Comments, EdgeNotes, In Focus

Urban art scene

Before Christmas, we went to a small gig in a pop-up shop on our local high street. The shop had been set up as part of an attempt to re-invigorate the neighbourhood.


Steve Latham


Another one had also opened up further along the shop-fronts. Both were artistic endeavours, stocking strange products of people’s creative efforts trying to find a market.

This particular store was selling T-shirts, designed by artists. I am not sure why they thought they would be hot-sellers at Christmas-time.

Some typical images on the T-shirts featured quite gruesome depictions of heads exploding, skulls, and weapons with blood dripping from them.

We pointed out to the shop assistant that the images were quite scary, and asked what the concept was behind this arty apparel.

He replied that it was ‘ironic’. Perhaps that is true. But I can’t expect that they sold many to the everyday inhabitants of Sydenham.

Perhaps it worked as an artistic statement. Otherwise I think there was a disconnect between these self-conscious artists and their locale.

The band who played were brilliant. Called Mishaped Pearls, they performed in a variety of folk and classical styles.

The performers seemed to embody the spirit of a European avant garde; the singer from Germany, the bassist from Italy.

Their songs were from different nations, and included their own compositions. With a classically-trained singer and highly skilled musicians, it had beauty and energy in equal measures.

Their name is a translation of the term ‘Baroque’; and they certainly communicated the fluidity, complexity and sophistication which exemplifies that style.

There were not many people there. Many of them, however, seemed to know the band members. This is typical for bands trying to make their way.

The audience comprised then a mix of English visitors and other national ‘types’, come out to support their friends.

The event represented the presence of an underground music scene in London, hidden from view, performers doing their thing in search of that opportunity.

I came across two other such events. One was an Australian band, Sunday Waits, a lovely pop-rock combo, who launched their EP last year. Another, in a basement in Paddington, featured rap, poetry, and soul.

In each event, performers brought their own supporters with them, to make it successful. That is the way it happens.

In all three events, however, the disconnect was again present. Each largely represented a different ethnic mix.

Folk music with white, British and Europeans; pop-rock with white, British and Australians; and ‘urban’ music, a euphemism for ‘black’.

There are indeed many artists in London who contribute to the vitality of life in London, truly one of the most cosmopolitan and creative in the world.

However, the circles which people move in don’t often overlap. We exist in distinct, discrete, circles of relationships in the city.

Multi-culturalism is rarely more than a plea to enjoy ‘ethnic’ food in Brick Lane. Instead we must break down the walls.

For when the circle do intersect, and we encounter the truly ‘other’, then we are genuinely enriched.

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