Monday, 29 December 2014

Colonialism/Hegemonic Masculinity

An attempt to explore hegemonic masculinity- which includes the elevating of force/violence and putting the male at the centre with that around seen as resources for gratification.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Commodification-Living Dolls.

Thanks to Valentina and Matt for inspiration.


Exploration of consumerism and the commodification of relationships.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Hegemonic Femininity.

Thanks to Valentina and Matt for inspiration.


This is my attempt to visually explore the pressures and socialisation girls/women experience via the media etc to conform to a sexualised objectified ideal and the anxiety/resistance that can result.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Onwards and Outwards?

image yvonne forster
After 35 years of neoliberal economics working class Britain is not doing well.  A recently published report shows that in 2011 nine out of the ten poorest regions in North West EU countries were in Britain (1). The figures for 2009-10 in the UNICEF report 'Child well-being in rich countries-a comparative overview' puts Britain fourteenth out of the twenty nine 'most advanced economies' (2). Doesn't sound too bad until you realise that is pretty much last place out of NW European countries with a similar post WWII experience. Also reported this summer was that out of the twenty eight EU countries the UK comes in twenty sixth in terms of loneliness- that is not having someone you could turn to and rely on in a crisis (3). After three decades of what Harvey termed the economics of class war (4) the British working class is atomised, alienated, lonely, precarious and increasingly why aren't people turning to the Left and/or anarchism in their droves? Well obviously the 'cultural hegemony' (5) constructed over the last three decades by the Neoliberal Right via the state and media has portrayed the current economic/political construct as necessary and 'normal' while simultaneously marginalising alternative narratives so that many have forgotten or never heard of other models of economic/political/social organisation-however an at least intuitive desire for a more just, equal society remains, however unfocussed or ill informed it may be.  

For some while I have been wondering how the UK Left/anarchism can facilitate the working class to actively engage in political contestation and struggle, how the working class in one of the most hyper capitalist societies can be woken up from the soporific effects of 'the spectacle' (6)- that seamless representation of the world from a (neoliberal) capitalist perspective propagated by the media, corporations and state-a 'spectacle' that we have spent so many decades exposed to that we have internalised it's values, unquestioningly perform its norms.

About a year ago I did a course on Futurelearn (7) called 'The Secret Power of Brands' (8)(good to 'know your enemy') which included the idea of a Venn diagram in which one circle contains the felt needs of your target group, the other circle your organisation's attributes-in the overlap of the two circles are the aspects of your organisation that meets those felt needs, the aspects that the organisation needs to communicate (8). Obviously this was to do with businesses but transposable to other spheres. In an online article 'The Left Can Win' Pablo Inglesias of the Spanish Podemos party-that emerged from the Indignados movement- makes the point that the Left needs to communicate in a language that people understand about things that people are bothered about, that there has to be a tie up between what we are talking about and what people are experiencing or we are irrelevant while having the correct analysis (9).We need to disrupt the top down dominant discourses that people read and hear by listening to people and talking with them about the things that matter to them in a way that alerts people to the misleading, elite-serving, disempowering narratives they have been given and empowers people to engage and create change. 

Similarly a recent 'Red Pepper' article/interview with Podemos member Eduardo Maura comments that the Left needs to have a better grasp of "class compositions and identities" (10) which are far more complex and fragmented than before the neoliberal era, and to have a better understanding of people's lived experiences so that it can communicate effectively (10). Podemos seems to be a political party that is closely aligned with progressive grass roots movements, it has managed to embed itself in local communities with many local branches as well as using social media/ the internet extensively in order to enable involvement and participation in discussion and decision making for as many people as possible (10). This model of a movement with multiple access points so that people with busy fragmented lives can get involved in the way they can manage has to be taken seriously as for many people an initial involvement that includes conferences, reading lengthy books and protests may be a bit too much. Meanwhile, further down the Mediterranean coast in Greece the group Solidarity4All links together various grass roots groups working to alleviate the poverty many are experiencing by enabling the 'exchange of knowledge and information' between these different 'solidarity groups' (11). These groups, as well as helping to alleviate suffering, give people the chance to get involved in making a positive difference (11).

In Scotland earlier this year the 'Yes' campaign was a diverse movement that included many on the Left including The Radical Independence Campaign who again saw the need to communicate to people about the things that concern them in a language they understand (12), they gave their local groups 'autonomy' within a national framework and engaged in 'mass canvassing' events in areas and at sporting events as well as running 'community events' (12). While the 'Yes' campaign failed to win the vote their grass roots model of campaigning seems to have been very effective at engaging people in local, community based discussion and participation.

All of the above examples are peculiar to time and place, in circumstances different to our own but they do give us clues as to how the Left/anarchism could engage more effectively with the world around us- exploring how anarchism answers the felt needs people have, listening to people and their concerns and then trying to give them a better analysis of the causes of their problems in a language they understand, having a localised and online movement that has multiple points of access so that people can learn, understand more clearly, engage and participate in a way they can manage. It will almost certainly be a bit messy and include mistakes but the need for a clearer, more effective communication of radical Left/anarchist politics is paramount.    


(1) Rickman, D. (2014) 'Are 9 of the poorest region in northern Europe really in the UK?

(2)'Child well-being in rich countries-a comparative overview'  UNICEF UK

(3) Bingham, J. 'Britain the loneliness capital of Europe' . 18-6-14.

(4) Harvey, D. (2005 ) ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.

