Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Cars: Adorno, Numan, Kundera

'Technology is making gestures precise and brutal, and with them men. It expels from movements all hesitation, deliberation, civility. It subjects them to the implacable, as it were ahistorical demands of objects. Thus the ability is lost, for example, to close a door quietly and discreetly, yet firmly. Those of cars and refrigerators have to be slammed, others have the tendency to snap shut by themselves, imposing on those entering the bad manners of not looking behind them. The new human type cannot be properly understood without awareness of what he is continuously exposed to from the world of things about him, even in his most secret innervations... which driver is not tempted, merely by the power of his engine, to wipe out the vermin of the street, pedestrians, children and cyclists? The movements machines demand of their users already have the violent, hard-hitting, unresting jerkiness of Fascist maltreatment' (Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: reflections on a damaged life, 1951).

Here in my car 
I feel safest of all 
I can lock all my doors 
It's the only way to live In cars
Here in my car 
I can only receive 
I can listen to you 
It keeps me stable for days 
In cars 
(Gary Numan, Cars, 1979) 

 'I was in my car and a couple of men in a van swerved round me, pulled up in front, got out and were clearly going to give me a bit of a hammering, trying to get me out, kicking the car and screaming and shouting. I was pretty scared, locked all my doors and ended up driving on to the pavement 'cos I couldn't go anywhere, people obviously leaping out of the way because I was in a bit of a panic. Cars is just a about feeling safe in amongst people in a car, cos no one can get to you in your own little bubble' (Gary Numan, quoted in BBC documentary Synth Britannia (2009). The narrator described the song as 'part eulogy to JG Ballard and part tesimtony to living in 70 s London'). 

 'The cars that fill the streets have narrowed the pavements, which are crowded with pedestrians. If they want to look at each other, they see cars in the background, if they want to look at the building across the street they see cars in the foreground; there isn't a single angle of view from which cars will not be visible, from the back, in front, on both sides. Their omnipresent noise corrodes every moment of contemplation like acid. Cars have made the former beauty of cities invisible' 
(Milan Kundera, Immortality, 1991)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Torture without Trace: Tibetan singer jailed

Tibetan singer Tashi Dhondup is reportedly serving 15 months hard labour after being arrested by the Chinese authorities for his 'subversive' songs. According to Free Tibet: 'The 30-year-old had been hiding in Xining, Qinghai province, after the authorities had banned his music. Tashi Dhondup had also been arrested in 2008 after the release of his previous CD, and was released in February 2009.... The 30-year-old was reportedly arrested at gunpoint by four police officers in a restaurant in Xining as his wife held onto a police officer's leg in an attempt to prevent the arrest. Like many Tibetans in detention, there are fears for his welfare. Tashi Dhondup was born into a nomadic family in Sarlang, a town in Yungan county, Malho prefecture in Qinghai province. He had also been detained between September 2008, accused of releasing songs containing 'counter-revolutionary content'. His song 'The Year of 1959' was singled out as an example of this. He was beaten by police over a seven day period'.

Here's his track Torture without Trace:

"Torture Without Trace" by Tashi Dhondup from HPeaks on Vimeo.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Dancing Questionnaire 21: John Eden

Happy summer solstice, June 21st and here's the 21st completed Dancing Questionnaire from John Eden of Uncarved, Woofah and many other adventures.

1. Can you remember your first experience of dancing?

I can't really, unless you count doing the hokey cokey at parties or 'music and movement' at school as a child. I have rubbish co-ordination, so never had much confidence for physical things like football or dancing.

We did have some school discos when I was about 10, but I seem to remember running about with mates rather than dancing. It was a nerd's life from then until my mid teens.

I found it a lot easier to hang out at parties talking bollocks in the kitchen or arguing over whose tape got played on the stereo (which I think is how many people ended up being DJs 'in the olden days' - a love of music and a fear of making an arse of yourself dancing).

I eventually overcame most of my reservations about getting on down with a combination of teenage drinking and going to places where nobody seemed to mind if you were gyrating like a short-circuiting C3PO. I'm never going to win any medals for my dance skills, but it's been an incredibly important part of my life.

2. What's the most interesting/significant thing that has happened to you while out dancing?

Er, I dunno. None of the significant things in my life have happened whilst I've been dancing. This is probably because I try to get completely lost in it all and remove myself from the outside world.

I guess I'm often 'working through' stuff in the back of my head without realising it, and then having a chuckle at myself for being so serious and then realising that whatever it was just didn't matter all that much anyway. I'm also a fan of those little conspiratorial smiles with complete strangers.

