Monday, November 29, 2010

Reclaim the Night, London 2010

This site celebrates the pleasures of the night, the possibilities of nocturnal encounters on the dancefloor, the sense of liberation in the hours not ruled by work. But of course music/dance scenes are not utopias, specifically they are not always places where women can leave behind harrassment, rape and violence - a point highlighted by the gang rape of a 16 year old at a rave in Canada in September and the rapes at Latitude Festival in England in July.

In her remarkable piece The Night and Danger, orginally written as a speech for a Take Back the Night march, Andrea Dworkin wrote:

'We women are especially supposed to be afraid of the night. The night promises harm to women. For a woman to walk on the street at night is not only to risk abuse, but also--according to the values of male domination--to ask for it. The woman who transgresses the boundaries of night is an outlaw who breaks an elementary rule of civilized behavior: a decent woman does not go out- certainly not alone, certainly not only with other women--at night. A woman out in the night, not on a leash, is thought to be a slut or an uppity bitch who does not know her place. The policemen of the night - rapists and other prowling men -have the right to enforce the laws of the night: to stalk the female and to punish her. We have all been chased, and many of us have been caught... We must use our collective strength and passion and endurance to take back this night and every night so that life will be worth living and so that human dignity will be a reality'

Since the mid-1970s, women in different parts of the world have staged Reclaim the Night/Take Back the Night demonstrations against violence against women - not simply protests but an assertion of the right to be safely on the streets after dark. London Feminist Network have been organising larger and larger annual marches since 2004, and in in central London last Saturday night around 2000 women took part in the Reclaim the Night march. There's a report at Women's Views on News.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

1995: Police close down Bank Holiday Raves

Going to be doing some posts about the anti-rave Criminal Justice Act and the 1990s free party scene. 15 years ago the Act had become law and people were waiting to see how it would pan out. As we now know, with years of partying since, the CJA did not manage to stop free parties let alone shut down dance music, but it certainly made things harder. The following article was published in Squall, a magazine from the time that covered squatting, festivals etc.

'Police Shut-Down Free Parties (Squall, Summer 1995)

Police shut down two Bank Holiday raves at the beginning of May, without resorting to the Criminal Justice Act.

Attracting more than 3,000 people over the VE day Bank Holiday weekend, one of the raves featured sound systems Virus, Vox Populai, Jiba, Oops and Cheeba City. United Systems (US) organised the party at a disused RAF base near Woodbridge in Suffolk. Jim, a spokesperson from US, was at the event when police arrived: “I heard one of the poiice officers say, ‘We’re sorry we’ve got to do this but we’ve got orders from above’. The previous night they’d come on site to ask us to turn the noise down and we adhered to that and struck a deal where they were going to leave us alone and we agreed we’d pack up Monday evening. We were miles from anywhere and weren’t in anyone’s way at all. But at two ‘o clock on Monday afternoon they arrived on site to shut us down.”

The police confiscated tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment from all the sound systems present including Cheeba City’s 6K rig and their vehicles. However, as the CJA can only be used at night, the officers on site had to satisfy themselves with Public Order legislation to enforce the shutdown. Arguments between officers and several of the organisers ensued and four arrests were made.

US contacted Peter Silver, the solicitor who successfully defended the 23 people arrested at Castlemorton Common in 1992. Within two weeks all confiscated equipment had been returned

An event happening near Bangor the same weekend, featuring sound systems Transient and Babel, suffered exactly the same fate. Again in the middle of nowhere, the event was attended by up to 1,000 people over the weekend. Just after midday on Monday officers arrived to close the party down. Again organisers allege that the pollee said they were happy for the event to go ahead but they’d had orders from above. No arrests were made at the Bangor gig and although sound equipment was confiscated it was returned shortly afterwards.