(5) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’  Liberty, London

(6) Debord, G. (1968) 'The Society of the Spectacle'. Black and Red, USA.


(8) 'The Secret Power of Brands' UEA

(9) Inglesias, P. (2014) 'The Left Can Win' 12-9-2014

(10) Dolan, A. (2014) 'Si se puede' in Red Pepper, Issue 199, Dec/Jan 2015, Socialist Newspaper (Publications), London.

(11) Prentoulis, M. (2014) 'Party Time'  in Red Pepper, Issue 199, Dec/Jan 2015, Socialist Newspaper (Publications), London.

(12) Shafi, J. (2014) 'Another Scotland is-still- possible' in Red Pepper, Issue 199, Dec/Jan 2015, Socialist Newspaper (Publications), London.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Eagle Spits In Response To Questions.

Photo; Rachel Eagling.
Please note this interview contains a lot of swearing and may cause offence.

Eagle Spits is probably not his birth name but does seem to suit a character who nearly 40 years after his initial involvement in punk is still going strong- still angry, hopeful, humourous, militating for change. After meeting in the summer and then going along to a 'Punk 4 The Homeless' gig I asked Eagle if he would mind answering a few questions...  

Q, When did you start to self identify as a punk? What was it that attracted you, what did punk mean to you then-and what does it mean now?

A. It all began when I was 14 which was 38 years ago. I had heard about punk rock, the mass hysteria it had caused in the media. How it was rebellious, anti authoritarian, disgusting and something to be stayed away from. I was intrigued. At the same time I was searching for an identity. I was a troublesome kid and although I didn't realize it back then I had blanked the whole of my childhood out due to being sexually abused (all that stuff came flooding back when I was 27. I had started my mental health nurse training, was in a classroom learning about sexual abuse issues..zap, there it was) so I was really lost with no sense of self and no roots. Then one day I walked into the living room and The Stranglers were on TOTP. They blew me away, the energy, power, freshness. I had never heard anything like it. I went out and bought the 'No More Heroes' single (much to my parents disgust) then a couple more singles and The Clash first album. First band I got to see were Sham 69 (at Cambridge Corn Exchange) which turned out to be a blood bath with the National Front kicking the crap out of everybody. Then me and my mates got nicked back at the railway station because some skinheads came in and smashed the waiting room up. We spent the night in the cells and the cops gave us a lift home the next morning because they realized we were innocent (sitting in a cell for something I hadn't done) and we were just kids. I had loads of great times at punk gigs but there was always violence due to the Far Right. One of those great experiences was when my school thought it would be funny to send this young punk to a posh hotel in Peterborough, The Bull, but it back fired because The Clash (my all time fave band) booked in, befriended me and my friends and took us to the sound check where we spent lots of quality time partying with them and The Slits. Obviously the punk scene helped me to form a political awareness (although the Left in the form of the WRP and Far Right in the form of the NF tried to hijack things). When I was sixteen Crass brought out 'The Feeding of the 5000', which I thought was the funniest thing I had ever heard until I realized they were being serious, and the anarcho punk thing started. I had considered my self to be an anarchist for about 3 years but that scene helped me on my way. So I was involved in the punk scene early on but have often found it a bit naff and hypocritical over the years. Loads of the bands were signing to major labels, obviously The Clash and The Pistols but even those who should have known better; Chumbawamba, New Model Army and Blaggers ITA signing to EMI (probably the biggest arms dealers in the world still, for fuck's sake). So yes I am still involved in the punk scene but one which has a DIY, fuck corporate bollocks attitude. The punk scene can be very narrow minded with people struggling with stuff which doesn't fit the genre, which most of the stuff I tend to be involved with doesn't. So yes I am a punk if punk is an attitude but no if its someone who just consumes generic, unchallenging crap. I still comfortably sport a bright coloured mowhawk but I am not interested in bands who just want to be rock stars. I am still naive enough to want to change the world and despite it's problems believe the punk scene can be a major part of that.

Q. I think you would call yourself an anarchist. What do you mean by that? How would you describe anarchism? For you are anarchism and punk synonymous?

A. Yes I am an anarchist from the same school as Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Day and Jesus Christ with a touch of William Godwin. I don't believe we need external governments, police or the military running things. In fact I see them as enemies that we need to resist as much as possible. Tolstoy pointed out that there has not been a war in history which hasn't been caused by government. I think as part of that I need to disentangle myself from the world's systems as much as possible and not accept Caesar's coin. As for defining anarchism I can't but for me its obvious that if we live in a more natural environment we behave better as a species but there are those who do not want this because power and wealth are too important to them. So basically I believe all we need to thrive as a species are two laws (although they are not laws at all but the working out of natural attributes), the law of love and the law of reason. Then we would have what I believe to be an anarchist system. I do not see punk as always being synonymous with anarchism. When a young John Lydon was screaming that he was an anarchist I doubt if he had read Bakunin, Proudhon, Kropotkin etc., it took bands like Crass to bring in a bit of thought, but it was a bloody good catalyst for change.

Q. As someone involved in punk since the 70s have you been encouraged by how its evolved-or is it too diverse to be able to make generalisations?

