Angry White People – Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right by Hsiao-Hung Pai (Book Review)

Hsiao-Hung Pai: Angry White People
Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right
With a Foreword by Benjamin Zephaniah
Zed Books, London 2016
ISBN 978-1-783606-92-4

Angry White People: Coming Face-to-Face with the British Far Right by Hsiao-Hung Pai (Zed Press, 2016) is not quite the overview of contemporary UK fascism that its subtitle suggests. The familiar far-right brands of the British National Party, National Front, and their various offshoots barely figure. Instead, the main focus is on the phenomenon of the English Defence League, which seemed to have exploded out of nowhere in 2009 and over the next few years mobilised anti-Muslim street protests across England. The group still exists today, though it has lost much of its early momentum and some of its founding activists along the way.
Pai’s avowed aim is to try to understand ‘what personal and social circumstances are leading these men and women’ to join a movement ‘based on prejudices and myths’, bringing to the subject the ‘outsider’ perspective of a 1990s migrant from Taiwan who is not distracted by social niceties from asking direct and awkward questions. This includes displays of chutzpah or just plain cheek such as knocking on the door of a house flying an England flag and asking its inhabitant to explain himself and walking into the pub reputed to be the EDL’s favoured drinking hole and requesting to speak to its leader, ‘Tommy Robinson’ – real name Stephen Lennon. As a result she does secure what seem to be some fairly unguarded and revealing conversations with a number of EDL supporters, including a couple with Robinson himself.

The EDL’s carefully curated image of being a non-racist organisation simply opposed to ‘Islamic extremism’ is belied by racist remarks about Muslims in general, informed by an incoherent and paranoid world view that fears some kind of impending Muslim domination of the UK. Robinson tells her: ‘Wherever Islam is, there is a military operation to implement sharia law. This country will be exactly the same. Five per cent of the population is Muslim. When it becomes 20 per cent, that’s when there will be a war’.

Robinson struggles to explain why he feels English and not British, or to reconcile his politics with his part-Irish background. In addition to complaining about Muslims, he complains about immigration more generally and even about Welsh workers getting building work in his home town, while at the same time acknowledging that ‘Everyone in this town is an immigrant’, his family included. Meanwhile, a rank-and-file activist complains about ‘pakis’ while obsessing about his desires for ‘oriental’ women. So far, so stupid, but if the far right could be defeated by exposing their irrationality and logical inconsistency, they would have been vanquished long ago. [Read more →]

Paul Sullivan, Remixology: Tracing The Dub Diaspora (Reaktion Books, 2014) (Book Review)

Paul Sullivan,
Remixology: Tracing The Dub Diaspora,
Reaktion Books, 2014

remixology

Apart from the ubiquitous Bob Marley, reggae and its variants were under-represented on bookshelves a decade ago. These days there seems to be a book being published every couple of months. Dub in general and King Tubby specifically have been relatively well catered for by Michael Veal’s heroically detailed Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae (Wesleyan University Press, 2007) and dub’s post-punk variants are examined well in Dub In Babylon (Equinox Publishing, 2010 – reviewed in Datacide 12).

Sullivan’s book begins with the now well-known story of the accidental invention of dub as a mistake in the studio, and its successful implementation as a way for Jamaican soundsystems to keep ahead of their rivals. But after the first few chapters he spreads his net gratifyingly wide to look at how the studio techniques of Lee Perry, King Tubby, Scientist et al (and other JA soundsystem techniques) spread like a virus across the globe. Whilst doing this, he doesn’t shy away from the fact that the music is a product of struggle, that the diaspora is a by-product of colonialism. Nor does he overdo it – the focus is always primarily on the music and the people who make it.

