24 December 2010

Countdown to New Years Eve Part 3

So, anyway, Stu and Wendy the tVC backdrop people with their lovely ultra violet inspired backdrops, are taking the NYE easy road and just coming along as dancers and hopefully just enjoying the party for its own sake and not having to worry about working at all. Nice. What we are going to have instead is the interior of the venue covered in plush material all around; removing that ooh we’re in a box with windows again. Also Brummy Jon’s light rig he uses for the ZedHeads gigs will be put into retirement for the night and some spot on club lighting rig is going to be used instead. Mark, our new partner in the gig, will provide all this and it should give the room a different angle, a new perspective which will be great as, you know, maybe, some of our old criteria for decorating a room – i.e. no criteria at all- - may have been getting a bit a stale if you think about it really. Not hanging on to the old ways just because they are the old ways can be a spiritually cleansing experience if you look at it in the right way.

Another thing we are hoping to get going properly will be the tVC soundcloud site. A bit of a shambles at the moment. Already we have around 50 sets currently being thought about being uploaded for your perusal. This site will be used to archive all our old party tapes / minidisks / hard drive recordings from over the years so expect stuff from 1989 to 2011 (NYE party sets straight up there don’t you know?) Currently frantically converting everything to MP3 we may be on it for a while till we get sick of it then have a rest then get back on it. I’ll post all sets on here and tVC Facebook page as and when they arrive. So, getting cracking Louie, Si and Jon.

Also old issues of Tangentopoli, will be posted on this blog as soon as they are scanned in. The blogger image up loader is shit so this may take some time. Currently issues 1 to 13 are up so another 35 or so to go.

Rig wise, I do love the tVC rig but humping it around town and country in a fleet of tiny cars piloted by soon to be drunk people is not the best course of action so we’re hiring in a 10K rig to do the duty this NYE party. As long as there is someone to engineer it properly throughout the night then I’ll be well happy.

All that remains for me to do is get my mixer back from Dantix where it is getting a refurb slash service and I can get stuck into the thousands of tunes of mine all shelved up and pull out a few new year crackers for those old enough to remember.
I was at work today and me and a colleague went down to the local greasy spoon, Piggy’s in Chatham, for lunch. On the way there I was playing a CD in the car of one of my old sets back from 1989. “I was born in 1989”, he says.

God, I felt old.

23 December 2010

Countdown to New Years Eve Part 2

Warning: contains neurotic angst. Or how I learned to delegate resonsibility and take all the glory.

What does one do when the whole world is conspiring against you? Gaze into your navel and find evidence to back up your fears that's what.

Now, looking back at the last blog and reflecting on what was said provokes thoughts of an ingrained, unchangable, unadaptable behaviour on my part and questions my ability to adjust to new situations and how to handle it well. An adapt and survive mentality could well be the desired outcome for my present situation.

Let me explain.

What do I do if someone else, who I don’t know, finds the venue and offers it to tVC? I don’t know them but they have this venue and want to do a party. They also want to play some records at this party. I'm trepardous. Don’t know who they are or what music they play. Do I say yes because I want to do a party?

I said yes.

I’m used to designing flyers and tickets but this venue booker and his mate want to design the tickets. Do I let them? Do I have a choice? Didn't even get a chance to decide. They did it anyway and the tickets are not in keeping with the tVC style. Do I get upset at that?

The answer was yes but only for a short while.

I always, without question, like to use the tVC rig, its fit for purpose, its 5K, more than enough for the size of the room and have our lighting and backdrop people decorate the room. That rig IS the tVC sound; it is warm, punchy and that top high end is so crystal clear it makes me weep with pleasure sometimes. It is our sound. What if the guy and his mate say they have a rig that is 10K and our rig is not going to be used? What if they say they have some other form of decoration and they intend to use that?

They did say that and I said nothing and went along with it because I don’t want to make a fuss or appear like I’m against their ideas. Is it a tVC party without the tvc rig, without the tvc lights, without the tvc backdrops? They say it is.

I usually sort the DJ’s out; ask them to play, book slots for them and they are usually deep house DJ’s that have been playing with tVC, some for over 20 years. What if this guy and his mate want to book the DJ’s and sort the running order out. Booking say, a drum and bass DJ, a hip hop DJ, a funk DJ; what if the guy himself plays progressive something. Do I let them do that?

