Archive for the ‘Stop the City’ Category

Crass - 'We don't want to be nuisance but' flyer

There is no authority but yourself… and there is no self

19 August 2017 | 19:00-22:00
The Substation, 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936
Facebook event

PUNK IS OFTEN NARRATED as a kind of year zero, a total break with the past. But this is far from the case. Nowhere is that clearer through the anarcho-punk punk Crass, who taking the phrase “there is no authority but yourself” made connections with a range of countercultures and arts, from the beats to the hippies, existentialism to surrealism.

Crass emerged from Dial House, an open house and arts space in rural Essex. Co-founder Penny Rimbaud describes its ethos creating a space where people “could get together to work and Live in a creative atmosphere rather than the stifling, inward looking environments in which we had all been brought up.” It is from here that innumerable projects and collaborations have been launched, from artistic ventures to political campaigns, from the planning of the first free festivals during the 1970s to the Stop the City protests.

This evening will explore these overlaps of punk, performance, radical arts and culture through a curator’s preview. Stevphen Shukaitis will introduce and provide context and background. This will be followed by an open conversation (via Skype) with Penny Rimbaud.Finally experimental musicians Dharma and Awk Wah will host a listening session accompanied with archival footage of the Stop the City demonstrations.

This event is part of The Substation’s Discipline the City series, part of which will revisit the Stop the City protests:

Stevphen Shukaitis is a Senior Research Associate in Art History at the University of Essex Centre for Curatorial Studies. Since 2005 he has worked with Autonomedia, a New York based publisher and autonomous zone for political arts and culture. Recently he co-curated Introspective, the first large scale exhibition of Gee Vaucher’s artwork spanning more than fifty years.

Penny Rimbaud didn’t go to Oxbridge. He is not married, has no children and no dog. He does not have a private dwelling in the Home Counties nor a pied-à-terre in Hoxton. He neither drives a car nor owns a mobile phone; his landline is inoperative. When asked, he says that he is a bread maker, this being because he realises that his bread is considerably easier to digest than his poetry and philosophy. He has been writing for all of his life, well, at least the last sixty-nine years of it. He is under no illusion that his writing days are not numbered.

Dharma was the guitarist of The Observatory for the first 7 albums. His initial experimentations with the electric guitar were with effects and later on incorporating objects together with various extended techniques. In 2013, he released his solo debut, Intergranular Space, which opened up new vistas for his guitar work. Since going solo in 2015 he has been involved in various experimental and improvised music performances most notably at the Asian Meeting Festival 2016 which featured notable Asian improvisers like Otomo Yoshihide and Jojo Hiroshige.

Awk Wah is the solo project of Shark Fung, a prolific Mandopop songwriter in his youth who later spent time playing drums in band like Engineered Beautiful Blood, Amino Acid Orchestra and I\D. Described by The Sound Projector as “a bound man sewed up in a mailsack trying to wriggle free with nothing more than a small nail file to make his escape,” Awk Wah doesn’t give you too much to cling on to before he has moved on to something else sound-wise.

Discipline the City

May 2017 – December 2017
The Substation, 45 Armenian Street, Singapore 179936

Cities mirror us. What happens when our city becomes over-designed and over-regulated? Is there still space for diversity, or does the city tend towards some vague notion of a model citizen? Who has the right to the city and who doesn’t?

Sometimes, control is heavy handed — police, barricades, closed circuit cameras — but more often than not, it happens in the invisible seams of its architecture. It’s the spikes in public spaces to discourage loiterers, the railings in void decks to stop kids from playing football, the hedges that grow outwards to prevent you sitting on the curb. We get so used to it that we don’t realise how little agency we have. Or we do, and we are helpless.

At The Substation, artists work alongside architects, designers, historians, urban planners to examine the precarity of urban life. The city, in its imperfection, even unruliness, offers multiple possibilities for those unwilling to accept this helplessness. It’s in the margins, the in-betweens, and the elusive public and civic spaces that we might find our individual and collective identity. That we might find ways to make the city ours.

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Dare to Dream: Anarchism in England in History and in Action. a documentary directed by Goldsmith’s College, University of London film student Marianne Jenkins in 1990, has just been made available online.

The 40-minute documentary moves between exploring contemporary British anarchist culture and politics and events from across global twentieth century history (including the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the Vietnam War) and libertarian responses to them.

The film includes contributions from well-known names in the post-war anarchist movement, incuding John Rety, Nicholas Walter, Phillip Samson, Vernon Richards, Clifford Harper and Albert Meltzer – and Labour MP Kim Howells (whose ‘radical’ past is revisited in historic newsreel).

