Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Re-appreciating Bob Marley after Marlon James

Reading Marlon James' brilliant 'A Brief History of Seven Killings' has led me into a re-appreciation of Bob Marley. Of course everybody loves Marley, but the very ubiquity of his image, from cans of drinks to posters on student stoners' bedroom walls, is part of the problem. Like The Beatles or The Clash it's hard to simply listen to the songs buried under decades of nostalgia and music industry marketing.

While reading the novel I went back and listened properly to Marley's output for the first time in years, starting with his early material. And yes a lot of it still sounds great! Reading about the political and social conditions of 1970s Jamaica in the novel, you can certainly understand the incendiary impact of songs like 'Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)' or 'Talkin' Blues' ('who's gonna stay at home when the freedom fighters are fighting?').

Bob Marley mural by Dale Grimshaw near to  Brockley station, South London. This was painted this year to replace a previous Marley mural that was demolished. Its painting was contentious locally. Marley had no particular connection to this place, but as with all Marley-related matters it's what he symbolises that many find significant - in this case a visual link to the area's African Caribbean recent history in a period when it is arguably become more white/middle class.

In some ways the novel is only tangentially about Marley, referred to as The Singer throughout. He rarely appears himself as a character, but he is a central focus for many of the other characters whose lives are shaped by their involvement, in various ways, in the shooting of Marley in December 1976. For James this incident is just a moment, albeit a key one, in a bigger geopolitical story that includes the Cold War and its impact on the political situation in Jamaica, polarised between two main parties and their related armed gangs, and subsequently the transformation of local gangsters into major players in the international drugs trade. All this and a lot more than seven killings.

But at one point James does reflect briefly on the wider significance of Marley as a global talisman for 'sufferahs' everywhere:

'Three girls from Kashmir sling on bass, guitar and drums, fresh faces brimming out of burkas, propped up and held together by a backdrop of the Singer streaked in red, green and gold stripes, thick like a pillars. They call themselves First Ray of Light, soul sisters to the Singer smiling with his rising sun. Out of a wrapped face comes a melody so fragile it almost vanishes in the air. But it lands on a drum that kicks the groove back up to where the song lingers, swells and soothes. Now the Singer is a balm to spread over broken countries. Soon, the men who kills girls issue a holy order and boys all over the valley vow to clean their guns, and stiffen their cocks, to hold down and take away. The Singer is support, but he cannot shield, and the band breaks away.

But in another city, another valley, another ghetto, another slum, another favela, another township, another intifada, another war, another birth, somebody is singing Redemption Song, as if the Singer wrote it for no other reason but for this sufferah to sing, shout, whisper, weep, bawl, and scream right here, right now'.

The 'Three girls from Kashmir' referred to here are the band Pragaash (whose name translates as first ray of light), who appeared briefly in December 2012 but gave up a few months later after the Grand Mufti in Kashmir issued a fatwa terming singing as un-Islamic and the band received online threats.

Pragaash perform in front of Marley backdrop

Monday, October 26, 2015

Magic Feet (1990s zine)

'Magic Feet' was a 1990s Nottingham-based dance music zine. Here's the front and back cover of the first issue from November 1994 promising 'hard house, ambient, electronic, acid, trance, techno, whatever you want to call it', and featuring Stefan Robbers, Innersphere and Warp/GTO charts.

The back page includes an article from the Brixton-based Freedom Network about the then ongoing campaign against the Criminal Justice Bill and its 'anti-rave' powers. A demonstration in London's Hyde Park in the previous month- on October 9th 1994 - had ended in clashes with the police and the article calls for witnesses to come forward. Forthcoming events mentioned include more Anti-CJB actions in Guildford, Barnstaple and elsewhere, the launch of the 'Taking Liberties' compilation (an anti-CJB LP featuring Test Dept, The Orb, Loop Guru and others) and a benefit for Squall magazine at Megatripolis - the alternative techno/trance club held in London on Thursday nights. I think I went to that night, anyway I remember seeing a film/talk about the Newbury road protest in the somewhat incongruous setting of a banging Thursday night in Heaven.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Datacide Book Launch at Housmans

This Friday (23 October) I will be saying a few words at the launch of the new Datacide book, Everything Else is Even More Ridiculous, which brings together the first 10 issues of the noise and politics zine published between 1997 and 2008. It takes place at Housmans bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, London N1 (round the corner from Kings Cross station).

