Thursday, December 27, 2007
10. Hard-Fi – Once Upon A Time In The West
‘A global terror they say/We are at war/But I ain't got time for that cos/These bills keep dropping through my door’
Standout tracks: Suburban Knights, Help Me Please, We Need Love
They’re not exactly cool in any circles. They’ve been condemned as being ‘boring’ and ‘chavs with guitars’. But hell, I like them, so haters can fuck off! Anyway, they’ve had two number one albums in the UK, so I’m not alone here. Their debut, Stars Of CCTV, was excellent in parts, but this is a definite progression, and there isn’t a track on here that is anything less than gripping. They are so far superior to any of the other current NME bands, and the word ‘indie’ doesn’t even begin to describe their music, which owes so much to so many different genres, like soul, ska and post-punk. Richard Archer’s lyrics have more than a touch of Joe Strummer about them, not so much in an angry way, but more in a poet for the common person kind of way. There’s nothing particularly clever, but he says what he sees and what he feels. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here.
9. Porcupine Tree – Fear Of A Blank Planet
‘How can I be sure I'm here?/The pills that I've been taking confuse me/I need to know that someone sees that/There's nothing left, I simply am not here’
Standout tracks: Fear Of A Blank Planet, My Ashes, Anesthetize
In the world of this album, sullen teenagers trudge through the urban wastelands, senses numbed by pills, stripped of the thrill that growing up should obviously be, wishing away their days. In this dismal existence, illuminated only by TVs, Xboxes and iPods, the only friends are Myspace friends, and the only freedom is the freedom to consume. It’s a world that’s easy to recognise for Generation Y-ers everywhere. Generation Whateva. Generation Blank Planet.
Porcupine Tree have created a beautifully plaintive and despairing album that is somehow sentimental and nostalgic for feelings that only seem to exist in adverts.
8. Grinderman - Grinderman
‘We've done our thing/We’re hip to the sound/Of six billion people/Going down’
Standout tracks: No Pussy Blues, Electric Alice, Man In The Moon
‘Foulmouthed, noisy, hairy, and damned well old enough to know better’, four members of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds step forward to deliver a swaggering, riotous and confused collection of garage rock, mixed with other eerie bits and women with old-fashioned names. If it isn’t quite in the Bad Seeds class, it sounds like a great night’s trawl through a seedy netherworld. And No Pussy Blues is still hilarious, ten months on. DAMN!
7. Saul Williams – The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust!
‘Would Jesus Christ come back American?/What if he's Iraqi and here again?/You'd have to finally face your fears, my friend/Who's gonna hold your hand when that happens?’
Standout tracks: Tr(n)igger, Scared Money, Raw
He’s fiercely different, at war with the zeitgeist, yet shot through with vulnerability. Every Saul Williams album is like an explosion of ideas, each clashing and competing for supremacy in your consciousness. There are so many levels of meaning here, it will take infinity to process, so its ranking is maybe a bit low. Williams’ musical partnership with Trent Reznor (who’s been championing him for a few years), means Niggy Tardust sounds like a rap Nine Inch Nails in places. That’s nowhere near as messy as I thought it might be, so it’s to the great credit of the experimental duo.
6. Machine Head - The Blackening
‘This is a call to arms/Will you stand beside me?/This is our time to fight/No more compromising/And this blackened heart will sing/For sad solidarity'
Standout tracks: Clenching The Fists Of Dissent, Halo, Wolves
This album was hyped like no other metal album in 2007, with critics calling it the best since Master Of Puppets before it had even been released. A lot of that was on the back of Aesthetics Of Hate, the band’s furious response to William Grim’s ‘obituary’ for Dimebag Darrell. This made Machine Head the perfect peg for the big corporate beasts of the metal world to hang ‘metalness’ on for a while. Since they’re in the business of selling T-shirts and the like, ‘metalness’ must always stretch to cover the lowest common denominator. So this includes the Beavis and Butthead type of fans, who are in a small minority. But from his position of class fear in an ever more polarised society, Grim tarred all metal fans with that brush.
