'Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs' Is a Humorous and Poignant Novel About Anarchism -- Possibly a First

The applause of shattering glass, poetic touch under the raised banner, the rose held in the fist of socialist iconography, the thorn that pricks amid the beauty of a world that both embraces and alienates its people.

Peace, Love & Petrol Bombs

Publisher: AK Press
Length: 251 pages
Author: D.D. Johnston
Price: $13.95
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2011-06

A humorous and poignant novel about anarchism: possibly a first? This young Scots burger-flipper turned street protester tells what happened a decade ago in a fast-food kitchen, a small town, and at the barricades of anti-capitalist demonstrations in Prague, London, and Thessaloniki. Johnston enlivens this short, accomplished coming-of-age story with what appears to be a character based on himself, given Wayne Foster's age and tenure at Benny's Burgers. He travels throughout Europe as he rallies against "profit before people".

The novel opens in 2000, in Prague during an anti-World Bank Summit march. Wayne's saved from arrest on a rail track by Manette, a French anarchist with a dirty mouth and broken English who will become one of his lovers. Many chapters follow the pattern of the first: they drift back in chronology and shuffle events, testing the narrator's powers of recollection, the structure of memory. As a comment on history and how it's created, this fictional device allows D.D. Johnston to undermine his authorial control. He imbues his novel with an uncertainty which reifies its content: how long can one refuse to submit to structure?

Amidst "the applause of shattering glass", many scenes evoke the feel of mass marches and sudden panic. As anarchists and socialists, Trotskyists and vegans, provocateurs and hippies, punks and perhaps a few workers drawing wages and not welfare convene, the sensation of change beckons them. But the apparently global triumph of capital represents an enemy before whom many capitulate. Benny's Burgers, the franchise where Wayne enters the ranks of labor and where he learns from his louche co-worker nicknamed Spocky about progressive alternatives, stands for how the means of production stamps out--and on-- today's proletariat.

Johnston illustrates deftly the predicament of how we consume, how few options many workers have for meals and for shopping, how we work for the chain store and how we eat at the logo-laden franchises. He vividly dramatizes the automated regimen behind the grill, as relentless as any endured in Dickensian times. He shows the reality familiar to anyone, like myself, who worked in fast-food, or works in a setting dominated by managers with manuals, whether our labor is classified as manual or not.

From the endless demand for more food, faster food, the kitchen is s overwhelmed. "So much lettuce had been strewn on the floor that it looked like a lawn was forcing its way through the tiles".

Escaping these pressures, Spocky, Wayne and co-workers online form "Benny's Resistance Army" to agitate, educate, and organize workers of this international chain. This subversion draws him into anarchist circles.

Unlike many coming-of-age novels, though, Love, Peace & Petrol Bombs skims over Wayne's upbringing or family. He must find his own restive, rebellious comrades. These must be gleaned from the slim pickings of Dundule, between Glasgow and Edinburgh. "When you live in a small town, everyone is the friend of someone you know; the local papers are full of tales of serendipity, of long lost brothers who lived next door to each other and men who found their mother in law's wallet on the High Street; we all live like celebrities, worrying who will recognise us if we go to the shops in old clothes".

The novel favors a halting advance, similar to that of burgers assembled against the press of customers, workers against managers, or leftists against police. "Lives are shaped like asterisks. At any point, lines intersect in a multitude of directions. You can be diverted, driven, driven down tangents, and then made to reverse. It's the same when telling a story".

Later, Wayne will ride the trains around London, out to their terminus, back again, one line after another, in this ambling, impulsive search for meaning. One problem about this book is that at times, after Wayne leaves Benny's, I was uncertain how he managed to roam the island and then the Continent for so long; there are a couple of heists that play a role in the plotting to keep Wayne in pounds and pence, and he does understandably if non-ironically max out his credit card. Opposed to the system of exploitation and regimentation, his progress among the down and out--albeit an educated lot, aided by the dole, squatting, and the kindness of polyglot friends and lovers--turns into the tale of Wayne's way through this disaffected world.