Yes, I’ve let them do that.

Is it still a tVC party without the tVC DJ's playing when they want and not having to fit in around other DJ's who have little or no experience of the ethics of a tVC party? To have our old friends and collaborators, like Subsdance, who we have partied with for over 20 years, play at the party is a priviledge. We have a tradition, a legacy, we have something special that should be respected. We have party peoples children come to our parties because their parents met at one of our parties. We have a proud lineage of maintaining the deep house flag, the truest form of house music, the original form of house music. It is free party house music and that is what our parties represent more than anything else.

What if I say don’t publicise the gig on Facebook, because, as regular readers know, every time we advertise a tVC gig on Facebook we get unwanted attention from the police. The local police inspector says he reads our Facebook pages and the blog? What if they don’t listen to my opinion and go ahead and advertise it on Facebook anyway?

They did anyway.

What if when I mention all these concerns to them do they not listen and just go ahead and do what they want anyway?

They did and they are. Oh, it all seems wrong to me. Like I’m not involved at all in the organisation, implementation or delivery of the event. It seems like it is not a tVC party and it isn't. It's something else.

Maybe I should just embrace that and wait till the summer and do a real old school tVC bash on the longest day? Yeah, that's what I'll do.

Now, I've got that off my chest I'm looking forward to New Years Eve. Not a tVC party per se but tVC-lite perhaps. We have all our best and regular DJ's playing from about 2am onwards till the close. Before-hand we have Steve Newing and Stu warming up with some funk, hip-hop and reggae. The fabulous Jenny Subsdance playing some swing house; Butterfingaz, maybe, with some D&B slash breaks. Mark Kerr with an hour of progressive house and tech (I think - have been awaiting a demo CD but nothing has appeared so far) then out guest DJ, Dantix, from the Margate Unite Posse. This will take us to about 2am when the tVC small arms squad take over till dawn and beyond. They are; Warren, the Meister providing old classics and new bangers; Mike Sun Up, deep minimal tech; Cottage Pie Si, the new boy playing this and that, all deep, eclectic, we like; Oz (on for 20 minutes, if that - probably going home early because he's "tired" or who knows a nice hour of fluffy new stuff) then Rosie the finest female deep house DJ in Kent. No argument. But only if she gets over her nerves, can be talked off the edge of oblivion and can be arsed to come.

22 December 2010

Countdown to New Years Eve Part 1

Did you get to play a few tunes, you might well ask?

Anyone got a van or donate use of their car and themselves as drivers that we could use to move the kit around? No? Don’t worry then.  The woes of a disgruntled free party organiser.

You know, when you’re used to organising thousands of parties; all sorts of parties, free ones, pub ones, club ones, London ones, and have done for 25 years, you get kinda used to doing them your way and I always get into ever such a flustered, threatened, neurotic state of mind when feeling that things are not being done properly. Know what I mean? No?

Let me explain.

The bottom line is it goes something like this.

People go “when’s the next party then?” I go “when it’s sorted. "Any ideas for sites or venues?” they go, “no”, and despite waiting around for people to offer venues or fields, which never happens, or very rarely, one has to decide and make a decision about something.

Normally we have someone’s birthday coming up, or it’s solstice, or a Saturday or we haven’t had one for a while; either way, the pressure builds, I pick a place – the beach, a wood, a venue, a field we’d been checking out, for example, which has just had the hay cut – and decide on the date.

Now, the rig? Anyone got a rig we can have for free? Or borrow? No? Ok, I’ll use your rig and pay you until I get sick of paying you and buy my own rig for thousands of pounds. Now I know no DJ will respect the fact that this equipment has been paid for and needs looking after and will, given the chance, turn everything up full blast until a speaker or amp is blown. It’s nothing against the DJ; it’s just they like to hear things loud, then louder. They’re all a bit deaf you see?

