Monday, September 15, 2008

A slight tangent..:Article for the Globalist Magazine

Well My work on the blog was interrupted by a side project for the globalist magazine, who wanted me to write the following article. I figured, as its on the same topic, I may aswell include it here.

It was a strange experience, trying to write about this in an academic format, but it may have gone ok. well see.

Rhythm Revolution? A Debate on the Politics of Underground Electronic Music
Lillian Morrissey

Midnight, July 13: Creeping out of the semi darkness of the industrial outskirts of London is a deep, repetitive beat. It is embedded in a neon spectacle of lights and movement that I can see more clearly with every advancing step, tucked under a highway underpass, between a canal and a vacant lot. Cars pass overhead, entirely unaware of the raucous below. The highway becomes a metaphor for division between different worlds: the underground psytrance party below, the rest of society passing by so close above. What exactly is the relationship between the two?

Played at ‘raves’, ‘squat parties’, ‘warehouse parties’, ‘bush doofs’ and ‘open airs’, underground electronic music (electronic music that exists outside of mainstream club culture) is generally explored in a variety of alternative settings that avoid the legal and commercial confines of legitimate for-profit music venues. Like their predecessors from the acid house raves of the late 80s ‘Second Summer of Love’, by avoiding mainstream venues, underground electronic music communities provide themselves with greater freedom in terms of music, drug taking, artistic expression, and behavioural norms. Further, underground electronic music itself is inherently experimental and evolves as rapidly as technology will allow. This has led to a huge diversification of the ‘rave scene’ into a variety of different communities, based around different genres of electronic music that are mutations of previous genres.

It is this fragmentation and cultural bricolage that has become the focus of postmodern investigation into ‘rave’ culture. Simon Reynolds, author Generation ecstasy: Into the world of techno and rave culture summarises the postmodern perspective by describing rave culture as ‘geared towards fascination rather than meaning, sensation rather than sensibility; creating an appetite for impossible states of hypersimulation’. Rooted in Baudrillard’s simulacrum, the relationship between underground electronic music and the wider community is one based in surfaces and form, rather than meaning or depth.

Ironically, the dominant neoconservative take on underground electronic music culture echoes the postmodern in its conclusions. Academics such as Hal Foster, author of Recodings, consider the ‘rave’ as one example of the individualism, hedonism, escapism and meaninglessness of modern amusement. From this perspective, as from the postmodern, underground electronic music culture represents a retreat from wider society for the pursuit of superficial and apolitical distraction.

Scott Hudson, Author of The Rave: Spiritual Healing in Modern Western Subcultures rejects this approach. Hudson’s main criticism of the above are that both perspectives neglect testimonials of actual members of these communities. Hudson’s research, based around such testimonials, has come to the conclusion that underground electronic music culture is more usefully viewed as a form of modern religion. According to Hudson, the futuristic or idealised primitive aesthetics of and philosophies behind many of these communities is inherently political, in that it represents a rejection of current forms of economic and societal organisation.

Similarly, Graham St John, Author of Off Road Show: Techno, Protest and Feral Theatre discusses the psychedelic trance scene in Australia as a new generation ‘groovement’ that employs new technologies and tactics to engage in ‘playful politics’. He uses the late 1990s ‘Ohms-not-bombs’ vegetable oil powered touring techno bus as an example of how this community was able to engage with indigenous politics, and present alternative ways of thinking to the public. One of the Ohms-not-Bombs organisers, Peter Strong, described the travelling dance party as ‘a united response to the governments continued assault on the environment, on youth, the unions, and the traditional aboriginal people of this country’. His sentiments are echoed by many organisers within underground electronic music communities worldwide. Making the decision to exist outside of the normal regulatory and commercial framework can be seen to be indicative of a wider rejection of the increased commercialisation and legal control of electronic music since the 1990s.

