Friday, April 04, 2014

The creator of the groove of all grooves

Frankie Knuckles passed away, reportedly after complications from diabetes, this week. It was a sad moment of pause for anyone who has been remotely involved in dance music culture since the Big Bang at the end of the 1980s. Of course in a culture spanning four decades there have been other notable deaths – Kemistry was a big loss at an early stage for the jungle scene, The Shamen suffered bass player Will Sinnott’s drowning in the Canaries, the hard dance world mourned Tony De Vit’s death, Drexciya’s James Stinson, Jam & Spoon’s Mark Spoon, vocalist/producer Romanthony and French producer and label chief DJ Mehdi are others that spring to mind. None was close to the reach and influence of Knuckles. Indeed, the only DJ / producer of comparable influence was Frankie’s buddy Larry Levan. But he passed away in 1992, too early for the British-led ‘Balearic network’ to pay tribute by putting him on the burgeoning circuit and leaving his overall influence more firmly stamped on disco rather than house (though Knuckles would proudly say the latter was 'disco's revenge'.

Frankie Knuckles moved to Chicago after a few years in the late 70s New York disco scene (helping Nicky Siano out at the Gallery, doing Larry’s shifts at the Continental Baths) and it was in the Windy City where he first experimented with reel-to-reel dubs then studio remixes of his disco favourites and helmed two clubs central to the birth of house, the Warehouse and the Power Plant. Rave had barely started as a populist movement in Europe when Frankie’s foremost achievements were complete: seminal productions such as Baby Wants to Ride and the teasing out of the best elements of Jamie Principle’s Your Love (which of course kickstarted the never ending Candi Station reissue circus); the advent of ‘DJ culture’ and a format for nightclub music that would set the tone for the next 30 years and beyond.

I don’t remember ever seeing Knuckles play out, yet his influence has been a constant since the rave explosion. As house took harder turns and came to depend on a certain type of predictable formula (how successive micro-generations have not got bored of this yet I’m not entirely sure but the all-enveloping computerised culture must help in some way to keep it alive), Knuckles’ tunes and mixes would remind us that subtlety and invention were still possible around the relentless 4/4. The Whistle Song and Tears proved mellow counterpoints in 90s Mediterranean holidays, Your Love and Baby Wants To Ride perfect nocturnal grooves to keep the back-to-mines going as I shifted more into a house scene, his Choice: A Collection of Classics a compilation I regularly mine for disco and 80s dance inspiration. As I cycled home from work down Southwark Bridge Road last Friday, I saw the biggest queue I’d seen in a while outside Ministry. Many of these late teens and 20 somethings would have been there just for Frankie Knuckles, in what turned out to be his last ever gig.

Knuckles seemed happy to keep playing out, to spread the gospel, to stay on top of the scene. He didn’t seem bitter about not getting his due from Trax (and if you want to make his passing with a purchase buy here as he backed the site) at the time or from the endless dodgy reissues of his main moments.

And this is [still] fresh

House is still going stronger than ever, thanks to hordes of young producers not born in the mid 80s seeking to emulate the stripped back yet emotive style Frankie pioneered. Whether he and the other early innovators, developing an emancipatory and revelatory style of music for groups prejudiced by mainstream US culture, knew they were setting in train something that would still be here 30 years on is debatable. But that the wider lifestyle revolution it engendered clings on is partly due to the power of productions and DJ performances such as those by Knuckles. When house music and rave culture does fade away, and it eventually will, his contribution to musical history should be as well regarded then as it is now. Pioneer of the dance.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

50Trax 2008-2014

By no means comprehensive, as Spotify didnt have many of the things I was looking (Instra:mental, D'Eon, Cut Hands), but a good overview of my listening tastes after dubstep had surged and gone off to either become house or brostep.

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My first euro awayday

Ten thousand Blues in Barcelona they said; at least one ticketless for every one sorted before coming over. We were of course far too sophisticated just to have it down the Placa Reial for two days, pig vans on guard, but we still had a great time of it in bars and restos off the Ramblas. I had been to Barcelona only once before – the infamous Train Ride from Prague (scroll down, only found a Wayback link), but most of my discovering of the city was done in enforced post-stag solitude after a morning flight back got cancelled and I had the whole day to kill. This time I had Marc with me, fluent in Spanish, decent in Catalan and ready and willing to aid the interaction.