The first stop is London, where Jah Shaka, Lloyd Coxsone and Fatman are given their due as influential soundsystems of the late 70s and 80s. Sullivan recycles the usual sources here (Lloyd Bradley, that NME Soundsystem Splashdown article that I put on uncarved.org) but has also done some great interviews himself, notably with Mad Professor, deejay U Brown and Dennis Bovell. This method is continued throughout the book, with the author’s interviews generally adding new and thought provoking information rather than retreading old ground. The ‘(post-) punky reggae party’ of groups like Killing Joke, The Pop Group and On-U Sound rounds off this section (and is a good read, but obviously not as detailed as Partridge’s Dub In Babylon). [Read more →]

Robert Dellar, Splitting In Two: Mad Pride & Punk Rock Oblivion (Unkant Publishing) (Book Review)

Robert Dellar,
Splitting In Two: Mad Pride & Punk Rock Oblivion
(Unkant Publishing)

Splitting in two

Robert Dellar’s new book is part autobiography, part social history and in places morphs into fiction. It covers both Dellar’s own life via punk rock and the dehumanisation of those deemed clinically insane by the powers that be. While in academia the idea that madness might be the only sane response to capitalist society is often discussed in terms of Deleuze and Guattari’s anti-Oedipal theories, Dellar has a more hands on and activist approach to ‘bad craziness’. At the turn of this millennium, Dellar helped found the Mad Pride movement to fight against the stigmatisation of those labelled as having mental health problems.

Most of Splitting In Two consists of straight-forward accounts of Dellar’s life and his thirty odd years of involvement in the fight for the rights of psychiatric survivors. When the book occasionally blooms into what is obviously fiction, I take this to be Dellar’s way of illustrating how easy it is for anyone to go off their rocker in the sick and insane capitalist society that blights all our lives. The writing is never academic and it is much closer to a punk rock fanzine in tone than the post-modern abstractions of ‘anti-psychiatrists’. There are also quite a few pictures to break up the text. The title of the book and every chapter title is more or less a punk rock song, and the acts thus cited but not named are Alternative TV, The Damned, Sham 69, Annie Anxiety, The Flamin’ Groovies, The Adverts, The Raincoats, Johnny Moped, The Sex Pistols, The Lurkers, The Flies, Zounds, Public Image and The Saints. The musicians Dellar actually writes about because he has a personal involvement with them are generally lesser known but include The Apostles, The Astronauts and Alternative TV (and I’ll stop there although I haven’t got beyond bands whose names begin with ‘a’).
[Read more →]

Cyrus Bozorgmehr, The Rabbit Hole (Creative Space, 2013) and other writings (Book Review)

Cyrus Bozorgmehr,
The Rabbit Hole
(Creative Space, 2013)
and other writings at djbroadcast.net

rabbitholecover

Writing about music counter-cultural tendencies that we participate in poses questions about historification that are not easily resolved, but are rather left in a state of perpetual negotiation. Those who choose to undertake the task of critical writing that present counter-narratives to the omnipresence of music industry journalism in print magazines and on a plethora of music websites inevitably make strategic choices about modes of counter-dialogue to engage diverse readerships. In the last few years, there has been a resurgence of artists/musicians/participants who have printed a number of provocative books that we have followed with great interest. The medium of photography and the photo book was used to tell multiple, interconnected stories about free parties in the Paris catacombs in the truly illuminating Paname sans dessus, dessous! published in 2006. In datacide 10, I reviewed the problematics of Pencilbreak: A Graphicore Compilation, which took the strategy of representing music through the visual medium of flyers, posters and album covers. Published in 2011, Sudden Infant: Noise in My Head, The Actionistic Music and Art of Joke Lanz is a fascinating book that operates on multiple levels as a memoir, a photo book, a collaborative self-history and a discography through the inclusion of an interview with Joke Lanz, drawings, photos of performances, manifestos, poetry, concert posters and flyers, texts by collaborators, and a visual discography. Riccardo Balli engaged in a plundering of counter-narrative strategies in his Italian language publication on Milan’s Agenzia X called Apocalypso Disco: La Rave-o-luzione della Post Techno. The excellent book includes interviews with artists such as Christoph Fringeli, Sansculotte, Daniel Erlacher (Widerstand Records), Ralph Brown and others. Several chapters are made up of Balli’s ingeniously amusing counter-histories of interconnected music genres in a fictional plundering of writings of Philip K. Dick and Fulcanelli (first published in English in Datacide). Another book chapter blurs the boundaries completely between fiction and non-fiction in a retelling of some aspects of the Dead By Dawn parties in 1995. Academic writing informed by ethnographic and anthropological methodologies about sub-cultural musical experiences are investigated in the interview with Graham St. John in another book chapter. Most recently this year, there are two engaging examples of mixing the curatorial project of presenting counter-cultural tendencies through exhibitions with that of a companion book. One project was the exhibit and book Berlin Wonderland: The Wild Years Revisited 1990-1996, which featured short personal narrative texts by artists in music, theater and the arts that gave context to photographs grouped together in themes like ‘open doors’, ‘disarmament experts’, ‘wild gangs’ (both which focus on Mutoid Waste Company), etc. Opening on October 1 in Newcastle, Australia is Fistography – Bloody Fist Records – The Exhibition that displays all the label’s releases in chronological order along with ephemera including press clippings, posters, flyers, equipment and photos. This is a truly monumental archival undertaking documenting the years 1993-2004. Simultaneously, an internet radio broadcast out of Hertford featured the BF back catalog. The exhibit is complemented by a show featuring Xylocaine, Hedonist, Epsilon and Mark N spinning BF tunes on Oct 3. Mark N has also published a 300-page book documenting the label’s history titled Fistography: Bloody First Records, Newcastle, Australia, 1994-2004. Critical readers and participants may have these and many other examples in mind when undertaking the ruckus, fictional experience that is The Rabbit Hole.