The author articulates fewer political disquisitions than I expected. When his idealists express their ideologies, they do so haltingly, not as propagandists. One scene sends up the dreary college classroom lecture on Marxism, as most students resist the slightest indication that this theory may still be relevant in practice; another episode visits a Socialist Workers' Party campus meeting where the panelists outnumber the three bewildered attendees. Johnston's experience with these misfits allows for Wayne to retell such encounters with wit and energy.

While the target audience for this novel, the second in a fiction series from venerable anarchist publisher AK Press, comprises those already converted to opposition, the appeal of this genial, engaging, yet serious search for meaning in a commodified global culture deserves wide acclaim. For example, while politics steps back, the tension of relationships edges forward. Wayne laments his lack of romance. He grabs at a one-night stand or a brief encounter in a toilet stall.

After one slightly more stable amour, he recalls how he and his girlfriend "didn't break up like a vase or a mirror or a china cup; we split like a piece of wood. We cracked at first. We fractured until you could bend us and make us creak; then we snapped and splintered, until there were only fibres between us, and you could twist us around and pull us apart. When we finally broke, we broke jagged, shaped by our other half". This passage reveals Johnston's skillful use of metaphor.

Now a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Gloucestershire, he crafts an appealing, casual first-person voice. While I read this novel in a day, eager to find out about Wayne's fate, the care with which the prose has been created shows. I found the plot, in its asterisk-patterned chapters that spring out and then double back to the center core, sometimes skimming over the details of the daily grind that I figured would appear to show us how Wayne got by once he was on his own, but access to surreptitious gain apparently, twice over, helps him get by with a little help from his friends. This appeared a slight cop-out, so to speak, but given the milieu in which Wayne survives, it makes sense in context despite my suspension of total belief.

At least he and his grousingly genial or annoyingly smug mates enjoy the benefits of wine, weed, or a bequest once-removed from some thriftier elder or greedier investor. The liberation of such capital from its accumulators means Wayne and Manette and their friends can storm the barricades all over the Continent. In Thessaloniki, at Aristotle University, a leftist takeover of the campus shows what happens after the authorities are cowed to retreat. It's not exactly the reopened gates of Eden.

"The Philosophy Building was guarded by a man in an unbuttoned sleeveless shirt, who sat on a broken wooden chair, chewing gum and tapping his palm with a short club. Inside, our feet crunched on broken glass. The paint fumes made you feel drunk, and the slogans were hard to read because so many lights were broken. 'By any means necessary.' 'The Future is Unwritten.' 'Ultras AEK.' 'No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes.' The shadows, and the people in the shadows, and the closed doors, carried the suggestion of an ambush, so I found myself looking left and right, as if crossing a road".

Wayne and his comrades fight the good fight but the odds, as ever, overwhelm them. His pals and mates scatter; jobs, marriages, degrees, and careers beckon. He tries as in so many capers to revive the old gang for one last heist. He speculates how, at 23, six or seven years on, the struggle had waned. "It was like closing a door to which you have no key: you want to hold it ajar while you check you have everything, and when you finally let go, you feel a fluttery panic, a sense of having left something valuable behind".

This thoughtful, modest, and winning narrative concludes with not a bang but a similarly muted closing of a door--to a millennial sense of possibility, of "no logo" and "rage against the machine" that energized a resurgent Left against Capital. Wayne and Johnston appear to merge their forces as the last sentences emerge. The narrator imagines the ultimate fate of his friends and lovers. Now, he includes us. "I'd like to imagine that you and I will meet during some as yet unimagined social struggle. We'll stand guard on a picket line or share the weight of a banner. When your hands are up and your head is bleeding and the police are preparing to charge, we will link our arms."

The traditional language of solidarity, of intimacy, and of meaning flows smoothly. Yet the last paragraph shakes us out of class-based, if romantic, reverie. His reader may recline in the bath, on the sofa, ready for washing hair or going to bed before another work day. Still, the chance for change remains: "I'd like to think you're on a train. You'll watch the fields pass until the sun sets, until you start to see only a reflection of yourself." These final sentences suggest the poetic touch under the raised banner, the rose held in the fist of socialist iconography, the thorn that pricks amid the beauty of a world that both embraces and alienates its people.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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