Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ko-Uta: Geisha Blues

Ko-uta is a genre of Japanese music which developed from the 19th century. It literally means 'little song' and indeed the songs tend to be short, accompanied by the shamisen (a three stringed, long necked instrument). It is most associated with the geisha, for whom learning to master the shamisen is one of the traditional arts.

There doesn't seem to be a lot about it in English, other than Liza Dalby's book 'Little songs of the Geisha: traditional Japanese Ko-Uta' (Tuttle publishing, 1979). The author trained as a geisha, and has translated some of the lyrics (she has also put out a DVD, Geisha Blues). Some of them remind me a little of the blues or Greek rembetika, songs of sensuality, longing and intoxication - albeit with more of the natural world imagery found in Japanese lyrics and poetry.

One of the songs, 'Sake to onna wa', Dalby translates as 'Wine and women'. A song associated with wandering minstrels during the late Edo period (first half of the 19th century), it could be out of the Mississipi delta:

Wine and women
Balm for the soul
This floating world is
Women and wine
Just a taste, and now
Karma leads me to this fate
Praise the lord, praise the lord!
To heaven or hell,
Women and wine,
You and me, babe
Till the end -
With a honey like you
With me in hell,
Emma and Jizo might forget
They ever renounced the world.
Oh, the demon drink

[Emma is king of the buddhist helll, Jizo is a patron deity of traveller. The last word 'onigoroshi, literally means "demon killer" and was the name of a cheap type of alcohol which was the drink of these peripatetic minstrels, not able to afford sake' (Dalby)]

I haven't found much of this music online so far - I suspect that I need to be able to search using Japanese characters which I can't read - but there are some examples at

Ichimaru (1906-1997) was a singer and geisha who developed her own style of Ko-uta singing:

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Riot Shield Sonic Attack

There's nothing like a global wave of  popular insurgency to prompt weapons manufacturers to think of new ways to hurt and kill people. Latest in the sonic warfare department is the riot shield wall of sound:

'Riot shields that project a wall of sound to disperse crowds will reduce violent clashes with police, according to a patent filed by defence firm Raytheon of Waltham, Massachusetts. The device looks similar to existing riot shields, but it incorporates an acoustic horn that generates a pressure pulse. Police in the US already use acoustic devices for crowd control purposes that emit a loud, unpleasant noise.

The new shield described by Raytheon produces a low-frequency sound which resonates with the respiratory tract, making it hard to breathe. According to the patent, the intensity could be increased from causing discomfort to the point where targets become "temporarily incapacitated". Acoustic devices haven't seen wide adoption because their range is limited to a few tens of metres. The patent gets around this by introducing a "cohort mode" in which many shields are wirelessly networked so their output covers a wide area, like Roman legionaries locking their shields together. One shield acts as a master which controls the others, so that the acoustic beams combine effectively'.

(New Scientist, 14 December 2011)

All sounds a bit like Michael Moorcock's Sonic Attack, recorded by  Hawkwind on the 1973 Space Ritual album:

'These are the first signs of Sonic Attack:
You will notice small objects, such as ornaments, oscillating.
You will notice a vibration in your diaphragm.
You will hear a distant hissing in your ears.
You will feel dizzy.
You will feel the need to vomit.
There will be bleeding from orifices.
There will be an ache in the pelvic region.
You may be subject to fits of hysterical shouting, or even laughter'.

See also: Kathy Acker - Empire of the Senseless; Sonic Cannon in Pittsburgh.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Massacres 1981 and 2011

Thirty years ago last week, on December 16 1981, nine striking miners were killed by the state at the Wujek Coal Mine in Katowice. Three days previously martial law had been declared in Poland by General Wojciech Jaruzelski and the miners were on strike against military rule. Tanks, water cannon and then live ammunition was used in the clashes between police, troops and strikers.

The repression successfully pacified the movement in the short term, but the memory of the massacre fired up the next big wave of strikes in 1988, and within ten years of the killings most of those responsible were out of power. Some of those directly implicated in the massacre later went to prison.

Still the collapse of the Soviet Bloc precipiated by the Polish strikers and similar movements elsewhere did not unseat all the generals, secret policeman and bureaucrats in these countries. Some just changed their badges and got on with business as usual, nowhere more so than in Kazakhstan where the former head of the local 'Communist' Party Nursultan Nazarbayev became President of the newly independent country in 1991, holding on to power ever since.

Thirty years to the day since the Wujek massacre, on December 16 2011, tanks and military forces were used in battles in Kazakh city of Zhanaozen. More than 3,000 people assembled in the city in support of oil workers who have striking and protesting since May in support of better living conditions. Police and special forces attacked the meeting and opened fire on the strikers and their families. At least 10 people are reported to have been killed.

According to this report at libcom 'the Kazakh oil field workers established a “tent city”, in Zhanaozen’s main square, in June. When police tried to break it up in July, 60 of them covered themselves with petrol and threatened to set themselves on fire. Friday’s massacre took place in the same square'.

Say what you like about Sting, but to his credit he cancelled a performance at a government-sponsored festival earlier this year in solidarity with the strikers, saying 'The Kazakh gas and oil workers and their families need our support and the spotlight of the international media on their situation in the hope of bringing about positive change'.

Other UK interests have been less choosy:

' - The companies where most of the protesting oil workers work are partly owned by Kazmunaigaz Exploration and Production, which is listed on the London stock exchange and has often raised loans from London-based institutions;
- The UK is the third largest direct investor in Kazakhstan (after the USA and China);
- Tony Blair, the former prime minister, is being paid millions of pounds to lobby in the Kazakh government’s interests. Many other British businessmen and politicians help, too. Richard Evans, the former chairman of British Aerospace, is chairman of Samruk-Kazyna, a state-owned holding company that controls a big chunk of the Kazakh economy.
- The oil produced in Kazakhstan is traded in the offices of big oil trading companies and international oil companies in their London offices'.

Tomorrow - Wednesday 21st December 2011, 12 noon - there's a solidarity picket at the Kazakh-British Chamber of Commerce, 62 South Audley Street, Mayfair, London W1K 2QR.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

'Re-education' and forced haircuts for Indonesian punks

Frightening tale from Indonesia of repression of young punks at hands of Islamists:

/Dozens of young men and women have been detained for being "punk" and disturbing the peace in Aceh, Indonesia's most devoutly Muslim province. They are being held in a remedial school, where they are undergoing "re-education". Rights groups have expressed concern after photographs emerged of the young men having their mohawks and funky hairstyles shaved off by Aceh's police.They look sullen and frightened as they are forced into a communal bath.

But Aceh's police say they are not trying to harm the youths, they are trying to protect them. The 64 punks, many of whom are from as far away as Bali or Jakarta, were picked up on Saturday night during a local concert...

Aceh police spokesman Gustav Leo says there have been complaints from residents nearby. The residents did not like the behaviour of the punks and alleged that some of them had approached locals for money. Mr Leo stressed that no-one had been charged with any crime, and there were no plans to do so. They have now been taken to a remedial school in the Seulawah Hills, about 60km (37 miles) away from the provincial capital Banda Aceh. "They will undergo a re-education so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people," says Mr Leo.

But activists say the manner in which the young people have been treated is humiliating and a violation of human rights.Aceh Human Rights Coalition chief Evi Narti Zain says the police should not have taken such harsh steps, accusing them of treating children like criminals. "They are just children, teenagers, expressing themselves," she says. "Of course there are Acehnese people who complained about them - but regardless of that, this case shouldn't have been handled like this. They were doused with cold water, and their heads were shaved - this is a human rights violation. Their dignity was abused."

...Aceh is one of the most devout Muslim provinces in Indonesia, and observers say it has becoming increasingly more conservative since Islamic law was implemented a few years ago' (BBC News, 14 December 2011).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Art of Parties

This article 'Retort Goes to a Party' by Holley Cantine was originally published in the Autumn 1951 issue of Retort, a journal of anarchism, poetry, literature and essays edited by Cantine, with contributors including Paul Mattick, Kenneth Rexroth and Paul Goodman. It was reprinted in the Portland-based journal Communicating Vessels (Fall/Winter 2008-9). There are more Retort articles here - it was published in New York in the 1940s and 50s.

A 1950s report of a 1920s retro party might seem obscure even for this site, but there are some interesting reflections on the art of parties.

