Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gerry Anderson Fashions

The death this week of Gerry Anderson has sparked an outpouring of nostalgia from those brought up on his TV programmes in the 1960s and 1970s - Stingray, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space 1999 etc. And yes this is partly a nostalgia for the future that never happened, the thrilling world of space travel, underwater exploration and mass luxurious leisure that children in that period were told would be their birthright in Tomorrow's World by the end of the 20th century. I won't labour the point - Simon Reynolds has after all written a whole book about Retromania - but not only has that future not materialised but the whole belief in the future expansion of human possibilities is often dismissed as a mere retro fixation. The Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1995-2000) was partly an attempt by some of the children of the Gerry Anderson generation to carry forward that hope - inevitably we  called our 1999 conference in London 'Space 1999: ten days that shook the universe'.

Never mind the lack of personal jetpacks, one of the many disappointments of living in the actually existing 21st century is that the futuristic clothes in Gerry Anderson's shows haven't really caught on. There was a period in the techno mid-1990s when interesting fabrics and unisex clothing took off, with labels/shops like Vexed Generation in Soho. But for now looking like you crawled out of an early 1970s  album cover seems to be enough for the average hipster - though to be fair is that any more retro than desiring to look like you crawled out of an early 1970s TV show about the future?

UFO (1969-70)

UFO (1969-70)
The costumes for Space 1999 were designed by Rudi Gernreich (1922-1985), a refugee from the Nazis who was one of the founders of pioneering US gay rights organisation The Mattachine Society

Space 1999 (1973-76)

Space 1999 (1973-76)

Destiny Angel from Captain Scarlet (1967)

Thunderbirds (1964-66)

Well at least Britney Spears had a go at channelling Thunderbirds as a space age air hostess in the Toxic video:

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All Nite Mod Rave - Bradford 1964

Another example of 1960s 'rave' - an advert for an 'All Nite Mod Rave' on 18 July 1964 in Bradford, at the Coffin club in Ivegate, featuring Herman's Hermits and The Mutineers.

Another venue at the time was the 'Futurist Theatre' in Scarborough - built as a cinema in 1921, and still going strong today.

There was also 'The Big Beat Scene' tour in 1964, featuring Gene Vincent, Millie, Lulu and others.

Source: the fascinating Bradford Timeline Concerts and Package Tours 1956-67

(see previously: 1960s raves)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Norfolk Police smash up speakers - and boast about it

Earlier this week (December 12), Norfolk police posted a short video on Youtube with the title 'Seized rave equipment destroyed'. An accompanying press release says:

'Officers from Norfolk Constabulary have re-iterated their zero-tolerance of unlicensed music events by destroying seized equipment The speakers, generator, amplifier and cables were confiscated following a rave in Feltwell Woods, West Norfolk on 4 March. The offender was fined £100 plus costs and a destruction order for the equipment was issued by the courts.The equipment was destroyed by officers at King’s Lynn police station on Tuesday 11 December 2012. The items destroyed were:
  • 8 standard speakers measuring 2’x2’
  • 2 Peavey UL Speakers measuring 24” x 42”
  • A Stephill generator
  • A Crown amplifier
  • 3 metal cases
  • 1 plastic case containing jump leads
  • A draper tool box
  • A small container of diesel
  • 1 nitrous oxide cylinder'.
 The video shows a hammer smashing up the which could obviously have been put to good use, and indeed a local music charity 'Community Music East called it a "waste of equipment" that could be used by the county's "under-resourced" groups'. Bizarrely a police spokesperson told the BBC (13 December 2012) that "If the equipment was sold or donated there is a possibility it could be used for unlicensed music events in the future." Well that would apply to any musical equipment, why not send the police round to music shops with their big hammers and smash up all the amps and speakers in case they end up at a free party!

Not a great bit of PR - as of last night tonight it had received 4 likes, and 311 dislikes.

As covered here before, Norfolk has been the focus for an ongoing cat and mouse struggle between police and sound systems. Here's a couple of other recent examples:

‘Police were called to a disused quarry in North Creake over the weekend after reports of around 700 people arriving for an illegal rave. Police first received a call to the unlicensed music event at around 10.30pm on Saturday night, the event was located on a remote area of land that is difficult to access by vehicle. Police air support were used overnight, in addition to officers on the ground, a local gamekeeper and farm manager to monitor the situation and bring the event to a peaceful and safe closure. Sound equipment and a van were seized from the site, and police made two arrests for possession of drugs with intent to supply. Police noted all vehicles leaving the site and many were searched with several dozen drivers being breathalysed, but none were found over the limit for drink or drugs. (Lynn News, 22 October 2012)

Two men have been convicted of organising an illegal rave, which attracted about 200 people to a site near Beccles. The pair, who pleaded guilty when they appeared at Great Yarmouth Magistrates’ Court yesterday, [Monday, October 15] were told thousands of pounds of equipment, seized by police at the July 14 rave at Gillingham, would not be returned to them… The pair pleaded guilty to a charge of committing unauthorised licensable activity under the Licensing Act 2003, after the court heard the rave attracted about 200 people and caused “extensive damage to property”. They were also each given a two year conditional discharge, ordered to pay £150 compensation to the farmer and £85 costs… The court heard that R. had sent text messages to a large number of people, saying “the number for the Norfolk party is” followed by a mobile telephone number, and “keep it off Facebook...pass on to safe ravers.” It also read “see you rigside” – a reference to the large set-up of speakers and amplifiers used to play loud music, known as a “rig”.

Gary Mayle, prosecuting, said that when asked by police if the turntables were his, M. said: “It would be pretty hard to have a party without them.” Items seized also  included 18 speakers, five electrical power generators and four “disco light projectors”(Norwich Evening News, 16 October 2012).

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Operation Condor: Prohibition London

If anyone got robbed, burgled or raped this weekend in London and wondered where the police were when they needed them - hey, they had other things on their mind.

Around 4,000 cops took part in a 48-hour 'Operation Condor' operation to enforce alchohol and other licensing laws. According to The Guardian today: 'Since 8am on Friday police have visited nearly 6,000 premises, where 1,046 offences were reported or disclosed during the operation, dubbed Operation Condor. Twenty-two venues were shut down, including pubs, saunas and massage parlours, with police checking for sex worker cards and that no-drinking zones had been enforced... At least 297 people were arrested for various offences, including 38 for theft, 20 for public order offences, 20 for possessing Class-A drugs, 22 for possessing Class-B drugs, 26 for possession with intent to supply, seven for possessing offensive weapons, 18 for drunkenness, and 52 for immigration offences' (in other words mostly victimless 'crimes' which any fishing expedition rounding up people in bars and clubs would find).

The operation included a show-piece raid on 93 Feet East in Brick Lane on Friday night: 'One of the largest individual operations involved 175 officers, including the Territorial Support Group, the Met police's helicopter and dog units, who raided the 93 Feet East club in Brick Lane after reports of dealers selling Class-A drugs. Police arrested nine people for offences, including possession of drugs with intent to supply, and the club was closed'.

The police have posted some 'raid porn' footage on youtube showing them piling in to 93 Feet East, the message being 'we are big, we are tough, and we mean business'. Ludicrous really, these periodic blitzes have been going for decades and they don't make the slightest difference to the levels of drug taking, or drinking after hours.

helicopter footage showing swarm of police at 93 Feet East 
By they way are the Metropolitan Police aware of the resonance of the term Operation Condor, particularly for the many Latin American migrants in London? It was also the name for a notorious campaign of terror conducted by right wing dictatorships in South America in the 1970s, during which tens of thousands of people were tortured and executed.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Discotheque Dress for Party Dancing (1964)

Previously we discussed how the word Discotheque, coined in France by the 1940s, seems to have entered the English language in the early 1960s, with the opening of La Discotheque club in London by 1961 and a spate of articles in 1964 which used the word to refer to both a nightclub and a French-influenced style of dress. Another blogpost at OUP uncovered that in July 1964 the name of the dress was abbreviated to 'disco' in an American newspaper article and in September 1964 Playboy was the earliest example so far of the word 'disco' being used to describe a club, as in 'Los Angeles has emerged with the biggest and brassiest of the discos'.

Here's some pictures of the Discotheque dress, which seemingly by December 1964 had already been codified as a Vogue pattern advertised in Australian Women's Weekly 2 December 1964. Note too that here the name was abbreviated to 'disc dress' (and indeed the London club was sometimes referred to as 'The Disc')

Discotheque dress for party dancing!

'Here it is, the disc dress - the freshest, swingingest fashion for Christmas party nights ahead. Skinny and short and in one piece, it's a terrific dress for young mods who like to follow the swing beat'.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Turner Prize 2012: Sub-Cultural Traces

Glad to see Elizabeth Price win the Turner Prize. Pleased too that she mentioned her (similar to mine) Luton upbringing in her winning speech referencing arts cuts and threats to arts education in schools: 'It’s incredibly depressing listening to the comments people made earlier that a young girl from Luton going to a comprehensive might not be able to imagine being an artist and might not have the opportunities I’ve had'. 

Leaving aside my bias, I do think her film 'Woolworths Choir of 1979' is the most powerful work in this year's Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain in London. It cuts together three sets of images, drawn from Church architecture, 1960s/1970s female music performance and most poignantly a fire at Manchester Woolworths in 1979 in which ten people died. The film both utilises a didactic public information style of address, and critiques it by refusing to tell people what to make of the connection between these three themes. The threads include the notion of the 'choir', the name for part of a church as well as a group of singers/dancers or chorus; and the common hand gestures of humans in disparate situations, the 'conspicuous twist of the wrist' shared by dancers and a desperate wave from a burning building.

The use of a real tragedy in this way is controversial, but the film's rescue from the archives of a chorus of voices from the time restores this tragedy to the public memory from which it has largely faded. It also calls into question how our familiar visual shorthand for historical periods (the kind of 1960s and 70s fashion, haircuts, and music used elsewhere in the film) excludes these kinds of less cosy and familiar events.

Liz was a founder member of 1980s band Talulah Gosh (as well as later performing as one half of The Carousel), and with that knowledge in mind you can't help but noticing some of the continuities - in particular the appreciation for girl groups. The Shangri-Las 'Out on the Streets' features prominently in the (pleasingly loud for a gallery) soundtrack to the film.

One of the interesting things about all four of this year's finalists is their links to sub-cultures/counter-cultures beyond the art world, either in their personal biographies or as reference points in their work. Well to start with there's Liz Price's indie-pop thing (and as mentioned here, even before she went to art school she was hand printing tickets for a 1985 Luton punk gig benefit for the local Unemployed Workers Centre with bands including Karma Sutra, Party Girls and Click Click - I helped out with that gig too, wish I'd kept the ticket!).

Paul Noble was involved in the 1990s Claremont Road/Leytonstone road protest against the M11. According to Josephine Berry Slater & Anthony Iles, 'Paul Noble who had been involved early on in the campaign began to fix home-made blue plaques onto derelict houses in the path of the road (a trick later copied by Gavin Turk to egotistical ends). The inscription on the plaques read: Our Heritage: This House was Once a Home'. Is it too fanciful to see in Noble's drawings of a fantasy city-scape some echo of the alternative urbanism of Claremont Road?

(photo from Little Tramp's excellent Claremont Road set at Flickr)

Luke Fowler's film about radical psychiatrist R.D. Laing (pictured below), All Divided Selves, can't help but feature lots of interesting archive footage from key 1960s/1970s counter-culture moments linked to Laing such as The Dialectics of Liberation 1967 conference at the Roundhouse, the London Street Commune and The Anti-University of London.

