history is made at night…
Dead by Dawn, Brixton, 1994-96
Dead by Dawn was a techno and speedcore club in Brixton, South London that ran from 26 February 1994 until 6 April 1996. In itself this was nothing particularly unusual – at the time it felt that every available social space was being taken over by record decks, speaker stacks and dancers, and in Brixton there was plenty of techno to be heard of various varieties. But Dead by Dawn was unique, and not just because its music was the hardest and fastest to be heard in London.Dead by Dawn was only discovered by the mainstream dance music press after it had ceased. A Mixmagarticle by Tony Marcus on ‘Hooligan Hardcore: the story of Gabber’ (July 1997) stated that ‘In London, the music is supported by the crustie scene or parties like last year’s Dead by Dawn events, hosted by thePraxis label, conceptual events that were preceded by Mexican Revolutionary films or talks on topics like Lesbians in Modern Warfare’. Likewise it wasn’t until September 1997 that The Face published an article by Jacques Peretti, ‘Is this the most diabolical club in Britain’, documenting the speedcore/noise scene: ‘Like any embryonic scene, no one quite knows what to call it yet. But at the clubs where it’s being played (Rampant, Sick and Twisted, Dead by Dawn, Acid Munchies) they’re also calling it Black Noise, Titanic Noise, Hooligan Hardcore, Gabber Metal, Hellcore, Fuck-You-Hardcore or, my favourite, my a severed arm’s length, Third World War’ (the ‘diabolical’ club written about was incidentally Rampant at Club 414, also in Brixton).
Pleasure in being instead of having – this will make you stronger
Dead by Dawn is also (mis)name-checked in Simon Reynolds’ book Energy Flash (1998): ‘The anarcho-crusties belong to an underground London scene in which gabba serves as the militant sound of post-Criminal Justice Act anger. A key player in this London scene is an organisation called Praxis, who put out records, throw monthly Death by Dawn and publish the magazine Alien Underground’. All of these references contain some truth, but don’t really convey the real flavour of the night. This is my attempt to do so.
Dead by Dawn took place on the first Saturday of the month at the 121 Centre, an anarchist squat centre at 121 Railton Road first occupied in 1981 (and finally evicted in 1999).
The Centre was essentially a three storey (plus cellar) Victorian end of terrace house. At the top was a print room and an office used by radical publications including Bad Attitude (a feminist paper) and Contraflow. Below that was a cafe space, decorated with graffiti art murals, and on the groundfloor there was a bookshop. Down a wooden staircase was a small damp basement used for gigs and parties.
The basement was where the decks and dancefloor were set up for Dead by Dawn, but the rest of the building was used too: ‘Dead by Dawn has never been conceived as a normal club or party series: the combination of talks, discussions, videos, internet access, movies, an exhibition, stalls etc. with an electronic disturbance zone upstairs and the best underground DJs in the basement has made DbD totally unique and given it a special intensity and atmosphere’ (Praxis Newsletter 7, October 1995).
The musical driving force behind DbD was Chrisoph Fringeli of Praxisrecords. The notion of praxis, of a critical practice informed by reflection and thought informed by action, was concretely expressed at Dead by Dawn with a programme of speakers and films before the party started. A key theme played with around Dead by Dawn was that of the Invisible College, a sense of kindred spirits operating in different spheres connecting with each other. Those invited to give talks were seen as operating on similar lines to Dead by Dawn. I particularly remember a talk by Sadie Plant, author of ‘The Most Radical Gesture: the Situationist International in the Post-Modern Age’.
Of course, only a minority of those who came to party came to the earlier events, but I recall intense discussions going on throughout the night on staircases and in corners. The discussions continued in print (this was one of the last scenes before the internet really took off). Dead by Dawn was one of those places where a very high proportion of people present were also making music, writing about it or otherwise involved in some DIY publishing or activism. There was a whole scene of zines put out by people around it, including Praxisnewsletter, Alien Underground, Fatuous Times, Technet and Turbulent Times. My modest contribution to this DIY publishing boom, other than a couple of short articles for Alien Underground, was The Battle for Hyde Park: Ruffians, Radicals and Ravers 1855 -1955, an attempt to put the movement against the anti-rave Criminal Justice Act in some kind of historical context . People who occasionally came to DbDfrom outside of London also put out zines, including the Cardiff-based Panacea and Sheffield’s Autotoxicity.
The writing about music was in some ways an attempt to make sense of the intensities of places like DbD. If there was one source quoted more than any other if was Jacques Attali’s ‘Noise: the Political Economy of Music’, in particular the statement that ‘nothing essential happens in the absence of noise’. Other ideas in the mix included Deleuze & Guattari, the Situationists, ultra-leftism and William Burroughs (particularly ideas of control and de-conditioning partially filtered through Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth). As well as music there were various other projects brewing, such as the Association of Autonomous Astronauts.