'On last March 24th, in Greenwich Village, a party, was thrown for the ostensible purpose of commemorating the 1920s. The editors of Retort, being at the time on one of their occasional visits to New York, attended. It was a fairly large party — upward of 100 people, most of them costumed in the styles of the period — either authentic or reasonably faithful representations. There was a competent Dixieland jazz band and an adequate amount of drink, the price of admission being a bottle. The party was held in a commodious sculptor's studio on the top floor of a loft building in a non-residential section of the Village, so there was both plenty of room and sufficient isolation to permit complete freedom from the usual urban inhibitions about noise.

Yet, in spite of all these manifest advantages, the party, as a party, and especially as an attempt to recapture the spirit of the '20s, didn't really come off. There was a good deal of boisterousness, some fairly wild dancing, and a determined effort on the part of the sponsors to keep things moving, but the atmosphere was not at all that of the period that was supposed to be commemorated, and the level of intensity that a really good party attains was never observable. The present writer, who has a very warm feeling for the '20s, perhaps because he was just a little too young to take part in the revels of that era, but old enough to have witnessed some of them, stayed on to the bitter end, hoping that  something might turn up, but unfortunately the evening just wilted away, and when at 3 or 4 in the morning the last remaining revelers began looking for their coats, it was as if nothing had happened.

To the connoisseur of parties — and in the '20s, the party was an art form with many zealous devotees, not a few of whom gave their lives as a result of their single-minded dedication to art — a party is not really successful unless something happens other than the usual banalities of passings out, corner seductions, et al. Exactly what is supposed to happen is impossible to foresee (this is the chief charm of the party as an art form). At some point in the evening, usually well after midnight, when the more inhibited guests have gone home and the rest are sufficiently liquored up to be ready for anything, a sort of spirit of the party begins to take over, fusing the participants into a spontaneous organic whole which is capable of very curious and memorable acts.

At the party in question, the focal point of the evening was the so-called Charleston Contest, and had the party been sufficiently alive, this could have been the spark that started things moving. As it turned out it was merely an exhibition of rather extreme dancing (none of it the Charleston) with most of the people reduced to spectators while a dwindling number of couples competed. I can recall parties in the '20s when an event of this nature suddenly evolved into a mock revival meeting or voodoo ceremony, with everyone taking part, or at least experiencing the excitement — a sort of pseudo-religious ecstasy that could be quite breathtaking.

Of course, such a performance is only possible in an entirely spontaneous andabandoned atmosphere, and the heavy aura of self-consciousness that hung over this party was a serious detriment to even bogus spirituality. Perhaps we who have endured the terrible '40s are unable to recapture the fine, free and essentially naive gusto for wickedness that characterized the lighter side of the '20s. The '20s, despite the fond belief of its Flaming Youth, was — at least in perspective — a very innocent period. There was something ingenuous and good-natured about its revolt against Victorianism. The bottomless pit that the First World War had opened up before the Lost Generation was a shallow ditch compared to that which our generation has witnessed, and the consequent cynicism was childlike and lighthearted, in comparison to the numb apathy that is characteristic of the more advanced youth of today.

The "wild" party was the perfect vehicle for expressing this spirit, especially since, as the result of Prohibition — that last desperate stand of the forces of Puritanism — the simple act of taking a drink was transformed into a wicked and excitingly illegal event. (Today, the youth must resort to the more deadening narcotics to achieve a similar thrill). A party in the '20s that commemorated the '90s was a lively, good-natured spoofing of the previous generation's foibles; we of the '50s, with our prevailing atmosphere of doom and disintegration, are hardly in the proper mood to give the same sort of treatment to the youthful follies of our parental generation'.

Police and Parties in England: November 2011

Dorset: 'Illegal Rave blocked by Police' (Bridport News, 1 December 2011)

'Lyme Regis police blocked an illegal rave that was set to attract hundreds of revellers after it was advertised on the internet. The party was publicised on social networking site Facebook as a public event with camping, fireworks and live music. Police in Lyme Regis received a tip-off about the event and discovered that various DJs were lined up to perform in a field from 8pm to 6am.

Community beat manager PC Richard Winward said: “We had no idea where it was so we made some inquiries and discovered who the organisers were. We discovered that it was going to happen on Saturday, November 19 in a field off the A35 at Wootton Fitzpaine. We realised of course that it must not go ahead because it was illegal and would have caused huge disruption to people living in the area.” The organisers were three 19-year-old men from Lyme Regis, Umborne in Devon, and Exeter.

"We told the organisers that they did not have permission and the rave would not take place, and if it did go ahead or if they made any more preparations they would be arrested We also told them that unless they removed the pallets and breeze blocks, which legally counts as preparing for a rave and if they didn’t put a notification on Facebook that it had been cancelled, they would also be arrested.”

PC Winward said the organisers agreed to postpone the rave until they obtained the correct licences and permissions. But some determined revellers still threatened to turn up at the field, so police were forced to blockade the area'.

Hampshire: 'Illegal rave in Andover stopped by police' (BBC, 21 November 2011)

'An illegal rave in a disused industrial unit in Hampshire has been shut down. Police officers followed social media websites to locate the site of the rave which was being set up at the Walworth Industrial Estate in Andover. About 70 officers broke up the gathering by dispersing people travelling to the music event on Saturday night. Three men, from Wales, Gloucester and Hampshire, were arrested and sound equipment was seized by police. A 36-year-old from Llanishen, Wales, and a 19-year-old from Alton, Hampshire, were both arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and using electricity without authority. A 37-year-old from Gloucester was arrested on suspicion of using electricity without authority'.

Norfolk (Lynn News, 28 November 2011)

'Police seized sound equipment and a vehicle used to transport it from those believed to be the organisers of an illegal rave shut down on Sunday in Feltwell. The unlicensed music event was held at a Fire Ride, between 4am and 1pm, where it is thought that around 200 people attended. Superintendent Dave Marshall said: “The Constabulary takes such incidents very seriously. “We will take action to deal with anyone intent on causing disruption and nuisance within our local communities. Such events are unsafe and we will continue to prosecute, seize and destroy the equipment of anyone found to be involved.”'

Buckinghamshire (Leighton Buzzard, 2 December 2011)

'Thames Valley Police has charged a 20-year-old man with public nuisance following a rave at Ivinghoe Beacon in October. [RB] of Haverhill, Sussex, was charged with the offence yesterday and is due to appear at Aylesbury Magistrates’ Court on December 19. The offence relates to an illegal rave attended by more than 600 people which took place in the early hours of October 2'.

Somerset: 'Seven arrested for illegal rave' (Somerset County Gazette, 18 November 2011)

'Police arrested seven people and seized sound equipment after breaking up an illegal rave at Nuctombe Bottom near Timberscombe recently. More than 600 people descended on the site without permission, prompting police to move in and break up the rave following complaints from angry residents. Police said the noise was so intense that it could be heard up to four miles away in Minehead'.

Lancashire: Police Scupper New Year's Eve Party (Burnley Citizen, 2 December 2011)

'Plans for a New Year’s Eve rave in Colne have been refused after strong objections by Lancashire Police. Promoters Small Trees wanted to stage the event at an industrial unit off Burnley Road, Primet Bridge but PC Mark Driver, Pennine policing division licensing officer, raised concerns on how an expected crowd of up to 500 could be managed. Further worries centred on internet promotional promises of £2 drinks for everything except spirits. The borough’s licensing committee issued a counter-notice against the event'.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The strike in London

I went on strike on Wednesday November 30th against changes to pensions for public sector workers - against in short having to work for longer and pay more to receive less. The goverment initially tried to play down the numbers on strike - but even by their own figures around a million were on strike, the largest number for at least  30 years. The unions suggested the number was more like 2 million. 

Started to write an in-depth post about capitalism, crisis, the weakness of both the state and its oppenents etc. But that will have to wait for another day, probably another year! Instead, here's some pictures and short commentary from the strike in London - all taken on the demonstration in central London (attended by up to 50,000 people) unless otherwise stated.

'Debt enchains us, work exhausts us, you disgust us'

'Revolution is the ecstasy of history'  - banner on picket line at Goldsmiths College in South London.
Nice slogan, even if begs the riposte 'what you mean you love everybody on Saturday night, but can't face gettting
out of bed by Wednesday'

The Occupy London banners were impressive : 'All power to the 99%'

The sound system behind the Occupy banners kept people dancing, righteous reggae and dancehall
among other sounds, but the track that led to a frenzed explosion of energy from hundreds of people was
'One Step Beyond' by Madness!