In response to a 1993 article that dramatised and idealised the Toronto Rave scene, one raver exclaimed ‘If you’re there to have a good time, that’s fine. If you’re there to have a spiritual experience, that’s fine too. But raving is not ONE THING ’. She makes a fair point. It is an underestimation of the complexity of underground electronic music communities to assume that each participant shares the same values and experience, even if the organiser is politically motivated. But what she may have missed is that in a society where experience is controlled through regulatory and social norms, creating a community that is exists outside of that and is able to be more than ‘ONE THING’ to each participant is in itself a political move, whether intentional or inadvertent.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A Week in Paris: Drum and Bass on a Boat and the Rising Tide of Conservativism


On the 16th of May 2007 Nicolas Sarkozy became the President of France, snatching victory from the leader of the socialist party, Ségolène Royal, on a slimmer margin than expected. Of course, I arrived in Paris well after this election, on the 14th of July 2008. The 14th of July also happens to be Bastille day, the French celebration which was started by Napoleon in order to commemorate the same day in 1789 when the revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress-prison, freeing political prisoners. Too exhausted to join the festivities, I nonetheless went to sleep to the sound of fireworks and snatches of cheering on the wind. It is interesting to try and understand this recent shift to the right in a country that can be arguably said to be the birthplace of concepts such as human rights and majority rule. After just over a year of Sarkozy's presidency, almost every Parisian I spoke with expressed concern about the rising tide of conservativism in France. When asking people what was going on in French politics currently,I would receive as an answer a click of the tongues and a shake of the head with a wry expression and small sigh of 'Sarkozy'. The streets of the political Bastille area were spattered with black and white posters attacking Sarkozy as a racist and panderer to big business. The feeling was of frustrated impotence, mixed with resignation, because the next election is not until 2011. Of course, Sarkozy has alot of support too: hence the election results. But, whether coincidence or just an indication of the demographic in which I was perousing, concerns over growing conservative attitudes under Sarkozy came to dominate the discussions I had with people from Paris.

So what is it that people are worried about?

In the last week of the election, Segolene Royal's attacks on Sarkozy included warnings that Sarkozy's hard line on law and order would provoke violence such as we witnessed with the riots in 2005. These riots were essentially an expression of frustration and isolation from French society on the part of recent immigrant groups in the outskirts of Paris. I was in France in 2002, when Jean Marie Le Penn (France's Pauline Hanson) was becoming increasingly popular. Le Penn exposed the potential for harnessing far right voters, rather than walking the middle line. Le Penn also contributed to the feelings of isolation of recent immigrants, by causing them to become the focus of political dialogue without having the opportunity to contribute to that dialogue. This seems to be a fairly regular pattern in most countries: people tend to scapegoat immigrants and refugees in hugely public discussions with no real input from immigrants or refugees themselves.

Anyway, the upshot is that Sarkozy has been lauded by the right and disparaged by the left for mobilizing Le Penn's right wing voters even more powerfully than Le Penn did, because of the backlash against the 2005 riots. Royal's attack is a direct reference to the risks of electing a conservative with a hard line approach to immigration in a country that is a bit of a tinderbox when it comes to immigration.

Here is a story I found on Sarkozy relating to his stance on immigration. This comes from a review of Sarkozy's book 'Sarkozy's Testimony: The Conscience of a French Conservative Testimony: France in the Twenty-first Century' which is very favourable to Sarkozy, citing Sarkozy as an example for American conservatives to follow.

....."As interior minister in '02, he (Sarkozy) visited the refugee center in Northern France known as Sangatte. Initiallly conceived with space for 200 people, Sangatte was welcoming 3,000 refugees a day at the time he made his trip there.

"Three thousand pairs of eyes focused on me," Sarkozy recalled, "Given that all of them had suffered-and paid unscrupulous traffickers dearly-simple humanity made it imperative to keep them." However, it was also "critical to shut off the suction pump:" Once the refugees were processed, Sarkozy closed Sangatte, demonstrating that the issues of dealing with those in the country and border security could be dealt with separately.":

I am not sure how shutting Sangatte demonstrated anything but a denial of the fact that refugees will not stop coming to France, and now they will have nowhere to be processed. It is all very confusing.

