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Review: How to Change the World – Tales of Marx and Marxism – by Eric Hobsbawm

This is the second Hobsbawm book that I have tackled and I find him to be a detailed, erudite, intelligent author and his obvious left-leaning politics readily assist him in compiling this study of Karl Marx and his work. The first part of the book looks directly at Marx’s work, specifically his writings with Engels. I’ve read the Communist Manifesto and faced a Marxist indoctrination in the social sciences whilst reading Geography at UCL in London. I like the revolutionary aspects of Marxism and do consider most of my day to day living to be quite Marxist in its constant desire to uproot society from the bottom up with a distant Utopian goal that is a fairer and more balanced society constantly in mind.The second half of the book looks at the history of Marxism and its context in varied global ages. The Russian Revolution and Soviet Union are obviously important although for a lot of the book we look at Marxism in European socialist and communist parties. There are two chapters on Gramsci, the Italian who I must try and investigate further. Sometimes reading the book can get a bit tiring and it is very thorough in its detail. I’m going to tackle more Hobsbawm and would recommend this to anyone who wants an entry level understanding of Marxism.

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Review: Prison Writing of Latin America by Joey Whitfield

joey whitfield

Joey is a teacher of mine at MLANG in Cardiff University. This is his first book. It explores prison writing in Latin America and looks at abolitionism of the penal system and draws on some really rather delicate themes that expose the dark brutality of prisons in a developing continent where sometimes human rights can be totally thrown out of the window. There is a schism in the penal code between political prisoners and criminals and Joey looks at how these two groups affect each other’s progress through the system. Often it is the poorest and racially discriminated against that suffer the worst fates in the prison system. Poor, indigenous women victims of Reagan’s War on Drugs when Latin American governments need to satisfy captivity quotas in order to get their dollar funding are the ones which are locked away as they are easy targets for a corrupt police force. The first chapter looks at political writing within the prison system. I was totally blown away by the imprisoned Costa Rican author José León Sánchez. This man was a true victim of the system and was wrongly given a life imprisonment term on the barren prison island colony of San Lucas, condemned to carrying a ball and chain around with him whilst manacled all day. In the face of adversity, Sánchez became literate and his work ‘La isla de los hombres solos’ catapulted him into national and international fame, his original work confounding all the critics. Chapter 2 of Whitfield is very dark and difficult to read. It explores homosexual love in the prison system, from rape through to desperate displays of machisimo. The men turn to each other in a way of confronting the system. This chapter looks mainly at imprisoned Cubans. Chapter 3 is brutal in the way it describes the prison massacres of Senderoso Luminosa captives who fight wars with the Peruvian authorities from behind the door, all in defence of their leftist communist ideologies. Some of the worst prison massacres in history occurred in Peru during the 1980s at the peak of the Senedero resistance guerrilla war with the state. Chapter 4 is about the War on Drugs where the Reagan administration turns its Southern hemisphere politics away from leftist insurgents and criminalises the narcotics industry, creating a new criminal class. Comando Vermelho (Red Command) is Brasil are a drug-trafficking criminal gang that originate in prisons…

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Review: Happy Mondays – Excess All Areas – by Simon Spence

Happy Mondays

This is the third Simon Spence book that I have read. He is a very talented music journalist from Manchester with a taste for documenting, wild, stylish cultural movements that have emerged from the Madchester craziness. Excess All Areas covers perhaps the most successful and innovative band to have ridden the early acid house craze that swept the nation in the mate 1980s. With the charismatic Shaun Ryder heading up the band, a true hedonist, a notorious substance abuser, it was always difficult for the true Happy Mondays to translate through the myriad web of journalists who tried to document them. Ryder, much to the annoyance of most of the musical backdrop of the band, Paul Ryder (Bass), Gary Whelan (Drums), Paul Davis (keyboard), Mark Day (Guitar), Mark ‘Bez’ Berry (dancer), got into a habit of blagging the press and feeding them over the top exaggerations of the band’s history and exploits. In hindsight, this was pure marketing genius and led to much of the mystery and notoriety that paved the way for success. However, it sifting all the bullshit, has made the writing of this book that much more difficult for Simon Spence. The early days of a relatively privileged middle class upbringing contrasts with the bunch of Manchester council estate ‘scallies’ they tried to portray themselves as. Sure there was petty crime and shopflifting etc. but nothing serious, although perhaps the addition of Bez to the group was actually verging on real true life crime as he obviously was up to the neck in it as a youngster and quite obviously expanded his mini empire quite a lot under the guise of being part of the band…. Manchester Giants, Factory Records and Tony Wilson picked up the band and signed them which paved their way to success following the ilk of luminaries Joy Division and New Order and allowing them direct access to one of the UK’s most influential music venues, the Haçienda. It all happened at just the right time for this band, as the cultural rebellion against failed Thatcherism took hold of the UK’s disillusioned youth masses and expressed itself in the ‘Acid House’ movement. Ecstasy-fuelled, fashion shifts, mass movement and gathering of people in raves, parties and festivals, vast increase in polydrug clubbing and mainstream ending of anti-drug taboos. A lot of this movement was driven by DJs and the Mondays’ uniqueness was that they…

