Through Cable Street Beat, music became a potent antifascist weapon against the far right

The Cable Street Mural by Dave Binnington Savage, Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort (1979 – 1983). Amanda Slater/Wiki Commons, CC BY

In the 1980s, Britain’s far right was on the rise. Fascist parties fielded over 100 candidates in the 1983 general election. And culturally, the far right was also making ground.

“White power” bands like Skrewdriver and Peter and the Wolf began drawing sizeable crowds and selling thousands of records. In 1987, Skrewdriver’s frontman founded Blood & Honour, a music network that soon gained followers and branches throughout the US and Europe.

Blood & Honour’s emergence caused tremors among the UK antifascist movement. Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), the dominant antifascist group of the time, struck back with their own musical network: Cable Street Beat (CSB).

This is the story of how music became a battleground in the 1980s and 1990s, as antifascists fought fascism with guitars and microphones.

Cable Street Beat

Cable Street Beat was named after the antifascists’ celebrated victory over Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts. Before the second world war, British MP Oswald Mosley had commanded a growing fascist movement that had been fiercely resisted by antifascists.

Black and white photo of Oswald Mosley
British MP Oswald Mosley commanded a growing fascist movement. National Portrait Gallery

On October 4 1936, Mosley amassed his Blackshirts on Cable Street to march through the East End of London. However, around 100,000 militant antifascists gathered to oppose them, ultimately preventing the fascists’ march.

The first CSB gig was held on October 8 1988 at the Electric Ballroom in London. Newtown Neurotics, The Men They Couldn’t Hang and punk poet Attila the Stockbroker electrified a 1,000-strong crowd.

Crucially, the audience also heard a powerful speech from Solly Kaye, an antifascist veteran of the actual Battle of Cable Street five decades earlier. Kaye warned the assembled concertgoers that fascist “songs” were “poison put into the minds of young people”.

Brendan, an AFA and CSB organiser and horn player with antifascist punk band the Blaggers, described to me how CSB was needed: “Firstly as a way to draw people who might be attracted to the far right into a more progressive type of politics … Secondly it was needed to bring people together from different cultures. Thirdly, just to stick two fingers up to the far right.”

The power of punk

CSB drew energy from the UK’s frenetic punk scene. Bands such as the Angelic Upstarts, Snuff and Yr Anhrefn all enthusiastically took up CSB’s cause. They shared the stage with antifascist activists who gave rousing speeches.

Punk poet Attila holds a microphone in one hand and beer in the other.
Punk poet Attila the Stockbroker in 2018. Madchickenwoman/Wiki Commons, CC BY-SA

Punk, and in particular the working-class focused, aggressive Oi! subgenre and related skinhead subculture, was an area that the far right had long tried to colonise.

Blood & Honour wanted to believe otherwise, but the skinhead movement (which originated in the 1960s) had roots in Jamaican culture and reggae. Indeed, few skinheads had any interest in white power.

“If far-right politics helped inform the identity of some within the … skinhead subculture,” says historian Matthew Worley, “then the vast majority resisted and rejected the substance of the fascist message.”

CSB gained considerable ground in this battle. High-profile bands like The Specials and The Selecter played benefit gigs. Multiple other bands – including The Oppressed, Knucklehead and Spy Vs Spy – put out AFA fundraising CDs.

Thomas “Mensi” Mensforth, the charismatic lead singer of the Angelic Upstarts’ (who sadly passed away in 2021), even narrated an AFA documentary produced for the BBC in 1993.

Unity Carnivals

CSB’s most high-profile strategy was its Unity Carnivals. The first, held in Hackney Downs Park in 1991, attracted 10,000 attendees. This made it the biggest public antifascist event in a decade. Bands including Gary Clail’s On U Sound System, The 25th of May and The Blaggers kept the vast crowds dancing all day under the banner of antifascism.

But the partying was punctuated with serious political rhetoric. Throughout the day activists gave speeches and handed out flyers. Brendan was part of the team that organised the carnival.

“It’s a cliché,” he told me, “but that carnival really did unite people. It brought a really diverse crowd together in Hackney and really got the political messages across.”

Two more carnivals followed: another in Hackney in 1992 and one in Newcastle in 1993, where The Shamen headlined with their chart-topping song Ebeneezer Goode.

Ebeneezer Goode by The Shamen.

Freedom of movement

CSB was wound down in the early 1990s. Nevertheless, music remained a central element of AFA’s activism.

By the early 1990s, electronic dance music had taken off in the UK. Antifascists immediately saw the potential and in Manchester local DJs and AFA set up the Freedom of Movement campaign in 1993 to mobilise these ravers. AFA’s magazine, Fighting Talk, declared Freedom of Movement’s aim was to “politicise the previously apathetic dance club scene, raising issues of racism and fascism”.

