Friday, July 31, 2009
A GROUP of squatters have sparked fury by taking over an empty tower block and staging SEX SESSIONS on its roof. Crusty couples have been seen performing sex acts in broad daylight after carrying a sofa to the top of the five-storey building. Others were seen having full sex and dancing naked on the flat roof. Wild parties have kept neighbours up at night and there are claims of widespread drug-taking. Residents at a posh high-rise next door say they can no longer use their balconies in case kids see the sordid scenes...
The Sun also published a slightly different version of the same story yesterday with some more choice quotes:
SEX mad squatters have outraged residents at block of flats by having wild romps — on the ROOF. More than 250 horny crusties have enjoyed months of drug-fuelled orgies in full view of shocked residents. Fed-up homeowners claim the scroungers have caused havoc since occupying the building after the G20 summit in April. They have now begun a campaign to get the saucy tenants evicted from Poplar, East London — even calling for the building to be demolished.
Neighbour Jo Graham, 27, said: "When they go up on the roof they are there for everyone to see. "You normally hear them first, shouting and playing loud music and then when you look some of them are totally naked and dancing around and others are obviously having sex on the roof. Sometimes there are as many as 50 or 60 people on the roof and of course it's dangerous, especially if they are on drugs. Hopefully this eyesore will be demolished as soon as possible."
Local MP Jim Fitzpatrick added: "There's no proper solution apart from demolition." However the kinky squatters claim they want to stay — likening the flats to famed party island Ibiza. One jobless crusty, who only wanted to be known as Jon, said: "More and more people are coming because they hear about how much fun we have here. The more the merrier. The parties will continue until we are left with no choice but to go. It's like Ibiza up there on the roof. It's just party, party, party".
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Still here they are. Most of the photos are from Put People First March for Jobs, Justice and Climate, a diverse demonstration of at least 35,000 people in central London on Saturday 28th March:
A mobile sound system with pretty impressive mixing desk, the guy on the left was rapping through a headset microphone
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Places featured including Granny Takes a Trip (pictured), I was Lord Kitchener’s Valet (‘one way of saying no to authority is to parody it ... buy uniforms of the past to affront the uniformity of the present’) and Biba, all seemingly offering ‘an escape from the H-Bomb, television and other horrors of the workaday world'. Not only that but the ‘soft, music-loud caverns of the avant-garde can be misleading for they are the work cells of revolution’ – though the revolution in question is not a reference to the social/political turmoils of the period but to a shift in the fashion industry, with boutiques generating style rather than simply offering diluted versions of haute couture originals.
(full transcript at V&A website)
Monday, July 27, 2009
25 years ago the British state mounted a huge and brutal police operation to clamp down on the Stonehenge Free Festival. 15 years ago it passed legislation designed to outlaw autonomous dance music festivals in the aftermath of Castlemorton.
The point was never to crush festivals entirely, but rather to make sure that they could only take place when approved, regulated and controlled by the state. Nevertheless it did feel as if the fact of thousands of people gathering together for days on end for music and dancing was something that was fundamentally alien to the ruling culture, at least to the cultural life of the ruling Conservative government.
Even officially sanctioned festivals retained some kind of oppositional edge under the Tories. Glastonbury in the 1980s mainly raised funds for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Lesbian and Gay Pride, which attracted huge numbers to free festivals in London parks, was already being criticised by some queer activists for apolitical hedonism, but this was an era when there was still an unequal age of consent and the government was passing its absurd anti-gay Clause 28. You certainly couldn't imagine government ministers approving, let alone attending either of them.
In the past few years, summer music festivals have become a huge phenomenon in the UK with seemingly countless weekend gatherings for all kinds of music taste. Hundreds of thousands of people must spend at least a couple of nights camping out at a festival. If you add in people who attend non camping festivals such as Notting Hill Carnival you are talking about millions of people every year.
So in a cultural sense the 80s/90s festival crowd has conquered. And indeed its the post-punk/raving generations who are now taking their kids to the more family friendly festivals like Latitude.
