Library project pays homage to Bedfordshire’s noisy history
This project is a new living history artwork by artist DashnDem and Roshi Nasehi that explores the idea of the library as a custodian of local history.
The concept is inspired by the story of Bedfordshire’s post-punk bands of the 1980’s who were galvanized into action against the government’s plans to create a new nuclear waste site at Elstow, Bedfordshire. The bands protested by creating the well-known ‘Dump it on Parliament’ compilation tape in support of the B.A.N.D (Bedfordshire Against Nuclear Disarmament) campaign.
Taking this spirit of protest and ownership within the local community, the artists began a new conversation between the original bands and fans from the 1980’s and young people of today in Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard and Houghton Regis. The artists sought to celebrate the local post-punk scene’s energy and diverse forms of creative resistance and inspire new protest and local action by creating a brand new compilation, covering the original material and writing new protest songs.
The counter-culture of 1980s Bedfordshire
The artists originally discovered the ‘Dump it on Parliament’ or ‘Anti Nirex’ compilation via the Bedfordshire post-punk band UK Decay’s Communities website set up by Steve Spon. The compilation tape included well-known local alternative bands including The Twitch, Karma Sutra and Click Click. The artists contacted Spon about the idea of revisiting the compilation and he came straight on board as co-producer.
The search for the bands
The artists wanted to work with emerging Bedfordshire bands and began an extensive seach to identify bands whose work was politically engaged. Using a wide variety of sources, including local music promoters and fans, the artists selected six bands – Spoilers, The Defekters, Corolla, The Kindred, Grand Mal and Council Tax Band.
Conversations between the artists, Spon and the bands developed, with informal jams in Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard Libraries. The artists also invited Graham Dowdall, a member of avant rock legends Pere Ubu, to work on the live recording and editing of the compilation.
Developing the performance
The final work was to be performed at a warm-up gig at Houghton Regis Library and then recorded live at a performance at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre in November 2015. But the artists were interested in creating something more than a straightforward gig. Inspired by folk productions of the past that involved whole communities in the theatrical re-enactment of events from local history, the artists worked with local youth theatre groups from The Grove Theatre, Dunstable and Adventures in Theatre, Leighton Buzzard to create a more immersive experience. Through workshops in the libraries they introduced the young people to the diverse multimedia create output from the post punk scene, from the protest music and fanzines to fashion and dance.
The Fanzine ‘Cauldron of Hormones’
Through a fanzine workshop with music journalist David Stubbs, the ‘Adventures in Theatre’ youth group created a fanzine discussing what they wanted to dump on parliament. They then worked with musician Graham Dodwall to create their own protest song ‘Back to the 80’s. The fanzine was printed for the final gig and the group performed their song and a series of sketches.
Creating the ‘look’
The fashion and make-up of the post-punk scene was highly individual and workshops were held for the youth drama groups, plus the Houghton Regis Arts Leaders, to design and create their own costume. Using inspiration from 80’s clothes bought from charity shops and then slashing, fraying, embellishing, stitching and other DIY techniques they created their own personal looks for their characters.
Creating the posters
The promotion and identity of the original compilation tape was an important aspect and the artists wanted to incorporate this into the development of the work. Bedford Creative Arts well-being group TeamCreate was invited to participate. They worked with Roshi and Spon to create ‘protestscapes’, and then with local creative Oscar Whale to develop a series of posters and banners to promote the project, using post-punk inspired DIY processes. All the posters and banners were screen-printed in the library by the group and became the identity used for all the marketing materials.
The main, recorded performance was at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre on 27 November 2015. All six bands performed three songs each and their music recorded live. Also performing were the youth group Adventures in Theatre with their song, rapper Gary Stevens aka Slippy Skills and Nick the Poet, plus interventions by Adventures in Theatre who performed a number of sketches in the bar as an homage to Rik Mayall and The Young Ones.
The bar was re-imagined as a more rough and ready back room bar of the1980s with green lighting, benches and sofas. The fanzine and band cds were available and original posters could be taken away free, printed fresh on a portable silk-screen press set up in a corner. Tickets for the gig were £5.
The week before, on 20th November 2015 the artists staged a free rehearsal gig at Houghton Regis Library and four of the bands played to a surprised local crowd.
Post-Punk Film Festival
To set the scene, the artists presented a one day film festival at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre in partnership with the BFI National Archive and LUX Films to show the BFI’s ‘This Is Now: Film and Video After Punk’ programme. It documented the power of the post-punk artistic experiment with a series of rare, innovative, provocative and beautiful short films from 1979-1985, including works by influential film-makers John Maybury, Gorilla Tapes and artists Cerith Wyn Evans, Isaac Julien and Grayson Perry, while key figures captured on film include Leigh Bowery, Michael Clarke, Siouxsie Sioux and Public Image Ltd.
Steve Spon provided valuable, rarely seen footage of Bedfordshire’s underground scene including UK Decay and Click Click and the festival included the pioneering scratch video work of Gorilla Tapes who had begun at Luton 33 Arts Centre’s film and video unit.
In the evening, a panel discussion chaired by music journalist David Stubbs (NME, Melody Maker, The Wire) invited conversation with Tim Morrison and Jean McClements of Gorilla Tapes and UK Decay’s Steve Spon. They discussed the emergence of ground-breaking new styles, techniques and perspectives in artists’ film and video and the historical social and political background.
Creating a new sound archive for the library
The live recording of the Dump It On Parliament Revisited gig has been edited into a new compilation and will be available to download from Sound Cloud and the sound archive area on the Central Bedfordshire Libraries Virtual Library. The Virtual Library will also have scanned images of the original newspaper cuttings from the time of the protests against the nuclear waste dump, and images and films from the project.
A short documentary film is being produced which features all those who took part, from the artists, the co-producers, the bands, the young people, local communities and the audiences.
A living history artwork for today
From the beginning of the project, the artists have worked with people from Dunstable, Leighton Buzzard and Houghton Regis to create not just a living history artwork, but one which speaks out about today. From the ‘Cut-up Karaoke’ stall with a soapbox stage at Party in the Park in Dunstable, to inviting bands to write and perform new protest songs, and working with young people to create a fanzine about education cuts today, the artists have sought to create an artwork that they hope will revitalise the library’s role as custodians of local history.
Meet the Artists
Roshi is a composer, singer and sound artist who creates new works with people using sound, singing and the power of language and memory. Recent projects include Kuwaitscapes, a large sound commission about Kuwait’s traditional boat history, created with Kuwaiti families and then installed within a central Kuwait shopping mall. Roshi, who grew up in Wales to Iranian parents, is based in London.
Dash and Dem
Demitrios and Dash work together as DashnDem. Their work is about exploring new ideas and creating dialogues with the general public in their own environments. Using film, TV, radio theatre and other popular media the artists have created a talent TV show in Finland Show your Sisu and worked with young people to expose the methods of politicians in Imagine Being a World Leader for Dundee Contemporary Arts. Demitrios is based in Birmingham and Dash is based in Leighton Buzzard.