Showing posts sorted by relevance for query 121. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query 121. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

121 Centre in Brixton: 1990s flyers

The 121 Centre in Brixton, variously known as an ‘anarchist centre’, ‘social centre’ and ‘squatted centre’, was a hub of international radical activity and much else throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The house at 121 Railton Road, SE24 was first squatted by a group of local anarchists in 1981 and was finally evicted in 1999 (it is now private flats). Its four storeys included a bookshop, office space, printing equipment, kitchen and meeting area, and a basement for gigs and parties.

Over 18+ years it was the launchpad for numerous radical initiatives, some short-lived, others having a more lasting impact. Many groups used 121 for meetings and events, including Brixton Squatters Aid, Brixton Hunt Saboteurs, Food not Bombs, Community Resistance Against the Poll Tax, Anarchist Black Cross, the Direct Action Movement, London Socialist Film Co-op and the Troops Out Movement. Publications associated with 121 included Shocking Pink, Bad Attitude, Crowbar, Contraflow, Black Flag and Underground.

There was a regular Friday night cafe and many gigs and club nights, including the legendary mid-1990s Dead by Dawn (which I've written about here before). 121 was a venue for major events including Queeruption, the Anarchy in the UK festival and an International Infoshop Conference. It was, in short, a space where hundreds of people met, argued, danced, found places to live, fell in and out of love, ate and drank..

This is the first in a series of posts featuring flyers from 121:

September 1995 - a film night with HHH Video Magazine featuring recent events including the Battle of Hyde Park
(anti-Criminal Justice Act demo), the McDonalds libel trial, the 1994 'levitation of parliament; and the Claremont Road/M11 road protest. In the pre-web 2.0/youtube era, videos like this were a key way in which visual information from different movements circulated.

Wonder what the 'Russian Techno Art Performance' was?

February 1995 - a benefit night for the 56a Info Shop in Elephant Castle, with Difficult  Daughters,
Steve Cope & the 1926 Committee, Mr Social Control and others.

Martin Dixon remembers playing the song  'Animals' at 121: 'Steve Cope and the 1926 Committee arose from the ashes of The Proles. I used to play trumpet with them on this one song. Invariably the last song of the set I remember getting on stage with them in the packed basement of the squatted 121 Centre in Railton Road, Brixton. Every time I lifted the trumpet a dog would leap up barking wildly. “Whenever they need to segregate, experiment or isolate, or simply to humiliate,
they’ll call you animals ”.

Mr Social Control was a performance poet, he used to sometimes have a synth player
 and rant to Pet Shop Boys style backing. 

August 1995: punk gig with Scottish band Oi Polloi and PMT, who came from Norwich.

August 1995 'Burn Hollywood Burn' video night. Riot Porn was always popular at 121,
in this case film of the Los Angeles uprising, as well as squatting in Brixton, Hackney and Holland.

1992: Burn Hollywood Burn again! LA riots plus video of Mainzer Straße evictions in Berlin (1989).
The benefit was to raise funds for an early computer link up with the Italian-based
European Counter Network (ECN) amd the Amsterdam-based Activist Press Service (APS),
via which radical news and information was circulated.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Dead by Dawn: partying on the 'kinetic-sensory-pharmacological-sonic frontiers'

Friday night's Praxis Records party on the MS Stubnitz in London docklands was great, may write a bit more about it, but for now here's something about the label's early history and more specifically the mid-1990s Dead by Dawn parties at the 121 squat centre in Brixon (as discussed at this site before). These extracts are from 'Bread and (Rock) Circuses: sites of sonic conflict in London' by Alexei Monroe, published in 'Imagined Londons' edited by Pamela K. Gilbert (SUNY Press, 2002).

'Gabber and associated variants (stormcore, nordcore, hartcore, speedcore) all represent not just aesthetic extremism but a frantic search for an un-colonised sonic space that will prove resistant to commodification and appropriation. All are based on the testing and surpassing of kinetic-sensory-pharmacological-sonic frontiers and a reaction against ideological, economic, and stylistic taboos. At the center of this stylistic mayhem lay the Dead by Dawn nights at the 121 and the associated micro-scene centered on the Praxis label and the Alien Underground and Datacide magazines - the most comprehensive documentation of both local events and the international networks of underground parties and producers in France, Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and beyond. The magazines are no less politicised than the information held at 121, reporting not just on the specific repression against illegal raves but on wider civil liberties issues and threats to freedom, discussing issues such as electronic surveillance, and the CIA's links to drug importation. Datacide in particular stresses solidarity against repression and has a loosely defined ideology based on communal values and the thought of Rosa Luxemburg and the Italian and German autonomist/squatter movements. Though not pessimistic and stressing the importance of cultural and political resistance, the tone of the reportage can be as apocalyptic as the sounds discussed on the extensive review pages. The works of Deleuze and Guattari, Hakim Bey, and others are a conspicuous presence, and the emphasis on theoretical activity and practical action stands in contrast to happy hardcore's pure escapism and distrust of complexity and innovation. The conceptual sophistication and political awareness of the writers, producers and those attending the events does not contradict so much as complement the music's emphasis on brutal sensuality that to the outsider seems nothing more than a soundtrack to the temporary obliteration of the self.