Meanwhile, Spartacus Chetwynd's performance art is pure Happening and embedded in a playful DIY/squat  aesthetic that can be traced back via Glastonbury Green Fields to Mutoid Waste Company and beyond (texts in her part of the exhibition inevitably mention Bakhtin's notion of the Carnivalesque, as well as less obviously Nikola Tesla) . As well as claiming now to live on a 'Nudist Commune' near Nunhead, Chetywynd participated in some of the !WOWOW! warehouse/squat events around Camberwell and Peckham (2003-2006), which also involved fashion designer Gareth Pugh in the days before he was making clothes for Beyonce and Lady Gaga.

The Turner Prize exhibition continues until 6 January 2013.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Discotheque enters the English language: 1960-66

Thanks to Google news and other archive searches it is possible to date reasonably accurately when words came to be widely used, at least in printed form. I believe the term discotheque (which literally means 'record library') to describe a nightclub where people danced to records dates back in French to World War 2. Several online sources mention that a club called La Discothèque opened on the rue Huchette in Paris in 1941.   

But it seems to have taken another twenty years for the term to catch on in English. The 
first newspaper references I have come across date to 1963-5,  with a number of items in The Times (London) referring to The Discotheque Club in Soho.

The paper reported on 18 October 1963 on the trial of Norbet Rondel, a former heavy for landlord Peter Rachman, who was accused of 'demanding menaces from Sergiusz Paplinski, proprietor of the 150 Club at Earls Court Road'. The court heard that Rondel had been a doorman at the Discotheque Club run by another associate of Rachman, Raymond Nash.

The following year the club was named in Parliament as the 'Soho nerve centre' of the 'purple heart racket' (Times, 10 June 1964), and a quote in the article suggests that the Discotheque Club was already open by 1961 .  In January 1965, five people appeared in court charged under the new Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act 1964 after being arrested in a police raid at the club in Wardour Street ('Youths and girls on drug charges', Times, 26 January 1965).

Rondel died in 2009,  and I have written a bit more about La Discotheque Club here (incidentally Marc Bolan worked there as a cloakroom attendant in his early 'Mark the Mod' days). As well as being sometimes credited with being London's first disco, it seems to have acted as a bridge for the word itself becoming established in English. Before long there were other clubs with similar names, and the word was being used generically for a place where records were played to dance to. By 1966 there was a Discotheque club in Hythe Bridge Street, Oxford, where in September a crowd of youths fought with police (Times, 12 September 1966). The Times also reported that a plan had been approved at St Mary's church, Woolwich: 'In the crypt a discotheque will be established as  centre for youth work' (24 August 1966).

YeYe and New York Discotheque

Another route into the printed English language seems to have been via fashion writers at Associated Press (AP) at around the same time.  Elsie Beall, an AP Fashion Writer reporting on a New York Couture Group event, made the first reference I have found to discotheque in an American paper in July 1964 to describe a dress: 'There aren't many short evening dresses around for fall except for the discotheque - pronounced dis-co-tek, in case you are having trouble with that world as we did at first hearing. It is just a slip of a dress, almost always black and flaring, or ruffling out at the high knee, with plenty of whirl for doing those dances where the feet stay in one spot while the rest of the body twists in all direction. Discotheque, it seems, is the name of the little Paris dance halls where the whole thing started'  (Ocala Star-Banner 17 July 1964 - like other AP reports this would have been syndicated and probably printed in many local and regional papers, but not all of them are online).

On the same day an AP report of the same event printed in the Nashua Telegraph stated: 'The faithful and femme fatale black dress or suit will be on the scene next fall like a million shadows. It will be sleek and chic, dressed up with white for the day, but bare and naughty at night for wearing to the discotheque'

Another Associated Press Fashion Writer, Jean Sprain Wilson (1923-2009), used the word the following month. Reviewing a James Galanos collection noted that 'For the discotheque enthusiasts the dresses were barer, with V-plunges, halter necks or shoestring straps uncovering pale raw bones' (Owosso Argus Press, 14 August 1964 and other local papers)/

The same writer makes the first published use I have found of the word 'discotheque jockey' in the context of the influence of French 'Ye Ye Styles' in New York:  'YeYe, the French version of youth's rebellion against the stodginess of old folks over 25, is now going strong in the USA. Born in Paris as a hip response to songs with a beat, YeYe came to be a term for audacious styles worn by young misses, then grew in meaning to encompass the current mood of youth itself - lively and uninhibited. Ask a New York den what is YeYe in town, for instance, and she undoubtedly will describe a popular hamburger joint with juke box movies; or a discotheque jockey at one of the fancier hotels who keeps crowds gyrating frenetically by blasting not one but three jump-and-wiggle records at once' (Eugene Register Guard, 23 October 1964)

Associated Press also mentioned the word in the surprizing context of a report about a party at Windsor Castle with 16 year old Prince Charles as MC!:  'Like it was a rave, man... the first Beat Ball in the history of the British royalty... The castle's crimson drawing room was turned into a discotheque - a nightclub which provides only recorded music for dancing'.

(Miami News, 28 Dec, 1964)

After writing this I have come across a recent Oxford University Press article covering similar territory - and coming to similar conclusions. They also note the first printed references in 1964 to the abbreviated version 'disco' to refer to both the dress and the nightclub.

See also:

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Drag is about many things

'Drag is about many things . It is about clothes and sex. It subverts the dress codes that tell us what men and women should look like in our organised society. It creates tension and releases tension, confronts and appeases. It is about role playing and questions the meaning of both gender and sexual identity. It is about anarchy and defiance. It is about men's fear of women as much as men's love of women and it is about gay identity'
Drag: a history of female impersonation in the performing arts - Roger Baker, London, Cassell, 1994

(photo from New Orleans in the 1950s)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Badiou's Rebirth of History

Alain Badiou's latest book to be translated into English is 'The Rebirth of History: Times of Riots and Uprisings' (published by Verso Books, 2012).

