Agit Disco 18 by Roger McKinley
I’m including it because I want to draw attention to the label as much as anything. Topic are a really interesting British label in that they essentially grew out of a Socialist theatre company and the Workers Music Association. They were set up to educate people in communist/socialist thinking through music and performance and draw attention to British urban (as oppose to rural) folk music history. Working class balladeers and historians ran the label and it and went on to spearhead the folk music revival that took place in the 50′s in the UK (simultaneously in the US) that contributed significantly to the 60′s countercultural activities. This track is really interesting now, as it highlights a certain romantic (or even fetishistic) attachment to the Socialist cause. Given the history of imprisonment, murder and violence against the people of China and the USSR by Mao and Stalin this early Topic recording seems rather dainty and naive in a very British way – almost twee. Whereas previously (upto the 1950′s) the perception of working class “folk” music as a lowly artform was reinforced by a culture of high classicism that perpetuated class distinction, now it was being used as a vehicle for political change.
2. Angelitos Negros – Roberta Flack – 1969 Atlantic
A poem that dates form the 1940’s written by Andres Eloy Blanco (Venezualan mixed race). First recorded in Spain in 1947 by singer Antonio Machin (black Cuban). An empassioned cry for multiracial unity. It asks of the church – Where are the black angels, and asks of artists – Will you not paint black angels? A powerful evocation of the responsibilities of all to be inclusive, sung at the height of the 1960’s counter-cultural revolution by a black African American.
3. Throbbing Gristle – Very Friendly - orginally recorded 1975, released 2001 Thirsty Ear
The personal is political. This track has curious resonances throughout my adult life. Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV were the first band that made me realise that politics (although I didn’t call it that at the time) could be an active experience. I didn’t know this track at the time, but knew about their Church and activities as mail artists. It was a punk nihilism that was very attractive to a teenager because it was going out and setting things up and creating experiences for oneself and others. Doing shit. I moved to Manchester and got to know exactly where they were talking about. It’s a window into that time, a straight forward but hallucinatory monologue that is really brutal. This was another difficult subject given another dimension through sound. Later, after we had our first child, I met David Smith (who was responsible for bringing the Hindly/Brady pair to justice) running a B&B in Ireland. He was very friendly. As an aside, one of the first music mashups (a copyleft political musical statement in itself that became known as Bastard Pop in the UK), it was a piece that used this track as part of the samples. It was by an artist called Shackleton – who went onto create some of the most politically subtle dance music to emerge in years under the banner of Dubstep with his Skull Disco label. One of which appears later.
4. I Don’t Like Mondays – Tori Amos – 2001 Atlantic
Once again it’s the news given another dimension by a musician. The Boomtown Rats were big in Northern Ireland (where I grew up) and this track was there in my childhood. I only found out later as an adult that it was about a massacre in a school, but seen form the point of view of the murderer. This moving version helps you understand that we are all capable of this kind of insanity, and only by avoiding the special circumstances that make it happen do we remain sane. It’s a lesson in not judging. This track was first performed about two months after the incident that “inspired” it.
5. Major Moments of Instant Insanity – Theo Parrish - Oct 2001 – Sound Signature
Similar, this track came out one months after the events of the 11th of September 2001 in the USA. It captures the shock of the moment like no other I’ve heard and playing it reminds me of the undiluted experience, when you know nothing will be as it was before. It changed the world – and everybody in it.
6. Blood on my Hands – Shackleton vs Villalobos – 2007 Skull Disco
A follow on to the above, a number of years later. The new global political environment meant new musical forms emerged in response. One of these in dance culture was the development of the dark, urban, heavily Arabic influenced Dubstep scene. With titles like Hamas Rule, Dubstep Halal and Death is Not Final, this was clearly reflecting contemporary thought patterns amongst newly nihilistic youth – regardless of their cultural background (which remained resolutely private). Microtonal remix by an artist at his peak. Utterly absorbing it effortlessly carries you on waves of complexity. What any good speaker should do.
7. Dem a Bomb We – The Bug featuring Warrior Queen – Oct 2005 Ladybug Records
A straightforward declaration to “bombers” to stop targeting innocent people. A response to the London tube bombings by one of Jamaica’s finest new voices.