Nostalgia Steel Band on the march. Clare is angry - and she's not alone!

New architecture of control - police temporary metal barriers in Trafalgar Square
After the main demonstration, 21 people were arrested during an occupation of Panton House near Leicester Square, headquarters of  mining company Xstratahe whose CEO Mick Davies was said to be the highest compensated CEO of all the FTSE 100 companies in the last year, receiving pay and shares ot a value of £18,426,105. 37 people were also arrested in Dalston, ironically outside the CLR James Library. Seemingly they had been part of a mobile group with sound system moving between picket lines in Hackney.

 See also: The Big Strike in South London for more photos and reports.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Police use UV ink at Occupy Montreal

Bouncers tricks and bass lines at the eviction of Occupy Montreal:

'Occupy protesters “branded” with UV ink: Montreal police borrow tactic from club bouncers to stop protesters from returning to public square

Occupy protesters in Montreal were dismayed to find they had been marked by police with a special ink that is only visible in UV light after being arrested during a raid of Victoria Square Friday. Police told CTV Montreal they borrowed the technique from bouncers at clubs and bars and it is meant to mark protesters who might return to the square.

But they apparently weren’t so forthcoming with at least one protester. “They wrote on my hand with a permanent marker and then after I felt something pointy and metallic scraping across my skin,” wrote protester Nina Haigh on Facebook, continuing: 'I immediately asked “What are you doing” and they simply said we wrote on you with a pen and showed me a bunch of various pens in her hand. I didn’t argue about it and I was unable to look at my hands as they were tied behind my back with zipties. As soon as I was released I looked at my hands and there was no ink on them from a pen. …

This morning we tested my hands under a black light and sure enough there was a number 2! The freaky thing is this is IN my skin, washing my hands and scrubbing with abrasives will not get this off…. perhaps in several months of my skin cells renewing themselves if will eventually fade.What ever ink that is in there is irritating my skin slightly and its a very terrible feeling that they put a substance in my body with out my consent and then later lied about it' (Salon, 30 November 2011).

This took place during the eviction of the Occupy Montreal camp on 25 November, as reported in The Link, 29 November 2011:

'In the end, Occupy Montreal didn’t go out with a flash bang, but with a bass line. Exactly six weeks after the global Occupy phenomenon came to the city, Victoria Square was a place transformed, then transformed again.  Gone was the intricate maze of shelters and structures. Gone were the kitchen and library areas. And gone were many of the inhabitants of the tent city, kicked out by members of the Service policière de la Ville de Montréal on Nov. 25.

Still, despite the naked landscape of the square compared to the bustle and crowds that had been a mainstay for the past month and a half, on Saturday afternoon, a few hundred people came back to the site to discuss what they had been a part of, and where the movement will go now.  Unlike the violent end to the Occupy camps in New York, Oakland, and UC Davis, Montreal’s version didn’t end in clashes with the cops—instead, it ended with a concert. Local legends Bran Van 3000 performed a stripped-down set marked with the refrain, “Love is in the air.” [Bram Van 3000 are best known in the UK for their track Drinkng in LA]...

Today, the tents have been torn down, and the inhabitants have all gone back to wherever they came from. All that’s left is the question that’s been levied at the movement since the beginning: what’s next? What do you do when a protest predicated on the physical occupation of a location no longer physically occupies that space?

“That’s a good question,” said di Salvio. “Even in the middle of summer we were wondering what was going to happen in the winter. We’re human, and it gets very cold". Rather than look at the winter as a time for bonds to weaken, di Salvio, who had also paid a visit to New York City to check out Occupy Wall Street, thinks that breaking up the camp will result in different kinds of organization—digital and physical—that will lead to bigger things when the temperatures rise again in the spring...It’s almost like a tour: you go and reinforce and recharge to meet up again next summer.”

Saturday, December 03, 2011


'Spannered' is a new novel by Bert Random, published by Spannered Books, a new small press based in Bristol.

Described on the cover as 'a book about free parties, friendship and dancing', it is essentially an account of one weekend in Bristol in 1995 centred around a warehouse party, but its evocative descriptions will echo with anybody who has been to free parties anywhere or anytime then or since. It's all there - the highs, the lows, the intense friendships, the casualties, the transformation of some derelict zone into a temporary playground... And of course the music.

The chapter headings are tracks from that period (e.g. The Pump Panel's Ego Acid, Starpower's Renegade 303 from the Chris Liberator/Dave the Drummer 'Stay up Forever' stable). Writing about music without lyrics is notoriously difficult, but the author has a real sense of the physical impact of a snare, a kick drum or a blast of 303 on the bodies of dancers. Especially the latter - it's all about the acid, 'Bristol-style techno - the hard, dense kick drums are circled by fine-tuned cymbals and snares, dirty, squelchy, sub-bass notes rumble under our feet, while sweeping strings and swirling acidlines collide up above. The duelling 303s churn away...'

As a historical document capturing the mood of a specific time and place this book is bang-on, but it also has some broader reflections on dancing. At one point on the dancefloor, the narrator feels 'a link with something primeval, not just with my immediate environment, not just with the shit-hot party going on around me. A link with something deeper than that. I feel a connection to my own history of dancing... I'm possessed by everyone who has ever been moved by music. I feel a link to distant drums of warning and celebration, to the force of rhythm on our cerebral patterns and genetic muscle memories. I remember all this in a split second'.

If the author has felt compelled to write a novel 15 years after the events described, it is presumably because like many of us he recognises that one night can last a lifetime: 'Those moments, those movements, those sounds, those feelngs - they all really happened. The afterglow from sharing those experiences with thousands of people - with hundreds of thousands of people over the years - can keep you warm for a long time, if you let it'.

Detail from illustration by Silent Hobo in Spannered
The book also features some great illustrations by artists including Silent Hobo, Boswell, Nik III, Natalie Sandells and Rose Sanderson.

You can get the paperback for a mere £8.99 from the Spannered Shop, and there is also an e-book version. Ideal Christmas present for anybody who was there, wishes they were, or wonders what it was like (and indeed still is like in free parties today, although obviously some things have changed in the past decade and a half).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Swing as Surrealist Music

Cultural Correspondence (1975-83) was a remarkable US-based radical journal with a particular focus on popular culture. Its entire archive is now available online and is a real treasure trove. I've been browsing through a 1979 special on surrealism, which has lots of music and dance related content. The following text is by the American philosopher Horace Meyer Kellen (1882-1974), an extract from his 1942 book Art and Freedom. I would certainly take issue with its association of jazz and swing (and by implication black people) with the 'primitive' - these developed as modern urban musics created by sophisticated virtuoso musicians. But the text does express very well the enthusiasm of its followers in that period for a music that seemed to embody liberation:


'The musical equivalent of surrealism in painting and literature is not obviously connected with either its theory or practice. It develops as a practice entirely innocent of theory, as an unwilled expression of alogical spontaneity, of irresponsible, personal invention unenchanneled by form, unchecked by musical knowledge or learned tradition; develops thus with all the differentiae which the connoisseurs ascribe to surrealist creations. The name for it is Swing. Its native habitat is the United States of America, and it is indigenous to the southern portion, especially to the Mississippi riverfront at New Orleans. Unlike its literary and pictorial parallels, which sustain a local life already below the level of subsistence among selected groups of intelligentsia, Swing has attained a world-wide diffusion among all classes and occupations. The event is natural enough. Verbiform and graphic symbols require interpretation; sheer sonorous rhythm does not. Swing is caused in a medium which issues from and speaks to Dr. Freud's Unconscious direct, without disguise, without distortion...

