Friday, December 04, 2020

Everybody is a Star! - Disconaut Association of Autonomous Astronauts (numbers one and two)

Once upon a time I was Neil Disconaut, with my partner Juleigh Disconaut we constituted the Disconaut node of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (1995-2000). The premise of the AAA was a global network committed to the state and corporate monopoly of space through the development of community-based space exploration programmes. Activities included music (raves in space), three sided football, talks, writing, protests and some actual engagement with space researchers. There were groups in England, Scotland, Wales, France, Italy, Holland, Austria, Canada, USA, New Zealand among other places, each with their own particular interests. Within this network, Disconaut AAA focused on dance music as a vehicle for space exploration. 

Everybody is a Star! was the newsletter of Disconaut AAA, of which four photocopied issues were produced between 1996 and 1999. Here's issues One and Two.

Everybody is a Star! Number One, Winter 1996/97

Disconauts are go! 

Forget Apollo, NASA and the Space Shuttle... the most exciting explorations of space in the last 30 years have been carried out through music.

Emerging on the radical fringes of jazz in the 1950s, Sun Ra (1914-1993) and his Intergalactic Research Arkestra  (as his band was later known) set the space vibe in motion with interstellar explorations like “Space Jazz Reverie”, “Love in Outer Space”,  “Disco 3000" and the film “Space is the place” .

Described by one critic as a “comic strip version of Sun Ra”, George Clinton developed his own funky cosmic Afronaut mythology in the 1970s through his work with Funkadelic and Parliament. For instance the album “Mothership Connection” (1975) is based around the concept of aliens visiting earth to take the funk back to their own planet.

Sun Ra and Clinton’s work can be read as a sort of sci-fi take on Marcus Garvey. While Garvey dreamt of Black Star Liners shipping black people from slavery across the ocean to an African utopia, they leave the planet behind altogether.

Space continued to be a preoccupation during the 1970s disco boom. Derided by rock critics for its lack of serious content, disco had a distinct utopian element. In disco, the intensity of pleasure on the dancefloor was reimagined as an ideal for living rather than just a Saturday night release.  The implicit fantasy was of a “Boogie Wonderland” where music, dancing and sex were organising principles, rather than work and the economy. “Lost in music, feel so alive, I quit my nine to five” as Sister Sledge put it.

In the unpromising social climate of the 1970s, this wonderland was sometimes projected into space. Earth, Wind and Fire (who recorded Boogie Wonderland) combined elements of Egyptology and sci-fi with albums like “Head for the Sky” (1973) and All n All (1977) with its cover pic of a rocket taking off from a pyramid. In the late 1970s there was a rash of space themed disco hits like  Sheila B. Devotion’s “Spacer” and Slick’s “(Everybody goes to the) Space base” (1979), the latter imagining the space base as disco and social centre rather than military-industrial installation.

Some of these space records can be viewed as simple cash-ins on the popularity of Star Wars and similar films of this period, but was there something deeper going on? While the sale of disco records reaped big profits for the record companies, the logic of the dancefloor was potentially at odds with the society of domination. On the floor, pleasure was elevated above the puritan work ethic and hierarchies of class, race, gender and sexuality were (sometimes) dissolved.

Discos (like today’s dance spaces) could have been the launchpad for explorations of different worlds on earth and beyond, powered by the Dance Disco Heat energy generated on the floor.  In this light the disco icon par excellence, the glittering mirror ball, has to be re-evaluated. Detailed archaeological investigations of the alignment of these spheres of light suspended high above the dancefloor will doubtless reveal that they were installed to equip dancers with a rudimentary astronomical knowledge to help them find their way around the universe.


They never reached the moon!

The Apollo ‘moon landings’ between 1969 and 1972 are presented by NASA as the highest point of the space programme, and as a model for all future adventures. In reality nothing better demonstrates why it is unfit to explore anything more exciting than the inside of the Science Museum.

A favourite question for conspiracy theorists worldwide is whether the moon landings actually happened or whether the whole thing was faked in a TV studio like in the film Capricorn One. If we give NASA the benefit of the doubt and allow that it may have sent a rocket somewhere it is clear that they never reached the moon, or at least not the moon as it has been known through the ages.