8. Philosophy of the World – The Shaggs - 1969 private pressing, re-released Rounder Records 1980
The bottom line in nihilism, absolutely singular in the punk tradition and completely guile-free. These three women would be in charge of the planet if I had my way.
- Discussion on track
Notes on track 2 – Throbbing Gristle – Very Friendly
SS: Very Friendly is awfully long and depressing… You say that the track has “curious resonances throughout your adult life” (different from the nihilism attractive to you as a teenager?) what are they? What was going on in Manchester!? Are we really ‘all’ capable of, or harbour desires for extreme sado child murder!? And I always mistrusted GPOs attraction to shock as a short cut to getting attention and fame.
RmcK: I don’t think that TB ever had that much fame really, at least not until they were taken up recently by the art world and elevated to a kind of significant performance action group.
The resonances with the TB and this track throughout my adult life are convoluted. The first I mentioned that as a teenager the ideas behind Thee Temple of Psychick Youth was fascinating to me – it opened my eyes to the possibility of action, communal living, art and experimentation (with everything). Then I moved to Manchester (where the track is set). My mother talked to me as a teenager about Hindley and Brady and the Moors Murders (she was a young girl living in Oldham at the time the story was unfolding).
On a trip to Ireland years later I ended up talking to some locals in a nearby B&B I was staying in with my wife and young son and they mentioned the Moors Murders. We had got on really well with the owners and had in fact only managed to secure the place by another co-incidence – we were passing and desperate, as it was getting dark. It was a beautiful and quaint to the point of twee thatch cottage, the door was open, we went in and sat by the fire. Later, Mary and Dave - who ran it – came back, drunk, and we sat up for hours talking to them in the kitchen about Manchester and Galway. The gossiping old woman who had mentioned the murders wouldn’t be drawn any further. We went back several times until another friend opened up their own B&B nearer Galway City.
Shortly after, another freind (who I hadn’t seen since moving to England) sent me a CD with this track on it. About two years after that I happened to turn on the TV and caught a program about the Moors Murders as writtten by the brother-in-law of Myra Hindley (Dave Smith). It was Dave Smith that called the police to bring the pair to justice – a quick internet search confirmed it was the same Dave that ran the B&B and who is featured in this track witnessing the murder.
RmcK(later) The TV programme was mostly based from the point of view of his wife, Hindley’s sister.
So you can see how convoluted is the story…The reason for including this track is not that it is a good story, or a good track, but that it is simultaneously personal and political in the way that it humanised one of the most horrific events in the UK of the 20th Century. It’s easy to see these kind of events as negative holes, anolomlies in the general movement towards a perfectly moral and good society, whereas in fact the events and people involved in these events are often at the mercy of a perfect storm of coincidence, psychosis, insecurity, mania and perversion.
It indicates to me that vigilance is always necessary when judging events in the news, that people who are involved in events in the news are not two-dimensional and that we are probably not on a trajectory towards world peace because of this vulnerability to chance. Being on the receiving end of media attention is equally illuminating. I should tell you about the experience my wife and I had regarding the IRA bombing of Manchester sometime…
SS: There is obviously a global community of pain, from all kinds or war and abuse scenarios that can relate to acute cultural expressions of suffering and human cruelty. I guess the expression does not have to be the same as exact personal experience of the listener to work.
There is knowledge crucial to humanity to be gained from the experience of torture, the minds of murderers, rapists and terrorists. And our current literary academic methods are really not capable of entering into such territory. In spite of all the theorising of the body you don’t scream and cry in seminars. It tends to be walled off into ‘therapy’ or study of the effects of combat stress etc. To my mind every abuser or sado-masochist has suffered extreme abuse when young. How to be break the cycles of abuse? That seems to be the central ‘personal is political’ question to me.
Notes on track 5 – I Don’t Like Mondays – Tori Amos
SS: Would you say your youthful experiences in Northern Ireland, considering what was going on at the time, could be behind some of these choices? I have some inkling about how brain/body searing it was for young people during that time when communities and friendships were being torn apart. I don’t think people in Britain appreciate just how bad it is for people and especially young people when a civil war is kicking off. Put against that background the selection makes more sense to me, but I may be wrong.