...Swing arrived as the latest phase of a progression from Ragtime through Jazz. The trick of heightening emotional tension by opposing one rhythm to another became conspicuous as a practice about the same time that post-impressionism made its start. The matrix of Swing is said to have been opposed and mixed body-rhythms of the pasmala as danced in New Orleans bawdy-houses and honky tonks. The manner of mixing and opposition was carried over from dancing bodies to  sounding musical instruments. Popular songs so treated were said to be "ragged," and the treatment came to be called Rag-time. The singers and dancers and players who devised Ragtime were American Negroes with remnants of an eroding African culture in their body-rhythms, in their social habits and in their personal outlook. They were primitives indigenous to industrial civilization, with its timeclocks, its rigid divisions of the hours of the working day, its patterns of machine-logic and rationality. Negro Ragtime was the beginning of a break from that. In less than a generation the Negro's social heartbreak was absorbed into Ragtime's terpsichorean breakdown and Ragtime transmuted to Jazz. The vehicles of the American Negro's heartbreak is the Spiritual and Jazz, which is said to derive from jaser, an Acadian word meaning to gabble, to chatter, is the compenetration of the rag and the spiritual. Body, voice, wind and percussion instruments are its vehicles.

Jazz began to spread through the great industrial cities of the North American continent about the same year that the First International Exhibi-ion of Modem Art began its epoch-making trek across the States. This exhibition, which for the first time brought before the unaccustomed eyes of Americans the works of all the schools and cults that Europe had bred in two generations, had been arranged under the auspices of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors. Ragtime, which might be said to correspond to the cubist phase of the pictorial and verbiforrn arts, spread to Europe while modernist painting and poetry were acquiring a vogue in America. The four years o' the First World War were a plowing of a cultural soil wherein Jazz could take deep roots, and when the War ended it flowered indeed. . . .

The metronomic noises of the railroads and factories, the monotonous roar of the cities de-manded their rhythmic compensation. Even  formal music brought them forth. Percussion and wind instruments — brasses, saxophones, trombones, xylophones, bells — became more noticeable in orchestras. To atonality or to polytonality, which dropped modulation, which set key against key and scale against scale, was joined a continuous shift of rhythm or a contrapuntal opposition of many rhythms. In 1893, Dahomey Negroes, beating tom-torns for the entertainment of gaping Americans at Chicago's World Fair, had, by using feet and heads as well as hands, produced a triple cross rhythm which constituted an unconscious counter-point of rhythms. . .

Formal professional music, however modem, somehow failed to release the emotions which the industrial workday blockaded and starved. Night, that so long had been the time, not for living, but for sleeping away the fatigues of the living day, became conspicuously the time for living. The existence of the folk of the industrial cities is now a cultural schizophrenia of day-life and night-life. Day is the time when they earn their livings, night is the time when they live their lives. During the day most people are producers, disciplined to the machine, their bodies held to its rhythm, their minds constrained to its motions. By night, they are consumers; their body-rhythm seeks to recover its native physiological patterns, their movements search to resume the human form appropriate to autonomous human function. The extraordinary spread and influence of Swing testifies that in it the seeking and searching come to a haven; that it owns the power of gratifying the needs which launch them. Also its well-spring is the Negro of the urban jungle in New Orleans; also its centers of power are the great industrial areas — Chicago, New York, London, Berlin, Moscow, Shanghai, Tokyo.

Atonal, polyrhythmic, Swing cuts itself loose from every rule and canon that tradition has brought down or craftsmanship confirmed. It asks of the performer two things, a maximum of virtuosity on his instrument, a maximum of spontaneity in his performance. That must needs be sheer, unrestricted improvisation, the free, the anarchic expression of his Unconscious, undisguised and unashamed. Nor is the expression sonoriform only. His whole body collaborates: as he plays, he dances, he acts, he sings, he leaps and twists and weaves like an acrobat, and the different behaviors pass seamlessly into and out of one another. He becomes the leader, not only of his band, but of his audiences: they step from their seats into the aisles and dance with him in an ecstasy — orgiastic or mystical or both according to the observer's lights — of release and self-recovery. It is the liberation of Dionysos from Apollo, of the living organism from the automatic machine, an insurgence of the depths into a conscious experience without connection and without analogue, though perhaps revivalist religious gatherings do enfold likenesses wherein convert and jitterbug are one under the skin. Swing might with good reason be called surrealism in excelsis'.

(full text below- click to enlarge)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Agit Disco Book Launch

Agit Disco has just been published by Mute Books, compiled by Stefan Szczelkun, edited by Anthony Iles  The launch takes place on 8th December 2011, 6.30pm – 9.00pm at The Showroom, 63 Penfold Street, London, NW8 8PQ.

I have a chapter in the book so will be going along, maybe see some of you there  (details here, including how to order a copy).

'Agit Disco collects the playlists of its 23 writers to tell the story of how music has politically influenced and inspired them. The book provides a multi-genre survey of political musics, from a wide range of viewpoints, that goes beyond protest songs into the darker hinterlands of musical meaning. Each playlist is annotated and illustrated.

The collection grew organically with an exchange of homemade CDs and images. These images, with their DIY graphics, are used to give the playlists a visual materiality. Almost everyone makes selections of music to play to themselves and friends. Agit Disco intends to show the importance of this creative activity and its place in our formation as political beings. This activity is at odds with to the usual process of selection by the mainstream media - in which the most potent musical agents of change are, whenever possible, erased from the public airwaves. Agit Disco Selectors: Sian Addicott, Louise Carolin, Peter Conlin, Mel Croucher, Martin Dixon, John Eden, Sarah Falloon, Simon Ford, Peter Haining, Stewart Home, Tom Jennings, DJ Krautpleaser, Roger McKinley, Micheline Mason, Tracey Moberly, Luca Paci, Room 13 – Lochyside Scotland, Howard Slater, Johnny Spencer, Stefan Szczelkun, Andy T, Neil Transpontine, Tom Vague'.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shelagh Delaney RIP

Shelagh Delaney (1939-2011) died this weekend. She achieved many things, but will always be primarily remembered for A Taste of Honey, the play she wrote when she was just 18 years old in 1958. As her Guardian obituary mentions 'A Taste of Honey showed working-class women from a working-class woman's point of view, had a gay man as a central and sympathetic figure, and a black character who was neither idealised nor a racial stereotype'. This was recognised from the start, with Colin MacInnes stating in a 1959 review in Encounter that it was ‘… the first English play I’ve seen in which a coloured man, and a queer boy, are presented as natural characters, factually without a nudge or shudder. It is also the first play I can remember about working-class people that entirely escapes being a “working class play”: no patronage, no dogma, just the thing as it is, taken straight’.

Of course both Taste of Honey and Delaney's subsequent The Lion in Love had a huge influence on Morrissey and The Smiths, as summarised  by Passions Just Like Mine:

'Delaney's "A Taste Of Honey" features the following lines which were adapted by Morrissey mainly for the Smiths' "Reel Around The Fountain" and "This Night Has Opened My Eyes", but also other songs: "I dreamt about you last night, and I fell out of bed twice"; "You told me not to trust men calling themselves Smith."; "That river, it's the color of lead."; "I'm not sorry and I'm not glad"; "Oh well, the dream's gone, but the baby's real enough"; "It's a long time, six months"; "You can't just wrap it up in a bundle of newspaper. And dump it on a doorstep."; "I'll probably never see you again"; "I don't owe you a thing"; "As merry as the day is long"; "Sing me to sleep"; "You want taking in hand"; "It's your life, ruin it your own way.".

Delaney's "The Lion In Love" features the lines "I think we've courted long enough, it's time our tale was told"; "I'll probably never see you again"; "Cash on the nail"; "Anything's hard to find if you go around looking for it with your eyes shut"; "I'd sooner spit in everybody's eye"; "I'll go out and get a job tomorrow / you needn't bother" ; "Nell: And getting nowhere fast. Andy: These things take time."; "Pagliacci - that's me"; "Shall I tell you something? I don't like your face"; "ten-ton truck"; "Do I owe you anything"; "Tied to his mother's apron strings" which also appear in similar form in various songs penned by Morrissey. The line "So rattle her bones all over the stones, she's only a beggar-man whom nobody owns" also appears almost word for word in Morrissey's "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle" although it must be said that this line had previously appeared in James Joyce's "Ulysses" and even earlier in English poet Thomas Noel's "The Pauper's Funeral". Still, Morrissey's most direct inspiration is very likely the Delaney source'.

And Delaney's image graced two Smiths covers.

Delaney on the cover of Girlfriend in a Coma
Delaney on the cover of Louder than Bombs

Interesting to reflect on the similarities between Delaney and Morrissey, both from working class Manchester/Salford families of Irish origin. In fact that Manchester Irish proletarian perspective is a major influence on 'English' popular culture, isn't it? Shaun Ryder/Happy Mondays would be another example.

