A reflection on the interplay between control and chaos through the prism of a shut down illegal rave. The soundtrack for this article is at the end 😉
Picture the scene. Massive fuck off warehouse in South London and I mean massive. You could have resurrected Britain’s manufacturing sector in there and still had room left over for Boris Johnson’s ego. Proper gaff and a sublime venue. So we’re in there setting up – the sound system is in place and we’re now rigging all the lights (I say we – I am in fact having a quiet drink and offering moral support) when suddenly 3 of the Met’s finest come strolling into the middle of it all. Beautifully surreal I can tell you – they usually don’t turn up until it’s too late, the place is rammed and we have the upper hand in negotiations. You rarely catch a glimpse of Sierra Oscar inside the rave until the next morning when it’s thinned out or unless they’ve scored themselves a JCB and removed their identification. But there they were, looking suitably awkward in the halogens, a tad confused, and with only about 50 people in the area setting up, this did not bode well. They were as surprised as us for 3 helmeted plods do not a raid make. So what were they doing there?
Well some total imbecile had left the one of the doors wide open and they had just wandered in on patrol. They left just as quickly but we knew we were bang in trouble. They were off to assist their careers in a northerly direction and us into the back of a riot van. Now this was only the second or third party I’d been involved in since coming back to the UK and it was full blown London urban, so the usual practice of a meeting point in some supermarket car park and then a convoy piling in all at once to secure the venue with overwhelming numbers wasn’t on the cards. Instead, we just released the address on the phone lines and waited for people to turn up in their own time.
In fact, we had a good few hundred people in the venue before the inevitable happened. Enter the Police Commander of Lewisham who had obviously been rousted reluctantly out of his bed. And his entourage. As soon as a senior officer puts his credibility on the line by making a personal appearance, they simply cannot be seen to back down, so this was going to be a fraught negotiation process. A phalanx of vans was reversing into a line blocking the entry points and it seemed that even at midnight, the Commander had some serious resources. Probably called in half of South London because there is of course no violent crime on a Saturday night and thus people dancing was the major security priority.
The year was 2000 and there was no political endgame for us. This really was just a party, and not a fight to establish our rights or a new social consciousness, so there was only so far we were prepared to go – getting battered and losing all the equipment was definitely far too far. Been there, fucking loved it, but not there now. But still, caving immediately was unthinkable. After years in Europe negotiating with senior officials by blending 3 respectful words in their language with broken English, florid signage and trustworthy smiles, it was going to be interesting to take on a good old sarky English copper.
Police negotiation is, I confess, something I always secretly quite enjoyed. It’s all about being the reasonable face of something that instinctively frightens them and that they simply do not understand. If you can be sober, smiley, helpful, responsible, respectful but quietly insistent that there will be no stopping the party, you’re halfway there. And always skillfully turn them so they can’t see the inevitable ‘hardcore’ shouting Fuck Off You Pigs and discussing the merits of bacon at raucous length. Fear is the driving force of almost all over reactions, and diffusing that is the key to a mutually beneficial resolution with the authorities.
And fuck me were we reasonable. Positively fucking saintly. Representatives from the UN should have been taking notes. But our new friend the Commander seemed remarkably impervious to our charms and still less our logic. He was however, prepared to have a bit of a pavement debate about it all. It was clearly illegal. unlicensed and all the rest of it, but what with not far off a thousand inside and the police lines groaning with eager ravers, we were now in a situation. Surely our Metropolitan companion could be persuaded that it was in his interest to let the party go ahead – contained, safe and without thousands of people who’d now missed the last train pouring out onto the streets of Lewisham. I mean honestly – you’ve got thousands of people laden with alcohol and drugs and with their spirits up. Where would you rather have them – in one space all night then going their separate ways tired and happy in the morning – or rioting in the streets?
‘Who is your security firm’ he asked. Funny – I’d never been asked that question in any other country.
‘You’re looking at them’ we replied with a comforting, you can count on us officer – we’re actually very similar – some of our best friends are policeman – if only we’d met in different circumstances – kind of grin.
He did the maths. Thousands of people. Drugs. Booze. Music. No security.
It was almost as if that in itself decided it for him rather than any legal, licensing or noise questions. I couldn’t help feeling if we’d had a gang of skinheads in black bomber jackets, he might have taken a different line. To a policeman’s logic, if there was no ‘official’ controlling force, the inevitable result would be utter carnage. I could see him having visions of murders, rapes, stabbings, muggings and a swift defrocking of himself as senior officer after being crucified in the tabloids.
