Tuesday, May 10, 2011

March 26 and all that

Here's 3,000 words for American mega-site Alternet.org about UK Uncut, the tactical geniuses shot down by the Met's horrific, unapologetically political policing. The piece is an introduction to UK Uncut and the British protest 'movement' for Americans, and (among other things) a discussion of the potential power of networks versus hierarchies, after some of the reactionary nonsense spouted by Labour Party types after the protests and arrests on 26 March.
The flash mob, the 2000s’ post-ideological, apolitical updating of a situationist-style ‘happening’, was recuperated by capital with consummate ease, and co-opted into award-winning advertising campaigns. But now the flash mob is getting its own back in a massive way – repoliticized just like UK Uncut’s young participants, just like Britain’s gaudy, hyper-branded town centers. 

And here's a comment piece for The Guardian about the grotesque, strategic brutality of kettling, a bit of its history, and the effect it's had on a generation of young protesters.
It is often observed that kettling is designed to dissuade people from coming out to protest: if anything, it has the reverse effect on those who've experienced it. As protesters finally shuffled out of the Westminster Bridge kettle in single file, after seven hours imprisoned in freezing temperatures without food, water, toilets or freedom of movement, I saw several of them look the police in the eye – for that was all they could see, beneath a riot shield visor and a raised black snood – and say, some with humour, some with anger – but all with total defiance, "see you at the next one, mate".
Freshly radicalised by these experiences, it is little surprise that on 26 March, so many young people chose to reject the police-approved TUC march and masked up, seeking freedom and solidarity in the anonymity of the black bloc. I say this to the police: why should protesters engage on your terms, when these are your terms?

I'm writing a 10,000 word pamphlet for Random House about all this, out in the summer. Watch this space, and keep following the #demo2011 and #solidarity hashtags on Twitter.

1980s world music, Kode9, protest singers

A round up of some more longish music pieces for The National's Review section.

First, here's a piece I thoroughly enjoyed writing about a great compilation from a really problematic 'genre': world music - and the dramatic changes in attitudes since these classics were first released in the 1980s. There's so much to say about ghettoisation, orientalism, post-colonialism, fusion, and, er, the constant stream of absolute BANGERS on this double CD. So if you're only going to read one of these three articles, read this one.

Then, an interview with Dorian Lynskey about his brilliantly researched, highly entertaining history of western protest songs, '33 Revolutions Per Minute'. So many interesting dimensions to this discussion, not least the difference between 'earnest', overtly political protest music - which every was ragging on at our UeL Art of Protest seminar - and implicitly rebel music, where the 'protest' aspect is divined from the context. I've pulled out this quote, just because I find the chronological sweep really interesting, especially Lynskey's comparison of mainstream pop attitudes in the 1980s and 2000s. #capitalistrealism, anyone?
For all the continuous power of political pop, from Strange Fruit onwards, it is only in the final bit of the chronology that Lynskey observes a withering and disempowerment of the phenomenon. Green Day's American Idiot heralded "the protest song revival that never was". When protest pop existed in the 2000s, it never caught alight. Lynskey observes sadly in the book's epilogue: "I started this book intending to write a history of a still-vital form of music. I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy."
Finally here's a piece about Kode9 and The Space Ape's new record, drawing in some bits from Steve Goodman's book 'Sonic Warfare', about horrifying sound bombs and nerve-shredding audio itches:
While the sound-work on the likes of Black Smoke is fascinating, the album's peaks come when the queasy, poisoned synths Goodman uses on Love Is the Drug, Green Sun and the brilliant title track are married with a clinical, mobilising dance-floor-orientated beat. At these moments, tensions between nausea and ebullient physicality are evoked and then transcended. The gut response to this trio of tracks is "something definitely isn't right here - so why do I find myself really wanting to dance?"