(The Beatles also recorded A Taste of Honey, a song originally written for the Broadway version of the play; their song Your Mother Should Know lifted its title from the play)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Riots 'like a rave'

The August riots in England: Understanding the involvement of young people, published by the National Centre for Social Research (Novemeber 2011) is a report commissioned by the Government's Cabinet Office, with all that implies. But it does at least have the strength of actually being partly based on interviews with people involved, and gives the lie to the notion that the riots were simply a gang-organised mindless explosion. Here's a few extracts:

'Why did young people get involved (or not)?
• Something exciting to do: the riots were seen as an exciting event – a day like no other – described in terms of a wild party or “like a rave”. The party atmosphere, adrenaline and hype were seen as encouraging and explaining young people’s involvement by young people themselves and community stakeholders.
• The opportunity to get free stuff: the excitement of the events was also tied up with the thrill of getting “free stuff” – things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to have.
• A chance to get back at police: in Tottenham, the rioting was described as a direct response to the police handling of the shooting of Mark Duggan. Here and elsewhere in London, the Mark Duggan case was also described as the origin of the riots and the way it was handled was seen as an example of a lack of respect by the police that was common in  the experience of young black people in some parts of London. Outside London, the rioting was not generally attributed to the Mark Duggan case. However, the attitude and behaviour of the police locally was consistently cited as a trigger outside as well as within London.

“People doing it because they’re angry at police. Police and people don’t have a good relationship and feel mad when get pulled by the police. Government were going to close [swimming] baths and people were angry about this ‘cos the only thing for young people to do.” (Young person, in custody)

“I think some of them just wanted the free stuff and some of them wanted to get back at the police. … Some of them might have been there because of the cuts, because of the EMA. … There were different reasons why people went there. Some it was for the enjoyment, to be with friends, some because they were angry with the government, the police.” (Young person, Peckham)

“We was just bored really and obviously nothing like this has ever happened for however long we have been alive. It was a first really, and we decided just to go up there just so we can say we had been there, not to act cool or anything, just to say, it is so big, it will probably be put in history, so we decided to go up there. We were that bored.” (Young person, Birmingham)

'However, the excitement was an attraction not just for the bored and underoccupied but also for young people who were otherwise engaged in work or education. In some instances, the events were described in terms of a wild party or, as one young person put it, “like a rave”. A sense of glee pervaded these accounts – people were often grinning while describing their experience – a delight that the normal order of things was briefly turned upside down. There was satisfaction in having “put two fingers up” to the “authorities” and pleasure in the memory of a day of disorder and misrule'.

“[I felt] excited, adrenaline, scared, but a good scared, like: ‘Wow, wow, wow, is this happening?’ And the bin on fire was wow. It was a new experience. [I] think it was for everyone. People were excited, especially getting PS3 boxes.” (Young person, Peckham)

Communities, commodities and class in the August 2011 riots

Also good is an article from Aufheben, Communities, commodities and class in the August 2011 riots.

'Detailed examination of the August unrest allows a tentative designation of three forms of disturbance. These categorisations are fairly loose, as repertoires of activity such as collective violence directed against the police and organised looting were features of most of the disorders to greater or lesser degree. However, there were clearly some differences in the primacy of activity in the August unrest that were related to the motivations and temporal positioning of the events.

The first disturbance form, designated the 'community riot', is characterised by locale rather than purely by its activity. These incidents in August 2011 were typically located in largely proletarian inner-city areas of mixed ethnicity (e.g. Tottenham, Hackney, Brixton, Toxteth, Handsworth). Typically they were triggered by police actions (e.g. the shooting of Mark Duggan and the police reaction to the subsequent demonstration in Tottenham, the 'stop and search' operations in Hackney) in areas, which had a significant pre-history of both contested policing and 'riotous' responses.37 These incidents were characterised by a large amount of violence directed against the police, static defence of 'territory' by the 'rioters' (such as Tottenham High Rd. and the Pembury estate in Hackney), attacks on important 'symbolic' targets (such as police stations, courts, public buildings) and the active and passive support of different sections of the local population (e.g. Tottenham and Hackney). Looting was clearly a subsidiary activity in these events.

The second category of disturbance can be labelled as 'commodity riot', as the primary aim of the participants was to appropriate goods. In August these events were the most common, were precipitated by the participants rather than the police and characterised by some level of pre-meditated target selection and organisation (using BB messaging, e.g. Enfield, Oxford Circus, Bristol and many other areas). They were usually aimed at large concentrations of commercial outlets (such as shopping centres, malls and retail parks), involved significant crowd mobility (including the use of bikes and vehicles to transport 'booty') and avoided contact with opposing superior forces (of police). The 'cat and mouse' manoeuvring between the police and 'looters' that occurred in many incidents - the latter aided by mobile phones and instant messaging - was a by-product of the primary aim to acquire useful (and valuable) commodities for the protagonists. Looters operated in numerous but smaller groups than in 'community riots', often travelled significant distances to 'hit' selected targets and were not spatially tied to their home locales.

The final (and fairly unusual) type of disturbance, which occurred in August in a few locations in London (Ealing, Pimlico, Sloane Square, Notting Hill), was the 'anti-rich riot'. These were characterised by pre-planning, movements by participants out of home locales to attack areas that were perceived to be dominated by the wealthy and were marked by widespread destruction of cars, cafeacute;s, restaurants, boutiques and commercial properties that were not necessarily high value 'looting' targets. Face to face robbing, terrorising and violence, directed at rich residents of these areas were a significant feature of these events'.

Looting, violins and ballet

I remember people looting a music shop on Charing Cross Road during the 1990 London poll tax riot, a young Chinese guy sprinting down the road carrying an electric guitar, somebody else grabbing a saxophone. People have been jailed in Manchester after similar scenes at a music shop in the city:

'[S.H.] was clutching a looted violin when he was arrested in the aftermath of riots in Manchester. Smelling strongly of drink, the aspiring musician quipped: ‘I’ve always wanted to learn to play the violin.’ His parents wept in the dock as district judge Alan Berg told the 19-year-old it was an ‘absolute tragedy’ that he had thrown away his prospects in this way.Hoyle, of Manchester, was arrested at 3am on Wednesday when police encircled a group of youths and saw him clutching the violin, thought to be from a music shop which had earlier been looted. He tried to run away as police arrested a girl, but the court heard he was chased and caught, telling officers: ‘I can understand why people riot, you really are fascist ********.’ Hoyle had never been in trouble before and is on Jobseekers’ Allowance, the court heard.
Sentencing him to four months in a young offenders’ institution for theft, Judge Berg told Hoyle he had brought ‘shame and disgrace’ on his family. But he told the shamefaced teenager: ‘Nobody forced you to get drunk and pick up the violin.’

An aspiring ballerina was arrested after police published images of her looting two boxed flat screen TVs from a hi-fi store where £190,000 of damage was caused. The 17-year-old, who has been studying ballet since she was seven and wants to be a dance teacher, gave herself up after seeing a CCTV image of herself in a newspaper.  The dancer was among a group of masked women caught on camera looting Richer Sounds, in Croydon. She was remanded in custody' (Daily Mail, 2 September 2011)

'Just two days after gangs of youths rampaged through Manchester smashing windows and looting shops, the city's retailers were in defiant mood. "We are Manchester, we don't give in that easy," said Trina Rance, operations manager at Dawson's, one of Manchester's largest music stores. Standing by a wrecked £14,000 grand piano, she described how she learned on Tuesday night that looters had broken into the shop.What followed was anarchy, with looters helping themselves to musical instruments and smashing equipment. One hooded youth was filmed walking casually down Portland Street carrying an expensive electric guitar he had stolen, the price tag still fluttering' (BBC, 11 August 2011).