Hey, don't worry, we'll pass a bucket round and people can contribute and that'll surely cover all the cost? Now all money collected from the bucket can go to filling the generator up – anyone lend us a generator? No? Well I’ll hire my own, go and pick it up, look after it all through the party, making sure it’s filled up with the fuel I bought and which I won’t get the money back because there is not enough ‘contributions’ in the bucket. Again. Then I’ll take it back to the hire place on Monday before work. Oh, fuck it, I’ll just buy a generator or acquire one from a friend of C, who kindly lent us one and now doesn’t want it back. Yet. Phew, saving money there maybe.

Ok so that’s the rig, the field, the generator sorted out. Anyone got a van or donate use of their car and themselves as drivers that we could use to move the kit around? No? Don’t worry, I’ll hire a van for the weekend, pay the deposit, buy the fuel and drive it there and back. What about a marquee? No? Don’t worry I’ll just buy an ex army one with a few chums; that’d sort it out nicely. Nah, don’t worry, it’s a free party, everyone does everything for free don’t you know?

Anyone want to design some flyers for the party? No? Don’t worry, I’ll do that, I love Photoshop, and have, actually designed flyers for over 500 parties. Ooh, get me. What about distributing them? No? Don’t worry, I’ll do that. I go out a lot and can generate interest just by giving everyone I meet and know a flyer. I’ll put my number on and everyone can ring me and I can deal with the calls and make sure everyone gets directions on the night. I can also advertise in Tangentopoli, the tvc newsletter that I write with my girlfriend; or online. I can tramp around to other parties and hand out flyers there too.

At the party, after putting up the marquee, the rig, sorting out the generator I can then go to the car park and hang out there for 3 to 4 hours directing all the cars to park properly as we don’t have much room and no one else will do it anyway. I can also answer my phone every 10 seconds helping people who have lost their way or can’t find the party to get here safely.

DJ’s? Yeah, I’ll sort the DJ’s out; the running order, making sure they all get on and off on time; sort out any niggles, change the running order if necessary; such a crucial part of the party don't you know?

The police you say? Don’t worry, Oz will always talk to the police and get us an extension till at least the morning because he's fully knowledgable about the laws they use against us.

Clearing up? I’ll do that. Taking marquee down? Leave it, you go home, no problems, yeah, you got to feed the dog, sleep, I understand. Rubbish, litter, shit? Leave that to the last few, we’ll put in all our cars and van after we’ve packed the rig up and loaded it back, driven it home, and unpacked it into the garage or shed. then we'll get rid of the rubbish. it's fine...
Hey, let’s go to the pub to finish the weekend off? Yeah, don’t worry; I’ll get the drinks in; as a thank you for all you did for the party. My poor put upon girlfriend at the time, Nick, was by my side throughout every tiny little episode and upset for 17 years. Christ, I miss her.

Did you get to play a few tunes you might well ask? That is, after all, the purpose of organising a free deep house music party in the woods is it not?

No, of course I fucking didn’t. I was far too busy for all that pop star shit.

Besides, most of the time it is a joyous, collaborative effort with a lot of people contributing their time, energy and skill and I do get to play the odd set now and then which, of course I thoroughly enjoy. But, it is nice to have a whinge now and then and to exaggerate your woes for comic effect?

21 December 2010

It’s oh so random darling.

Jazz's Birthday Party at Salt Marsh, Whitstable.

The Lovely Jazz had her birthday party at the even lovelier Salt Marsh Restaurant in Whitstable through the week. She’d booked the whole place out and it was bedecked in helium filled balloons nestling on the ceiling with great trailing cords of ribbon. With some excellent retro music played on a record player with records – remember them? – by the only waitress the atmosphere was set for a rip roaring night. Don’t mind me for a moment whilst I reminisce nostalgically about records.

Salt Marsh is a lovable old restaurant without any pretensions. It has two rows of tables, one on each side, as you enter. Every time the door opens an arctic blast flushes the heat out. We learn to quickly open, step outside, then quickly shut the door to maximise heat retention. Cars coming up to the junction at Nelson Road shine their beams through the steamed up windows. It's also oppostite Oxford Mansions, home of tVC for many a year. They have a counter and a small kitchen outback through some beaded curtain, wooden floors and mis-matched chairs and tables of various sizes. So contempory, darling.