A growing number of people on the free-party scene do not view these events as coincidental. There is a belief that, even where no public nuisance has occurred, local police officers are coming under increased pressure from the Home Office to eradicate unauthorised events'.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Funk the Royal Wedding, 1981

The ill-fated wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer was announced in February 1981. Unemployment was high amidst cuts and austerity and the first of what were to be a wave of major riots had taken place  - the Bristol uprising of April May 1980 setting the tone for the following year's events. A lot happened between the announcement of that engagement and the wedding itself on 29th July 1981. The Hunger Strikes in the North of Ireland set off a huge wave of demonstrations and riots there and across the world - 6 prisoners had died by the time Chas'n'Di walked down the aisle. 

Meanwhile on the streets of England, tensions between (mainly) young black people and the police erupted in Brixton in April 1981 and then in July in towns and cities across the country. On the night before the wedding, there was rioting in Toxteth, Liverpool. Chief Constable Kenneth Oxford authorised the police tactic of driving Land Rovers at high speed towards the crowd - a 23 year old disabled man, David Moore, could not get out of way and was run over and killed. Nobody can seriously maintain then that the 1981 Royal Wedding 'brought the nation together' in any meaningful way. The following cartoon was published in socialist magazine The Leveller (no.61, 24 July 1981), showing the royal cake besieged by rioters. Prime Minister Thatcher watches from the tier beneath the royal couple, while below her a line of riot police keep guard. The bottom of the cake reads Brixton, Toxteth, Southall - scenes of major riots at the time.

Funk the Wedding

I was at school in Luton at the time and on the day of the Royal wedding went with my sister to the Funk the Wedding carnival in Clissold Park in North London, an anti-royalist event organised by Stoke Newington Rock Against Racism. From what I recall it was unexciting but hey it was some kind of statement, with a good few thousand people there. Headliners Tribesman were a UK reggae band, who incidentally made a record about another London green space - Finsbury Park. Joshua Hi -Fi was a north east London reggae sound system. Don't know anything about Movement or Monkey Business who also played that day. 

'Funk the Wedding -recently formed, but very dynamic, Stoke Newington RAR have organised a mini carnival for you to dance  away your wedding day blues. If you haven't been invited, or can't stomach the Chas & Di show, come and see Tribesman, Movement, Monkey Business and Joshua Hi-Fi in Clissold Park' (Temporary Hoarding, Rock Against Racism zine, August 1981)

  Advert for event from Leveller no.61:

Funk the Wedding, Clissold Park (my photo):

'Guess who WASN'T at that wedding... Eight thousand turned up in Clissold Park London' for 'Stoke Newington Rock Against Racism's amazingly successful afternoon of Militant Entertainment' (Socialist Worker).

[post updated Sept 2022 with addition of Socialist Worker report; Temporary Hoarding notice added December 2022

See also:

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Alan Sillitoe died earlier this year, 50 years after he came to prominence with the classic post-war Northern working class novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, first published in 1958:

'For it was Saturday night, the best and bingiest glad-time of the week, one of the fifty-two holidays in the slow-turning Big Wheel of the year, a violent preamble to a prostrate Sabbath. Piled-up passions were exploded on Saturday night, and the effect of a week's monotonous graft in the factory was swilled out of your system in a burst of goodwill...'

'Once a rebel, always a rebel. You can't help being one. You can't deny that. And it's best to be a rebel so as to show 'em it don't pay to try to do you down. Factories and labour exchanges and insurance offices keep us alive and kicking - so they say - but they're booby-traps and will suck you under like sinking-sands if you aren't careful. Factories sweat you to death, labour exchanges talk you to death, insurance and income tax offices milk money from your wage packets and rob you to death. And if you're still left with a tiny bit of life in your guts after all this boggering about, the army calls you up and you get shot to death ... Ay, by God, it's a hard life if you don't weaken, if you don't stop that bastard government from grinding your face in the muck, though there ain't much you can do about it unless you start making dynamite to blow their four-eyed clocks to bits'.

Sillitoe also wrote the screenplay of the film (released in 1960):

'I'm a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that's me. But if any knowing bastard says that's me I'll tell them I'm a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not because they don't know a bloody thing about me! God knows what I am'

'I'm out for a good time - all the rest is propaganda!'