Essentially it is a reflection on the popular movements that have erupted over the past couple of years, in particular those sometimes referred to as the 'Arab Spring'. For Badiou, this amounts to the start of nothing less than a rising up of what he terms 'the inexistent':

'Let us call…people, who are present in the world but absent from its meaning and decisions about its future, the inexistent of the world. We shall then say that a change of world is real when an inexistent of the world starts to exist in this same world with maximum intensity. This is exactly what people in the popular rallies in Egypt were saying and are still saying: we used not to exist, but now we exist, and we can determine the history of the country. This subjective fact is endowed with an extraordinary power. The inexistent has arisen. That is why we refer to uprising: people were lying down, submissive; they are getting up, picking themselves up, rising up. This rising is the rising of existence itself: the poor have not become rich; people who were unarmed are not now armed, and so forth. Basically, nothing has changed. What has occurred is restitution of the existence of the inexistent, conditional upon what I call an event'.

 The fact that these movements have coalesced around physical locations - most famously Tahrir Square in Cairo - is no coincidence. For Badiou, any radical idea has to be 'localized' to find meaningful expression, even if  it must ultimately move beyond the limits of the local: 'in times of historical riot the masses create sites of unity and presence. In such a site the massive event is exhibited, exists, in a universal address. A political event occurring everywhere is something that does not exist. The site is the thing whereby the Idea, still fluid, encounters popular genericity. A non-localized Idea is impotent; a site without an Idea is merely an immediate riot – a nihilistic spurt'.

Within these sites, Badiou identifies 'a movement communism' in action:  '"Communism" means here: the creation in common of the collective destiny. This 'common' has two particular features. Firstly, it is generic, representative in a site of humanity as a whole. In this site there is to be found every variety of person of whom a people is composed; every speech is listened to, every proposal examined, and every difficulty dealt with for what it is. Secondly, it overcomes all the major contradictions that the state claims it alone can manage, without ever transcending them: between intellectuals and manual workers, men and women, poor and rich, Muslim and Copts, people from the provinces and people from the capital, and so on. Thousands of new possibilities arise in connnection with these contradictions at every instant, to which the state - any state - is utterly blind. We see young female doctors from the provinces care for the wounded, sleeping among a circle of fierce young men... We see everyone talking to neighbours they do not know. We read a thousand placards where each person's life joins in the History of all, without any hiatus. The set of these situations, these inventions, constitutes movement communism. For two centuries now the sole political problem has been this: How are we to make the inventions of movement communism endure?'

The difficulty is that the 'Instensification' associated with such moments of 'movement communism' is inherently difficult to sustain for long periods: 'During a massive popular uprising, a general subjective intensification, a violent passion for the True occurs which Kant had already identified at the time of the French Revolution under the name of enthusiasm. This intensification is general because it is an intensification and radicalization of statements, taking of sides and forms of action as well as the creation of an intense time (people are in the breach all day long, night no longer exists, people do not feel tired even though they are washed-up, and so on). Intensification explains the rapid exhaustion of this kind of moment.. it explains why at the end there are only scant detachments in the squares on the strike and occupation pickets, on the barricades (but it is they who will be the vector of the organized moment should it arrive). This is because such a state of collective creative exaltation cannot become chronic. It certainly creates something eternal, in the form of an active correspondence, whose power is dictatorial, between the universality of the Idea and the singular detail of the site and circumstances. But it is not itself eternal. Nevertheless, this intensity is going to carry on unfolding long after the event that gave rise to it has itself faded. Even when a majority of people revert to ordinary existence, they leave behind them an Energy that is subsequently going to be seized on and organized'.

There's lots of food for thought here. I am sceptical of Badiou's wider historical political perspective, in particular his ongoing Maoist reverence for the Chinese cultural revolution as some kind of model of potential emancipation (instead of the brutal faction fight that I would regard it as). The ghost of leninism haunts his concern for the minority who must, in his view, carry forward the movement when the period of 'Contraction' follows the exhaustion of 'Intensification'.

I think he is right that in the heat of intense movements, social contradictions can be challenged and partly overcome, though I think it is important to recognise that they don't disappear overnight- witness the sexual assaults in Tahrir Square. My own observations of the Occupy movement is that class  (not to mention gender and race) privilege still asserts itself in who gets to speak, and that when movements contract it is not necessarily the most radical minority that remains - the 'Energy' Badiou rightly identifies can be seized on by aspiring politicians and wannabe movement professionals.

But I do think the dilemma of sustaining movements after an initial period of enthusiasm is a real one. Models of revolution or even of a future society which imagine life as a permanent festival of never-ending passionate creativity neglect the human needs to relax, sleep, look after children and animals, and sometimes do boring tasks because somebody's got to do them. While History is Made at Night has championed the politics of festivity, we also have to recognise that on its own it's not a sufficient basis for a human community. Everyone knows that sleepless nights of hedonism have to be balanced with recuperation to prevent burn out and breakdown, similarly in radical politics there has to be more than the search for the intense buzz of riots, uprisings, strikes and occupations. By their nature these cannot be permanent, and it can be demoralising to return to everyday life afterwards. But like a great party, something always remains to sustain and inspire us through the mundane but essential task of building and sustaining human relationships (including political and social movements) in difficult circumstances.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Parties Make Me Anxious - Paul Morley (1988)

In December 1988, Paul Morley wrote an article for Marxism Today magazine entitled 'Towing the Party Line':

'Parties make me anxious. Everything makes me anxious, because living means living anxiously, but the thought of a party, let alone the reality of a party, makes up for a certain, monstrous kind of apprehension akin to the feeling of knowing at exactly what time I am going to die. Just the thought of it makes me very concerned and disheartened. Dying I mean, not going to a party. I suppose I'll choose going to a party before death, but only just. Just the thought of it makes me very concerned and disheartened. Going to a party, I mean. I break out into a warm sticky sweat: I can see it now . . . it's party time . . . the door opens . . . I'm forced into the flow . . . Imust mix . . . people at the party laugh as if things were going better and better, as if they did not know that the abyss is there . .. they smile at one another, are nice and friendly and polite . . . they exchange kisses as if they adore each other. And yet they are well aware of what is waiting for them. They pretend not to know.