RmcK: No, I think it would be naive to suggest that. Growing up in Northern Ireland certainly left me with an acute awareness of the sense of responsibility (this can mean life or death) that comes with engaging with politics. I would say that generally friendships and communities were galvanised by the situation, which had the perverse side effect of perpetuated division in hardline areas . A narrow band of the middle-income political classes were responsible for keeping ideological divisions going, but in general this filtered down as a perpetuation of clichés. I gave me some insight into that WW2 generation cliché that it was the best time in their lives.
RmcK (later): Apologies for this – naive may be a bit strong. It’s a common misconception that the people of Northern Ireland who grew up in the Seventies were traumatised by the events unfolding around them. In my experience this was not the case. I had many Catholic and Protestant friends, went to Orange parades and drank in traditional Irish pubs with fiddle music. I had a great time! Throughout my life I have had friends and met people who had been brought up in conflict zones – and generally have to say that they are the most dynamic and positive people I’ve met.
SS: Good to read you experience of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland
was personally ‘positive’. I was basing my view mainly on the
harrowing account of a design student I tutored some years ago.
RmcK: Of course some personal experiences would have been horrific. I was speaking generally of a cultural psyche. You have to remember that throughout the whole period Northern Ireland had the second (to Belgium) lowest crime rate per head of population in the whole of Europe. The streets were, ironically, very safe.
SS: This experience I heard was not ‘horrific’ in the way you might expect. It was about close friends being forcibly separated and kept apart by terror.
RmcK: It’s curious that you don’t mention Don’t Like Mondays as macabre. After all it’s about child killing too, and from the point of view of the perpetrator.
Notes on track 7 – Blood on my Hands – Shackleton vs Villalobos
RmcK: Strictly speaking the Shackleton Track I sent you is a remix by dance musician Richardo Villalobos – so not actually Dubstep, but dance. I’ve always like the social space of dance, its liberating and elevating effect on the self, the curious way it makes people look like wasps in bottles. I sometimes lament the lack of physical touch in dance music though. I have a lot of Dubstep material too – but thought that this would bridge the dance divide.
RmcK (later): “Dance” music is obviously too vague. I was rushing. Villalobos is more commonly associated with “Techno”. Although in mind ears this is more “Minimal” or “MicroMinimal”. Labels all, but just to say that it’s not “classic” “Dubstep” this track.
Simon Reynolds work on the Hardcore Continuum is really interesting in its scope. His blogs cover a lot of ground in this area. Steve Redhead is also good on the subject, though I haven’t read this stuff for years.
SS: my own contact is via Datacide and specifically Dead by Dawn
SS: I spose the core of this project for me is that it is about working class music and culture and the way we communicate about it. My idea is that working class culture cannot focus or forge itself in some way at present. It cannot tool-up to start dismantling oppression. How we communicate cannot just be writing, or even talking, but needs the disco. A kind of update of Habermas’ coffee shops. A darkened space where you can respond how you like, and with others. Its a visceral kinesthetic level of communication that gets beneath words and holds the promise of full sensory contact between humans.
RmcK: Rave music of course was probably the most covertly political art form of the modern age. It was such a threat that it brought about the criminalisation of repetitive beats, stopped the right to gather for fun and harnessed police powers to permanently remove legitimately owned property from citizens. All within a couple of years. Brilliant. I think we communicate best not through direct action, but through the pursuit of lifestyles and ways of behaving that might inspire others or at least question others behavior. I think pubs are a good start in terms of social spaces to air views. The later in the evening it gets, the more you get beneath words (though hopefully not beneath tables). More people should open their own little micro-bars maybe!? Any place that encourages the free mingling of cultures is a place with potential to change things for the better. Just talking to people on trains helps too.
SS: Working class music was always bowdlerised as it came up to the dominant media. ie gutted of threatening political and sexual content. So an emphasis on the political is a shorthand for making working class music whole again.
RmcK: Exactly the point I am trying to make in the selection. Except I wouldn’t call it working class - just human.