceum was, and is, a very stable building, but in other locations the kinetic energy generated in this way physically collapsed ballrooms resulting in considerable death and injury tolls. No danger of that these days, everyone seems to be out of time with each other!
It seems to me that there is a parallel between what happened in this period with what happened with dance music in the early 1990s. Namely that one fraction embraced 'cool', 'sophistication' and 'intelligence' and looked down on the 'ravers' - but who had the best parties?
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The public prosecutor, Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi, said moral security police received a tip-off that a group of people were secretly selling tickets to a live music performance. "Police entered the venue where this illegal concert was being held ... 80 boys and girls in inappropriate outfits and under abnormal conditions were arrested," he told the Iranian Students' News Agency.
He said their cases were sent to a Tehran court where the youths were charged with taking part in "lustful pleasure-seeking" activities. Alcohol had been seized, he said. Under Iran's Islamic law unrelated men and women are banned from touching or dancing with members of the opposite sex. Alcohol and narcotics are illegal in Iran.
(Source: Reuters/Guardian, 7 May 2010)
Suntanned women to be arrested under Islamic dress code (Telegraph, 27 April 2010)
Brig Hossien Sajedinia, Tehran's police chief, said a national crackdown on opposition sympathisers would be extended to women who have been deemed to be violating the spirit of Islamic laws. He said: "The public expects us to act firmly and swiftly if we see any social misbehaviour by women, and men, who defy our Islamic values. In some areas of north Tehran we can see many suntanned women and young girls who look like walking mannequins. We are not going to tolerate this situation and will first warn those found in this manner and then arrest and imprison them."
...The announcement came shortly after Ayatollah Kazim Sadighi, a leading cleric, warned that women who dressed immodestly disturbed young men and the consequent agitation caused earthquakes.
There's some info about Iranian hip hop here. Check out Dasta Bala by Deev - don't have a full tranlsation but apparently 'The song was focused at pointing out the tyranny of the Iranian government and asking people to raise their fists in protest'. Some good photos of Iranian musicians here.
Friday, May 14, 2010
There is an interesting discussion of the changing forms of café society in London and Paris from the 18th to the 19th century:
‘Cafés on the European continent owe their origins to the English coffeehouse of the early eighteenth century. Some coffeehouses began as mere appendages to coaching stations, others as self-contained enterprises. The insurance company Lloyd’s of London began as a coffee house, and its rules marked the sociability of most other urban places; the price of a mug of coffee earned a person the right to speak to anyone in the Lloyd’s room. More than sheer chattiness prompted strangers to talk to one another in the coffeehouse. Talk was the most important means of gaining information about conditions on the road, in the city, or about business. Though differences in social rank were evident in how people looked and in their diction, the need to talk freely dictated that people not notice, so long as they were drinking together...
The French café of the Ancien Regime took its name from and operated much like the English coffeehouse, strangers freely arguing, gossiping, and informing one another. In these years before the Revolution, political groups often arose from these café encounters. At first many different groups met in the same café, as in the original Café Procope on the Left Bank; by the outbreak of the Revolution , contending political groups in Paris each had their own place. During and after the Revolution the greatest concentration of cafés was in the Palais Royal'.
Sennett argues that the wide boulevards of Paris, as designed by Haussman, encouraged cafés to sprawl into the streets, with café owners beginning to put tables outside. Two main centres of café life developed, ‘one clustered around the Opera, where the Grand Café, the Café de la Paix and the Café Anglais were to be found, the other in the Latin Quarter, whose most famous cafes were the Voltaire, the Soleil d’Or, and Francois Premier’. He suggests that outside tables fundamentally changed the atmosphere of cafés:
‘These outside tables deprived political groups of their cover; the tables served customers watching the passing scene, rather than conspiring with one another... At an outdoor table in the big café one was expected to remain seated in one place; those who wanted to hop from scene to scene stood at the bar....the denizens of the café sat silently watching the crowd go by – they sat as individuals, each lost in his or her own thoughts'.
The working class was discouraged from these boulevard cafés by the cost and atmosphere, preferring the cafés intimes of the sidestreets. The café as haven of subversive sociability was gradually undermined:
'The exterior crowd composing itself into a spectacle no longer carried the menace of a revolutionary mob... in 1808 , police spies looking for dangerous political elements in Paris spent a great deal of time infiltrating cafés; in 1891, the police disbanded the bureau dedicated to the cafe surveillance. A public realm filled with moving and spectating individuals – in Paris as much as in London - no longer represented a political domain’.
Interesting, but not sure the reality fits quite so neatly into this narrative. After all cafés remained hotbeds of radicalism in Paris for much of the 20th century - see for instance the history of surrealists, existentialists and situationists.
Monday, May 10, 2010
As Lena Horne herself recalled in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples magazine The Crisis in 1983: 'My grandmother, an early pioneer of the NAACP, taught me never to forget. The seeds of a continuing passion for black freedom and liberation were sown in those earliest childhood years when my grandmother, Cora Calhoun, took me to NAACP meetings'. Paul Robeson and WEB Du Bois were family friends.
She also recalled: 'As I travelled as a singer throughout a segregated America, countless racist acts were redressed by local chapters of the NAACP'. In the 1940s at an Army base in Arkansas, she objected to black GIs having to sit behind white Italian POWs: 'I left the hall, found the black GI who was my driver and asked him to take me to the local NAACP. The NAACP in the local town turned out to be Daisy Bates, heroine of Little Rock'.
In 1946, she became a sponsor of the Los Angeles chapter of the Civil Rights Congress (as as was Frank Sinatra). She played benefits for various left wing causes, and was active in supporting Ben Davis, the black Communist elected to the city council of New York City, representing Harlem, in 1943 ( he was later jailed under the notorious Smith Act). For these activities she was blacklisted as a communist sympathiser to the detriment of her career.
