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A Few Thoughts on Shoreditch, East London

At the moment I’m living in Shoreditch, East London, while I get a few things sorted out.

For some reason I thought it would be a great idea to take an apartment just off Old Street.

This is where all the partying goes down, so at weekends (as I’m just discovering) the sound of revellers outside is voluminous until the early hours of the morning.

Once upon a time that would have been fine. For many, many years I was a night owl.  I practically lived in clubs all through my late teens and twenties, and even into my thirties.

It’s only really been in the last decade that increasing (if self-imposed) ‘responsibility’ in the corporate world, along with my changing tastes, has meant that I’ve stopped going out half as much as I used to.

Right now, for example, I’m sitting here typing this. I can hear dance music playing and the smokers outside the bars shouting over one another to be heard.

I should be out there getting stuck into some night game. Perhaps next weekend I’ll do just that. But the plight of the writer was ever thus. For so many years I’ve sat in closed rooms with the curtains drawn tapping away at a computer while other people have enjoyed their lives outside. Writing necessitates that kind of isolation: it’s an occupational hazard.

This morning I went for a run up Hackney Road, which was where I used to live. I’ve been back here before, of course (I moved away from this area nine years ago, but only by a few miles). It brought back a lot of memories. A lot of old feelings.

Actually, not much has changed: the buildings and the streets look largely the same. There are a few new developments going up, so-called ‘luxury flats’. But while you can perhaps polish a turd you can’t make it gleam. Shoreditch has been an impoverished area since at least the Victorian era, and probably before. You can still see that out on the streets today, where hipsters jostle for space with addicts, whose dead-eyed stares speak of grim council flats, urine-spattered stairwells and intravenous drugs.

Shoreditch (and Hackney in general) has been very fashionable with a younger crowd since the early 2000s. But in the intervening near-decade since I lived over here the main thing you notice is just how ‘hipsterised’ the area has become. You can hardly walk a few steps before tripping over a chalkboard advertising something involving goat’s cheese and avocado, or deeply specialised Peruvian coffee.

I have long been agnostic about hipsterism. I like a good coffee as much as the next man, and some of the boutique clothing stores and so on that you get in London, Berlin or Budapest are great. But just recently it’s started to get on my nerves.

The main issue I have is around authenticity. Basically the hipster aesthetic—which ostensibly celebrates authenticity with its love of chalkboards, fresh ingredients, raw, graffitied, ‘non-commercial’ spaces and so on—is itself inauthentic. It’s just too neat, too planned, too premeditated.

Years ago if someone took me to a half-demolished old warehouse that had been converted into a cocktail bar I’d have been all over it. I still remember how excited I was about Milk & Honey in Manhattan, a prohibition-style bar up a staircase behind a rough, graffitied door. And I love places like Berghain in Berlin, with its former power station chic.

But these days that whole thing where you have a raw space with some vintage sofas, a disco ball, a DJ and expensive coctails is starting to look just a little bit, well, contrived to me. Because you see I also like places that are genuine shitholes, rather than simply shitholes made over for entitled millennials to go on Bumble dates and post on Instagram.

I remember a place on the Lower East Side of Manhattan called Mars Bar. It was where all the alchies, junkies, tweakers and pillheads went. It’s still talked about in AA meetings in hushed tones even today. That place wasn’t sanitised, or ‘made over’. It was what it was. A shithole. But it’s grittiness was real rather than a secondhand copy. And that’s why people loved it.

When I used to live in Shoreditch years ago I loved the quaint, trendy places that were popping up. But I also loved the down-at-heel caffs, the old boozers, Ye Olde Axe strip pub, and the Gala Bingo Hall.

Today, sadly, there’s a little too much polish and not enough grit.

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Andy - October 11, 2017

Back in the day…
Shoreditch was great while the Blue note was still the Blue Note – and it was the Bass Cleff before it which made Shoreditch trendy in the first place (Norman Jay’s Original Rare Groove Show on a Monday night).

The early nineties took off as the funk melted into the electronic revolution inspired by the raving music lovers.

I don’t really blame the hipsters. It was the Criminal Justice Act, which signed the death warrant for the free party scene and slowly forced them to smarten up or go to jail- and so they got with the profit program. It’s no suprise they are only a suggestion of what they were supposed to be.

It’s a shame. There have been some incredible nights but the early nineties in London were amazing compared to ten years later. I should think the relentless Big Brother standardising, systematising and sanitising has continued to cost the place it’s often slightly darker soul. All such an exciting edge back then when a little danger was half the fun!

    tfadmin - October 11, 2017

    Hey Andy, thanks for the comment. Funnily enough I’m on Curtain Road at the moment, just up from the Old Blue Last.

    I first started going out in London in the early nineties. Although most of that period is a haze, I do remember that slightly dark soul you refer to. I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s just that I’ve got older and less naive, but I think nightlife has become a lot more commercial—and frankly boring—since those days. Turnmills was always my place. Now it’s an advertising agency, sadly.

    Even in the early 2000’s Shoreditch still had a roughness to it. These days places like Hackney Road and City Road are completely transformed. It’s all a bit identikit and sanitised. Still, it’s happening everywhere, so what can you do? Even Berlin feels less edgy now. I guess it’s about looking further afield. The present day never measures up to one’s memories.

    Cheers for commenting! Troy

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