Full details:

Datacide - the Magazine for Noise & Politics - presents the release of two new books with short talks by Datacide writers Stewart Home, Neil Transpontine and Christoph Fringeli

a decade of noise & politics – datacide issues 1-10

A major project in the works for quite some time, this is a complete reprint of the issues 1-10 of datacide, which originally appeared from 1997-2008. Titled “EVERYTHING ELSE IS EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS”, the 364 page volume collects unique material, most of which has been out of print for many years, charting a one-of-a-kind history of the counter-cultures associated with electronic music and free festivals.

“The free space of the party met the free space of the page and then you got a dynamism that encouraged expression and perversions and tangents because the covers held it together as a nomadic movement and you were convinced that music had catalysed it all and that music was somehow inherently political as it sidestepped rhetoric and dogma, and absented us from control addicts and the free space of the page was a kind of historic party, a kind of invisible college, a launching pad for driftage.” Flint Michigan


Almanac for Noise & Politics 2015

If you’re already familiar with datacide magazine and our related record label for extreme electronic music – Praxis – then you’re familiar with the efforts we’ve made over the last two decades to continually explore the intersections of radical politics and underground rave culture, experimental and extreme electronic music, moments of free spaces and momentary freak-outs and how these can be represented on the page and through the speakers. If not, this may be a good place to start. Either way, the Almanac for noise & politics 2015 contains a selection of articles and excerpts from various issues of datacide, as well as a peek into the activities of the Praxis label and its offshoots. 

This first edition is meant to be a brief introduction to the wide range of topics covered in datacide.
Articles include: Post-Media Operators by Howard Slater/Eddie Miller/Flint Michigan, No Stars here (track -1) by TechNET, A Loop Da Loop Era – Towards an (Anti-)history of Rave by Neil Transpontine, Radical Intersections by Christoph Fringeli, Vinyl Meltdown by Alexis Wolton, Plague in this Town by Matthew Hyland, Just Say Non – Nazism, Narcissism and Boyd Rice by whomakesthenazis.com, Interview with Christoph Fringeli/Praxis Records from Objection to Procedure, a new short story by Dan Hekate, as well as a commented catalogue. This is interspersed by new visual work by Matthieu Bourel, Lynx, Sansculotte, Tóng Zhi, and Zombieflesheater!
Full colour cover and 104 inside pages in A6 format!

Starts at 7.30 (till 9-ish) - Entry is £3 (redeemable towards any purchase in the bookshop)

Friday, September 04, 2015

Rico on Railton Road

Rico Rodriguez, the great Jamaican ska trombonist, has died this week at the age of 80. In the UK he's best known for his work with The Specials, including playing on 1981's Ghost Town. The record famously reached number one in the week of the July riots that swept the country  that year, and was actually recorded in the week of the first Brixton riot in April 1981 -  a precursor to the long hot summer that was to come. The song's lyrics seemed to have anticipated the uprisings with its lines 'This place, is coming like a ghost town, No job to be found in this country, Can't go on no more, The people getting angry'. Even the video seemed with hindsight to refer to rioting, with the band throwing stones - though into the Thames at Rotherhithe rather than at the police.

