Friday, August 31, 2007

Notting Brick Hill Lane

As someone from the east of London who rarely ventures to the west of the city, a visit to the Notting Hill Carnival at least allowed me to check out an area that once was the focal point so much for counterculture in the '70s and 80's. Walking through the area and through Ladbroke Grove, the iconography of the area flicked through my mind: Jagger and Richard Curtis' intense cat-and-mouse game in Performance, located in the context of the end of the 60's dream; the madness of Hawkwind surviving on drugs in burnt-out squats in the area; the Electric Underground Cinema; Rough Trade's flowering as a record shop/label/ethical base and loci for musicians, activists and general weirdos (which I stood outside of for the first time during the festival); the post-punk scene connected with RT (The Slits -(yes, they were on Island Records but were still linked to RT), The Raincoats, The Pop Group, some other bands that I can't remember off the top of my head...); and Ballard's vision in Crash of the Westway and Trellick Tower...and what of the area now, particularly when the average salary in the borough is £100,000? Can you really have an area with a huge subculture when said area also happens to be among the most expensive in Europe? I guess if you're an accountant or lawyer on some pretty decent money it's pretty swell. Or if you're a trustafarian, as the article at least admits. Hardly bohemian, though. The real question I guess I'm getting at is: what is the equivalent to Notting Hill in the 70's/80's now? The natural answer would be Shoreditch/Hoxton and now particularly Brick Lane (especially with the impressive new Rough Trade East having opened recently, imitating in a sort of fashion the original shop 30 years ago). However, if the true indicator of a 'bohemian' area full of artists and the such-like is cheap rents and plenty of warehouse space, then I can't see how much longer the whole Shoreditch/Brick Lane area can carry on with it's hipster image. Surely there can't be any squats left in the area, what with the price tag. On Redchurch Street, the galleries are impressive but you have to wonder just how long this can continue - unless there's some local philanthropist businessmen putting serious money in. I used to walk to and from work every day through that street, and couldn't help but notice that every six months a gallery would vacate, only to be replaced by a new one - the increasingly brutal reality of that area's economics. The finger, then, would logically point at 'up-and-coming' (a word I hate) Hackney, which I grew up in - but even here, in areas such as Dalston, it's hardly that cheap, and Stoke Newington is certainly not either. Which makes me wonder: is it just rich parents that makes most of the musicians afford to live in areas such as Shoreditch, or do a lot of them (the musicians I mean) actually have well-paid jobs? Without wishing to sound like some know-it-all, I sometimes think that the true spirit of Notting Hill in the 70's/80's lives on most likely in Berlin these days, a city perfectly suited to be an artist - or Montreal, though someone from the latter told me recently that the rents are shooting up there too, together with the omniscient appearance of Starbucks. Berlin's huge, sprawling nature, coupled with the city's money problems and discrepancy in population size ( "only" 4 million people but in a city nearly the geographic size of London) equals a lot of affordable warehouse and living space.
Perhaps the closure of The Spitz could be the nail in the coffin for the eventual decline of Shoreditch. This might sound a bit drastic, as anyone whose lived near there can testify, what with the endless galleries and things to do. It's still a hell of an interesting area. So is it just me being embittered because I can't really afford to live there any more? Maybe, but then go on this website, scroll to the bottom, and click on 'London Shoreditch', 'London Hoxton', and 'London Brick Lane'. And check out the rents.
Anyway, it looks as if K-Punk is on a similar state of mind with a typically brilliant post on the subject.

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