Glimpses of the British anarchist movement in the 1980s are seen in the coverage of Bradford’s 1-in-12 Club, Birmingham’s Common Ground initiative, London Hargingey’s Solidarity Movement, London Greenpeace; and through the Stop the City events, anti-poll tax protests, animal rights movement and the feminist movement.

Although anarcho-punk is not a particular on-screen focus for Jenkins, the soundtrack includes the music of Crass, Chumbawamba, Concrete Sox, Political Asylum and The Subhumans (alongside Glen Miller and Bob Dylan).

As well as brief live footage of Chumbawamba, anarchist punk is most clearly represented in front of camera through equally fleeting live footage of Poison Girls and a short (but illuminating) interview with Vi Subversa and Richard Famous (circa 30:00 in).

There’s an interesting commentary on the documentary on the Red, Black, Green blog by redblackgreen – who uploaded the film to the Veoh platform. They note:

Dare to Dream was made on a shoestring budget and it shows. Production values, especially by 21st century standards are low, but the amateurish look gives it real charm and a very DIY anarcho-punk feel redolent of its era.

Dare to Dream - Vi Subversa

Dare to Dream - Poison Girls - live 1984

Dare to Dream - Richard Famous and Vi Subversa

Dare to Dream - Stop the City

Dare to Dream - Stop the City - crowd running

Please note that the video contains distressing images of human and animal suffering, and has been given an ‘suitable for 18-year-olds and above’ rating on Veoh.

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A four-page feature on Poison Girls appears in the December 2014 issue (#379) of MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL magazine.

The article merges new email interviews with Vi Subversa, Lance D’Boyle and Richard Famous with archival content on the band from a variety of different sources; Zillah Minx’s She’s a Punk Rocker UK documentary; material drawn from the Kill Your Pet Puppy blog; and my own article on the Stop the City demonstrations from the September 2013 edition of Freedom.

Poison Girls feature - MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL - #379 - December 2014

The issue is available to order (in print and digital download formats) from the MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL site.

Erin Yanke, (ed.). 2014. ‘Poison Girls’, MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL, #379, December.

My own article on Poison Girls will appear in the next issue (to be published shortly) of Punk & Post-Punk journal.

Rich Cross. [forthcoming]. ‘”Take the Toys from the Boys”: Gender, Generation and Anarchist Intent in the Work of Poison Girls’, Punk & Post-Punk, Vol 3, No 2, pp.117-145.

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Whilst on the theme of Stop the City, the lyrics to Conflict’s spoken word track of the same name (from the 1984 Increase the Pressure album) are oddly hard to find online; so here’s my go at a transcript.

September 29th /
An idea that had grown and formed into Stop the City was to take place /
A carnival in the streets /
A protest against the companies and men who finance war /
An occupation to stop people at theirs /
Peaceful blockades; a traffic-free zone /
So what actually happened? /
The walls and pavements were daubed with coloured chalk – slogans and symbols that probably meant little to the City gents /
Some blockades were formed and removed /
There was conversation with City folk, and some music made /
Many arrests angered the ‘free’, some carried out by brutal police without their identification numbers
All day people rallied […] back at the starting point /
A meeting at The Guildhall turned into a strong defiant show of force that marched through the streets, past the Bank of England, to the Stock Exchange, where loud chanting echoed around the tall buildings /
People banged on the doors and windows; a siege was laid, until the horses arrived /
But it was spontaneous, disorganised; except for the whispered word – a way of confusing the law /
The result? /
The carnival was enjoyed, but the City was not stopped /
They worked well under siege; even though many visited the carnival out of curiosity /
Their dull day was brightened, but it left no mark /
The next day most walls had been scrubbed of their graffiti messages /
But the fact remains – power has been tested /
If you try hard enough, things can work /
If we go on trying, it will /

Conflict, 1984. ‘Stop the City’, Increase the Pressure.

A slightly different transcription can be found on The Streetlamp Doesn’t Cast Her Shadow Anymore blog – which is the only other place I could find one.

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Carrying out some more research on the history of the Stop the City demonstrations, I’ve come across two brief video news reports from Thames news (uploaded from the Thames TV archive) from the third (and so-called ‘secret’) Stop the City, held on 31 May 1984.

The first is a very brief (27s) compilation of raw footage from the day (from which the news editors would have selected content).

The second is a brief (1m09s) edited report prepared for transmission (during the local London news slot that evening), complete with editorial commentary (and featuring a few seconds of footage from the second Stop the City held on 29 March 1984).


The police made hundreds of arrests at the third Stop the City in an attempt to smother the demonstration. Note that even the Thames TV crew gets threatened with being nicked.

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This is the full-text of the following article: Rich Cross. 2013. ‘London’s Burning’ [30th anniversary retrospective on ‘Stop the City’], Freedom, September, p11.

