Published on November 5, 2013 | by Nina Hoogstraate0
‘Don’t Hate! Gyrate!’ Clash of the EDLs
Nina Hoogstraate speaks to Alex Jones, founder of the English Disco Lovers, about juggling a busy workload and its campaign to reclaim the EDL acronym from The English Defence League.
Disco pants and ‘night fever’ are not usually what you would associate with the EDL, but think again.
21-year-old London-based art student Alex Jones started the English Disco Lovers – a racial equality movement to counteract the English Defence League – as a ‘one-line joke’.
This summer, the English Disco Lovers were nominated for the National Diversity Awards, and Jones has been interviewed by major publications including Time Out and The Guardian.
His disco-fuelled goodness has spread across the land, and ALN was eager to find out a little more about him and his campaign.
The most important thing for Jones to achieve through the English Disco Lovers campaign is to change the connotation of the EDL acronym in society. “Primarily it was a Google and social media bombing campaign, looking to have our website as the top result when you Google ‘EDL’, he said. “Google is like the contemporary font of all knowledge. If it is telling you that disco is more important than ‘defence’ then that is more or less the case.”
The group are also working towards a bigger social media presence than the English Defence League, on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. As their online network has grown, it allowed for charity disco events and counter-demonstrations at EDL marches “with disco tunes, dancing and placards that read ‘Don’t Hate! Gyrate!’”
Jones grew up in south London. “I spent the first ten years or so in a very multicultural environment, surrounded by people of different faiths, cultures and colours. Then my family moved to the South West, to a village comprised entirely of white faces.”
He explains that because he comes from a Quaker background he has always been surrounded by equality activism and taking part in “numerous demonstrations”. He says artists Yael Bartana and Jeremy Deller have also been a massive influence. “Bartana started a group called the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland and Deller is a bit of a social prankster.”
“If Google is telling you that disco is more important than ‘defence’ then that’s more or less the case.” – Alex Jones
As a bit of a joker himself, the name for English Disco Lovers initially came to Jones as a joke, which he thought “had more to it.” “I began to research and write t he Disco Statement (manifesto) and began to realise the relevance and potency of disco in satirically fighting for acceptance.”
The English Disco Lovers’ mantra is ‘Unus Mundus, Una Gens, Unus Disco’ which translates as ‘One World, One Race, One Disco’.
Studying for an arts degree and being the founder of this unique, growing movement is time consuming. However, Jones was nominated for this years’ National Diversity Awards, which shows all the hard work paid off. “It was such an unbelievable shock. Obviously we were hoping to make an impact and provide a little laughter in people’s lives, but never thought anyone would want to give us an award for English Disco Lovers.”
Jones explains he has had a good support system since he started from people such as Tony Dunne, Andy William (YamWho?) and the Time Out team. “Dorian Lynskey wrote the article that took us from relatively unknown to where we are now.”
The list of supporters goes on – with the likes of Owen Jones, Nile Rodgers and Billy Bragg who have indicated their blessing through Twitter. Getting recognition for starting the EDL campaign, and receiving support from the people listed above as well as general disco and equality lovers, Jones has raised quite a bit of money for charity.
“We made £1,633 in September, which was split between a local education charity, Hackney Pirates, and LGBT charity All Out. It is an incredible sum and was made by asking people to donate what they could afford on the door.”
English Disco Lovers pick local community charities based on where the events take place. “So far we’ve donated to Hackney Pirates, All Out and the rebuilding of the Muswell Hill Islamic Centre, burnt down by suspected English Defence League members. This group is about bringing communities together – as opposed to dividing them like the other EDL do,” says Jones.
Threats from the EDL
Standing up and counteracting the English Defence League is not something many people would feel comfortable doing, and with the aggressive behaviour of some supporters, Jones has had a few threatening comments from the EDL.
“It happens pretty regularly, death threats, streams of swear words, etc.” They have been called ‘the most retarded bunch of scum ever’ and a group called Casuals United had been threatening to crash an event a few weeks ago.
“They were a no-show, but tweets of Sophie Ellis Bextor’s Murder on the Dancefloor weren’t exactly pleasant.”
But it is not all threats and violence for the English Disco Lovers.
Singing Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive at protests provides the most appropriate set of lyrics for the movement: ‘Go, walk out the door, turn around now, you’re not welcome anymore’.
As if the charity events and protests weren’t enough, Jones and his team filmed a music video for Let The Machine’s Do The Work’s track Let Me Be The One this summer, which has recently been nominated for the UK Music Video Awards 2013.
“The video follows three English Defence League supporters as they prepare for a march – drinking and saluting Winston Churchill. Left behind on their way to the demonstration, they then end up with the English Disco Lovers. Overcome by the music they join the dancers with surprising flexibility. The video ends with a portrait of Nile Rodgers being saluted alongside the one of Churchill,” explains Jones.
Victory for the Disco Lovers
Tommy Robinson, the co-leader of the English Defence League, recently stepped down and unsurprisingly Jones felt some indirect achievement. “We’re all in this together, regardless of how you choose to protest or promote equality.”
ALN asked him what he thought would happen with the other EDL now one of their ‘leaders’ is no more: “It’s hard to say, his resignation has definitely been a blow to them and right now they are losing momentum.”
Theoretically speaking, if more of the English Defence League members were to follow the (one) positive action Tommy Robinson undertook, what would happen to the English Disco Lovers? “We’ve reached a point with the movement where we’ve become something beyond our oppositional association with the other EDL, that aspect is definitely still primarily important and we wouldn’t exist if they didn’t. However, if they were to vanish overnight, that wouldn’t be the end.” Jones says.
He has set up independent events for the English Disco Lovers, and is getting involved with the new Hate Crime Awareness campaign, and are hosting a charity event at the Prince of Wales pub on November 29.