More concretely, the plan to do the fanzine which became WOOFAH hatched out of several nights on the Plastic People dancefloor at the sadly missed BASH - an incredible reggae/grime/dubstep night run by Kevin Martin (The Bug) and Loefah (DMZ).

On a less positive note, someone was once sick into the hood of my hooded top whilst I was dancing, which seemed quite significant at the time.

Oh and the first Gulf War broke out while I was dancing to Psychic TV at the Zap Club in Brighton, which killed the mood somewhat.

3. You. Dancing. The best of times

Reclaiming the Streets on the Westway [film below from 1996 - one of my favourite days too, Neil]. Fatboy Slim playing all night in the small room at The End. Watching the sun come out from behind the clouds at the Big Chill. Any of The Bug's sets at BASH.

There's a lot I can't remember, the hundreds of amazing nights out with friends that are little chapters in the larger story of a social relationship... it's never just about the dancing, it's the mad conversations, getting ready, random things happening on the way home, the whole night.

4. You. Dancing. The worst of times...

I got really drunk at drum 'n' bass night PM Scientists (Farringdon, circa 1997) and fell over the MC whilst he was in full flow. That didn't go down very well.

Seeing bouncers pound some poor guy's head against a wall in Cyprus. Moody junglists telling people off for dancing 'in my space'. Euro-crusties killing the vibe with a two hour acid techno set in someone's kitchen.

Homophobic MCs on my favourite soundsystem (which to be fair to them they sorted out sharpish),

Casualties. Realising that, tonight John, YOU are the casualty.

I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to every single person whose feet I have trodden on, or whose drink I have spilled in the course of my adventures over the years.

5. Can you give a quick tour of the different dancing scenes/times/places you've frequented?

Mid 80s - Flailing around ripped to the gills on cider at various punky gigs.

1988 - first acid house moment, first time in a nightclub.

Late 80s/early 90s - lots of gigs/clubs by aciiiieeeed converts like Psychic TV, the Shamen, Megadog, the odd squat party here and there. Oh and The Torture Garden fetish nights, which were a bit of an eye-opener. Also some goth/indie nights (I blame my housemates). This covers the first few years of me moving to London so I was going out a lot.

Mid 90s - the Tribal Gathering festivals. A brief flirtation with the early stages of Goa trance with Return to the Source at the Brixton Fridge. Then drum 'n' bass, plus things like Dead by Dawn at the 121 Centre.

Late 90s: falling headlong into Big Beat and an increasingly all-consuming obsession with all things dub, culminating in some truly inspirational moments under the influence of soundsystems like Jah Shaka, Iration Steppas, Abashanti and Jah Tubbys.

Early to mid 2000s: I went to a few nights organised by folk on the UK-Dance.org discussion list. Since then the only game in town has been BASH, really. I've occasionally enjoyed grime/dubstep nights like Dirty Canvas, FWD and the squatted 'House Party' events. For a while my main source of dancing was at kids' discos... cha cha slide..
Late 2000s: A few years ago I got tired of regularly being the oldest bloke in the room at dubstep/grime nights. Since then I've gravitated more towards smaller reggae/rocksteady/ska clubs like Tighten Up and Musical Fever . These attract an impressively diverse age range and are always great - everyone is serious about the music, but generally not at the expense of having a good time.

6. When and where did you last dance?

I had a drunken stagger recently at a mate's birthday party in Camden (this mate, in fact). Jah Shaka at the Dome in Tufnell Park was the last time I had a proper session. That was back in May and did me a power of good.

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

I would probably attempt to nod my head to Hopeton Lewis' 'Take It Easy', but throwing off the respirator and waving my zimmer frame in the air like I just don't care is probably reserved for 'Drop Top Caddy' by Aphrodite and Mickey Finn.

All questionnaires welcome, just answer the same questions - or even make up a few of your own - and send to transpontine@btinternet.com (see previous questionnaires).

Sunday, June 20, 2010

BP: your party's over

Is there a more obscene media spectacle at the moment than British newspapers like the Daily Express whipping up people to rally round BP (see for instance this front cover from June 11th)?. On the one hand, Obama is criticised for calling them British Petroleum when they have rebranded themselves as plain old multinational BP (British Polluters?); on the other we are told that the British Government should do more to defend them because of their importance to the British economy. It may be true that a collapse in BP's share price will hit pension funds, but that just highlights the absurdity of older people's incomes being at the mercy of the market lottery. Of course other oil companies are just as bad, and indeed governments all over the world, including Obama's, are deeply involved in their activities.