I’m rambling here, but the point is that The Blackening perfectly illustrates one aspect of ‘metalness’ as I see it, whereas the Beavis and Buttheads (and the bands they go on to form) are actually nothing for Grim and the layer he speaks for to worry about. As Robb Flynn replied to Grim on Blabbermouth.net:
"What would YOU know about love or values? What would YOU know about giving to the world? All that you know is teaching prejudice, and your heart is as black as the 'ignorant, filthy, and hideously ugly, heavy metal fans' you try and paint in your twisted, fictitious ramblings. It's because of people like YOU, that there are Nathan Gales in this world, NOT the Dimebags and metal musicians who work to unite people through music".
And that sums-up this album better than I could. It is fists in the air, teeth gnashing, ultimate potential thrashing through my veins, foreshadowing the strength that might tear the Grims and grimness apart.
5. Tristania - Illumination
‘For years our world has been falling apart/But we're tied up by words /The surface is smooth and cold /But underneath the blood always boils’
Standout tracks: Mercyside, The Ravens, Deadlands
This album, their last with ridiculously beautiful and talented female vocalist Vibeke Stene, isn’t that massive a departure from Tristania’s previous couple of albums, but it’s still a huge improvement. Perhaps Stene is more to the forefront, and the male vocals are complimenting her, rather than the other way round. Shame then that this is to be her swansong, and she is to be replaced by relative unknown Mariangela Demurtas. All aspects of Tristania came together in perfect balance for a brief moment in the sun (moon?), only to be separated once more.
4. Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero
‘Say your name/Try to speak as clearly as you can/You know everything gets written down/Nod your head/Just in case they could be watching/With their shiny satellite’
Standout tracks: Survivalism, Capital G, The Great Destroyer
This may be my favourite NIN album since The Downward Spiral. Composed on laptops in hotel rooms around the planet, this is a chilling exploration of the dystopian future unfolding in the here and now. The forces of darkness have won, the current popular disgust with the politicians and leaders has been misdirected and dissipated, and so Orwell’s hell has truly come to pass. Alone, one figure still fights, but his comeuppance cannot be far away. Bleak is not the word. Apparently it may spawn a film or even a TV series. That would be awesome, because I can see it in my mind whenever I hear this. With this release and his production of Saul Williams’ album, Trent Reznor has had a great year. And he even speaks out in favour of taking the music industry down, one download at a time. Wow, he’s so great.
3. The Smashing Pumpkins - Zeitgeist
‘Is everyone afraid?/You should be ashamed/Apocalyptic screams mean nothing to the dead/Kissing that ol' sun to know all there is/Come on, last call!/You should want it all!’
Standout tracks: Doomsday Clock, Tarantula, United States
I saw Smashing Pumpkins at Leeds festival this year, on one of the greatest days of my life. This may not be right up there with the band’s best (in fact the band might just as easily be called Zwan, except there’s no pseudo-Christian shit). But when I listen to the instrumental break on United States, with Jimmy Chamberlin’s rolling drums and Billy Corgan’s wailing guitar, I’ll always be able to see the drowning liberté éclairant le monde silhouetted against the moon, enshrouded in sweet-smelling smoke, and five thousand people holding their breath as my weary body floats higher and higher. Billy is scared. Billy is determined. Billy is happy to be scared and determined. Listen to those lovely harmonies!
2. The Nightwatchman - One Man Revolution
‘I know who I'm for/And who I'm against/I pulled the shades tight/I built me a fence/I dug a tunnel/Deep and wide/I sit at the bottom/And wait for the night’
Standout tracks: Battle Hymns, Maximum Firepower, Flesh Shapes The Day
When I found out that Rage Against The Machine’s (yeah, yeah, and Audioslave’s) guitarist Tom Morello was going to do an acoustic folk album, I didn’t know if I was going to like it. After all, I can’t stand that kind of shit. Ok, so appreciate the lyrics of Willy Nelson, (some) Bob Dylan and (more so, because he was most fucked-up) Johnny Cash, but it really isn’t my thing. So I was more than a little surprised to find out that this album is amazingly greatly fantastic! Morello has a deep, rich voice, halfway between Cash and Nick Cave, and he uses it to fan the flames of discontent with his seditious, endlessly quotable lyrics. On half the songs he’s some kind of solitary Old Testament figure, hell-bent on vengeance against (yes, of course) George Bush, but also any figure making a killing out of the profit system. On the other half he sings the wretched of the earth into battle. Either way, he’s unmissable.