How brave they are, how patient they are, how ignorant they are, or perhaps how wise, or perhaps they have some secret, unconscious knowledge of things that I don't know, that I cannot succeed in knowing... Yes, life is a party, and  parties make me anxious. You start off all fresh and confident and hopeful thinking it can never be as bad as all that and I'll never be that unhappy again, and think of the new friends that you'll make, and you're pleasant to  friends and strangers, and you try talking to them for a bit, and you get bored, and you turn, as you must, to whatever drink you can find, and it will all end in tears, or  certain death, and then the hangover...

I remember pre-80s that the hipper parties would consist entirely of a soundtrack of deepest dub - the first dub is the deepest - and rarest reggae, drilling or raking the party to slow death. These days, the hipper parties resound with the sound of burning house and various, complex continental beats that you purchase in strange shops as if you were selecting exotic forms of cheese...

Why do we always have to talk to each other? Can't we just stare each other out and have another drink? Why is it so important to talk to people that you don't know? Just so that you can get to know them and then have
arguments and perhaps kill each other and be sentenced to a party life after death, where you are always suffering that moment when you walk into a party and everyone turns and looks at you . . . except they're not looking at you, they've just spotted somebody who once appeared on Jonathan Ross...

And now I find out that I've written the wrong column. I should have written a piece on political parties at Christmas. How on earth am I going to begin that article...? Political parties make me anxious'.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Malawi School Disco Riot

'Banning Disco nights cause Chayamba secondary school to close as students riot'
(6 November 2012, Zodiak Radio)

'Chayamba Secondary School in Malawi’s central region district of Kasungu has been closed indefinitely following violent protests by students on Friday night. Armed police officers have been patrolling school since the incident.Police have arrested 12 students in connection with property damage caused by the protests. The suspected ringleaders are likely to answer charges of causing malicious damage. Students were sent packing on Sunday morning.

The students staged violent protest after the administration announced that night disco parties were banned and that such events would be restricted to daytime.The administration claimed night disco was fueling bad behavior among students such as alcohol abuse and sex.The students have been ordered to sign a form committing themselves to pay for the cost of property damaged. The cost is yet to be established, but the school’s principal said it is in excess of millions of kwacha. Among those damaged were the administration block, girls’ hostels, dining hall, chair and computers.

Head teacher Dorothy Masudi said the school has been closed indefinitely: “As you can the state of the school learning cannot take place, it will be up to the ministry to say when we can resume classes”. The closure was ordered by the ministry of education, according to Thomas Mkandawire, an official of the Central East Education Division. Meanwhile, the administration of Rumphi Secondary School in the north is concerned at growing misconduct by students. Speaking in an interview with Zodiak, head teacher, Bentley Manda said the school has suspended nine male and female students who were found pairing in a play field during ‘odd hours.’

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

History is Made at Night Sampler 1.0 - a zine for the bookfair

The London Anarchist Bookfair was a couple of weeks ago (October 27th to be precise) and to turn up without some printed matter to disseminate is a bit like going to a party and not taking any drink with you. So I put together a short paper zine collecting together some articles from this site, including material on Malcolm X, radio in the Portuguese revolution 1974, London's Club UK in the 1990s, and a round up of free parties and police from this year.

You can download History is Made at Night Sampler 1.0 here (12 pages A5)

At the Bookfair I helped on the Datacide stall, shifting copies of the essential new issue (detailed here previously). Also on the stall we had a few copies of John Eden's Tweetah reggae zine.  You may recall the great reggae/dubstep/grime zine Woofah. A lot of material was written for a final issue that never actually came out for various reasons, so John Eden has put out some of it in the one-off (?) Tweetah. There's a great interview with DJ David Rodigan among other things (you can order a copy at Uncarved)

The Datacide stall was banished to a room of the bookfair off the main hall seemingly reserved for not-really-anarchists, an honorable category that also included Aufheben, Endnotes and, the Platypus Affiliated Society - all good and interesting folk, the latter a newish Marxist-Humanist current trying to explore 'possibilities for emancipatory struggle in the present' amidst what they see as the virtual extinction of the traditional left. Much of their activity seems to be the platypus debating with various dinosaurs of the American maoist and trotskyist left in an attempt to get them to evolve, a fruitless task. But there is some interesting critique and a clear influence of German radical thought from the Frankfurt School to 'Anti-National' currents.

Continuing the small furry animal German radical left influenced theme I also picked up a copy of Kittens the 'Journal of the Wine and Cheese Appreciation Society of Greater London', a London based group linked to the mainly German network 'Junge Linke: gegen Kapital und Nation'. Again, an attempt to think through what a radical analysis of the present would look like without simply regurgitating leftist orthodoxy. An attempt, no less,  'to criticise those conditions which ensure that wine and cheese are not available to everyone and to criticise everyone who justifies this'.

