Sunday, October 31, 2010

How to be a Disc Jockey (1980)

David See 'was a finalist in the Music Week National DJ '77 Championship' and writer for Disco International. In 1980, Hamlyn (London) published his A4 annual style book, How to be a Disc Jockey.

When I found this book (and I literally found it in the street in New Cross), my first thought was that it would be a barrel of retro laughs. And sure some it it is very of the time -such as the sections on 'To Talk or Not to Talk' and disco cabaret (seemingly some DJs were livening up their act by doing stunts and dressing up).

But some of the advice offered is timeless: 'Discotheques, whether in the club environment or portable, serve one basic purpose and that quite simply is entertainment in a place where girl can meet boy and boy can meet boy, etc. It is a participative environment, where the dancers are as much of the total atmosphere as any other factor, yet they are also the reason why the discotheque is there and why it survives. The public must not be forgotten, and it pays the disc jockey to remember that'.

The author shows off his decks

The book is actually a fairly comprehensive guide to DJing pitched at the mobile operator travelling around with all the kit needed for a party in the back of a Ford Escort Estate. This DJ needed not only to know about cueing and BPM but also have an impressive knowledge of electronics, lighting, copyright law, insurance and much more besides. I'm not sure how many present day DJs would be able to explain Ohm's law in the way Dee does, or even fully understand a diagram like this:

There is some interesting material on DJ politics at the time. In 1974, the South East Discotheque Association was formed 'to promote the profession and art of disc jockeying', while around the same time a short-lived National Association of Disc Jockeys was formed. Then came the launch of the Disc Jockey's Federation (GB) which at the time of publication had 800 members (the author estimates this was ony 1.6% of the total, which would mean there weree 50,000 DJs). But attempts to make the DJF something like a union for DJs were seemingly floundering. The Federation had turned down an offer from the National Association of Theatrical an Kinematographic Employees to absorb it into the union. And there was tension with some of 'Britain's leading funk and soul circuit disc jockeys who not feel that they need an association', a group known as 'the Funk Mafia' inclusing DJ Chris Hill.

Crocs Phoots

The book features some good clubbing photos, all of them, including the cover shot, taken at Crocs Night Club, Rayleigh, Essex. Crocs Glamour Club, as it was also known (later the Pink Toothbrush) was an important Essex venue - and yes at one time it had a crocodile in a tank. In 1980 it hosted a regular 'Futurist night' where Depeche Mode (originally known as Composition of Sound) played their first gigs. It also hosted punk gigs (see Southend Punk Rock History)

The DJ featured on the front of the book is seemingly Crocs DJ Don Lewis. Not sure what kind of music he played, but at the Southend Punk forum somebody says that ' Don Lewis turned me onto reggae in that place'.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Skinheads as Independent Travellers in Space

I went to Cafe Oto in Dalston a couple of weeks ago for a reading by two members of Wu Ming, the Italian writing collective responsible for novels including 54, Q (written under the name Luther Blisset) and the newly-translated Manituana.

At least one of the four Wu Mings was associated for a while with the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1995-2000), the multi-dimensional politico-creative network dedicated to 'independent community-based space travel'. The premise of the AAA was for people to form their own groups (often it must be said, just one or two people) to put their own slant on the mission. Thus my node in the network was Disconaut AAA, dedicated to the use of dance music for space exploration, while electronic/industrial outfit Nocturnal Emissions was associated with AAA Kernow. Messrs Eden and Grievous Angel had their own groups, as did others in France, Italy, Denmark, Holland, New Zealand and elsewhere.

From Bologna, a later Wu-Mingster launched 'Skin Heads as Independent Travellers in Space' (SHITS). This is their launch text, published in 'Moving in Several Directions at Once! The Third Annual Report of the Association of Autonomus Astronauts' (1998). The text celebrates 'proletarian elegance' and looking sharp, a theme that recurs in Wu Ming's novel 54 (discussed here recently).

Only those whose boots stomp the ground will conquer the skies
by Fabrizio P. Belletati

In the name of Luther Blissett “I” announce the foundation of the SHITS (Skin Heads as Independent Travellers in Space).

