This year's coolest xmas party: Occupy London's thank you gig

Guests including Thom Yorke and 3D from Massive Attack took to the decks.

The Occupy London movement received a well deserved thank you last night (December 6) in the form of a secret gig with appearances on the decks from the likes of Thom Yorke, 3D from Massive Attack and Tim Goldsworthy from UNKLE.

The press gang met up a few hours before, most still unaware of exactly what was going to go down. The only information we all seemed to have was that something big was going to happen at the occupied UBS site, the 'Bank of Ideas'. Ironically as we left, spokesman Ronan McNern noted that our pub of choice was also hosting the 'real' UBS Christmas party, one of life's pleasurable little coincidences that really makes you think everything happens for a reason.

As we walked to the location, McNern explained that the gig was kept secret not because of any notion of elitism, as some critics have already accused, but driven by genuine security fears (the small east London basement where it was held could fit, at most, 100 people) after Yorke had to cancel an earlier appearance at Occupy New York when the news got out too soon.

The idea was that the night would be the protesters' very own 'UBS xmas party', a chance to relax and enjoy an evening of entertainment. 'This is not about making something wild', McNern stated, 'this is a thank you for all occupy has done'. Indeed, after almost two months of occupation in London, a much needed rest was welcomed by all those of have worked so hard for the movement. But the night was not all relaxation and fun, the gig also served as a platform for today's launch of record label Occupation Records.

One of the men behind the organisation of the label, Adam Fitzmaurice, explained to me that artists like Thom Yorke and Massive Attack initially reached out to occupy to find out what they could do to help, 'They didn't want to make this about them, they wanted a way they could contribute', he says. He goes on to reveal that several other bands have already got involved with the movement's radio station, Occupy Radio. Bands such as The Strokes and The Libertines are amongst those creating playlists to be aired.

Over the next few weeks, several albums will be digitally released in a 'pay what you want' format, championed by Radiohead with their In Rainbows album. Artists have come together to write and records songs supporting the worldwide protests, but little was revealed about exactly who was involved. The first album to be released will be a recording of the night, featuring the sets by Yorke, 3D and Goldsworthy as well as a DVD recording of the poetry and dance performances that went on throughout the night. Funds will help finance the movement, not only in London but also all over the UK.

As everyone danced and had a good time I had the chance to speak to some people, in general the feeling was one of excitement, however the nearing court case listed for a December 19 start was at the forefront of everyone's minds. One protester, who has been out at St Paul's since the first day of occupation (October 15), expressed his fears about fair representation and certain 'elasticity' in the laws that might favour local businesses over the right to peacefully protest. He will be representing himself in court.

Another occupier seemed to feel more optimistic; she said she knew it would be hard but that she was proud of what they had achieved so far. Also out since October 15, she often does long shifts at the UBS building, which is open during the day as a community centre. I asked her about the authorities and whether they had tried to evict them from the building, 'I don't think they can really, not whilst the court case is going on' she answered. 'They have been quite understanding, we tell them they're more than welcome to come off duty but we'd rather they not come in on duty, you know?'

The level of organisation throughout the night was outstanding. Security was tight and the technical capacity exceptional. As 3D began his set, the crowd got to its feet and rushed to the front and suddenly I was no longer in the basement of an occupied building, but at a gig, arms in the air and with a jig under my feet. Clichéd as it may sound, there was a genuine sense of community here, kitchens open to everyone for a chat and a coffee, smoking areas crammed with people huddled together for warmth sharing ideas, and quizzing each other. I was welcomed with ease and proudly taken around and introduced to people with many stories to tell.

The next month and a half will be extremely busy for the occupy movement in the UK. Four albums are set to be released in quick succession, the radio station will be launched in full vigor, Occupy Everywhere will be underway and the court case on the 19th will decide the fate of the protestors camped out at St Paul's. But whatever happens next, the movement is optimistic that they are making a difference and are determined to do whatever it takes to continue to do so. 'We are the 99%', they chant, 'and the 99% will be heard'.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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