The 121 and the Dead by Dawn parties symbolize a twin process of stylistic and musical ghettoization, some of the most extreme sounds to have been heard in London playing to an audience of one or two hundred in an almost stereotypically bleak basement space. Though at one level it was indeed a ghetto space, anyone who attended an event at 121 will remember its unique atmosphere. In the small hours, for listeners slumped in armchairs on the ground floor surrounded by the blast of dystopic noise emerging from the basement space, the 121 could seem as hyperreal as anywhere, even without chemical enhancement. The incongruity of the location could actually feel the intensity, the awareness of being in a parallel space that was at least symbolically beyond the reach of daily commodification and oppression. The space served as a nexus of extreme sensory experience and had a unique atmposphere'.

Flyer from collection at Smash the Records

Monday, November 28, 2022

London queercore 1995: Vaseline, Up to the Elbow, Sick of it All

'Vaseline zine' started out in 1995 'for gay people who love indie and alternative music and want to rage against the scene'. They put on club nights including at the Bell in Kings Cross (later the Cross Bar, today the Big Chill). The period saw a flourishing of 'queercore', riot grrrl and LGBTQ+ indie clubs and bands in the UK - including Sister George, Mouthfull,  Bandit Queen and Sapphic Sluts. 

Vaseline, no. 2 1995 'rage against the scene' - with review of PJ Harvey at Kentish Town Forum, May  1995

Vaseline no.2 (May 1995) mentions that 'Popstarz is a new weekly gay indie night' opening at at Paradise Club with 'indie-pop downstairs and 70s discos and trash upstairs'. Not sure where the Paradise Club was (don't think this was the Paradise Bar in New Cross) but Popstarz went on to be a massive club night moving to the Scala in Kings Cross and continuing for 20 years at various locations. Its founder Simon Hobart died in 2005 (see Remembering Popstarz)

from Vaseline no.5

'Mouthfull' interview from issue 7

My friend Katy Watson DJ'd  at the time at Up to the Elbow, a club night started by the band Mouthful, and then started another night Sick of it All. Here's her brief account of the scene, from an interview I did with her:

'I’ve played music with a few people over the years but we never got it together to be a performing band.  I did try to start a band with my old flatmate Rosanne but it didn’t work out. She had been in a band called The Sluts from Outer Space. We had a very nice drummer we used to rehearse with, I was well into her.

I used to DJ in a couple of gay punky clubs, that was lots of fun. It gives you a focus for lots of record buying, so lots of shopping in Rough Trade. It was very nice doing it, having the motivation to check out lots of new records and you can justify buying them and also I was writing reviews of them for Bad Attitude. 

At first I played music in a sort of indie gay club - Up to the Elbow (the world’s worst name). That had quite an indie music policy, I put in my punky classics as well, like Iggy Pop and New York Dolls. The club was in Islington and sometimes at The Bell, an alternative gay pub in Kings Cross.

 And then after that I bonded a bit with these two gay punks called Rick and Satoshi and we did our own club very positively called Sick of It All (that was Rick’s gloomy American approach to things!). That was more punky than indie sort of gay stuff.  We didn’t do that many nights of it, but it was lots of fun. We had trouble fixing a venue, it was in a different place every time - we did one night at 121 Railton Road, the anarchist centre. Another one we did upstairs in a funny little club place off Warren Street with gold lame curtains and velvet chairs, it was a bit too smart for us..

 It was around the period of riot grrrl with bands like Bikini Kill. We went to two or three Bikini Kill gigs, and hung out with the band including Kathleen Hanna. She’s a very good self-promoter, so we interviewed her for Bad Attitude and she hung out with us in the squat that I was living in at the time. Tribe8, another US queercore band, also came and stayed in Brixton.  It was a very happening time for gay punky/indie bands and female punky/indie bands – the whole riot grrrl thing. We were being very cool and punky with our dyed hair and squatty lifestyle and all that sort of thing'

[notes: you can see Rosanne Rabinowitz in the great Rebel Dykes movie and the Sluts from Outer Space feature on the soundtrack; Katy's Brixon squat where Kathleen Hanna once stayed was at 2 Saltoun Road; I remember meeting San Francisco band Tribe8 in Brixton, in someone's house in Josephine Avenue around this time]

Katy (right) on her way to see Bikini Kill

Good to see some mentions of some of these nights in Vaseline. It seems that the first Sick of it All was at Sol's Bar near Warren Street in July 1995

Sick of it All's first night - 'The philosophy of the club seemed to be 'fuck the common denominator' and the atmosphere was reminiscent of Up to the Elbow. DJs Rik and Katie careered their way through punk, queercore and harder edged indie music, while Satoshi added the je ne sais quoi' (Vaseline no. 5).

The 'punk party extravaganzathon in a huge Brixton squat' in October 1995 was presumably the night at the (not particulary huge!) 121 Centre in Railton Road, Brixton. Katy was involved with the feminist paper Bad Attitude which had an office upstairs at 121.

