16th June 2014 was the first day of Festival 31, a month-long celebration and exploration of the refugee experience in our city and wider society. Placing its focus on the creative richness of migration, its variety of events posited a lot of crucial points that often get overlooked by the political hysteria around discussions about immigration. In light of this, we asked the group behind the zine BETWEEN THE BORDERS to expand on some of these issues, and explain why partying is a serious business for them.
Between The Borders is a collective concerned with issues surrounding asylum and migration. We are a group of people with and without citizenship in the UK who have come together with the intention to contribute to an informed debate on asylum and migration. Since 2012 we have been working together to imagine ways that we can work towards improving the experiences of asylum seekers and new migrants to Liverpool, to encourage cross-culture engagement and challenge preconceptions and misinformation.
Migration is of course nothing new. In reality this world we call planet Earth has a long and rich history of migration where human evolution has occurred from an exchange of cultural practices. There are many reasons why people migrate: some leave their country of birth by choice for education and employment opportunities, and others are forced to leave their homelands due to economic and religious persecution, war or violence. Seeking asylum in another country is certainly not a frivolous decision.
Liverpool is no stranger to immigration either; historically, it was the first city in Britain that Irish, Chinese and African settlers adopted as their home for these same reasons, and in turn each brought with them a multitude of cultural traditions and practices that have been integrated into the landscape over time and helped create the rich and diverse city we experience today.
The diaspora of music from different areas of the world is also driven by cultural movement – or, to use another term, migration. This is not a recent phenomenon as a net result of globalisation (as perhaps the popular media would have us believe); people have been moving across the surface of the planet for centuries, and wherever people travel so too does music. In the context of transnational flows of migration, music provides a mechanism by which the ‘cultural baggage’ of ‘home’ can be transported through time and space and transplanted into a new environment, assisting in the maintenance of culture and identity, and at the same time helping to forge new methods of communication and connectivity.
The politicians and mass media purposefully avoid raising wider questions that can help us think critically about the positive effects of immigration. Where, for example, would pop music be were it not for the result of human migration? Would the Beatles, Stones, Cream and Zeppelin have sounded as they did had it not been for the importation of early blues recordings from the Mississippi Delta, as performed by American musicians such as Robert Johnson and Charlie Patton, whose sound signatures originated in their ancestral musical traditions from central Africa? The logical conclusion to these questions suggests not.
Music provides us with a kind of map of an ever-changing society and a continuous transnational exchange of ideas through melody, harmony and rhythm that spoken language alone is unable to offer. Music is particularly apt to migrate, to move, and thus to cross borders. It provides an ideal site for the creation of new dialogue through sounds, styles and musical subcultures, which, in turn, all serve particular functions in specific social, economic and political environments.
Spaces where music can be shared and fostered are vital components to a city, acting as contact zones and locations of exchange. It is these important exchanges that the STAR (Student Action for Refugees) parties engender and cultivate, through a grassroots, inclusive DIY scene that supports an exchange of cultural differences and in turn opens up new dialogues through a communal engagement with music, food, film and the arts.
In these times of so-called austerity, nefarious attempts have been made by multi-national corporations, politicians and the media to drive wedges between the different strata of society, focusing on arbitrary distinctions between groups of migrants based on differences such as legal status or national origin. The intended consequences of which are to divide society into a ‘them and us’ conflict, controlling public opinion that binds the ‘followers’ to the ‘leaders’ and assists the drive of neoliberal socio-economic policies in further persecuting the vulnerable minorities, whilst exploiting the masses.
During the current global political climate of anti-immigration hysteria, we feel it is time to address these issues in a broader social context.
Between The Borders was partly born out of meetings and conversations at the STAR fundraiser parties at the Bakery in Wavertree, and through the desire to produce a regular zine publication to address the complex issues on immigration and asylum. Through forming a writers group at Asylum Link in Wavertree, the zine has facilitated a space where migrant voices can be heard, and their stories told. Opening up such spaces, where a diverse representation of experience, knowledge and understanding can be articulated – whether through writing, socialising or dancing to music – helps produce new ways to connect and share through creative and collective practices.
Through producing events, STAR Liverpool funds local trips for asylum seekers in Liverpool, purchases resources for the weekly Conversation Class at Asylum Link, and supports the national STAR organisation. This summer we’ve kept a monthly party going while many students are away, renamed Class Action Week-Ends. It continues to be free entry for asylum seekers and refugees, but it’s no longer a charity fundraiser for STAR. Instead we are hoping to reimburse the labour of all those who have been involved over the year.
Though some aspects of the organisation have changed, it is still a party, where music, food and cinema operate in one space, and a precious opportunity for cultural exchanges to take place in a DIY environment in Liverpool. Through the parties we are able to organize the venue and the event’s operation in a way that suggests alternative forms of social space. The practise has made us think about how we collectively spend our leisure time at clubs and other commercial spaces in the city, and how they are run. How, for example, clubs and bars are often too expensive for asylum seekers who receive just over £5 a day in financial support. The design of such spaces seems merely to facilitate the intensified consumption of weekenders under the management of surveillance and security. Clubs often function as exclusive zones for specific social groups, and are unsafe places for many others. Music and dancing (if there is enough room to do so) are confined to certain spaces at certain times for certain people. We feel such clubs serve to be boring extensions of our working lives.
Class Action Week-Ends is our continued attempt to open up a space to a whole field of human sociality and situations of which we are otherwise deprived in our alienated leisure time. We want a party where people are able to dance or talk or watch films together while also taking responsibility for each other’s wellbeing. We want to be economically sustainable whilst including those without the disposable income which is all too often required to ‘socialise’ in other environments. We want to retain our autonomy as a party (and not as a club night) for friends and friends of friends. Importantly, we also want a space where our record selectors can make uninhibited choices about music for the pleasure of all-night dancing and where our technical amateurism is celebrated!
In the process of setting up Class Action Week-Ends we have been greatly influenced by the lineage of dance music culture: from Harlem rent parties and the trans-Atlantic influence of West Indian sound systems, to the proto-disco of David Mancuso’s The Loft and Nicky Siano’s The Gallery. We are interested in this history of nightclubbing because we see it has an often-overlooked social and political significance with a potential bearing on our parties today. We believe that these events can be a location where culture and conflict is negotiated, and where projects of social change can begin. Between The Borders is an example of this beginning and the project continues to engage with music and space through their relationship to migration and seeking asylum. Parties have also proved to be key opportunities for Between The Borders to disseminate its work and open up the project to others.
We hope to keep the events going throughout summer and beyond, and at some point move into our own space in Liverpool. As with all DIY events, however, they are extremely demanding and also precarious in that they explore possibilities beyond commercial interests, and challenge the conditions of our leisure time. Our partying is therefore a serious matter.
Want to get involved with Between The Borders? Find them here.