This was not the moon of heretics, pagans, lovers or night-time revellers. The moon of tides, madness, goddesses, rituals of drink, drugs and dancing. Neil Armstrong and his mates did not have the imagination for the kind of space travel needed to reach this moon. All they were able to reach was a lump of rock somewhere - possibly in orbit, possibly in New Mexico somewhere.

How did they mark the momentous occasion of the first landing on July 21 1969? The first thing they did was plant an American flag like it was just another piece of imperial real estate. By 1969 there were very few places left in the world where it was safe to do so. Losing the war in Vietnam and with flags burning everywhere else, perhaps the whole space programme was an attempt to find a place where the Stars and Stripes could fly unmolested.

The Apollo 14 ‘moonlanding’ in 1971 witnessed another amazing leap of fantasy and imagination when Alan Shepard became the world’s first lunar golfer. Billions of pounds and years of effort culminated in the staging of the first lunar open. All over the world, people are being uprooted and ecosystems bulldozed to build golf courses, sanitised homogenous outdoor playgrounds for the rich. Judging by the Apollo programme a similar fate awaits the whole universe if NASA have their way.

The Apollo programme shows that no matter how many miles NASAnauts may travel they will never get anywhere because in their heads they will still be in the suburbs of white middle class america, travelling across the universe opening golf courses and fly-through Macdonalds.


My day in Space

“I wanted to dance as I had never yet danced: I wanted to dance beyond all heavens” (Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra)

In the summer of 1995 I had the pleasure of spending a day in Space. Thousands of people from all over the world have journeyed to Space in recent years. This legendary dance club in Ibiza provides an excellent illustration of the possibilities and limitations of dance cultures as a means of leaving this world behind.

Clubs in Britain tend to be confined indoors at night. Space turns this on its head, opening in the day and with an outside dancefloor. We turned up at about 11 am after a very pleasant breakfast of coffee, croissants and speed. Some people had come straight from a hard night’s dancing elsewhere, many of them crashed out on cushions in the corner or on wicker chairs on the outside terrace. Much of Ibiza is Brit-dominated, but here there was a better mix of nationalities and sexualities than on the Starship Enterprise.

The ceiling inside the dark interior of the club is decorated with stars - a map of our destination? Further evidence of the club’s potential is found on the edge of the outside dancefloor, where there are several giant propellers. People danced in front of them to keep cool, but there is little doubt that as well functioning as air conditioning fans these machines could be used as starting motors to help propel Space into space.

The music was wall to wall anthems, like Todd Terry’s Weekend and, the Hardfloor remix of Mory Kante’s Yeke Yeke. The atmosphere never reached fever pitch, but there was an intimation of that feeling - the disordering of the senses, waves of noise and light flowing over and through the body... That feeling in the centre of the floor, where the outside world has already been left behind and it is easy to believe that the whole place could take off and never come back.

In view of this potential it is not surprizing that the state takes various measures to contain dancing and prevent us reaching the stars.

In many countries only approved businessmen get permission to run clubs. The high prices they charge - some clubs in Ibiza charge £30 a ticket, with small bottles of water costing £3 a bottle in Space - effectively rations dancing, limiting the amount of time people spend dancing, and the amount of people dancing at any one time. The hours people can dance are confined, by rules which state that clubs have to shut at particular times. Within the clubs enemy agents patrol to sabotage preparations for flight - in Space the security wore police style uniforms and patrolled with truncheons.

Above all great efforts have been expended to prevent people dancing under the stars themselves, the ideal conditions for spaceflight. In the UK It is virtually impossible to get official permission to dance outside at night, and non-commercial parties have been targeted by legislation such as the Criminal Justice Act.

Ibiza is different to Britain in that people can and do dance all day and all night (if they can afford it) , and the normal relations of night, day, work and play are suspended. But this is confined as a temporary holiday experience, which most people only experience for a week or two.

All this prevents the energy generated on the dancefloor from reaching the critical mass necessary for space flight, as well as preventing a terminal drain of the energy needed to sustain the global system of profit, production and domination.