A. I got involved in 1976 and have to give you a yes and no answer. Being someone who got beaten up for being a punk in 1977 I am pleased that hostility has, to a very large degree, disappeared. As for its evolution I believe the punk attitude has existed forever. Sure it showed itself in the punk rock scene but also very much in the bebop jazz scene, the beatniks, the folkies etc. etc. It was the attitude of 'Fuck this shit we are going to change things' by doing things our way, on our terms. When The Clash were getting crap for making music which didn't fit the generic punk style Strummer said “I thought we were a fucking punk band. I thought that meant we could play what we wanted” and I totally agree. Unfortunately it is easy to see in hindsight that the majors and the mainstream music press needed resisting from the start but it wasn't obvious exactly what could be done without them. So today I see a much better scene in DIY but that would not always be seen as a punk thing- hope that makes sense!

Q. How about your own evolution! Over the period you have been writing lyrics and poetry has the subject matter changed as well as your own understandings?

A. Well I started writing when I was 14 and many of the subjects remain important to me today from anti nuclear “Three mile island what happened there? You fucking know but you don't care. Its alright its a safe device but the impossible accident happened twice” to the anti commercialization of punk “I'm a punk look at me, bondage strides and pvc's, 17 quid, so were these, from a shop called Boy and Seditionaries”. But now there's issues of drones, badger culls, Atos etc. all issues which need sorting. Plus I am a Christian anarchist so those issues crop up in my writing. Often pointing out social injustice and hypocrisy (although I think you have to be pretty damned perfect to call someone an hypocrite and I am not) within systems and organizations. Issues of poverty, oppression, injustice are all part of what I am about. I guess I have always been concerned with the spiritual side of things and 'meeting' the “Agitator from Nazareth” not only opened me up more spiritually but also got me more involved in social justice issues and action etc. So I guess my writing has matured with age, has a slight touch of spirituality and is more informed because I am more involved. Less 'Fuck this fucking world' more 'Change this fucking world'.

Q. You are involved with two bands 'The Poor Geezers' and 'Spitune'-what sort of musical styles and subject matter do they explore?

A. It gets worse than that. I also perform as part of a dark ambient, industrial, punk poetry duo called EAGLESPITSHEXX and do poetry gigs as Eagle Spits. The Poor Geezers is basically myself and a chap called Dean P Riches who drums with his feet whilst playing acoustic guitar who also sings and plays harmonica. The best description was by Dave HT from Fungalpunk Webzine who called us Patchwork Punk because we chuck everything in the mix, punk, psychobilly, folk, blues, gospel, anything we fancy. Its usually about issues but occasionally personal stuff creeps in. We both write lyrics and were both involved with mental health services and drugs counselling so both of us have a dark sense of humour which also creeps in. Spitune are best described as Anarcho, Industrial, Dub Punk with Krautrock influences experimentation. We are not easy listening. Stephen Surreal creates the music, plays keys, synth, bass, boran. He is into loads of stuff like Coil, Throbbing Gristle and tons of dub. I write most of the lyrics although there's one of Stephen's on the new album alongside a Crass cover (Bloody Revolutions) and a King Blues cover (Shooting Fascists). Again its mainly about issues. I shout, clank and crash stuff with a mallet and play the fire extinguisher. Rachel Joy, sings, clanks, plays the washboard and a pagan drum. We sometimes have a drummer and often members of the audience join in in a kind of music therapy way. Other people occasionally join with The Poor Geezers too, Danny Ratcatcher has played double bass in both bands although there was one occasion where he couldn't bring his bass on the train so he brought a stylaphone instead. So anything pretty much goes. Punk poet Dwane Reads has often played drums for Spitune. So I guess we want to fuck shit up and stretch people. At recent gigs Spitune have had reference points as diverse as Faust, Captain Beefheart, Sheep on Drugs, Hawkwind and PIL used about them. 99% of the time all the outfits I am involved with play alongside punk bands and we are definitely part of the DIY scene.

Q. 'Punk 4 The Homeless' is something you are very involved with-can you tell us what that is all about? Does that include the 'Punks and Poets' evenings?

A. 'Punk 4 The Homeless' was set up my myself 5 years ago (although I have been putting gigs on for the same cause for well over a decade) to raise money and awareness for street children by putting on punk gigs and festivals (all over the UK) , bringing out compilations and selling T-shirts etc. We even ran our own radio show until the station closed down. In Latin America the kids live on rubbish tips and are seen  as vermin by the authorities and police who kill them. Hence the slogan on the 'Punk 4 The Homeless' shirts reads “Stopping cops killing kids is punk rock”. We work very closely with Casa Alianza who are a small charity who get the children into orphanages and education and give them a future. That in brief is what we do but alongside that we like to encourage youngsters to get involved and collaborate with lots of other not-for-profits. There's been loads of great people in the punk scene who have helped us from promoters to bands, from zines to radio stations etc. Loads of generosity. I was living in Boston, Lincolnshire before getting married and moving to Nottingham a couple of years ago and was using a hall within a big old Methodist church to put the gigs on. The church folk even bought us a P.A. so we didn't have to keep hiring, all at no cost. I don't see 'Punk 4 The Homeless' as charity I see us as a movement because together we can fucking change things. And if the kids are united maybe we can stop the cops kicking them to death.

Q. Playing in different bands and organising must involve a lot of collaboration-is that something you find valuable and enjoy?

A. I love collaborations but as a promoter I tend to want to do everything unless I can totally trust people to do what they say otherwise things don't get done but there is now several people I trust but it has taken about 30 years to get this far. I have always been involved in promoting fundraisers etc. but only performing myself for about 14 years. I tend to create with those round me who want to do shit and cause change. DIY is very much part of a brighter future as I see things. Work together and survive outside of the system.

