Tuesday, December 26, 2023

My London musical/radical soundscape 2023

Reading other people's end of year lists is like listening to people talking about their dreams - occasionally interesting but mostly very much not. So this round up of musicking and political activity from (mostly) London 2023 is really for my own benefit and to document a few things which might otherwise vanish from the historical record or at least my memory.

Best gig of the year for me was Kneecap at the Electric Ballroom in Camden, a giant mosh pit in a sold out gig for Belfast Irish language rappers. Just up the road at the Roundhouse in December, Lankum were also excellent. Irish hegemony in my music tastes for the first time since the 1990s. Love the Roundhouse (also saw Big Moon there in May  and a couple of years ago Laura Marling), not so keen on the cavernous Ally Pally where I saw Sleaford Mods with John Grant, but a good gig.

On a jazzier tip, loved Ezra Collective at Hammersmith Apollo in February, and Laura Misch's mellow cloud bath performance at the Peckham Old Waiting Room. Nearby at the Ivy House pub SE15, The Goose is Out continued to curate some excellent folk nights including Martin Carthy and Stick in the Wheel. They also put on a monthly singaround session where people take it in turns to stand and sing one song at a time; I sang there earlier in the year and also at Archie Shuttler's Open Mic at the Old Nun's Head. Strummed the banjo and mandolin a bit.

In terms of my own music making the highlight was taking part in the Wavelength Orchestra event on the beach in Gravesend in June, an improvisational performance where assorted musicians sustained notes based on the duration of waves (although it was low tide and they were more like ripples). I took along my old Wasp synth, my dad's bagpipe chanter and my grandad's harmonica to add to the mix.


Went out for my birthday to a Mungo's Hi Fi night at the Fox & Firkin in Lewisham, checked out my local Planet Wax record shop and bar in New Cross. Enjoyed giving a Peckham anti fascist history walk for around 30 people in October, and chatting about my own history on Controlled Weirdness' 'Tales from a disappearing city' podcast.

I always appreciate the unexpected random encounters with music in the city, like coming across an Italian hip hop collective (Hip Hopera Foundation) performing in Beckenham Place Park or bumping into morris dancers by my local pub. Loved dodging the rising tide on the Thames shore for a dark 'Noise TAZ' in the summer.

Politically I am not a super activist at the moment but do try and get myself out there in times of emergency - and with climate change, war, anti-migrant racism and transphobic 'culture wars' it feels like that is most of the time at present. Or as Benjamin put it, 'The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule'.

The year started with ongoing strikes from NHS, rail workers and teachers, I popped down to various picket lines and protests. It has been hard to keep track of the endless state onslaught against refugees, including the 'Illegal Migration Act' which criminalised seeking asylum. Protest too becoming increasingly criminalised with climate emergency activists being locked up for months or even years just for walking in the road or doing a banner drop.  My most sustained activity was turning up regularly to defend a drag event at the Honor Oak pub in South London from far right opposition (which I wrote about at Datacide). I got increasingly fed up with anti-trans nonsense from fellow old lefties  and said so. The end of the year dominated by the massacre of October 7th and the seemingly never ending massacre in Gaza ever since - highlighted by both Kneecap and Lankum at their gigs.

Perhaps it remains true, as Frederic Jameson said, that 'it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism', but the neo-liberal capitalist utopia of a world united and pacified by globalised markets has vanished too. It is not hard to imagine a kind of end of capitalism as we know it, at least as a global system, replaced by endless ethno-nationalist violence and conflict for shrinking resources like water and arable land. Harder sometimes to hold onto a politics of hope for a better world, but what is the alternative?

'South London Loves Trans People' - at the Honor Oak pub in May

Stop the Migration Bill protest at Westminster with speakers on Fire Brigades Union fire engine (13 March 2023)

Refugee solidarity on London anti-racist demo, 18 March 2023

Gaza ceasefire demo blockades Carnaby Street, 23 December 2023

Anyway here's a slice of London's musical/radical soundscape as experienced by me in 2023:

Seen and heard in film above:

1. Striking Lewisham teachers, January 2023.

2. Ezra Collective perform Space is the Place, Hammersmith Apollo, February 2023.

3./4./5. Extinction Rebellion demo in London, April 22 2023.

6. Martin Carthy singing High Germany at Goose is Out folk club at the Ivy House SE15, April 2023

7. Wavelength Orchestra in Gravesend (OK not actually London) on beach next to St Andrews Art Centre, June 2023

8./9. Dancing in the streets in Honor Oak, defending drag event from far right opposition, 24 June 2023

10. Stick in the Wheel at at Goose is Out folk club at the Ivy House SE15, June 2023

11. Torquon on Thames Beach, Noise TAZ, 19 August 2023 

12. Khabat Abas, Thames Beach Noise TAZ, 19 August 2023 (Kurdish experimental cellist)

13 Leslie, Hilly fields, September 2023 (pop up electronic performance in the park)

14. Blanc Sceol,  Deptford Creekside Discovery Centre, September 2023 (acid sounds on self made acoustic instruments as part of 'Thorness and Green Man' autumn equinox performance with artist Victoria Rance)

