Music from the suburbs

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Far from being cultural deserts, London‘s outer reaches – from Bromley to Barnet – are home to the best music and hippest venues

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    Smells like Cheam spirit...

    Teased and excited by the bright lights of the city and yet too distant to have anything much to do – it’s a scenario that has inspired London’s suburbs to ring with the sound of music for decades. From The Stones’ Richmond roots to punk’s Bromley contingent, the bard of Barking to Britpop, kids have to do it for themselves in the ’burbs. Shielded from inner-city fads, they can explore music without fear of being out-of-step or having their ideas stolen by tastemakers. And without the city’s ability to suck away time like a vacuum cleaner, they can practise and hone, unlike some of the more self-regarding and frankly God-awful bands from the city centre.


    Now, once again, music in the suburbs is on the rise. For a start Elliot School, a comprehensive in Putney, has given us the oddball electro of Hot Chip, nu-folk linchpin Adem, electronica wunderkind Four Tet and dubstepper Burial. Then there’s that suburb’s best-known venue, the Half Moon, where you can see rising stars like 1965 Records signing The Draytones play. It’s a phenomenon that’s repeated throughout London suburbia – in Bedford Esquires, Kingston Peel, the Amersham Arms and the Croydon Cartoon (sadly just closed) – they’re hubs for local scenes, hardening bands away from the cynical ears of big bad critics and tough audiences.

    West London takes some beating, though – it’s got history, albeit a chequered one. Audio Bullys come from Twickenham and, ahem, The Bluetones hail from Hounslow. Now there’s a whole new generation that includes Larrikin Love (Twickenham), Jamie T (Wimbledon), Mystery Jets (Eel Pie Island), Fear of Flying (Ealing) and Bobby Cook (Hammersmith – well, it’s nearly the sticks). Alongside bands come the clubs, including roaming all-ages bash Way Out West, which has hosted nights in Brentford and Acton, and Blue Flowers, which takes place at the George IV in Chiswick on the first Sunday of every month. The modern face of suburbia – pleasant, quiet and green – is being scruffed up by guitar-toting kids.

    ‘We were walking home one day saying how rubbish west London music was,’ says Chris Pearson, co-founder of Blue Flowers. ‘I thought: Fuck it, and approached the venue and that was it. Like other suburbs, there are so many kids around here into music. You see them all the time on the night bus coming back from gigs.’ This isolation has also worked wonders for the Deptford and New Cross scenes – marked by the recent Deptford X Arts Festival.

    As London spreads and thickens, suburban areas are actually becoming more urban. And, of course, it’s cheaper to live somewhere like Carshalton than Islington – which makes Carshalton culturally more diverse, but also less affluent, with meaner streets. Which is why London’s answer to Eminem, Plan B, arrived all guns blazing from Forest Gate. Similarly, the origins of dubstep, that trippy, spliff-induced soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic city, are to be found further out of even Brixton’s orbit. Croydon and Norwood are the respective homes of two of the biggest players, Skream and Loefah.

    And the more you search, the more you’ll find. South London has a rich history of Jamaican music, reggae, jungle, garage and drum ’n’ bass. Grime, struggling to put on gigs in central and east London, is moving beyond Leytonstone, while bhangra and desi music dominate in Ealing and Southall. These suburban subcultures continually feed into a mixed-up history that’s seen ska collide with punk (The Clash) and ragga nestle up to rave and rock (Dizzee Rascal). And it will endure, because for all the music that comes out of Camden and Shoreditch, it’s the music that comes in from Zone 3 and beyond that we really should be listening to.

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