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Review: Altered State – The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House – by Matthew Collin

altered state

I’ve already read a Matthew Collin book – This is Serbia Calling – so I was chuffed when I stumbled upon this work, a history of UK dance music culture. As a DJ and Promoter for 24 years I’m quite aware of a lot of the history of dance music in the UK. This book, however, filled in many of the gaps, and was a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening read. The well known story of how acid house culture came to the UK via Ibiza’s Summer of Love where Nicky Holloway, Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold and Trevor Fung experienced the delight’s of Alfredo weaving magic on the White Isle and brought back their ideas to the London clubscene, is a familiar tale, often recited religiously in club culture publications like Mixmag. The author gives a comprehensive account of the beginnings and it was great to hear the true story and what bliss these guys must have experienced. Shoom, Spectrum and the Milk Bar launched successfully and the early adopters were soon welcoming new ‘Acid Teds’ and a hippy revival based on lush house electronica began to hit the mainstream. The book looks at London and Manchester in detail as well as exploring some of the less likelier destinations of UK club culture like Blackburn and later the countryside free party and rave movement. The study of the fracture of dance music into its various sub-genres and the movement of people that followed each branch provides much analysis and we see Warehouse parties, techno anarchists, drum and bass division and later the emergence of new genres like speed garage, grime and dubstep. The book focuses a lot on the role of narcotics in this new ascendant youth culture. The critical importance of ecstasy (MDMA) to the whole movement which eventually led to a massive increase and normalisation of drug culture across the country, with polydrug use becoming popular and clubbers and ravers exploring acid (LSD), cocaine, heroin, ketamine, amphetamines and the various different types of cannabis. It’s amazing how much anti dance music propaganda was spread by the media. Governments were scared and there was a great deal of legislation set up to counter the whole movement. Enlightened masses were a danger to the establishment and the whole culture was seen as an alternative political situation. The long-running battles between promoters, DJs and the UK Police was interesting and it was…

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Review: The Life and Lines of Brandon Block by Matt Trollope

brandon block

I was a DJ myself back in the 1990s and although I never played alongside Brandon Block, I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. Once, on his father’s birthday in a London bar/club, I had just got out of one of my early mental health hospital stints and I think Brandon was in recovery…. I asked him for some advice and told him about my experiences and he gave me some real pointers about how to deal with my situation, probably moreso than any other professional who works in this industry has given me. Read this book and you read a tale of horror. People believe that DJing is glamorous and fun, but just get stuck into Brandon’s revealing, heartfelt story, and you will immediately see the pain and suffering that comes your way in the murky world of dance music performance. After all the early breaks, once the scene got into full swing and Brandon Block had established a growing reputation, he was pretty soon stuck into an ounce a day cocaine habit. He’s a personality DJ in house music, meaning not that he chats and laughs while playing – his sets are pure banging party rocking professionally done same as may other at the top of their game. Brandon likes to party too much and his notoriety led him well astray. I loved hearing how he began the whole Space Terrace and his fame in Ibiza alongside Alex P is pretty much unrivalled out Ibiza way. The whole Flying and Charlie Chester story was really interesting even if it broke apart slightly. He seems a down to earth good guy, a victim of his own success. Some of the mental health battles after drug addiction took its toll really hit the nail on the head for me. A lot of the venues and clubs were very familiar as indeed many of the characters. The clubscene fraternity is only but a village, even in its global stretches that it reaches nowadays. The 3 gigs a night blasting around the motorways and hitting lines of coke at every red light when the traffic stopped. All seemed absolutely necessary to continue to deliver the acid house that this Big Name DJ believed in. In latter years Mr Block did his fair share of charity work, feeding back into drug rehabilitation centres as a qualified counsellor. He is…

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