Vaseline no. 7

Flyer for Sick of it All at 121 Centre, Brixton, 21 October 1995
'A one off punk party for homosexuals, bisexuals, heterosexuals, fags, dykes, and their special "friends" ("gays" admitted at discretion of management)'

I went to a couple of  'Up to the Elbow' nights with Katy on the decks at the Bell (I saw Bandit Queen and the Frantic Spiders) and downstairs at Freedom in Wardour Street. Of the latter I noted at the time (January 1995) that I went  'to 'Up to the Elbow', the queercore club where Katy (DJ KT) does her stuff. It had moved from the Bell (which has been bought by the Mean Fiddler for heterosexualisation) to the Freedom Cafe in Soho. There were a couple of good bands playing - Mouthfull who were a bit Nirvana-like but did a great punkified version of 2 Unlimted's No Limits and Flinch who were more in the Pixies/Throwing Muses mould'.

Katy Watson (1966-2008)

See also:

[thank to MayDay Rooms archive, whose display of Vaseline zines at the radical bookfair at the Barbican library set me off down this wormhole. The bookfair was part of Quiet Revolutions: A Celebration of Radical Bookshops, 26 November 2022]

[updated September 2023 with Sick of it All flyers found at 56a Info Shop]

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Dead by Dawn, Brixton, 1994-96

Dead by Dawn was a techno and speedcore club in Brixton, South London that ran from 26 February 1994 until 6 April 1996. In itself this was nothing particularly unusual – at the time it felt that every available social space was being taken over by record decks, speaker stacks and dancers, and in Brixton there was plenty of techno to be heard of various varieties. But Dead by Dawn was unique, and not just because its music was the hardest and fastest to be heard in London.

Dead by Dawn was only discovered by the mainstream dance music press after it had ceased. A Mixmag article by Tony Marcus on 'Hooligan Hardcore: the story of Gabber' (July 1997) stated that 'In London, the music is supported by the crustie scene or parties like last year's Dead by Dawn events, hosted by the Praxis label, conceptual events that were preceded by Mexican Revolutionary films or talks on topics like Lesbians in Modern Warfare'. Likewise it wasn't until September 1997 that The Face published an article by Jacques Peretti, 'Is this the most diabolical club in Britain', documenting the speedcore/noise scene: 'Like any embryonic scene, no one quite knows what to call it yet. But at the clubs where it's being played (Rampant, Sick and Twisted, Dead by Dawn, Acid Munchies) they're also calling it Black Noise, Titanic Noise, Hooligan Hardcore, Gabber Metal, Hellcore, Fuck-You-Hardcore or, my favourite, my a severed arm's length, Third World War' (the 'diabolical' club written about was incidentally Rampant at Club 414, also in Brixton).

Dead by Dawn is also (mis)name-checked in Simon Reynolds' book Energy Flash (1998): 'The anarcho-crusties belong to an underground London scene in which gabba serves as the militant sound of post-Criminal Justice Act anger. A key player in this London scene is an organisation called Praxis, who put out records, throw monthly Death by Dawn and publish the magazine Alien Underground'. All of these references contain some truth, but don't really convey the real flavour of the night. This is my attempt to do so.

121 Centre

Dead by Dawn took place on the first Saturday of the month at the 121 Centre, an anarchist squat centre at 121 Railton Road first occupied in 1981 (and finally evicted in 1999).

The Centre was essentially a three storey (plus cellar) Victorian end of terrace house. At the top was a print room and an office used by radical publications including Bad Attitude (a feminist paper) and Contraflow. Below that was a cafe space, decorated with graffiti art murals, and on the groundfloor there was a bookshop. Down a wooden staircase was a small damp basement used for gigs and parties.

The basement was where the decks and dancefloor were set up for Dead by Dawn, but the rest of the building was used too: 'Dead by Dawn has never been conceived as a normal club or party series: the combination of talks, discussions, videos, internet access, movies, an exhibition, stalls etc. with an electronic disturbance zone upstairs and the best underground DJs in the basement has made DbD totally unique and given it a special intensity and atmosphere' (Praxis Newsletter 7, October 1995).


The musical driving force behind DbD was Chrisoph Fringeli of Praxis records. The notion of praxis, of a critical practice informed by reflection and thought informed by action, was concretely expressed at Dead by Dawn with a programme of speakers and films before the party started. A key theme played with around Dead by Dawn was that of the Invisible College, a sense of kindred spirits operating in different spheres connecting with each other. Those invited to give talks were seen as operating on similar lines to Dead by Dawn. I particularly remember a talk by Sadie Plant, author of 'The Most Radical Gesture: the Situationist International in the Post-Modern Age'.

Of course, only a minority of those who came to party came to the earlier events, but I recall intense discussions going on throughout the night on staircases and in corners. The discussions continued in print (this was one of the last scenes before the internet really took off). Dead by Dawn was one of those places where a very high proportion of people present were also making music, writing about it or otherwise involved in some DIY publishing or activism. There was a whole scene of zines put out by people around it, including Praxis newsletter, Alien Underground, Fatuous Times, Technet and Turbulent Times. My modest contribution to this DIY publishing boom, other than a couple of short articles for Alien Underground, was The Battle for Hyde Park: Ruffians, Radicals and Ravers 1855 -1955, an attempt to put the movement against the anti-rave Criminal Justice Act in some kind of historical context . People who occasionally came to DbD from outside of London also put out zines, including the Cardiff-based Panacea and Sheffield's Autotoxicity.