It goes to so many questions in philosophy and psychology. Is the human instinctively ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if left to his own devices? What came first – crime or law? Having been involved in illegal raves with crowds in the tens of thousands for many a year, I had learnt this incredibly inspiring lesson. Amongst those thousands you’ll have bad boys, muggers, gangsters, the whole roll call of darkness whipped into a heaving mass of loved up humanity. And almost never…….ever……any trouble. And yet you go to a 300 person capacity club with a moody security firm on the door and you’ll have a stabbing, 3 bottlings, a load of shit drugs sold, dealers ripped off and so on. A mini crime wave – regular as clockwork in towns up and down the country.
What is it about so many clubs that their security think that credibility rests on being large, menacing and unpleasant. Well partly because they’re mostly run by gangland firms. But conventional logic would have us believe that official security acts both as a deterrent to crime and as it’s solution. The same conventions would insist that the absence of security can only result in a criminal orgy of Hogarthian caricature and that an authority vacuum releases the ugliest inevitabilities of the human condition. The evidence I’ve seen in my life proves precisely the contrary. Attitude begets attitude. Put unsmiling authority there and people will go up against it. Inevitably
But strip it all down to bare humanity, lose the bomber jacket barrier, make everyone responsible for themselves and whoever happens to be next to them, and the results are extraordinary. Human beings step up, they take up the mantle and there is barely a sniff of trouble. Any incidents that do crop up are quietly handled by a family of strangers united by their environment. A community. The abrogation of responsibility away from the self and from the community to an external structure or ‘force’ seems a counter intuitive social dynamic – and certainly not one that encourages autonomous communities. Now the E’s definitely helped foster this spirit and the mindset of the kind of people who go to raves in the first place is certainly a factor, but the organic beauty of reclaiming people’s freedom and watching them honour it with loving responsibility is one of the most inspiring sights I have ever witnessed.
All lost on the Commander of course.
Well. We lost that argument. There were 80 arrests where they would have been none, the TSG beat the living shit out of anyone they could find after Commander Plod gave the go ahead. Vehicles were vandalized, windows were smashed in frustration, Everybody lost….
This is not an argument for the dissolution for the legal system – merely a series of observations on the tensions between ‘society’ and ‘community’. And it’s important to question how and why we are taught to underestimate and fear humanity. A Randian subtext sees self interest as the only rational barometer of human behaviour and has built the framework of a society on the expectation of selfishness and the fear of humanity unbound. Perhaps it is little wonder that control structures stay in place so successfully if we all accept that as a starting point.
First published – LSD Magazine – Issue 2 – Booting off the Doors
Ballerina image by Doublespace
Abandoned warehouse by Jamie Link
Thoughts on the alphabet’s role in shaping human perception and the evolution of society
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God
Language and the written word are a defining foundation of society. Communication led to collaboration which led to productivity which led to invention which led to knowledge which perhaps one day will lead to wisdom. We would be lost without the written word; it lies at the core of what it is to be human and yet we scarcely stop to question the patterns, the effects and the meanings behind the orgy of words poured out into the stratosphere.
The written word evolved through two distinct strains, both of which sought to frame communicative verbal language in the most logical terms. These roughly break down into conceptual and mathematical. The conceptual uses ‘onomatopoeic’ images such as hieroglyphics and Chinese style characters to convey meaning and concepts in their entirety while the mathematical invented an entirely artificial code, or alphabet. This series of abstract symbols could be used as ingredients in a wider formula of digital language where the order of the code equated to its meaning.
We in the West are immersed in the mathematical, and use letters to construct words on a daily basis without even considering that we are using algebra to express human action and emotion. That it works as communication and documentation is indisputable, but if we probe deeper into the ramifications of representing reality through pure mathematics, we begin to uncover some intriguing questions.
Most of us will be familiar with the ‘Left Brain, Right Brain’ dichotomy where the left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for linear reasoning, mathematical structure and the evolution of ‘logical function’ while the right hemisphere is associated with intuition, spirituality, imagery and holistic perception. This conflicted unity is represented throughout cultural history through symbolism like yin and yang, Gaia and Jupiter; male and female. And while no individual can operate purely on one side of the brain, individuals and whole cultures can be defined through which of the hemispheres is dominant – at least metaphorically.
The right brain is usually symbolised by female iconography, for example Mother Earth, while the left brain is almost inevitably manifested in masculinity, male gods and patriarchal societies. With many of the earliest documented belief systems indicating a tendency toward the holistic, at some point a shift occurred that saw the female infused view of the world usurped by the brutal patriarchy that most of our blood stained history chronicles. Within that conquest of the female by the male, the matriarchal by the patriarchal, the right brain by the left brain, we find the development of the formulaic alphabet playing a subversive role.
There is a compelling argument to be made that as language moved from imagery representing concept to an abstract formula super imposed on reality, the analytical, ‘male’ element of consciousness and culture began its ascendancy. The alphabet’s linear code broke the connection between representation and reality and saw a critical schism take root between mankind and an intuitive understanding of the world around him.
