Mark Angelo Harrison about Spiral Tribe and Free Party History (Datacide Conference Berlin 2013)

We’re happy to present a full transcript of Mark Angelo Harrison’s talk/Q&A about Spiral Tribe and Free Party History at the 2013 Datacide Conference in Berlin.

Datacide Thirteen was released with a Conference with David Cecil, Jason Skeet and Mark Angelo Harrison as speakers. This was followed up with an all night party, all taking place at Naherholung Sternchen in Berlin, close to Alexanderplatz and Kino International, on October 12, 2013.

Mark’s appearance was described as: ‘A Darker Electricity – a co-founder talks about the history of Spiral Tribe. Mark will be talking about his personal experience with the Spiral Tribe sound system and how that experience revealed the establishment’s invention of plausible narratives to define territories and control them – whether those territories be physical, social, intellectual, artistic or electronic.

We recently found a nearly complete video recording of the event (there are two short interruptions, but nothing substantial is missing). This can now be watched and listened to on our YouTube channel, the video is also embedded below. What follows is the complete transcription of Mark’s talk with Christoph asking him some questions, and finally some questions from the audience as well.

Christoph Fringeli: I’m happy to have Mark Harrison here, who is one of the co-founders of Spiral Tribe and I’ll be asking a few questions along the lines of the questions that Neil Transpontine asked in the interview with Mark, which is in the new issue of Datacide [datacide thirteen, 2013]. I don’t know if you want to, or shall I, introduce yourself briefly?

Mark Angelo Harrison: Hello, yeah, I’m Mark. I was part of the Spiral Tribe sound system from the very beginning in the early 90s. We began a very interesting journey from sort of squatland of West London in vehicles, which ended up sort of touring the UK and then beyond into Europe. I realised as I was writing this sort of very brief little history for Datacide, it was very interesting the way that that journey moved through different spaces. Spaces that perhaps we didn’t actually realise had edges or existed until we crossed the line. So that’s my little introduction.

CF: So I’d like to start the questions with the pre-history of Spiral Tribe rather than the actual history. We’ll get to that in a moment. What kind of influences did you have? What were the roots of the free party culture in the UK, going back obviously to the 70s at least and to Stonehenge, the free festivals or the hippie festivals throughout the 70s? I’m sure you know a lot about this.

Mark: Well I do because my brother and I were teenagers in the 70s and I think I was probably 14 or 15 when I first hitchhiked down to one of the very first Stonehenge festivals. We were very lucky to witness those. We didn’t really know what it was or what it was all about or the history that had built into the Stonehenge festival, but it had become a kind of hub, a sort of meeting place for a free-flowing, exploring alternative culture. This was around about the sort of punk time, ‘76 I think was probably the first time we went there.

I think I went to every single one right up until the bitter end in 1984 where it was absolutely enormous and there was a huge amount of interest, shall we say, from the authorities to try and destroy what they saw as a sort of rebellion occurring in the countryside. And that ended very tragically with the Battle of the Beanfield, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, when in 1985, or en route to the 1985 Stonehenge festival, I think it was June 1st, the police ambushed 140 traveller vehicles.

They were called the Peace Convoy. They originated as a peaceful protest convoy, Greenham Common, where the first American cruise missiles were going to be based in England, so it was all part of the anti-war and peace movement. And anyway, on June 1st, in the Beanfield, the travellers were ambushed and brutally attacked by riot police. And that more or less didn’t squash the movement, but it polarised a lot of things and of course brought the media, the mainstream media, into alignment with the government policy of the time.

CF: I’m sure that was in a context of the Thatcher government clamping down on other unruly communities like the miners, for example, I mean it was certainly a part of the logic of the government to stamp out these kind of communities that were not [functioning] in the logic of capital.

Mark: Well, this was actually happening at exactly the same moment, of course, and many of the riot police squads that were attacking the travellers and the free festival movement had just come off shifts after fighting the miners.

CF: So what happened after Battle of the Beanfield, between, let’s say, ‘86, the middle of the decade, and 1990 when Spiral Tribe appeared on the scene?

Mark: It was interesting, because what the government wasn’t accounting for was Acid House music and ecstasy, a kind of culture of electronic music that was very creative and was very much looking for open space, free space, warehouses, fields, things like this, where it could just sort of move into and grow into this whole new movement. And it rather sort of escaped the political stamp, if you like, of the peace convoy, the way the media had successfully demonised the travellers’ movement, etc. It had a lot in common, but it was completely different and completely new.

So from 87, 88, you had this sudden, huge, energetic, and for the most part secret, rise in this new creative energy. I mean, it wasn’t for at least two or three years that police actually even realised the extent of ecstasy use, for example, in England, and get any kind of measure of the scale. And I think I’m right in saying that this only occurred when the brewery industry, which is a very powerful lobby in the British government, noticed that their alcohol sales to youngsters, the young people, had dropped by 30% in the late 80s.