During the Brixton riot, The George - a pub with a racist reputation on the corner of Railton Road and Effra Parade  -was burnt down. A new pub, Mingles, was built to replace it and unlike its predecesor was predominantly an African-Caribbean bar. In the early 1990s, in between his Specials stint and his involvement with Jools Holland's band, Rico used to play down at Mingles. The place was just down the road from the 121 Centre which I frequented, and a few of us went down to Mingles a couple of times to see him play. It was no big deal, just a a band playing in the pub in a low key way, but what a band. To be honest I thought at the time Rico deserved a bigger venue, but there was a sweet irony in this Jamaican musician playing in that place given its history.

In a further ironic twist, a future Jamaican musician might not be able to play in a place like this - not because of racist door policies but because of the loss of venues as a result of more affluent residents moving into the area that was once known as the Front Line. Mingles became the Harmony Bar and then La Pearl, before closing. Antic - who run the Dogstar and various other London pubs - acquired the site (82 Railton Road SE24)  and applied for planning permission to develop it with flats above and a bar below. Local residents campaigned against it with a 2012 petition stating  that 'We strongly feel this site is no longer suitable to be used as a pub or entertainment venue, as the surrounding streets have become more residential and it is too close to these homes'.

Planning permission was refused and BrixtonBuzz reported a press release last year that crowed 'London based construction specialists Sorrel Construction Ltd, partner with Lambeth Council to breathe much needed life into a post-riot area... Sorrel Construction Limited have recently announced their latest project working closely with Lambeth Council to dramatically transform a damaged pub on Railton Road into a series of brand new luxury flats'.

Mingles later became the Harmony Bar before closing

Thursday, June 11, 2015

'Flappers as Anarchists' - sharp dressed radicals in Newcastle, 1914

'Flappers as Anarchists: delegates who do not look as though they used bombs'
'Anarchists are in conference at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The statement sounds very terrible and smacks of bombs and desperate deeds against society, but the delegates are in reality the mildest people imaginable. There are between thirty and forty of them, including three girls in the "flapper" stage. They dress like respectable Unionists or Liberals' (Daily Mirror, 14 April 1914)

(move over Peaky Blinders)

Monday, April 06, 2015

Geoff Dyer on Underground Culture in 1980s London and Now

The novelist Geoff Dyer wrote an article for the Observer this week entitled 'Underground culture isn’t dead – it’s just better hidden than it used to be' (5 April 2015):

'Looking back – and I’ll explain later how I came to be looking back – I realise how much of my social life in the 1980s was spent at “underground” events of one kind or another... In my teens, I’d been a devotee of magazines such as Frendz and Oz with their illegibly swirling psychedelic designs and still blurrier editorial agenda. These publications represented an (open) marriage between insurrectionary politics, prog rock, fashion (loons) and porno graphics. I was interested, mainly, in photographs of Hawkwind.

That may have been the golden age of the underground, but its spikier manifestations or descendants were part of the social landscape of London in the 1980s: the squatted cafe in Bonnington Square, Vauxhall, the Anarchist Centre at 121 Railton Road, Brixton, and, of course, the ubiquitous underground parties that later morphed into raves'.

Dyer's initial take is that all that is in the past - 'Maybe new variations of such things still exist in London and I’m too old and square to know about them but, broadly speaking, the counterculture has given way to an over-the-counter culture of cool cafes and pop-ups that lend a subversive slant to one’s retail experience'.

But attending an event in New York changes his mind -  'my visit... got me thinking about the long and nourishing role the underground has played in my life. It also made me realise how easy it is to fall into elegiac mode and how important it is to resist doing so. In different forms, in spite of everything, places like this will keep popping up, unbeknown to the middle-aged likes of... me. So, as a way of combining the urge to lament and the need to affirm, we’ll close with the final words from Larkin’s Show Saturday in High Windows.. “Let it always be there.”'

I generally agree with Dyer's position, even though I think the notion of 'the underground' itself has always involved a heavy dose of self-mythologisation. Of course I was most interested in him name checking places I used to hang out at too in the late 1980s/early 1990s - Bonnington Square cafe, scene of many Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax benefit nights, and the 121 Centre (which has been mentioned many times on this blog). Dyer lived in Brixton in the 1980s, I think slightly earlier than me, and his first novel - The Colour of Memory (1989) - is a fictionalised account of Brixton dole life in that period.

