party for your right to fight: culture jamming in NYC
Now Playing: Howard University Marching Band - "Got To Get You Into My Life"
Topic: event reports
Saturday, July 24, 2004
It was around 9:30 p.m. when I found myself looking up at the Manhattan Bridge from a Brooklyn street corner down by the water?s edge. I was waiting on line with dozens of others to get into the Lunatarium. They were hosting a party entitled New Nation, some sort of multi-purpose festival with DJs, bands, carnival acts, and activist organizations. The heads at Complacent were involved, so I already knew the angle: somewhere between revelry and revolution. These functions are rarely ever without their share of hedonism, which was the very thing that made me wary about going in the first place. Decadence and I just don?t see eye to eye lately. Then again, when you tell yourself that you?re trying to live life like you know God is watching you (and sometimes acting as if you never said that to yourself), the tug-of-war between the spirit and the flesh reminds you that this battle is a daily operation?with no signs of an end anytime soon.
Visuals from a laptop were on display along the side of the warehouse with people text messaging from their cell phones in order to fill in the blanks of the broadcast statements. A man appears from around the corner in a white suit and a preacher?s collar, speaking through a megaphone. ?Now appearing on stage?the beautiful?sexy?Female Bureau of Investigation! Your chances of getting laid will increase greatly if you see this band! One can only hope that they investigate us?conduct a search?pat us down?? Apprehensions or no, too many people I knew were performing for me not to be there, plus there were some acts that sounded interesting. So I paid my ten bones, cast my dispersions to the side and walked in.
F.B.I. provided live funk and soul from a garage space. Opposite them was a tent area peopled with various organizations including Greenpeace, Dancesafe, and The League of Pissed-Off Voters. Functions like these always bring an interesting mix of people out: the ravers, hippies, hipsters, hackers, b-boys and b-girls, the well-to-do, the down and out, the anarchists, the activists, the undecided, and everyone else in between. Spent about the first half hour walking around and talking with random folks in the crowd (it?s amazing how easily my Boondocks/Okayplayer t-shirt can start up a conversation), as well as catching up with some heads I hadn?t seen in a while. It?s always wild when you see people from different areas of your life all in one spot. I could already tell it was going to be a memorable night.
I was encouraged to step into the garage to check out Femm Nameless, an all-female afrobeat band. Live bands that lay down a danceable groove are definitely my flavor right now and these sisters did not disappoint. They were tighter than a mosquito?s posterior from the moment they started and quickly whipped the crowd into a dancing frenzy. The lead singer (who also played a mean trombone) brought the politickin? to our doorstep in between songs: ?It?s not only about making your vote count, but who counts the votes. DEMAND YOUR MOTHERF**KING RIGHTS!!? The crowd answered back with cheers of approval. They closed their set with a cover of Fela Kuti?s ?Water No Get Enemy,? leaving us wanting more. We clapped, stomped, and chanted for one more song. The femmes took the stage and absolutely KILLED Fela?s ?Zombie,? which I was secretly hoping they would perform. I went nuts. Once it was over, I made a beeline to their booth to cop their CD.
By this time, the festivities under the night sky began to resemble a carnival. People piled onto a bus that ran on vegetable oil that sat across from a van serving as a confessional booth. Out near the water, short films were projected onto a silver screen and people took turns being tossed back and forth on an apocalyptic-looking machine complete with a body harness. Got a nice hook-up from one of the activist booths handing out goody bags from The Nation. Meanwhile, anti-Bush administration shirts were a big hit that night ? ?My Bush would make a better President? for the ladies, ?My Dick would make a better Vice-President? for the men.
Video installations of Dubya and protests line the walls inside. People are having their faces painted in a corner. A naked man walks among the crowd as if nobody's supposed to notice that the emperor has no clothes on. Three rooms separate one series of sounds from another. Just around the bend emanate the sounds of disco and tribal house. My man Jordan?s got the multitude body to body on the dance floor. The lights go out and screams of delirium erupt. I leave this scene to condense my two carry bags into one, just in time for the DJ to drop ?The Nervous Track? by Nu Yorican Soul. And from there it?s on. I think it was Tyler Askew of Rude Movements holdin? it down on the tables. Deep and soulful house met up with broken beat in the mix. Every musical experience so far was further confirmation that I was in the right place?and my friends hadn?t even taken the stage yet.
During a 15-20 minute wait on the porta-potty line, I was entertained by The Hungry March Band, a raucous dose of Mardi Gras spirit infusing their performance. Between Femm Nameless and Tyler Askew, I danced so hard that I was literally wringing sweat out of my Boondocks tee. Luckily, The Nation goody bag had something to change into: a short-sleeved shirt that simply read ?November 2.? I made it back in time for the second half of 3rd Party?s set. As always, they did their thing ? real hip-hop at its finest. Rabbi Darkside, Farbeon, and my man Hired Gun sound better every time I see them. The way in which they trade verses off each other and keep the crowd going consistently is a beautiful thing to witness. And it was just getting started up in there. A seamless switch was made from 3rd Party to Open Thought, and the hip-hop flow continued. MC/beatbox artist Baba flipped verses off the dome, including a freestyle about hooking up with Dawn (his fiancee). That in particular was a really touching moment, especially if you know them and what a blessing it is to see them walk through life together. Baba called Dawn up to the stage (who was taken to the spot blindfolded by members of her bridal party, including my wife) and just kicked the verse, then kissed his bride-to-be as the crowd applauded and cheered.
(Let?s just stop there: how many hip-hop shows have you been to that celebrate love in such a fashion? Or even take the time to mention it? I didn?t even think about that aspect of it until just now.)
It had become a bit of a sweatbox inside and my wife needed to get some air, so we headed out for a few minutes. A drum circle started by the water with fire dancers adding their own pyrotechnic movements to the spectacle. Feeling the breeze come off of the river, reality begins to set in. I began to think about the war of economics that my wife and I fight daily, the idea that the money that I make at my current job is half of what I used to make at my previous one, and the bills still have to be paid. The fact that my wife's full time gig ends mid-August and then it's back to grad school, leaving us with nothing but my current salary to live on. The lack of savings, the abundance of passions and dreams, and how the two sides never seem to come to a compromise. Beth and I held hands under the bridge, the wind from the water numbing us both, trying to make sense of it all.
Back inside, the crowd was merely concerned with the get down as DJ Rekha hit 'em with the bhangra beats. Around the corner, DJ Chrome assaulted body movers with dark drum and bass as MC Hired Gun supplied microphone motivation. After about 20 minutes or so, I retreated to a corner to rest. The sounds from different rooms began to bleed into each other and the visuals would follow suit. George W. loomed large on a wall while a video manipulator put words in his mouth with a few clicks of a mouse. Behind Bush Jr. came a parade of protestors demanding to be heard, refusing to leave until their concerns were addressed. This symphony of sensory confusion provided an apt soundtrack to what I was feeling at the moment, let alone the political climate of our nation at large.
Watching the sun rise during the drive home, synapses in my brain called out for a rewind. Tyler Askew's set came rushing back to my memory, along with the feeling of euphoria while dancing to certain selections. It was good to have been in the midst, to party and politick alongside so many. What we do with the information that we have shared and received remains to be seen, although word has it that $16,000 in donations were raised for a number of political and activist organizations that were there that night. One thing's for certain: no matter what happens, the next few months leading up to Election Day are going to be quite interesting...and that's probably putting it lightly.