Window Pane

Rave On: Street Art Off the Lane

Back in the 90s I remember an evening in East London when, running around with the Chiba City crew, the lads had found a vacant factory of sorts in the Old Street area for one of their, late-Saturday-night/early-Sunday-morning parties. 

Chiba City Flyer
Chiba City Flyer 1996/97? Courtesy Ben Millar

The soundsystem (a monstrous exertion of speakers, decks, and lights) had all just been brought in when the cops showed up. After recording everyone’s names for posterity we were politely requested to vacate the premises and not return.

Leaving, a bit like a pack of forlorn dogs, I remember thinking it was a nicer than usual area for one of the System’s steamy late night sessions and that remains in my mind even today—looking out the window of the van and seeing the English cityscape towering above in the narrow dark streets, quiet and grand.  

View of the City from Hoxton
View of the City from Hoxton

We had an early night as I recall back at the squat but there were quite a few more parties then and after; not always ending with the arrival of the police but more often than not they too were as constant a fixture as the morning sun.

I’ve returned to London over the years, and the area has changed since these earlier days.

Sculpture in the Garden of Victoria Miro Gallery situated between Hoxton and Islington in a converted factory

The storefronts of today look more polished, there are a few respectable gallerists as well as hip, up-and-coming design houses, as well as fancy restaurants with regular clientele that don’t just serve the overflow City lunch crowd.

Cubicle-sized shops for the young entrepreneur wanting to benefit from the scene but not yet with deep pockets of the proper West side, immediately surround the Shoreditch Train station.

Building Facade
Adjacent to Shoreditch Station

Still this East-side enclave has maintained much of its boho, gritty charm and if the artists can no longer afford the rent they still flock to the area, the streets of Brick Lane, Redchurch Street and its snaking alleys covered in graffiti.

Next to the station itself, a rough and ready football pitch grows in green defiance while the walkway of a connecting overpass substitutes for a makeshift stage, a scruffy group of musicians holding court over a modest but appreciative crowd.

Band under the arches
Street Musicians walkway Shoreditch Station

The slim roads are busy with deliveries, lorries that navigate the narrow girth with deft speed, people walking, working, eating and drinking, smoking a spliff or a fag, or just shooting the shit, like any other city street in the world.

Italian artist Millo

But London isn’t just any other town in the world, millions still make their way to this megalopolis in search of its regalia and fairy tales.  The trade of flowers, arts, crafts, and oddities is a century’s old endeavor to nearby Spitafields and Columbia Markets—the more things change the more they stay the same.  

So, it’s really no wonder that the street art here isn’t your back alley middle of nowhere variety.  The artists who ‘throw up’ here are those tapping into the area’s notoriety and crowd-draw.

That’s okay by me, it’s kind of like going to a museum, albeit outside, where you know the venue guarantees a few masterpieces and at the very least a decent collection. . .

Belgian Artist Roa’s Hedgehog

. . .and if it makes me nostalgic for raucous days past it’s reassuring that it has and still is going on. . . 

Jim Vision

Originally written 2015

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