Q. You have spent a lot of years in activism and challenging people to engage with social issues-how have you managed to avoid burn out and becoming jaded?

A. By having fun and having ADHD, moving onto the next thing quickly whilst going backwards and forwards, juggling a stack of balls at the same time and having a patchwork life. Very irritating I guess but works for me. I not only want a revolution I can dance in I want to dance, scream, shout around, paint everywhere, cause mayhem, break boundaries, break punk rock, live life in its fullness and nick Bakunin's brandy. We are in a tough battle but lets throw the party where everyone's invited. Punk rock, the kingdom of heaven and Bahktin's carnival theory. Then after breakfast...

Q. What books, bands and people do you find interesting and inspiring?

A. I love the Bible. I agree with Tolstoy that Jesus' message was the most liberating message ever but in the hands of the church it has become the most oppressive. The message is bloody simple and radical; love, and freedom happens. Tolstoy I love. Dorothy Day, Hennessey, Crass, Strummer, Atari Teenage Riot, Sun Ra, Peter Tosh, MLK, Kropototkin, Bakunin, Herman Hesse, Thelonious Monk, Can, Mary Shelley, William Godwin, Attila the Stockbroker, Nick Cave, Pigface, Scott Walker, Tom Waits, Zounds, Rob Bell, Dom Helder Camara, Jesus, Chomsky, Charlie Parker, Blind Willie Johnson, Christopher Hill, Diogenes, Faust, Sheep on Drugs, Kierkergaard, The Swans, Killdozer, Dickens, Victor Hugo, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Batman, Iain Banks, Eagle Spits, Lee Perry, Mahler, Blake, William Morris, Eli Weisel, Gandhi, Simone Weil, Emma Goldman, Dean Kennedy's, MDC, The Cramps, Wire, The Sonics, Marlon Brando, DR Zeus, GG Allin, Mother Teresa, Woody Guthrie, Gerard Wynstanley, John Steinbeck, The Violent Femmes, Johnny Cash, Viktor Frankl, Carl Jung and anybody else who gives a shit.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Valentina Magaletti-drummer extraordinaire!

Photo by Cris Andina.

In the 2003 film 'School of Rock' someone is asked to name 'two great (female) drummers', the answer comes back Sheila E and Meg White (1), fair enough but in an updated version that answer should include Valentina Magaletti. Valentina was drummer on Blackest Ever Black releases; Raime and Moin. She also played and recorded with Shit and Shine and is drummer with London psych band The Oscillation and Tomaga. After a recent gig in Hackney she agreed to an interview.

Q. When you play live (with The Oscillation) you look like someone who is in their element, doing what you love-how did you get into drumming and develop as a drummer? On your 'Facebook' page it says you studied Law in Italy, do you run these two activities alongside each other or are you a full time musician?
VM. I am a full time musician. I enjoyed studying and I am very happy about my qualifications, they might come handy when we'll need to sue Bon Jovi or someone like that for copyrights infringement!

Q. You play in, and with, quite a range of bands. Do these different collaborations change the way you have to play and interact with the other musicians?
VM. I guess I have my own drum style which I try to adapt to different musical adventures.
Interacting with other musicians is the most important part of my job.You never stop learning and sharing which is the essence of what music should entail. 
Q. Tomaga's second album 'Futura Grotesk' is out soon, how does the recording process evolve? Is it the capturing of improvisation or is it more structured? Do you find playing live or recording more satisfying?
VM. Futura Grotesk is the first studio album.We only had a cassette called "Sleepy Jazz for Tired Cats" before this but it sold out in few weeks. Tom and I have different approaches when it comes to recording. I am very intuitive and I base most of my work on improvisation. Mine is like a rhythmic and dynamic stream of conciousness.

On the other hand, Tom likes planning and scheming. He loves structures and he did a fantastic job editing most of our sessions that subsequently made it onto the album tracks. I find both recording and playing live very satisfying in different ways. 
Q. Tomaga's music is experimental and instrumental, would you see it as the musical equivalent of abstract art, the transposing of ideas and concepts, experiences and emotions into another form?(2)

VM. I won't be calling or defining what we are doing "art". It is a mere expression of how we feel transposed into frequencies, pulses and drones.
Q. A few years ago two TV pundits were sacked in the UK for saying that women were incapable of being soccer lines people due to being women! Do you come across that sort of attitude in the music world, that women are suited to/incapable of certain things due to their sex?

VM. That sort of attitude doesn't interest me or affect me in the slightest. In the Western world women have no limitations as to what they can or can't do. I only think it is a shame there aren't as many female drummers as there should be!
Q. Social theorists suggest that gender is something we are socialised into rather than it expressing 'nature', that gender is from the outside in. Do you think women are finding more freedom to explore and express themselves or are gender stereotypes still very constraining?

VM. It is a complex question. It entails an elaboration of what is meant by gender. Physical attributes shouldn't be a limitation to freedom of expression. You are the only one imposing limits on yourself. If you feel like expressing yourself playing the drums or any other instrument you should simply go for it and avoid frustration.
Q. Often in music and wider society women are presented for men's gratification. What role models and cultural resources have you drawn on or do you see around that can help women resist a sexist, patriarchal culture?
VM. I don't have any role models and my cultural resource is my extensive record collection. I am not interested in sexist or patriachal culture, it is a laughable matter as far as my possibly privileged and open minded background is concerned.
Q. Who has inspired you both musically and more generally? A while ago you posted an article about a female drummer Viola Smith. Could you elaborate? 
VM. Viola Smith was a great drummer and an inspiring woman. I guess her success was mainly due to the fact thst she was one of the first woman to play drums in an orchestra. Her set up was fab! She used temple blocks mounted on the kick drum which is something I am currently thinking of doing. She is into happiness, drums and wine- a winning combo!
There are so many great musicians and drummers who I worship. I am a big fan of Art Blakey, Elvin Jones, Billy Higgins, Steve Nobles, Charles Hayward etc.
Q. Which current musicians and bands interest and excite you?