Equally of course, the festival scene has been conquered by commerce and administration. Many of the festivals are big business concerns with corporate sponsorship. The biggest player is Festival Republic Ltd which now runs Latitude, Reading and Leeds festivals, as well as being contracted to manage Glastonbury. This started out as Vince Power's Mean Fiddler Group, which grew from running London's The Mean Fiddler music venue in the early 1980s to putting on the Irish-themed Fleadh festivals in London before expanding ceaselessly to run 27 venues and many festivals. Vince Power sold up to in 2005, with Live Nation - a California-based multinational music events company - now the major sharefolder in the renamed Festival Republic.
Festivals have inevitably become more middle class as high entrance fees at most festivals prohibit the attendance of the kind of people who were the backbone of the earlier festival scene. In the 1980s at Glastonbury for instance there was a tacit understanding that thousands of people who couldn't afford tickets would be able to sneak into the site for free, now most festivals are surrounded by high fences and heavy security.
If Thatcher's government denounced festival goers as Medieval Brigands and passed homophobic laws, today's politicians feel festivals are safe enough territory. At Latitude there was several Labour politicians present (notably Ed Miliband, Minister for Climate Change) while the Prime Minister's wife was at LGBT Pride this year.
Despite all the commercialization and regulation of state approved festivals there are obviously worse ways of spending a summer weekend than staying out surrounded by music. But whether the desire for some kind of carnivalesque-lite collective experience has any kind of wider political significance at all I'm not so sure. Does the road to realizing human species being pass through a marquee in a field in Suffolk? Maybe not, but I am sure that in some policy think tank even now, somebody is sweating over how to assemble some kind of Gramscian popular historic bloc that can appeal to the festival public alongside more familiar political demographics like White Van Man and Ford Mondeo Man.
See also: If it's called a festival, is it one?
Sunday, July 26, 2009
I know Calvin Harris is everywhere with his electro-dance-pop, but what's not to like? He played Acceptable in the 80s, I Created Disco (complete with its fake sample suggesting that disco was created in some post-WW2 laboratory experiment) and new melancholic/euphoric anthem I'm not Alone. No Dance Wiv Me unfortunately in the absence of Dizzee Rascal.
The Evening Standard review of the gig wasn't far off in comparing it to KLF's Stadium House, he chucks all of dance music history into the blender - I'm Not Alone for instance has a bit of a Strings of Life flavour at one point.
Support was Mr Hudson, currently going Supernova with a bit of help from Kanye West (inevitably Calvin Harris has remixed it).
Saturday, July 25, 2009
Their's was an all singing, dancing , costume changing performance - complete with Gilbert and George style background movies, acrobatics and construction workers moving the set around. At one point Neil Tennant left the stage in a dinner jacket after a few subdued ballads like Jealousy then marched back out in a crown and robe for a mash up of Domino Dancing and a Hi-NRG cover of Coldplay's Viva La Vida, all followed up with encores of West End Girls and Being Boring (which always make me cry). Certainly made a change from watching blokes with guitars.
I also took in Ladyhawke, Regina Spektor, Lykke Li, Pretenders, White Lies, Airborne Toxic Event, Doves, Patrick Wolf, Squeeze, Little Boots and Mika - to say I actually saw all of these would be an exaggeration, the last three were in crowded marquees where listening from the edge was as close as we could get. There would have been some more but we got fed up of the rain on the third day and left early.
Latitude has a wider arts festival shtick, with film and literature as well as music but I didn't have time for too much of that. There were also fairy tale movies in the woods, ballet dancers by the lake...
...the Disco Shed (basically decks in a shed, people dancing outside)...
... and everywhere the english summer sunshine and showers outfit of shorts and wellies, with occasional fancy dress flourishes (a group of blue painted smurfs wandering through the crowd for instance). Oh and the inevitable Michael Jackson memorial in the woods.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Of the latter place - a 1960s mod hang out - Jon Waters has given an account at Modculture:
"I made my way up the stairs to 'La Discotheque' and gave the nod to the bouncer whilst dropping some cash into his hand. We had sussed out some time ago that we could gain entrance for half price and made full use of the facility. The obligatory stamp went on the back of my hand and I was in.
The door opened releasing a hot fug of fetid air mixed with cigarette smoke. The place was heaving as sweating bodies jostled for space to dance. Junior Walker's 'Shake & Fingerpop' was pumping out and I could feel my heart jump into overdrive. Locating the rest of the firm was easy. 'Haggis' and 'Big Roy' were giving it some on the floor. It looked like Haggis had pulled for the night. Roy was in a world of his own on the dancefloor, dancing by himself, if that were possible in view of the close proximity of the bodies all around him. Roy was unbelievable. He would dance all night with hardly a break but never take any gear. The energy he possessed was beyond belief.