So my inner Marxist went away happy, but in the last couple of years there just hasn't been enough weird, counter-cultural  or plain unexpected stuff at the bookfair to satisfy my other side. It's been a while since I came across anything like Dreamflesh or Strange Attractor, or even that really cool Walter Benjamin book I picked up at a bargain price from the author at the bookfair ('Metaphysics of the Profane: The Political Theology of Walter Benjamin and Gershom Scholem' by Eric Jacobson). Come on all you zinesters and pamphleteers, you've got 12 months to get your act together for next year.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Dead by Dawn: partying on the 'kinetic-sensory-pharmacological-sonic frontiers'

Friday night's Praxis Records party on the MS Stubnitz in London docklands was great, may write a bit more about it, but for now here's something about the label's early history and more specifically the mid-1990s Dead by Dawn parties at the 121 squat centre in Brixon (as discussed at this site before). These extracts are from 'Bread and (Rock) Circuses: sites of sonic conflict in London' by Alexei Monroe, published in 'Imagined Londons' edited by Pamela K. Gilbert (SUNY Press, 2002).

'Gabber and associated variants (stormcore, nordcore, hartcore, speedcore) all represent not just aesthetic extremism but a frantic search for an un-colonised sonic space that will prove resistant to commodification and appropriation. All are based on the testing and surpassing of kinetic-sensory-pharmacological-sonic frontiers and a reaction against ideological, economic, and stylistic taboos. At the center of this stylistic mayhem lay the Dead by Dawn nights at the 121 and the associated micro-scene centered on the Praxis label and the Alien Underground and Datacide magazines - the most comprehensive documentation of both local events and the international networks of underground parties and producers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and beyond. The magazines are no less politicised than the information held at 121, reporting not just on the specific repression against illegal raves but on wider civil liberties issues and threats to freedom, discussing issues such as electronic surveillance, and the CIA's links to drug importation. Datacide in particular stresses solidarity against repression and has a loosely defined ideology based on communal values and the thought of Rosa Luxemburg and the Italian and German autonomist/squatter movements. Though not pessimistic and stressing the importance of cultural and political resistance, the tone of the reportage can be as apocalyptic as the sounds discussed on the extensive review pages. The works of Deleuze and Guattari, Hakim Bey, and others are a conspicuous presence, and the emphasis on theoretical activity and practical action stands in contrast to happy hardcore's pure escapism and distrust of complexity and innovation. The conceptual sophistication and political awareness of the writers, producers and those attending the events does not contradict so much as complement the music's emphasis on brutal sensuality that to the outsider seems nothing more than a soundtrack to the temporary obliteration of the self.

The 121 and the Dead by Dawn parties symbolize a twin process of stylistic and musical ghettoization, some of the most extreme sounds to have been heard in London playing to an audience of one or two hundred in an almost stereotypically bleak basement space. Though at one level it was indeed a ghetto space, anyone who attended an event at 121 will remember its unique atmosphere. In the small hours, for listeners slumped in armchairs on the ground floor surrounded by the blast of dystopic noise emerging from the basement space, the 121 could seem as hyperreal as anywhere, even without chemical enhancement. The incongruity of the location could actually feel the intensity, the awareness of being in a parallel space that was at least symbolically beyond the reach of daily commodification and oppression. The space served as a nexus of extreme sensory experience and had a unique atmposphere'.

Flyer from collection at Smash the Records

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Praxis Records 20th Anniversary Party

Looking forward to next Friday's Praxis records party in London, all aboard the MS Stubnitz boat (facebook events details here) .

Praxis released its first records in November 1992, and twenty years later is still going strong. Started by Christoph Fringeli in South London, and associated in the mid-1990s with the famous Brixton Dead by Dawn parties, it is now based in Berlin. It has stayed true to its mission of putting out sounds from the noisier, faster, more experimental, but still very much partyable end of electronic music. There's a great line up next week, with various people associated with Praxis and related projects at various times:

- Bambule -
- Base Force One -
- Controlled Weirdness -
- Dan Hekate -
- DJ Stacey -
- DJ Scud (Ambush/Sub/Version)
- Eiterherd -
- FZV -
- Kovert -
- Somatic Responses -
- Warlock -

VJ: Sansculotte

The boat is located at King George V Dock, Gallions Reach (DLR-Station), Royal Docks, London - it is a stationary boat, so you can get on and off when you like!

Doors open 11pm on Friday 2nd November, music starts midnight and goes until 6.

Tickets on the night: GBP 10.00.  Guest list: GBP 5.00 (email to praxis(at) for guest list with subject header “stubnitz guest list”)

The venue itself will be worth the effort. The MS Stubnitz is a former East German deep-sea fishing vessel, converted in 1992 to a floating cultural space. It came over to London earlier this year for the ill-fated Bloc festival. In fact, as chaos and overcrowding ensued on shore, leading to the cancellation of the festival, the party on the Stubnitz went fine by all accounts, with DJ Controlled Weirdness and others holding it together.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Music for the Middle of the Night

From Haruki Murakami's 'After Dark', 2004:

'The record ends. the automatic turntable lifts the needle, and the tone arm drops on to its rest. The bartender approaches the player to change records. He carefully lifts the platter and slips it into its jacket.  Then he takes out the next record, examines its surface under a light, and sets it on the turntable. He presses a button and the needle descends to the record. Faint scratching. The Duke Ellington's 'Sophisticated Lady' begins to play. Harry Carney's languorous bass clarinet performs solo. The bartender's unhurried movements give the place its own special time flow.

Maria asks the bartender, 'Don't you ever play anything but LPs?'

'I don't like CDs', he replies.

'Why not?'

'They're too shiny'....

'But look at all the time it takes to change LPs', Mari says.

The bartender laughs. 'Look, it's the middle of the night. There won't be any trains running till morning. What's the hurry?'

Karou cautions Mari, 'Remember this fella's a little on the weird side'.

'It's true, though: time moves in its own special way in the middle of the night,' the bartender says, loudly striking a book match and lighting a cigarette, 'You can't fight it'.

... The sound of the needle tracing the record groove. The languorous, sensual music of Duke Ellington. Music for the middle of the night.'

Friday, October 19, 2012

Datacide Twelve is Out!