The writing about music was in some ways an attempt to make sense of the intensities of places like DbD. If there was one source quoted more than any other if was Jacques Attali's 'Noise: the Political Economy of Music', in particular the statement that 'nothing essential happens in the absence of noise'. Other ideas in the mix included Deleuze & Guattari, the Situationists, ultra-leftism and William Burroughs (particularly ideas of control and de-conditioning partially filtered through Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth). As well as music there were various other projects brewing, such as the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.

The mob

All of the above might make it sound as if DbD was some kind of abstract, beard stroking affair. I'm pretty sure though that there was no facial hair on display, and I can certainly vouch for the fact that DbD was a real club, complete with smoke, sweat, drugs (definitely more of a speed than an ecstasy vibe), people copping off with each other and general messiness.

There were people who came from round London and beyond especially for the night, Brixton Euro-anarcho-squatters for whom 121 was their local (at the time there was a particular concentration of Italians in the area) and the usual random collection of passers-by looking for something to do with the pubs shut, including the odd dodgy geezer: UTR (Underground Techno Resistance) zine warned in August 1995: 'if you go to the Dead by Dawn parties watch out for the bastard hanging around passing off licorice as block on unsuspecting out of their heads party goers. We suggest if he tries it on you that you give him a good kicking. You don't need shit like that at a party'.

Some of the crowd might have fitted Simon Reynolds' description of 'Anarcho-Crusties' but the full-on brew crew tended to be less represented than at some of the larger squat parties in London at the time. Of course we were more civilised in Brixton than in Hackney, and anyway the music policy tended to scare away those looking for the comfort of the squat party staple of hard/acid techno (not that I was averse to some of that).

DbD was one point in a network of sound systems and squat parties stretching across Europe and beyond, through Teknivals, Reclaim the Streets parties and clubs. I remember talking to somebody one night who had just got back from Croatia and Bosnia with Desert Storm Sound System. They'd put on a New Year’s party (January '95) where British UN soldiers brought a load of beer from their base before being chased back to base by their head officer.

Hardcore is not a style

It is true that gabber was played at DbD, as were more black metal-tinged sounds - the black-hooded speedcore satanists Disciples of Belial played at the closing party (though it is not true as suggested here that Jason Mendonca of the Disciples was responsible for DbD - I believe he was more involved in another London club, VFM). But DbD was not defined by either of these genres - indeed what separated DbD from many of the other 'noise' clubs was an ongoing critique of all genre limitations: 'Hardcore is not a style... Hardcore is such a sonic weapon, but only as long as it doesn't play by the rules, not even its own rules (this is where Jungle, Gabber etc. fail). It could be anything that's not laid back, mind-numbing or otherwise reflecting, celebrating or complementing the status quo' (Praxis Newsletter 7, 1995).

This meant that DbD DJs played dark jungle for instance, as well as techno, gabber and speedcore, occasionally winding up purists in the process. Sometimes there were live PAs, for example by Digital Hardcore Recording's Berlin breakbeat merchants, Sonic Subjunkies.

Even with gabber it was possible to get into a kind of automatic trance setting - after all it was still essentially a 4:4 beat, albeit very fast. The experience of dancing at DbD was more like being on one of those fairground rides which fling you in one direction, then turn you upside down, and shoot off at a tangent with no predicable pattern.

A quick roll-call of some of the DJs - Christoph, Scud, Deviant, Jason (vfm), Controlled Weirdness, DJ Jackal, Torah, Stacey, DJ Meinhoff, Terroreyes, Deadly Buda, not forgetting VJ Nomex, responsible for much of the video action.

The last days

DbD quit while it was ahead. Praxis newsletter announced in October 1995: 'In order for this never to become a routine we have decided to limit the number of events to take place as DbD with this concept before we move on to new adventures - to another 5 parties after the re-launch of this newsletter on October 7th'. So it was that the last party took place in April 1996. There was some frustration that the baton was not taken up by others: 'What a relief to be rid of the stress - but six weeks later we start feeling bored already and start looking for new concepts. Why did no one take up the challenge to make this sort of underground party spread? Why was the last discussion avoided by those people who tried to give us shit about stopping the parties?' (Praxis newsletter 8, 1996). The latter article was accompanied by a 1938 quote from Roger Caillois: 'the festival is apt to end frenetically in an orgy, a nocturnal debauch of sound and movement, transformed in to rhythm and dance by the crudest instruments beating in time'.

There was no going back, but many of those who were there have continued to be involved in making music, DJing, writing and other interventions, including Christoph (still doing Praxis and sporadically publishing Datacide), Howard Slater, Jason Aphasic, John Eden and Matthew Fuller.

The final document was a Dead by Dawn double compilation album (Praxis 23, vinyl only) with tracks from Richie Anderson & Brandon Spivey, Sonic Subjunkies, Deadly Buda, Somatic Responses, DJ Delta 9, Controlled Weirdness, Torah, Aphasic, Shitness and The Jackal, plus recordings made at Dead by Dawn parties.

