Words and Pictures by Sara Khan
A famous English writer Samuel Johnson once said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Well I can understand why but I am a bit bias as I have lived in London my whole life! Like many capital cities, London has a real buzz about it, but at the same time it is very different as it caters for all tastes and I have only experienced NYC to be similar in nature. For example, you could go learn how to look floaty and elegant like through attending class in Aerial Silks (aerial acrobatics while hanging from a fabric) to randomly being invited to tag along to a wrap party all in one night. As a Londoner we are all very very busy people rushing off to somewhere, meet someone, or do something but half the time we don’t know what. We have little rules that we all live by such as only standing on the escalators on the right-hand side, and never giving eye contact to the person opposite you on the tube (unless you’re drunk then it’s a free for all). But these are all the things I love about London and what makes it great.
I also like how London has distinctive areas within the city. You could go to West London to find boutique shops and visit Portobello Road Market. East London is vibrant and full of a creative flavour like no other part of the city full of street art and pop ups everywhere you look. Central London is the beating heart of the city but I like the social and fun side of Soho. North London has a great alternative scene with the famous Camden Lock and markets. Lastly South London (or gritty south as some people call it) is where I call home that brings everything together for me.
Over the years I have grown up in this city, I can honestly say there is one time of the year that’s my favourite and that’s summer. Nothing beats summer in London in my eyes and it’s the best time to visit. The buzz of the city is amplified by the good weather with everyone wanting to socialise and have post-work drinks, there’s loads of music festivals, gigs and club nights, and just lots more exciting parties.
I have always been a bit of a social butterfly but I am also a creative who loves the arts which is why I guess I stayed in London. The city has always been described as a hub and a melting pot of different people and cultures. I believe this is one of the reasons why it’s so great and historically this has always had an influence on the arts that London is so well known for today. Everywhere you walk you will see parts of old London – in the architecture through to modern day London design shops and boutiques.
One particular area of interests for me has been music and how it influences our culture. Music has always given me a sense of release, a way to bond with my friends, and its offered me a way to make new friends. I have many foggy and fun memories of going out after college or work to watch bands play at gigs across so many venues in town. I was really into Indie music in those days and you could go upstairs in pubs like Old Blue Last in Camden, or club nights like FROG at the Mean Fiddler (The Astoria 2) in Charing Cross that hosted events with more of a larger ‘club’ vibe. I have been lucky enough to watch the rise of many bands in London such as Noah and the Whale, Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, Klaxons, CSS, Bloc Party, Smokey Angle Shades, Laura Marling, Artic Monkeys, and Franz Ferdinand.
Growing up in South London I was also heavily into garage and grime music which perfectly capsulated London’s street culture for me. Grime was a way of storytelling with gritty beats influenced by garage music. I identified with as it as it described areas I knew, things I did, and defined a way of life many people my age related to. Listening and seeing artists like Wiley, Dizzee Rascal, Ms. Dynamite, Roll Deep, So Solid, and Lisa Maffia not only impacted on the way I dressed as part of that scene but also the way I spoke, and where I went out in London.
On my weekends (and the occasional cheeky school night) like many teenagers of the 2000s, I would go to nightclubs and immerse myself into the music scene. Clubs were always a good way to meet likeminded people and some of whom have become my lifelong friends. I always saw music as a key part of British culture but particularly London’s inner city culture. To this very day music influences our everyday social practices and is something we can share over generations as a tool of self-expression.
As I have got older, the music scene still influences my life but it makes less of mark than it did in the hay days of my youth. Over the last 5 years it makes me sad to think that over 50% of London’s nightclubs have shutdown. This percentage would be a lot higher if we included bars, pubs, and comedy clubs. There are many reasons for this happening but in my opinion rapid rent increases, pressure from local authorities for licences, and eagerly waiting developers wanting to turn the venue into expensive flats or hotels are more likely to be the causes.
Last year an iconic club Fabric that had been running for over 15 years had its licence revoked following the drug-related deaths of two people. This was a significant and shocking moment within the music industry sparking a backlash of protests from people across Europe including myself. We had enough of seeing the very thing we loved about London’s culture being taken away from us. Luckily the Mayor Sadiq Khan backed the campaign to reopen Fabric and we won!
However not so many venues have not been so lucky. The clubs I have so many happy memories going to such as Plastic People, Passing Clouds, Astoria, Cable, and Madam Jojo’s have all closed down. Should this rate of closures continue, there will be generations of young people unable to experience and benefit from London’s culture in the same way I did due to not being able to afford to go out or not having anywhere to go.
Another example is Notting Hill Carnival that I actually took part in last year. This annual festival is Europe’s biggest street festival (and the world’s second largest festival) celebrating London’s multicultural past and present. Last year it was carnival’s 50th anniversary and it came out in a bang with steel pans, soca, floats, and costumes. Over 1 million people come to the carnival that contributes approximately £93 million to the UK’s economy. However, each year the government forces come out in full force trying to stop the carnival from taking place. In 2016, London’s second biggest street festival Brixton Splash was not approved by Lambeth Council and did not take place after celebrating its 10th anniversary. It’s events like these that bring people and communities together that I love about London but I don’t think they will last.
With Brexit looming over us and the cost of living in London rising; the benefits of living here are shirking so fast that it is driving people away. I believe that the dynamics of the city’s culture are rapidly changing and being destroyed from the London I grew up in.
So going back to what Samuel Johnson famously said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life’ – it really depends what you define important in your life and for me always been the creative culture. London is changing so rapidly and at the expense of what gives it life – its diverse people and its culture. If creatives like myself have nowhere affordable to live in London, places to meet and network, and spaces to develop and deliver projects then we will have no choice but to leave. If we keep gentrifying the city piece by piece in the way that is happening now there will be no difference between London and any other major city. Every part of town will look the same and push out the creative pulse that gives London the buzz we all love.
For the first time in my life I am thinking of relocating myself! I haven’t lived anywhere other than London and it scares me to think of leaving everything and everyone I love behind. But I do find myself asking this question more frequently – is this the London you love and want? Sadly I don’t think it is anymore and I am worried about how things will be should the UK leave the EU. I think there will be more pressure on the already squeezed creatives like myself that live in London. Creative venues will also suffer from funding cuts or pressures from local councils and are likely to close. As a result there will be less young people studying creative subjects due to low job prospects. That process of gentrification has already started and I have seen the impact of those changes sadly take place across the whole of London.
So there you have it Samuel my old friend… I think I will choose the words of another famous writer Irvine Welsh – I choose life! I choose to support the independent venues, shops, and businesses that helped make London one of the best cities in the world.