Too cool for cool
Roughly six years ago my town centre was very different to the one that resides in the heart of Woolwich today. Then, the town square could be described as a square ring road for buses within which a rat ridden maze of hedged paths lay. I remember vividly the strewn Greggs packets, the rusting playground and constant after-school shrieks of girls. As different as the town square is today, what is most striking is the transformation of the people that mill about it. This is not to say that the demographic has changed, more so the people themselves.
It would be remiss for me to begin to talk about ‘kids these days’ but this is only slightly about them. The easiest and most striking change can be found in the garbs worn by the youth. Growing up, tracksuits were worn seriously and with a fair amount of pride – JD Sports was our Saville Row Tailor. Avirex jackets swallowed young men and girls emulated their Grime and R&B idols. This was just six short years ago.
Around this time I spent a period of two years away from the hustle and bustle of ‘real London’ life and traded it to school in Bexley (land of the tradesman). It would be fair to say that I was out of the social loop I had been in while at secondary school. Over the past six years it is worth noting that Bexley has largely retained its identity undisturbed, Uggs still squelching against pavements in the rain.
Prior to my ‘flying the coup’ to University, I was alerted to a big change in the make-up of my town centre. As the builders had begun to break up the old town centre and build a brand new DLR station, so native Woolwich folk began to break the stylistic mould. The new transport link, perhaps literally brought the arrival of the much maligned “hipster” culture/couture. Ecko Unlmtd hoodies and Evisu jeans, I realised, had given way to striped hoodies and jeans that weren’t baggy. One day, I remember visiting a friend of mine who lives round the corner for me with some other friends, for a good hour we took the piss out of his slender jeans. At the time, I was completely startled that lads would wear what I thought were girl’s jeans.
Anyways, it was around the tail end of 2008 that I began to notice a correlation (which, I promise is the point of this piece). I attended University in Hull which, it goes without saying, is a bit far from London. There I was made aware of an “Alternative Music” society (it was called some shit like that) that specialised in Dubstep and Drum and Bass. In those days Dubstep was only just starting to seep into the rest of the UK consciousness from London. This also startled me. How did people all the way up north know about Dubstep?
At around the same period I started listening to Flying Lotus and music from his record label Brainfeeder. This scene, even then, seemed like a counterpoint to the bass-heavy music bubbling in London at the time via the likes of Burial. Fast forwarding to 2011, I went to visit a friend of mine in Manchester for his birthday. Until then I had never visited the city but immediately it was clear that the city was more ‘hip’ than my University digs; drugs were everywhere and notably, the music on the average night was different. Where in my Uni there was one society dedicated to the bass heavy scenes (and one bar which has since shut down), in Manchester everyone was on it.
Now, to link this back to the first half of this ramble, the point of interest is that the folk I met and came across in Manchester (most of whom were from fairly wealthy backgrounds) were dressed very similarly to those in my town centre. Somehow, their styles had converged upon each other (much like stitching) despite coming from completely disparate backgrounds.
One final anecdotal shock came post-graduation. My cousins live in Hackney, East London and have done since pre-forever. As a result, I spent a lot of time there growing up and became familiar with a lot of the borough. Last year I ended up volunteering with a charity that was then based in Dalston. Before I left Uni, Dalston was a pretty impoverished, untrendy area. Poetically, the untrendy, I discovered, had become trendy. Dalston also resembled Woolwich.
Gentrification although prevalent in Dalston, Shoreditch and the resurgent East End does not tell the tale across the capital and across the country and to the USA. The name of that tale is befitting of its style, Globalisation. Counter culture – with the aid of the internet, music, culture and gentrification – has gone global. In 2012 ardent Pitchfork readers can discuss Kanye West’s foibles and pluses with hardened inner city school kids without an edge of awkwardness. The greatest joke about ‘that’ hipster question is that we have all been swallowed by the culture anyway. If anything, we should start enjoying our common ground.