Anyway, leaving off Sarkozy's policies on Immigration, the rest of his policies are a strange blend of conservativism and statism, a juggling act of being a pro American, free market conservative in a country that has a strong state presence and history of state intervention. Unlike other conservatives, he stays quiet on issues such as abortion. Like pretty much every other conservative, the emphasis is on economic management, and sustaining growth. He has already begun cutting corporate taxes and taxes to the middle class and restricting unions in order to align the French economy with neoliberal ideas about economic organisation. However, he still backs protectionism when it comes to important national industries (also not unusual: this whole selective approach pretty much characterises the western world). This scenario sounds very familiar really: immigration and economic management were the hot topics of the Howard era. I find myself asking the same questions: walking around the beautiful and impeccable streets of Paris, using the metro, enjoying the wealth of centuries of colonialism and dedication to the arts, I find it difficult to understand why economic growth is at the forefront of policy. All I know is that if I lived in Morrocco, and a three hour boat ride was all that separated me from giving this to my children, I would do it in an instant.

With every election in every country, the fact that society has leaned to the left or the right in it's search for change is as significant as the policies of the party or candidate who is elected. Maybe France is still too patriarchal for a female president. Maybe the left is still too disorganised. I cant say for sure why society has made this shift after being there for one week. However, I cant really say for sure why Australia made the shift to the left last year when it did either: and I have lived there all my life. I'll just have to keep observing.


After exploring Montmartre, the 4th arrondisement and the left bank in search of areas populated by less conservative young people and therefore more experimental electronic music, I finally tracked down Bastille, an area in the eleventh (i think). After a ratty looking guy with goggles on his neck decorated with the phrase 'party time' sold me a zine, I knew I was in the right place. This guy, 'Ben' turned out to be the perfect person to ask. Before coming to Paris, I knew that it was the capital of electro: the home of record labels like Boysnoize and Edbanger, birthplace of Justice, Mr Oizo, Modeselektor, etc etc. I intended to go check out Rex but was a little tired of the showyness of the mainstream scene by the time saturday came around and couldnt be bothered dealing with another person who wore sunglasses at night. After hitting the town in what seemed to be the wrong places for a few days, I had made some enquiries about alternative electronic music in Paris and was told sardonically: 'Go to Berlin', which wasn't exactly heartening.

It wasn't totally accurate either: after asking around at some record stores I met a helpful drum and bass dj called Charlie, who pointed me in the direction of a two night drum and bass party at a fairly well known venue called Le Bartofar which was an old boat floating on the seine. We went on friday the 18th of July. The lineup included a few local drum and bass and dub djs downstairs, and a couple of trance djs upstairs on the main deck. The venue was very cool: the drum and bass was in the belly of the boat, black and round and swaying (weird to dance on a swaying floor), the trance was on the deck and there was another bar on the upper deck. I love parties that have many levels and alleys, little nooks and crannies where you discover another room: this venue was one of those. The soundsystem on the upper deck was not good quality so i can't say for sure whether the music was good. Anyway, the drum and bass dj (dj Ammo?? Levy+MC?? not sure) who was playing when I arrived was excellent: blending a healthy mix of grime, dubstep, breaks and drum and bass and mixing it all up but making it work without being jarring or lacking in flow. An MC from london showed up: this guy called General T, who was really popular but seemed to make a career out of talking really fast. It was cool, but the lyrics (smokin ganga etc) were a bit cliched and I found myself thinking that this guy looked really tired. Apparently he featured in the Ali G movie which explains all the 'Bo Selekta'. Anyway the upshot was that the gig was pretty good but as I discovered, the people there weren't all that friendly but not too bad: not as good a crowd as drum and bass usually draws at any rate. So not too special.

And once again, here is where politics and Rhythms intertwine.

