Urban Vimbuza: ‘Death by Free Enterprise’ 1988
November 15, 2007
“The Herald of Free Enterprise sinks, Piper Alpha and Kings Cross burn. These temporarily grab the headlines that sell the newspapers that fund the next catastrophe. Elsewhere the scientists sell us failsafe mechanisms that snap, the artists cast over us the spell of beauty, the shopkeepers flog us shoddy goods. The Religious meekly offer up tolerance and all the time the politicians remind us we’ve never had it so good. Four screws instead of six for maximum profit, and the wing drops off. Lest we forget, we should try the war criminals of the future now.”Summer 1988.
“On Saturday the fourth of June 1988, as the sun set on the Bluecoat courtyard in central Liverpool there occurred an hour long incident. A monumental barrage of sound, light, image, daring, dance, fire, music, speech and performance. A spectacle based on the African Vimbuza ritual, designed to strengthen us all in the fight against those evil and negative spirits that have polluted the world sporting the brand names of Colonialism, Market Forces and Incentive, but all the time disguising the real sponsors: Greed and Negligence.”
…I’m sitting with Miles Miles on top of a high empty plinth outside St George’s Hall in the centre of Liverpool. A swarm of military vehicles followed by a troupe of Ghanaian dancers and manacled slaves slowly process around the ornate Victorian buildings. My friend Artmy Troitsky (Russian rock journalist, author of several books, one time boss of Playboy Russia and now head of MTV Russia) is standing, a little nervously, Nelson like on the top of a fifty metre high column declaring sections of ‘Das Kapital’ in Russian through a megaphone (the synbolism!). Bourbonese Qualk supply the soundtrack to the event -Miles and I are playing guitars lying flat on top of the plinth and manipulating the sound with some basic technology:
1. Take 1 old Mirage Sampler (The Bourbonese Qualk 8 bit standby of the day).
2. Sample random bits of live guitar…
3. Overload the basic sequencer function by pressing the ‘play’ button repeatedly in quick succession…
4. All going well the Mirage starts generating random granular type sequences based on live guitar samples.
‘Urban Vimbuza’ was a series of urban performances ( hate that word) in Liverpool during the late Eighties. The fact that they were in Liverpool (Liverpool was a long way away during the eighties) and that they were focussed on controversial and confrontational subjects meant they were ignored by the rest of the country -this was during the height of the Thatcher regime. Vimbuza scrutinised racism, capitalism, slavery, terrorism, violence, hypocrisy and threw it back in the face of an ever widening consumer society. The spectacle (i use the word knowingly) succeeded because it drew on genuine anger and spontaneity while remaining completely independent from political or artistic control. The events were co-ordinated by the ‘Stress Block’ a loose conglomeration of Liverpool musicians, artists and activists overseen by ‘Kif’ at his Bold Street apartment and studio – Kif’s other role was the policy maker and policy upholder, sound engineer and DJ for Bourbonese Qualk, more of him later…
Here’s a recording of ‘Rhythmic Stress’ from 1989: