Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dancing Questionnaire (25): Mark, New York

Mark is 38 years old and works as an Advertising Executive in New York, following an odyssey from Tamworth and London via Sheffield.

Can you remember your first experience of dancing?

I think the very earliest was bopping around to Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ with my grandma at a family wedding reception near Walsall, but the one that really stands out is headbanging to AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ at a primary school disco in Tamworth, Staffs, where I grew up. I’d seen some older kids doing it at the previous year’s event - my first taste of youth rebellion aged 8! I remembered the names of the bands on the patches sewed onto their sleeveless denim jackets and over the next twelve months become an entry-level rocker, renting albums from the local record library and getting my own cut-off denim with patches and studs. Then eventually it was me and my mates’ turn to headbang at the disco when the token metal record was played. The DJ cut it off before the end as the teachers were concerned about potential brain damage.

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

Building a deeper relationship with music. I’ve devoted much of my life to music in all its forms and through dancing I enjoy exploring its qualities more deeply, amongst the thrills and spills. I remember dancing in Manchester in 1996 in the Village to ‘The Love I Lost’ by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and suddenly realizing that the dance music I enjoyed most had a particular combination of uplifting-ness and melancholy which then set the course ahead for many years.

You. Dancing. The Best of times...

New York 2007-2010. People say dancing in New York’s not what it was. Sure, over-zealous regulation has harmed the vibrancy and scale of the club scene but this has been replaced by an amazing DIY attitude for the past decade or so. This manifests in all-night semi-legal dance parties in lofts and warehouses mainly in Brooklyn often featuring an eclectic mix of music, DJs, performance and participation. There’s a real sense of excitement for me around something genuinely underground, unpredictable, community based and musically eclectic which has totally revitalized my love of dancing. It’s as if dance music has resumed its role in the city as outsiders’ music, which is how I’ve always most enjoyed it.

You. Dancing. The Worst of times...

When I first moved to London in the late 90s I found it hard to find a scene that satisfied me. DnB was too hard and fast, House had got too cheesy, Big Beat was too beery and everything was too segmented and focused on one style of music. Maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough though at the time.

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

I started dancing regularly in 1987 at an under 18s discos in Tamworth at a club called the Embassy. It wasn’t really my scene though and things didn’t really take off until I discovered ‘indie’ music via John Peel and then started to make regular trips to Birmingham to indie disco nights and 60s psychedelic nights like the Sensateria at the Institute, as well as the odd hardcore rave. University in Sheffield in 1992 meant a headlong rush into house, techno, garage and funk with the poly-sexual scene around Vague [Leeds], Flesh [Manchester] and Sheffield’s Trash providing a little spice around the slightly-cheesy uniformity of the post-acid house scene up north at the time.

A move to London in the late 90s meant a hotch-potch of east-London fare – reggae, DnB, ragga, hip hop, a bit of house and the electroclash scene around Nag Nag Nag. Carnival weekend was always the highlight of the year, and I had a brief involvement with a north London pirate station. But gradually dancing died away. In 2005 the move to New York reignited it all again.

When and where did you last dance?

To a Robert Owens DJ set at Dalston Superstore, London last November.

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

‘I Want Your Love’ by Chic. The perfect combination of yearning, hope and melancholy that characterizes much of my favorite music to dance to.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Portugal 1974/75: Radio and Revolution

In April 1974, left leaning military officers overthrew the Portuguese dictatorship and ended its colonial wars in Africa. For the next two years Portugal was in turmoil, with workers taking over workplaces and many hoping to push the revolution further. The radio stations were one of the key sites of struggle, in particular Rádio Renascença.

The Revolution Started with a Song by John Hoyland (Street Life, November 1 1975):

'3 am, April 25 1974. By prior arrangement with the rebel Armed Forces Movement (AFM), a DJ on Lisbon's Radio Renascenca plays 'Grandola, Vila Morena', a popular song of the day whose possible subversive meaning had escaped the censor's ears. The song is a signal for a military uprising that, with scarcely any opposition, overthrows the Caetano Government, and brings to an end 50 years of fascism in Portugal. The next day, the people pour into the streets, and give the soldiers red carnations. The soldiers stick the flowers in their guns...'