At the party I fell into conversation with a Parisian called Greg. Over the intermittent thunder of the bass (our generation will all be deaf by thirty) he managed to express his concern over the direction of French politics, a concern echoed by many of the young people I met during the week I was there. 'I play the Jambe drums with friends' he explained, and had done so for around eight years, 'We play in a forest'. I asked him where this forest was (in Paris??) and why he played in a forest rather than in Paris. He explained to me with some consternation that they used to play the drums in a group along the banks of the Seine. Over the last year, however, Police had increasingly moved them along, until they became tired of it and started travelling to this forest just outside the east of Paris where they could play without risk of hassle. Greg explained to me that while there are illegal parties in Paris operating, they are at risk of being shut down. Like other conservative political climates, the unregulated music scene is one of the casualties. Like london, big clubs and popular scenes like Rex and Fabric tend to have a monopoly in terms of the law. Of course, the party I went to was not an illegal: it was a good thing that drum and bass and other less popular scenes exist in popular venues because it is accessible. It did create a less open atmosphere however, or that may just be Paris (I know its a stereotype but Paris is quite conservative in ways). According to Greg, many people and the best djs in Paris migrate south for the summer: it may be worth checking it out again in the winter, I may be more impressed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

London Weekend 11th-14th July: Gang Wars and a Party Under a Road


As I dragged my luggage onto the tube from Heathrow, I flopped myself down onto one of the tube info-tainment papers. I picked it up for a browse and was greeted with huge bold headlines ‘five stabbed in one day‘. My mind flickered to the anxious face of my mum as she warned me to be careful before i left. She had just read the article on the horrific murders of the two french students Gabriel Ferez and Laurent Bonomo, which had happened only days before i was due to arrive in london. Apparently she had even more cause for concern: the words on everyones lips in London were that stabbings were becoming an ‘epidemic‘. Over the weekend I was searching for political scandal in the climate of a failing economy and an unpopular Prime Minister. The only headlines I saw were about stabbings.

This issue has come to dominate political dialogue, as parties and politicians compete with each other to offer a solution to the increasingly fearful british public. Apparently, so far, 21 teenagers have been killed this year in violent crime incidents, usually involving knives. One article claims that one in five london men have been threatened with a knife at some point. Hard liners demand harsher sentences and prison, police are demanding more powers, and lefties are examining the social causes. Government reponse has so far demonstrated a little bit of each, but mainly leans towards the hard line: Scotland Yard chief Sir Ian Blair revealed that more than 1,200 people had been arrested and 528 knives seized in a major operation launched six weeks ago. Home secretary Jacqui Smith has also revealed plans for government policies based on ‘shock tactics‘ where young offenders involved in violent crime are made to meet their victims, among other interventionist strategies that particularly target young people.

The government approach seems fairly confused and noncommittal. According to research done by the Manchester University school of law, evidence of causes and the structure of youth crime in the UK contradicts government policy (look up nick davies of the guardian for this article). Which I find unsurprising. Just from walking around london, you can see that there are alot of social problems which need to be addressed and the fact that they haven‘t been so far is indicative of government commitment. Perousing brick lane on a friday night, you see some fucked up people and a few gangs looking dubious here and there. At the psy trance gig we went to, in an industrial area, we were shocked when this girl who could not have been any older than 13 looking smacked out tried to sell us some k. However, you have to acknowledge too that it is alot of people in a small space which inevitably means more tension and more idiots, where living costs alot, and there is a culture of heavy drinking. In addition, there is an element of beat up in the whole knife crime thing: as pointed out in one article in the guardian, the number of stabbings is dwarfed by the number of people who die in car accidents. The really alarming thing is the increasing number of very young people involved in this sort of thing. It does get more and more complex. Well to Boris Johnson, mayor of London, good luck with this one, its a career breaker.


So, before I had touched down in London, Annie had already been scouting out for some squat party or psytrance gig we could go to. She has already been spending her spare time exploring the psytrance scene in London which by all accounts sounds very healthy, although restriced as it is in aus by government restrictions and big club monopolies on legal venues. However, im unsure if legal restrictions are actually restrictive: in most situations, running illegal parties provides an element of freedom with venue and with the music, as well as with the drugs, that create an environment of experimentation and vibrance.

We headed out on saturday night, getting off the train in a desolate industrial area dominated by this highway that trampled through the landscape in attempts to connect parts of a city otherwise inhospitable to cars. Our little journey along this highway was interesting and beautiful in that particular form of industrial beauty that is both harsh and unintended, full of art that is not supposed to be art. For example, we passed an empty shopping complex where an enormous red digital sign that was supposed to say ‘sale‘ flickered dementedly in sections as though it had been driven insane by the contradictions of it's own logic.