VM.  My musical taste is very eccentric. I listen to pretty much everything that is violent and beautiful. Some examples of stuff that I love are The Necks, the thing, Charles Cohen, Silver Apples (who we are currently touring with),The Heliocentrics, Gnod, Shit and Shine. Alessandro Alessandroni, Terry Riley, Steve Lacey, Delia Derbishire, Stereolab, Man from Uranus etc etc....

Much thanks to Valentina for the interview.

(1) IMDb 'School of Rock' 2003 'Quotes'

(2) Hands in the Dark website.

* School of Rock, 2003,  Paramount Pictures Corp.



    Friday, 10 October 2014

    UKIP-an easy ride?

    Like many on the Left I was very troubled and puzzled by the UK Independence Party’s (UKIP) strong showing in the Local and European elections and then alarmed again by their doing so well in the 9-10-14 by-elections. Were these protest votes against the big three Parties, an anti (political) establishment message, an anti-EU or anti-immigration vote?
    UKIP’s policies in 2010 included attacks on welfare provision, more prison places, privatisation of parts of the National Health Service, a driving down of immigration and increasing military spending by 40% (1); nothing very alternative there! The UKIP candidate in the Clacton by-election had previously been the Tory MP so not exactly an anti-establishment vote!
    Why would a party that is roughly equivalent to the right wing of the Tories appeal to so many, even (apparently) to people with a habit of voting Labour?
    In the ‘i’ newspaper of 26 May 14 Ian Burrell argued that UKIP had done so well despite the antipathy of the media towards them, that UKIP “enjoyed it’s remarkable success at the European and local elections without the backing of a single national newspaper”(2). Burrell then went on to cite The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph as printing negative comments about voting for UKIP (2).
    Burrell in effect distances the media from UKIP’s success representing them as in opposition to each other. But this is misleading. The reason UKIP is doing relatively well at elections is that it is a party political representation of the right wing propaganda that people have been exposing themselves to on a daily basis day after day for years. UKIP is the reactionary xenophobic columns of right-wing daily tabloids come to life, it is an embodiment of the fears and prejudices that people have read and internalised.
    When people hear UKIP leader Nigel Farage they hear someone repeating back to them the views that have become their own; his blokey reactionary persona is a personification of the culture of the tabloids, teetering on the edge of xenophobia, framing immigrants as ‘the other’. It is little wonder that UKIP is doing so well, all the ground work has been done for them by the media, all they have to do is key into the messages that people have read and internalised!
    Gramsci wrote about ‘cultural hegemony’ (4) and at the moment UKIP is exploiting the hegemonic discourse within UK culture, a reasonably easy thing to do  as the media have done all the foot work for them. The encouraging thing for the Left is that despite this cultural hegemony a recent poll showed that most of the public are to the left of Labour on important issues supporting nationalisation of railways and energy companies (3), and despite a real lack of coverage The Green Party, the most overtly Left wing in the mainstream, came in 4th in the recent European election.
    Obviously supporting state nationalisation of key industries is a long way from anarchism but it does show that despite 40 years of neoliberal economics and narrative many people still have an intuitive desire for social justice and greater equality. People know that they are living in a political economy that is shaped to serve the interests of the elite. Unfortunately they have been led to look for alternatives and solutions in wrong places.
    The Situationists wrote about ‘the spectacle’: the seamless representation of life and society from a capitalist perspective that we are surrounded by and immersed in with alternative narratives pushed ever further into the margins.
    The question for anarchists and others on the Left is how to overcome the cultural hegemony that UKIP have keyed into; how to disrupt the top down narrative of neoliberal capitalism and alert people to alternative ways of organising society.
    (1) Booth, R. (7-3-13) ‘What would a Ukip Britain look like’, The Guardian (online).
    (2) Burrell, I. (26-5-14) ‘Media on Monday: Broadcasters and newspapers are not the king-makers they once were’, p.41, i newspaper issue 1091.
    (3) Assinder, N. (5-11-13) ‘Public Far to the Left of Labour Party Finds Poll’, International Business Times (online).
    (4) Thomas, M. (ed)(2012) ‘Antonio Gramsci: Working-Class Revolutionary’, Workers’ Liberty, London.

    Tuesday, 7 October 2014

    The Restarts: An interview.

    Photo by Joschi Herczeg.

    After coming across the video for 'Drone Attack' online I made contact with left wing punk band The Restarts to see if they would be interested in doing an interview, founder member and bass player Kieran agreed and here it is! 

    Q. Where would you place The Restarts politically? You started in the mid 1990's have your politics changed over time?

    • Restarts have always sat firmly left of centre, anti racist, non nationalist and pro equality. Basically anything that is pro human rights and against bigotry. We have had several line up changes over the last 18 years but our political standing has stayed pretty much the same, if not more resolute. We don’t really have an agenda, we aren’t politicians but rather fuel creative anger from issues that affect us. Different topics get flagged up locally and internationally which forces people to look at them and address them. With the recognition of civil partnership in the UK folks were forced to have an opinion on the matter, where as before I felt the whole gay issue was relatively overlooked in punk rock. In a way it becoming a national debate has had a positive impact against homophobia within the scene. We like to support that.