The twelfth issue of Datacide, 'the magazine for noise and politics',  is out today, with 68 pages of stuff you won't find in any other journal. I have a couple of pieces in it, and the full contents are as follows:

- Datacide: Introduction
- Darkam: The Art of Visual Noise
- Nemeton: Political News
- Christoph Fringeli: Neo-Nazi Terror and the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Germany
- Cherry Angioma: Communisation Theory and the Question of Fascism
- Christoph Fringeli: From Adorno to Mao – The Decomposition of the ’68 Protest Movement into Maoism (extended book review)
- Split Horizon: Control and Freedom in Geographic Information Systems
- Riccardo Balli: “Bolognoise ain’t a Sauce for Spaghetti but Bologna’s Soundscape”
- Polaris International: Documents and Interventions
- TechNET insert:
   - Noise and Politics – Technet Mix
   - No More WordS
   - Listener as Operator
   - The Intensifier
   - No Stars Here
   - Techno: Psycho-Social Tumult
   - Dead By Dawn – Explorations inside the Night
   - Psycho-Social Tumult (Remix)
- Dan Hekate: Kiss me, cut me, hurt me, love me
- Howard Slater: Useless Ease
- John Eden: The Dog’s Bollocks – Vagina Dentata Organ and the Valls Brothers (interview)
- Neil Transpontine: Spannered – Bert Random Interview
- LFO Demon: When Hell is full the Dead will Dance on your iPhone (Review of Simon Reynolds' “Retromania”)
- Christoph Fringeli: “Fight for Freedom” – The Legend of the “other” Germany (extended book review)
- Nemeton: “West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California” (book review)
- Datacide: Press reviews
- terra audio: 2023: A Spor remembers ‘Reclaim the Streets’
- John Eden: Christopher Partridge: Dub in Babylon (book review)
- terra audio: Jeff Mills: Violet Extremist
- terra audio: Keeping the Door of the Cosmos open – on Sun Ra’s Arkestra directed by Marshall Allen
- Record Reviews
- The Lives and Times of Bloor Schleppy (12)
- Comic by Sansculotte

You can buy a copy from the Datacide website here.

There's a launch conference and party in Berlin tomorrow night October 20th at Subversiv - more details here.

If you're in London you will be able to pick up a copy next weekend (27th October) from the Datacide stall at the London Anarchist Bookfair. There is also a plan for some Datacide talks and a party in London on November 2nd - watch this space for more details.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Wild Nights

Rita Tushingham and Michael York in Smashing Time (1967)

'Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!'

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Hobsbawm on Jazz, Dance and Class

The historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) died yesterday at the age of 95.  There's plenty to criticise in his political judgement  as he aligned himself with  the various phases of the Communist Party of Great Britain from its outright Stalinism to its proto-New Labour 'Marxism Today' period - even if it's not hard to understand why somebody who spent some of his teenage years in Berlin during the rise of Hitler joined the KPD. But his history writing on class and culture was often very nuanced and non-dogmatic. He also wrote extensively on jazz.

One of my favourite short essays of his looks at the early days of jazz in Europe, reflecting on how its popularity related to changing class cultural practices. 'On the Reception of Jazz in Europe'  was originally published in 1994 and then republished as 'Jazz Comes to Europe' in the excellent collection 'Uncommon People: Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz' (1998). Here's a few extracts:

'The speed of transatlantic transport was such that ideas, notes and people could already cross the ocean very rapidly indeed. Will Marion Cook's Clorindy: The Origin of the Cakewalk - Cook was later to bring Sidney Bechet to Britain - was performed in 1898 in both New York and London. The foxtrot, the basic dance routine associated with jazz, first appeared in Britain in the summer of 1914. a few months after its first appearance in the USA , and in Belgium in 1915. Jazz had hardly been baptized in the USA when groups under that name already toured Europe. They were there from the middle of 1917.

  ...the interesting thing about this diffusion is what was being diffused. It was one of several kinds of novel cultural and artistic creation that emerged, in the late nineteenth century, from the plebeian, mainly urban, milieu of Western industrial society, most probably in the specialized lumpenproletarian environments of the entertainment quarter in the big cities, with their specific subcultures, male and female stereotypes, costumes - and music. The Buenos Aires tango which secured for Latin American music a permanent but minor place on the international dance floor at the same time as jazz did, is one example. Cuban music is another...jazz was both novel and, in origin, an art belonging to an autonomous subculture...

  ...Jazz made its way and triumphed , not as a music for intellectuals but as a music for dancing, and specifically for a transformed, revolutionized social dance of the British middle and upper classes, but also. and almost Simultaneously, the British working-class dance. During the 1900s the upper-crust dance was transformed in two ways. (An expert contemporary witness dates the major change precisely to the season 1910-11.) First urban dancing had already ceased t be a seasonal occupation linked to special occasions. and was being practised all the year round as a regular social and leisure activity. To some extent it was practised privately, but special dancing clubs developed - there were three in Edwardian Hampstead alone - and it occurred in hotels and what were not yet called 'nightclubs' . The tea-dance and the restaurant-dance appeared on a modest scale. Second, the dance lost its formality and ordered succession. At the same time it became simpler, more easily learned and less demanding and exhausting. The crucial change here was that from the turning dance (for example. the waltz) to the walking dance, such as the Boston. a sort of rectilinear waltz, in the early 1900s. It seems clear that these developments reflected a substantial loosening of aristocratic and middle-class conventions, and they are a striking and neglected symptom of the notable emancipation of women in these classes before 1914. The link between the dance revolution, even specifically between the new primacy of rhythm in social dancing, and the emancipation of women, did not pass unperceived. It is noted in the most intelligent or the early jazz books, Paul Bernhard's Jazz: Eine musikalische Zeitfrage (1927)...  