Some Dead by Dawn texts:

Dead by Dawn on 3rd December 1994 - Club Review by the Institute of Fatuous Research (published in Alien Underground 0.1, Spring 1995)

Dead by Dawn is a baptism of fire happening on the first Saturday of every month, organised in conjunction with elaborate astrological cycles. It is an open secret, an anonymous pool of power accessible to guileless travellers of multitudinous potentiality. A new rougher and tender realm and yet another sucker on the beautiful arms of that octopus of desire called the INVISIBLE COLLEGE.

Dead by Dawn is an all-night feast of fire consumption; a self-sustaining palace of pleasure. Aliens advance their individual investigations into involvement with MOB RULE, test-driving hectic notions against believing everything... but minds do burn out (perhaps the effect of swallowing too much dogma and listening to techno played in other clubs that has been made with tired and fatigued formulas) and on this occasion we were sorely disappointed to have to watch the spectacle of certain elements getting angry because some Dark Jungle was playing out. Did this so offend their techno tastebuds that they had to spout their pathetic invective against breakbeats?

Dead by Dawn fires up binary dilemmas, resulting in aphasic implosions of belief structures. All the declared origins for things, all the various shades of after-life theory, are majestically destroyed. The fragile skin between inner and outer space has been punctured; a celebration begins, of incompleteness, the dissolving of categories and the accumulation of ideas. This is a launch pad for a thousand missions into electronic disturbance zones. Nothing is sacred. Dead by Dawn is the realisation and suppression of popular music and attendant social conditions; techno reveals how we find our own uses for magical systems, alchemically transforming machines into play-things, and constantly re-mixing, re-connecting, and re-inventing ourselves. All of this was confirmed by the live PA that night from Berlin technodadaists Sonic Subjunkies.

Dead by Dawn fans its own flames; the key to its success is 'Mind Our Business', cultivating the MOB mentality. By outflanking the administrators of fear, Dead by Dawn gleefully contributes to the breakdown of society, as our contradictions disrupt the whole millennial regeneration of the Renaissance world-view, and the manipulation of reality for the purpose of reality. The whirligig of time speeds up and has its revenges. These digital hardnoises accelerate the displacement of hierarchy, they provide space/time travel to a classless society where there will be no plagues of crap music and stupid club-promoters, no ego-tripping pests and self-promoting bores, no extortionate prices and rip-offs, and where there will be unlimited free drugs, records, dancing and sex. WE ARE INVINCIBLE.

Dead by Dawn - a game of Noise and Politics (from Fatuous Times, issue 4)

"Well done, now you have captured the Seven Angels of Noise you may begin organising your Parties. Parties provide space for you to assemble Noises and begin Composing. But remember, with every Party you organise you take a risk, gambling on slavery or freedom - always avoid the Caricatures, such as Business Head, Drug Casualty and Career Opportunist; they will try to use you.

You must try to create Paradise City. You will need to invent the rules and codes for doing this as you go along. Your Compositions will provide you with new Relations and Meanings, use these as your guides.

The Forces of Restraint will try to stop your Parties. They will use the Four Hands of Power, Eavesdropping, Censorship, Recording and Surveillance, as weapons against you. The Four Hands can be used in various ways - strategies may include Law and Order Campaigns, Soft-Cop/Hard-Cop Routines, and Austerity Measures.

It is advisable to seek help and assistance at all times, to form alliances and collaborate with others.

Composing will allow you to learn the pleasures of doing something for the sake of doing it, without a need for financial reward.

Pleasure in being instead of having - this will make you stronger. Paradise City is made from Noise. Only you know this.

Good luck. Please press return button to continue this game.

Dead by Dawn: the 24th Party, flyer by John Eden at Turbulence, published in Praxis newsletter 8, 1996)

Down with intelligence!

Dance music is primarily functional in a way that no other music is. It should interact with the listener as directly as a fire alarm. Eliciting a response so immediate that it bypasses the conscious mind. If the rhythm isn’t replicated by nervous and muscular responses then it's time to change the record. If it doesn’t make your feet and legs move then you can fucking forget It. Heads down, smiles on. Go.

Bodies jammed together have no space for pretension. Technology is utilised to elicit a peculiarly 'primitive' response. No time to think, only time to keep up. The third mind of the dancefloor is fully occupied. No need for packaging. Our bodies don't care about record labels, music labels. Every man and every woman is a star here. The dancefloor is in another dimension to the coffee table. All of the body begs for a frequency to vibrate to, not just the ears.

The oxymoron of making "listening" techno is an insult. Music for consumers so passive that they don't even leave the sofa and move about. Voyeurs of a subculture that demands physical activity and secretions. The spectre of "Intelligent" jungle or techno. The removal from the party with all its smells, interactions, exhaustions and into a tidy category for the post-modern tourist.

"Don't go in there! There's people flailing their arms around and sweating!" Save us from a dance music that distances itself from the mob of whirling people we have come to love. There are no footnotes when the bass drum kicks in. No time for roles. Intelligence implies a certain sophistication, a superiority to the plebs that are prepared to make fools out of themselves in the name of Hedonism. We reject it.