Proletarians have never benefited by any space exploration programme launched by the great Powers. NASA in particular, that gigantic parasite, dissipated billions of dollars in order to take workers away from their everyday exploitation, inducing them to passively gaze at the deeds of yankee imperialism and the conquest of the “last frontier”. NASA introduced the average chauvinist redneck male as the cultural and aesthetic representative of the whole human species (in the American TV series Northern Exposure. a character named “Maurice Minnefield” effectively parodies pathetic flag-waving ex-astronauts). NASA has always attempted to militarise and commodify outer space (remember the infamous Ronald Reagan’s SDI plan).

The Associations of Autonomous Astronauts fight the present-day state, military and corporate monopoly of space travel, and exhort the oppressed of this world to build their own spaceships and get together into free communities of cosmonauts. The revolutionary proletariat has the power to expose the deceptions of the space travel establishment.

But I think that the AAA project must keep its distance from Hippie/New Age bullshit — we’re talking about class war — neither some kind of utopian-escapist plan (e.g. The Jefferson Starship Blows Against The Empire) nor some Star Trek Kennedyan dream — we’re talking about Jello Biafra’s rant Why I’m Glad That The Shuttle Blew Up.

The subcultural cross-fertilisation which originated the Skinhead style reached its peak in 1969, i.e. whilst NASA was organising and staging the first moon landing hoax. The creative clash between West-Indian music (Ska, Rocksteady and early reggae) and the Hard Mod look defines the so-called “spirit of ‘69”. We’ve got to hang on to this spirit of ‘69, and oppose it to the other, symbolised by the star spangled banner on a TV studio moon ground.

Original skinheads, suedeheads and later street punk skinheads COULDN’T GIVE A TOSS about such nerveless middle-class counterculture à la Jefferson Starship. Skinhead subculture can provide autonomous astronauts with a style and a sartorial rhetoric which break both with liberalism and hippy shit. Moreover, both the Suedehead evolution and the modernist heritage can work as stylistic North Stars and orient our efforts to an essential “proletarian elegance”. It’s a matter of self-respect: we can’t figure what clothes the inhabitants of other planets have on, but certainly we won’t go to the rendez-vous dressed like shaggy buffoons!

Skinhead Moonstomp is the title of a classic Ska anthem. That’s how we’re gonna deal with zero gravity: skipping about on a steady upbeat rhythm. Long live SHITS! Death to NASA!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ari Up, The Slits and Unmediated Female Noises

Sad news about the death this week of Ari Up (Ariane Forster), former lead singer of The Slits. She was only 48, incredibly she was only 14 when she joined the band and only 15 when they set out on the famous White Riot tour with The Clash in 1977. At that time they were quite literally making a sound that had never been heard before and looking like nobody had ever looked before.

As Greil Marcus wrote in Lipstick Traces: a Secret History of the Twentieth Century (describing a bootleg recording of the band):

'Shouting and shrieking, out of guitar flailings the group finds a beat, makes a rhythm, begins to shape it; the rhythm gets away and they chase it down, overtake it, and keep going. Squeaks, squeals, snarls, and whines - unmediated female noises never before heard as pop music - course through the air as the Slits march hand in hand through a storm they themselves have created. It's a performance of joy and revenge, an armed playground chant' (Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces).
In 1977, Caroline Coon accompanied the band on some of the White Riot tour, taking some great photos like the one above of The Clash's Paul Simonon watching Ari do her hair. She documented it in her under-rated book '1988: The New Wave and Punk Rock Explosion':

'It is what the Slits represent, even at their least provocative, that gets up people's noses... Their earthy arrogance and striking mode of attire - an organised mess of dressed-up undress - causes adults to behave with alarming intolerance. Quite apart from being thrown out of hotels, Ari Up is quite used to being spat at by people who pass her on the street. Being refused service in coffee bars and pubs is another fact of life'.