What’s on the menu? There is no menu. You pay at the end and it's £20 per head excluding drink - bottle of beer £2.95. Ouch. You go in and the mountain of food just keeps on coming. C goes, after a good hour of face stuffing, giant prawns, sea bream, olives, various breads and round after round of delicious home cooked food; “Ooh that was nice. I could do with my pudding now.” She turns to the waitress, “When is the pudding coming?” Waitress replies, “After the main course.” She thought the meal was over. Mains were steak, fish, chicken with mountains of vegetables.

It was. Two and a half hours later no one could move. After a hearty high pitched rendition of “Happy Birthday”, on helium of course, it was all over bar the post meal cigar and port.

Food was tapas, mezzo style, all big bite size and more than enough for everyone. Mediterranean, French, Spanish, English all thrown in the mix. Why not? Made for sharing and animated conversation. I like the way it’s all a bit higgledy piggledy and if you don’t like one thing then, hey, wait a minute and something you do like will come along. It’s oh so random darling. What with the Cava flowing like water, great company and conversation, not forgetting food it can only be described as a great night out.

9 December 2010

TVC Voyage to the land of Mush - Part Two - Neptune Double Header…

a crowd of utterly disparate, smiling faces, all dancing, some to a music they’d never heard before

Full Phat completes his two part review of Darren's 40th Birthday Party in the lovely Faversham, Kent.

Ah, we love the Neppy
The eve of my birthday, June 6. As usual on a child free Saturday morning I wake up next to DLL, with my eyes feeling like they’ve been lightly sandpapered.  

The sun always slants very directly through a split in the blinds, and always seems to rise at the precise angle which will guarantee that its focus is refracted as intensely as possible on my sleeping face. I never get enough sleep. The alarm that wakes me up for work in the week always finds me comatose; at the weekend I go to sleep at the time I normally am waking up for work. And the sun, or waves of nauseating anxiety (mainly about how and why the intense happiness I felt in the summer of 2008 evaporated), wakes me up very soon after. Eyes burning, whole self clammy and tetchy, my mind starts on me the minute I wake up, like a chav whose drink I’ve just spilled. It never lets up, the little fucker. I never, ever go back to sleep in the mornings - I just can’t, no matter how much I hate being awake.

Well, it’s sunny, which is definitely a good thing on a day when one’s doing an outdoor free party. D had been clear about the order of play - he and his mates were going on a big booze up on the Friday night, and he would be reunited in the bosom of his family, hung over, at one o’clock in the marquee. The orders were strict- only D’s close family and friends would be present, Oz and me were to come, set up, and play some mellow house whilst partaking of the hog roast in the sunshine. The perfect prelude to a night of outdoor madness. We were armed with new records which had yet to be heard, and a van and driver were being sent to help us take the rig to Faversham. A chance to ride in a transit, engage in banter, drink lager and then play new tunes blind on a hot afternoon? Perfect.

The sight which greeted us on arrival in Faversham was very much of its location…3 sunburnt gentlemen of varying degrees of corpulence, swigging lager in chairs while watching a hog crackle above a fire. The marquee is magnificent, with a bar at one end and a stage at the other. I get a huge rush of excitement time travelling forward to it being full of groovers twisting and shouting to some house music as the sun rises. Oz and I set the rig up in 15 minutes, the first time the whole lot has been out since Brummy Jon bought the 4 new subs. We gaze on it with joy. It looks symmetrical, forbidding, solemn. Redolent with religious form, almost an inverted cross. The cover of KLF’s ground breaking “White Room” album makes the direct visual analogy between a sound system that looks like it means business and a religious artefact- and ours has never looked more like an object of worship. And we do adore it…

System set up. Two sweaty free party DJ's. First lager downed. No sign of the “close friends and family”- the party of corpulent hog watchers has not been added to. Oz and me are still eager to hear our new tunes on a big rig though, and agree on a gentle afternoon drinking free lager and spinning our new ones. The agreement lasts about 3 minutes. This often happens- I get frisky and puppy dog excited about any opportunity to play some music on a system, Oz gets briefly infected, then realises he’s been playing music on big systems for 20 years, to thousands of people, and playing new tunes in a hot marquee while some geezers swig lager outside isn’t very appealing. I realise he’s really wilting. Whilst I relish heat, and playing records with my shirt off in a tent that feels like a sauna is my idea of heaven, Oz’s northern metabolism responds as if it were being burnt at the stake. We need to get the bugger home for a cold shower and I need to get in the sea.