‘nothing essential happens in the absence of noise’
All of the above might make it sound as if DbD was some kind of abstract, beard stroking affair. I’m pretty sure though that there was no facial hair on display, and I can certainly vouch for the fact that DbD was a real club, complete with smoke, sweat, drugs (definitely more of a speed than an ecstasy vibe), people copping off with each other and general messiness.
There were people who came from round London and beyond especially for the night, Brixton Euro-anarcho-squatters for whom 121 was their local (at the time there was a particular concentration of Italians in the area) and the usual random collection of passers-by looking for something to do with the pubs shut, including the odd dodgy geezer: UTR (Underground Techno Resistance) zine warned in August 1995: ‘if you go to the Dead by Dawn parties watch out for the bastard hanging around passing off licorice as block on unsuspecting out of their heads party goers. We suggest if he tries it on you that you give him a good kicking. You don’t need shit like that at a party’.
Some of the crowd might have fitted Simon Reynolds’ description of ‘Anarcho-Crusties’ but the full-on brew crew tended to be less represented than at some of the larger squat parties in London at the time. Of course we were more civilised in Brixton than in Hackney, and anyway the music policy tended to scare away those looking for the comfort of the squat party staple of hard/acid techno (not that I was averse to some of that).
DbD was one point in a network of sound systems and squat parties stretching across Europe and beyond, through Teknivals, Reclaim the Streets parties and clubs. I remember talking to somebody one night who had just got back from Croatia and Bosnia with Desert Storm Sound System. They’d put on a New Year’s party (January ’95) where British UN soldiers brought a load of beer from their base before being chased back to base by their head officer.
Hardcore is not a style
It is true that gabber was played at DbD, as were more black metal-tinged sounds – the black-hoodedspeedcore satanists Disciples of Belial played at the closing party (though it is not true as suggested here that Jason Mendonca of the Disciples was responsible for DbD – I believe he was more involved in another London club, VFM). But DbD was not defined by either of these genres – indeed what separated DbD from many of the other ‘noise’ clubs was an ongoing critique of all genre limitations: ‘Hardcore is not a style… Hardcore is such a sonic weapon, but only as long as it doesn’t play by the rules, not even its own rules (this is where Jungle, Gabber etc. fail). It could be anything that’s not laid back, mind-numbing or otherwise reflecting, celebrating or complementing the status quo’ (Praxis Newsletter 7, 1995).
This meant that DbD DJs played dark jungle for instance, as well as techno, gabber and speedcore, occasionally winding up purists in the process. Sometimes there were live PAs, for example by Digital Hardcore Recording’s Berlin breakbeat merchants, Sonic Subjunkies.
Even with gabber it was possible to get into a kind of automatic trance setting – after all it was still essentially a 4:4 beat, albeit very fast. The experience of dancing at DbD was more like being on one of those fairground rides which fling you in one direction, then turn you upside down, and shoot off at a tangent with no predicable pattern.
A quick roll-call of some of the DJs – Christoph, Scud, Deviant, Jason (vfm), Controlled Weirdness, DJ Jackal, Torah, Stacey, DJ Meinhoff,Terroreyes, Deadly Buda, not forgetting VJ Nomex, responsible for much of the video action.
The last days
DbD quit while it was ahead. Praxis newsletter announced in October 1995: ‘In order for this never to become a routine we have decided to limit the number of events to take place as DbD with this concept before we move on to new adventures – to another 5 parties after the re-launch of this newsletter on October 7th’. So it was that the last party took place in April 1996. There was some frustration that the baton was not taken up by others: ‘What a relief to be rid of the stress – but six weeks later we start feeling bored already and start looking for new concepts. Why did no one take up the challenge to make this sort of underground party spread? Why was the last discussion avoided by those people who tried to give us shit about stopping the parties?’ (Praxis newsletter 8, 1996). The latter article was accompanied by a 1938 quote from Roger Caillois: ‘the festival is apt to end frenetically in an orgy, a nocturnal debauch of sound and movement, transformed in to rhythm and dance by the crudest instruments beating in time’.
There was no going back, but many of those who were there have continued to be involved in making music, DJing, writing and other interventions, including Christoph (still doing Praxis and sporadically publishing Datacide), Howard Slater, Jason Aphasic, John Eden andMatthew Fuller.
The final document was a Dead by Dawn double compilation album (Praxis 23, vinyl only) with tracks from Richie Anderson & Brandon Spivey, Sonic Subjunkies, Deadly Buda, Somatic Responses, DJ Delta 9, Controlled Weirdness, Torah, Aphasic, Shitness and The Jackal, plus recordings made at Dead by Dawn parties.
Some Dead by Dawn texts:
Dead by Dawn on 3rd December 1994 – Club Review by the Institute of Fatuous Research (published in Alien Underground 0.1, Spring 1995)
Dead by Dawn is a baptism of fire happening on the first Saturday of every month, organised in conjunction with elaborate astrological cycles. It is an open secret, an anonymous pool of power accessible to guileless travellers of multitudinous potentiality. A new rougher and tender realm and yet another sucker on the beautiful arms of that octopus of desire called the INVISIBLE COLLEGE.