From 1993 to 1996, AFA put on a series of antifascist club nights in cities from Edinburgh to London. They also released an AFA benefit album, This is Fascism, featuring prominent DJs and producers including Carl Cox, Drum Club and Fun-Da-Mental.

The Blaggers had close links to AFA, playing multiple benefit gigs.

Fascism is on the march again. The far right in Italy, Argentina and the Netherlands have all recently experienced electoral victories. Many other countries – such as the US, Brazil and India – have experienced explosions in far-right activity.

Findings from my own research and others’ demonstrate that fascists are adept at using culture to achieve their goals. It enables them to transmit their hateful ideology, generate money and forge networks across countries.

But the successes of CSB and AFA provide us with valuable lessons. Music can send a powerful message and mobilise hundreds of thousands to resist racism. Its emotive nature can change listeners’ worldviews, and help create a shared culture that is antithetical to the far right’s divisive goals.

This is an area where antifascists can make real gains against their foes: uniting antifascism and music is a tried-and-tested method for winning over the hearts and minds of people against hatred.

Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation

Alexander Carter, Research Fellow, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


AI is supposed to make us more efficient – but...

AI is supposed to make us more efficient – but it could mean we waste more energy

khunkornStudio / shutterstock

The European Union is negotiating an Artificial Intelligence Act, the world’s first comprehensive law that aims to regulate artificial intelligence (AI) based on the risk it poses to individuals, society and the environment.

However, discussions of AI overlook one significant environmental risk: a potential increase in energy consumption from using it in everyday activities. Without acknowledging this risk, the development of AI may contribute to the climate emergency.

AI can be a double-edged sword. It can be a powerful tool for climate action, improving the efficiency of the energy grid, modelling climate change predictions or monitoring climate treaties. But the infrastructure needed to run AI is energy- and resource-intensive. “Training” a large language model such as OpenAI’s GPT-3, a popular AI-powered chatbot, requires lots of electricity to power data centres that then need lots of water to cool down.

In fact, the true scale of AI’s impact on the environment is probably underestimated, especially if we focus only on the direct carbon footprint of its infrastructure. Today, AI permeates almost all aspects of our digitalised daily lives. Businesses use AI to develop, market and deliver products, content and services more efficiently, and AI influences how we search, shop, socialise and organise our everyday lives.

These changes have massive implications for our total energy consumption at a time when we need to actively reduce it. And it’s not yet clear that AI will support us in making more climate-positive choices.

How AI is changing us

AI can indirectly change how much energy we use by changing our activities and behaviour – for instance, by completing tasks more efficiently or by substituting analogue tools like physical maps for their digital equivalents. However, things can backfire if convenience and lower costs simply spur demand for more goods or services. This is known as a “rebound effect”, and when the rebound effect is larger than the energy saving, it leads to greater energy use overall. Whether AI leads to more or less energy use will depend on how we adapt to using it.

For example, AI-powered smart home systems can improve energy efficiency by controlling heating and appliances. A smart heating system is estimated to reduce gas consumption by around 5%. Home energy management and automation could even reduce households’ CO₂ consumption by up to 40%.

However, a more efficient and comfortably heated home can make people stay at home more often with the heating on. People may also have increased comfort expectations of a warmer house and pre-warming of spaces. A study on smart homes found that people purchase and use additional smart devices to increase control and comfort, rather than to use less energy.

In the transport sector, ride-hailing apps that use AI to optimise routes can reduce travel time, distance and congestion. Yet they are displacing more sustainable public transportation and increasing travel demand, resulting in 69% more climate pollution.

As AI in the transportation sector becomes more advanced, the effect may escalate. The convenience of an autonomous vehicle may increase people’s travel and in a worst-case scenario, double the amount of energy used for transport.

In retail, AI-powered advertising and search functions, personalised recommendations or virtual personal assistants may encourage overconsumption rather than sustainable shopping.

Rebound effects can also transpire through time use and across sectors. Research predicts that AI could take over 40% of our time spent doing domestic chores within the next ten years. That idle time is now available for other activities which may be more energy-intensive, such as additional travel.

How AI is affecting climate action

At a larger scale, AI will also have systemic impacts that threaten climate action. We are aware of AI’s risks of exacerbating misinformation, bias and discrimination, and inequalities. These risks will have knock-on effects on our ability to take action on climate change. Erosion of people’s trust, agency and political engagement may undermine their desire to cut emissions and adapt to climate change.

As we grapple with the potential risks of AI, we have to broaden our understanding of how it will affect our behaviour and our environment. Scientists have called for more work to improve and standardise accounting methodologies for reporting the carbon emissions of AI models. Others have proposed best-practice solutions to reduce energy and carbon emissions from machine learning.