But what about BP? Never mind the unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, 11 workers died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20th - something that every report on this should be mentioning, but which seems to frequently be 'forgotten'. Likewise 16 workers died in April 2009 when the helicopter carrying them from BP's Miller field crashed into the North Sea. And 15 people died in the infamous March 2005 BP Texas City refinery catastrophe.

Shortly before the Gulf of Mexico explosion, there was a protest against another BP operation - the strip mining of a huge area of the Candadian wilderness in Alberta to extract oil. The International Day of Action on the Canadian Tar Sands on 10th April was marked in London with a 'Party at the Pumps' at Shepherds Bush Green BP Petrol Station. Using a tactic developed in the 1990s Reclaim the Streets parties to outwit the police, people gathered at Oxford Circus tube station, most of them unaware of the location of the protest. They followed a few people with flags on to a train, who signalled with a whistle blast at Shepherds Bush station that it was time to get off. Meanwhile an advance party had occupied the petrol station forecourt.

More than a hundred of people took part in the four hour long 'Party at the Pumps', dancing to live music from the Rhythms of Resistance samba band, the Green Kite Midnight ceilidh band and the Bicycology sound system

photos © Peter Marshall 2010; loads more at his My London Diary site

Meanwhile, in Casanare, Colombia, workers have been occupying a BP plant in a wages dispute. According to the Colombia Solidarity Campaign (6 June 2010):

'There has been an upsurge in workers and community protests against BP in Casanare since the beginning of 2010. Workers at the Tauramena Central Processing Facility (CPF) starting 22 January went in strike supported by USO, the National Oil Workers Union of Colombia. On 15 February riot police brutally attacked the picket line, sending three workers to hospital. Demonstrations and popular assemblies in support of the stoppage took place in Tauramena and surrounding villages from February onwards. The USO union and many different community sectors came together to form the Movement for the Dignity of Casanare. The strike ended after 30 days when BP promised talks...

On 21 May workers involved in construction operations in the Tauramena installation entered into occupation demanding: a wage increase; the establishment a wage scale; due process in disciplinary decisions; and labour guarantees for the workers. On 2 June army forces entered the plant and at time of writing are harassing the workers, who stay overnight chaining themselves to plant equipment so that they cannot be dislodged'.

In the past activists opposing BP in Colombia, whether on environmental or workplace issues, have been killed by right wing death squads.

BP started out as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) in 1909, after oil was discovered in Iran. It was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) in 1935 with the British Government taking a controlling interest, and the British Petroleum Company in 1954. It notoriously played a role in the 1953 military coup which overthrew the Mohammed Mossadegh as Prime Minister after his government voted to nationalise AIOC. As Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, summarised in a recent interview : 'the oil that fueled England all during the 1920s and '30s and ’40s all came from Iran.... Every factory in England, every car, every truck, every taxi was running on oil from Iran. The Royal Navy, which was projecting British power all over the world, was fueled a hundred percent by oil from Iran'.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Loughinisland 1994

All over the world, pubs and bars are full of people watching the World Cup, drinking, singing, celebrating, commiserating. On this particular day I would like to remember some people who went out to do the same during a previous competition and never came home. 

On 18 June 1994, people were watching Ireland play Italy in the Heights bar/O'Toole's, Loughinisland, a small village in County Down in the North of Ireland. Two masked gunmen from the loyalist Ulster Volunteer Force burst in and opened fire, killing six men: Eamon Byrne (aged 39), Barney Green (87), Malcolm Jenkinson (53), Daniel McCreanor (59), Patrick O Hare (35) and Adrian Rogan (34). Five others were injured: "It was in the second half of the match about 10.20 pm and Ireland were leading 1-0 when the two UVF assassins entered the small bar. There was one available entrance and exit and having effectively trapped their victims inside, two members of the death squad started to fire their automatic weapons. Survivors recounted how the masked UVF men moved from one person to another shooting each between two and five times before running out of ammunition. More than 30 shots were fired from the two assault rifles with almost every bullet striking someone at point blank range... On leaving the bar, one of the UVF death squad was heard by one of he survivors shouting 'Well done boys, good job'" (An Phoblact/Republican News, 23 June 1994). 