She was, for instance, denounced in Red Channels a 1950 'report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television' published by Counterattack, set up by ex-FBI agents. Lena Horne was in good company in this report, along with the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker and Pete Seeger.
She was in the front ranks of the 1963 March onWashington for Jobs and Freedom and spoke alongside Medgar Evers shortly before he was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in the same year.
Here she is singing Stormy Weather from the 1943 film of the same name:
ⓒ Chris Steele-PerkinsChris has previously published a collection on Teds and was present at the Lewisham 1977 anti-National Front protests.
Meanwhile Georgina Cook is continuing to do what she does best, documenting club scenes and other things she comes across in her wanderings from Croydon to Paris. I particularly like this one, taken at the Londinium warehouse rave on May Day at the Ewer Street car park on Great Suffolk Street, London SE1. It gives a real sense of that feeling of wandering through railway arches at a club. Lots more of her stuff at her Drumz of the South blog and flickr
Friday, May 07, 2010
'Twas then the tomtom rolled from village unto village,
And told the people that another foreign slave ship
Had put off on its way to far-off shores
Where God is cotton, where the dollar reigns as King.
There, sentenced to unending, wracking labour,
Toiling from dawn to dusk in the relentless sun,
They taught you in your psalms to glorify
Their Lord, while you yourself were crucified to hymns
That promised bliss in the world of Hereafter,
While you—you begged of them a single boon:
That they should let you live—to live, aye—simplylive.
And by a fire your dim, fantastic dreams
Poured out aloud in melancholy strains,
As elemental and as wordless as your anguish.
It happened you would even play, be merry
And dance, in sheer exuberance of spirit:
And then would all the splendour of your manhood,
The sweet desires of youth sound, wild with power,
On strings of brass, in burning tambourines.
And from that mighty music the beginning
Of jazz arose, tempestuous, capricious,
Declaring to the whites in accents loud
That not entirely was the planet theirs.
O Music, it was you permitted us
To lift our face and peer into the eyes
Of future liberty, that would one day be ours.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
... or even vote for Gloria Estefan? And why are some anarchists and socialists cheering for border controls?
And that is good enough reason to feature Dr Beat, that great 1980s dance track by Miami Sound Machine (feat. Gloria):
There's lots of reports and photos of the Los Angeles demonstration at LA Indymedia. I've selected these two, taken by Robert Stuart Lowden, as they illustrate what is lacking not only from mainstream British political discussion about migration but from the arguments of those socialists and anarchists who now seek to justify immigration controls on some spurious 'working class' grounds that immigration undercuts wages - see for instance Paul Stott and the Independent Working Class Association. Namely the human cost of immigration controls.
Immigration controls are not a matter of turning on and off a tap, capping numbers in some cosy neutral way - 'sorry old chap, we're full today'. They are ultimately a policing function: workers dragged out of their workplaces, locked up and put on to planes, their children likewise dragged out of school. Families separated by force. Children locked up in prison. Deaths as people take risks to get round these controls - at least 87 on the US/Mexico border in the last 6 months; almost 4000 amongst people trying to enter Europe since 2002.
It may be true that in some sectors having a larger pool of labour is allowing employers to reduce wages, but the answer to that is workers solidarity not vicious border controls (what other kind are there). It is also true that many of these workers have struggled to get here at great risk, hardly flown in by capitalists. While the wages of some workers may on occasions have been undermined, other workers are earning much more here than they were at home and are also supporting families in their home countries. Also migration controls in Europe and in the US can depress wages elsewhere - since employers know it is difficult for workers to leave and therefore don't have to pay higher wages to keep workers in their jobs.
In any event it is precisely these immigration controls now seemingly supported by some former anti-fascist militants in the UK - the IWCA is the remains of Red Action - that place migrant labour in a precarious position and undermine wages (e.g. the fight by cleaners for better wages is being undermined by companies having the power to turn over strikers to the Borders Agency). The way to stop this is to fight for migrant workers to have the same rights and conditions as everybody else - this would benefit non-migrant workers too as employers wouldn't be able to play one off against the other.
Monday, May 03, 2010
And here she is dancing in the 1975 film The Happy Hooker. The song is One to One by Angela Clemmons.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
In 1912, I was in Lawrence and Lowell, Mass. on May Day. Textile workers, twenty-five different nationalities speaking forty-five different dialects, celebrated their victories after the fierce strikes of the preceding winter. Banners demanded the freedom of the imprisoned leaders, Ettor and Giovannitti. After the parades came the dancing, the different sorts of music – yellow-haired Northern girls dancing in raven-haired Italians – the laughter and gayety of one race trying to learn the songs, the dances of another. I can see Big Bill Haywood in the Syrian Hall in Lawrence surrounded by workers. Smoking their strange pipe, which stood on the floor, the smoke cooled through a fancy water bowl, decorated in spring flowers in honor of Bill.
... After that a long period of illness, when I read longingly of May Day parades and heard in memory the songs, the cheers, the music of bands and marching feet. I thought I had seen May Days, but nothing excelled in fact or memory the May Day of 1937, when I returned to New York City. Now we marched on the West Side; and the Irish bagpipes joined the music makers. Now the James Connolly Club and the unions of Irish workers paraded. I waited long to see the happy day the Irish were not all in the ranks of the police, Irish on the marching side, shamrocks, harps, Irish songs, Kevin Barry, Soldiers of Erin – Jim Connolly, I wish you were alive to see that grand sight!
Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was the model for the Rebel Girl, celebrated in the song by Joe Hill