It was for this reason that on this occasion Space failed to take off and on leaving the club we found ourselves wandering down a beautiful beach in the sun rather than walking on the moon. Still it definitely beat the Holloway Road at 4 am...

Disconaut AAA

AAA was launched in April 1995 as a non-hierarchical network of local, community-based space exploration programmes. Here Comes Everybody!, the first annual report of the AAA, details some of the activities of the many AAA groups worldwide (available for £2.50 from Inner City AAA, BM Jed, London WC1N 3XX).

Disconaut AAA (c/o Practical History, 121 Railton Road, London SE24) will be focusing on developing the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.  Everybody is a star! is named after a 1979 track by Sylvester (1946-1988), also responsible for such otherworld explorations as "Dance Disco Heat", "Do you wanna funk" and "You make me feel mighty real".

[original printed on white paper, 4 pages A5. Just to be clear, we never subscribed to the conspiracy theory that the moon landings were faked - the article 'They never reached the moon' was a play on Leonard Cohen's 'they'll never ever reach the moon, At least not the one that we're after'. The physical moon was reached but not the one of imagination]

Everybody is a Star! Number Two, Summer 1997

Take a dancing flight

Exactly 30 years after NASA launched the Apollo space programme, Disconaut AAA  has unveiled its own Dionysus Programme.

When Apollo One caught fire on the launch pad in 1967 it marked the start of  the US government's biggest ever space effort. But why Apollo? If pagan deities was the name of the game there were plenty of others to choose from. To answer this we have to turn to Fred Nietzsche, 19th century German philosopher and dance enthusiast.

In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche identified two antagonistic cultural tendencies with the Greek gods Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo was associated with restraint, control, order and rationality. The rituals of Dionysus on the other hand involved music, passion, wine, intoxication, and the dissolving of boundaries.

As part of the military industrial complex, seeking to extend the control of the imperial order through the conquest of space, NASA’s programme could only be the Apollonian. The Dionysus Programme has been launched in direct opposition to Apollo and its successors, to put into practice Disconaut AAA's mission to explore the potential of dance cultures for the exploration of space.

The starting point for the Dionysus Programme is Nietzsche’s description of “the glowing life of the Dionysian revellers”: "In song and in dance man [sic] expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak; he is about to take a dancing flight into the air... He feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy... He is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art". Phew, all this without MDMA.

Disconaut AAA are attempting to apply this insight into the links between dance, ecstasy and flight as we leave the twentieth century. For some years experiments have been carried out in a global network of underground laboratories of pleasure. We can now report some of our preliminary findings:

The Dionysus Programme has accumulated extensive evidence of near-flight experiences on the dancefloor. Participants typically report sensations of 'rushing', of accelerating velocity, of the body tracing a line of flight and of leaving behind 'the real world' and establishing a direct connection with the wider universe. There are clear parallels here with the effects on the body and the euphoric feelings of escaping gravity associated with 'lift off' by more traditional means.

In the Dionysus Programme we have tried to break the tyranny of liquid-fuel rocket propulsion and to identify alternative fuel sources and means of transport. In the process we have experimented with a range of easily ingested chemicals, some of them derived from plants, others artificially manufactured. These substances have contributed some invaluable insights and certainly have a role, particularly in maintaining the stamina needed for long flights.  However we have to report that several of our experimental human probes which were successfully blasted beyond the atmosphere with chemical propulsion quickly crashed down to earth and vanished without trace, while others are now drifting aimlessly in space circumscribing ever decreasing circles around their own navels.

The Dionysus Programme has conducted a whole range of tests with extremely high tempo electronic sounds. Our hypothesis was that a continual acceleration in beats per minute would enable us to reach earth's escape velocity and take off. Unfortunately after prolonged uninterrupted exposure to these tests the ship began to break up and several participants showed signs of exhaustion and in some cases nausea.  Future experiments will attempt to reduce the risk of side effects by introducing greater variety and rhythmic complexity.

Ill-fitting space suits have been an ongoing problem in the Dionysus Programme. A major difficulty has been the rigid masculine character armour which even some potential astronauts seem unable to discard. Dance cultures provide a space where it is possible to escape the confines of a fixed identity and explore a range of subjectivities and possibilities. Sadly a lot of men in particular seem afraid to appear as anything other than cool, serious and controlled. Clearly this is incompatible with the flexibility required in space. Disconaut AAA are developing fun fur and sequin space suits to help overcome this.

