Back to life
The richness of London’s club heritage can be traced back to the sound system culture brought over and popularised by the Windrush generation and their descendants.
By Ed Gibbs
Spitalfields and its neighbouring surrounds may have changed dramatically over the last 20 years – with its iconic market drastically reduced in size due to corporate expansion – but the new City Life festival is here to remind us of the area’s diverse history and our city’s unique cultural make-up.
Alongside famed artists like Jazzie B and DJ Fabio will be acclaimed music photographer Eddie Otchere, who will be at Libreria Bookshop near Brick Lane to illustrate the lineage of our city’s most famous sounds. From jungle and drum and bass, to dubstep, grime and drill, London’s urban expression has inspired artists across the musical landscape and continues a remarkable legacy that resonates louder than ever today. Twenty-plus years ago, disused warehouses across the city served as go-to venues for the capital’s burgeoning club culture.
Otchere, who for a long time was The Man for capturing dance culture on camera (not to mention being an accomplished DJ himself), is more often found coaching students these days. Yet his images of those heady days from the 1990s remain as vibrant as ever.
“I’m going to try to put the 1990s sound system culture in context,” he says. “So that people will know what it was like to hear that music and get the bus home at two in the morning. They were the sounds that we fostered amongst ourselves. People like Goldie and others, it was the idea of creating 21st century soul – creating a future that we could relate to. A number of us were offered record deals, but we preferred selling records out of the boot of a car. We were schooled by punks!”
Otchere still keeps his hand in what’s going on – his kids keep him up to speed – but he laments the lack of a bona fide underground scene in these days of gentrification and globalisation.
“Some parts of London were shitholes – and still are! Yet the danger’s gone, the estates are gone, and they’re being celebrated. It’s a weird one. What’s happened to Brooklyn is just crazy. We’re not quite there – not yet, anyway.”
Otchere remembers venues like The Blue Note in Hoxton that championed underground scenes, venues that danced to the beat of their own drum. But he also remains positive about the future, in part because of what he’s doing now.
“A few years back, I was teaching young offenders, rappers. It dawned on me, to tailor teaching around certain subjects. Like, them working out how to make videos with a DSLR camera and Final Cut Pro. So I managed to engineer kids to get their lives on video – and some of them have done really well. They’ve gone from underground to YouTube in six months. It’s weird. My clients have changed. I can’t work underground hip-hop labels, but I’m still a camera for hire. Running my own dark rooms, working with the resurgence of vinyl, film, etc, teaching and teaching support. My job at the festival will be to show what’s brought club culture to where it is today.”
City Life festival kicks off October 7th in Spitalfields.
For a full programme of events, head over here