The book and film have been endlessly mined in popular culture ever since. The Arctic Monkeys famously quoted the 'Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not' film line as the title of their debut album. The film line 'I want to go where there's life and there's people' inspired The Smiths' 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' (although the film's star Albert Finney - pictured above - refused his permission to be featured on the cover of 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'). The Specials recorded their own take, 'Friday Night and Saturday Morning': 'When my feet go through the door, I know what my right arm is for, Buy a drink and pull a chair, Up to the edge of the dance floor, Bouncers bouncing through the night, Trying to stop or start a fight,I sit and watch the flashing lights, Moving legs in footless tights'.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Battle of Millbank

After the exuberance and excitement of Wednesday's massive demonstration (50,000+) against education cuts in London, the hangover is setting in as the inevitable witch hunt is launched against those accused of taking part in the clashes at Millbank Tower, where the headquarters of the Conservative Party are located.

So far more than 50 people have been arrested, with newspapers including the Daily Mail and the Telegraph running photos of protesters and urging people to shop them to the police. I hope some of the Facebook generation don't have to learn the hard way that there are times when filming every moment and sharing it with the world can put people at serious risk. No doubt in future protests too the police will be back to cracking heads Iain Tomlinson-style, now that they have 'shown' what happens when they are expected to show restraint. Today's Observer quotes a 'senior police figure' as saying 'In the past we've been criticised for being too provocative. During the next demo no one can say a word'. You reckon? A swifter and more brutal response at Millbank might have saved a few windows, but seriously injuring students would inflame the protest movement across the whole country.

So potentially dangerous as well as exciting times ahead, but it does feel like a turning point has been reached. Two years after the 'credit crunch', and months of phony war about austerity, the reality of cuts is beginning to be felt and the opposition to them is beginning to get serious. Nobody should dismiss this week's demonstration as just a bunch of students protesting as usual - in the history of the education system in the UK there has never been a student protest of this scale or militancy.

An article in the Evening Standard by the pro-cuts Chris Blackhurst on the day after the demonstration warned: 'The temperature is rising all the time. Already, we've had strikes from the Tube drivers and firefighters, and now students are taking to the streets. More groups are likely to follow suit... Disturbingly, the scene is set for more yesterdays. The police will undoubtedly be better prepared. But that is not to say there won't be trouble or that the rage is going to disappear ('Expect more rage if the rich and poor divide gets bigger', 11 November 2011).

The Government is clearly hoping that the diffuse nature of the cuts, with different groups affected in different ways over a long period, will prevent a united movement. They are trying their best to inflame division and resentment between those bearing the brunt of the cuts. For instance claiming that attacking benefits claimants is good for ordinary workers because it is 'unfair' that some people earn more from signing on than others do for working - easily remedied by increasing wages, rather than cutting benefits which will actually tend to put downward pressure on wage levels as a whole.

In relation to the students protests, we are told that they are being selfish and that they will be the privileged of the future. Some of them may be, but many of them will be 'lucky' to find a job when they leave college. Many of those protesting this week, including some of those arrested, were actually working class 16 & 17 year olds facing the axing of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the small payment to young people from the lowest income families to help them stay on at school or college.

In any event, the current generation of students will not be affected by the planned rise in fees as they are likely to be phased in for new students. So their motives cannot be dismissed as simply narrow-self interest (not that there's anything wrong with that). As Nina Power argued this week: 'The protest as a whole was extremely important, not just because of the large numbers it attracted, and shouldn't be understood simply in economic terms as a complaint against fees. It also represented the serious anger many feel about cuts to universities as they currently stand, and the ideological devastation of the education system if the coalition gets its way. It was a protest against the narrowing of horizons; a protest against Lib Dem hypocrisy; a protest against the increasingly utilitarian approach to human life that sees degrees as nothing but "investments" by individuals, and denies any link between education and the broader social good'.