A fatal dose of dozyness in Southend departures meant we missed the flight and had to transfer to Gatwick to get a later one – an incident on which we won’t dwell. So after the later arrival into town, late tapas outside our hotel and even later drinks at the Bahia bar which loved the US-UK rock music, here’s where I woke up to after a late arrival into town – the square off the front of the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi; none too shabby. From there Marc, his dad Ian and mate Mike and I had a lovely wander down the side streets east of the Ramblas, checking out a hat shop (sombrereria) for the more stylish members of our party, up past the Carrer de Ferran and the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and the beautiful patterned facades of the building opposite, pause at the memorial in the Fossar de les Moreres to those who died defending the city in the 1714 siege (a formative moment in Catalan history) and more sub-Habsburg history above the excavations of the Mercat del Born.

Beyond that we headed down to the Barceloneta area and after a bit of advice from a passer-by, had a ‘real’ lunch with ‘real’ people at a ‘real’ restaurant off the main drag (pennants proudly on the wall of Barca's four European Cup wins). Good food at good prices. Back up town to chill for less time than we thought as we met Blues from the row below us at the Emptihad.

Ticket-wise, we were sorted for one but were reliant on another coming from those virtual touts Viagogo, an outlet I would never advocate using for domestic games but in an elite European situation it was needsmust. It got delivered to the hotel (in itself annoying as booked weeks ago so why not deliver it then?) but the fear was it might be a fake. Marc wanted to get it checked out with their local agent but as the day developed it became clear that we should take the risk rather than running round town on logistical missions. By six-ish if you wanted to pay a local to help you the only ones left in the official outlets were €175 and €250 – the price of the champions league spectacle – and there's no fixture going I'd pay that for. Besides by then I had vertigo issues weighing on my mind.

After beers near the ground in a bar we learned was stormed just after we left by their Boixos Nois, it was time to head up to level 5, very gingerly up the concrete stairways. But I got up there and it was actually fine, both in the concourses where it was easy to find a spot not to look down and in the seats, no steep sightlines and benefiting from the pitch being sunk down from ground level. What was a source of derision for some – that Barca plays in a functional yet fading concrete arena - turned out to be a source of comfort for me. Only irritant then would be tourist Barca fans filming the experience, and in some cases filming their partner’s filming of the experience.

It’s then that you kind of get the point of all the Mes Que Un Club ultramarketing – to keep a buzz going around 'Barca'. At this point, is there much genuine excitement for the average fan who expects at the minimum to be top two or three in La Liga and a proper go at the Champs League year after year? At Barcelona, that intersects with carrying the hopes of a whole region and the odd ‘independencia’ chant roused a few in the home ends near me; howling at the ref to get an ex-Espanyol player sent off is only loosely connected, I’m sure! In defeat, chanting that the whole CL set-up was 'fucking bent' was cold comfort as we knew they got bad decisions too, and tikitakists buying fouls is something we must learn to cope with.

Back into town and the discovery of another good crowd of Blues in the Basque pintxo bar near our hotel, leading to another few late beers in that Bahia and out on the Ramblas fending off pimped black girls’ offers for sexmassages. Most Blues were happy enough to take away the experience of it all and a sense that next time we’d be better. But going down too far that route lies in being grateful for just being there when this City wants a permanent seat at the top table (perhaps ushering in that institutionalised complacency), and we should have made much more of a good setup, bouts of good possession and good chances to make it a tighter contest. As we pass Fernando Botero's comedy trojan horse sculpture on our way into departures, we think 'Next time'.

Oh and here's my Dad there 45 years ago. None of that fancy tapas, late-night boozing and extortionate tickets for him, you fancy.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Pop jungle

It’s the late nineties/early noughties, the rave decade ebbing away. As drum and bass’s form and function disappeared into a cul-de-sac of this very controlling scene’s own making, there was often a debate about how to make the sound more popular without it all going too bland to bother with. We often talked about the junglist virus, but now it was only harming itself. Parasite. Disco flavours infected it for a year or so, John B tried trancing it up (worthy but not quite right), but these were sounds being brought in rather than the key junglist building blocks being brought out. Someone had to U-turn from this dulling impasse.

Then mid-noughties Pendulum started bringing it out of the ghetto, though obviously the taste was too rockist for some (the snares began to sound like rock drums; the tear-outs there but toned down). But it was a key moment, as was Tinnie Tempah going all junglish in the outro of his anthemic Pass Out.

