Reclaim The Future
Seamus O Conner reports back on one of the best underground parties-with-purpose for years in London, the second 'Reclaim The Future'
1st February 2003
The fact that the venue was thronging by 9pm was a fair indication the party was gonna be a goodun. The fact that the line up listed a well diverse selection of DJ's, bands and performance was a sign the party was gonna be culturally extra special. The fact that the walls and alcoves were covered with imaginatively executed artworks and displays with a conscious political message was a sign this would be a dance with a stance. In the end it was a fookin' cracker all round.
The second Reclaim the Future (RTF) party took place in a squatted venue off the Old Kent Road in south London... and I don't play lite with the lyrics when I report that it was nothing short of an inspirational triumph. As a party-goer bored of empty hedonism and vapid commercialisation but still looking for a cultural groove, I cannot speak highly enough about both the event itself and the voluntary labourers who pulled it off. Welcome to Reclaim the Future, one of the cultural forces evolving from the Reclaim the Streets phenomenon. But first a bit of history as I gleaned it...
Once the forces of law and [new world] order had decided to effectively treat Reclaim the Streets as a 'terrorist' organisation back in the late nineties, everything became more difficult. From being exuberant public celebrations attended by both young and old, RTS street parties now meant an inevitable ruck with the increasingly proactive riot police. Mothers and their kids stayed away. Other people got angrier, got pissed, lost the plot. Special branch officers were all over everything all the time. Activists photographed, DNA'ed, databased, infiltrated, targeted for harassment and followed from their homes. Section 60s corralled thousands of people on rainy days for hours. These were the dark times; powerful attempts to knock the gumption out of a burdgeoning social force. The Reclaim the Streets phenomenon spread all around the world, but in the UK people were saying RTS had lost its way, little knowing that strategically manoeuvred obstacles were being relentlessly engineered to bring it to its knees.
But Reclaim the Streets was just one chapter in the book. There were chapters before it and there are now chapters after it. And one of the latest chapters are the Reclaim the Future parties.
The first RTF party took place last year in a massive former night club squatted especially for the event in Tottenham, north London. That was good. Their second event last weekend was even better.
And despite the inevitable chaos which comes when a party of such magnitude is pulled off by volunteers, it was a testament to the experience of these bods just how organised they were in pulling off their mission. Walkie-talkies were brought in, compost toilets sorted out. Fire doors kept unblocked. The various stages were all stage managed, the copious quantity of performers all booked (for free) and given their exact (ish) performance times. As you walked round the multi-roomed venue it was evident that perhaps as much as three solid days work by a team of twenty or so had been spent preparing the place. There was a Wombles area (the White Overall crew that is), a Stop the War on Iraq area with the Disobedience crew and a huge papier mache tank. The Advisory Service for Squatters, No Deportations and Indymedia were among the groups with stalls and displays and - looking good under a halogen lamp and attracting a healthy interest throughout the night - was SQUALL's 50 picture A2 laminated photographic exhibition. A touring version of this web-site's gallery pages.
There was also a Critical Mass display and - particularly poignant - a display of posters, flyers and assorted artwork from all the Reclaim the Streets parties stretching back to 1994. A powerful reminder of a highly creative period. Up on the balcony - film archivist extraordinaire, Dublin Joe, was beaming visuals onto the wall... demonstrations, actions festivals...
As for the music... well the underground was all alive and thrive. A Live Band Stage hosted heaps of eclectic musical outfits including Tragik Roundabout's klezmer mayhem, Gertrude's all-girl quirky songsmithery and a newly breakbeated Space Goats. The bands were followed by funky drum and bass set from the evergreen Megabitch DJ's. A separate World Beats room mixed it up cross-border with sets from Transglobal Underground, Afro-Celt Soundsystem, Alabama 3, Nelson Dilation and a latin breaks set from SQUALL's very own Seed. And yes of course there was a techno/hardhouse room with the likes of Zebedee and Giselle wiggling and squidging the 303.
I kidya not... it was a right ball. And I left feeling refreshed with the knowledge of just how culturally effusive and determinedly creative the underground conscious party scene really is. It's easy to forget this sometimes, as the new world order rolls relentlessly forward with its programme of competition, community erosion and selfishness. Top organisers, top punters. The cultural community in full effect.
TACTICS AT THE NOT OK CORRAL - report on the heavy-handed policing of the London Mayday street demo, which including corralling protesters for hours - 01-May-2001
ASSEMBLIES OF CELEBRATION, ASSEMBLIES OF DISSENT - recent political history of UK raves and festivals - 1998