'A soldier from Greater Manchester has been jailed for eight months after trying to sell a guitar that had been stolen during August's riots. [LB] 20, bought the guitar for £20 from an unknown man in Manchester city centre, during the height of the disorder on 9 August.He was arrested two days later as he tried to sell the instrument at a music shop in his home town of Leigh.He was sentenced to eight months in jail at Manchester Crown Court.Bretherton bought the Gibson Les Paul guitar, which had an estimated value of £2,000, from a looter in the street. It had been taken from Dawson's music store on Portland Street shortly before. The soldier, a member of the 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, took the guitar into a music shop in Leigh two days later.As he attempted to sell the instrument, the shop owner became suspicious, locked him in and called the police' (BBC, 21 October 2011)

Monday, November 07, 2011

Halloween in London

London Halloween
Costume 2011
Halloween weekend in London, and the streets were full of zombies, witches and men wrapped in bandages. White make up and fake blood. The fancy dress theme seems to have spilled beyond horror into generic carnivalesque costume. On the way to a house party in Brixton on the Saturday night a pantomime horse crossed the road in front of us, and a man ran down the road dressed up as a flying squirrel.

At the party a DJ dressed up as a penguin span the obligatory Michael Jackson's Thriller to a party including a crocodile, a parrot, the snow queen from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (handing out Turkish delight), a bat, two suicide bombers, Amy Winehouse and somebody dressed up in a take on one of Louise Bourgeois' costumes from her performance piece Banquet/A Fashion Show of Body Parts (seemingly somebody had a similar idea at a feminist art themed Halloween ball in New York in 2010).

Louise Bourgeois in 1978
Erica Magrey, New York Halloween Costume 2010

Sunday, November 06, 2011

New York 1977: when the lights went out

The Trammps' disco classic The Night the Lights Went Out (1977) commemorates an actual historical event in that year - the New York blackout. In The Trammps' account this was an occasion for sex in the unlit darkness:

Where were you when the lights went out
In New York City (I wanna know, I wanna know)
Where were you when the lights went out
In New York City

Don't you know that I was making love
(She was making love)

I remember on the 13th of July
The only light was the light up in the sky
New York had black-out for 25 hours or more
And nobody really knows the reason why...

Politicians said it was a pity
But that was the night they call it love city
So I took my lady by the hand
And led her to love me, love me, love me!

Where were you when the lights went out
In New York City (I wanna know, yeah)
Where were you when the lights went out
In New York City

But sex wasn't the only thing on New Yorkers' minds - the power cut also prompted mass looting. John Zerzan celebrated this aspect in an article published in the Detroit-based radical paper Fifth Estate (August 1977):

New York, New York

“Amid All the Camaraderie is Much Looting this Time; Seeing the City Disappear”, Wall Street Journal headline, 15 July 1977

The Journal went on to quote a cop on what he saw, as the great Bastille Day break-out unfolded: “People are going wild in the borough of Brooklyn. They are looting stores by the carload.” Another cop added later: “Stores were ripped open. Others have been leveled. After they looted, they burned.”

At about 9:00 p.m. on July 13 the power went out in New York for 24 hours. During that period the complete impotence if the state in our most ‘advanced’ urban space could hardly have been made more transparent. As soon as the lights went out, cheers and shouts and loud music announced the liberation of huge sections of the city. The looting and burning commenced immediately, with whole families joining in the “carnival spirit”. In the University Heights section of the Bronx, a Pontiac dealer lost the 50 new cars in his showroom. In many areas, tow trucks and other vehicles were used to tear away the metal gates from stores. Many multistorey furniture businesses were completely emptied by neighborhood residents.

Despite emergency alerts for the state troopers, FBI and National Guard, there was really nothing authority could do, and they knew it. A New York Times editorial of July 16 somewhat angrily waved aside the protests of those who wondered why there was almost no intervention on the side of property. “Are you kidding?” the Times snorted, pointing out that such provocation would only have meant that the entire city would still be engulfed in riots, adding that the National Guard is a “bunch of kids” who wouldn’t have had a chance.

The plundering was completely multi-racial, with white, black and Hispanic businesses cleaned out and destroyed throughout major parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx. Not a single “racial incident” was reported during the uprising, while newspaper pictures and TV news bore witness to the variously coloured faces emerging from the merchants’ windows and celebrating in the streets. Similarly, looting, vandalism, and attacks in police were not confined to the City proper; Mount Vernon, Yonkers and White Plains were among suburbs in which the same things happened, albeit on a smaller scale.

Rioting broke out in the Bronx House of Detention where prisoners started fires, seized dormitories, and almost escaped by ramming through a wall with a steel bed. Concerning the public, the Bronx District Attorney fumed, “It’s lawlessness. It’s almost anarchy.”

Officer Gary Parlefsky, of the 30th Precinct in Harlem, said that he and other cops came under fire from guns, bottles and rocks. He continued: 'We were scared to death... but worse than that, a blue uniform didn’t mean a thing. They couldn’t understand why we were arresting them'.

At a large store at 110th Street and Eighth Avenue, the doors were smashed open and dozens of people carried off appliances. A woman in her middle-50s walked into the store and said laughingly: “Shopping with no money required!”

Attesting to the atmosphere of a “collective celebration”, as one worried columnist put it, a distribution center was spontaneously organized at a Brooklyn intersection, with piles of looted goods on display for the taking. This was shown briefly on an independent New York station, WPIX-TV, but not mentioned in the major newspapers. The transformation of commodities into free merchandise was only aided by the coming of daylight, as the festivity and music continued. Mayor Beame, at a noon (July 15) press conference, spoke of the “night of terror”, only to be mocked heartily by the continuing liberation underway throughout New York as he spoke.

Much, of course, was made of the huge contrast between the events of July 1977 and the relatively placid, law-abiding New York blackout of November 1965. One can only mention the obvious fact that the dominant values are now everywhere in shreds. The “social cohesion” of class society is evaporating. New York is no isolated example.

Of course, there has been a progressive decay in recent times of restraint, hierarchy, and other enforced virtues; it hasn’t happened all at once. Thus, in the 1960s, John Leggett (in his Class, Race and Labour) was surprised to learn upon examining the arrest records of those in the Detroit and Newark insurrections, that a great many of the participants were fully employed. This time, of the 176 people indicted as of August 8 in Brooklyn (1,004 were arrested in the borough), 48% were regularly employed. (The same article in the August 9 San Francisco Chronicle where these figures appeared also pointed out that only “six grocery stores were looted while 39 furniture stores, 20 drug stores and 17 jewelry stores and clothing stores were looted”). And there are other similarities to New York, naturally; Life magazine of 4 August 1967 spoke of the “carnival-like revel of looting” in Detroit, and Professor Edward Banfield commented that "Negroes and whites mingled in the streets [of Detroit] and looted amicably side by side....”

The main difference is probably one of scale and scope — that in New York virtually all areas, even the suburbs, took the offensive and did so from the moment the lights went out. Over $1 billion was lost in the thousands of stores looted and burned, while the cops were paralyzed. During the last New York rioting, the ‘Martin Luther King’ days of 1968, 32 cops were injured; in one day in July 1977, 418 cops were injured.

The Left — all of it — has spoken only of the high unemployment, the police brutality; has spoken of the people of New York only as objects, and pathetic ones at that! The gleaming achievements of the unmediated / unideologized have all the pigs scared shitless'.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Stop the City, London, March 1984

'Protest and Carnival against War, Oppression and Exploitation'

In 1983-84 the financial centre of London was the focus for a series of one day Stop the City protests. The first of these took place in September 1983 and was followed by a bigger one in March 1984. The protest in September 1984 was also substantial, but by then the police had got wise to the tactic and were more successful at imposing control through mass arrests. I took part in both of the 1984 events.

Stop the City was defined as a 'protest and carnival against war, oppression and exploitation'. There was no single organisation behind the actions, though London Greenpeace (an anarchist group distinct from the national environmental organisation) helped initiate it. The idea was that people would plan their own actions within the overall Stop the City framework. Stop the City wasn’t simply a punk protest. It also drew its energy from the radical fringes of the peace and animal rights movements and from the broader anarchist scene, as well as from some veterans of the earlier free festival counter culture. But it was through the anarcho-punk scene that a lot of the information circulated about Stop the City, and through which many people came together to organise themselves to get to London from all over the country.