We have had ‘junglist’ sounds in modern pop-dance for four or five years now – that surging breakdown then the release of the amen riff now is as much for thing for Top Man boy and Top Shop girl on the exhiliri-piss in Magaluf as much as the steppers in grimey ex-industrial spaces of the main British cities. Some of this clearly soars – only generic sonic scrooges would deny the rush of DJ Fresh ft Rita Ora’s Hot Right Now or Fresh ft Ms Dynamite’s Gold Dust (Fresh a former member of cartoon dark junglists Bad Company).

Since Rudimental ft John Newman’s Feel the Love (the guest vocalist has become key to new pop), its use even extends into the stock-in-trade of much current pop: melodramatic but vague emotional unloadings such as Jacob Banks' Alive (produced by ravepop torchbearers Chase & Status) – the amen tear-out making not complete sense as the singer avails us of his ‘journey’ – tie in with the vogue for depressive hedonism, though typically it’s not always clear which emotions are to the fore and why. John Newman’s solo and guest output is full of little breakbeat stylings underpinning the high energy emoting. Even Emeli Sandé is involved.

Other uses, such as Wilkinson’s Afterglow, tack the beat onto less demanding tales (you’ve been to some sort of rave, had a good communal experience, now it’s afterparty time) but still need to say ‘we have been here, we have done something’ that is generated by a generation not being sure why it has to hedonise de trop without any purpose (I’ll tell you, marketing). All in all, we have come a long way from a situation where playing such purist (for that is what it was) ‘rhythm science’ in the house made no sense to your parents (and therefore worried them) to one where mum can now happily tap her feet along to a poppy number whose beats are similar to the ones we knew in all those seminal tunes (Dad’s still not sure tbf though everyone loves that Newman). Few of the producers themselves makes just this strain of poppy drum and bass.

Nowadays many in the scene seem not to worry too much about the commercialisation and regard it as churlish not to embrace it – it’s here; amen breaks and riffs are just another tool in the festival DJ’s fuck-off sonic armoury. Like any genre that has been appropriated by producers with eyes on big unit sales, what is striking is how easily it all fits into the pop mix with the other trance / hip-hop / house influences. Apparently, post-EDM America is now getting it too (*shudders*).

Drum and bass had kept going so far forward it was lost. It had to change, and eventually it did. I’m not sure whether this had been enough to regenerate the purist ‘underground’ (like this matters, nearly 20 years on) scene – but it’s notable that many of the acts that are talked about as drum and bass are not making that music at all (indeed the key seems to be just merely for it to have been a formative influence) but are making a techno or footwork influenced sound – the former Instra:mental, DBridge (fellow Bad Company alumnus), Machinedrum, Om Unit. Others, such as Demdike Stare on their Test Pressings, or Lee Gamble, use it as base for far more interesting sonic drift; still more are happy to churn out retro – but still decent – gear in the style of the HATE project of Andy Stott, Miles Whittaker and Gary Howell (seminal retro!).

That still more make pop music with it shouldn’t be a matter for recrimination like it used to be.

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Payday and Full Moon = Clacton Chaos

The latest C4 series of #bouncers at the tail-end of last year was good for shining a light on the English Youth At Play. I only caught the bits focusing on Colchester and Clacton, but they held my attention as my father in law is from the latter faded seaside resort (as faded as the wooden signs hanging round his house that his Dad used to make) and my wife spent much of her youth living in Colchester. The problems for the bouncers were as you expect – Liquid Lounge’s cameras caught a particularly vicious fight between two groups that moved outside still at full pelt. Silk Road in Colchester generated problems that were mostly played out beyond its doors in what they liken to ‘suicide alley’ down the road, where scores of people loiter past closing time leading to the inevitable argy-bargy with police trying to move them on.

What has stayed me ever since is the Clacton bouncers talking – with complete sincerity – about the occasional confluence of payday and Full Moon being their worst night for trouble. Payday, obviously enough because people have more money in their pocket (therefore invariably wraps of chalky crap too), but Full Moon?! Are they seriously trying to suggest planetary movements stir deranged havoc in the minds of Essex’s animalistic youth, leaving them howling? Liquid Lounge the conductor of the ensuing magick? Well I suppose it’s Orientalist to say such fanciful chaos reigns only in the likes of Ko Pha Ngan.

This has nothing to do with the influx of charged up out-of-towners with money to burn (as in Thailand), nothing at all. Threaten them with walking off the end of the pier.