The book includes a poignant quote from Ari: 'I want to live, and when I'm sixty I want to have green hair and spikey heels. If people hate us its because of our honesty. You have to comb your hair otherwise they think you're a mad loony or the devil. But they are living in the past'. Sadly she didn't make it to sixty, but she will be remembered for a lot longer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Raymond Castro: death of a Stonewall veteran

From Miami Herald, 14 October 2010:

'Raymond Castro, a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City, died in his hometown of Madeira Beach, Florida on Saturday, October 9th. He was 68 years old and is survived by his husband of 31 years, Frank Sturniolo, 50. On June 27, 1969 Castro was inside the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, on the first night of the uprising and is documented as the only person arrested that evening who was known to be gay, according to historian David Carter.

Although police raids of gay-friendly bars were sadly common at the time, on that night people fought back. As two officers were escorting Castro out of the bar, the crowd shouted, "Let him go, let him go," and he pushed against the waiting patrol wagon with both feet, knocking the two cops to the ground. He was put in the back of the vehicle and detained, but was later released without charge. He hired a lawyer to resist the charge against him in court and also his lawyer represent an arrested lesbian who was in the patrol wagon with him. Typical of his generosity, he did not let the lesbian assist in paying the attorney who represented them. That night's events, including Castro's struggle against police, gave birth to the modern gay civil rights movement...

David Carter said that all the evidence he collected about the event made him sure that Castro's resistance to his arrest, taking place in public soon after the occurrence of the evening's tipping point--the unknown lesbian who fought the police outside the Stonewall Inn and twice escaped a patrol car she was placed into--helped guarantee that the resistance to the police raid became both massive and violent, and thus had the power to become a transforming symbol of LGBT consciousness: the Stonewall Riots.

Ray visited New York City in June to celebrate the 41st Anniversary of Stonewall and attend the 40th annual gay pride parade. The New York Daily News featured his story at that time, quoting Castro as saying: "A lot of people, especially the young ones, have no inkling what Stonewall is. They think Gay Pride is just a big party. None of this would have been possible if it wasn't for 1969. I had no idea that I was going to be involved in history-making... I would do it all over again."

More on Stonewall here... history was certainly made that night.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

1980 & 2010: screwing the poor

Courtesy of 56a Info Shop in SE London, I have recently had access to an archive of radical publications from the early 1980s, in particular The Leveller, a London-based 'independent socialist magazine'. So I'm going to start a new series called 1980, highlighting things that happened 30 years ago. There are quite a lot of similarities between 1980 and 2010, not least the fact that in both cases in the UK, a Conservative government had recently come to power and was implementing a programme of public spending cuts amidst rising unemployment. So there's plenty of food for thought for the present in looking back.


So here we are in 2010, with the multi-millionaire Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announcing a new campaign against the poorest people in the country: benefits claimants. According to the BBC today:

'The government has set out a series of measures to tackle benefit fraud, as ministers spend the weekend finalising spending cuts. The steps would mean anyone with three convictions could forfeit their rights to benefits for up to three years...

Mr Osborne said state aid had "to go to the people who need it, and people who pay for it these days are going to demand no less". Under the new scheme every welfare offence - no matter how minor - would mean an immediate fine of £50. The government is promising to share more data with credit reference agencies to find patterns of offending. It is also recruiting 200 new inspectors, creating a mobile task force to go into areas with high rates of fraud and check every claim individually. The strategy, to be unveiled on Monday, will use hi-tech data tracking techniques between government offices and credit reference agencies'.


Here's a report of something very similar, an article written by Tim Gopsill published in The Leveller, no.36, March 1980:

'Any doubt the Tory leadership might have had about Reg Prentice’s reactionary credentials must now be dispelled [Reg Prentice was a former Labour politician who switched to the Tories]. Chosen as Minister of State for Social Security to direct the attack on unemployed people and single parents, he has undertaken the task with tremendous zeal. On February 13 he announced a ‘new clampdown on scroungers’, a programme of breathtaking savagery against the Tories’ favourite target, the poor.

Margaret Thatcher knew how well Prentice was qualified for the job. He has a vast experience and proven ability in the field of fraud, having arguably deceived more honest Labour voters than any other politician. And like his mythical millions of scroungers, he has lived off the back of the taxpayer and the state for many years.