Terry was busy doing some business somewhere and Mac was sitting in a corner. He was completely stoned, staring at his clenched fists on his lap and chewing like crazy.I couldn't get any sense out of him. By now the combination of the music and the dexys were really kicking in so I fought my way out to the others on the floor and let the music wash over me. James Brown 'Night Train', Betty Everett 'Getting Mighty Crowded', The Impressions 'You Been Cheating', Otis 'Mr.Pitiful' and Pickett's 'Midnight Hour'...pure heaven!
Terry reappeared after a while. He had taken a few too many and his mouth had gone into overdrive. He talked a lot of bollocks when he wasn't high but Christ! He was really giving my earhole some grief! I spotted a girl I knew from Borehamwood and using her as an excuse I escaped. We danced and for a while and she let slip details of a party tomorrow night. A result! Sundays were dead and we were not first choice on most people's party lists (probably due to the amount of suede and leather coats that tended to go missing when we were in attendence).
More 'dexys' were consumed. Every now and again a few more envelopes were distributed which meant occasional trips to the building site. Still the music pumped out. The Supremes 'Back in my Arms Again', Jnr.Walker 'Shotgun', Eddie Floyd 'Things Get Better', Toys 'Lovers Concerto', James Brown 'Papas Got a Brand New Bag', Marvin Gaye 'I'll be Doggone'. Gradually the night wore on'.
La Discotheque is often credited as being the first London disco, in the sense of 'being the first club to only play recorded music in London'Mod: Clean Living Under Very Difficult Circumstances - A Very British Phenomenon by Terry Rawlings and Richard Barnes).
Monday, July 20, 2009
Andrew Poole, who was celebrating his 30th birthday, claimed police riot vans turned up before any music was played. But police said it had been advertised on the internet as an all-night party. Mr Poole, a coach driver from Sowton, said 15 family and friends had come to the event, where they were watched by a police helicopter for about 15 minutes.
He said before they had turned on the music, four police cars and a riot van arrived and demanded the barbecue was shut down and everyone leave. The event was closed down under section 63 of the Criminal justice and Public Order Act 1994. "We were nowhere near anyone, we weren't even playing any music," he said. "What effectively the police did was come in and stop 15 people eating burgers."
According to This is Exeter his mother also criticised the police action:
Mrs Poole said: “Four cars drove down a private lane to a private field. The police helicopter was over them and all it watched them do was put up a gazebo and light a barbecue... It was a small event with no more than 10 people there when it was raided. My son had put information up on Facebook and had 17 people confirmed they were coming. If that means it is a rave, I would like to know where they get their numbers from?”
Thursday, July 16, 2009
'across the country, police officers and community support officers (CSOs) have been confiscating alcohol from members of the public who are doing absolutely nothing wrong. Between 2004–6, 3802 people received on-the-spot fines for drinking in public. Overall, we estimate that there will be 20,000 confiscations in July and August this year'.
In Brighton for instance, people have had alcohol confiscated: sitting talking on the beach or in a park; walking quietly through town with friends; when they have not yet opened their alcohol; and when they are about to return home to drink their alcohol. The following accounts are by two people from Brighton:
‘A group of us were hanging out in a pedestrianised street in Brighton celebrating a birthday with a few drinks … . The community police officers came round, and emptied everyone’s drinks into the drains. None of us were causing a disturbance or hassling anyone - indeed there were a couple of excellent buskers on the street and a few people dancing Latin-style.’
‘I was at a street festival event with my girlfriend; I had a few cans of lager with me, and was drinking one as we were walking. There were lots of other people, mostly in large groups, also enjoying the early summer evening with a few drinks. Perhaps because there was only two of us, a couple of police officers felt empowered to approach and order me to empty the can's contents into the grass. They both stood over me while I did this. As the police set off to harass other smaller groups or individuals, all around larger groups continued to drink freely and peacefully.’
