A wrecking ball to the heart of Camden

Alienate Design, Camden Stables Market. (photo from the store’s website).

Herein continues the quixotic endeavor where I rail against the inevitable encroachment of the inane monoculture and property-development-land-grab into all that I hold dear.

The Camden Stables Market is slated for the wrecking ball. What will be built in its place? A modern shopping mall with more high street chains– H&M, Boots and Topshop.

Friday I ventured from the little converted church where I live in the sleepy village of Hanwell, to the vibrant streets of Camden to meet Cecile. She lives in Camden, and I heard about the development from her. We talked about the absurdity and the sadness of it. Sometimes I feel like I don’t live in London at all– and what I love of London is just being taken away from my friends and I and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

When I first came to London in 1999 it was Camden that really caught my imagination, while everything else– Carnaby, the King’s Road– had already been turned into an outdoor mall, but Camden survived. It was the last days of raver culture, and Cyberdog was going strong. That synthetic aesthetic that is now a cliche was exciting to me– it was done with such exacting verve and daring.

Camden has changed– most notable is the horrid modern development by the canal that is supposed to be stores and flats. Little by little the stores look more like high street clones selling sweat shop club clothing that’s more Coyote Ugly stripper stuff than trad goth or 80’s mix-n-match vintage style. (For Angelinos who remember, it’s like the transformation of Melrose from a fascinating subcultural landmark in the 80’s to a cheezy shopping venue in the 90’s).

The Stables Market’s catacombs, the dank stone labyrinth with its random stalls, was one of the only places I’ve found decent vintage in this town. A place where you could feel like you were discovering something. It is the place where I would eat on the cheap from one of the steam table stalls and people watch. Now what will be there? Another Starbucks and McDonalds?

I imagine the corporate culturemakers with their patronizing vision, taking this place and selling it back to us as trusted brands, now with a mohawk. Not unlike the ironically named Lab/Anti-Mall in Orange County California– a few years after its development it fell into a perpetual identity crisis, with an Urban Outfitters as the anchor store, and everything else an experiment in economic failure. The only difference is the anti-mall, even though it was designed for the “indie” target market, didn’t destroy something that worked, and that was historic and loved by many.

Eviction notices have already been served to the vendors in the Stables, and in a week come the bulldozers.

Them Be the Bells of Bow, Yo.

There’s this song that’s still at number two here in the charts and it sums up everything I hate about British pop music right now. They play it all the time on BBC 6 and now it’s stuck in my head. Kate Nash’s Foundations— OK, so she’s cute– much cuter than Lily Allen whose tough-girl pose is really tedious. Even the guy in the video is cute. The sock fight– nauseatingly cute.

If you want to see the video, go here as none of the YouTube links work. (To watch the video on her oh-so-quirky-cute site you have to give up an email, name and phone number and even an address I think. INSANE. but let’s move on.)

Nash’s song is better than any I have heard from Allen but she’s basically an Allen clone. She’s taken Allen’s game and bettered it for the 20-something-new-mortgage-from-daddy demographic, whereas Lily Allen was aimed at teenage girls who don’t remember white reggae from the first time around in the 80’s. Nash’s demographic actually has some money to spend, so, even though she’s a MySpace success story, maybe the A&R people are honing their game.

On the web many sites claim Allen and Nash are Cockney and that’s just rubbish. Neither were born within the sound of Bows Bells, if we’re going to get purist about it. Nash is from Rickmansworth, a north west suburb of London. And Allen was born in West London to a film producer an actor. I would like to say that accent is put on for the American market, but their songs are hits here.

It can only mean that Brits want to see themselves in a certain way– a juxtaposition of worldly wit and (pastoral throwback?) innocence with a sprinkling of East End grit (More akin to Dick Van Dyke tap dancing than any pearly king). The fashion for faux Cockney accents is a sure sign that it no longer refers to a specific people and culture, but a fiction. Kind of like in the current popular imagination, pirates are no longer sailors who raped and robbed people but ragamuffin swashbucklers with sexy eye makeup.

But it does seem the best way to be a pop star in Britain these days is to pretend you are Cockney. (though this can work even if you are a duo from Detroit) white stripes

It’s ironic. The East End, now totally gentrified, has become the bastion of the trendy, edgy and wealthy few who have pushed out the poor there so what remains is a mythology.

Something’s dead, gone, changed in London, even if there’s no real pointing to the Cockney mask per se, which Peter Watts refers to as “Mockey”. Hence the weird theme of nostalgia that crops up in so much white British hip hop. There are many examples but I’m thinking of Lady Sovereign’s “Those Were the Days.” where she’s wistful about her days growing up on the Chalkhill estate. Unlike the others I mention above, she actually did grow up on an estate, even if it was also in the west.

It becomes even more poignant when you realize she she’d be priced out of London if she weren’t a pop star.

And here Jamie T’s “Sheila” featuring the actor Bob Hoskins who is famous for playing Cockneys among other things. Here he is lipsynching the song with his scary white teeth. This is actually one of the worst videos I’ve seen in a really long time and it pretty much ruined the song for me.

And, though it’s not hip hop, I love Pulp’s nostalgic “Mile End” It’s old at this point, and recontexualized in Danny Boyle’s brilliant Trainspotting. I have no idea if what the song refers to was closer to reality than the faux-grit on the charts now. I have heard that it is about Jarvis Cocker’s first “home” in London, but I’m sure it too is creating a myth of a gritty London up for grabs, a London for anyone. (Not just a city of estate agents and property-ladder climbers, but anyone who could find a vacant corner, anyone who could live low rent — make art or music or write. Anyone who could tend to the city’s soul, but I digress.) In a lot of ways the city of this song, or the vision of London in Kureshi’s London Kills Me or even the parallel vision of Edinburgh in Trainspotting is more hopeful than this London I live in now that is doing so “well” if you believe the hype, a London that’s polished and primed, the richest city in the world, full of high street chains.

Now there are headlines about interest rates closing out first time buyers from the “property ladder.” But all this talk of building new homes on brown sites is too little too late. We didn’t have no where to live, / we didn’t have nowhere to go / til someone said /I know this place off Burditt road…

This new hegemony of the estate agent has made me wistful for squats. Maybe I should work on my Cockney accent and write a pop song about it.