15 Cyka Psyko - Sardinian rapper with Hip Hopera Foundation, Beckenham Place Park, 24 September 2023

16. Laura Misch in Peckham 21 October 2023

17. Palestine demo, Battersea, 11 November 2023

18. Kneecap, Electric Ballroom, 29 November 2023

19. Sleaford Mods cover West End Girls at Ally Pally 2 December 3034

20. Lankum singing The Pogues' Old Main Drag to remember Shane MacGowan at the Roundhouse, 13 December 2023.

21. Palestine demo, Carnaby Street, 23 December 2023

Sunday, December 24, 2023

'Do not play acid' - London club listings October 1988

London Club Listings from a local paper in October 1988 (Westminster and Pimlico News) in the midst of the acid house upheaval. KISS FM crew 'know how to make a rave swing' at Second Base at Dingwalls 'but steer well away from acid'. Meanwhile at Memphis/Legends DJs Rajan and Tim Archer 'do not play acid' but do mix in some Chicago House with their P-funk and r'n'b. Cafe de Paris offers 'salsa, soul and Balearic beats for a packed dancefloor of sloanes, trendies and those who know the doormen'. ACID! very definitely promised though at Asylum at the Harp Club (later the Venue) in New Cross with 'total mayhem, surprises and visuals'. Not sure of the exact music policy  at The Rok at Brixton's Fridge but there's 'delecatable deejays' and 'dishy dancers'.

('Top Twenty' chart here is just a pop listing from HMV, not representative of club sounds from the time).


Friday, December 22, 2023

'How to produce a feminist magazine': Bad Attitude - radical women's newspaper (1992-97)

Bad Attitude was a London-based radical women's newspaper that ran from 1992 to 1997. It was put together by a group of women (mostly friends of mine) operating for much of this time from an office in the anarchist squat centre at 121 Railton Road, Brixton. The paper was an ambitious project, aiming for high production values and international coverage while having no funding and no paid staff. Unsurprisingly it eventually ran out of steam but not before many great interviews, news stories and other articles.

The story of Bad Attitude is told in some documents in the 56a infoshop archive, which also has a collection of the paper. The first document is a letter promoting Bad Attitude to potential sellers (bookshops etc). It promises that it will be 'wicked, witty and wild' and 'will inherit and expand the success of Shocking Pink and Feminaxe - members of the collective worked on both these publications... with a mission to overthrow civilisation as we know it Bad Attitude will put blander publications in the shade'. Distribution was handled by Central Books, originally set up in the 1930s to distribute Communist Party publications.

Five years and eight issues later the collective issued a 'Bye Bye Bad Attitude' letter to subscribers. 

 'BA brought a class struggle, anti-state approach to feminism that is scarce in any nationally distributed publication, and we managed to have few laughs along the way. It was  something worth fighting for! But life is change and the core of BA members have moved on in different ways — in  some cases, out of London. Lack of enough money and lack of energy have re-inforced each other, though our low overheads have enabled us to carry on longer than others. 

Most imporant, we're feeling the knock-on effect of changes in the benefits system. It's no   easy to sign on, keep going with the odd earner on the side and devote yourself virtually full-time to a project like BA. With wage cuts, pressure on low-rent housing and squatting and all the other survival hassles, it's also become more difficult to live on  part-time employment. This has made it difficult to find new collective members who can make the commitment to a regular publication on the scale of BA... Still for the overthrow of civilisation as we know it'

The group hoped that others would pick up the torch and with this in mind they 'How to produce a feminist magazine or how we did BA' with various practical points and 'advice from burnt-out baddies':  'Don't be over-ambitious. When we started as a bi-monthly. we roughly kept to schedule for a year. We also got ill! In retrospect. this sense of burn-out hung over the rest of the time we published. even as we went to quarterly. to bi-annual. to....non-existent.  It's better to start off with a publishing schedule you know you can stick to without giving up the rest of your life. 

At the same time, photocopies won't get the word out. Printing an attractive. well-produced publication makes it more accessible to those who don't already have a determined mission to read extremist tracts. And remember partially-sighted women will be interested too in what you've got to say. Try and get as many people as possible involved from the very beginning. We started off as a group of five or six, with the idea of involving more women when we published. But women coming in often didn't feel quite the same commitment. even though we tried to work out ways of including new volunteers. When we were overstretched we got stuck. We didn't have enough women to work regularly and train new volunteers which made it difficult for new women to get involved. which meant we didn't enough of us to  open the office. put out the paper and train volunteers...and so on'.

Bad Attitude benefit party during Hackney Anarchy Week 1996, held at the Factory Squat in Stoke Newington (more details of the Week at Radical History of Hackney)

Bad Attitude stall at Pride, Brockwell Park, 1993 - with Rosanne Rabinowitz (left) and Katy Watson

See previously:

Remembering Katy Watson (Bad Attitude collective member)