See also Booze Bans: the new frontier of joyless regulation by Henry Porter; Facebook Group against booze bans
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
In relation to Jackson, it's his popularisation of the Moonwalk dance that has been the centre of the various flashmobs since his death. For instance at the recent Fusion festival in Germany, there was this mass Moonwalk (well yes I know most people seem to be just shuffling backwards, rather than creating the illusion of stepping forward at the same time, but they are trying):
Contrary to popular mythology, this dance was not invented by Jackson. The backslide (as it was known) has long been in the repertoire of dancers as the following film makes clear with examples from dancers including Fred Astaire, Bill Bailey, Cab Calloway (in white suit at 1:49), Sammy Davis Jr. and many others. The earliest example features Daniel L. Haynes in King Vidor's film Hallelujah in 1929 (at about 2:36 in this video), but doubtless it goes back further than that. It has also featured in the mime routines of the likes of Marcel Marceau and Lindsay Kemp.
It was after Jackson started using these moves in 1983 to accompany his song Billie Jean that the move became known as the Moonwalk. According to Jeffrey Daniel, the dancer/choreographer who taught Jackson the moves, it was Jacko himself who called it the Moonwalk, mistaking the backslide for another dance move with that name (the actual Moonwalk step according to Daniel 'makes it look like you're on the moon and it's less gravity than you would have on earth'). By this act of creative misrecongition, Jackson linked the dance directly with the dreams of his generation - it was after all in the 1969 summer of Apollo 11 that the Jackson 5 recorded their first album and made their first TV appearance.
It is interesting that what caught people's imagination in relation to the actual moon landing was less the scientific achievement of a vehicle taking people from earth to its satellite and back again than the simple human act of walking on the moon. After all the first words spoken by Neil Armstrong in 1969 where precisely 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind'. And the Apollo 11 astronauts left behind a plaque with the inscription reading: 'Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.'
What would it feel like to take that most fundamental of biped actions in space? Jackson's Moonwalking answer is that it is something thrilling, a step beyond normal human motion. Other musicians have also pondered the significance of lunar steps, or used them as a metaphor. In Walking on the Moon by The Police it's the lover's feeling of weightlessness that prompts the comparison: 'Giant steps are what you take, Walking on the moon... Walking back from your house, Walking on the moon, Feet they hardly touch the ground, Walking on the moon' (there's a nice jazz version of this song by Philippe Kahn).
Walk on the Moon by New York indie band Asobi Seksu picks up on that other space meme - not elation but the isolation of the lonely traveller in a monochrome world 'swimming in gray'. Then from the hippy musical Hair (1967), there's the psychedelic dimension of 'Walking in Space' - a trip in every sense - 'My body Is walking in space, My soul is in orbit, With God face to face, Floating, flipping, Flying, tripping...Tripping from Mainline to Moonville... On a rocket to The Fourth Dimension, Total self awareness The intention' etc. etc.
Arthur Russell's This is How We Walk on the Moon, featured in an earlier post, seems to envisage the moon walk as an optimistic struggle, moving forward one step at a time: 'Each step is moving, it's moving me up, moving, it's moving me up, Every step is moving me up... This is how we walk on the moon'. A metaphor for a personal struggle against adversity or perhaps for something wider - moving on up. There are also instrumental pieces like Moon Boots by ORS (1977).
The imagining of walking in space (and dancing in space, sex in space...), beyond the limits of gravicapital, was part of the project of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts, of which more to come.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
The words are also uttered by Gene Wilder in the film Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (not sure if they are in Roald Dahl's original novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). This line has been sampled by Aphex Twin and 808 State among others.
The source of the line though is a poem by a short lived Victorian London-Irish poet, Arthur O'Shaughnessy (1844 – 1881). I didn't get round to reading it in full until this week when I picked up an anthology including it on Deptford market (Palgrave's Golden Treasury of the Best Songs and Lyrical Poems in English Language, 1928 editon).
The Ode, from O'Shaughnessy's collection Music and Moonlight, is remarkable in a number of ways. As well as the music makers quote, the first stanza also bequeathed the phrase 'movers and shakers' to the English language:
We are the music makers,
The poem presents a romantic image of music makers and poets as marginal figures ('world-losers'), but whose visionary creations prefigure and maybe even cause great social change. 'We, in the ages lying, In the buried past of the earth, Built Nineveh with our sighing, And Babel itself in our mirth; And o'erthrew them with prophesying, To the old of the new world's worth'. In this sense, music is powerful: 'One man with a dream, at pleasure, Shall go forth and conquer a crown; And three with a new song's measure, Can trample a kingdom down'.