The ‘clampdown’ is not on scroungers at all. In co-ordination with the rest of Tory strategy, it is on working and unemployed people’s living standards and organisation. It is scapegoatism on a huge scale, making the poor pay for the failures of capital. And it is a strengthening of the apparatus of the state to this end. It is the same story as the new laws to break the unions, the cuts in housing, education, health and social service expenditure on the one hand, and the increase in resources allocated to police and military expenditure on the other.

Prentice announced the appointment of more than 1,000 extra staff to tackle ‘fraud and abuse’, which he predicted would save £50 million of the estimated £200 million to be lost over the coming year.

Before we consider the real facts, a few more figments from Prentice’s fevered brain. This figure of £200 million, which picked up a good deal of publicity, where did it come from? Embarrassed DHSS officials, under pressure, while maintaining that of course you can’t, by definition, produce a figure for something you know nothing about, concede the following: (You aren’t going to believe this) that big retail chains and other companies handling large amounts of money regularly reckon to write off 1 to 2 percent of turnover to theft. And that’s it: Prentice got his officials to work out what was 1 per cent of the estimated £19,000 million to be paid out by the DHSS in 1980-81, rounded it up to a headline-grabbing £200 million, and gave it out as the scroungers’ swag…

More than half his new staff will be extra Unemployment Review Officers — 530 new UROs, more than doubling the present establishment of 447. These men and women are not at all concerned with fraud. Their job is to stop the long- term unemployed (people who’ve been jobless for six months) receiving the benefit which is their perfect entitlement.

UROs are armed with quite an arsenal. They can cut benefit or stop it altogether if they consider claimants fail, without justification, to find work. They can send them to Assessment or Re-establishment Centres (workhouses). They can initiate prosecutions for failure to maintain oneself or one’s dependents. These powers do not often have to be used. Their threat is usually enough to achieve the aim of getting a claimant off the books — whether to some low-paid non-union sweatshop, or into a limbo without income, or petty crime, they don’t care...

The next biggest increases in personnel are to be new Fraud Officers and Liable Relative Officers — 170 of each. The Liable Relative (LR) operations are already the heaviest harassment squad in the business, with 2,034 officers nationwide. Their job, quite simply, is to get hold of people (usually deserting fathers) who are considered to be responsible for dependent relatives that are receiving benefit, and extort money from them.

Again, there is no ‘fraud’ involved. The common picture is of a husband who has left the home. The wife and child need supplementary benefit (SB) to survive, and while one department is grudgingly paying this out, the LROs are despatched to find the errant father. He is presented with a bill for the benefit paid, with the sanction of prosecution for failure to maintain his dependents. The mother is cajoled to prosecute or give evidence against him for failure to pay maintenance. In many cases, the father may be poor, or have acquired a new home and dependents; either way he can’t pay much, and it helps no-one to prosecute; no-one except DHSS officials with their fanatical determination not to pay benefit.

Claimants’ Union activists around the country are reporting a recent upsurge in enthusiasm on the part of LROs, with cases of men being presented with bills for years of benefit, running into thousands of pounds.

The other classes of new staff are the Fraud Officers, and 100 more Special Investigators. The SIs are the elite fraud detectives; they are the scum of the earth. They are the ones who rise with the dawn to sit outside the homes of women claimants to spot a man coming out to work. They are the collectors who can convert tittle-tattle from nasty neighbours into cases for the courts. They work a lot with the police, and with employers, for the majority of their cases are ‘working and drawing’ — that is, unemployed claimants or dependents who are found to be supplementing their state pittances by taking jobs. Not usually comfortable, established jobs with tax and insurance deducted of course, but casual ones: seasonal agricultural work, window-cleaning, decorating, odd jobs. These cases made up 55 per cent of prosecutions for SB fraud in 1978-79, and 69 per cent of Unemployment Benefit (UB) fraud.

What the DHSS’s ridiculous figures for projected savings (50 million out of estimated fraud and abuse losses of £53 million) mean is that every claimant will be under suspicion. How else can all estimated fraud or abuse be eliminated? It has already been policy for two years that every case proved will be taken to court. This explains the prosecution statistics (hold your breath, comrades): In 1976 there were 19,000 prosecutions for benefit fraud. In 1977-78: 26,000. In 1978-79: 29,147.

