Friday, October 24, 2008

New Cross Seen: NME 2004

It's five years now since Angular Recordings put out their New Cross compilation and gigs at the Paradise Bar (now the Royal Albert) and elsewhere led to media excitement about the 'New Cross Scene'. Here's one of the original articles from NME in May 2004 - 'We Love New Cross':

Something's stirring in southeast London's self-styled rock n' roll borough - a DIY art-rock scene that's fast becoming the sound of the UK undergroundBritain rocks, but you knew that, right? All over the country, people are switching off the TV set and doing something less boring instead: forming bands, putting on club nights, running fanzines and getting the party started their own way. The indie success stories of the year - Franz Ferdinand and The Libertines - were not born from record company focus groups but from a DIY ethic involving everything from guerilla gigs in bedrooms to whole albums posted up on websites. The effect has been to create the kind of autonomous, get-up-and-go counterculture not seen since punk. And the most self-sufficient, productive, regional microcosm in the UK right now is in London.

New Cross is near Deptford, in the southeast London borough of Lewisham, an area famous mostly for Goldsmiths Art College. Shunned as a dump by people who think they're in the know about these things, it's a fiercely independent place where Starbucks has been refused planning permission and, at the next general election, looks like winning London its first Green MP. The seeds of the current revolution are scattered wide. Some people say it started when the Paradise Bar started its weekly Pop Of The Tops night, a cheap'n'entry Tuesday nighter with a music policy stricter than 'if you can get here, you can play', and a motto which states that "the word 'cool' actually means "tepid"". Others point to the formation of Angular Recordings, whose 'The New Cross' collection set a standard for young band compilations. Fashionable art-rock it might have been, but it also made no pretence of the fact that most of the tracks were no good - what it did do was provide a collection of tunes from an embryonic group of bands that sounded thrillingly alive. And along the way it unearthed Bloc Party and spawned the minor cultural revolution that was Art Brut's 'Formed A Band' - the single most accurate distillation of the area's DIY spirit.

To the band's guitarist Chris Chinchilla, the rise of New Cross has a lot to do with the rot setting in elsewhere in the city."Camden's lost it a bit. Every time you go there it's just so full of arseholes and scum and rubbish, it's dirty and people just can't be bothered. Things go round, places have their time and maybe Camden's had its time and it's time for somewhere else. I don't think it's New Cross' time yet, it's definitely East London's time, but southeast London could be next. Somebody's still got to build us a tube line first!"Yet Chris understands that the fringes are a good place to be. With no excessive media interest to stifle it, precious few A&R cheque books to cause rivalries between the bands and enough superstars of its own to be able to shun the celebrity system, New Cross' success is down simply to everybody seeing much fun they're having out there, and wanting a piece.

Angular's other great find were Bloc Party, the post-punk politicists whose early gigs sparked a signing frenzy that's picking up further fire with their ace new single 'Banquet'. And though the real stars of the New Cross scene are the freaks and characters that congregate around the Paradise Bar - people like Unemployable Welsh Scum DJ troupe, or resident celebrity Mickey Pearce from Only Fools And Horses - the community has turned into a hotbed of new bands. You might not have heard of situationist punks Corporation: Blend, or indie intellectuals The Violets, or twisted rockers Saint Rose; you might never hear of them, but that's not the point. All of them are keeping the community alive with guerilla gigs, and the understanding that these should be nights to remember rather than dreary showcases designed to angle for a record deal.

New Cross might have been another fly-by-night local scene had the people involved not realised what they were onto. A disparate group with a near-psychotic level of civic pride have set up the Music Tourist Board, promoting the self-styled borough of Rocklands, with the ultimate aim of getting the area declared an independent rock'n'roll republic. Trixie McNaughty, promoter of Pop Of The Tops, thinks it is already."You say tourist board and people think of Old England, Beefeaters and the royal family and all that," she says. "But the real tradition in this country is rock'n'roll, it's the freaks and the wierdos and the musicians doing it for themselves."I've just been to all these meetings," she continues, "and you know how the council are usually, 'Oh, what do you want, rock'n'roll nutters' but they were actually all saying 'We love what you've done in the last few months', and they're gonna make the borough of Lewisham a rock'n'roll borough. Rock'n'roll will take a lead in how we do things!"

And you shouldn't underestimate their potential. Last month, people power defeated an attempt by a local Nimby to block the renewal of the Paradise Bar's Public Entertainments Licence. Meanwhile, there's a second Angular compilation in the offing, record deals surely waiting for Bloc Party and Art Brut, and a host of even more new talent, as well as phase two of the Music Tourist Board, with the very real possibility of taking the cause to Europe.

So with the UK rocking, southeast London appears to be burning. And while the first rule of any scene is to deny there is one if you're part of it, the second is to shout it down and shout your own up. Over to you, people...

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