The party itself is nearly perfect, and would have been if anyone had thought that the daytime heat was going to lead to some early morning rain. It’s really, really hard to say what makes a good free party. So many things can go wrong. So many things can refuse to align. It’s a knife edge balance between planning and chaos, order and anarchy. It has to give people some of what they expect, but not be a commodified, packaged experience. It’s best when it contains a mix of people who wouldn’t meet in any other social context, and who may well despise each others status in the caste system of Merrie Englande, but they have to be kept from killing each other, not by burly bouncers, but by the mutual universal desire to have a good time. It has to be managed, supervised, choreographed to some extent (see the blog “Waiting for Scouso” for what happens when it’s not), but still have enough room for spontaneity and the unexpected…the party has to breathe for itself independently. Control it too much and you strangle it, you might as well be in the Ministry of Sound. Leave it to its own devices and you may end up with 6 hours of drunken bang-meisters on an over-driven system pounding any feeling of collective well being into a deep dark abyss.

The good free party, it seems to me, should leave the recipient with the same mental and psychological impressions as a profoundly moving and memorable film. Snippets of cameos, of unexpected phrases, of utterly unpredictable events, near misses, moments of elation and despair should be swimming around your head years afterwards. And if you’re part of organising it, there should definitely be moments of utter terror where you’re worried it’s spun out of your control, and moments where the sight of the collective love of music that really deserves to be loved makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and makes the old tear duct start to fill. By those criteria- this was a good free party. And here are some snippets of sight and sound I retained…

The beautiful young barmaid from the Neptune, Emily, only 21, pouring pints wearing her Smiths T-shirt. 21 and loving the Smiths? We love you :- )

A large mammalian member of the dancing punter looking for some of the mandy that was lifting everyone’s spirits…overheard…”50 quid for it? If ah had a knife Oi’d cut ya!”

The lovely first few hours, of the Riddimatics playing ska and reggae…in between their sets I ran through all my old Two Tone for a grinning, bouncing, very hung over birthday boy…

Warren’s mate from Faversham racks up an enormous line of Charlie for one of the DJs. As soon as he’s put it up his hooter, he quips “nice stuff that ketamine, innit?”. DJ turns very pale. Warren’s mate pisses himself laughing. It is Charlie, of course. Hilarious…

The temperature rose as the tent was filled with lilting reggae, but as thye mum and dad spread around the crowd, they became hungry for house. What kind of house do you play to a mixed crowd of deep house addicts, their children, the extended family of cage fighters from Faversham and Ireland, punters from the pub trade, reggae and ska lovers, and Faversham young mums and dads who love the X Factor and the Black Eyed Peas? Warren, the best transition DJ on the planet, stepped forth onto the decks, swept back his long dark hair and grabbed the impatient crowd with slabs of shimmering progressive techno. Absolutely no compromise, and impossible to resist, waves of beautifully produced sound lifted seamlessly off the grooves of the vinyl and washed at exactly the right height through the marquee. The first time the new TVC rig had been fully unleashed and the perfect combination of frequencies to hear from it. Standing back at the epicentre of the sound, a moment of free party epiphany slipped straight into my heart, and I understood perfectly why this was preferable to playing house music in almost any other context…large enough to be loud, small enough to be intimate and special, selective yet democratic to those who know…spiritually, cheap to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t…

I turned to Oz and gave him a big hug. “You’re a genius mate”, I said, utterly sincerely. I felt so elated, almost to the point of tears, by the thought that I was going to play my favourite records on this beautiful system, to a crowd of utterly disparate, smiling faces, all dancing, some to a music they’d never heard before. The rigidity of English Social context, the absurdities of the law, the division between those who love booze and those who love other intoxicants, all ruled that these people should not all be together in the same place doing this. But they were.