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Indie iconography: 1980s vs twentytens

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Quarantine sound

My 40th birthday party is looming, and ‘programming the music’ is taking unhealthy priority. There is a band, and me and two or three others each have an hour so DJing. But I’m not worried so much about decks-slot – the funk, disco, post-punk, synth pop and rave classics should wreck shop by the time everybody is well oiled – but by the hour and half or so of playlist music before the band comes on. You know the bit, when the place is sparsely populated and most people (apart from the guy whose tunes are playing) are ignoring the music as they meet ’n greet.

To that end I’ve amalgamated the likeliest tracks from two ageing Macs into one potential playlist, transmittable either via the iPod or a CD on the night (I’ll take both). Problem is that has come to about 120 songs (see below) and I’ll only need about 30. Swingeing IMF-endorsed Osbornesque cuts will be needed here – but on which 90 or more tunes will the axe fall? I’ve got two each of The Creation, Fall, Inner City, Jorge Ben, M.I.A and Minnie Ripperton so that’s six down.

These 120 tracks are not necessarily my favourite tunes ever (most of those whether house, jungle, hip-hop or rock are on vinyl) but have served me well as an endorphin rush when I’m finishing some writing, on the rare occasions we have had people round and iTunes works best for entertainment, or an enabler of the post-match intercity rush between Manchester and London. They came from CDs or downloads, illegal or otherwise, or other people’s hard-drives. They reflect a predilection for focusing on just a few bits of any band rather than the tedious catalogue. Singles-man, me (still).

Other characteristics of the list are readily definable: there is nothing here too noisy, too ravey, too experimental – no point pretending stuff from the dark and wonky limits of my collection will be a contender. As much as I’d love to play Dream Continuum’s Giv a Lil Luv its euphoric blend of footwork and jungle is unlikely to be parsed by the 40-somethings. Some are quite cheesy but perhaps recognised by friends as one of ‘my tunes’; others are unknown to virtually everyone I know and all the more ‘mine’ for that; still more, especially a few 80s pop numbers, I have no particular attachment to (reminder: take vinyl copy of ‘Dance Little Sister’) but I know will have ‘impact’. They must be expected to grab the attention but not steal the show – if that is suspected then they should be in the DJ list. Some are generic pastiches but nail that genre, others are genre-defining. The candidates when put together must also display a historical breadth so that none of the major movements since my birth miss out, and some of the pre-70s stuff is referenced at least a little. The whole popular music range.

Who am I kidding? Inevitably there will be gaping holes in this playlist. I recoil at going too obvious so Beatles-Stones-Motown-Oasis-Mickey J-Whatevs don’t make it, my genuine-yet-fairly-universal faves like the Human League will be DJ fodder and essentially this is just an exercise in hastily dragging stuff into a folder – then subjectively assessing their merits afterwards.

Yet looking at the list I can see a few absolute certs to make the 30-for-40 – perfect warm-up material: Love’s She Comes in Colours (thanks Scouse influence), Black Moon’s Who Got Da Props (90s hip-hop dat), Lonnie Liston Smith’s Expansions (my old jazz-funk friend), LFO’s Freeze (ooh those warm clonks and prangs). For the rest - get cutting:

Air: La Femme D'Argent
Afrika Bambaata & The Soulsonic Force: Planet Rock
Amira: My Desires (Dreem Teem remix)
Aphex Twin Analogue Bubblebath
Arcade Fire Ready To Start
Aswad: Warrior Charge
The Associates: It's Better This Way
Bananarama: Really Saying Something
Battles: Leyendecker
Bibio: Kaini Industries (original by Boards of Canada)
Black Lips: Raw Meat
Black Moon: Who Got da Props?
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Whatever Happened To My Rock & Roll
Mary J Blige: Family Affair
Bodyrox: Yeah Yeah (D. Ramirez Instrumental)
Booker T. & The MG's: Green Onions
Buzzcocks: Boredom
David Carretta: Vicious Game
Chase & Status & Liam Bailey: Blind Faith
Chico Science & Nação Zumbi: Computadores Fazem Arte
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood
Lyn Collins: Think About Break (Djekyll edit)
Commix: Be True
Cris Waddle: Ayi
Cybotron: Clear
The Clash: The Magnificent Seven
The Creation: How Does It Feel To Feel
The Creation: Making Time
The Cure: Primary
Cypress Hill: Insane in the Brain
Darkstar: Aidys Girl's a Computer
Depeche Mode: New Life
Disclosure: White Noise (feat. AlunaGeorge)
Lonnie Donegan: Gamblin' Man
Kenny Dope presents The Bucketheads: The Bomb
Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick: The Show
The Du-Ettes: Every Beat Of My Heart
Egyptian Lover: Egypt
Brian Eno: Third Uncle
Everything Everything: Invisible Remix - My Kz, Ur Bf
Gang Of Four: At Home He's A Tourist (The Others Remix)
Goldfrapp: Happiness
Ellie Greenwich: Baby
The Fall: Fiery Jack
The Fall: The Classical
Falty DL: All In The Place
Fine Young Cannibals: Good Thing
Fischerspooner: Turn On
Flirtations: Nothing But A Heartache
Foals: Olympic Airways
DJ Fresh: Gold Dust (feat. Ms Dynamite)
Fun Boy Three: Our Lips Are Sealed
Gotye Learnlilgivinanlovin
DJ Gregory: Block Party
Grimes: Genesis
Lee Hazlewood & Nancy Sinatra: Some Velvet Morning
The Horrors: I Can See Through You
Iggy and the Stooges: Search and Destroy
Ilaiyaraaja: Raja Rani Jaakki (ft S.P. Sailaja & Malaysia Vasudevan)
Inner City: Good Life
Inner City: Big Fun
Isolee: Beau Mot Plage
Jackson Sisters: I Believe In Miracles
Jake Bugg: Lightning Bolt
Jam City: Magic Drops
Joakim: Lonely Hearts
Jorge Ben & Toquinho: Carolina Carol Bela
Jorge Ben: Ponta de Lanca (Umbabarauma)
Joy Division: Isolation
JUSTICE: Phantom
Kasabian: Empire
Kelis: Suspended
Kings of Leon: Red Morning Light
The Kinks: Picture Book
Kode9 + the Spaceape: Curious
LFO: Freeze
Led Zeppelin: Rock And Roll
The Libertines: I Get Along
Liquid Liquid: Cavern
Fred Locks: Black Star Liners
Lonnie Liston Smith: Expansions
Love: She Comes In Colors
M.I.A.: Bad Girls - Wiley Remix
M.I.A.: Jimmy
Maceo & The Macks: Cross The Tracks (We Better Go Back)
Magnetic Man: I Need Air
Manchester City: The Boys In Blue
Manix: Special Request
Gianni Marchetti: Part-y-time
Bob Marley & The Wailers: Small Axe
The Mary Jane Girls: All Night Long
Mount Rushmore" The Vibe That's Flowing
Maria Minerva: A Little Lonely
Kylie Minogue: Shocked
Moderne Switch: On Bach
Mo-Dettes: White Mice
The Monkees: I'm Not Your Stepping Stone
Munk ft James Murphy and Nancy Wang: Kick Out The Chairs
Les Negresses Vertes: Face À La Mer (Massive Attack Remix)
Joey Negro & The Sunburst Band: Do You Really Love Me?
New Order: Fine Time
Positive Force: We Got The Funk
Minnie Riperton: I Am The Black Gold Of The Sun
Minnie Ripperton: Les Fleurs
Rhythm Quest: Closer To All Your Dreams (Hybrid Mix)
Oumou Sangaré: Ah Ndiya
Marlena Shaw: California Soul
Kenny Shepard: What Difference Does It Make
Joyce Sims: Come Into My Life
Sons & Daughters: Johnny Cash
Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons: Beggin' (Pilooski Re-edit)
Bill Withers: Use Me
Neil Young: Old Man
Zagazougou: Allah Ma Diana

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

What We Mean When We Talk About ‘Southeast’ London

To say ‘Southeast London’ is to conjure up specific ideas of a place usually seen as distinct from Southwest London, a place we readily associate with the highly gentrified streets of John Lanchester’s Capital (although its ‘Pepys Road’ was likely named after a New Cross street). Southeast, we tell ourselves, is definitely not Clapham, Balham or Putney, which are cast closer to their neighbours across the Thames in Fulham and Chelsea. But have you seen swathes of Battersea or Stockwell – mile after mile of tower block and housing estate, as grim and real as any of SE’s? And, conversely, have you seen some of those belles rues in Camberwell, Blackheath and Greenwich?