THIRTY YEARS AGO this month, the first ground-breaking ‘Stop the City’ (STC) demonstration was held in the financial heartland of London: an anarchist-inspired confrontation with the institutions bankrolling the operation of British and international capitalism.

Called on 29 September 1983, to coincide with the quarterly calculation of the City’s profits, protestors were encouraged to take part in a ‘carnival against war’ and deliver ‘a day of reckoning’ for the warmongers and racketeers of the Square Mile. Around 1500 anarchists, libertarians, punks and radical peace activists descended on the City to occupy buildings, block roads, stage actions and swarm through the streets.

Cumulatively these efforts were designed to snarl up the operation of the capital’s financial hub. In an analogue era, long before the City’s ‘Big Bang’, when files and paperwork still had to be physically couriered between companies, the impact of mobs of unruly demonstrators filling the City’s narrow streets could be dramatic. Estimates differed, but the occupation of corporate space interrupted scores of monetary transactions, and drove down the day’s profits. The cost to those demonstrating was significant too: more than 200 arrests at the first STC; nearly 400 at the March 1984 event; and close to 500 in September 1984.

Support for STC came from two principal directions: from elements within the radical wing of the nuclear disarmament movement (which had been looking for ways to generalise and extend action beyond military bases) and from within the ranks of anarcho-punk (a sub-culture eager to test out its collective political muscle). But the audacity of STC struck a chord with activists and militants from many other movements and campaigns.

The organisational catalyst for Stop the City was provided by a small group of activists associated with London Greenpeace and other independent campaign groups, who initiated a series of open and inclusive planning forums. The broad anarchism of STC was (initially at least) strongly shaped by a commitment to nonviolence predominant amongst the influx of young new anarchist activists. The announcement of the first Stop the City in Freedom (16 July 1983) confirmed that: “The action is intended to be peaceful, not involving violence to people or other animals.”

In the event, the few violent incidents during the first Stop the City were largely those of a frustrated City police force thoroughly outwitted by the actions of disruptive and highly mobile demonstrators. The Evening Standard dismissively reported that the financiers had been subject to “Peace, punks and a little City anarchy”, but amongst that first wave of participants there was a widespread sense that they had taken part in something new and meaningful.

Plans for a far larger STC came to fruition on 29 March 1984, when some 3000 activists gathered for a follow-up event. Freedom (May 1984) reported the organisers’ hopes that comrades would come together “to protest about the things they felt most strongly about and in the way they wanted.” With larger numbers, more actions were possible: militant demonstrators broke bank windows, glued-up the door-locks of companies, burnt flags and opened-up smoke canisters; others arranged musical processions, marched beneath huge puppets, handed out vegan food, or took part in an impromptu blockade of London Bridge.

As revealed in the documentary of the day filmed by members of Crass, STC had become edgier and less instinctively nonviolent: evidence of the shifting centre of political gravity within the wider anarchist milieu. But despite the impressive range of autonomous actions and the growing numbers on the streets, the March 1984 STC was the last time that the initiative truly resided with the demonstrators.

After being out-manoeuvred for a second time, the City of London police were determined to prevent the further growth of Stop the City. A third STC (called at ‘short notice’, in an effort to outwit the authorities, for 31 May) met an equally agile police response. The fourth Stop the City, held on 27 September 1984, was smothered by some aggressively pro-active policing: the assembly point in the City was sealed off and all likely-looking troublemakers were detained as soon as they arrived. Those who had taken up the suggestion to go in disguise (as City workers or maintenance staff) mostly evaded arrest, but then struggled to co-ordinate their actions. A few were able to rally forces in the West End and Trafalgar Square, but the impact had been lost.

Efforts were made to repeat the idea in other cities; and then to revive the approach through spin-off developments such as ‘Stop Business As Usual’, but these initiatives failed to match the scale, or capture the excitement, of the original STC.

In the early 1980s, Stop the City reflected the growing confidence of the reviving British anarchist movement, but the speed with which it stalled also highlighted the movement’s uncertainty about strategy, agency – and politics. In the context of the national 1984-85 miners’ strike, these questions were being debated afresh as new class-struggle anarchist groups advanced to seize the initiative from anarcho-punk.

Although subsequent generations of activists have often overlooked the relevance of Stop the City, its imprint can be seen in such later initiatives as J18 and the activities of Reclaim the Streets. STC was certainly a product of its political times, but its status as the largest and most innovative anarchist-inspired demonstration held in the UK during the early Thatcher years needs to be reaffirmed.

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Some excellent black-and-white photos from the September 1983 London “Stop the City” demonstration have been added to Flickr by photographer camera_obscura [busy]. View the full slide show of the London: Stop The City, 1983 Set.

"Stop the City" - London - 1983
London Stop the City demonstration, 1983
Photo by: camera_obscura [busy]
Creative Commons: Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic

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