I was doubly excited as the last time I’d got to play to a crowd of any size, on my last year’s birthday weekend at the Brewery Bar playing for Delicious, I’d got utterly trashed and made a sonic train wreck, and been “substituted” for the redoubtable Steve Zest after 15 minutes. I’d nearly given up after that, and really wanted to be in the right mood, on our own system, to get back in the saddle. And here it was. Warren had got them to within and inch of coming with his sonic foreplay. He’d left Oz and me with a delirious, sweaty, ecstatic group of pre-orgasmic dancers to finish off. It was, in every possible sense, the moment of personal rehabilitation I’d been waiting for. The reason not to give up. The reason to only play with Tvc, where you learn how to play house music without prejudice.

But this is me I’m writing about here. The lager drinking bruisers who’d set the marquee up hadn’t thought it’d rain. They’d set the marquee up with all the plug boards outside. Oz and I are having a lovely time, playing 3 tunes each to a happy bouncing crowd. Oz is on his second set of three, and the tunes starts to slow down. The lights go out. Rain on the plug boards has short circuited the generator. Warren had given the night lift off. It dies as it’s starting to cruise beautifully at 50,000 feet.

The tent’s in darkness, and I’ve got my head in my hands. Thwarted again. No one can leave as everyone’s pissed. A consortium of drunk and drugged up amateur mechanics ensure that the generator will never work again. Two sides of Darren’s family are fighting each other in the corner of the tent, silhouetted figures rolling around trying to punch each other’s faces. An hour of despair, with no hope of reprieve.

Until an angel of mercy turns up. Brummie Jon would normally be here, but he’s been playing with his band at the Hope Festival. Which means he’s sober. And has a car. He single handedly restores the potential of the night by driving Oz over to Whitstable to get his generator. Within 20 minutes of him turning up at the party, the music is back on. It’s extraordinary, and the 30 or so people who’ve hung on and managed not to get beaten up will be rewarded with more music.

I get straight on the decks, utterly overexcited, and play the acid house remix of Ebeneezer Goode very loudly. It is, after all, my birthday. This action nearly sabotages the party for a second time as the local police take a dim view of the Jolly Roger produced classic and are there before Mr C utters his third “naughty, naughty”. As ever, Oz uses his years of experience of calm, diplomatic engagement with our pals in blue and they leave us to nurse the party home. Derrick “DP” Patterson even strolls into the tent from Margate and plays a few of my tunes. Noticing that I’ve gained a few pounds since I stopped eating so much mum and dad, he says, patting my stomach, “fucking hell, there’s two of you now”. Good to see the old bird touching a bit of vinyl again though.

By about 6, I’ve grown tired of fending off the Fav chavs who keep touching the records while they’re playing and going “oi mush, gizza mix, I can fucking do that”. I would have played til 10 but they’re annoying, and I don’t have the psychic or physical energy to deal with it.

I unplug everything and go to DLL’s car to take a rest. I open the rear door to see a bruised chav sprawled across the back seat, his jeans covered in piss and his T shirt and face covered in blood. I roll my eyes. It takes 3 of us about 10 minutes to get him out of the car, as he struggles and babbles incoherently; within another 10 minutes he’s got in his car to drive home. They do breed ‘em differently in Fav….

6 December 2010

I was a classic early 80s white provincial hip hop fan

Wild Style was the first hip hop motion picture. Released theatrically in 1983 by First Run Features and later re-released for home video by Rhino Home Video, the movie was directed by Charlie Ahearn and featured Fab Five Freddy, Lee Quinones, the Rock Steady Crew, The Cold Crush Brothers, Patti Astor, Sandra Fabara and Grandmaster Flash. Full Phat finally got to see it 27 years later.

An unintended benefit of the snow flurries which hit the South east this week was being given a hotel by work on the Albert Embankment. As I am now a retired player, instead of trawling the pond life of Lambeth for a shag I went to fill a gap in my cultural knowledge; a seminal hip hop film was screening at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square (Time Out London cinema of the year 2009).

In my early teens I was a classic early 80s white provincial hip hop fan - a lover of breakdance, scratching, MCing, and graffiti but very much NOT a practitioner.

To slake the cultural thirst in Canterbury we had the wonderful Richard’s Records, white boys in shell suits spinning on their heads in the Butter Market, and arse wipe graffiti on the St George’s underpass.