And everybody was just leaving the pubs and the clubs and disappearing. Well, nobody knew where. [Audience laughter]

CF: So how did Spiral Tribe come to be formed? What was the impetus to this situation? All these festivals have been happening, there was this clampdown, you have this new, mysterious thing happening with these strange records making boom, boom, boom, and bleep, quack, and so on. There’s kind of a change in musical history as well, and then I believe it was 1990…

Mark: Well, that happened then, but I will just say first that, previous to our very first party, we had the Graham Bright Increased Penalties Act of 1990 which he himself, he was an MP for Luton, called the Acid House bill, and he actually boasted that it was designed to stop the Acid House parties. At that point, most of them were pirate-organised pay-in parties in disused warehouses and fields and things like this. And so they were kind of trying to get a handle on the perceived problem and control it. And they saw the problem as they weren’t getting the revenue and the crowds were being pulled out of the leisure industry into a different, untaxed industry, uncontrolled industry.

So he put into place – it was actually a private member’s bill – this piece of legislation which was adopted as law, called the Increased Penalties, which basically meant you could get four years in prison and a £20,000 fine for organising an Acid House party, or an illegal Acid House party. That was the year just before we actually got going. And our story started, I suppose, as squatters, artists, musicians, DJs, just people who enjoyed the freedom of the party scene, if you like, living in London. And we just happened to live in an area that was being exploited by another right-wing council.

There was a woman there, the leader of the council was called Shirley Porter, Dame Shirley Porter. And what her scam was gerrymandering. She was pushing the poor families out of the government housing and then sealing it, boarding it all up and then waiting for the property prices to go up and then selling it to richer people who they imagined would more likely vote for them.

So they thought that poor people would vote Labour or Socialist and that if they push these people out they could not only modify the government of the area but they could also make money at the same time. We were squatting right in the middle of this and we just had all these empty buildings, you know, it was incredible that they had these big steel locked doors on them and we’d discovered a way of changing these locks and so these fortified buildings which were designed to keep the community out of their own space, we opened up and we could let the community in. So straight away we began to understand just from our environment that we were kind of being locked out of our planet.

It was very obvious but we had to, you know, just be a little bit ducking and diving and get in there and change the locks and reopen these spaces and as soon as we started reopening the spaces to the community – and we got a sound system as well, that helped I think – suddenly we had community events and the spaces were open again.

Now obviously that space… well I’ll just go back a little bit because I want to talk about space. For us, before we got the sound system and we started doing this, but as squatters and artists and musicians we had this free space to explore ideas and to actually be able to do things like big paintings, paint backdrops, have little sort of jams and gigs and things together, whereas people who are living in rented space or private property didn’t have this luxury and at the same time being a graphic artist myself, you know, I was very intrigued with this sort of the internal space and how you actually draw that out into material space, you know, for me as a designer with a pencil and a paper and you’re putting it out here and you’re sending your signal out into this other space. And what is this space exactly?

And then going back to the community space and the locked down space that the right-wing council was trying to exclude the community from, suddenly there’s another kind of space, you know, you’re very aware of the private space and how private space is increasing and people are being pushed out. So there we were putting on parties and of course they were very popular because they were very cheap or free.

They included all the DJs that came down, all got a play, that was the whole idea, it really was a community event and got very big very quickly within a matter of weeks and so we had to find bigger and bigger and bigger spaces until the point that we just had to leave London because there was no big enough in London. And so off we went, I was going to say in a truck but actually we just went in small vans to start with. The van we first had actually didn’t work and we had to get the recovery people to tow it around for us, which is an interesting way to go and we just went west out into the country to find unexplored and remote wilderness where we could set up our sound system and unharassed and not disturbing any neighbours continue.

One thing I will say is we we didn’t really think that we were that we were continuing with the free festival thing. We were quite naive in those days, we didn’t realise for example that the previous year the free festival movement had been completely crushed by the government and the police. We found a calendar of free festivals that first year and we were sort of looking at a White Goddess festival, Cornwall, we’ll go here you know and had the date and we’d go and there’s no one there.

It was just us and this was happening everywhere we went – there was nobody there and we were kind of wondering what’s going on. It was our naivety I think that if we’d realised the history and how violent and oppressive it’s actually been, we wouldn’t have been there. But the minute we plugged in, we got the music on, people were just to come and arrive and people were very pleased obviously that somebody was was there and was continuing.

So it was by chance – not exactly chance, but you know it wasn’t intended – we were just again flowing out of a small space trying to find a bigger space and then we started to meet other travellers you know people who had been oppressed in the last 10 years had witnessed the violence, say at the Battle of Beanfield, firsthand and began to actually tell us the oral history because of course obviously this just wasn’t in any newspapers or on the mainstream media at all.

