It was 1994, and the Home Secretary Michael Howard had had enough. Slamming his clenched fist down hard on the mahogany table of a Pall Mall club he very likely said “damn these hippies to hell, every last one of them”, and most right and proper Tory members of parliament very likely agreed with him.
Two years previously, and a couple of hundred miles away, the Somerset and Avon police force were trying – and failing – to stop the Avon Free Festival from taking place. The Avon Free Festival was a meeting of ‘free spirited types’, featuring new age hippies and many young and old people simply out for a boogie.
The attempts of the police to shut down this festival proved an abject failure however, as the diverted and dispersed crowds merely reassembled on a spot a few miles away at Castlemorton Common in neighbouring Worcestershire. There, on a sunny May Bank Holiday, over 20,000 people boogied away, chilled out and took part in other such festival-like past-times. Groovy.
This grand old shindig marked the zenith of what was a period of the ‘free party’ in the UK. A movement in which people would gather on common land and take festivities into their own hands, embracing delightful anarchy and all its wonderful appendages.
The metropolitan chattering classes were of course quite nauseated. The tabloid papers were likewise thoroughly outraged. They interpreted this festival as a signal of not just steep moral decline in our youth, but also of the utter uselessness of our namby-pamby police force, who had on this occasion arrested only a handful of people (all later acquitted) and impounded only a couple of loudspeakers. The media furore was phenomenal, and John Major’s government, with dwindling performances in the national polls, had to be seen to do something.
The occasion was debated at length in Parliament, and thus the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was passed, section 63 of which stated that an event may be stopped by the police if there exists ‘a gathering on land in the open air of 20 or more persons at which amplified music is played’.
So that people couldn't escape prosecution by arguing the sounds coming from their stereos was not technically music, Section 63 of the bill included a sub-clause defining what the government meant by ‘music’, which was, in this case; ‘sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats’.
Reading this sub-clause in this new piece of legislation, two cheeky Mancunian chaps grinned. Rob Brown and Sean Booth, who comprised the techno duo ‘Autechture’ duly got to work on a radical new track.
In September 1994, their EP Anti was released. Within this EP there were three tracks; Lost, Djarum, and Flutter. The final track of the EP, Flutter, was constructed from a sequence of 65 unique drum beats put one after another, so to subvert the definition of music given in the clause of section 63 of the new bill. This means that whilst the track might sound repetitive, strictly speaking, it is not. As music critic Louis Pattison so eloquently puts it, Flutter “moves fluidly, nimbly, never moving into abstraction, never missing a beat, delivering a political coup de grace”.
The cover of the EP bore a black sticker reading the following:
Flutter has been programmed in such a way that no bars contain identical beats and can therefore be played under the proposed new law. However, we advise DJs to have a lawyer and a musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment.
The black sticker sealing the track warned buyers that upon opening "you accept full responsibility for any consequential action resulting from this product's use". Rob and Sean weren’t just mucking around either. Every penny raised by sales of the EP would be given to the human rights advocacy group Liberty. The note, on what must have been a rather large label, sealing the record ended by saying: "Autechre is politically non-aligned. This is about personal freedom."
This, I believe, is political protest at its finest. Subversive, intelligent and highly artistic, it makes a mockery of a piece of government legislation that was ill conceived and mostly reactionary. It brings to light the fatuity of government making such highly discretionary legislation and the ingenuity of individuals in being able to so deftly mock it.