The present efforts of the Dionysus Programme are geared towards the Dreamtime project, through which AAA groups around the world are imagining what life will be like in autonomous communities in space. Dance settings provide a unique opportunity for collective dreaming, not the passive dreams of sleep but the visions of the lived body in perfect motion.

Here we are not only able to think about life in space, but to feel what it will be like to live in an autonomous community. Nietzsche described this sensation: “Under the charm of the Dionysian not only is the union between man and man [and woman]  reaffirmed, but Nature which has become estranged, hostile, or subjugated, celebrates once more her reconciliation with her prodigal son, man.... Now the slave is free; now all the stubborn, hostile barriers, which necessity, caprice or ‘shameless fashion’ have erected between man and man, are broken down… Each one feels himself not only united, reconciled, blended with his neighbour, but all as one with him".

By creating autonomous zones in our own parties on earth we can create conditions that prefigure autonomous communities in space. To do this we have to neutralize the negative effects of various black holes which suck energy out of dance cultures, such as commercial promoters and the police. This will be the focus of the next stage of the Dionysus Programme.

Spice in space

“When you go and see a careers officer,” ponders Mel C, “and you sit down and say, “I want to be a spaceman”, instead of responding ‘Go study astrophysics’, they go. ‘Yeah, but what do you really want to do?’ That is so wrong” (Spice Girls, Guardian, May 1997)

Stay up forever

In 'Voyage to the Moon' (1649), Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac described an attempt to reach the Moon by tying bottles of dew to the body. The idea was that when the Sun came out, the dew would rise, taking the body with it. On the face of it, this looks unlikely but the nocturnal nature of the Dionysus Programme should make it comparatively easy to test. We will need:

- a large green open space for dew maximisation;

- proximity to a site of astro-magical significance at a summer solstice (when the sun's energy is at its height);

- several thousand people prepared to stay up all night and still have the energy to fly at dawn;

- at least one sound system.

 After a night of dancing, participants will roll in the long grass, covering their bodies in a fine suit of dew. They will then join hands and dance in a circle as the sun rises, waiting to take off.

Stonehenge on June 21st has been chosen as the ideal location. Unfortunately there are indications that the state will attempt to sabotage the Dionysus Programme by seeking to prevent this experiment, so all potential astronauts are warned to be ready to defend themselves.

Disconaut AAA

The Association of Autonomous Astronauts is a non-hierarchical network of local, community-based space exploration programmes. Dreamtime is upon us, the second annual report of the AAA is available for £3.00 from Inner City AAA, BM Jed, London WC1N 3XX.

Everybody is a star! is the newsletter of Disconaut AAA (c/o Practical History, 121 Railton Rd, London SE24). Issue one is still available with articles on Disco, Ibiza and the Moon. If you want a copy send an SAE. 

In issue No.1 we outlined the links between dance music, radical utopianism and space exploration. We have since become aware of other publications interested in these connections.

· Ego magazine (80a St Augustines Road, London NW1 9RP) includes an article Space is the Place which considers funky futurism in the work of Herbie Hancock, Juan Atkins, the Jedi Knights and many others.

· Rickey Vincent’s excellent history Funk: the music, the people and the rhythm of the one (New York, 1996) devotes a whole section to George Clinton and “The metaphysics of P: the Mothership Connection”

[original printed on green paper, 4 pages A5]

'Disconauts are go!' was later reprinted in 'Dreamtime is Upon Us! The Second Annual Report of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts' (1997).

Previous AAA posts:

Mission accomplished but the beat goes on: the Fantastic Voyage of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts

Summer Solstice 1999: AAA on Parliament Hill

Military out of space - AAA at J18 Carnival Against Capital 1999

AAA at Brixton Reclaim the Streets 1998

Skinheads as Independent Travellers in Space

We were brought up on the space race, now they expect us to clean toilets

Other AAA archive material:

AAA Archive (ex-Parasol AAA)

Uncarved AAA archive