Exactly what kind of history was going on and again, they were living in their living vehicles because they couldn’t afford to buy land and pursue their alternative lifestyles. I’m not sure if they were aware of it at the time, but we certainly discovered, as soon as we started getting bigger trucks and buses to live in, to be able to continue with our journey, that suddenly you’re in another space — you’re in this space that crosses different spaces. It’s interesting what Jason was saying earlier about that kind of definition of space and of narrative and you begin to discover that when you go out of society you reach a point where you journeyed across these perimeter fences and you’re out in the wilds and you’re kind of looking back in on society, the construct of society, and the kind of rigid templates, not just of the city in this sort of architecturally designed space, but the psychological space that we were all brought up with – and so yeah we were in this kind of frame of mind.

Suddenly you’re entering another place, another sort of psychological place, some people might say it’s kind of shamanic place, but very kind of open, very creative and you feel that yeah you’re you’re you’re opening up new spaces – just as we were opening up rooms or buildings when we were in London.

Suddenly we were not just opening up a field and doing an event and then there’s a dance floor and then people come and there’s a free social space, but you’re actually there’s something bigger going on. It was a kind of realisation from place to place as I say this kind of calendar that we discovered and we got a really another year of free festivals out of really quite an oppressed and and sorry free festival movement, bringing the rave, the techno, the electronic music.

And of course this was all pre the internet and PCs and laptops and what have you, but it was sort of ushering in this kind of future, this sort of future groove, you know, you’re all sort of moving towards…

We knew there’s a huge change just around the corner somewhere and the music was talking about it, you know, Cyberpunk literature was talking about it, you know, the fractal imagery of the sort of chaos was sort of representing it somehow. And yeah we were on a real sort of crest of a wave and undiscovered as I say by the sort of the slow-moving governmental forces.

But it all started going wrong in 1992 where we had been doing it every single weekend for a whole year and every weekend getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and getting a bit of a reputation – I hope for just really good parties – but I can imagine that people in government somewhere were getting a little bit concerned about some kind of rebellion going on in the wilds up in the mountains somewhere that they really didn’t understand at all.

We did a three-day party over Easter weekend and we went back to London, and we were in a big industrial estate in an abandoned warehouse and we got surrounded by the riot police, a special kind of riot police.

The travelers had warned us. In England, apparently, all the police are supposed to wear numbers to identify themselves, the travelers had warned us that there’s this group of police, they’re sort of paramilitary, that have no numbers, and they called them the men in black and they come after you and they’re a sort of, you know, some thug terror group kind of thing. And it’s like yeah yeah yeah that’s just a campfire story sort of thing, but that night they did they came, they surrounded the building, and there was no compromise. They didn’t want to talk, they didn’t want to let people in, they didn’t want to let people out, they were just there to have war with us and it was terrifying.

What they were doing, there was a cordon around the building and there were young people arriving for the party, big sound system inside, everyone inside didn’t realize – they’d let people through the cordon and then they beat them up really badly against the door.

I was on the door, you know one of these roll shutter doors with the chain. Open the door like this to let the screaming people in, covered in blood, and the police trying to get in as well, shut the door like this so we had lots of injured people running in bleeding, screaming, to terrify everybody and this went on for two and a half hours.

CF: That was in Acton?

Mark: That was Acton Lane in London yeah, and it was just terrible. I mean everyone barricaded the doors everyone was terrified, and I don’t know why, but the police basically broke down the walls, they came through the concrete walls and in and beat people and sprayed people and what-have-you. But when they marched me out, past the sort of the chiefs with the big hats and all the medals, there was two British ones in British uniform and there was an American one in the middle and as I walk past him he was boasting to the English ones, that in the States they would have cleared the building in 20 minutes.

It’s like what’s this guy doing here what’s what’s going on? They didn’t make any arrests, none of us got arrested, it was just a terror attack, clearly to actually try and show people that, you know, don’t come to unlicensed events because they’re dangerous. Up until that point we’ve never had any trouble at all with anybody, you know, this was the great thing about those kinds of parties, people coming together. That’s where it started to go wrong, because the next day we were still there but all our equipment… they smashed all our equipment and so we didn’t have anything…

There was another group of friends called Bedlam Sound System who you may have heard of, and they found a venue for May Day in Lechlade and we went there we basically had to share their equipment because all ours was broken. Ten thousand people turned up to that. It was in all the national newspapers and of course the local people in the village weren’t very happy.

When we continued our journey away from there, I wasn’t feeling particularly happy about the situation. I think we were still in shock by this horrible brutal attack and we went to Wales sort of 300 miles west and basically disappeared into the into the forest in the mountains, just to try and repair our equipment and to repair our minds and our bodies and our bruises and we were there for a few weeks.

Then we had a telephone call from a friend with Bedlam and they said there’s this really good party going on why don’t you come to somebody else’s party for a change and chill out, okay? They said chill out, but what we didn’t quite understand was they were actually at the front of a 35 mile convoy of travelers who had been pushed off the Avon Free Festival site by the police, and there’s this massive national police operation pushing this 35 mile convoy all across the country, not letting it stop. And of course there was women, children, families, goats, chickens all of it in this convoy.