Dancing in the streets

Anyway I was at home sick during the demonstration, so had to make do with watching on TV. Like at the G20 protests in London last year, the endless looping of the image of the windows breaking was used to convey a sense of an ongoing orgy of destruction. Clearly a time limited episode of smashing things up was part of what was going on, but there was also celebration. At one point on Sky TV they showed footage of people dancing to some wobbly bass and the presenter announced 'drum and bass is playing, and the beer is open'. Yes a cycle-powered sound system was on hand, according to a participant account at The Commune: 'A sound system started playing dubstep leading to a Reclaim The Streets carnival atmosphere'

Some good footage here of people dancing, with a megaphone-wielding MC:

This film provides a good overview of the whole event - clearly the main demonstration was carnivalesque, not just the Millbank protest, with people climbing on bus shelters etc:

* Advice for those at risk of being arrested at the November 10th Defence Campaign

Updated 16 November:

* Rouge's Foam has a good post on the demo, including some reflections on the music used:

'That day music stepped out of the record collection paradigm and played a role in raising morale, coordinating chants, and most importantly cohering and drawing attention to ourselves as an organised collective. Just south of Trafalgar Square as the march was starting I was near the back and still stationary, tightly packed in and shivering with hundreds of strangers from dozens of different universities. Eventually a sound system started up and boomed out Cee Lo Green’s ‘Fuck You’, a powerfully catchy, upbeat song and a perfect choice at that moment.

Recognising the sentiment we all turned, smiled, and started dancing and singing along, our eyes meeting with a strong and implicit sense of mutual understanding and agreement. There were performers on instruments too. The music of drummers and samba bands contributed to the sense of a shared mood. Outside the Houses of Parliament a student brass band were playing a characteristically old-fashioned and very English sort of music, and yet it only enhanced the atmosphere of diverse voices contributing in every unique way to one cause. By the time I arrived at the Millbank buildings, sound-systems were playing techno, dub, and if I’m not mistaken, Aphex Twin’s ‘Come to Daddy’. Together with our reasons for being there, the sense of collectivity that music instilled that day was ten times as strong as that whipped up at the very best of raves, and I’ll never forget it'.

* Beyond the Implode has done a very funny riff on the line 'drum and bass is playing and the beer is open'. Wish I'd recorded that Sky broadcast, would be a great sample.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dancing at the country club - F.Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1922 short story The Popular Girl is centred around the figure of Yanci Bowman and her desire for more than the life on offer to her in her mid-Western city. It starts in the ballroom of a country club on a Saturday night, where Yanci encounters her lover Scott Kimberley for the first time:

"'Ballroom', for want of a better word. It was that room, filled by day with wicker furniture, which was always connotated in the phrase 'Let's go in and dance'. It was referred to as 'inside' or 'downstairs'. It was that nameless chamber wherein occur the principal transactions of all the country clubs in America...

The orchestra trickled a light overflow of music into the pleasant green-latticed room and the two score couples who for the evening comprised the local younger set moved placidly into time with its beat. Only a few apathetic stags gathered one by one in the doorways, and to a close observer it was apparent that the scene did not attain the gayety which was its aspiration. These girls and men had known each other from childhood; and though there were marriages incipient upon the floor tonight, they were marriages of environment, of resignation, or even of boredom...
When his eyes found Yanci Bowman among the dancers he felt much younger. She was the incarnation of all in which the dance failed - graceful youth, arrogant, languid freshness and beauty that was sad and perishable as a memory in a dream. Her partner, a young man with one of those fresh red complexions ribbed with white streaks, as though he had been slapped on a cold day, did not appear to be holding her interest, and her glance fell here and there upon a group, a face, a garment, with a far away and oblivious melancholy...

Mr Kimberly suggested to Miss Bowman that they dance, to which proposal Miss Bowman dispassionately acquiesced. They mingled their arms in the gesture prevalent and stepped into time with the beat of the drum. Simultaneously it seemed to Scott that the room and the couples who danced up and down upon it converted themselves into a background behind her. The commonplace lamps, the rhythm of the music playing some paraphrase of a paraphrase, the faces of many girls, pretty, undistinguished or absurd, assumed a certain solidity as though they had grouped themselves in a retinue for Yanci's languid eyes and dancing feet.

'I've been watching you,' said Scott simply. 'You look rather bored this evening'.

'Do I?' Her dark-blue eyes exposed a borderland of fragile iris as they opened in a delicate burlesque of interest. 'How perfectly kill-ing!' she added."

(story first published in Saturday Evening Post, February 1922; reprinted in F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (pictured), Bits of Paradise, London: Penguin, 1973)

Monday, November 08, 2010

Beyond the Implode/Uncarved Anarcho-punk Podcast

Martin C. (Beyond the Implode) and John Eden (Uncarved) have put together a great if suitably chaotic anarcho-punk mix/podcast, released on You are Hear last week (download here).

A good selection of tracks by Crass (Securicor), The Ex, Six Minute War, Potential Threat (the Hunt is on), The Apostles (Mob Violence), XS Discharge (Lifted), Flux of Pink Indians (the Ballardian 'Tube Disasters'), Polish punks Dezerter, Oi Polloi, Exit Stance (Ballykelly Disco), Twisted Nerve, Lost Cherees, Hagar the Womb (Dressed to Kill). All this and Class War's 'Better dead than wed', the anarchist group's foray on to vinyl to denounce the Royal Wedding of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

The Blaggers, whose Brixton Prison anthem Jail House Doors gets an airing, were certainly punky and political but were associated with Red Action/Anti Fascist Action rather the largely pacifist anarcho-punk scene (incidentally when I lived in Brixton, the band's guitarist was in my local anti-poll tax group Tulse Hill Estate Against the Poll Tax. We were also involved in fighting against some anti-abortion zealots who tried to blockade the Brixton Hill abortion clinic, the full story of which can wait for another day).

Some interesting reflections from John and Martin on the limitations of anarcho-punk ideology, particularly the dominant strand of moralism and failure to prioritise - so that meat eaters and low paid security guards were sometimes viewed as being as much the enemy as top generals and industrialists.

Some thought too on the squatting/travelling/counter culture continuum, the 'Hidden kind of connections' flowing through the Hawkwind/Stonehenge scene through Crass/anarcho-punk and later on to techno free parties. As John Eden notes 'There are people that went through that whole thing, but obviously that doesn't fit neatly into genre-specific histories'.

Colin Jerwood - Eltham's Chuck D?

One of the bands I saw most at the time was Conflict (variously at the Old Kent Road Ambulance Station, Thames Poly and the Clarendon Hotel).

Listening to Conflict's Colin Jerwood spitting out lyrics at machine gun pace on Berkshire C*nt on this mix reminded me of why I loved that band, and also put me in mind of fast chat reggae MCing or early Public Enemy. Given the lack of melody in most anarcho-punk, it makes sense in some ways to place its vocal delivery in a rap/MC continuum. As with some hip hop and reggae there's an urgency to communicate, as if those traditionally silenced in mainstream culture fear that having finally found a voice, the microphone might be snatched away again at any moment. So get the message down quick.

I guess we're entering similar times to the early 1980s, and there does seem to be a renewed interest in the anarcho-punk sounds of that period. Trying to simply reproduce the scene would be a political and musical dead end, but there's certainly plenty of noise and commitment to take inspiration from.

Not everybody who passed through anarcho-punk ended up as well-adjusted as myself. Check out the excellent Who Makes the Nazis? for the sad tale of John Cato of AYS, who seemingly moved from this scene to the extreme right. There's also a good new post there by Mr Eden again, this time on his time as a Death in June fan.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Holborn Halloween Party

Last Saturday night's squat party in central London seems to have generated a huge amount of press interest, not all of it accurate. Scumoween was held in a multi-storey former Royal Mail parcel office in Museum Street, Holborn that has been empty for years.

There was an extensive report with pictures at the Daily Mail (sourced from Associated Press, so a bit more balanced than the average Daily Hate fare). Here's some choice extracts:

'Spooked riot police forced to retreat as 600 Halloween youths cause chaos at an illegal rave in central London

Eight Halloween revellers have been arrested after violent clashes with riot police who tried to break up an all night illegal rave. A number of officers were injured when bottles were hurled during clashes with a crowd of up to 500 youths at an abandoned former post office in central London. Police desperately battled to calm the party but most of the people went back inside the building in High Holborn and continued partying. The rave continued into the morning with deafening hard techno pumping around the surrounding streets.

Hundreds of youngsters in hooded tops - many wearing Halloween masks - crammed into the streets around the building. Police kept watch as the sun came up today and the atmosphere was friendly. Hoards of tourists have also started to flock to the scene in a bid to keep the rave going. Officers have now surrounded the eight-storey building, which is bordered by High Holborn, Museum Road and New Oxford Street, while the rave takes place.

Police were first called to High Holborn at 11.20pm yesterday. Violence was sparked when some people in the crowd became aggressive after they were asked to leave the area, police said. Bottles were hurled at officer and dozens of riot squad officers from the force's Territorial Support Group were drafted in....

A man who said he was attacked by police during the altercation revealed bruising on his thigh. The raver, who did not want to be named, claimed: 'It was the police who were being aggressive. All we came to do here is party. They wouldn't let people in and then just started hitting people. I was on the floor and they kept on hitting me'... Ravers in boiler suits, bear suits, and jester costumes, and an array of hoodies, top hats, fluorescent caps and dreadlocks, were in the road.

Samanta Coletti and Flavia Pickler, from Brazil, tried to have their picture taken with some officers. The pair of experienced ravers were armed with earplugs, water and fake blood. Miss Coletti, 27, a waitress living in west London, said: 'We love it. We always go to squat parties, you never find fights, if someone is stealing or harassing girls they are told to leave, you can leave your bag on the floor and dance.' Miss Pickler, 28, dressed as a toffee apple with her face paint fading away, came on the train from Brighton where she works as a nanny. She said: 'It's very friendly, you can trust people.'

Inside the building space was dark. Some people were dancing while others were barely moving - raising fears that many may have used the rave to take drugs... "Inside were 10 different 'arenas' with 30 sound systems, and 200 DJs playing through the night and day", he said [one of the organisers]. He said this was the first such event in central London for nine years, adding: 'There will be a big resurgence of this sort of thing because of the economic situation. It's mirroring what happened in the last recession'.

Since then I've spoken to people who were there, and there's also been quite a bit of chat about it on various forums including Urban75 and Party Vibe.

Seems like when police first turned up there were already hundreds inside the building. They tried to stop other people getting in, but this just led to big crowds forming on the streets outside the police lines as well as traffic chaos in these West End streets. At this point things got quite heavy, the police used batons and tasers, the crowd raided a bottle bank for ammo. The police withdrew leaving some of the vehicles behind, some of which were damaged including a police van getting smashed up. If anything the Met's press office seem to have downplayed the intensity of the clashes. But it seems there were no major injuries on either side.

Then the party was left to go ahead for the rest of the night, seemingly it was a good one with loads of sound systems over several floors, including the large garage area in the basement that would once have been used for the post vans. Estimates of the crowd range from 1200 to 4000, certainly a lot more than 500. Rigs were apparently allowed to leave the area at the end without police interference.

There's an interesting range of perspectives by police who were there over at Inspector Gadget. Some fantasising about being French CRS-style tooled up riot cops able to steam in with maximum force, others noting that attempting to clear the building could have resulted in deaths. This comment is particularly telling:

'The bar has been set now – if we don’t get a heads up there is no way a response team could take on a couple of hundred determined people getting into a squat like that... Even with force mobilisation we would have had a problem clearing it, it would have been brilliant but messy, and no good news would come out of it. Back to the days of mass raves now, they’ve tried and won, and we’re now screwed'.

Some people have criticised the organisers for drawing attention to themselves by holding the party in a high profile area (e..g comment at Urban 75: ''What were they thinking...having it so central and posting the details all over the internet"). Possibly a party on an industrial estate in Hackney wouldn't have generated such interest, but equally out of site of the press, tourists and central London passers by, the police could have gone in a lot heavier.