121 Railton Road, Brixton, in 1984/85
(photo from Kate Sharpley Library)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

'Mobs riot in West End' - London Poll Tax Riot press coverage 1990

'Mobs riot in West End' (Independent on Sunday, 1 April 1990)

'Central London experienced its worst riot this century yesterday as the biggest demonstration against the poll tax turned to violence. At least 113 people, including 45 police were injured... There were at least 300 arrests.... In the heart of London's West End, cars were overturned and set on fire, dozens of shop windows were smashed and their contents looted' 

'Tonight the anarchists are celebrating "Our Time"(Evening Standard, 2 April 1990)

One of a number of press reports seeking to blame the riots on 'Left wing activists who march beneath the black banner... For more than a decade a small and disparate grouping of punks, misfits, thugs, hardline politicos and animal liberationists have pledged a violent revolution. Under their black flag banners at the weekend they saw themselves firing the first shot'. 'Class War and its Brixton-based counterpart Black Flag' are mentioned the formed linked to squats in 'Hackney and Clapton' ('London's East End is still Class War's heartland'). Much of this is pure invention, such as the claim that rioters on the day carried 'small, easily concealed "mollies" - firebombs'. I don't recall any petrol bombs being thrown on this day.

'£20 if you join Army of Envy' (Today, April 2 1990)

Another ludicrous piece of misinformation - 'Agitators toured pubs offering £20 to anyone willing to join their army of envy'. Considering hundreds of thousands of people had made the effort to travel from all over the country to be there, it was hardly necessary to pay anybody else to join in!  The report itself says that 60 coaches came from Bristol, 40 from South Wales, 30 from Weymouth etc.

'Battle of Trafalgar: Burning with Hate the Fire Bombers Sabotage Symbols of Wealth' (Today, 2 April 1990)

The angle of this piece is that decent theatre goers were terrorised by the 'howling mob' - no doubt some were frightened by the scenes, but the riot did not include attacks on random members of the public. Tourists wandered around in the middle of it. Again there is the myth here of the 'fire bombers' - it is true that a small number of cars were set on fire, but not I believe with petrol bombs. Still the looting and rage against 'symbols of wealth' was real enough: 'the riot against the poll tax turned into open warfare against the wealthy and all the symbols of affluence... Garrards, the royal jewellers, was a favourite target. Thugs wearing punk clothes uprooted bins and hurled them against the windows. West End fashion shops were next in line. Some grabbed £400 suits from gents clothes shops while women dressed in rags robbed other stores'. 

The story does include the fantastic line 'The great English public is rioting, sir' reported as being said by a policeman in reply to an American tourist asking what was going on.

Note to clarify (3 April 2015): in the image above I have blurred out the faces, they are clearly shown in the original and indeed I believe that they were all subsequently arrested. The guy with the white t-shirt was jailed and the guy leaning in to the porsche was acquitted in a trial that made headlines because the judge dismissed police evidence as lies (I believe a policeman claimed to have witnessed it but couldn't have done because of his location). I decided to blur the faces because they are still recognisable from these photos today and for work or other reasons might not want people to know about what they may or may not have been up to in 1990.

See also:

1990 Trafalgar Square Memories;
Brixton poll tax demo (Transpontine)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Burns the Radical

Burns Night once more, the Scottish poet Robert Burns being born on this day in 1759. I have had my vegetarian haggis and a glass of Laphroaig...

Awa ye selfish, war'ly race,
Wha think that havins, sense, an' grace,
Ev'n love an' friendship should give place
To catch-the-plack!
I dinna like to see your face,
Nor hear your crack.