We didn’t know this. So we said yeah okay, we’ll come to your party. We set off from the opposite side of the country from from Wales, and they were coming in from the east and we met them, just as they arrived, at Castlemorton Common. Now the chief of police at Castlemorton Common was actually quite a good bloke, I got to know him quite well with the court case – this is something that I’ll tell you about in a minute – he had a very humane attitude.

He thought it was disgraceful that all these these these thousands of people were being deprived their human rights, you know, they weren’t being allowed to stop by the police anywhere. So he decided okay there’s a common here, I’m gonna let them do it here, and we’ll deal with the consequences afterwards.

So when we arrived just at the front of the convoy, funnily enough, we arrived at the front with the Bedlam sound system. There was a smiling, waving policeman just sort of saying, “Come and do the party here.” So we did. And we set up our sound system, what there was of it – not very much, because the police had already smashed a lot of it. There were maybe five or six big sound systems there as well. And that went on for, you know, three days across that weekend.

And when we left, we were ambushed – just our convoy – we were ambushed by plainclothes police jumping out of the bushes. Actually jumped on the windscreen of the thing, you know, and the question was, apparently, we found out later with the lawyers, they said, “Have you just come from the common?” You know, we just driven out the gate, you know, like this – “yeah”. And that was it, that was our guilt. If we’d said no, apparently they wouldn’t have had a case against us. But you know, legal technical detail.

And so, we were, most of us were arrested. 13 people were arrested in all, some people were core to the sound system, others were sort of caught up in the net. We were taken to the local police station, they confiscated everything. I mean, absolutely everything we had, our equipment, our vehicles, we just had the clothes that we stood up in… all our money. They kept us in overnight and they charged us, so that we’d have to return for a court case. And we had nowhere to go, we had no money, so we just stayed on the steps of the police station for a week. There’s a little piece of grass outside, so we just had a refugee camp there, you know. And we made a lot of noise, we, you know, got scrap metal and stuff and hung it up and ropes in the trees and banged it. It it was fun, you know, our morale was good at that point.

And it wasn’t until a week later that we got a lift back to London that we first saw them, the front pages of the national newspapers. We realized that this has been reported on all the mainstream media on the Friday before the weekend. And in England, they never do this, you know, there’s a complete media blackout of festivals and parties and things because they don’t want to advertise it.

But for some strange reason, yeah, on the Friday before it happened, it was advertised all across the mainstream news. So, of course, that just meant there was thousands and thousands of people had come down to the festival. It was much bigger, it had been actually okayed by the chief of police. He was the person that got us there, but clearly we were sort of being scapegoated for being the instigators and the troublemakers, even though we hardly had any sound system because the police had smashed it, you know. They didn’t sort of think about this, did they?

And so that’s really, you know, the story of what happened, of our involvement in Castlemorton. But for some reason, the history books have got us as being the organizers of it.

CF: And then, how did the court proceedings go?

Mark: Yeah, well, what happened was we had to spend two weeks in the preliminary court which was the court to decide whether we were going to go to the big court, to the Crown Court with a jury and 12 people. And obviously, that was a better option for us because it gave us 12 chances, as it were. So yeah, we went for that, but the prosecution was going to take two years, you know, to get a case against us. So we were bailed for two years and we came to Berlin.

And we got a lot of the new sound system together. Sebastian, one of the musicians, and myself managed to negotiate our way with a small record deal with Youth from Killing Joke, and we got a small advance from them. The plan with that was to buy a communal studio and convert our circus trailer, showman’s trailer, into a mobile studio, which we did. I think we only got that deal from the mainstream, if you like. I mean – I know Youth is seen as a sort of alternative figure, but he’s actually a mainstream producer – because of our notoriety, you know, because we were on the front pages of the national press.

And as soon as we’d done that, we joined the rest of the tribe that had managed to escape the ambush in Europe and we came to Berlin with a studio. And we were on Potsdamer Platz, it’s changed now slightly. Potsdamer Platz was just flat, it was just rubble. We were in between the two walls where all the toxic chemicals were.

If you cut yourself, it was just horrible, you started going into a zombie, you know, it was very, very toxic. We were there with Joe Rush, in part of the Mutoid Waste [Company], and we were lucky enough to pick up a lot of the Soviet hardware, you know, tank transporters, big trucks, the two MIG fighter jets, and various other bits and pieces which we sort of incorporated into our convoy, part of our sort of traveling show, if you like, with hydraulics, and and what-have-you, while we waited the two years for the court case…

CF: …to even come up. So that period was spent…

Mark: …partying…

CF: …gathering evidence against you. From the other side… while you were partying [laughter]

Mark: …Yeah, yeah, basically. I mean, obviously, it wasn’t a good time. I mean, I think it was minus 23 in Berlin, so that wasn’t good. We were starving. It was a difficult time. But at the same time, we had this, you know, dark cloud hanging over us of, do we return to England and actually fight this? Do we play their game or do we just fuck off? You know, just get on with our lives and travel the world. But we realized that this wasn’t just about us. You know, this was about the authorities trying to criminalize a culture. And yeah, we felt that we wanted that fight. You know, we wanted to go back and we wanted our day in court.