Well that's my version - more contributions and comments welcome. Also I can't find copy I thought I had of the DbD album - anybody care to record a copy? See also More Dead by Dawn

Thursday, August 13, 2009

5 words: Funky, Surrealism, Pirates, Exodus, 121

The '5 word meme' is just that - somebody gives you 5 words to say something about. Bob from Brockley gave me my five (as well as prompting Shalom Libertad and Waterloo Sunset to respond among others). If you want to join in, say so in a comment and I will give you five words to ponder.


A while ago, Cornershop declared that Funky Days are Here Again. What they didn't predict was that Funky would return as a noun rather than a verb, the name for the latest blending of bass and beats on UK dancefloors. It's always been hard to define funk, but there are certainly plenty who would argue that UK Funky doesn't have it (including Paul Gilroy). It's true that the rhythm owes more to house and soca than to James Brown, but who cares. I've always liked up on the floor female vocal anthems, so can only rejoice that a whole new seam of them has been uncovered in the disco goldmine. Check out Grievous Angel's Crazy Legs mix, which has the temerity to mix Brian Eno & David Byrne's Jezebel Spirit into Hard House Banton's Sirens.


When I first got interested in politics I was greatly attracted to Dada, Surrealism and the Situationists, initially through second hand accounts in books like Richard Neville's Play Power, Jeff Nuttal's Bomb Culture and indeed Gordon Carr's The Angry Brigade. The emphasis on play, festival and the imagination still resonates with me, but I would question the notion of desire as an unproblematic engine of radical change. Desire is surely formed amidst the psychic swamp of present social conditions and I would no longer advise everybody to take their desires for reality - sadly I have seen far too much of the impoverished desires of men in particular. Just look through your spam emails.


The untimely death of 'pirate' Paul Hendrich scuppered our scheme to raise the jolly roger and declare a pirate republic on a traffic island on the New Cross Road. Still the appeal of some kind of autonomous sovereignty beyond the reach of states lingers on- even if its contemporary reality of sailors held hostage in Somalia doesn't sound quite so romantic. I was also once in a short-lived Pirate Band, our one gig playing the yiddish potato song Bulbes in the Pullens community centre at the Elephant and Castle, supporting the fine indie pop duo Pipas.


I grew up in Luton but had moved away by the time of its greatest counter-cultural contribution, the Exodus Collective. I made it to a few of their events though, and their massive free parties were as legendary as their tenacity in defending themselves in the courts. If Rastafarians transposed the Exodus myth to Africa, the Exodus Collective were more modest - an actual practice of leaving the Town (and in particular the Marsh Farm council estate where some of the them lived) for parties in the Bedforshire countryside combined with plans to create some kind of alternative society of community housing and support. Some of the people involved are still keeping the faith, but Exodus itself seems to have imploded at the end of the 1990s. Not sure exactly why, but I guess it was the usual story of conflict involving drugs, money and personalities. Still the land of milk and honey did materialise briefly next to the M1 motorway.


121 Railton Road was a squat in a Brixton terrace that ran from 1981 to 1999. During that time it served as an anarchist centre, radical bookshop, meeting place, print shop, office for feminist and anarcho magazines and venue for countless gigs and parties, including the far famed Dead by Dawn events. As I lived in Brixton from 1987 to 1995 I spent a lot of time there, the best of times (dancing and chatting all night) and the worst of times (seeing somebody die in the street outside after a party I was helping with). And also the plain dullest of times, with seemingly endless meetings of bickering and intra-anarchist faction fighting.

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)

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Annotated Archives at 56a Infoshop

56a Infoshop near the Elephant and Castle has been going for more than 30 years now as a small but perfectly formed radical social centre, bookshop and archive tucked in behind Fareshares Food Co-op at 56a Crampton Street, London SE17.

People have been invited to write a series of 'Annotated Archives' to highlight and reflect upon some of the huge amount of material crammed inside. The first series of these was launched in January 2023, but more are on their way.

In his contribution 56a lynchpin xChris highlights a few samples focusing on the labour, pain and love that goes into writing, printing and distributing: 'when you hold something from the archive in your hand, you are touching something that contains a labour of love from those who believed in it, producing it in various contexts and conditions and who, in thinking, in spreading the word virus, in getting it out, they believed it was part of changing the world!'

'Women's Squatting Histories and where to find them in the 56a Archive' does just  what it says on the tin, pleased to see some of the zines produced by friends in the 1990s such as Shocking Pink, Feminaxe and Bad Attitude getting their dues.

With so much to choose from 'R-Z' looks at a 'tiny selection of the zines in the 56a Zine Library' from between those letters

'Here 2 There EP', Adam Denton's contribution, is less a guide to parts of the archive than a reflection on the possibilities and limitations of archive documents to access the past, in the specific context of his interest in the scene around 1990s techno/speedcore club Dead by Dawn held at 56a's sometime Brixton sibling, the 121 Centre on Railton Road. I went there a lot and have written about it here so was of course interested in his take. 

'We can still talk with the living here and the dead. We can read the blogs. We can think about how noise was characterised then and what's the use? what do  you draw using noise now?, in the up-ticking criminalised sphere of just being about and trying to occasionally sleep.

