Friday, February 24, 2023

Police raid South London Squat Gigs, 1991

A report on a couple of police raids on squat venues in South London from 1991 - an occupational hazard of going out in that era.

The Hellhouse was a squatted factory in Borough Road SE1, near the Elephant & Castle. On 3rd August 1991 The Blaggers and Oi Polloi were playing a benefit there for Anti Fascist Action. Police came in 'with dogs and wielding truncheons' and kicked everybody out. There were clashes in the streets outside and around 30 people were arrested. Within 24 hours the place had been resquatted.

Notice for Hell Haus/Hellhouse gig - I believe from SHIP Network News

A couple of weeks later there was another gig in a squatted Midland Bank in Peckham which ended in a police raid: 'On August 17th a gig was held in the  squatted Midland bank in Peckham. As it was free about 400 people turned up and had a good time. The police called around after complaints about noise and then they disappeared. About 4 am when the crowd was down to less than 100, the riot police arrived and viciously attacked the partygoers. Many people were injured by police dog bites, and some were beaten up by the cops with batons. The cops sealed off Peckham High Street for two hours. About eight people were arrested and some have been charged with affray which is a very serious public order charge'  (56a Info Shop Bulletin, no.1, August 1991). 56a Info Shop recalled on twitter in 2023: 'At the Midland Bank police raid, a friend of ours hid under a sofa to avoid a beating but when the cops cleared the building they then sat on the sofa for an hour or more! Poor Sergio! Was then locked in to the empty building when coppers left'

 I wrote at the time in a letter: 'I spent Monday in court ready to stand bail for a friend who was arrested over the weekend. I wore a suit in order to look like a respectable member of the community and it worked - a couple of people came up to me and asked if I was a solicitor! As it turned out I needn't have bothered with the fancy dress as my friend got unconditional bail, but he had been kept in since Saturday night, so it was touch and go. Along with 12 others he was nicked when the police raided a party on Saturday night. It was being held in a squatted bank, and over 300 people were there. The police sledgehammered down the door and piled in in full riot gear. People were thrown out of the building and on the way out had to walk between lines of cops who hit them as they passed. Quite a few people got bitten by police dogs'.

Flyer for the Peckham Midland Bank free party - 'live bands, music, friendly peoples', guess the police didn't get the memo.  

 The report below are from the 56a Info Shop Bulletin, no.1, August 1991.

The address of the Peckham party was 69 Peckham High Street  Pictured below is the Street in 1980s. From left to right a co-op store, Nat West bank (still standing in 2023), then the entrance to no.69 (Midland bank) where the party was held, leading through to main building behind. The Midland Bank was demolished in 1990s, so that entrance would be in the gap between the current Nat West Bank (no. 65) and the 'spoons pub The Kentish Drovers (no.71). 

A meeting the day the Peckham raid set up joint 'Hell-bank' campaign to support those arrested at the two parties. The leaflet below about the campaign seems to have been produced to distribute at an anti-racist march which went from Peckham to Bermondsey on 24 August 1991 (this infamously faced a violent British National Party mobilisation, but that's another story).

Leaflet set and printed by RedType who operated at the time out of Clearprint at 61-63  Peckham High Street, very close to the then empty Midland Bank.  Judging by style and language of leaflet (including referring to squatters as 'homeless youth') I think it may have been written by Steve the printer who I think had been in the group Workers Power as well as Anti Fascist Action.

All documentation above found at the 56a Info Shop Archive.

[post last updated January 2024 with details of Hell-Bank campaign]

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

One Becomes Two: Badiou vs Spice Girls

The Spice Girls' pop ballad '2 Become 1' was the UK Christmas number one single in 1996. I loved it at the time for its melody, its video, and (working as I was in HIV at the time) its subtle safer sex use a condom message ('Be a little bit wiser baby, Put it on, put it on').  According to Spice Girl Emma Bunton they also changed the album version lyric of 'Boys and girls feel good together' to 'Love will bring us back together' to be inclusive of their LGBT audience.

The main sentiment of the song though is a familiar one in pop music: 'tonight is the night when two become one', through sex the lovers are united into a single entity.

But it is precisely this notion of love that radical leftist philosopher Alain Badiou takes issue with in his 'In Praise of Love' (2009). Badiou is critical of ‘the meltdown concept of love’ based on the fusion of lovers into the One. That may be a feature of the initial ecstatic encounter, but ‘Real love... that triumphs lastingly, sometime painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world’ is about Two not One.

For Badiou, 'Love isn't simply about two people meeting and their inward-looking relationship: it is a construction, a life that is being made, no longer from the perspective of the One but from the perspective of Two’. He asks 'what kind of world does one see when one experiences it from the point of view of two and not one? What is the world like when it is experienced, developed and lived from the point of view or difference and identity? That is what I believe love to be'. Again, ‘love suggests a new experience of truth about what it is to be two and not one. That we can encounter and experience the world other than through a solitary consciousness’.

This basis of love in difference rather than identity has political implications: ‘it is urgent to defend love’s subversive, heterogenous relationship to the law. At the most minimal level, people in love put their trust in difference rather than being suspicious of it. Reactionaries are always suspicious of difference in the name of identity’.  Love even bears aspects of communism: ‘By “communist” I understand that which makes the held-in-common prevail over selfishness, the collective achievement over private self-interest.  While we’re about it, we can say that love is communist in that sense, if one accepts, as I do, that the real subject of a love is is the becoming of the couple  and not the mere satisfaction of the individuals that are its component parts. Yet another possible definition of love: minimal communism!’

There is something very French about Badiou's observations, or rather something that accords with Anglo stereotypes of French radical philosophy. There does seem to be a line stretching from the Surrealists through the Situationists and beyond that posits love, desire and passion as unproblematic buildings blocks of a better world. Usually from a male perspective, the view of the objects of their desire are not usually given much thought (though not sure that criticism can be levelled at Badiou). Obviously there is something quite heteronormative in the conception of the couple (the Two) as the subject of love. And don't fascists, reactionaries and racists of all sorts also fall in love, often with people they see as being like them? Their emotional ties can strengthen their sense of identity to their imagined community to the exclusion of those they see as other.

Still we can't deny that we are drawn to stories like Romeo and Juliet where the Two come from rival camps demonstrating ‘the power love possesses to slice diagonally through the most powerful oppositions and radical separations’. Badiou observes that ‘The commonest, most exploited conflict on the stage is the struggle of chance love against implacable law. More subtly, it is the struggle of young people, helped by proletarians (slaves and servants), against the old helped by Church and State’. In these stories and sometimes in our lives,  love is 'a cosmopolitan, subversive, sexual energy that transgresses frontiers and social status'.

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Cinzia Says...

'Cinzia says...' at Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art is a retrospective of the work of Italian fashion designer and artist Cinzia Ruggeri (1942-2019).  It features many examples of her 1980s clothing ranges, very much of the time with their playful postmodernist aesthetic, as well as some of her art and video works.  She collaborated with Gianni Emilo Simonetti, sometime Fluxus and Situationist associate, and with Italian pop band Matia Bazar among others.

The exhibition in New Cross, London SE14 closes on 12 February 2023