The thing is, it wasn’t a day in court. It was 10 weeks. And it turned out to be one of the biggest and most expensive trials in British legal history at that moment. So there was around about 13 of us, each with their own lawyer, each with a junior, each with a huge stack of papers in front of them. Do you know what I mean? And us. It just went on and on and on and on and on. And we were just falling asleep and falling off our chairs. Do you know what I mean? It was just so dull and boring. But, you had to pay attention, because what they were doing is they were building this plausible narrative against you.

They were saying, well, for me example, I’ll just use myself. Basically, they got a handwriting expert to say that they had some pencil notes of my handwriting and they could prove this. Then they had the next draft of my original rough notes and it was printed. Then they had a box of those printed. So I was distributing what I’d written. And in what I’d written was, funnily enough, “we have had complaints from 12 miles away”. I was showing off. I was larging it. It’s loud. It’s loud! 12 miles away. And it’s true. This cop, this policeman came up to me at one of our parties in England and he said, we’ve had complaints from 12 miles away. And I thought that was really good. So I put that in the publicity. [laughter]

Anyway, this was key to my prosecution. And so, you know, in this 10 weeks of all this legal just rah, rah, rah, you know, and you’re just like, oh my God. So hang on a minute. You know, this handwriting expert is saying that I wrote this. So clearly when it’s my day up in the box, what they’re going to say is I had an intention to conspire to cause this problem. That I knew that we were bad news. In fact, it said at the top, bad news. That’s what I’d written at the time. Freedom of speech, you know, bad idea.[laughter]

And so, yeah, so this was the case against me. And everybody else had their own individual thing. But this is what they were trying to prove. That we had foreknowledge and we had intent to actually go out and cause a problem. And therefore we were guilty. And even before the jury had come back with the verdict, the judge said he was going to give us a minimum of two years in prison and a maximum of four each for that. For what? For me for writing those notes.

CF: So, what did happen? How did you not go to jail?

Mark: So what did happen? Oh yeah, it was really boring for like ten weeks. And then the really exciting day came and the twelve members of the public and the jury found us all not guilty. Of course, I mean, what actually had we done? You know, and I tell you, that was a fucking rush! Standing up from your toes all the way through like not guilty. It’s like, oh, yes! And then we just went back to Europe after that and continued travelling with the sound system, of course, and the communal recording studio. That was a big relief.

But of course what we didn’t know, well, I think, yes, we did know at that point because the legislation was already being processed, that what they had done was they had hoped to get a criminal prosecution with us, make an example of us, but also they were bringing in the new legislation as well.

CF: Yeah, I was just going to get to the Criminal Justice Act of 1994. Maybe some sections were like a kind of a result of what had happened with the court case and so on.

Mark: Well, that’s debatable, isn’t it? It’s going to be very interesting. I mean, I’m researching this at the moment to see if that is actually the case because I’ve got the feeling, actually, that they were going to bring all that legislation in anyway, regardless of what the outcome was in the court case.

You know, I think what they were trying to do was they were trying to make us the folk devils, you know, the demonization, as they had done with the peace convoy and the Battle of the Beanfield, as if, you know, it was the peace convoy that caused the riot. They were trying to make it look like we had caused the situation when, of course, you know, it came out in court. That had nothing to do with this. In fact, I mentioned that the chief of police was a good bloke. He really was a good bloke.

On the court steps before we went in, he whispered in my ear, he said, I just want you to know, this has got nothing to do with the police. This is a political stitch-up. Yeah, and he actually was their main prosecution witness and he took full responsibility for it. He said, no, I suggested everyone went on to Castlemorton Common. So he actually went against the government and he became very ill. He actually gave that statement on his hospital bed. You know, he had a real bad psychological… You know, his health was really bad from the pressure he was under from the government. So fair play to that man. He was an honest man.

So, yes, I mean, I think the Criminal Justice Bill was, you know, a whole different ballgame. And my take on that, and I mention it in the article, is going back to Shirley Porter, the Tory councillor in the area where we first squatted, Graham Bright, who did the anti-acid house bill. Turns out he worked as part of a lobby group for the brewery industry, the alcohol industry. And there we were, championing this kind of free style of sharing, of giving everything away. And we were drawing hundreds of thousands of people out of the economy, basically, every weekend. Seriously, seriously!