Tuesday August 26 1975

A visit to Radio Renascenca (RR), the radio station that the workers took over from its owners, the Catholic Church. As well as broadcasting news of workers' struggles and discussions with workers and peasants, it plays a lot of good music — including the best rock music in Lisbon — and has an hour a day in Spanish, beamed across Portugal towards Spain. A couple of the workers describe the history of their struggle to take over the radio station from their bosses — how the AFM sent a unit of COPCON [a military organisation] to hand RR back to the Church, and how the occupying workers broadcast a call to the people of Lisbon to help them — with the result that thousands of workers gathered outside the building to defend it, the COPCON soldiers refused to obey their orders, and in the end the AFM was forced to ratify the occupation.

The workers — both young guys, one of them with extremely long hair — go on to say that they are currently linking up with all the Lisbon Workers' Commissions, with the idea of forming a city-wide co-operative that would control the radio-station, and also finance it. "Then we won't have to take any more advertisements, not even from the nationalised industries." (At the moment a radio talk on the concept of Popular Power and the Class Struggle is liable to be disconcertingly interrupted by a bleep and a jingle for Seven-Up.) Before the April 25 coup, Radio Renascenca was on the air six hours a day, whereas now it's 24 hours a day. "We're the same number of workers, so we've multiplied our work-load by four. But you have to. The situation changes here so fast, each hour in Portugal is like a day. Since the coup, we feel as if we've lived through about 30 years . . ." In spite of this, they seem very sprightly and determined people. But they aren't particularly optimistic: "Lisbon is a red island in a sea of reaction. We don't think the conditions for revolution exist in Portugal yet. Nor is there a party that could carry it through. In our view, the parties here' are still too concerned about their own power, and not concerned enough about the needs of the workers'.'

Portugal: the Impossible Revolution by Phil Mailer:

'The radio station had been owned by the Catholic Church. Gradually, during May, the workers concerned had taken it over, disliking the line being pushed. Their communique of June 6 outlined what was at stake: "The complete history of our struggles at RR would bring together arguments and documents which a simple communique' cannot hope to do. When our story is written many positions will become clearer, as will the ways in which they relate to the overall politics of the country. The Portuguese people will then be able to judge the counter-revolutionary politics of the bosses, the immoralities of all sorts committed in the name of the Church, and the many betrayals carried out by capitalist lackeys in our midst. In their latest delirium the Management Committee (i.e. the Church) completely distorted our struggle and attacked the MFA. Of 127 lines, 73 were devoted to denouncing the government...

When they speak of the violent occupation of the radio station they forget to mention that the only violence was when Maximo Marques (a member of the Management Committee) attacked one of our comrades, who didn't respond to the provocation... The management argue that we are a minority of 20, whereas 30 would be more correct. Radio Renascenca is a private company owning a radio station, a printing press, a record shop, two cinemas, buildings and office blocks, etc. In the station we are about 60 workers. The management say we are trying to silence the Church's mouthpiece, and prevent it from reaching a large section of the population. If by this they mean we are trying to silence fascist voices, they are right. Words like truth, justice and liberty lose all meaning when they come from the RR administration. We remember the time when the priests managed the station and censored encyclicals, Vatican texts and even the Bible (!!) We propose that the management show their concern for liberty by supporting the current liberation of RR, now in the service of the workers and controlled by the workers. The workers of RR, June 6, 1975".

The struggle at Radio Renascenca was widely supported. The options were fairly clear: to side with the Workers' Committee or with the Church. Vasco Goncalves and other members of the Revolutionary Council decided to hand the station back to the Church. The decision was bitterly opposed by some 100,000 workers. A demonstration was held on June 18 at which Lisnave and TAP workers stood outside the gates and warned that RR would only be returned to the Church 'over their dead bodies'. 400 Catholic counter-demonstrators had to seek refuge in the house of the local Patriarcado. The determination of the workers caused the Revolutionary Council promptly to reverse steam. It found a way out: to decree the nationalisation of all newspapers, radio stations and television networks'.