The final stanza suggests the possibility of renewal through contact with the dreams and music of other cultures:
Great hail! we cry to the comers
I know it's fanciful, but this can almost be read as a prophecy of what has actually come to pass with the impact of music made by people of African descent in the US, Caribbean, UK and elsewhere.
Wednesday, July 08, 2009
This year on 7th of July, from 6 to 7 pm, dance couples will spread across seven of London’s bridges and seven railway stations. Equipped with only headphones and their partners, they will silently dance the tango amidst the commuters'.
Monday, July 06, 2009
UpRise is a campaign to get the festival reinstated - since it won't be happening this weekend, they are organising a Rise Festival Picnic in the Park instead: “Sunday, July 12th marks one year on since Europe's largest anti-racism event, Rise Festival, last took place...So, on Sunday, July 12th, we want to show Boris how much we loved Rise Festival and all that it stands for. We can't organise any music due to the council's licensing restrictions and the short notice, but what we do ask is for you to join us in Finsbury Park to chill out, chat to like-minded people and generally have a great day basking in the spirit of Rise Festival! Look out for the UpRise: Save Rise Festival banner ...”
It runs from 2 pm to 7 pm -there's no licence so don't expect a stage with bands, it's more of a 'bring what you expect to find' affair, I am sure some DIY music won't go amiss...
(more details of the picnic on facebook)
Sunday, July 05, 2009
There's a conference on Arthur Russell coming up in New York later this year:
'Kiss Me Again: Mapping the Life and Legacy of Arthur Russell
10 October 2009, NYU, New York
The composer and musician Arthur Russell lived and worked in New York between 1973 and 1992. During his time in the city he performed and recorded compositional music, pop music, disco, new wave, songs for the cello, and hip-hop-inflected electronic pop. As any listener of his music will know, he also liked to blur the boundaries of genre as he went about his work. Russell's open-mindedness and antipathy to being marketed contributed to his lack of recognition, and his music went relatively unheard outside of aficionado dance circles after his passing. But beginning with the simultaneous release of Calling Out of Context and The World of Arthur Russell in 2004, and culminating with the release of the documentary film Wild Combination in 2008, Russell's work has gained a new lease of life.
Acknowledging the newfound interest in Arthur Russell, New York University, the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of East London and Bloomfield College are organising an Arthur Russell conference that will take place at NYU on 10 October. The all-day event will be organised around four panels, two featuring invited speakers, two featuring speakers who respond to this call for papers. The conference will also feature a screening of Wild Combination, with director Matt Wolf answering questions, and (it is hoped) rare Arthur Russell footage shot by Phill Niblock and Alan Abrams. The evening event will feature musicians who worked with Arthur Russell. Tim Lawrence's biography of Arthur Russell, Hold On to Your Dreams, will be launched during the event. Attendance is free'.
The deadline for ideas for papers is 15 July; if you want to take part contact the organisers Sukhdev Sandhu (NYU), Tim Lawrence (UEL) & Peter Gordon (Bloomfield)- details here.
Saturday, July 04, 2009
The party revellers, 215 men and 91 women, were divided into two groups and given a small plastic container each. They were ordered to submit a urine sample for drug testing."During the checks it was revealed that 15 policemen were among the party-goers." Following tests of their urine samples, five policemen including a chief inspector tested positive for drug abuse," the spokesman said. It is understood that the chief inspector, in his 40s, tested positive for ketamine and amphetamine. It was later revealed that the senior police officer was attached to the Kajang police headquarters.The other four policemen who tested positive were rank-and-file personnel from several districts in the Klang Valley. The remaining 10 policemen, including an assistant superintendent, were released when their tests came up negative...
Police found numerous pills scattered all over the floor, later found to be Eramin 5, along with several packets of a powdery substance, believed to be ketamine. Besides the five policemen, the other 65 party-goers detained were 38 men and 27 women. The spokesman said the discotheque opened five weeks ago and was one of the biggest outlets in the Kepong area.