Our walk eventually led us to this industrial site where there was already one trance warehouse party underway: not ours though, we wandered by, following a discreet path beside a canal, through the gate, and leading us to the venue: quite literally, the gap underneath the highway where it became a bridge to cross the canal. This interesting space consisted of sloping walls with an an avenue of concrete in the middle, blocked off at one end to form the dj booth. I loved it! This space was about as useless as spaces get: but just like the sale sign, it had inadvertently been transformed into art.

The beauty of London with its over 10 million inhabitents and culture of musical innovation is that talent is everywhere. The djs at this gig, (i can only remember two names: gus and dainty doll) were excellent: really good quality psytrance which was not too dark or too light, with a bit of a grimey kick that accentuated the bass lines, not too cheesy or too hardcore, all the djs complimented each other but made variations on the theme. Interestingly, almost everyone there was from a different country, unlike the sydney psytrance scene which is dominated by aussies. I guess this just reflects the fact that London is such a universal city. For the most part, the people at this gig were very nice, the organisers were generous and friendly, and i was generally impressed by the quality of the people (except for this small group of very weird muscle men who would occassionally strip off their shirts and go and grind their crotches on the speakers... apparently showing off¿¿ truly weird behaviour) This gig generally was highly organised with security at the gate, an entrance fee, a bar, a nos bar and an excellent sound system set up. I found out later that they even rented the space from the council to ensure that it would not get shut down by police: i found that really strange: renting out a building, or warehouse i can understand, but a gap between a highway and dirt?? I guess money talks.

This is where things get interesting, and politics and rhythms interlock: We found out that the reason for the careful preparation and security was that the gang warfare and violent crime that had so recently become the focus of media attention in London had seeped its way into the illegal party scene. The disadvantage to organising illegal parties is that people go there who want to go somewhere without restrictions so that they can behave badly.Of course, the organisers cannot call the police if something gets out of hand, unless it gets really out of hand, or the party gets shut down. So sometimes, you end up with a strange mix of devoted music lovers, teenagers and dodgy people generally. According to Bjorn, one of the organisers of this particular gig, someone who had organised a party at that venue the week before had run into trouble when a gang had shown up and started to steal shit and get violent. The organisers had been forced to physically remove these people: which of course is fucking risky if, as the papers say, everyone in London is carrying a knife these days. However, as I said before, it si a bit of a dilemma. Legalising parties tends to commercialise them and can potentially reduce innovation if it comes into conflict with the bottom dollar. In addition, London‘s club laws seriously restrict operating hours: as we discovered, most places shut at two!!! However making new music more accessible does tend to push mainstream music into more innovative directions: for example, the London based Sunrise group in the 1980s (who organised the first raves, and the biggest ever rave in history in 1989 outside surrey) contributed to the spread of acid house into the mainstream, laying the foundations of practically every genre of electronic music today. If psy became more accessible and more mainstream, i wonder how that might change the nature of music generally.....

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Preparation and Procrastination

Well, It is the 24th of April 2008 and I am not due to leave till july. So why they hell am I writing? Well (apart from the fact that I am procrastinating when I should be doing an assignment) Before I go anywhere I am going to discuss briefly what i hope to achieve. Just consider this the introduction in the essay that is blog. Hopefully, it will serve as a framework for the rest of the blogging experiment.

before anything, I need to remember to actually do the blogging. anyway,

First, I aim to explore and document electronic music cultures and subcultures wherever I go- the psy trance scene or whatever else I find along the way. I will be going to Boom festival in portugal, and nachtdigital festival in germany, and will report on the experiences i have and the people i meet at both. Lucky, lucky me. I will hopefully discover some local music, and I will probably be unable to enjoy going out in Aus ever again.

Second, I want to devote some time to getting a feel for the political environment within the countries I will be visiting, especially Sweden, and explaining it here. This will include discussion of interesting local news, people's opinions, and in the case of Sweden- an actual study of the Welfare state. Hopefully at the end of this, I would have gained and can share some insight into the different forms of capitalism and democracy that currently exist within Europe: the birthplace of both capitalism and democracy (and many forms of electronic music).

see you on the other side...