'What we're most engaged with now and what we'll try to retain focus on, is the repercussions of noisey activity like DbD: how it came to be, what traces the tracks, themselves traces… If we take from the papers alone, it's difficult to know anything other than what we want to. There's some detailing of what goes on, we get a sense. But the reality of that lived time cannot be accessed, people may say, say many things, many misremembered, obscured or clarified by drug haze or….

After leaving hours earlier I eventually arrive home, sit for a while at the kitchen table, beginning to read again. Beginning Sadie Plant on Situationism again. […]  I type SP as she gave a lecture at  DbD at the 121 Centre according to the History is Made at Night blog, and I imagine her touching on it, on it somewhere. Dancing together in 93 is seeing me too glassy about other people's pasts’

‘communing at high BPM, pummelling and relentless music. I'm listening to some of that stuff as I write this, on the Praxis imprint. Wonder if it was about the kinds of people who were populating these nights: who was known, who was up for speaking before, what dissonance and breakage that kind of speech act engenders, in that context 1993 – what could happened here tonight? Spoken texts, becoming noise, cracks the buildings of amplified continuum. Was it friendship alone, shared purpose, the re-purposing where you went somewhere’

[my memory may be fallible but yes I saw Sadie Plant speak at Dead by Dawn in July 1995. According to the flyer she spoke on 'girls, music and other dangerous substances' if I recall correctly talking about some of the stuff that went into her book 'writing on drugs'. It was part of a night themed around 'cyber feminisms, grrrl DJs and she-core'. Most people turned up at the club much later, I think there was probably about 20 people max at the talk. I think I went from the talk to Club UK (then back to 121)  so was dressed for a glam clubbing night out in a silver Daniel James top and tartan trousers!]

Post lockdown party at 56a in July 2021 to celebrate its 30th birthday

The next set of Annotated Archives will be launched at 56a on Thursday 27th April, 6-8pm. I've written one of them so come along for a chat, nibble stuff & grab free zines


Sunday, September 25, 2011

1987: dancing in Brixton and beyond

The Acid House moment of the late 1980s, like the Punk moment a decade or so previously, is often presented as a kind of Year Zero where something entirely new exploded against a backdrop of boredom and mediocrity. To sustain this narrative it is necessary to pretend that nothing much was going on beforehand. Simon Reynolds' (generally excellent) Energy Flash is a case in point: 'In 1987, London clubland was as crippled by cool as ever. The Soho craze for rare groove (early seventies, sub-James Brown funk) represented the fag-end of eighties style culture, what with its elitist obscurantism... and its deference to a bygone, outdated notion of 'blackness''.

For me personally, the house and techno scenes of the early 1990s were a period of unprecedented intensity. But was the time before it really so dull? Not for me. January 1987 was the time I first moved down to live in London, initially squatting on Brixton's Tulse Hill Estate while working in Lambeth Council libraries by day. I remember that year as being a time of great musical innovation, as well as appreciation for some fine older music.

It was a time of amazing electronic beats - 1986 saw the release of Janet Jackson's 'Control' (produced by Jam and Lewis), 'Who is It?' by Mantronix and Joyce Sims' 'All n All'. A time when the possibilities of sampling were first being explored - 'Pump up the Volume' by MARRS and Coldcut's 'Say Kids What Time is It?' both came out in early '87, as did KLF's notorious '1987 - what the f*ck is going on?'. It was the golden age of Def Jam, with 'License to Ill' by the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy's debut 'Yo! Bum Rush the Show' both coming out that year too. I remember lying on the beach in Majorca that summer listening to it - if that was 'outdated blackness' it sounded good to me (though the big track that summer in Majorca was 'I Found Lovin'' by the Fatback Band, must have danced to that every night). And yes, a time of house music breaking through - Steve 'Silk' Hurley's Jack Your Body went to number one in Britain in January '87.

(Public Enemy actually played at the Brixton Academy in 1987 with Eric B & Rakim, as did on another night Run DMC and The Beastie Boys. I didn't go to these gigs though did see Public Enemy there a couple of years later)

In clubs you would hear an eclectic mix of all this with earlier soul and funk sounds. The latter was partly being rediscovered as a result of checking out the source of hip hop samples. For instance I remember dancing to Jean Knight's Mr Big Stuff at Wendy May's Locomotion at the Town and Country club in Kentish town, a Friday night feast of Stax, Motown and Northern Soul. Like many people, I'd first heard the chorus as a sample in 1987's Mr Big Stuff by Heavy D and the Boyz.

A Wendy May chart of tracks from the Locomotion - not sure of source of this, evidently a 1980s music paper!

'Free bus to Trafalgar Square from 1:00 am'

One of the first clubs I went to in London '87 was a night called Wear it Out, in a room above a pub in Brixton - the Loughborough Hotel. Music was a mixture of classic soul/funk and new beats. I know it was there that I first heard Prince's Sign o' the Times, which also came out that year. The same venue became a big part of Brixton nightlife in the late 1980s/early 1990s, going on to become a gay club where they played lots of Stock Aitken & Waterman dance pop and then from 1989 to 1997 the home of the Mambo Inn, legendary Latin & African music club.