The conviction rate was 98 per cent. To put these facts into context, compare the zeal with which government is pursuing fraud of two other kinds that should be comparable — that are comparable, if truth can be admitted in Thatcher’s Britain: income tax evasion, and under-payment by employers...

So same old rhetoric about 'scroungers' and punitive measures against people just trying to get by on very low incomes, sometimes by knowingly or unknowingly getting round the rules. Still maybe something reassuring about the fact that after 30 years or more of endless persecution of the poor, the state apparently still finds itself in the same position.

And here, by Crass from the same period (from 1978 to be precise), is the only possible response to the Osbornes and Prentices of this world. Do they owe us a living? Of course they do...

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Scientist: Dub from Obeah-Myal to Outer Space

For those who never stop complaining that there isn't enough dub in dubstep comes news that Tectonic Recordings are releasing a whole album of remixes by Jamaican dub producer Hopeton Brown, AKA Scientist. 'Scientist Launches Dubstep Into Outer Space' is out next month,and features remixes of tracks by Shackleton, Kode9 and King Midas Sound among others (full track listing at Resident Advisor News).

Scientist first came on to my radar during my Autonomous Astronaut search for interesting space-themed music, in particular his 1981 masterpieces Dub Landing and Scientist Meets the Space Invaders. Brown was only 21 when these came out, having served a teenage apprenticeship at King Tubby's Dromilly Road studio in Kingston. Thirty years later he is still in dispute with record companies about the royalties for these and other early albums (see this interview at United Reggae). With his evident interest in extraterrestial adventures, Scientist can be claimed for the reggae wing of the 'Afrofuturist' current, with their 'projections of Africanized technology, of dreadlocks as antennae, of blackness into space and the future' (Wayne Marshall, Trading in Futures: from Rastas in Space to Dreadlocked Aliens and Back, Woofah #4, 2010).

But Robert Beckford has also linked Scientist to the African-Caribbean past:

'What I find most interesting at this juncture in the development of the genre is that Brown, who made his name at the Randy's studio, used the self-description 'scientist'. Those familiar with Caribbean religious cultures will know that this is a designation for an indigenous healer or Obeah-Myal practitioners... Brown infers that dubbing, in this culture at least, is a holistic enterprise involving mind, body and spirit'.

Beckford sees dub as healing, part of 'the pharmacosm of sound in African cultures', and further that 'dub as an act of deconstruction' involving 'taking out and bringing in' sonic elements draws on 'healing practices in Jamaican folk culture'. He describes 'the Obeah-Myal complex' as an 'African religious survival' practiced by the slaves and their descendants in Jamaica: 'Obeah involved the deployment of malignant spirits on adversaries through a variety of tactics and techniques. To combat Obeah, Myal, the good medicine, was sought. Myal medicine provided protection against the bad spirits and returned the individual and community to equilibrium' (Robert Beckford, Jesus Dub: Theology, Music and Social Change, Routledge, 2006).

A similar point has been made by Lloyd Bradley, who Beckford quotes: 'It's an ancient African medicine that splits the body up into seven centres or 'selves' - sexual, digestive, heart, brain etc. - and by prescribing various herbs and potions would, as practitioners always describe it, 'bring forward or push back' different centres: remixing, as it were, a person's physical or mental state into something very different... In the same way by adjusting the controls at the mixing desk, a tune... can be reinvented' (Lloyd Bradley, Bass Culture: when Reggae was King, Pluto, 2001).

Anyway here's some medicine:

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Nighttime's Mine

All I need in this creation
Is 3 months work, 9 vacation
Tell the boss, any old time
The daytime is his, but the nighttime's mine

Photo: Saturday night juke joint outside of Clarksdale, Mississippi Delta, November 1939 - taken by Marion Post Wolcott; Lyric: Green Corn, from the singing of Pete Seeger at the Newport Folk Festival, 1960s - (not sure of exact date).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

54 and Filuzzi

54 by Italian collective author Wu Ming is a novel set in 1954, with a fine plot involving the mafia, secret services, communist ex-partisans in Italy and Yugoslavia, the geopolitics of the post-WW2 period and Cary Grant.