What made Stop the City so exciting was this it didn’t play by the rules. There was no march along a prearranged route negotiated in advance with the police. No permission was asked for - instead people were invited to turn up and use their own creativity and imagination. In March 1984 a combination of numbers and innovative tactics gave the protesters the upper hand for much of the day. Rather than get caught up in ritual set piece confrontations with the police, there was endless movement with groups heading off in all directions and no direction, blocking traffic and forcing the police to spread themselves thinly. There was a tangible sense of power - it was the first time I had seen people de-arrested. Coming down Change Alley we came across some isolated cops trying to make arrests, but they were quickly surrounded by a big crowd and let people go. Instead of hanging around a load of us just ran off and found ourselves on London Bridge where we blocked the traffic until a lorry decided to call our bluff and drive straight towards us. Somebody kicked a Bentley or some other luxury car stuck in the traffic.

There was anti-nuclear street theatre, and people in City suits and bowler hats made out of bin liners carrying copies of the Financial Times with slogans written on them like “Read all about it- the bomb is coming” (actually courtesy of the IRA the bomb was coming to the city, but that was a few years later, and probably not what people had in mind). By the end of the day, the police were more in less back in control. Nearly 400 people had been arrested and many of the remainder were stuck in front of the Royal Exchange building surrounded by cops - nobody called it 'kettling' then, but that was what it amounted to.

'Stop the City - People not Profit'

The following report of Stop the City on March 29th 1984 comes from the anarchist paper Freedom, published in May 1984:

'Stop the City (Freedom, May 1984)

'For your future, for our future, STOP NOW’ (Anon)

'The City is the place where your money from taxes, savings and pension funds is invested, and you have no control over them’ (Islington Action Group)

'We believe it's time to put a stop to the suffering of millions of people around the world, suffering created by the same economic system that runs our lives. The City of London is at the heart of all this, it is the logical place for our protest’ (Leicester Green Affinity Group)

‘Women not only serve the boss at work, they also serve their husbands and children at home as cooks and cleaners. Not only do women work harder, we get no pay for half the work [housework]’ (Stop the City Women's Group)

‘What we are trying to do is point out the grim reality that lies behind the mask of normal daily life’ (Grays Anarchist Group)

‘Ten ways to wreck the micro-computer in your office:- 1. Pour coffee ( with salt instead of sugar in it) into the keyboard to gum up the works...’ (Free London)

‘Dear fellow commuter,...on an average commuter train, about 20 people are directly involved with producing goods for military use’ (anon)

‘What's going on? As you walk through the City area today you may see quite a few people involved in various forms of action aimed at exposing the nature of London's financial district. Do not be afraid of these people, they could be your friends... As we listen to EMI records, people in foreign lands listen to EMI weapons guidance systems... People need each other, not money!’ (anon)

‘We are claimants, and as claimants we are forced to live in misery and poverty because of the decisions made behind the doors of these institutions. It's not jobs we demand...but the right to a decent life for everyone.’ (Claimants Action Nottingham)

‘In countries where people used to grow their own food, they are now paid minimal wages to produce non-edible cash crops for western companies... if dissatisfaction with this system causes social unrest, the west sells the same countries arms with which to restore law and order. ’ (LSE CND)

'I am here today because... I want everyone in the world to be happy... because they are stealing my life away and selling it back at a profit... because a terrified animal dies unnecessarily every 6 seconds... because everything has been appropriated and we want it back... because they are giving the children guns and violence and destroying their innocence... ’ (Mike, Brambles Farm Peace Camp)

‘Look at this fucking world, it's not ours no more. It belongs to rich fascist scum who, unless they are stopped, are gonna blow it to shit. The time has come to stop holding back... No longer will we march ‘peacefully’ to Hyde Park. It’s banks what fund war, not parks!’ (Paul)

‘I, the Commissioner of Police for the City of London, by virtue of the powers conferred upon me by Section 22 of the City of London Police Act, 1839, as amended by Section 8 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act, 1956 for the purpose of keeping order order and preventing obstruction of the thoroughfares in the immediate neighbourhood of the Mansion House and Guildhall of the said City, the Royal Exchange, the Bank of England, the General Post Office and other places of public resort within the said City and liberties on the 29th March, 1984… hereby direct Constables on the on the 29th March, 1984 in the said thoroughfares:

1. To prevent the gathering together of persons within a group.
2. To disperse any group of persons which may gather together.
3. To direct any person found loitering to move.
4. To prevent any procession.
5. To prevent the deposit or any refuse, litter or other object.
6. To secure the removal of any refuse, litter or other object by the person the Constable has reason to believe is responsible for the deposit thereof.
7. To prevent the making of any unnecessary noise which the Constable has reason to believe causes, or contributes towards, disturbance of the peace.
Dated this 26th a day March 1984, The Commissioner of Police for the City of London'

'You failed totally!' (STC)

Last September, after 6 months of discussions and preparations around the country growing out of the actions against military bases, about 1,500 people came to Stop the City of London in protest against wars and arms trade profits. The success of that day in terms of communicating to workers, disrupting business, and creating a determined and festive event encouraged many others to join in preparations for another protest — on the day profits for the whole year were symbolically to be counted up - March 29th 1984.

Having been in the City, seen how it works, how all companies and banks are interlinked, it was decided this time to make a general protest against the profit system. This would be a chance for everyone involved in trying to change things - opposing the exploitation of women, of nature, of animals, opposing wars, repression and poverty, and the power of money over us - to come together on this appropriate day and challenge the financial heart of the country.

As a network grew, everyone encouraged each other to create the kind of day they wished, to protest about the things they felt most strongly about and in the way they wanted. A truly decentralised yet well co-ordinated attempt to Stop the City and reclaim it for people.

The week before, on March 22nd, there were local protests in financial centres of 7 or 8 towns with pickets, occupations, leafleting, graffiti, processions and music.

On the 29th, up to 3,000 people took part together in London and this is an attempt to get down on paper some of the amazing and diverse activities...

Stopping the City

7 - 8am, First Aid, creche and assembly points set up. Police divert all lorries from City. 30 cyclists set off to do a very slow tour of the streets and stop the traffic. Balcony of arms trading company in Holborn occupied by London Peace Action, banners and balloons.

8 - 9am, Green CND protests at Electricity Board HQ all day. St Paul's packed already, many go to Bank area. People try to block roads. March down Cannon Street, Threadneedle Street blocked. Radio reports. People at Stock Exchange forced to move on. Women's action at Bank of England to protest about unpaid domestic exploitation foiled by police — continue to leaflet nearby. Many groups all over City, leafleting, dressed up, with placards, puppets, games, etc.

9 - 10am, 500 people at Royal Exchange. Police try to split people up. Leafleting and smoke flare in Bank tube station. 150 people disrupt Leadenhall meat market against animal exploitation. People continue to assemble at Bank - up to 1,000 - police try to block everyone in and keep traffic moving. Hundreds of cars begin to be quietly immobilised in car parks (all day). Free vegan food distributed for hours at St Paul's. Many locks glued up throughout the day.

10 – 11 am, The crowd who’d taken over the front of the Royal Exchange resist police efforts to force people out, wooden barrier collapses. People then hemmed in, police using horses. Lots of noise. Everywhere workers look from windows. Group go to do Fleet Street action — too many police. Spirits still high everywhere despite police violence. Lots of graffiti. Anti-nuclear street theatre at Nat West Tower. People enter banks to open and close accounts. A couple of groups walk back and forth over zebra crossings.

11 – 12 am, American, Russian and British flags burned at Bank. 3-400 march around fur trade area. 100 people break out of police cordon at Royal Exchange and attack windows of financial institutions — Barclays, Navigation House, Nat West and 30 other places. Car overturned as barricade and constant moving means police unable to stop action. Smoke flares, paint thrown etc. Securicor van too heavy to turn over, Roll Royce which tries to run someone over is wrecked. Still hundreds at St Paul's, and others running excitedly around (for fun!). Leafleting at Bank tube station continues.

12 - 1pm, Anti-apartheid picket of Barclays forced to move, so visit nearby branches. Jugglers, singers, puppeteers also threatened and police try to clear Bank again. Traffic blocked. Quiet for a while. A group take 2,000 leaflets to Greater London Council ‘democracy day’ march. Evening Standard quotes police as being ‘worried about possible link-up’. Creche going well (8 kids). Our own legal back-up people begin to get busy. 30 people ‘die-in’ on roads at St Paul's. Cacophony of noise everywhere on the hour. Some of large crowd on steps of Mansion House resist mass arrests. Statues, especially military ones, ‘decorated’.

