ARTS / Outside Edge: James Bloom on the new sound of political protest

LAST THURSDAY saw the opening night of the Velvet Revolution, a nationwide tour of art and music against the Criminal Justice Bill.

The walls of the Hacienda night-club in Manchester were covered with photographs of grey-faced policemen and angry yokels beating and harassing New Age travellers. Similar videos and film loops were projected on to giant puppets which walked among the crowd fighting and dancing, acting out the roles of favourite members of parliament. Circus Warp's hypnotic 'techno' shook the floors and walls. Billy Bragg sat in the Gay Traitor chill-out room, twanging a British version of 'This land Is Our Land', and expanded on the problems of living within a 10-mile radius of Paul Weller. The crowd, (painted, many of them, with UV-sensitive spirals) cheered him on and off the stage.

At midnight, the dance floor was invaded by truncheon-wielding 'riot police' who turned off the music and announced that the event had been sanctioned in accordance with Clause 58 of the Criminal Justice Bill and that everyone was under arrest. Within two minutes a woman had jumped on the stage and thrown a policeman off, declaring that the party would go on - and it did.

The Velvet Revolution has been sponsored by Activ88, the youth arm of Charter 88, which believes that it can use raves to pull together apathetic students to put pressure on Government and media. It aims to mobilise a community alienated by conservative values but singularly unimpressed by the conventional party political alternatives.

Ashok Viswanathan, a 20-year-old Activ88 spokesperson, says: 'I'm really not interested in boring political conferences and fat old men insulting each other. I reckon that kids in general prefer lively interaction that's both fun and informative, and spaces where they can express themselves freely through dancing and stuff, so we're putting our message out in a way that kids can hear, through a medium that they can relate to.' On the surface, the Velvet Revolution is more art than activism, but it owes its existence to an unusual combination of realism and commitment.

Velvet Revolution, touring to mid-November

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