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’.