Seeing the films was tough in the days before widespread video rental. There was a rudimentary student film club in Keynes College, which showed Breakdance and Beat Street (Arthur Baker soundtracks, amen!) but I never saw the pearl - Wildstyle.

I’d always thought it would be a great film to see from a fan’s point of view, as it features so many of the young B boys and fly girls who became pioneers of the new, multi dimensional hip hop culture that became the biggest selling music form of the 90s and noughties - Fab 5 Freddy, Crazy Legs Crane, the Cold Crush brothers. But I hadn’t expected it to be so smart, so conscious that it was recording a really significant cultural movement, and that it would showcase this movement that united some very obscure leisure activites into an international youth culture so effectively.

There is a narrative of sorts, as the graffiti artist Zoro struggles with his artistic identity. It’s not a tenuous narrative that’s just there for its own sake either - his struggle to stay “underground” and anonymous metaphorically represents the ambivalence of the whole of hip hop culture at that point in time. It was the time of “Rapture” by Blondie, of “Buffalo Gals” by Malcolm McLaren, when the wealthy bohemian punks who hung out in Upper East Manhattan realised that the kids in the ghettos of the Bronx and Queens were doing the most interesting things in New York.

The soundtrack to the film is jointly credited to Chris Stein, Blondie’s creative chief, and Fab 5 Freddie. The tension between being true to the game and selling out to the whites from Manhattan is represented in the film as Fab 5, who embraces the chance to escape the underground, raise his profile and get stone cold paid by the uptown set, is regarded with suspicion and hostility by those who want to keep graffiti and hip hop an underground secret. Once Zoro’s face becomes known, he fears that he will no longer be able to paint the subway trains that take his art all over the city. To hell with that says Fab 5 - put it on a canvas and sell it to the city…

It is of course the same dilemma represented in many art films, such as Vincent and Theo, and shows a remarkably early prescience of how overground this tiny movement would become.

The catalytic element is a white downtown journalist, who Fab 5 has met at an uptown party and who wants to interview the elusive Zoro. She looks like Debbie Harry with a few extra pounds (or minus a heroin addiction) and again references the interest of the punk subculture in the hip hop subculture. Her trip to the Bronx allows us to see it with the eyes of an outsider, and the scenes which scan the graffiti covered subway trains rattling slowly past what looks like a city that has been bombed are documentary in their realist power. Burnt out gas stations, crumbling 10 storey apartment blocks, shells of factories. It’s shocking that the destruction depicted has not been caused by war, but by a form of economic ethnic cleansing (“Reaganomics” as the Captain Rock track put it- the consequences of Osbournomics are coming our way soon). Let the racist market decide who should thrive and who should decay…

The portrayal of the power and resilience of hip hop culture as the community’s way of coping with being economically abandoned by an inhumane government is inspirational without being sentimental. Zoro’s intention in risking his life painting subway trains is simple- he just wants to make a miserable place look better. Fab 5 wants to tell the whole of America how exciting and creative life is in the Bronx. The joy, energy and excellence of the culture being showcased is wonderful and is skilfully weaved into the narrative without contrivance by using the frequent parties to move the story along. We see Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady crew doing some breath taking break dancing, Double Trouble, Cold Crush brothers and Busy Bee MCing, a young Grandmaster Flash scratching, Fab 5 and Zoro spray painting. The closure sees all the rival MCs, taggers, and break dance crews uniting to hold a party for the community in a disused outdoor amphitheatre which Zoro has decorated to show his commitment to his lover, who is far more community minded and brings him out of his withdrawn self obsessed insularity to share his gift and shed his anonymity. All the tensions between rivals are put to one side, as is the obsession with keeping the movement an underground secret. In the film as in reality, Fab 5 wins- the culture gets downtown exposure, the rest is history, and white kids can buy the Electro compilations from Richard’s Records and spin on their heads in shopping centres in the home counties. Fab 5 of course became the first hip hop presenter on MTV- presenting and producing Yo! MTV Raps. Thanks Fab 5 for not being afraid of the overground and letting us all play.

“Fab 5 Freddie told me everybody’s fly

DJs are spinning I said my my

Flash is best, Flash is cool”

Blondie, Rapture

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