But ye whom social pleasure charms
Whose hearts the tide of kindness warms,
Who hold your being on the terms,
"Each aid the others,"
Come to my bowl, come to my arms,
My friends, my brothers!

'Friendship, in these poems, has a sacred quality. In one of his prose letters, Burns refers to the 'solemn league and covenant of friendship'... Burns' view of humanity's god-given sociability has political ramifications. It provides the basis for a strongly civic political ideology, an ideology rooted in the principle of duty to one's fellows... Burns and his correspondents (local poets and farmers, freethinkers and freemasons) are presented as an archetypal civic community: a society of equals, whose selfless cultivation of virtue, integrity and public spirit distinguishes them from the 'selfish, warly race' whose sole concern is with 'catch-the-plack'. In the classical republic, of course, it was the landed elite who formed the virtuous citizen class, while the disenfranchised poor took care of domestic 'economy' In Burns's epistolary republic, however, it is the poet's humble correspondents who devote their scanty leisure hours to public pursuits (learning, poetry, political discussion) while their supposed superiors - the 'cits' and 'lairds' - are wholly engrossed with money-grubbing' (Liam McIlvanney, Burns the Radical: Poetry and Politics in Late Eighteenth-century Scotland, Tuckwell, 2002) 

What tho’, like Commoners of air,
We wander out, we know not where,
But either house or hal’?
Yet Nature’s charms, the hills and woods,
The sweeping vales, and foaming floods,
Are free alike to all.

(advert from old book of my dads for '50 selected songs of Burns',
published by Mozart Allan, 84 Carlton Place, Glasgow)

See previously:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Save Denmark Street: 12 Bar Club Occupied

The famous 12 Bar Club in London's Denmark Street closed a couple of weeks ago, having been given notice to quit as part of a plan to 'redevelop' this area that threatens its status as the city's main area of music shops. Denmark Street, off Charing Cross Road, became known as Britain's 'tin pan alley' as the home of many songwriters and music publishers. The Sex Pistols once lived at no. 6, among numerous other musician connections (see history) Today it is famous for its musical instrument shops. 

All is not lost yet though. The 12 Bar Club was squatted on Monday, and those occupying it hope to use the building to help galvanise opposition to the increasingly homogenous corporate gentrification of the West End of London. 

I was down there today, friendly people so pop in and see them. They would welcome donations of sound equipment, furniture, sleeping bags etc (see notice in window). The are also launching an open mic night tomorrow night (Friday), so looks like the last song has not yet rung out in that venue where, among many others, Jeff Buckley, Joanna Newsom and Bert Jansch, have performed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Anarchy on Eastenders

One of the highlights of Eastenders over Christmas was an episode where soap opera arch-villain Nick Cotton finds his old copy of The Sex Pistols 'Anarchy in the UK' in the attic of his long suffering mum, Dot. Later the bible-quoting Dot comes home to find Nick having sex with his ex in the front room - he quips 'you never did like the Sex Pistols, did you ma', as Johnny Rotten screams 'I wanna be anarchy' in the background. Earlier in the same episode, Cotton eats his breakfast to 'London Calling' by The Clash.

Let the record show that he had the 1977 French reissue of Anarchy in the UK, not the 1976 EMI original.

Nasty Nick Cotton has been in the series on and off since it started.This is him in 1986:

Actor John Altman, who plays Cotton, was previously a young mod in the 1979 movie 'Quadrophenia'

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Datacide 14

I probably should have mentioned by now that the latest issue of Datacide - the magazine for noise and politics - was published last October. Loads of good stuff, including an article by me on the 'Archaeology of the Radical Internet' about the early 1990s European Counter Network. Also material from Howard Slater, John Eden, Stewart Home, Controlled Weirdness, Dan Hekate, Nemeton, David Cecil, Hannah Lammin, Christoph Fringeli and more.

The full contents and some of the texts are online at Datacide, but you should really try and get hold of the 76 page printed version for the full effect.