Hemmed in by hillier country and the M25 while divided by the Thames, London lends itself to regionalist divisions but does not work so well in bloc terms – patches of increasingly obscene wealth sit next to low-quality housing in most areas. On the frontline of this internecine debate is Brixton, an area seen as the home of black pride and of a certain working class communal initiative struggling with gentrifying forces (‘Yuppies Out’ they scrawl on the cover of Foxtons). Some happily class it with the SW likes of Clapham; others see it as a more of a piece with Camberwell and Peckham.

Nevertheless, we love to self-ghettoise – folksy traders keep calm and call their little area a Village, YouTube grime heads big up their relevant area as their Ends. Postcode warfare is a thing for both go-getting professionals eager to land a place in the right area, and for 15-year-old playaz staking their turf. Clearly those specific ideas of place differ from person to person, with varying degrees of accuracy depending on prejudice.

(Peckham relics)

Yet there is a slippage here, a lot of slippage. Mention ‘southeast London’ to many an out-of-towner or north Londoner and if the Peckham unworld of Only Fools and Horses doesn’t come up first they’ll think of the old southeast London – the docks, wharfs and warehouses, bombed out bits of Bermondsey, Southwark and Rotherhithe. One blissfully ignorant colleague resident in N19 claimed the reason ‘southeast Londoners’ (meaning those in the more central bit just described) were so depressed because it is under sea level. Here SE London also equals ‘Millwall’ and that football club (despite the actual place being on the Isle of Dogs) does so much to feed people’s fertile imaginations of the area. A criminalised and chauvinistic world, pantomime hoolies; Horrible Cunts. Nil by Mouth for these helpless white trash. But isn’t Bermondsey home to foodie markets, art galleries and chi-chi enterprises? And don’t many of Millwall’s boys come from Bexley, Sidcup and other suburban nonplaces? Nah mate, you can’t change the spirit of the place.

The BBC’s Secret History documentary featured three southeast London areas. While the Deptford one in particular suffered valid criticism for over-simplifying or fudging the issues over the changes, the Bermondsey and Camberwell ones told a less contentious story of how former down-at-heel streets became sought-after des res areas. Such gazumping of the locals is a familiar story for London as a whole, but no doubt it would have surprised some non-transpontiners that these southeast streets were so fetishised over.

Other corners trade on that southeast-ness for gritty cultural cachet but have a tenuous association with it, having been largely developed in the mid-19th century as suburbs to areas of industrial production. The likes of Brockley, Forest Hill and Sydenham were the domesticated and park-filled foil to the factories and commerce in Deptford and New Cross; Herne Hill would have had that relation to the hubbub of the commercial centre of Brixton. I’m guilty of such slippage, my Twitter bio has me in ‘London [SE]’ as if that signifies a lift of hardnosed realism when actually I’m out in generally nondescript Crofton Park. I’ve never forgiven St Etienne for calling south London an ‘endless suburb’, but by zone 3 and beyond they are of course largely right.

Yet neither these excessively grim inner images or leafier outer images quite nail What We Mean When We Talk About ‘Southeast’ London. For example, drive around the infinite maze of residential streets between the south circular, the A21 and Burnt Ash Road where there seems to be little of the basic facilities and cultural spaces (pubs are conspicuous only by their demolition or conversion to residential use). Filling former social housing built when relatively generous garden suburbs were the thing, this ethnically mixed and largely working class space seems to me a lot closer to what people think of as ‘southeast London’ – if only the metropolitans would venture down there to realise it.

So there is slippage: patronising minds have a small area of post-industrial docklands or cartoon Peckham in their minds when it comes to ‘southeast london’; sophisticates often ignore a much more inherently SE-London area round Downham, Grove Park, Mottingham, etc when proudly foisting their ‘sarf’east and proud’; all of us who live here in some way suffer from the constant barrage of negative associations in the press about the area. There is also self-parody – come the weekend at my work pub the locals think nothing of serenading the yuppie arrivistes with ‘Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner’ or ‘Let Them All Come Down the Den’. And why is the almost total cultural victory of the South Bank/Bankside there in SE1 not claimed as evidence of the transpontine surge – who even bothers with the West End now? Down here off the rive gauche we have everything we need, thanks.

(talk of Bermondsey's Blitz Spirit no longer applies)

In an area so prone to myth as this, truisms mix with and thus have to be constantly redefined from mere fertile association. So we know there aren’t enough good state secondaries in Lewisham borough while ‘gang culture’ seems more of a problem here than elsewhere. Yet I don’t live in Kilburn or Tottenham or Acton so cannot accurately compare these trends with other areas.

