A Darker Electricity by Mark Angelo Harrison is a book charting Spiral Tribe Sound System’s nomadic journey and the rapid escalation of their popularity – and notoriety. It won’t actually be published until September 2023 but it’s just gone on pre-sale with some tasty benefits if you pre-order now. As Spiral Tribe’s co-founder and visual artist, Mark has a unique perspective to tell their inside story. Here he explains the book’s background, what to expect and why he needs your help to write it:
Her Majesty’s prosecutor described me (with visible relish) as ‘the criminal ringleader’ who’d helped ‘mastermind’ Castlemorton – Britain’s ‘biggest ever illegal rave’. Equally ridiculous were the claims that appeared in the national press that had me down as ‘the leader of a techno-pagan cult’. Both descriptions are, of course, complete rubbish.
Back in the early 90s, me, my brother and a bunch of our mates, fed up with the commercial bullshit imposed upon us as ‘culture’ – and even ‘reality’ – decided we’d take our fight to the frontline – creatively.
Following those creative instincts – instincts that were heavily skewed by our love of all things Techno, Acid and Breakbeat – we squatted buildings and opened up free social spaces for ourselves and our community. Inevitably this involved installing a few Terra-strobes, a smoke machine and, of course, a sound system. A sound system that we called: Spiral Tribe.
Property developers concreting over 600 square miles of mother nature is one thing, but when we discovered just how many of London’s buildings stood empty, it had two effects. One – it made us angry that destructive commercial interests overrode all other considerations – environmental and social. And two – pure joy! With nothing more than an irreverent attitude, we had gained unauthorised access to the vast internal landscape of the city. A strange abandoned world, full of that rarest and most beautiful thing – potential.
And what perfectly timed potential it turned out to be. Margaret Thatcher had asset-stripped Britain and collapsed industry. Politics was now all about making money and keeping power in the hands of the rich. The poor could go fuck themselves. And if they refused to, then the state would happily invent new laws to do it for them.
But there was hope. And, as hope so often does, it came – from the future.
The future for us was electronic. Think about it: The oldest known musical instrument is a bone flute, carbon-dated at around 42,000 years old. No doubt its makers also had the urge to drum on whatever hollow log made a nice percussive sound. Meaning that, until electronic music arrived, all musical instruments relied on the same basic acoustic principles.
In other words, we, as a species, had to wait 42,000 years before we had a proper bass and kick… Considering the enormity of this evolutionary leap, it was odd that the monolithic institutions that controlled ‘the music industry’ were so slow on the uptake. Of course, it’s less of a mystery when one factors in capitalism’s insanely proprietorial system that locks out anything and everything until the bosses own ‘the rights’.
For us, techno and breakbeat were heralding a new and exciting reality. Though it was still some way off, we could feel it coming. But we didn’t hang about waiting for it to arrive. Determined to help it happen, we loaded our sound system onto a convoy of trucks and got on the road.
And so it was, by sticking our fingers up at authority, reclaiming community space and creating one of the few places you could dance all weekend – for free – we had innocently instigated a sequence of events that escalated, quite naturally, out of control…
You could argue that Spiral Tribe were just in the right place at the right time. If that’s true, then moving into forbidden territory was the right place for us to be. Because it was there that we stumbled upon one of destiny’s main fuseboxes. An arteriole junction where the currents of imagination and technology flowed together: A darker electricity.
About ten years ago, I decided it would be a good idea to write about my time, in the early 1990s, with the outlawed Spiral Tribe Sound System. As a founding member of the collective and its visual artist, I felt well-positioned to write the inside story of our adventures on the road.
I’d always loved to write, but I knew I needed to hone my skills for the book. I had to do this story justice – not just because it was my story but because it’s the story of a collective and a huge international community. It’s a universal story with far-reaching implications. It documents a unique trajectory in musical history, but also it’s an eyewitness account of how imperialist governments wilfully try to criminalise creative cultures.
I enrolled in the Open University for three years to be sure I’d do a good job. And it paid off – I got my diploma in Creative Writing and English Literature – and a distinction to boot.
About halfway through writing the book, my personal circumstances drastically changed. I left England for Europe to rejoin my old crew from Spiral Tribe and we reformed as SP23. This, too, was a very creative time for me, but the book had to go on the back-burner as trying to earn a living on tour is pretty tough. But now, after a seven-year break, I find myself in a much more stable situation and have started to write again.
Stylistically I’ve chosen to recreate the scenes as they happened in vivid detail. Thus avoiding the distance of a historic narrative. In the book, you, the reader, live the experience with me.
Time-wise, the book starts with the conception of Spiral Tribe and covers the rapid escalation of our events from small squat-scene parties to enormous warehouse raves and free festivals. The undercover police operation against us. The record deal with Youth. The creation of our community recording studio. The government stitch-up and our prosecution. The escape to Europe and the start of the teknival scene…
Working with electronic music specialist and independent publisher Velocity Press, the book will be finished next year. Meanwhile, the money raised from the pre-sale will help me dedicate my time to writing. In return, we’re offering a very special limited, silver and black first edition.
There will only be 1,000 of these exclusive editions printed. If you support the project in these early stages, not only will you be helping me get the book written, but you will also receive one of these special silver first editions – and be credited, in print, in the book.