Wear it Out flyer posted on Twitter by Ian Marsden, who recalled: 'We lived above the taxi office opposite and got a  mainly local crowd from leafletting  in Brixton and Camberwell. Prince was a staple. Collaborators/DJs were @deborahmarsden1, @WyattBedford, Susie Bonfield, Gin Murphy and @LucyOBrienTweet' (Lucy O'Brien, sometime NME journalist and author of books on women's music, recalls that she played Sign O' The Times DJing there. Apparently fellow NME writer Stuart Cosgrove also DJ'd there).

Danse Chase (or Dance Chase) upstairs at the Alexandra at Clapham Common had a similar musical mix of old and new. I remember hearing tracks there from Michael Jackson's Bad LP, another 1987 classic, on the day it came out. The image on the membership card, with its Keith-Haring-meets-the-Aztecs figures, was repeated on banners around the walls. I believe they were designed by promoter Kev Moore.

Danse Chase diversified into Northern Soul with what became the Southside Soul Club (some good memories of that place at Soul Source - photos of Dance Chase also sourced from there). They also had a jazz night (Hi Note), which was where I once saw Slim Gaillard.

This short film of dancer Keb Darge was shot at the Alexandra in that period:

Another Northern Soul night was Agent 00-Soul at the George IV in Brixton Hill. I remember there being some serious dancers there, including a guy in a wheelchair who put my wannabe Wigan Casino moves to shame.

Also went out sometimes to the 121 club in Brixton, the squatted anarchist centre at 121 Railton Road (later home to Dead by Dawn). Some friends of mine from the South West London Direct Action Movement put on a party there that year, I recall flyering the Prince Albert pub and then dancing to disco in the basement at 121.
One of the biggest nights was Dance Exchange at The Fridge on Saturdays in Brixton, a big dancefloor with banks of TVs around it. 1970s 'Rare Groove' was a big part of the sound there, with great tracks including Maceo & The Macks 'Cross the Tracks', Bobby Byrd's 'I know you got soul' and The Jackson Sisters 'I believe in Miracles'. But plenty of contemporary sounds too. And yes I wore the uniform of black denim (bought from Allders in Croydon) and Doc Marten shoes, with flat top from Andy's/Haircut Sir? at bottom of Tulse Hill.

Fridge programme, March 1986 (from Phatmedia)

It was a similar mix of the old and new at the PSV club in Manchester where I went a couple of times in that period (the club in Hulme, also known as the Russell Club and the Caribbean Club had previously been the location for the first Factory club). This flyer from 1987 gives a sense of the variety of music to be heard out in that year: Tackhead, Trouble Funk, Sly & Robbie, Eric B, Joyce Sims, Mantronix, Prince etc. (there's an account of PSV by Mancky, who recalls tracks including Jocelyn Brown ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’, InDeep ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’, Gwen Guthrie ‘Nothin’ Goin’ On But The Rent’, A Certain Ratio ‘Shack Up’ and Funkadelic 'One Nation Under a Groove').

The PSV - I didn't realize until recently that stood for Public Service Vehicles, it being at one time a social club for bus workers (photo by Richard Davies via Paul Wright on twitter)

Finally in Brixton there was the Prince of Wales, a gay club on the corner of Coldharbour Lane. A cheap night out - £1 in rather than £5 for the Fridge - my main memory of it is dancing to extended mixes of Madonna and Hi-NRG tracks like Taffy's I Love My Radio. There's still a pub there, but it's half the size of the old gay club which occupied that whole corner, including where the KFC is now. I think the club closed down in the late 80s having achieved some notoriety in the 1987 trial of serial killer Michael Lupo, who was arrested after being spotted in the place.

That gloomy ending aside, 1987 was a pretty good year!

(a really good take on London 1980s nightlife is You’re too Young to Remember the Eighties – Dancing in a different time, which Controlled Weirdness wrote for Datacide. Great tales of warehouse parties, the Wag, Mud Club etc. and the times when almost all legal clubs closed by 2 am)

Update, October 2021:

Found at, a review of London nightlife from issue no. 1 of LM magazine, January 1987 (pretty terrible Lifestyle Magazine not to be confused with later Living Marxism). The article mentions some rubbish clubs but does big up both Locomotion and The Fridge, the latter 'the hippest club outside the West End' with Jay Strongman playing 'Washington DC go-go, New York hip-hop, Chicago house music, old R&B and more traditional soul and funk in a cold but packed venue. While Brixton is not normally associated with trendiness, the multiracial mix that characterises today's club scene is no better expressed than here. Wear your Levi 501s'.  The Harp Club in New Cross (later the Venue) also gets a mention, didn't go Flim Flam night there but did go to indie/post-punk Million Rubber Bands/Totally Wired nights there.

@TheJazzDad on twitter noticed this article was written by Simon Goffe, later manager of Roni Size and working with Giles Peterson at Mistral Productions. 

'Come down to the Alexandra opposite Clapham Common tube... and blow your brains on a mixture of Northern and funk. Drinks are pub prices. Arrive early or you won't get in' (Black Echoes, 14 March 1987). Steppers at 414 Coldharbour Lane, Brixton also gets a mention - later Club 414.