As the linear alphabet began to take hold, humanity effectively began an evolutionary process where brain function and the nervous system were shaped by rationalism. Humans use different neural pathways and different areas of the brain to interpret pictograms than they do the alphabet. The dominance of one leads to a self fulfilling prophecy as those pathways come to the fore in both the understanding and communication of reality. The methods we use to define the world around us actively shape our perception of it.
Developing societies began to retreat behind an almost synthetic construct of reality where language and writing became a purely human code with no discernible relationship with the world it was describing.
Holistic, ‘feminine’ forms of expression and figurative methods of representation were ousted by the literal and the formulaic. The advent of the written alphabet saw a new generation of male deities sweep across the ancient world wreaking havoc in their wake and slowly eroding the rights, the role and the respect of the female, both in human and symbolic form. The very nature of the code’s complexities excluded almost all from literacy, as people could no longer look at a character on the wall and understand what it described by its appearance alone.
Thus, a closed elite of the literate was created, and as the great religions began to establish themselves, it rapidly became apparent that only such institutions could afford to educate their own scribes in the alphabet, while the average peasant was bound to the land for food, and the landowner interested only in warmongering and profit.
Slowly but surely, the patriarchal religions developed a monopoly on literacy, and consequently on truth. If you were an illiterate peasant, ‘truth’ and ‘God’s Word’ would only ever be communicated through the filter of an all too human member of the clergy. Such extraordinary power embodied in fallible men and powerful institutions inevitably led to extraordinary abuses.
Many of us have wondered how on earth the scriptures – be they Bible, Koran or Torah were warped into such oppressive instruments of patriarchy. There’s very little Jesus or Mohammed said that most of us would disagree with – even taking into account the context of contemporary custom. So many institutionalized positions of religion are directly at odds with the original scriptures – and one of the principle reasons is that for well over a thousand years, the power structure had an unfettered ability to manufacture truth without fear of question – as literacy was a fortified sacristy. For centuries in Europe, translating the Bible into the vernacular and out of Latin was deemed heresy, punishable by death, and the Reformation, for all its homicidal zeal, was rooted in the injustice of Catholicism’s strongarm monopoly on truth.
Thus reading, writing and thereby truth remained firmly in the hands of a masculine cabal that taught only the strictest adherence to the approved word and had a disturbing propensity toward slaughtering those whose leant towards a more holistic outlook. Even the Virgin Mary who is worshipped again and again in Christian iconography is stripped of all feminine qualities and reduced to a chaste vehicle for a male god. Mary Magdalene is only accepted in mainstream Christianity once she has truly repented of her sexuality, and the cults that sprang up worshipping her in her own right were swiftly put to the doctrinal sword. The Cathars, who in 12th Century France developed a far more feminine and gnostic version of Christianity that traced its roots back to the dualism of pagan Mithraism, were the first Christians a formal crusade was sent against, lest their dangerously non conformist world view leak into a wider dialogue.
Even when the visual arts began their ascent into propagandist glory during the Early Renaissance, they used an inflexible language of composition and colour, reducing painting to a linear formula that artists had to work subtly and subversively to infuse with any true depth. In the Islamic world where figurative art had been put to the patriarchal sword of the Hadiths, the alphabet itself became a visual art as calligraphy sanctified the the written word alongside geometry in the pantheon of sacred beauty. Our thought processes themselves, even at their most subconscious, are so often framed in the abstract formulas that the patriarchal alphabet imposed on intuitive reality.
None of this is to question the sublime lyrical beauty of the written word or its ability to whisper delicate nuance or tumultuous emotion. One cannot discount the finite nature of the pictogram and the multiplicity of meaning bestowed by multiples of 26. These are merely thoughts on evolutionary consciousness and how alphabets shaped human history and social characteristics. It is arguable that on a subliminal level, charting reality in our own code rather than in nature’s symbols has slowly detached us from the rhythms of the natural world.
It is however an interesting contribution to questions concerning patriarchy and the historical role of women in society. If one accepts the dualism that underpins almost all archetype, it is more than clear that male and female have long been in imbalance. It goes deeper than issues like the status of women and into behavioral patterns and systems of perception – pathways in our brain that interpret reality through imperceptible prisms.
There are myriad channels in our history that evolutionary currents flowed through, and while the development of the alphabet was but one, while religions and beliefs and social norms may come and go, writing is so inexorably bound up with our human experience that it is impossible to analyse its impact without that analysis passing through the prism of its own subject. Now there’s a fucking irony 😉
BLACK AND RED CALLIGRAPHY – SHAHRZAD GHAFFARI
CHURCH IMAGE – TREY RATCLIFF
CALIGRAFFITI – EL SEED
FINAL IMAGE – RETNA