1 – 2 pm, Claimants group burn UB40 identity cards at Bank. 30 women visit Fleet Street, raid Boots the Chemist and throw tampons in the street to protest at their ‘luxury item’ VAT classification. Protest outside the Sun also. People again break free from police cordon at Bank, resist their violence and damage bank property – Norwich Union, Leeds Permanent and American International. Spikes to stop traffic thrown in road.

2- 3 pm, More rumpus on the hour! 20 cyclists again stop traffic. Mobile carnival stage, with live bands and people following almost reaches Bank from Tower Hill, but seized by police. Over 200 people held in police cells continue their protest and have fun by making noise and causing floods etc. Nat West Tower entered, files ripped up, fire alarms set off. Police bike knocked over. Groups of ‘nuns’ and Stockbrokers’ still leafleting. St Paul's - face painting, and also ‘God is Dead!' charge into cathedral. Musical and noisy processions round Royal Exchange. Orange smoke flare set off – thrown back by policewoman who hits another cop. 200 people go to Guildhall but driven back by police – court opened but no-one brought to appear so closes again (later we discover that Princess Alexandra was due to visit at 6pm)

3 - 4 pm, 200 people make human barricade across London Bridge. Traffic stop until police arrive. People begin to congregate at Bank again, spilling into streets all around. Lots of chanting, angry and good humoured at same time! Still many hemmed in. Still groups of singers and leafleters walking around.

4 - 5 pm, 1,500 at Bank. Surges into the street and back. London clearing bank window smashed as movement of crucial ‘City’ cheques is disrupted. Stockbrokers’ messages fouled up. Thousands of workers begin to go home, many watch with interest and amusement what is going on, as at lunchtime. 350 prisoners held in cells, and up to 200 in police vans. Incredibly, despite police violence people still good humoured, but gradually getting worn out.

5 - 6 pm, People hemmed in, but relax, and gradually everyone disperses. 3-400 go to block Whitehall and Ministry of Defence in Central London as protest against Cruise missile convoy movements during previous night and in solidarity with women of Greenham who had blocked its path on the motorway.

It's impossible to do justice to everyone’s activities. Throughout the day many people were also hanging around, taking photos or watching. For some, this was the first experience of a self-organised protest and so they were unsure of what to do, the need, to come prepared, take initiatives, talk to others, etc. Also many were angry yet intimidated by police violence. But also loads of people wanted to join in and kept asking ‘what's happening?', ‘where's the action?', and so on. Some came for just an hour or two to show support. Everyone made a contribution in their own way.

What were the achievements?

Well, it was certainly a day people in the City will remember. The machinery of oppression thrives on appearing invincible, unquestioned and eternal, and our protests have begun slowly to break this spell. All day workers looked from windows, stood in doorways and on balconies, or walked unhurriedly about. No-one seemed threatened, some were prejudiced yet many more seemed excited, thoughtful, amused or provoked to think and discuss with colleagues what was happening and why. Some were surprised and angry at police violence which partly aimed to keep workers and protesters apart.

I collected leaflets being distributed by 31 different groups, a dazzling range of opinions and ideas —complemented by graffiti. But there were still many working there who didn't understand or feel involved. Likewise, many of us benefited from trying to talk to and understand the people there, their attitudes to work, difficulty in challenging their roles and employers.

As for actually disrupting business — while we were there we certainly had some effect. We enticed people away from their jobs and towards the human community in their midst. Traffic, mostly on business, was often stopped or slowed up all day. The front doors of some buildings were closed, some were picketed and those around Bank disrupted for hours. And don't forget that some phone lines were blocked by those contributing from home or work to the phone blockade.

On two or three occasions, largish groups of people managed to directly damage property of financial institutions, both as a statement of anger and also to make them pay a little for a change. And perhaps the most significant disruption was of the movement of cheques at the end of the day when millions of pounds physically circulates around the area. According to the Times, ‘The banking community struggled to keep money flows moving, despite the unrest. They succeeded - but only just’. ‘Bank balances were £11million below target overnight’.

The aim of creating a festive, human atmosphere was partially successful, despite everything the police did. There was lots of music and noise, clowning, puppets and banners, painted faces, joking and openly expressing our energy and humanity. There was a great deal of solidarity, warmth and respect amongst ourselves despite being strangers and of many differing ideas and groups. This is so important and is a strength which will attract others to think about what we're saying and doing.

Likewise, the fact that there were no leaders or formal structures, just so many people with initiative, energy and determination to do their best. It is also encouraging to read the 17-page police briefing (which fell out of a back pocket on the day) now widely distributed, to see what their aims were for the 29th. They took the protest very seriously, cancelled all leave in the City force, and all coppers worked at least 12 hours continuously. With the miners strike and blockades, other large demonstrations and Greenham blocking of roads near London, they were at full stretch. London Transport police and even ‘special constabulary’ were brought in. Special powers (1839) for the City were enacted. They clearly understood the aims of the protest, and the range of events that had been planned and publicised. And they made all sorts of-preparations. However, despite their plans, 450 arrests and other violence, they failed.

We showed that we have the determination and the strength, initiative and imagination to make a telling protest, and that if people everywhere only realised their strength, the power of the state could be effectively challenged on a wide scale.

Involving more people

But if we are to learn from our struggles, we have also to look at and overcome our limitations. Most of the people who took part are active in anti-militarist, animal liberation or general libertarian groups, or a part of the large dissatisfied urban unemployed sub-culture...

Yet it was difficult to involve those who went on strike on the same day to defend public services and the GLC, and also striking miners. Likewise, the vast majority of people who feel strongly about some aspects of what's wrong with the world, still think that joining an organisation (like CND, War on Want, RSPCA or whatever) or voting for the Labour party is the thing to do. Many others would also like a better world but don't believe people can change things, or are afraid to express their feelings. lt is all these people who need to get together to begin to move against the system.

And there are yet millions more, billions world-wide, working class people who have to struggle where they live and work just to survive, to maintain self-respect. Many don't relate to political parties or endless protests, yet we need everyone to begin to really stop the systematic industrial destruction and exploitation of our world.

The Stop the City demonstration is one small yet significant step in a developing process of awakening and of real opposition. We are learning as we take part. Many more people have become involved, not only in large scale protests but also in everyday activities, overcoming isolation and gaining confidence. Changing society is not only about collective opposition, it is also about people creating and extending mutual aid, solidarity and libertarian relationships amongst each other — neighbours, work-mates and wherever people meet. If the Stop the City idea contributes to that and to the creation of diverse local initiatives and resistance, it will be worthwhile.

What now?

On the 14th and 15th of April there was a follow-up weekend. On Saturday 60-70 people, many having been arrested, came to discuss court procedures, solidarity, films, look at photos, etc. Anyone who wishes to support those arrested can come to Guildhall Magistrates Court on Friday 11th and 25th May, 10:00am, or send donations to the Bust Fund Network, c/o Housmans, 5 Caledonian Road,London N1. Any other legal enquiries, phone Amanda 01-833 1633. An exciting unedited film was shown and is being turned into a film/video to be made available. Contact Mick 01-278 0075 if you have any additional material.

The second day was a general discussion about stopping the Cityy, what happened and the future. There was a very constructive and respectful atmosphere, and a general feeling that we had achieved a lot and there was so much more that was possible - not just in the City but everywhere. There will be a week of of protest against financial institutions, and the wars, exploitation and destruction they cause and profit from on September 22nd- 29th, with a general call to Stop the City, Thursday September 27th again. Everyone in the world is invited!

Likewise it was decided to Stop the City on Thursday May 31st also, while the enthusiasm and memories of March are alive. A totally self-organised protest – there won’t be any co-ordination meetings for May 31st, so everyone is encouraged to spread the word, come prepared and do what they think best.


See also Richard Metzgers' memories and photographs of this day at Dangerous Minds.

Other related History is Made at Night posts:

- J18 Carnival Against Capital, 1999

[post originally written in 2011 as the Occupy Stock Exchange London protest camped out by St Paul's in the same area targeted by Stop the City. Updated September 2023 with flyers and press cuttings]

Report from The Standard, 29 March 1983

'policewoman throws back smoke bomb as demo brings violence to the city'

'London grinds to a halt as thousands march'
(on the same day as Stop the City thousands took part in a march against plans to abolish the Greater London Council)

A Lambeth Stop the City planning meeting at 121 Railton Road in March 1984