1. Serj Tankian - Elect The Dead
‘Do you know that life is ending?/As we go, the dots connecting/We had our chance to save the garden/As it dies, our souls will harden/With these words chastising your conscience/We're breaking through and praying for transcendence’
Standout tracks: Empty Walls, Money, Saving Us
Beating his fellow Axis Of Justice founder to number one, and showing that he was the real talent behind System Of A Down, Serj Tankian releases a perfectly crafted, multi-dimensional, emotional wringer of a metal album, which seems to have a song for every mood and thought I’ve had this year. Yeah, the news is horrible, our lives are fast, furious and frustrating, but we could turn it all around and make a decent world. Or maybe it’s all too much, mankind has lived beyond its means and we’re all doomed to chaos and an early grave. Also, there are such things as personal relationships. All in all, it’s like a SOAD album, without the messing about. Damned near flawless.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
The police van arrived half an hour into the protest, and the main bossy officer immediately demanded to know who was in charge. On hearing that we all were, he ordered everyone against the wall. Apparently there were "people trying to get past", although the massive police van would have been a trickier obstacle. Reading from notes, he then told us he was "limiting the numbers to four people only", and that "any more than four people, you'll be in breach of the conditions". But the conditions of what? "Conditions imposed under Section 12 of the Public Order Act". Unfortunately for him, this section only applies to 'public processions', which someone pointed out. "Oh right sorry...", he blustered, "this assembly is controlled by Section 14 of the Public Order Act", and threatened arrest for anyone over the four. His tone then became even more condescending, repeatedly asking people if they understood, even though he'd already shown he didn't really know what he was doing. "We'll argue in court, as we have done before", he sneered, before heading into the shop to consult with the Cricket security.
Over the next few minutes, we debated what to do. Eventually, we decided it wasn't worth getting arrested, four people volunteered to stay, and the rest of us began to move off. But so did the police, without even saying goodbye! So we went back, and twenty protesters stood outside Cricket for the next hour and half, holding banners and placards, chanting, and handing out leaflets, while their van hid round the corner.
So didn't they fancy the paperwork? Or maybe they'd taken a look at the letter of the law, and realised they couldn't prove we were likely to cause 'serious public disorder', 'serious criminal damage', 'serious disruption to the life of the community', or even 'intimidation'. No-one was intimidated, and even though it looks like the police have been told to clear the streets of protesters for Xmas and the Capital of Culture, a small blow was struck for freedom this afternoon.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Liverpool: Capital of Vultures
When Liverpool was made the European Capital of Culture 2008 there were parties in the streets. Liverpudlians were told to have new hope and the publicity machine pumped out images of smiling and excited scousers. An estimated 2 million more visitors are expected to come to the city, bringing money and investment that is expected to improve Liverpool's economic state. And yet, as the years have passed and with 2008 on our doorstep, the city still looks like a bomb has hit it. Derelict homes in the suburbs and massive building sites in the city centre, new shops for wealthy visitors and smaller hospitals for the people that live here. There is an increasing feeling of unrest in the city and residents are starting to feel cheated. So what is really going on?
The capital of culture is not for the people of Liverpool, whatever councillors might say about 'regeneration'. Instead it's an invitation for big business to come into the city like a flock of vultures and pick up all the tastiest scraps, leaving the rest of us nothing. Huge grants of European and government money, sweetheart deals and a captive audience. All in return for a handful of temporary, dead-end jobs with no skills or long term prospects and a 'regeneration' scheme more concerned with getting visitors, and their money, in and out than creating a decent city for people to live in. The ones who benefit will be the owners of multinational corporations who don't even live in the city. It is just another move towards making every city in the world have exactly the same shops where everyone can buy exactly the same clothes with their ever smaller wage packets.
Where’s the Money?
Liverpool council were given a HUGE cash injection by the government. The promise then was that the people of Liverpool would not have to pay any more tax to fund the event. So what the hell happened this year? Suddenly the council are £29 million short of funding and it needs £7 million of this just to maintain council services. Well the council can't borrow money off the government because they are now forwarding their money to the Olympic games (another bonanza for the already rich). So they have decided to go against what they said a few years ago and tax the people of Liverpool, re-mortgage buildings like Millennium House and take out a huge £20m loan that people like us will have to pay for later. The council tax increase is expected to be 3.7%.
Shops not Homes
And what about housing? Well according to a BBC report, house prices are going up since the award came to the city. Many people in working class areas are struggling to keep up with their rents, and some in Toxteth and Edge Lane are even fighting compulsory purchase orders, which threaten to steal their homes for a fraction of their worth, so yet more developers can come in!
All the investment appears to be going to the centre of Liverpool. The further into the suburbs you go the worse it gets. There are areas of Liverpool that are becoming no-go areas with gang culture on the rise and derelict buildings everywhere. Will the effects of capital of culture really benefit these people? Will it reach out into the lives the need the help the most? That’s for you to decide.
Not surprisingly, with all the extra money sloshing around, Liverpool’s politicians and bureaucrats have their noses firmly in the trough. Read up on all the dirt at http://liverpoolsubculture.blogspot.com
Education, Education, Privatisation!
So the capital of culture award has turned the city of Liverpool into the centre of a feeding frenzy for multinational companies. Gentrification is pushing the working class out into the run-down suburbs. Opportunities for getting a decent job or trade under your belt are getting fewer and fewer. Is there any other way that capitalism is destroying our lives? Well rest assured that now you can send your children to a brand new academy school.
The North Liverpool Academy is the amalgamation of students from Anfield and Breckfield schools. In 2006 the government decided to blend together the most 'failing' schools in Liverpool, throw in a dash of money from a sponsor in the private sector (Stanley Fink from stockbrokers Man Group Plc) and season it with a specialisation in Business and Enterprise. What a great idea! It is too early to tell what the outcome will be. However, merging failing schools in the past has not brought great improvements. Ofsted inspectors branded the Bexley Business Academy in Kent as 'inadequate', highlighting poor teaching and lower than expected exam results.
So much of this country has been privatised. Has capitalism finally infiltrated our schools as well?
Mersey Posties Show the Way
This summer and autumn, Merseyside postal workers were on the front line of action against Royal Mail's proposed new contracts, which threaten jobs, pensions and working conditions, whilst opening the door to a sell-off of the postal service.
Posties in Liverpool and Birkenhead were among the most militant in the country, taking illegal 'wildcat' action for over a week, after they got back from an official strike to find Royal Mail had changed their working hours without consultation. Eventually the strike was defeated and Royal Mail got what they wanted, but only because workers were stabbed in the back by their 'leaders', and were unable to create strong enough links with other workers facing cuts.
Unions Cave In
When Royal Mail and the Communication Workers Union (CWU) finally reached an agreement, it quickly became clear that union bureaucrats had gladly caved in to pressure from post bosses on one side, and the government on the other. The new deal contained almost exactly the same terms that CWU general secretary Billy Hayes had denounced as a 'carve up' between Royal Mail bosses and their 'rich mates' just three months earlier, so posties have been expressing dismay and anger.
The union tops started undermining the efforts of rank-and-file posties from the beginning, staggering strikes so as not to cause Royal Mail too much pain, then calling the legal strikes off entirely for two months of talks! Their greatest fear is working class people organising themselves and finding they have no use for their so-called 'representatives'. Many of them have strong links to New Labour, so while they may occasionally talk 'left', they are in reality lined up behind Brown's campaign for the slashing and burning of wages and working conditions.
Winning for Ourselves
But it isn't about the individual politics of the individual reps, it's about a structure that has been used time and time again to keep working people down. By refusing to bow before the law, and organising in an anarchic way (without bosses), the Merseyside posties have set a great example to workers in other areas and other industries. We don't need to go cap in hand to big business or to government. We can and must organise our own workplaces, our own neighbourhoods, and our own lives.
Renewing the Royal? Ripping Off Patients!
The Liverpool Primary Care Trust's (PCT's) plan to rebuild the Royal Liverpool hospital using a costly PFI scheme rumbles on, and as more details emerge the deal gets worse and worse. At a cost of £225 million (sure to increase if PFI schemes elsewhere in the country are anything to go by) the hospital will be completely rebuilt on a smaller new site with the loss of 200 beds and all kinds of knock on effects on the quality of care. Worse than this, the Trust will not own the new building but will instead rent it back from the private company that builds it, despite having paid for everything in the first place! Only in the upside down world of business and government could this ever be called 'improving care for patients' and 'value for money'.
The real reason for all this, as always, is profits for the usual suspects. Refurbishment of the existing buildings, which are just over thirty years old, was not even seriously considered, despite a sham 'consultation'. As the 'Renewing the Royal' website tells us,
'refurbishment would be an unviable risk for the health treasury and private sector'. In other words, the money's only there if it can go into private pockets. The needs of business to make a killing come first; the needs of patients to go on living are a very poor second.
PFI schemes all over the country have left trusts with unsustainable debts, leading to cuts in services and job losses. A 2007 report from the independent Centre for International Public Health Policy in Edinburgh concluded that PFI schemes are responsible for a wave of cuts over the last few years, cuts that will only increase over the life of the contracts. Any new scheme adds to this pressure. Keep Our NHS Public are campaigning hard on Merseyside and are one of the few forces taking on the trust over this. They meet on the third Wednesday of every month in the Peoples Centre, Hardman Street, and have an email list at http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/KeepOurNHSPublicMerseyside.
Councillor Turner – You're a Joke!
Liverpool was recently voted the least sustainable city in a survey with nineteen others. While other places are tapping landfill for methane, cutting car use, building low-carbon houses and creating zero-carbon neighbourhoods, we're stuck in the ha'penny place. What was the Council environment spokesperson's response? Cllr Bernie Turner could only bleat about salmon in the Mersey and parks built 150 years ago. She'll brag about how much recycling we’re doing. But she won’t tell you huge amounts of what the Council collects is still going to landfill. Liverpool's bosses want reckless economic expansion, building more roads to carry more cars, choking the city. Yes, we can spend an hour or so in a polluted park and the rest of our lives in an urban hellhole where hundreds die each year from cold, from lung and heart disease or a dozen other diseases caused by pollution or stress. And they call this 'success', 'progress'. Councillor Turner, you're a dangerous idiot. And that's no joke.
Stand Up for Asylum Seekers
Liverpool based group Asylum Voice is organising a demonstration in solidarity with all asylum seekers in this country and especially with those in Liverpool. We demand the right to work, the right to healthcare, the end of Section 4 and forced deportations and the end of all border controls. If there are no borders for the flows of capital in the world, then there should not be any borders for human beings either. The demonstration takes place on Wednesday 19th December 2007 at Reliance House, Water Street in Liverpool, from 12.30 till 1.30 pm.
This protest is also a reaction to the inhuman treatment of Alphonsus from Nigeria. The National Asylum Support Service wants to remove him from Liverpool to Salford, despite the fact that he has secure accommodation here. In Salford he would find himself isolated, without the support network necessary to campaign for his right to stay.
Asylum Voice desperately needs to raise funds to launch campaigns against deportations of people. Therefore any support is very welcome and needed! Asylum Voice can be contacted at the email address: email@example.com. Meet members of Asylum Voice at their regular meetings every second Thursday in Next To Nowhere on Bold Street.
Find out what anarchists on Merseyside are up to, or come and help out. All in Next to Nowhere social centre in the basement, 96 Bold Street (www.liverpoolsocialcentre.org):
● Anarchist educationals third Thursday of the month (Dec 20th, Jan 17th)
● Liverpool Social Forum second Tuesday of the month (Jan 8th)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
The video contained footage from the abortive 'denim revolution' of March 2006, which followed the re-election of Russia-leaning president Alexander Lukashenko, over his US and EU-backed rival Alexander Milinkievič. As the Bush administration alleged voting irregularities (pot, kettle, black), a large group of protesters set up a tent city in the October Square, in an echo of what had happened during Ukraine's 'Orange revolution'. However, there was to be no victory for Washington here, because massive police repression was able to overcome the protests, which seemed to lack the large working class base of their Kiev equivalents.
The comrades explained that though they did not support Milinkievič, they were active in the protests against Lukashenko's government, seeing them as an opportunity to spread their ideas. Indeed, the videos showed quite a few red and black flags amongst the blue of Milinkievič. The male comrade was imprisoned for taking part.
Radical activism and anarchism seems to be in its infancy in Belarus. The female comrade remarked how there are no social centres in her land, because activists are frequently targeted by the state. Radicalism in Belarus was strangled in the Soviet Union, and Lukashenko has kept much of the Stalinist apparatus, not even bothering to rename the KGB! However, the neoliberal 'shock therapy' which is increasingly attacking the living standards of working people will inevitably provoke resistance in years to come. For example, on 1st January 2008, Lukashenko will bring in benefit cuts the like of which Gordon Brown probably only dreams of.
Students, pensioners and 'veterans of labour' are currently entitled to half-price fares on public transport. Children under three years old get free medical care. Former inmates of German WW2 concentration camps are given free medical and dental treatment and free public transport. Victims of the 1980s Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, which affected Belarus more than any other of the then republics in the USSR, have free medical care, 50% lower rents and cheap housing credit. Military and police personnel got free medical attention and annual holidays. In four weeks' time, the only section of Belarusian society to keep their benefits will be parliamentary deputies!
The enormity of our global task struck me during this meeting. The generations of working class people in Britain, the US and western Europe who won social gains from their ruling classes are becoming less active and dying off. Those who survive are mostly tied to the trade union bureaucracy that Thatcher's children know little of and (rightly) trust even less. Like our young comrades from Belarus, anarchists in the UK have some theory, but have experienced nothing except defeat at the hands of the state and its hangers-on.
Many thanks to our guests for coming to Liverpool, and providing us with a fascinating evening!
Indymedia videos of the 'denim revolution' can be viewed here, here, here, here and here. An introduction to the situation in Belarus has been posted on Liverpool Indymedia.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
The calendar records and celebrates the region’s rich tradition of radicalism and dissent. History is for the most part written by and for the rich and powerful and ‘official’ histories of Liverpool are no exception. But an essential part of our history are those people and groups who put themselves on the line for their communities and what they believed in and who ‘had a go’ without waiting for society’s approval.
On each of the twelve monthly pages, individual dates are recorded as the anniversaries of protests, occupations, boycotts, publications, marches, uprisings and festivals between 1775 and 2006. These include:
· 31st March 2006 - Over 2,000 demonstrate against Condoleezza Rice visit
· July 1796 - Edward Rushton’s ‘Letter to Washington’ challenges the President’s owning of slaves while upholding liberty
· November 25th 1969 - John Lennon returns his MBE to Buckingham Palace
Each month’s display is accompanied by a photograph or original artwork including:
· February - Right to Work marchers of 1972
· June - Liverpool-born Jim Larkin (who inspired workers on both sides of the Irish Sea) with National Union of Dock Labourers.
· October - Liverpool’s ‘Tatlin Tower’ – the speaker’s podium erected in 1973 at the Pier Head to commemorate workers’ international struggles and ‘disappeared’ by Liverpool City Council in the early 1990s.
The calendar forms the centrepiece of the magazine’s 11th issue. In the surrounding pages are articles and reviews including an account of Paul Robeson’s 1949 visit to Liverpool and a tribute to seaman activist John Nettleton who along with Alan O’Toole discovered the pauper’s grave of Robert Noonan (author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists). On the cover is a mural by local artist Stok entitled ‘Liverpool Radicals, Peoples Champions’.
The magazine is independent and is distributed free of charge. Outlets include News from Nowhere bookshop on Bold Street, cafes, libraries and cultural venues.