This is a deeply amusing fictional novel that will no doubt make readers laugh wildly and at the next turn snicker knowingly at the maschinations of a collective that in one summer throws massive renegade soundsystem parties in various locations in and around London. Many readers, including myself, track down this paperback or ebook because it is one of the few fictional narratives about the worldwide teknival movement, and it is written by Cyrus Bozorgmehr aka Sirius, member of Spiral Tribe and SP23. One of the pleasures of reading this book is the constant elision between fiction, personal experience, and (non)-history – the reader may ask herself at any particular moment, ‘Is this a history of a soundsystem crew revealed in a over-the-top, far-fetched retelling, or a narrative slight of hand imagining what could be?’. That inquiry only takes the reader so far since there’s a lot going on in the book. What becomes much more satisfying is the reader’s traversal of the literary play between the comical, the serious, and the caricatured as the crew members’ grapple with the principles that inform their collective actions, deploy strategies of collaborative artistic creation, experiment with the transformative potential of music, deal with the insidious nature of the music industry and commercialism, and negotiate state repression and infiltration. [Read more →]

Paul Huxtable, Al Fingers and Mandeep Samra: Sound System Culture – Celebrating Huddersfield’s Sound Systems (One Love Books, 2014) (Book Review)

Paul Huxtable, Al Fingers and Mandeep Samra: Sound System Culture – Celebrating Huddersfield’s Sound Systems

(One Love Books, 2014)

1-sound-system-culture-cover_o

If Canada came off badly in the review above it’s purely because it seems slightly less exciting than the reggae scene in one town in the north of England. This is an impressive book: 10 inches square (same size as a dubplate), hardbound, thick paper. But most of all, lots and lots of amazing photos of Huddersfield soundsystems and the groups of people who ran them back in the day. The scene is set with some introductory text about the history of Jamaica and migration to London along with the usual photos of Windrush and sharply dressed first generation immigrants. It pains me to say it, but there is too much London in this book, worthwhile as it is. The first section does include a lovely shot of a 1976 dominos contest at the Derby West Indian Association though.

But all this is just preamble for the main event: Lush photos of blokes looking sharp. Blokes in garish 1970s living rooms, blokes fiddling with amazing gnarly pre-amps, groups of blokes styling for the camera at the beginning of a night out. All black, working class, dedicated to the hard work of humping speaker boxes around town, putting wires together, selecting tunes that will smash up a dance. The smiles and fashion of the portraits are in stark contrast to the drab shots of 70s and 80s Huddersfield town centre. If London was alienating for black kids at that time, the provinces (as I shall rudely call them) must have been doubly arduous. Michael Moore (aka Bones from Jah Lion sound) relates how he left Jamaica solo at 14 to come to Huddersfield to be reunited with his younger brother and mother, neither of whom he had seen for 4 years. And it was cold. Hard times. [Read more →]

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