Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019: a political year on the London streets

On this last day of the decade I am not going to attempt any kind of political balance sheet. Yes it's been a fairly depressing time in the UK, with the re-election of a right wing Conservative goverment and impending Brexit. But I've lived under similar governments for most of my life, people have got on with it, organised and actually brought about social change.

There were some encouraging signs in 2019, most spectacularly the growth of the climate change movement. Thousands of school students and others joined the Global Climate Strikes and there  were the two major Extinction Rebellion actions in April and October. I loved running through traffic free streets between the five main occupied sites in April and on the musical front it was great to see  Orbital playing a full set in Trafalgar Square in October (I also went to an XR event in Berkeley Square in April, themed around nightingales and convened by folk singer Sam Lee and the Nest Collective).

It felt like the beginning of a real shift from an activist scene to a social movement, signalled by the fact that so many people I knew from different walks of life including friends, relatives and semi-retired former militants seemed to be getting involved in various ways. Of course there are contradications and challenges ahead, not least how to sustain momentum, but the debates are happening and the movement is already broader and more diverse than the proclamations of any one organisation or figurehead would suggest. 

On the anti-Brexit front, the national demonstrations were huge but the more interesting moments came during the mobilisations after Boris Johnson first became Prime Minister in August with the threat of a parliamentary 'coup' to force through Brexit. Freedom of movement/migrant solidarity blocs staged spontaneous marches round the West End and led the blocking of streets and bridges. Brexit now looks inevitable but the need for an ongoing movement in support of migrants and against racism and fascism will be greater than ever. 

Anyway here's a gallery of images from some of these moments on London streets in 2019

Extinction Rebellion - April 2019

Occupied Waterloo Bridge

Skateboard on Waterloo Bridge
Extinciton Rebellion boat blocking Oxford Circus

Sound system at Piccadilly Circus

Sound system in Parliament Square

'Rebel for Life' - Waterloo Bridge
Stop the Coup, August 2019

'Stop Building Borders - Defend Free Movement'

'Empower the future'

Waterloo Bridge blocked during 'Stop the Coup' demo, August 2019.

Extinction Rebellion - local march from Greenwich to Blackheath, August 2019

'Towards the Common'

Global Climate Strike, 20 September 2019

'Fuck the Government and Fuck Boris' - Stormzy quoted by Parliament

'School strike sound system'

Blocking Whiteall
 Extinction Rebellion, October 2019

tents occupy the roads around Traflagar Square

'No music on a dead planet' - Orbital play in Traflagar Square

Monday, December 30, 2019

Synth Jam with Wasp

I haven't done a lot of music making in 2019, but I did enjoy taking part in a Synth Jam earlier in the year as part of the Telegraph Hill Festival. The event at the Hill Station Cafe SE14 in April featured about 10 people with assorted bits of electronic kit playing around.

I took along my battered old wasp synth. It's just about still going but various knobs no longer work properly. It's had a bit of a battered life including being left on the floor in a 1990s squat basement in Brixton for people to play with during a Reclaim the Streets benefit (there's a report of this event at the end of this post). It can still make some great sounds, but I can no longer always control when they start and end!

Naturally a synth jam does encourage a certain level of synth geekiness, but I was surprized that the aspect of my Wasp that generated the most excitement was that I still have the original box!  Indeed, it has the serial number (003736) and date of purchase (25/6/81) hand written on it, and the iconic label (Wasp, Made in Oxford, England).

The Wasp was manufactured by Electronic Dream Plant from 1978 and was a an early attempt at developing an affordable synth, with a touch-sensitive keyboard but two mighty oscillators. I got mine second hand from a school friend in the early '80s. 

Chris Carter (Throbbing Gristle, Chris & Cosey etc) has written about the Wasp - he notes that gigging 'is probably the one thing they were never really built for and has got to be one of the quickest way of trashing one. Most clubs have very high humidity and this plays havoc with the keyboard sensitivity. The first signs of trouble are that no matter how much you adjust the keyboard sensitivity and no matter how much you keep fiddling with the controls the thing just keeps droning on and on'. Yup!

You can listen to the Synth Jam tracks on soundcloud:

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Crass, Poison Girls, UK Decay in Luton, 1979

As I post this it is forty years ago this very night that anarcho-punk pioneers Crass and Poison Girls played in Luton, along with home town punks UK Decay on 14th December 1979. A friend who was there (I wasn't) posted the flyer on facebook. I remember the venue well enough, an old hanger next to Marsh House community centre where I went to summer playschemes as a kid. Apparently there was no power in the building so they ran an extension cable from Marsh House next door - the whole gig from one power point with the inevitable power cut at one point.

The UK Decay website has a picture of the band playing there that night, in front of Crass and Poison Girls banners.

The gig was a benefit for Stevenage-based fanzine Cobalt Hate. The issue the gig funded can be seen here.