And this was actually the problem. They gave it the guise of that we were, you know, some kind of riotous assembly. That didn’t hold water in the court case because all our equipment was smashed. You know, I shouldn’t really say this, I shouldn’t admit it, you know, Spiral Tribe – it was a shit system that moment, you know, at Castlemorton. I know it’s legendary, but, you know, it wasn’t good. It wasn’t, you know, the base bins were flapping, you know. Yeah. [laughter]

So, yeah, it was a fabrication. And, you know, this is what I mean about these sort of plausible narratives that you realise, you know, are actually being placed on you and how history, Jason mentioned it again, you know, the victor is the person that writes the history books. They had a good go at kind of writing this kind of completely false history to actually, you know, get their legislation through, which they did. And this is something that really worries me about history, actually, looking back on it now. I’m here and I’m telling you a story about, you know, 23 whatever years ago. And it’s interesting, but that’s the problem with the law books. It’s actually written in the law book now, you know. The freedom to gather in England, the repetitive beats is, I know it’s ridiculous, but, you know, that’s in there. We laugh at it, but at the same time, I mean, it’s, you know,[to Christoph] I can see why you do the broken beats. I’ve just realised! Noise will overcome. That’s very clever, very clever. [laughter] Very good, very good one. Yeah, what else do you want to know?

Audience member: Christoph, sorry, can you clarify? Because I think a lot of people, even myself, are not really aware of the content of the Criminal Justice Act about the amount of people that can gather, the repetitive beats aspect. What precisely were they trying to do with the Criminal Justice Act?

CF: With the Criminal Justice Act, it had a lot of different angles. What we are talking about mainly are specific sections of it that affected travelers, squatting rights at the time, and it limited the number of traveling vehicles that were allowed to park together and to travel together. If I remember correctly, to a very small number. I don’t remember the exact number, but it was something like, yeah, it was obviously a small number, very very small, because you have to remember that these were like large convoys often with dozens.

Mark: Yeah, or people even looking like they might be gathering for a rave, you know, might be…

CF: That’s the traveler section… Then there were the squatting section, it did at the time not make squatting illegal, as it has become last year. Squatting of private property and residential property in England has become illegal now, a criminal offense, so you can be just kicked out by the cops. But at the time it made it just a lot easier to evict people. It restructured the procedure of kicking people out. I think that was the main part of the squatting thing.

And then the rave thing was defining what a rave was with “the succession of repetitive beats”, which I find like, still to this day, like a very very interesting phrasing of a legal, of a law, because it really uses musical categories to criminal- [Here the video tape (!) ended, causing a short gap in the video/transcript]

Quote from the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, s. 63(1)(b):

“music” includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.

Mark: But yeah, as far as I’m concerned, it wasn’t about the public order, because everyone was so well behaved at these dance events. It was very community spirited, I mean, what could be better than, you know, a community of people actually coming together and organising their own things and celebrating community for the sake of community. I mean, that’s a fantastic thing that we should, as a society, celebrate. So it was very definitely commercial forces, lobbying groups, from my point of view, having lived through it, that actually were behind all of this.

CF: So the situation in Britain, obviously, after the Criminal Justice Bill became Criminal Justice Act in 1994, became, for a while at least, like almost impossible to do these kind of festivals and so on. And so the whole focus of the movement in the larger scale moved to Europe, which, again, Spiral Tribe was one of the main instigators of what became the Teknival movement.

Mark: Well, yeah, this is interesting, as I said, this kind of journey into different spaces. So there we were in this very overcrowded little country, trying to find the most remote and wild places that we possibly could. And we got ousted from there, made very clear that if we were going to do anything, we would come up against the serious weight of the law.

And so we came over, started off in France, and generally speaking, there’s more space in Europe, physical, geographical space. Plus, also, in the more southern climes, there’s much more of an outdoor culture. It’s not so strange to stay up all night and dance. Do you know what I mean? In England, it’s a criminal act. And so, yeah, it’s a different style of music. So there was another good few years of that kind of thing. And, of course, from that, we had the sound system and the communal studio.

Everyone we met, whether they were musical or not, you have a few beers, say, you want to come and make a record? You know, go back, bash out a record. I don’t know how many hundreds of collaborations we did with people. But in those days, it cost us, I think, 80 pence, a euro to make an EP. And they would sell for five. And so we had four steps in the distribution where everyone could make an equal amount of money and everyone could get paid. You can raise enough money for your sound system, for your studio, or for your record label, or all three. And, of course, that was amazing because it really did finance just from this creative source, you know, out of this, again, going back to this space of, you know, your internal creativity coming out through your body and actually doing something and making it all happen.

So for a good few years, the Teknival movement wasn’t just about even bigger and bigger parties. It was about actually enabling people to get their own equipment together and to participate in the community in that kind of way. And so it was, you know, a very kind of organic and cellular thing. I think that’s why it just spread like wildfire, you know, across Europe. And yeah, it was a fantastic moment, not just from the point of view of sort of the underground, but also just that kind of thing of being able to share, you know, share not just the dance floor and the vibe and the music, but also to swap vinyl. You know, this great kind of feeling that you get that you’re all part of creating this other whole huge underground network, which, again, you know, it’s changed since the onset of the internet…

CF: Oh, it changed a lot. I mean, it’s kind of disintegrated in a way, which is too bad because it was really a moment in the second half of the 90s with Network 23 and Subnet and Stormcore and what Praxis were doing and Ambush and this whole list of these kind of labels who understood themselves to be countercultural and who did manage to set up this network that somehow at least seemed to be like parallel and not involved with the cultural industry and these spectacle kind of aspects of electronic music. And this has been kind of leveled out since then, as you mentioned the EDM phenomenon, which is like as if something like that had never happened. It’s just a rock star ideology that’s reinforced itself onto the electronic music, which we always theorized as something potentially subversive and antagonistic against the cultural industry or whatever we want to call it. And I think that was an interesting period, but I think it has been almost completely reversed, unfortunately.