One of the themes of the book is what might be termed 'proletarian dandyism' - working class pride in dressing up and looking sharp as an assertion of human dignity and as a refusal to accept an 'inferior' social status.

Two of the characters - Grant and Tito (leader of Yugoslavia) - are seen to share this perspective, with the Cary Grant character concluding that "he and Tito had a great deal in common. Above all there was his obvious interest in matters of grooming and clothes... And then there was the fact that they had both become famous with a name other than their given name. They had both passed through different identities".

The authors put an explicit defence of dressing-up into the mouth of 'Tito': "the mirror unites the individual with the community, and its admission into proletarian houses has cemented class pride, that sense of decorum thrown back into the bosses' faces, 'We have been naught, we shall be all! We can be, and we are, more stylish than you are!'".

Pierre, another key character, is a communist bar worker who models himself on Cary Grant. He is a local face as a filuzzi dancer in the dancehalls of Bologna, a scene involving competitive displays of dancing prowess to mazurkas and polkas:

'Everyone took to the floor for the mazurka, even the women, who couldn't usually keep up with the giddy rhythms of those dances. Two or three pieces in, the rhythm started to speed up. Nino Bonara's concertina, supported by bass and guitar, sounded as though it was never going to stop. By the sixth item on the programme only the musketeers of the Bar Aurora were left on the floor. Shouts of encouragement rose up from the tables, along with applause for the more complex movements... the four filuzzi followed the music each on his own, the couples parting and reforming each time the tune came round again..."

The couples in filuzzi were usually men dancing with each other. It was specifically a Bologna scene - in fact it still exists there to an extent - and there is very little about it written in English. There is, however, some filuzzi footage on youtube:

Wu Ming are in London this week doing a series of events, I am planning to go along to Cafe Oto in Dalston tomorrow night.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Jubilee - the trumpet shall sound

My recent hypothesis that the vuvuzela is becoming the protest instrument of choice for the emerging movement against austerity has received some independent confirmation. Bat020 spotted one on the demonstration outside the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham last weekend (pictured below):

Meanwhile from Sweden, Birdseed reports that in the anti-racist mobilisations in the lead up to recent elections the vuvuzela has 'been ever present both as assertion and as sonic disturbance (of the extreme right)'.

All of this put me in mind of Peter Linebaugh's classic article 'Jubilating; or, how the Atlantic working class used the Biblical Jubilee against capitalism, with some success' first published in the journal Midnight Notes in 1990. In this text, Linebaugh looks at how the Biblical notion of Jubilee as the periodic cancellation of debt and slavery has inspired radical movements through the ages. And he notes how this is heralded by the sounding of a trumpet:

'Jubilee. Etymologically, jubilee comes from yobel, a Hebrew word meaning 'ram's horn'. Ever since, it's been associated with music, a horn, a cornet, a trumpet, and later with singing. The cornet descends from the shepherd's cornu; the trumpet and bugle from the Roman soldier's buccina; these horns are instruments of gathering and militance. In the West Indies and the South Sea Islands the spiral conch emits a very large sound. It was used by the Tritons of ancient mythology, and by the Haitian slaves on 21 August 1791 as a call to the war of liberation in the first successful slave revolt of modern history. The first thing about the jubilee, then, is that it is heard'.

Linebaugh quote from the Bible:

'You shall send the ram's horn around. You shall send it through all your land to sound a blast, and so you shall hallow the fiftieth year and proclaim liberation in the land for all its inhabitants' (Leviticus 25:9-10)

... and from the Jubilee Hymn written in 1782 by English radical Thomas Spence:

'Hark! how the trumpet's sound
Proclaim the land around The Jubilee...
Now hath the oppressor ceas'd
And all the world releas'd from misery!'

On the subject of radical Biblical references, good to see that in my old town of Luton, some people from the former Exodus Collective (famed 1990s drum'n'bass free party sound system) are still going strong, putting on regular parties as the Leviticus Collective.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Lowlands: music at the Turner Prize

The Turner Prize 2010 exhibition is now open at Tate Britain, with at least three of the four short-listed artists having strong musical connections.

Painter Dexter Dalwood was once the bassist in first wave Bristol punk band The Cortinas. I have a copy of their 1977 single Fascist Dictator/Television Families which I will have to get out if he wins.