 Nobody was ever convicted, and relatives of the victims have campaigned up to the present to find out the truth, with consistent allegations of the involvement of British security force agents in the attack. At the very least, it seems that some police agents knew that the attack was planned, and it also appears that the police destroyed evidence, in particular the getaway car.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Unfaltering commerce with the stars

I am still digesting the rich fare served up by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Fred Moten at last week's Black Skin, White Marx? event at Goldsmiths in New Cross, with ingredients including Gramsci, Adorno, Kant, Marx, CLR James, Huey Newton, Orlando Patterson and Frank B. Wilderson. One thing that stuck in my mind was a quote from Du Bois which Spivak mentioned, and which I have subsequently tracked down in full:

'the immediate problem of the Negro was the question of securing existence, of labor and income, of food and home, of spiritual independence and democratic control of the industrial process. It would not do to concenter all effort on economic well-being and forget freedom and manhood and equality. Rather Negroes must live and eat and strive, and still hold unfaltering commerce with the stars' (Dusk of dawn: an essay toward an autobiography of a race concept by William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, 1940).

I have no reason to think that Du Bois was really thinking about space travel here, but the linking of a project of emancipation to a sense of the cosmic prefigures the Afro-futurist myths of Sun Ra and George Clinton that I have discussed here previously in the context of the Disconaut Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

A contemporary example of this is the work of Flying Lotus, bringing a post-hip hop sensibility to the cosmology elaborated by his aunt Alice Coltrane among others. From his latest album Cosmogramma, here's Galaxy In Janaki:

The title clearly references Alice Coltrane's track Galaxy in Turiya, from the 1973 album Reflections on Creation and Space (Turiya is a Hindu term for the experience of pure consciousness; Janaki is a name for the Hindu Goddess Sita).

Of the latter's work Kodwo Eshun wrote: 'Jazz becomes an amplified zodiac, an energy generator that lines you up in a stellar trichotomy of human, sound and starsign. Alice Coltrane and [Pharoah] Sanders are playing in the rhythm of the universe according to star constellations transposed into rhythms and intervals... Astro jazz becomes a sunship upon which the composer-starsailor travels' (More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, 1998) .

Monday, June 07, 2010

Margins Music Live at Deptford Albany

In the past couple of years there have been several albums aiming in some way to reflect on life in early 21st century London. Think The Bug's London Zoo or Nitin Sawney's London Underground (both 2008) or even, on a more historical tip, Madness's The Liberty of Norton Folgate (2009).

Dusk and Blackdown's Margins Music is very much in that lineage. As Martin Clark/Blackdown told Woofah magazine: 'We pretty much noticed that all the music we liked from the city, from UK garage to jungle/d&b, to dubstep and grime, came from the rougher edges not the safe centre'. With this in mind, the album explores particular sonic territories associated with specific zones of the capital, from the East/North East London grime heartland to 'Croydon, Streatham, Norwood and Norbury: the places where dubstep was born'. But of course margins refers not just to geographical areas, but to socially marginalized people and spaces, 'strange hidden studios, night buses, deserted overland stations, squat parties, council estates, Iranian corner shops, Bollywood tape shops' (Woofah #3, 2008).

Although the album was released in 2008, it feels like a project in progress. Starting out with a series of 12" single releases in the second half of the noughties, followed by the album, then a remix album by Grievous Angel, they are now taking it several steps further with live performance.

I went along to their first night last Saturday at the Albany in Deptford. Must admit I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I tend to be sceptical of attempts to render electronic music as live performance - sometimes just a guy standing on a stage behind a laptop in which case you think 'why bother?', sometimes a horrendous jazzification whereby perfectly good samples are reproduced by live musicians suggesting a crisis of confidence, as if 'authenticity' requires 'real musicians' noodling away.

But for this show, Dusk and Blackdown got the balance just right. Not cluttering the stage with lots of musos, but foregrounding the live elements that really added something, in this case the voices of Farrah and Japjit, and live percussion from Renu (plus Dusk and Blackdown themeselves and keyboard player Bobbie). Another key ingredient was the visuals masterminded by Jonathan Howells - a mix of old London newsreel (some great shots of women dancing), Bollywood and contemporary urban shots of lots of the capital's postcodes.

What makes Margins Music particularly ambitious is its recognition of the South Asian musical influence in the great London soundclash. With everything else that is in Dust and Blackdown's mix, this could easily result in a kind of tepid fusionism. But they are sufficiently grounded in London bass and beats (DJing on Rinse FM etc.) to be able to bring in these desi flavours without creating a bland mish mash.

To create a sonic space in a studio in which disparate social, musical and cultural elements are brought into play is one thing. To create a physical space in which people with different backgrounds and experiences come together in a single continuous performance is much harder. Margins Music Live managed to pull this off, with the South Asian themed opening shifting into Trim's grime verbal gymnastics towards the end.

It was a respectable crowd for a first live performance, but a bigger audience and the increased confidence of having a glitch free debut behind them could lift Margins Music Live from really good to another level. So if you get the chance, check this out with gigs this week in Brighton and Manchester and follow ups in Reading and Kendal. Details here.