Dead by Dawn is an all-night feast of fire consumption; a self-sustaining palace of pleasure. Aliens advance their individual investigations into involvement with MOB RULE, test-driving hectic notions against believing everything… but minds do burn out (perhaps the effect of swallowing too much dogma and listening to techno played in other clubs that has been made with tired and fatigued formulas) and on this occasion we were sorely disappointed to have to watch the spectacle of certain elements getting angry because some Dark Jungle was playing out. Did this so offend their techno tastebuds that they had to spout their pathetic invective against breakbeats?
Dead by Dawn fires up binary dilemmas, resulting in aphasic implosions of belief structures. All the declared origins for things, all the various shades of after-life theory, are majestically destroyed. The fragile skin between inner and outer space has been punctured; a celebration begins, of incompleteness, the dissolving of categories and the accumulation of ideas. This is a launch pad for a thousand missions into electronic disturbance zones. Nothing is sacred. Dead by Dawn is the realisation and suppression of popular music and attendant social conditions; techno reveals how we find our own uses for magical systems, alchemically transforming machines into play-things, and constantly re-mixing, re-connecting, and re-inventing ourselves. All of this was confirmed by the live PA that night from Berlintechnodadaists Sonic Subjunkies.
Dead by Dawn fans its own flames; the key to its success is ‘Mind Our Business’, cultivating the MOB mentality. By outflanking the administrators of fear, Dead by Dawn gleefully contributes to the breakdown of society, as our contradictions disrupt the whole millennial regeneration of the Renaissance world-view, and the manipulation of reality for the purpose of reality. The whirligig of time speeds up and has its revenges. These digital hardnoises accelerate the displacement of hierarchy, they provide space/time travel to a classless society where there will be no plagues of crap music and stupid club-promoters, no ego-tripping pests and self-promoting bores, no extortionate prices and rip-offs, and where there will be unlimited free drugs, records, dancing and sex. WE ARE INVINCIBLE.
Dead by Dawn – a game of Noise and Politics (from Fatuous Times, issue 4)
“Well done, now you have captured the Seven Angels of Noise you may begin organising your Parties. Parties provide space for you to assemble Noises and begin Composing. But remember, with every Party you organise you take a risk, gambling on slavery or freedom – always avoid the Caricatures, such as Business Head, Drug Casualty and Career Opportunist; they will try to use you.
You must try to create Paradise City. You will need to invent the rules and codes for doing this as you go along. Your Compositions will provide you with new Relations and Meanings, use these as your guides.
The Forces of Restraint will try to stop your Parties. They will use the Four Hands of Power, Eavesdropping, Censorship, Recording and Surveillance, as weapons against you. The Four Hands can be used in various ways – strategies may include Law and Order Campaigns, Soft-Cop/Hard-Cop Routines, and Austerity Measures.
It is advisable to seek help and assistance at all times, to form alliances and collaborate with others.
Composing will allow you to learn the pleasures of doing something for the sake of doing it, without a need for financial reward.
Pleasure in being instead of having – this will make you stronger. Paradise City is made from Noise. Only you know this.
Good luck. Please press return button to continue this game.
Dead by Dawn: the 24th Party, flyer by John Eden at Turbulence, published in Praxis newsletter 8, 1996)
Down with intelligence!
Dance music is primarily functional in a way that no other music is. It should interact with the listener as directly as a fire alarm. Eliciting a response so immediate that it bypasses the conscious mind. If the rhythm isn’t replicated by nervous and muscular responses then it’s time to change the record. If it doesn’t make your feet and legs move then you can fucking forget It. Heads down, smiles on. Go.
Bodies jammed together have no space for pretension. Technology is utilised to elicit a peculiarly ‘primitive’ response. No time to think, only time to keep up. The third mind of the dancefloor is fully occupied. No need for packaging. Our bodies don’t care about record labels, music labels. Every man and every woman is a star here. The dancefloor is in another dimension to the coffee table. All of the body begs for a frequency to vibrate to, not just the ears.
The oxymoron of making “listening” techno is an insult. Music for consumers so passive that they don’t even leave the sofa and move about. Voyeurs of a subculture that demands physical activity and secretions. The spectre of “Intelligent” jungle or techno. The removal from the party with all its smells, interactions, exhaustions and into a tidy category for the post-modern tourist.
“Don’t go in there! There’s people flailing their arms around and sweating!” Save us from a dance music that distances itself from the mob of whirling people we have come to love. There are no footnotes when the bass drum kicks in. No time for roles. Intelligence implies a certain sophistication, a superiority to the plebs that are prepared to make fools out of themselves in the name of Hedonism. We reject it.
Well that’s my version – more contributions and comments welcome. Also I can’t find copy I thought I had of the DbD album – anybody care to record a copy? See also More Dead by Dawn
by Neil Transpontine