    Q. You are based in London and on your website you mention being involved in the squat scene early on-how have you seen the Tories' attacks on squatting affecting people?
    • Yes when I first moved to London everyone I knew squatted. The squatting community encompassed a large demographic of folks from punks, anarchists, travellers, crusties and activists. All of which you would see at free festies, squat gigs, and rave parties (when combined with live music stages). Now a days I don’t know many people that squat, of course there still is people at it, but they are usually younger folk who don’t mind being evicted every 6 months. The big push by the Tories against squatting was an unnecessary campaign, a show of muscle flexing to drive home their right wing position. It is almost like if they do something that appears left wing (approving gay marriage) they then will match it with a campaign to keep the old school Tories on board - attack the great unwashed squatters and at the same time make homelessness illegal (shutting down soup kitchens in Westminster etc).

    Q. You're a band that tours the UK and Europe, what would your take be on how people are feeling and responding to neoliberal austerity being imposed across Europe?
    • In general it sows the seeds of resentment and inequality, alone seeing the audacity of Bank CEO's still receiving 6 figure bonuses while the tax paying public absorbs the debt leaves people feeling a sense of outrage. We take to the streets and protest but within days we will be distracted by some other sensational new story and then it just becomes last weeks news! It is incredible but somehow by opening up all these channels of communication it has left the average citizen SO distracted we have trouble holding on to one thought for more than a minute! 
    •  The most common complaint we hear about on the road is a stronger police force clamping down on any form of activism. The erosion of civil liberties and of course places like the USA seems to be just an endless catalogue of the worst examples of police brutality with little or no repercussions. Totally sickening to watch!

    Q. The Restarts have had a few personnel changes-have those shifts in collaboration effected your music and lyrics?
    • We have always had a 3 way input, lyrically but usually falls within the confines of our left of centre standpoint. With new members they will bring in their particular influences and ideas. One of our latest songs Independentzia speaks about Basque independence. Robin our guitarist wrote it as he and his Basque girlfriend Itxi visit quite often and have an understanding of the injustice going on over there. So we do change our platform from time to time. Musically we started out thrashy and fast and then had a pull towards steady paced 77 style rock’n’roll with some ska elements thrown in. Since Darragh’s departure we now seem to be steering back towards getting faster again (fighting against the were getting “old, fat and slow” tag!).
    • We also like I have some fun songs to allow people to have a fun night out when going to a gig - it can’t all be dreadful bleak musings of the end of the world! We are also aware of not coming across as preachy or above people. punk rock is like an on going conversation… and so should the gigs be. 

    Q. You have been involved in the' punk scene' since the mid 1990s's. As a band who sing about social issues have there been any changes in that scene that encourage/discourage you?
    • I personally get encouraged when I see the new generation of punks taking action and getting involved. You can see the influence of bands and their ideologies on young kids who have taken up the mantle of organising gigs, protests, action groups etc. Some of our best gigs have been set up by teenagers who are very young but super motivated. Sometimes its good to take a chance on the new kids rather than stick with the older established organisers.

    Q. You have spent 20 years in activism and stimulating others to thought-how have you avoided becoming jaded or cynical?
    • I dunno, I think it is all too easy to become jaded and drop out. I feel a responsibility to the younger punks. Playing live we get the benefit of performing for an appreciative audience, so it is a positive exchange. In my personal life I have moved into facilitating  music workshops for rehabilitation for vulnerable adults, prisoners and young offenders. This reinforces my beliefs that Punk rock and music CAN be a force for change. Not just a teen age fad that you grow out of when its time to get a ‘real job’. I am employed by an organisation called Good Vibrations that uses Gamelan (Indonesian bronze percussion) to help build key life skills. We have also recently started a “Rock School” workshop at Behtlem Royal hospital dealing with music tech and playing more traditional western instruments. It is very empowering work especially when you see direct results in peoples well being.

    Q. An overtly left wing, pro-gay, anti racist stance would be pretty normal in UK punk, at least in my limited experience. Is that true of European and American punk?
    • I would hate to think i am generalising but punk is such a vast entity that I think each continent you have mentioned can embody all different kinds of punk! What we as a band need to think about is which section of punk we are playing to? I know we span a lot of different categories. I can’t fully explain why but I have somewhat of an idea. We have been labelled in the past as “street punk”  “oi?” we also get called “Anarcho punk”, “thrash punk”, “DIY” and "Harcore punk”. What the hell does it all mean?? lol I actually think it is a good thing as it can bring different groups together. I love when someone tells me they hate our ska songs yet I see them dancing away into pit when we play them. I also like that mohicaned street punks show up who may not be into “political punk” yet let themselves be open to listening to what we have to say. I remember from being a young punk that we are all just carving our path in life and you should never write someone off for being into a certain style or genre of music. 
    • I think the European punk movement is very much centred around squat and youth centres and running your own autonomous spaces where as in America they are always struggling to find all ages venues due to their ridiculous liquor licenses (drinking age of 21). Doing bar shows in the States is like shooting yourself in the foot as teenagers can't get in. You are better off knocking drinking on the head and playing all ages gigs.
    • Politically America and Canada seems to be a healthy mixture of politically or socially driven punk, largely due to the great bands in the 80’s who paved the way. There also is an anti political sentiment usually harboured by previous bands falling out with each other over differences. Much like the divide in the UK during the 80’s which was Exploited, GBH vs Conflict, Crass etc. Meanwhile I grew up across the pond in Canada loving all the bands and only finding out about the divide by Exploited slagging off Crass on their ”On Stage” album. Then discovering Special Duties and their Bullshit Crass ep. It was very sad seeing North American punks importing this attitude and applying it to local scenes. Very counter productive.