In November 1975 the station's radio transmitters were blown up, effectively closing the station down before it was handed back to the Church in December.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dancing Questionnaire (24): Coz, Dublin

Today is St Patrick's Day, and by complete coincidence the latest respondent to the Dancing Questionnaire is Dublin-based Coz who describes himself as '39, Male, Community Radio DJ (on Near FM), Community Worker and Anti-fascist dance lover'.

Can you remember your first experience of dancing?

No, but I can recall my earliest memory of dancing. One of my paternal uncle's had a friend who was a huge Elvis fan and was known on the local club circuit (in Barnsley) for paying tribute to the King. We were fortunate as kids in the famlily to get much closer to the King than those occupying Clubland ever could have and having a mother and father who liked to sing and party in equal measure ensured we were ever present at family get togethers. Naturally, Trevor (The King) would take the stage (front room) at some point and receive the Holy Spirit (Elvis), writhing in contorted ecstasy while he moaned and groaned his way through a repertiore of The King classics. Invariably the kids in the room, who were not yet old enough to be inhbited by the presence of others were implored to provide rhythmic accompaniament by various mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles. So, there I'd be, trying for all I was worth to swing my pre-pubescent hips to the Blue Suede Shoes, Jailhouse Rock and Moody Blue... and I've been swinging em ever since.

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

Hmm, probably too many to settle on as definitive, but certainly one that will live with me until I die (or develop memory loss) was during a Henry McCullough gig (relatively unknown to me at the time) at the Menagerie in Belfast... just about to swagger onto the dancefloor I was stunned then hugely gratified to see him leap of the stage and whack somone with his guitar who was apparently pissing him off (I knew the protagonist and can certainly vouch for his annoying temperament). It all happened in slo-mo and the ensuing collapse of the PA and the swift ejection of the suitably chastised all added to the surreal moment... and I swear Henry still had his slippers on. Quite remarkable and all I could say to my mate for the rest of the night was, “Now that's fucking rock n roll fella!”

You. Dancing. The Best of times...

Turning 16 in 1989, leaving school and embarking on my first year at college (studying shit you'd never get to study at school) and accompanied by the very 'OST' of an emerging Manchester sound blaring out of the stacks at the Baths Hall in Scunthorpe. For the next 3-4 years I mouched my way across the dancefloors of some pretty grim northern pubs, clubs and parties while the Stone Roses, Charlatans, Happy Mondays, Soup Dragons, Blur, The Farm, EMF, et al made every one of them shine like beacons in what were invariably violent, grubby, and dirty-drug soaked nights out. Hot on their heels came Britpop, personified by the arrogance and egotism of Luke Haines (Auteurs), Brett Anderson (Suede) and Liam Gallagher. Sure, they were mostly aresholes then (and some still are) but my God did they make you feel like there was more to life! And of course, there was and still is. Being young, embarking on life's meandering path and all accompanied by some fantastic anthems... well, I couldn't help but dance.

You. Dancing. The Worst of times...

If I can't dance to it I'm just not dancing... unfortunately that basic standard doesn't apply to a lot of others. The worst offenders? Clearly the pill popping, 2 left feet owning and chequed shirt wearing white (invariably) boys from the estates, whom you'd think would be saved by the simplicity of repetitive beats. But not for some lads (and lasses)... the dance scene undoubtedly brought some Halcyon moments (and still does), but these were often accompanied by some less savoury sites of wide-eyed astonishment. Unfortunatley I joined them on far to many occassions.