Full story New Straits Times, 26 June 2009
Thursday, July 02, 2009
"it’s 4 in the morning July in ‘69, me and my sister we crept down like shadows, they’re bringing the moon right down to our sitting room, static and silence and a monochrome vision.. it’s history and we stayed awake all night and something is said and the whole room laughs aloud, me and my sister looking on like shadows, the end of an age as we watched them walk in a glow, lost in space, but I don’t know where it is, they’re dancing around, slow puppets silver ground".
There are other pieces of music associated with this episode. The BBC apparently played David Bowie's doomed astronaut anthem Space Oddity during their moon landing coverage (must admit I always assumed that Bowie recorded this after the moon landing, but it seems it prefigured it). Pink Floyd meanwhile jammed live on BBC during the moon landing, according to Dave Gilmour 'They were broadcasting the moon landing and they thought that to provide a bit of a break they would show us jamming. It was only about five minutes long. The song was called Moonhead - it's a nice, atmospheric, spacey, 12-bar blues'.
Post-acid house, samples from the Apollo 11 voyage have been widely used as a signifier of spaced out (inter)planetary humanism, for instance on The Orb's Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld (1991). Then, rather incredibly, there's Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin's recent rap track Rocket Experience ('I've been there, now it's your turn'):
Of course, Gil Scott Heron offered a contemporary critique of the prioritisation of Cold War space spectaculars at the expense of wider human needs with his Whitey on the Moon: 'A rat done bit my sister Nell with Whitey on the moon, Her face and arms began to swell and Whitey's on the moon, I can't pay no doctor bills but Whitey's on the moon, Ten years from now I'll be payin' still while Whitey's on the moon'. While he was right on one level, I still hold on to the optimism of believing that the human adventure hasn't come to an end with MP3s and High-Definition TV.
I don't have much to add to a talk I gave on 23 April 2005 as part of the 'ART IS NOT TERRORISM' event at Confluences, Paris, a 'Benefit event for the defense of Steve Kurtz and the Critical Art Ensemble at the occasion of 10 years of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts'. The event also included films, music and contributions from Jason Skeet, Kodwo Eshun , Riccardo Balli, James Becht, Ewen Chardronnet, Claire Pentecost, Brian Holmes, Nicola Triscott, Anjali Sagar, Michel Valensi and others.
Nostalgia for the Future: The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars
Once upon a time, people believed in the future. When I was growing up in England in the 1970s, one of the most popular programmes on TV was called 'Tomorrow's World'. Every week scientists would talk about how new and wonderful inventions would make our life better. Sociologists talked of an impending leisure society, where our biggest problem would be what to do with all the spare time created by increasing automation.
Space was central to this sense of future possibility. In eight short years the human species went from Yuri Gagarin's first tentative journey beyond earth's atmosphere to landing on the moon in 1969. However much this achievement might have been framed in the politics of the Cold War it truly was a giant step forward for humankind.
This faith in the future was not confined to apologists for the existing order of things. In 1969 the Situationist International looked forward to the day when 'Humanity will enter into space to make the universe the playground of the last revolt: that which will go against the limitations imposed by nature' (1). Sun Ra proclaimed that 'Space is the Place' for all those who found earth boring and George Clinton invited 'Citizens of the Universe' to join the 'Partying on the Mothership' (2).
I was of the generation of small children woken up in the early hours to watch the first pictures beamed back from the moon. The TV shows and films of the period led us to believe that soon we would all be doing it. By 2001, according to Kubrick's film, humans would be reaching out to the absolute on the far side of the galaxy.
We were lied to. What really happened in 2001? Grey September, planes crashing into buildings followed by weapons targeted from Space on some of the world's poorest people. We are now living in 'a general global state of war that erodes the distinction between war and peace' (3). A new kind of war without temporal or spatial limits - a war waged everywhere and nowhere, anytime, any place.
What better weapon in this new kind of war than space-based systems with the whole world in their sights? In 'The coming of age of the flesh machine', the Critical Arts Ensemble describe the development of the sight machine as an element of the war machine. They write: 'Through the development of satellite-based imaging technologies, in combination with computer networks capable of sorting, storing, and retrieving vast amounts of visual information, a wholistic representation has been constructed of the social, political, economic, and geographical landscape(s) that allows for near-perfect surveillance of all areas, from the micro to the macro. Through such visualization techniques, any situation or population deemed unsuitable for perpetuating the war machine can be targeted for sacrifice or for containment' (4).