Mark: Well, I feel optimistic because we’re about to think of something next, aren’t we, Christoph? Yeah, come on!

CF: Not my next question, it’s the one after.

Mark: So what’s the next question?

CF: You had the technical movement, you had like Network 23, you had these things like I just positively refer to as this interesting period of self-empowerment and countercultural activities. But I also feel that even then there was a little bit of a trap happening, where, you know, maybe music was produced after the expectations that people had. It became like hard techno, like a “Teknival sound”, it became like a sub-genre of music.

Mark: You’ve been to the Teknival recently? I mean it’s just a whole different kettle of fish.

CF: There is always this recuperation happening on all levels, like permanently. And looking back at this period, I’m happy to see how long we managed to fight against it. But there was definitely already then, you know, kind of a recuperation happening in terms of form, content. And then you had like a new generation of labels coming to Teknivals, who were expecting exactly that kind of Hardtek music to be there. And if it wasn’t that, then it was not right or something. While before, it was like more of a melting pot of different aspects.

Mark: I mean, I must say, I think I personally would point the finger at some of the PC software. What’s the Propellerhead one, the three 303s and the two 909s? Do you remember when that one came out? You could just press random pattern and it just came out with some mad acid tune and it was all in sync and it was all great. And I think there was an up-and-coming group of DJs who just wanted music that sounded the same as the last record because it was easy to mix. So it just homogenized for a long time. And yeah, I agree, that was not particularly creative. But I think with all these things, they’re going to reach saturation at some point and when they get really dull and boring, so hopefully it explodes again and fragments into all sorts of other sort of creative and interesting directions.

CF: I mean, this is always a process that’s happening all the time and of course you have to try to counter that and see what happens. And I mean, it’s something that didn’t just happen to Teknival-type music, it also happened to breakcore or to hardcore even earlier and so on. So obviously we’re still trying to counter these kind of processes as we’re gonna try to do downstairs in a few hours.

But to more or less conclude, I would like to jump to what do you think is the legacy of Spiral Tribe and also what are the current activities? Because you have been reviving certain aspects of, not like Spiral Tribe as such, but as SP23, and there are ongoing activities that are happening now.

Mark: Well, legacy, I’m not sure if I really believe in legacies. I think if there is a legacy, and I know this is a paradox straight away, is that there isn’t such a thing. It’s all about being in the moment and being creative and doing it yourself, DIY. I mean, that’s what it’s all about. And I hope, if nothing else, the activities of Spiral Tribe and some of the events at their best inspire people to do that and to make their own music and to organize their own communities and get on with it. Now there’s eight of us that were sort of original Spiral Tribe people back in the day. We’ve been working again for the last two years. We’re doing all sorts of events, some free, some ticketed, but it’s mainly concentrated on improvised live dance music.

I won’t even give it a genre as we do all moods, all tempos, it just depends on the crowd that night, you know, it’s very interactive with what the mood is on the dance floor. And that’s been great fun. I’m involved again doing graphics and what-have-you, also writing.

A book coming out, I’m not sure when, when I finish it, but yeah, keep your eyes out for that one, A Darker Electricity. It goes into more detail about the history and the characters and the other kind of elements involved in the sound system. And let me think… oh yeah, Paris, big squat party on the 9th at the Soft. I’ll get that plug in when I’ve got the opportunity. It should be a good one.

CF: Thank you.

And I would like to ask if anyone has any questions, we’ll have time to discuss aspects that we may not have touched on enough. I don’t know if anyone thinks that, yeah.

Audience member 2: We’re talking about like the beginnings of the project. It sounded like you’re probably familiar with some concepts that are tied to the Situationist International. Like, it sounded like, because you used some words a bit. I wanted to know, like, if you ended up getting familiar to that after you started the project, or if you already had this stuff in mind when you started.

Mark: That’s a really good question.

Audience member 2: I’ll give you a reason, because the first time I’ve been into the Teknival in my life, I had already been reading all that Situational International for other reasons. And when people brought me there, it was, what the fuck, this is the realization of what I’ve been reading in books made in the 60s. And I always wanted to know if there was a consciousness about that, or if you just ended up doing it spontaneously, not like pumping into a series.

Mark: Yeah, it’s very interesting, because it was all afterwards. I didn’t actually know anything about them until afterwards, but they really interest me now. Well, for a few years. But what I have realized, sort of doing a bit of research into the history of dance music, is I used to live in Manchester, where they had the Haçienda. And the Haçienda comes from a situationist text. I can’t remember the name of the guy, but the guy who was caught trying to dismantle the Eiffel Tower. And they sectioned him and put him in a mental hospital. So, I mean, fair play to the guy trying to take the Eiffel Tower down. And he wrote this manifesto. What was his name?

