Step back in time to the post-punk scene of the mid 1980’s. Think Siouxsie Sioux, a DIY ethic, scratch video, protest, Thatcher.
This is the backdrop to Dump It On Parliament Revisited, a new living history artwork exploring counter-culture local history, created by artists Dash MacDonald and Demitrios Kargotis (DASHNDEM) and artist/musician Roshi Nasehi as part of the 2015 Library as Laboratory commission.
DASHNDEM had discovered the story of the Dump It On Parliament post-punk compilation tape whilst researching Bedfordshire’s alternative local history. In 1986 a group of local post-punk bands, led by Luton’s UK Decay, had joined together to create a musical protest tape, to campaign against a proposed nuclear waste site at Elstow near Bedford. In the end the government withdrew its plans but the tape was released and proved popular. The artists wanted to understand the socio-economic and political climate at that time and contrast it with what people are people angry about now.
Together they decided to revisit the original tape, the bands, the song writing, the fashion, the zines, cut-up film and the gigs of the 1980s post-punk scene, and devise a multi-layered, immersive artwork. Created with local post-punk bands and musicians, youth theatre groups, poets, a well-being group and the people of Dunstable, Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard, Dump It On Parliament Revisited records and celebrates the raw creative energy of the Bedfordshire 1980’s post-punk scene re-imagined for today.
The compilation tape of the covers and new songs was released on Friday 24 June 2016 and is available on bandcamp to either download or to purchase as a limited edition cassette tape. The accompanying documentary film by Andy Willsher is available to view on our youtube channel.
“The idea of the original Dump It On Parliament tape where local, socially engaged artists and musicians who cared about their community united in protest seemed ideal for revisiting today. We wanted to recapture the spirit of the protest music of the time and create a platform to voice contemporary concerns,” says Dash MacDonald.
Creating Dump It On Parliament Revisited
The artwork was developed over an 18 month period from 2015-2016, starting with activities that invited the local community to speak out about what they’d like to dump on parliament.
Setting the scene – an invitation to protest
In the summer of 2015, at Dunstable’s ‘Party in the Park,’ the artists set up a ‘Cut-up Karaoke’ stall with a soapbox stage and invited people to protest. It attracted a lot of arts students angry about the recent cuts to Dunstable’s Central Bedfordshire College arts department. At ‘Dunstable Rocks’ a hugely popular all-day free music event, make-up artist Natalie Sharp painted post-punk album covers on young people’s faces and bodies, transforming them into walking artworks for the afternoon.
The search for the bands
The artists had discovered the tape on Bedfordshire post-punk band UK Decay’s Communities website, set up by band member Steve Spon. The tape included well-known local alternative bands including The Twitch, Karma Sutra and Click Click. The artists invited Spon to come on board as co-producer and work with the bands.
The aim was to work with emerging Bedfordshire bands whose work was politically engaged. Following an extensive search the artists invited six bands to join the project – Corolla, Council Tax Band, the Defekters, Grand Mal, The Kindred and Spoilers, plus rapper Slippy Skills. Graham Dowdall, musician and composer known as Gagarin and a member of avant rock legends Pere Ubu, joined the collaboration to work on the live recording and editing of the compilation.
Each of the bands was invited to choose a track from the original compilation and create a cover, and then write their own new protest song in response to an issue close to them now. Tracks include Televised Murder by Penumbra Sigh, covered by The Defekters and She’s Chewing Them by Click Click, covered by Council Tax Band.
Re-creating the post-punk vibe
The 1980’s post-punk scene existed during a gritty time of austerity and uncertainty. Not dissimilar to today. Bands and their fans created a DIY aesthetic and individualism that permeated everything they did. Fanzines were roughly made using cut up newspaper headlines, film and video experimented with scratch techniques using found footage, fashion was frayed, embellished and slashed.
The artists invited three groups of young people to embrace the attitude of the time and re-enact if for the gig performances. Young people from Dunstable’s Grove Theatre drama group, Leighton Buzzard’s Adventure’s in Theatre group and Arts Leaders from Houghton Regis took part in a series of workshops with the artists to develop a character, the look and the fanzine “Cauldron of Hormones’ that set the backdrop to the project.
The posters and banners to promote the events were created by Dunstable’s Team Create well-being group. Working out of Dunstable Library, with Oscar Whale of the Broad Street Basement Press, the group developed a series of screenprinted posters and banners using cut-up and collage techniques.
Warm-up post-punk film festival – This Is Now: Film and Video after Punk
As part of the scene-setting, a one day film festival was presented at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre in partnership with the BFI National Archive and LUX Films. The programme 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 filmmakers John Maybury, Gorilla Tapes and artists Cerith Wyn Evans, Isaac Julien and Grayson Perry.
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 against the historical social and political background of the time.
The main performance was at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre on 27 November 2015. All six bands performed three songs each, recorded live for the new compilation. Also performing were the youth group Adventures in Theatre with their song ‘back to the eighties,’ rapper Slippy Skills, Nick the Poet and Chris Amos, 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 rough and ready back room bar of the1980s with green lighting, benches and sofas. The new fanzine and the bands’ cds were available and original posters could be taken away free, printed fresh on a portable silk-screen press set up in a corner.
The week before, on 20 November 2015 the artists staged a free warm-up rehearsal gig at Houghton Regis Library and four of the bands played to a surprised local crowd.
The live gigs were inspired by the artists’ interest in historical pageants that took place across Britain in the 1900s. They were folk productions that involved whole communities in theatrical re-enactments of events from local history. In the Dump It On Parliament Revisited gigs, the artists sought to explore the process of rehearsing a community production that had the potential to create a learning experience and foster critical citizenship.
Dump It On Parliament Revisited – The Final Cut
A compilation tape of the new covers and songs was released on Friday 24 June 2016 and is available here to download or purchase as a special limited edition cassette tape.
A documentary film, Dump It On Parliament Revisited created by Andy Willsher, explores the history of the original Dump It On Parliament tape and the creation of the new compilation. It meshes the past and present, using interviews and original footage, and referencing the cut-up film making techniques that emerged in the 1980’s. It looks at the background to the original tape – the political climate, the protest group B.A.N.D. and the post-punk music and film coming out of the 33 Arts Club. Then alongside, follows the production of the 2015 art commission. You can watch it below.
A preview of the music release and screening of the accompanying documentary film took place at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre on Monday 20 June 2016.
Dump It On Parliament Revisited
At Party in the Park 18 July 2015
At Dunstable Rocks 22 August 2015
In Houghton Regis Library
Warm up gig 20 November 2015
In Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre
This Is Now: Film and Video After Punk 21 November 2015
Main gig performance 27 November 2015
The Final Cut 20 June 2016
Compilation and film release 24 June 2016
Part of the Library as Laboratory Commission 2014-16
Produced by Bedford Creative Arts
Commissioned by Central Bedfordshire Council
Funded by Arts Council England and Central Bedfordshire Council
Fanzine and film panel
Film and photography