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

As a young teen it revolved primarily around the informal self made nights that we created either at people's houses or off the beaten tracks of our estates (local woods were always popular, where you could build a fire from the pallets of the nearby Asda and drink/sniff glue/smoke blow without worrying about being seen by all and sundry). Music was provided through 8-12 battery ghetto blasters and was usually hard rock in them days (ACDC/Maiden/Crue/RATT/G'n'R), with a liberal dosing of punk (Clash/Pistols/Tenpole Tudor/Jam/Stiffs) and something a little bit more commercial (Housemartins/Smiths/New Order/Erasure)... and we pretty must just threw oursleves around whichever house/field/wood we were occupying at the time. Once the doors of pubs and clubs were thrown open to me (at far too early and age it must be said) I entered the world of commercial dross in most cases (chart topping hits and the like) and where girls played second fiddle to the music. Still. I managed to stumble upon the odd decent 'alternative' night/club for a dismal northern town, who regaled me with new and unkown sounds (Joy Division/Wire/Chumbawamba/CRASS/Cure/Television Personalities) that at the very least didn't seem to require any particular knowldege or skill related to fancy footwork. Again, throwing myself around a lot seemed to be the order of the night (or day).

Cue 'baggy' and Acid House and all of a sudden everyone's getting on the nouveau retro bandwagon and suddenly you not only needed to look good on the dancefloor but you needed to know the moves to... needless to say I just kept throwing myself around a lot. It didn't seem to matter... 25 years on and such club nights as Bop Yestrum in Belfast prove that you can play whatever the fuck you like and the primary desire for most people is to just throw themselves about a lot.... while I could always generally find a beat to bop to, the only one I could never get and will probably always regret was the smooth moves of the Northern Soul scene... making a bit of a comeback as a slight post-script to the Acid Jazz scene in Belfast in the mid 90s I was always envious of those old enough to have made sojourns across the country to the Weekenders/All Nighters around legendary places like Wigan Casino. Nothing delights me more than watching the effortless shuffles of those adept at moving to a classic Northern Soul number.

And in the 15 odd years since I've gravitated from one alternative disco/club/shebeen to the next... and pretty much still do. Too cynical to ever become truly immersed in a scene/place I've always thought of my dancing experiences as like brief flirtations, where I get to dip my toe in and feel the beat for a while, but I'll never make a mistress of ya! And having lived in Ireland for the last 20 years many of those 'alt' nights/places have included experiences you wouldn't just tell anybody about... particularly the Rozzers! These days, most dancing takes place at any gig I'm fortunate enough to get at where the cool factor hasn't induced everybody into a steady sway at best. No Means No being a more recent example of how gigs should be enjoyed by a crowd.

When and where did you last dance?

Funky Seomra (pictured below) at the RDS in Dublin – a regular monthly night of dancing with a strong emphasis on the absence of alcohol and the rewards of physical expression. Daunted on arrival, but soon realising it was really a night for 'alt festival' goers without the tents, field, cider, rain/wind/sun/, cheap burgers but still plenty of 'free spirits' trying to commune with their inner child. Despite my inherent cynicism I embraced it whole heartedly and danced my ass off to some real classics (Yeke Yeke/Insomnia/Blue Monday)... so much so I might just do it all again on Paddys Day, which will be a significant achievement in Dublin when drinking till you die appears to be a minimum expectation.

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

Soooo many, but truth be told it'd be a toss up between RATMs Killing in the Name Of and System of a Downs BYOB and Band of Horse's Funeral . I reckon that in most cases I feel like trashing whatevers around me when 2 of these songs are on and given I'd be on my deathbed I might just get away with it on this occasion! The thirds seems apt...

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

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Kaleidakon: 1930s light show

The centre piece of the 1939 Ideal Home exhibition in London was the Kaleidakon, what sounds like a proto-psychedelic light show.

'One of the many sights of the Ideal Home Exhibition now drawing to a close at Earls Court is the huge Kaleidakon, a white and silver tower which raises its head almost a hundred feet above a pool of rippling water. Here, with the aid of Quentin Maclean, at the console of a Compton organ, and an expert on a light console, duets in sound and light are given daily. As the sound of music emerges so the tower is lit by an ever changing harmony in colour in bright and pastel shades closely allied to the humour' (Gramophone magazine, May 1939)

Advert from South London Advertiser, April 21st 1939
'The Kaleidakon, world's greatest musical instrument combining sound and colour'

There's some further technical information at the Strand lighting archive (from where photograph below was sourced): 'The Kaleidakon: 70 feet, 230kW tower in the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition, Earl's Court with a 72-way Light Console and Compton Organ for Colour Music'