    Q. Obviously the internet has changed how people access music, do you notice any other effects on how people 'relate' to a band?
    • Yes it is very interesting how todays independent music works! With online streaming and torrent downloading people can access everything they like and learn about new genres in a very short amount of time. I think it is a good thing, but again always leaves the artist at odds when it comes to trying to cover your costs. As an independent band we do alright. Having our music and tshirts available from our own webshop allows us to not only rely on what we can sell at shows but helps us out all year round, particularly helping out with rehearsal costs. 
    • Fans of music have much more of an insight as to what the bands get up to due to social networking and music sites for bands. In a way has levelled the playing field, knocking down a few of the barriers that come up with the inevitable "putting people on a pedestal” syndrome that music scenes tend to create. I think it is a positive step forward for independent music.
    People can find out about the Restarts at and on Facebook 

    Wednesday, 1 October 2014

    'Pride'-a catalyst?

    'Pride'-a catalyst?

    I recently went to see the film 'Pride' which is based on events in the mid 1980s when a group of Gay activists (LGSM) decided to raise money to help support the striking miners. Despite encountering reluctance from the miners they make contact with a small mining village in South Wales. The film explores the relational dynamics within the group, within the mining community and between the two as the village and then the wider mining community (generally) overcome their prejudice, eventually reciprocating the solidarity shown to them by the Lesbian and Gay community in London. I went to see the film in Leicester Square where at the end there was spontaneous applause. Afterwards I had a look on social media to see what other people thought of the film and someone had posted that it made them feel nostalgic for a time they hadn't known. While in no way wanting to question this person's experience or self diagnosis I wonder if they were really experiencing 'nostalgia'. Nostalgia is a looking back to something that 'was', it can easily be impotent. My own experience watching the film was that it evoked a sense of yearning; for community, for solidarity, for hope, for being able to live with a sense of purpose and in a way that makes a difference. These are the life experiences that we should all yearn for, what 'Pride' did so effectively was remind us of that.
    Mark Fisher in his book 'Ghosts of my Life' (1) writes about how we can be 'haunted' by a sense of what was, but also of what could have been, of lost possibilities and futures (2). This sense of being haunted and of alienation from, and frustration with, the lived present as so much less than we hoped for is something many of us experience but it is not something we should allow to dominate our thinking , emotions or view of what is possible. Rather this sense of 'hauntedness' should act as a catalyst propelling us into attempting to construct the sorts of community, relationships and positive activity that we feel the lack of.
    I suspect that is why 'Pride' has been such a powerful and inspiring film for people, it has reminded them of what is really important, of the value of what they are similarly experiencing or the need to find/build what they are missing. Our response to it should not be a sigh but a grateful recognition that it has rekindled the desire to experience the quality of communal, purposeful life, with all its up and downs, represented in the film.
    Each of us has to choose between replicating Bryan Adam's (dreadful) song 'Summer of '69' elevating the past as a 'golden age' or finding ways of transposing those feeling of hope and yearning that 'Pride' evoked into constructive action.

    (1) Fisher, M. (2014), 'Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures' Zero Books, Winchester.

    Saturday, 13 September 2014

    Santa Semeli and the Monks Interview.

    Photo by Ben Buchanan.

    Love, Life and Happy Endings?

    Santa Semeli and the Monks are eclectic, impossible to pigeon hole they veer between European avant garde and punk, echoes of Henry Cow, Nick Cave and 'Cabaret' sit alongside full on rock! Their lyrics confront and engage with the human condition, the real lived experience that each of us uncomfortably recognizes, dealing with hope, disappointment, love, lust and our own inconsistencies. Full of honesty and warmth their album is like listening to the soundtrack of you life-not your Facebook life your real life-evoking memories that make you smile and wince.
    In a pub near Camden Semeli Economou and Haraldur Agustsson agreed to an interview.

    Q: How long have Santa Semeli and the Monks been a musical entity? How did you meet and decide that you wanted to collaborate musically?

    S: We got together as a musical entity in September 2013. We studied together at the same drama school, but we are a few generations apart. We actually met in December 2012 when I cast Haraldur in my short film The Burning Bush. Here's a funny little anecdote: I got hold of Haraldur's phone number to ask him if he was interested in playing a part in the film. I called a few times and left some messages to no avail. Eventually someone on a bus who sounded like a young kid and drunk picked up the phone. I asked if he had time to act in my film. 'What's the part then?' So I started telling him all about the abstract nature of it...'Do you know Kokoschka?' 'Nah what's that?' I then asked if he was free to shoot on Saturday 'Nah I've got school.' 'What on a Saturday?' 'Yeahhh' We eventually hung up the phone. I thought he was the rudest guy ever. I told some people about it and they couldn't believe it...Long story short I was given the wrong number. Haraldur could not be more different than the guy I'd spoken to. Thinking about it makes me laugh! Who did that poor kid think I was? A secret admirer? A prankster? Hahaha!!!