‘Southeast London’ for me is as wide a snapshot of the area as possible – Mountsfield Park for Save Lewisham A&E demos; Peckham Rye with the kids; Champion Hill for the football; Tamil shops in Loampit Vale; budget stores in Deptford; wandering round Downham while my son has his drum lessons. But there is a poignancy here – ever-inflating house prices in the capital means joining a rabid rat race to get a decent sized house and we’re not keen on that – and also an anger over land grabs at the Heygate or Kidbrooke that threaten the area with ever more stultifying homogeneity – of people as well as place. Yet whatever and wherever you think it is ‘southeast London’ resists and prospers in spite of all the negative developments and muckraking myths.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

The privileged people’s game

'Not for him the usual histrionics of football jubilation: instead Boris Jelovac looked around, tried to spot a figure in the crowd (Prince William)... and bowed'

In the week where a fresher’s guide to Trinity College Cambridge from 1660 advised the new intake to avoid football, it ‘being… a rude, boistrous exercise, & fitter for Clownes then for Scholler’, the FA’s 150th anniversary match inadvertently showed how far the game has come in being accepted as a natural pastime for the upper and ruling classes – and our deference to and mute acceptance of their involvement in our game.

The FA anniversary was supposed to be a celebration of the grassroots – its website trumpets its ‘not-for-profit commitment to investing in football.’ Civil Service FC, which proudly claims to be the world's oldest amateur club (formed 1863) as well as the only existing founder member club of the FA, played Polytechnic FC (formed 1875), but the symbolism of the match was heavy for the wrong reasons – suggesting instead privileged access, facilities geared toward the wealthier strata and a ruling class who as we know have no idea how to run the game.

That the princes take every opportunity to declare their love for the game is no surprise. But it doesn’t so much demonstrate their egalitarian streak, as they might hope, as their being in tune with a rich younger generation used to the game accommodating them (20 years or more after the move toward edging out the undesirable elements with more costly all-seater stadia – that and floating the idea of letting the indebted clubs go to the wall). The chattering classes and above depend on it for their spectacle (rugby, let’s face it, is a niche sport even for the posh), but in a lot more parasitic way. Oh look, uncouth footballer does something bad, how terrible, let’s have some more of it.

Richer segments have always been involved - these original amateur clubs were very paternalist enterprises formed with the idea of improving the health of the working classes – but when all this comes amid growing popular struggle to ‘take back’ the game some more well-rounded representation of where football is today would have been appropriate, not some gadabout on a royal lawn. Notts County, Stoke and Sheffield FC had all formed by 1863 but there doesn’t seem to be much promoting of the game’s northern heartlands in the anniversary.

But that’s where football is today – administrators talking about investment and development in the grassroots while the global-not-local game continues to alienate traditional supporters at the top level (and not just here). Bring back the clownes.

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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

What a modern drugs raid looks like

So Silk Road bit the FBI dust, and with it the preciously harvested bitcoins of thousands of users keen on sourcing narcotic goods in an online rating environment reputed to insure quality and reliability. I don’t know enough about the mechanics of the bust to work out how the little people’s 26,000 BTC has been impounded while they still can’t get at the founder Dread Pirate Roberts’ 600,000 BTC ($80ishm).

But as CoinDesk suggests one thing is certain: this type of deep web, crypto-currency-fuelled and highly encrypted virtual marketplace is not going to go away. Nor will it hasten the demise of Bitcoin. The arrest of DPR (Ross Ulbricht) was due to an inability to control his non-deep web footprint - a key issue this year after all the NSA revelations - and claims of extra-curricular activities that closed the net around him. The Silk Road set-up, though it would be naïve to suggest it was impenetrable to law enforcers, had been resilient for more than two years.

Though users and transactions had been growing steadily, it was still a niche for tech-savvy users willing to go through the hassle of changing money (and living with wild fluctuations in the BTC rate), learning the set-up and paying a bit extra for drugs through the front door. Yet all the feedback suggested it was a powerful, self-policed and effective prototype, and a glimpse into the type of site that would operate in a future world of drugs decriminalisation.

Imitators are benefiting from Silk Road hitting an impasse, though they are said to lack the rigour of SR in terms of an anything-goes approach to what they sell. Yet while police forces worldwide place scrutiny on these sites vendors and buyers will no doubt question the viability of such operations.

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