These efforts tackling the direct carbon footprint of AI infrastructure are important, but not enough. When considering the true environmental impacts of AI, its indirect impact on everyday life should not be ignored.

As the technology becomes ever more embedded in our lives, its developers need to think more about human behaviour and how to avoid unintended consequences of AI-driven efficiency savings. Eventually, they’ll have to somehow embed that into the design of AI itself, so that a world in which humans rely on AI isn’t a world which uses extra energy unnecessarily.The Conversation

Felippa Amanta, PhD Candidate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



AI definitely has its uses. I find it useful to sometimes incorporate it into my art. I think of it as a pseudo ekphrasis. Offering inspiration in a serendipitous form. It's also useful for writing stuff. As those who've read this blog on previous occasions will know I'm not really an accomplished writer. I struggle to get across what I want to say. But I want to say stuff, and sometimes I'm put off from saying it because the words just don't come. That's where AI comes in. You can get AI to form the skeleton and perhaps some flesh. After which one's own personal input can be added and edited. I think it's going to be invaluable. It's going to help with all sorts of technical things in our daily. We just have to make sure we understand that it is just software.

I have decided anything created in this way will be credited to G.P.Thomson. A name I have made up. I would also add that AI was not used in the writing of this post but it was for the picture.


Can art save the world from environmental catastrophe? | Tate

What role can art play in tackling the climate emergency? In this film, we take a look at artworks by L.S. Lowry, Simryn Gill, Abbas Akhavan, Otobong Nkanga and Nicolás García Uriburu, to explore how these artists raise issues connected to the environment and inspire us to take action. Research supported by Hyundai Tate Research Centre: Transnational in partnership with Hyundai Motor Subscribe for weekly films: http://goo.gl/X1ZnEl

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"The Ancient of Days"

"The Ancient of Days" is a striking and enigmatic artwork created by the visionary English artist and poet William Blake. Crafted as a frontispiece for his prophetic book "Europe, a Prophecy" in 1794, the image showcases Blake's unique blend of artistic skill and spiritual insight.

The central figure in "The Ancient of Days" is Urizen, a complex character in Blake's mythology representing reason and law. Urizen is depicted as a bearded, god-like figure measuring out the universe with a large compass. This powerful image captures the tension between creative imagination and the constraints of rationality, a recurring theme in Blake's work.

The title "The Ancient of Days" itself is derived from the Book of Daniel in the Bible, referring to God as the ultimate authority and creator. Blake's interpretation, however, challenges conventional religious notions. Instead of portraying a benevolent deity, he presents a deity involved in the act of creation, bridging the divine and the earthly.

The use of symbolism is paramount in this artwork. The compass held by Urizen signifies not only measurement and control but also the act of creation itself. The circle formed by the compass represents the universe and implies a harmonious order imposed by the divine figure. Simultaneously, the fiery colour palette and the dynamic lines convey a sense of energy and movement, challenging the static nature often associated with divine beings.

Blake's artistic technique in "The Ancient of Days" is noteworthy. The bold, expressive lines and the meticulous detailing in Urizen's figure evoke a sense of grandeur and authority. The background, a swirling vortex of fiery energy, adds a cosmic dimension to the composition, reinforcing the idea of a divine force shaping the universe.

Beyond its visual appeal, the artwork serves as a visual representation of Blake's philosophical and spiritual beliefs. Blake was a proponent of mysticism and believed in the power of imagination to transcend the limitations of rational thought. "The Ancient of Days" reflects his conviction that the creative spirit, represented by the fiery energy in the background, is a fundamental force shaping reality.

In the broader context of Blake's body of work, "The Ancient of Days" stands as a testament to his revolutionary approach to art and spirituality. It challenges traditional religious iconography by presenting a deity actively engaged in the act of creation, emphasising the dynamic relationship between the divine and the human imagination.

In conclusion, "The Ancient of Days" is a masterpiece that encapsulates William Blake's visionary spirit, artistic brilliance, and philosophical depth. Its vibrant symbolism and bold imagery continue to captivate viewers, inviting contemplation on the nature of creation, divine authority, and the boundless possibilities of the human imagination.



Poor Things: meet the radical Scottish visionary behind the new hit film

Director Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things tells the story of Bella Baxter (Emma Stone), an irrepressibly free woman who seems to have the mind of an innocent child. She embarks on an exuberant voyage of discovery, travelling around 19th-century Europe and reaching Egypt, experiencing many new things as her intellect rapidly develops, before returning home to face her secret past.

The film is based on the 1992 novel of the same name by the Glaswegian Alasdair Gray. Gray was a maverick and polymath – a writer, artist, polemicist, dissident and civic nationalist – who had an immense influence on contemporary Scottish literature and beyond.

