It may seem odd to get behind activism that wants to keep a strip club open not closed, but a group of activists – East London Strippers Collective – is in mourning.
Yet another venue in Hackney is to close. This time, it’s The White Horse on Shoreditch High Street – a family-run, independent strip pub, pushed out by the steady roll of property developers in the area. The collective, all working strippers who challenge the stigma around their work with art and music, are to protest in the most spectacular way with ‘RIP Shoreditch’, a New Orleans-style funeral procession through the East End.
‘Some might think that it’s a good idea to clear an area of “vice”,’ thinks Edie Lamort from ELSC. ‘But it’s part of the history and traditional culture of the area. Independent businesses are just not tolerated [any more].’ The pub’s impending closure follows the loss of nearby LGBT venues Chariots, The Joiners’ Arms and The George and Dragon plus numerous music venues across the city. ‘Shakespeare set up his first theatre in Curtain Road away from the rules and regulations of the city so people could have a bit of mischief,’ says Edie. ‘That’s what Shoreditch has always been.’
The White Horse played an important role in the formation of the East London Strippers Collective. Members met while working there and it’s hosted their regular life drawing classes. ‘It’s the last of the decent East End pubs,’ says Edie. ‘It’s run by Pauline, Sue and Emily – granddaughter, mother and daughter. That used to be the case all through the East End: pubs being run by the matriarchs of the family.’
‘It feels like Shoreditch is finished. Nothing really wild and random can happen here any more’
‘I do think to some extent history is being erased,’ says Stacey Clare, founding member of the ELSC. ‘Not all traditions are good, but women taking their clothes off for money is a job like any other and has been part of adult entertainment since the dawn of time. We ought to be asking how it can be done safely and ethically, rather than trying to end the demand.’ The ELSC plan eventually to set up their own venue, one that sets a precedent for workers’ rights. But for some members the industry has already become untenable, and they are considering leaving London.
As well as a big, fat party and dazzling striptease performances, this week’s funeral ceremony will see the strippers march from The White Horse to the Red Gallery on Rivington Street, carrying a life-size handmade coffin accompanied by live jazz music, banners and wreaths. Edie is also mourning the loss of artistry in stripping: ‘The whole focus was on giving a great stage show,’ she says. ‘When I started, there was an elaborate effort, fire shows, glitter shows, you made your own costumes and had to put the effort in. As soon as private dancing came in it became hustle, hustle, hustle.’
A stripper’s pole will be placed in the coffin at the Red Gallery alongside other mementos: a pair of high heels and thick-glass collection jug. Anyone is invited to pay respect to other shut down pubs, clubs, soundsystems or warehouses by throwing tokens in to the coffin. ‘It feels like Shoreditch is finished,’ says Edie. ‘You can have a craft lager and an artisanal sandwich and that’s it. Nothing really wild and random can happen here any more.’
RIP Shoreditch takes place at Red Gallery on August 14.