The United States Air Force has an Air Force Space Command with its own Strategic Master Plan setting out a 25 year plan to maintain US space superiority. It boasts that 'Recent conflicts in Afghanisatan and Iraq have clearly demonstrated the asymmetric advantage space brings to any fight, whether that fight is in the middle of the desert, isolated mountainous terrain, or a large metropolitan area' A frightening new military newspeak has developed - 'Space Force Application' (weapons in space deployed against terrestrial targets), 'Counterspace' (preventing enemies using space), 'Space Force Enhancement' (using space to support air, ground, and sea forces) and 'Full Spectrum Space Combat Command'.
The Plan proposes developing the 'capability to deliver attacks from space… Space force application systems would have the advantages of rapid global access and the ability to effectively bypass adversary systems' (5). The vision then is of an orbital killing platform, out of this world but able to strike at targets on its surface. Weapons that can be deployed at the push of a button without the pesky inteference of mutineers, strikers, war resisters and saboteurs.
The Plan also describes something called the 'Commanding the Future' initiative, established to implement all this. This is the official vision of the future in 2005. No more fairy stories of better days to come. Instead the future as an idea has been colonised by fear and pessimism. We are told that the future will be a more dangerous place, in which only the State can save us. Every repressive law is now justified in the name of protecting us from some terrible future eventuality. So we have the Patriot Act which has ensnared Steve Kurtz and many other innocents.
Opposition movements have also turned their face to the past. Previous radical movements populated the future with utopian visions of different possible worlds. Marx wrote of the 1848 events in France that 'The social revolution… cannot take its poetry from the past but only from the future' (6). Since the heyday of the space race and the defeat of the radical movements of the 60s and 70s there has been a lowering of horizons away from changing the world towards just stopping things getting worse - the buzz words always seem to be 'stop' and 'resist'. Elsewhere, social conservatism is on the march from religious fundamentalisms to endless retro fashions in music and clothes.
The Association of Autonomous Astronauts was partly an attempt to make good some of the unkept promises of our childhoods. Like the band Pulp we asked 'we were brought up on the Space Race, now they expect us to clean toilets. When you have seen how big the world is, how can you make do with this?' (7). We wanted to rediscover space as the site of new ways of living and being, relishing the eruption of the marvellous rather than smothering it in the commercial, state and military baggage dragged into space by the mainstream space programmes. To do so we created a speculative playground in which all manner of new possibilities could be explored - dancing, music, sex - in the context of the entirely feasible proposition of community based spaced exploration.
The questions posed by the AAA remain unanswered: 'What would it be like to step into space? Beyond earth's gravity, its economy, its laws, what wonders would we discover? What unknown pleasures would we stumble across on our trip to the stars?' (8).
For most of us, the AAA is now in the past, but it is also in the future. One of the ideas we toyed with was that the AAA was a revolutionary movement of the future operating in the present, maybe, like in the film Terminator, sent back into the past by future autonomous communities in space, to guarantee their eventual success.
The task remains of reclaiming the future as a place of expanded human subjectivity and social wealth, rather than as a repository for present day anxieties. If sometimes it feels that we are in dark times, we must remember that the darker the night, the brighter the stars.
The Once and Future Disconaut Association of Autonomous Astronauts
Paris, April 2005
1. Eduardo Rothe, The Conquest of Space in the Time of Power, Internationale Situationniste, no,12, (1969).
2. The reference here is to the Sun Ra tracks 'Space is the Place' and 'Outer Spaceways Incorporated' and to Parliament's 'Mothership Connection'.
3. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004).
4. Critical Arts Ensemble, Flesh Machine: cyborgs, designer babies and the new eugenic consciousness (New York: Autonomedia, 1998)
5. Air Force Space Command, Strategic Master Plan FY06 and beyond (2003)
6. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Napolean Bonaparte (1852)
7. Pulp, Glory Days, from the LP 'This is Hardcore', 1998.
8. Neil Disconaut, Mission Accomplished but the Beat Goes On: the Fantastic Voyage of the AAA, in See you in Space: the Fifth Annual Report of the Association of Autonomous Astronauts (London, 2000)
See also: This is how we walk on the moon