    H: We had a good connection right from the start even though we knew nothing about each other but I really enjoyed being directed by Semeli, so when she approached me again I was curious to see where it would lead us. And here we are.

    S: One single and an album later. All in less than a year. Not bad eh?
    Q: How did you settle on Santa Semeli and the Monks as a band name?

     H: It came to us one night at the pub after a lot of pondering.

     S: It's a long story but to cut to the chase: Who are the contemporary Saints of today and what do they offer? I think it's a funny name and it makes everyone work with the right ethics and intentions, i.e to love and serve. Very fitting for music. It makes it better. Plus wouldn't it be great for religion to serve art as opposed to art serving religion?  If you're going to be an icon, you might as well go all the way and do some good in this world. Don't fuck with the monks!

    Q: Do either of you have a musical history?

    S: My father was a brilliant concert pianist. A virtuoso and a composer so I grew up being exposed around great music and musicians. I had piano lessons too but I hated them, except for one nice teacher that I had when I was ten. I would often improvise with my dad on two pianos which was always fun! He would say to me: 'You don't need to play piano to be a pianist, or to prove anything to anyone, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to play for your friends?' I totally agree and I think that's a beautiful thing to be able to do.
    H: There is a rich singing culture in Iceland where I grew up. My parents sang in choirs and so did I from a young age as well as learning to play the guitar from the age of 8.

    Q: What bands would you place yourself near on the musical spectrum?

    S: I have no idea. What do you think? I don't really consider us a band. We just are, you know? Whatever that means....
    H: We just focus on making good music.
    Q: Your music makes no attempt to compromise-to be commodity-it is 'art'. Was that a deliberate decision or the effect of you priorities and personalities?
    S: We just do what we love to do. I never think about pleasing, but I do think it's important to have high standards and to produce good work and offer something beautiful and entertaining. Love what you do, love who you are. That's all there is to it. That and a few Grammys. 
    H: I guess you could say it is deliberate, although not specifically planned. Like you say, it is 'art'. All we strive to do is make good art and any profit we might gain from that goes into making more good art.

    S: Just like any good religion. I actually don't believe that capitalism works in the arts. It makes it bad. But it does work in accounting.

    Q: Some artists find their work is more complete live-in the interaction of band and audience-does the live setting bring an extra dimension to your work?

    H: Performing live is always an intense experience, sometimes you can´t even remember having been on the stage when it´s over. I really enjoy it. Recording is completely different, you become very conscious of what you´re doing, and the best way to counteract the rigidity that could bring to one's performance is simply imagining you´re playing live. Just going for it and seeing what happens often brings out the best results.

    S: It's always fun to perform live and having instruments support you on stage is a near-orgasmic experience really! It gives you a certain strength and feeling of invincibility. I love it. And I love making people happy. I really get a high from that. It's like good sex...

    Q: Do you aim to hold a mirror up to the world revealing the truth of our lived experiences, or are your songs more autobiographical? They have an authenticity that will resonate with many people, reminding them of past events, relationships.

    S: First and foremost I hold a mirror at myself. That is the only way to sanity. In other words, awareness and honesty. At the same time it is my need as an artist to express myself and share my thoughts. I could keep them to myself but I would go insane and I think I have interesting things to say. I put myself forward by voicing my observations and experiences. People might take it personally but only because they're 'guilty'. Like me or shoot'll run out of bullets eventually. I try not to take myself too seriously, after all I'm not so important. Nobody is. At one point or another we all have similar thoughts and/or experiences and that's the beauty of humanity. I want to highlight that with my work.

    Q: Your album reminded me of a film soundtrack! Do you think your music making is informed by your involvements in film and drama?

    S: This particular album is inspired by stories of past relationships. All songs have a story to tell and in some instances they are quite dramatic to say the very least. Santa Semeli The Movie. A comedy about a drama queen. I do like happy endings though...I'm an MGM Baby at heart.
    H: It´s just storytelling really, and you can tell stories with all art forms.
    Q: Who has inspired you musically and more generally?

     H: The Beatles, Nirvana and many, many more. One of my favourite bands is Deerhoof, they have a great style which I´ve learned a lot from.

     S: My first love was Tchaikovsky since I was in my mother's womb. Because of him I wanted to be a ballerina and because of him I know that music can make the world a more beautiful place. My father taught me to be fearless and that music should be accessible to everyone to enjoy and not for the elite. He would play Beatles songs and he'd have all these so called 'intellectuals' around the piano singing along to 'Rocky Raccoon' or whatever. In later years my good friend Tony who used to be a Mod back in the day introduced me to all sorts of music like Nick Drake, Diamanda Galas, Tom Waits, The Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson, etc. He basically gave me his entire i-Tunes library which was super eclectic and so I studied a lot. My ex husband introduced me to The Velvet Underground, who's favourite band it is. I really love Lou Reed because he did whatever he felt like doing and I rate him highly as a poet.
    Then I fell in love with a pretty brilliant pop icon and because of him, for all sorts of crazy reasons, I was put back onto my intended path which I was previously afraid to follow: Making and performing music.

     Q: Do you think the overall sound and ethos of Santa Semeli and the Monks is the result of your diverse cultural backgrounds, a synthesis of your diversity?

     S: It's all the result of loving what we do. Each day is different but we can only bring to the table who we are. 
    H: With us there are two very different worlds being united and something massive is going to come out of that collision as a result . What exactly we don´t know yet, but time will soon tell...

    Photo by Roger Eaton.