Like watching Lanthimos’s gorgeous spectacle, reading Gray is a wild and unsettling ride. His work is full of progressive imagination, wry impropriety and intricate literary form.

Gray was a bold creative thinker, one who dared to make a slightly disreputable character out of God, for instance. He was a radical who disturbed established order, including through the blending of visual and literary art. For him, naming and contesting arbitrary power and providing both visceral witness to, and alternative visions of, contemporary society are defining qualities of his work – particularly Poor Things.

A Scottish Frankenstein

Rather than a single perspective, Poor Things is made up of different documents stitched together – prefaces, journal entries, letters, explanatory footnotes – that produce multiple, competing stories. The story is self-reflexive, where the narrative voice or action dwell on the act of writing or making fiction.

Poor Things is full of allusions to, and borrowings from, the rich resources of Victorian fiction – most obviously Frankenstein – and reference works. Typographical experimentation and word play abound. For instance, the name of the novel’s great medical scientist Godwin Baxter is sometimes abbreviated to “God” to emphasise paternalism, powers of creation, withdrawal from the world and many other interpretations.

Book cover featuring an illustration of a large man being hugged by a smaller woman and a man.

Gray’s creative practice is “multi-modal”, weaving the written word with his own visual art. In Poor Things, this approach can be seen in the images, which include portraits, anatomical illustrations, maps and frenzied handwritten sections. These aspects provide an added interpretive dimension to the text and reinforce, reframe or even contradict the written elements.

These components make for a pleasurable literary puzzle – but there’s a serious side to the novel’s complexity too. One convincing interpretation of Bella Baxter is as a feminist figure, who thwarts the attempts of men to control her and her narrative.

Authority is firmly in question in Poor Things, both the regular kind and the mantle taken on by authors themselves. It turns a critical eye on Victorian history and the British Empire, and the role of literature in that history.

Glasgow made

Poor Things was published in the same year as Gray’s Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, an anti-imperialist and democratic-socialist argument that advocated for civic nationalism where people are equal and active participants in Scottish society. He was an unapologetic supporter of an independent Scotland and a passionate Republican, which was emblematised by his repeated order to “work as if you live in the early days of a better nation”.

The illustration of Bella in the novel is labelled as “Bella Caledonia”, suggesting her as Gray’s metaphor for Scotland: tangled up with a difficult history but oriented to the future, and full of potential. Calendonia is a romantic name used to refer to Scotland. The fact that Bella is English-born counter intuitively supports this argument. A civic nation is about the people in it, rather than people born there.

Transplanted to London, little of Glasgow or indeed Scotland can be perceived in Lanthimos’s film. But the intellectual history and social consciousness of Poor Things is not independent of its Glasgow setting. Gray was shaped by the radical spirit and unique architecture of the city, which inspired his fiction and artwork.

Gray studied at Glasgow School of Art, the experience of which is fictionalised in parts of his magnum opus Lanark: A Life in Four Books (1981). He produced unique portraiture, familiar and strange landscapes and ambitious murals which can still be seen in Glasgow.

For anyone yet to visit, the stereotype of Glasgow is a city of heavy industry now vanished, heavy Victorian tenements, heavy drinking and heavy rainfall. That idea has been difficult to dislodge.

In Lanark, the protagonist Duncan Thaw bemoans the difficulty in imagining Glasgow creatively, a task that Gray applied himself to assiduously through his career. Lanark itself, an epic that combines vivid fantasy with evocative realism, is where much of that imagination takes place. Its grandeur and ambition would suit the blockbuster treatment.

Lanthimos’s film and Gray’s text are independent but related works. It is worth remembering that adaptations are under no obligation to be faithful to source materials. There is no governing body adjudicating and no code of laws to apply. Traces remain, however. Look out for the interrogation of authority, the imagination of an alternative future, and the indomitable spirit of Bella Baxter. Then read some Alasdair Gray.

Looking for something good? Cut through the noise with a carefully curated selection of the latest releases, live events and exhibitions, straight to your inbox every fortnight, on Fridays. Sign up here.The Conversation

Joe Jackson, Associate Professor in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary English Literature, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Julianknxx – 'I listen with openness and find poetry' | Tate

We sat down with artist, filmmaker and poet, Julianknxx to explore new ways of looking to the past through performing memories, gathering stories and re-creating family fictions. See the work as part of our A World in Common: Contemporary African Photography exhibition at Tate Modern, 6 July 2023 – 14 January 2024 Subscribe for weekly films: http://goo.gl/X1ZnEl

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Sargent's Diva Portrait | Tate

After watching Ellen Terry play the role of Lady Macbeth in 1888, artist John Singer Sargent knew he had to paint her. But his dramatic port...