The Secret History Of East London.
Richard, July 2006. Amazingly, this is London Fields.
Dazed Digital have quietly launched a little online experiment in collective memory. One that is actually close to my heart, as it seeks to immortalize (or memorialize?) East London from 1997 – 2012. The Secret History of East London, from it’s about section, is as much a response to the Olympics and the changes they have imposed on East London as much as looking back at the rapid evolution of a district, that in 15 years, Shoreditch, and then wider East London lodged itself firmly into the cultural conciousness of the city, and the world.
It also serves as somewhat of a pause. A moment to reflect (certainly for me) on a district lived, loved and loathed in equal measure. I vividly recall my first visit to Shoreditch in early 1999. The bars, such as Dragon and Showrooms were just springing up, the Blue Note had passed, the 333 was an essential stop. The area felt new, dangerous, and alive. I’ve still got (almost) all the Shoreditch Twat fanzine’s from that time. (They are still funny BTW). St Martin’s days were inevitably followed by a blur of nights and days in the east-end playground. The move eastward to Hackney started full time in 2005. Shoreditch inexorably became it’s current Essex horrorshow, (punctuated by mini revivals of interest with nights such as Boombox). Then London Fields become a cramped and cliched caricature, full to bursting. And now most recently, Dalston go from no go zone to must be seen zone in under 2 years. The Secret History of East London is an apt title, as it does feel like there is nothing ‘secret’ left in East London. Different venues and experiences get assimilated in record time. (See the breakneck speed of Chatsworth Road’s emergence as an example). The thrill of discovery and pioneering in East London has been blunted. It’s finally just another part of town.
So an online exercise like this has the potential to be a strong nostalgic moment. The guys and girls who were 20/21 tearing up the east side of town back when the Libertines were rolling out of the Albion Rooms, are now 30+ and moving up, and in some cases, moving on. Whether settling into an urban (whitewashed) suburbias of Islington, DeBeauvior, Clapton or Stokey, or jetting off to find their fame and fortune. There is (and should) be movement afoot. East London has rightfully established itself as the playground for the young, the carefree and more often than not, the skint. When we were all at St Martin’s it felt right to be there. Safe in the knowledge that it would be that stepping stone. So, when you want to go and earn the big bucks and the power (whether it be in Advertising, Fashion or wherever else) you head to Paris, Milan, Tokyo or my own personal exit strategy – New York City.
But East London has matured, it’s not that stepping stone. It’s a home. A place to settle, and bring up kids. In fact, it’s more of a playground for those (like me) who want to (and can) have their cake and eat it. They can still be plugged into the hipster urban middle class consciousness, but also afford the trappings of expensive meals, and fine wines. The very people who dulled the East London experience, are the ones who made it fun and interesting the first time around. Dazed’s online mausoleum shows shows off the best of East London as it found it’s feet, and some of these moments highlight the best of what made(?) the area so special. But doesn’t answer the question of what’s next. That’s probably half the fun.
So as the warehouses raves fall away to memory, (I *vividly* remember the Output Records 2005 warehouse party) and are replaced by the gastropub’s and the handmade boutiques, this digital wake for East London is a reminder of all the best things about this contradictory part of town. Dazed might be right, it might not have a future full of innovation, and certainly I might not love London much anymore, but I’ll always have East.