The Otolith Group is a partnership between Anjalika Sagar and Kodwo Eshun. The latter is well known for his music writing, notably the seminal afro-futurist thoughtist classic, More Brilliant than the Sun. The former sings on some of their film soundtracks.

I don't know whether Angela de la Cruz has a secret past as a member of an anarcho-punk band or zine editor, so can't comment on any musical connections with her work.

But the final room in the exhibition is a musical work by Susan Philipsz. She was shortlisted on the basis of her piece Lowlands which involved recordings of her singing a Scottish folk song being played under three bridges across the River Clyde in Glasgow. Transposing this into the much smaller scale of a single room in a gallery is quite a challenge, but actually adds something to it.

As with many old folk songs, there are several versions of Lowland's Away in circulation. Philipsz has recorded three different versions of the song which play simultaneously from a triangle of speakers in the gallery. The effect is slightly disorienting as the three voices are singing in chorus but not always the same lyrics. Presumably in the original piece it was not possible to hear the three voices together in the same way, or to mix between them by shifting your attention or location in relation to the speakers.

The acoustics of the gallery are of course different from outdoors with the sound waves from the three speakers creating a sonic space that does feel almost tangible, as when for instance a long sustained note carves the air.

It's undeniably lovely, but I guess there will be the predictable 'is it art?' response. It is true that in some ways it is not so different from the unaccompanied warblings of an accomplished folk singer - her style is similar to the recording of the song by Anne Briggs. But there is no doubt that she has created a specific experience quite distinct from what is commonly heard and felt in a folk club or a concert setting.

The song itself is a mournful lament for a lost lover, drowned and returned as a ghost. When I am in the Tate galleries I often think of its own ghosts, of the prisoners who suffered there when the Millbank Penitentiary stood on the site and the patients in the hospital next door replaced by the later Tate extension. Hearing this song there put me in mind of an inmate in exile from the Scotland of lowlands, highlands and islands, wistfully singing to themselves in their cell 'My love is drowned in the misty lowlands...'

Here's another three versions of the song, you could even create your own version of the Turner piece by playing them all at the same time!:

Anne Briggs:

Kate McGarrigle and Rufus Wainwright:

The Corries:

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Alien Underground

Over at Datacide, Christoph has been publishing texts from Alien Underground, a great zine published in South London in 1994/95 offerin 'techno theory for juvenile delinquents'. Two issues were published before the project morphed into Datacide, still going strong albeit with a somewhat irregular publishing schedule.

Highlights include interviews with Digital Hardcore Recordings, Mille Plateaux and Sadie Plant (by Matt Fuller), Flint Michigan on the Critical Arts Ensemble, and an article on the anti-rave Criminal Justice Bill.

Reading these made me nostalgic for that scene, encompassing Dead by Dawn in Brixton, squat parties, the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, anti-CJB demonstrations and all round techno-optimism - with a combination of Deleuze & Guattari and very fast and loud beats seeming to offer a new radical line of flight from capitalism. In those days I seriously thought I would never listen to a guitar again! Well maybe it wasn't sufficient basis on its own for a 21st century radical movement, but it certainly created some interesting situations and opened up new possibilities, some of which are still being played out (in all senses of the phrase).

There's a couple of old pieces from me: a report of a London History Workshop meeting on jazz culture: 'The powers restricting “raves” in the Criminal Justice Act are not the first authoritarian response to a dance-based culture. The association of popular dancing with sex, intoxication, and black people has made it an object of moralist suspicion at various times in history. It was the jazz dance craze which swept across much of the west that was the source of both pleasure and panic in the 1920s'; and a review of the book Microphone Fiends: '"Underground” nights in expensive clubs and “underground” compilations on major record labels might be bullshit, but loads of people taking over empty buildings and creating free or very cheap space for parties on their own terms is a real alternative to the commodity culture industry. And when sound systems become the focus for a serious showdown with the cops in central London, as happened on October 9th [anti-CJB demonstration], it is clear we are no longer just talking about empty gestures of fake rebellion'.

Yup, I've been repeating myself for at least 15 years, but hey, once you've got your schtick why change it?