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The column: Sonya Barber - 'Pop-ups can pop off'

Sonya Barber

Time Out’s Blog editor is ready to pop a cap in the ass of London’s sub-par temporary events.

It has finally happened. We’ve reached peak pop-up. Going the way of beards, avocados, tattoos and so many other things that were once cool, pop-ups have become a cliché, mercilessly appropriated by brands and, sadly, pretty much ruined.

Years ago, pop-ups were a revelation. Their fleeting nature meant that we’d actually go, instead of telling everyone we were going then just staying in and Netflixing ourselves into a coma like we do now. Pop-ups were like work-in-progress shows where London’s creative makers, bakers, artists, party people, musicians, designers, wannabe bar owners and restaurateurs could put on adventurous, commitment-free shenanigans to test the public reaction to ideas, without coughing up a massive deposit for a permanent residence. They took over disused spaces before they were redeveloped into boring things and breathed new life into established venues we’d forgotten about. They were experiments: mostly fun, often silly, sometimes shoddy, but it didn’t matter, because they weren’t sticking around.

We’ve seen it all: chocolate waterfalls, rooftop crazy golf, dog diners, hot tub bonanzas, urban forests, adult ball pits, vagina cake stalls, feminist nail art and cuddle cafés. So many things we know and love in London started as pop-ups: Pitt Cue, MeatLiquor, Dead Dolls Club, Swingers...

Nowadays, it feels like pop-ups have been reduced to toilet-paper companies doing bog-roll cafés, paint companies doing acrylic-huffing sessions in warehouses and accountancy firms doing cat-themed tax return workshops. The magic has well and truly faded. They’ve become a symbol of everything that’s wrong with London today: soulless corporate bullshit imitating independent stuff that was actually good.

So it’s time to shut down and restart the pop- up. To help us on our way, here’s a manifesto for what a pop-up should (and shouldn’t) be.

No more one-night-only or year-long pop- ups. No more brands using pop-ups to try and be down with the hipster kids, or companies saying ‘we were just a pop-up’ when it all goes tits-up. No more animals being trapped in cafés for our empty pop-up enjoyment. No more assumptions that all pop-ups should have street food, craft beer, immersive theatre and a wacky theme. Enough is enough.

London is bursting with creative people brandishing incredible ideas for genuinely exciting concepts. Plus, this city still has reams of empty space ripe for the popping but being hoarded by developers. Let’s start reuniting the two once again. The pop-up isn’t dead, it’s just got a bit tired and lazy. Let’s start really supporting independents doing awesome, out-there projects. We’re hungry for authentic, risqué, homemade, silly, inspiring, surprising, cheerful, spontaneous new things. Let’s bring them back before the only place left to go is a photocopier company’s butt-Xeroxing immersive craft beer theatre bar. Oh wait, that sounds amazing.

Want more ranting and raving? Read Eddy Frankel's column on why anxiety is the new coffee.

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