I went along with John Eden, who beat me to getting his review up.

More photos at Blackdown's blog

General Ludd vs. John Henry

A while ago I went to a talk by the great radical historian Peter Linebaugh on 'The Invisibility of the Commons' . In the course of it he compared the two 19th century songs, John Henry and General Ludd's Triumph, as reflecting two approaches to work - suggesting that maybe one had historically been more typical of the US working class and the other of the working class in England.

In the former American song, the railway bosses' introduction of a steam-powered hammer to replace human labour is viewed as a challenge by Henry the 'steel drivin' man', who works hard to demonstrate his superior power even at the cost of his own life - he beats the hammer only to die as a result. An assertion of the dignity of labour at one level, but also a willingness to compete with mechanisation by voluntarily intensifying work:

John Henry told his captain
Lord a man ain't nothing but a man
But before I'd let your steam drill beat me down
I'd die with a hammer in my hand

Here's Mississippi Fred McDowell's version:

In the latter English song about the Luddite movement, the introduction of machinery in the cotton industry is responded to not by workers working themselves to death, but by them sentencing the machines to death through sabotage:

Those engines of mischief were sentenced to die
By unanimous vote of the trade,
And Ludd who can all opposition defy
Was the grand executioner made.

And when in the work he destruction employs,
Himself to no method confines;
By fire and by water he gets them destroyed,
For the elements aid his designs.

Here's a version by The Fucking Buckaroos (personally I prefer the version by Chumbawamba, but it's not on youtube):

Admittedly, on the basis of these versions, John Henry is a better song, even if it's not a better strategy...

Friday, June 04, 2010

Dancing Madness

'Dancing, when poor human Nature lets itself loose from bondage and
circumstances of anxious selfish care: it is Madness'

Image: Untitled (Dancing Madness) painted in the 1970s by the Egyptian artist Hamed Nada (1924-1990); quote from Samuel Taylor Coleridge - he wrote these words in his notebook in 1804 during a trip to Sicily, where he had been watching (and possibly dancing with) the young opera singer Anna-Cecilia Bertozzi at public balls - they may have had an affair (source: Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections, 1998)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Datacide Roman Holiday - Electrode09

Looking through some pictures I realized that I never got round to posting on my trip to Rome last year to take part in Electrode09 - Independent Electronic Music Festival. As it was one of the highlights for me of the last year, I do want to document it. So hot off the press and nearly a year late (it took place on 12-13 June 2009) here's my report.

(flyer - click to enlarge).

The venue was the very impressive Forte Prenestino Occupied Social Centre, a former military base left abandoned until it was squatted in 1986 (bit of history here). It's a huge site, with two big outdoor arenas, and lots of rooms coming off various tunnels seemingly built into a hillside. The food and drink were excellent - unlike in any squat I have been to in in the UK, there was a selection of very nice wine! (in fact the venue has hosted whole Critical Wine events).

The scene before the party started:

My contribution was to take part in a panel of Datacide magazine contributors talking on aspects of 'Cultura Elettronica e Controcultura', based on the similar event held in Berlin in Autumn 2008. As usual at these kinds of events, most people don't turn up until late for the music so it was a more select audience for the talks, but still worth doing. Christoph Fringeli talked on Hedonism and Revolution, Hans Christian Psaar on Kindertotenlieder for rave culture, and Alexis Wolton on Tortuga towerblocks: pirate signals in the 90s (yes, the Nightingale Estate in Hackney was mentioned in the city of the Tiber). My talk developed ideas from my article on dance music history I wrote for Datacide, but looking more specifically at the Hardcore Continuum debate and some its deeper historical roots (will post the talk sometime).

The music was mainly on a techno/minimal tip, it was OK but for my taste there were too many live sets consisting of a bloke fiddling around with a lap top and twiddling nobs, though Antipop Consortium at least had some presence. Personally unless there's something to see or the music's really good, I would generally rather have a no nonsense DJ set.

We were reliably informed by our London in exile translator that there was another squat where happy hardcore was to be had, and she was about to promote Rome's first UK Funky night. As it was, the only bit of that which got aired over the weekend was when I played a bit of Perempay with Maxwell D from the stage, in order to illustrate the convergence of reggae MC, soca and disco/house strands with their respective social histories of carnival and contestation. Or something.
Anyway I had a dance obviously, seem to remember bouncing up and down to some Thomas Heckmann.
Electrode2010 is taking place soon at the same venue (June 11-12), so if you're in that part of the world you might want to check it out.