...British jazz had a broad popular base, because its uniquely large working class had developed a, for Europe, uniquely recognizable, urbanized, non-traditional lifestyle. Even before 1914 huge popular dance halls had already been built for the holiday demand of specifically proletarian seaside resorts like Blackpool, Morecambe, Margate and Douglas on the Isle of Man. The post-war mania for dancing was immediately met by the new institution of the so-called Palais de Danse, of which the Hammersmith Palais. the first . immediately became a jazz venue by booking the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919. No doubt the music to which the plebs danced would not always be considered jazz today. Indeed, the central tradition of British mass dancing moved away from jazz towards a curious phenomenon called 'strict tempo' dancing, which was to become a competitive sport on British television. Nevertheless, jazz made its mark as a name, an idea, a novel and demotic sound.

The massive dance mania produced an unusually large body of dance-band musicians, mainly of proletarian origin, or at least raised in the environment of the brass-band movement, much appreciated in the industrial areas. These formed the original core of the jazz public... Socially speaking. dance-band musicians, who did  rather better in the 1920s than in the depressed 1930s, were on the borders between the skilled workers and the lower-middle classes. It was in the higherparts of this zone that the bulk of British jazz evangelists were to be found before 1945. They were typically self-made intellectuals. In London we find 'Rhythm Clubs' (ninety-eight of which sprang up in Britain between 1933 and 1935) not in middle-class quarters like
Chelsea, Kensington or even Hampstead, but in the outlying districts like Croydon, Forest Gate, Barking or Edmonton...

We can leave aside the reaction of high society and its associated intellectuals. In Britain this was of no great importance though doubtless it pleased Duke Ellington to have the future King Edward VII sit in on drums at a party for his band in London. Much more important, as has been suggested, was the democratic and populist character of the music, which made the Melody Maker state approvingly: [It appeals not only to the fauteuils but to the gallery also. It considers no class distinction.'

...[what Britain] did develop, however, probably in close association with American New Deal radicalism ,was a powerful bonding of jazz, blues, folk and the extreme left, mainly communist but also, marginally, anarchist. For such people jazz and blues were essentially 'people's music' in three senses: a music with folk roots and capable of appealing to the masses, a do-it-yourself music which could be practised by ordinary people, as distinct from those with technical training, and lastly a music for protest, demonstration and collective celebration. Revivalist or Dixieland jazz lent itself unusually well to all these purposes. So much so that at its peak in the 1950s it came closer to turning jazz from the art of a coterie into a mass music than has been achieved anywhere else, except perhaps, for a moment, during the swing boom of the later 1930s in the USA. It is no accident that a typical anthem of the 'trad' jazz fans also became the typical song of the football fans on the terraces : 'When the Saints Go Marching In'. However, it should be noticed that, while revivalist jazz became de facto the music of an age-group in which students, and particularly art students, became prominent for the first time. it was neither consciously nor militantly a youth music... The 'trad' boom prepared the triumph of rock, but only rock turned itself into a conscious manifesto of immaturity'.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Someday all the Adults will Die!: Punk Graphics 1971-84

'Some day all the adults will die!: punk graphics 1971-1984' is a free exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London, on until 4th November 2012.

I wonder sometimes whether anything else useful can be said about punk, feels like we have been reliving that moment endlessly for the last 30 years. Ageing collapses time in unexpected ways. At school in the late 1970s and reading about May 1968 it felt as remote to me as the First World War. Now the late 1970s feel not so far away, even if the equivalent of this exhibition in 1977 would have been a show about early 1940s style. So an exhibition like this is essentially a kind of nostalgia for some ('ooh I've got that original 7 inch of Scritti Politti's Hegemony') and ancient history for others.  

The exihibition, curated by Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg, is less a coherent take on graphics and more a very good collection of memoribilia - zines, flyers and record sleeves. But in subtle ways it does undermine some simplistic versions of the punk story.

After Greil Marcus's Lipstick Traces, everyone knows about the parallels between Situationist attitude/style (if not always politics) and some strands of punk, but the exhibition shows this directly with some material from that milieu such as a King Mob poster from the late 1960s:

Likewise, and contrary to the notion of punk as a straightforward negation of the preceding period, the influence of the pre-punk UK counter culture (Oz magazine etc.) is acknowledged: 'design forerunners included the proto-pop mail art movement, counter-culture protest graphics and the underground press of the 1960s'.

The exhibition gives space to the American punk scene, with its parallel but distinct aesthetic. Who knew that Wayne County's backing band in 1976 was the Back Street Boys? Surely more interesting than the later outfit with the same name.

It recognises that punk in the UK was about much more than The Clash and The Sex Pistols, and gives due recognition to anarcho-punk - including Crass's graffiti stencils:

There are some interesting radical perspectives on music, including a remarkable flyer given out when The Rolling Stones played at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966 that hallucinates the band's music as some kind of radical rallying cry: 'Greetings and welcome Rolling Stones, our comrades in the desperate battle against the maniacs who hold power. The revolutionary youth of the world hears your music and is inspired to ever more deadly acts... We will play your music in rock'n'roll marching bands as we tear down the jails and free the prisoners'.

Less optimistic/tongue in cheek is an earnest critique of The Clash, put out by Art in Revolution in Holland in  the late 1970s: ''London's buying your crap... this is what is left of the '77 punx, a bunch of junkies and a bunch of drunks'

The zines on display are frustrating as they are behind plastic so you can only look at the covers when really you want to flick through them. The record sleeves are evocative, but you really want to listen to the music (though some of this is being played in the exhibition). The flyers and posters though don't hold anything back, or nothing that can be accessed now. They simply record a series of singular moments in history:. 

Manchester 1977: 'Punk rock rules!' at The Squat with The Drones, Warsaw (later Joy Division) and others - interesting discussion about this poster here

Los Angeles 1979: The Last and The Go-Go at Gazzarri's on Sunset Strip

Crass at Acklam Hall, Portobello Road, September 1979