CF: Ivan Chtcheglov, “Formulary for a New Urbanism”.

Audience member 2: I didn’t know that.

Mark: Very interesting. And he has this sort of situationist manifesto, and the text says “the Haçienda must be built”. I don’t know if you know about the Haçienda, but it was a very interesting story. This huge, big, empty New York club in the poorest part of Manchester, built as a community art space. And for years there was no one there, but it was empty and available that night in 1988 when Acid House suddenly arrived. And that was it, and it was amazing. Because that free space – and it’s about space again – that space was free, it was a community space, and it just had huge implications around the world because of that.

And the reason that they called it the Haçienda, and they had this kind of take, was one of them apparently had been given the book about the situationists as a present, and they liked it. And it was just on the table, and they were just like looking through it. They weren’t into the situationists particularly, they were just inspired by this book that they read. And so the Haçienda idea grew out of that, and I was very inspired by what they’d done at the Haçienda, because it wasn’t a business, it was artists trying to do business and doing it very badly, made that space available. So yeah, good question.

Audience member 2: The point we were talking about – psychological spaces, which is actually the main point of the whole psychogeographic thing…

There’s a second question that might be connected to that. When I was going to parties like second half of the 90s, there was a lot of rumors, weird rumors about the Spiral Tribe and its origins, and implications with esoterical stuff and so on. Once, even because you were using the number 23, I heard a rumor, and I always wanted to know if it’s true, that the founders were somehow connected with the Temple of Psychic Youth, which is actually originally even influenced by the Situationists International. Is that true?

Mark: Again, very interesting. No, because we didn’t know about the number 23, we didn’t know about William Burroughs, we didn’t know about all these other sections of culture that had this 23 current in them. So it’s very, very strange that that should happen, and it did happen after the event.

Audience member 2: How did you come to the idea of using the 23?

Mark: That’s quite a long story, it did involve psychedelics… [laughter] Surinam gangsters and pitbull dogs…it was just one of those very strange things when something resonates and you just got to put it on the backdrop, it’s got to go on the flyer, you know, we just need a 23 there basically – and that’s how it came about. I can’t really explain anymore, because it kind of defies explanation. It’s all part of its own mystery. To me anyway, and everyone’s got a different take on the number 23, which is great, it’s all about taking the lid off any belief system. It’s like, you make of it what you will.

Audience member 2: The Temple of Psychic Youth has the same point of using it, than what you’re talking about.

Mark: Well, there we are. Isn’t that interesting? Yeah, that’s the number 23 [laughs]… Any more questions?

Audience member 3: I got a question. At the start you were talking about that you were one group, one band of people, friends, and there was like… [short interruption in the recording]

The commonplace is, ravers had kind of destroyed the travellers’ world.

Mark: Oh, I see.

Audience member 3: Like, you were saying that at a point you felt like, as if you were, without knowing it, bringing on the free festival thing, but there were some people thinking something else. Especially about the people who were saying this about you, I’d like to know.

Mark: Yeah, the only place I’ve actually come across that has been in the mainstream media. I mean actually being out there in the field with the travelling community, as part of the travelling community, we never came across that attitude. But, you know, for some reason, I think the conflict and friction is something that sells stories. And I think that just sort of feeds into that kind of government line, that there was some kind of division. I don’t think I ever came across anybody who had any problem or even made a distinction between, say, you know, urban young people as ravers coming out and joining in a travellers’ free festival. Everyone was very happy to welcome them, because obviously it was more people, it was more atmosphere, it was more interest, and for a lot of people more money, you know, because they made their living out of doing that. So, yeah, I personally never experienced that myself…. Any more? Right. One more? One more, one more.

Audience member 4: How many, in the time it began, how many other sound systems were existing?

Mark: As far as I know, there were two in existence doing the free parties before we were doing it. We were inspired by a group called Sweat Sound System and DIY. They were playing more kind of house music, but on a quite small and occasional level. And then Steve Bedlam started Bedlam, more or less maybe sort of six months after we got going. He was sort of part of us, but, you know, he’s a sound system man, he’s a dub man, and he hand builds with Tim now the Noise Control Audio. Well worth checking out. Absolutely amazing sound systems that they make by hand.

So, yeah, those were the sort of three people that I would sort of catalogue as being there at the sort of same kind of moment. Right, that was the last question I think. Well, thank you very much everybody! [Applause]

CF: Thank you. Thank you. So, there’s some Vokü in the corner over there. For two euros you can eat a vegan curry, if you like it, if you’re hungry. And the music is going to start downstairs in around now, I guess. And we’ll have two floors for the rest of the night. Those of you who came in for free for the talks, if you want to stick around here for a moment, it’s fine. But if you want to go downstairs, please get a stamp at the door for five euros. And everyone, please purchase a copy of the new Datacide. It’s also available at the door. Thank you very much. Thank you. [More applause]

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