Sunday, January 20, 2008

I've moved from Bethnal Green

There's a wonderful excerpt here on Pitchfork's site from a new book about the No Wave scene that coalesced in downtown New York in the late 70's. Reading the quotes from various movers and shakers in the scene from that extract, including the obvious suspects - Lydia Lunch, James Chance, various members of Mars (pictured above) etc. - the biggest impressions are how cheap it was to get buy (I couldn't help but smile at this quote from Glenn Branca: "I had a 1200 square-foot loft for $180 a month"), how readily available space was, and the inherent possibilities opened up as a consequence. I suppose comparisons could be made with Notting Hill and Portobello Road earlier on and at the same time as No Wave, with it's countercultural ripples and a squat scene that took in Hawkwind and (later on) The Raincoats. It makes somewhat depressing reading given the contrast with both cities now; it's hard enough to maintain a steady living in London even with a job, if it's not one that pays especially well (as a glance at this testifies). Lower East Side now, where the No Wave musicians congregated, closely resembles in some ways Shoreditch, but I would imagine LES - and certainly not the latter, with it's steadfastly increasing prices - can hardly be considered bohemian anymore, if the definition of bohemian is an area where an artistic community can make a living on a modest budget. A flat viewing in nearby Whitechapel a while ago told me all I need to know: greedy landlords are ripping us off in London. The rent was easily in the £400+ per month bracket - for a flat at the top of a block, with no lift.
So I've moved to another part of London now. Along the way, as I've navigated my way around the city I've noticed that most new residential properties that have sprouted in London look exactly the same. It only confirms just how much landlords in this city couldn't care less about aesthetics: why worry about beauty when demand outstrips supply and you can pack in as many people into as small a space as possible? After my previous post about the closure of the Spitz, we can now look forward to the prospect of Turnmills closing down, as the arts scene in London becomes more and more a casualty.
What strikes me about reading that extract is what a unique period the musicians were in: no doubt NYC must have been a nightmarish place to live in sometimes then, but around the areas that the scene converged, it nonetheless offered endless possibilities; an energy that produced genres and ideas that hadn't become compartmentalised and spun off by endless lifestyle magazines, where there was real possibilities to explore different strands of arts while not being shackled by lucrative rents. If there's any equivalent these days, it's probably elsewhere: Berlin, for one, or Montréal.

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