Who says you can’t be an anarchist and a capitalist? Visiting Camden markets the other day I met 15-year-old Rory Ballard, who, as you can see by this lovely sample, will let you take a photo with him for the low-low-low price of one pound.
I had a lovely chat with Rory, who is a top bloke indeed. He says he and his mates – about five or six of them – often hang around the Camden lock bridge offering people the chance to take home a memory with a real life London punk. He says it’s mostly tourists and nostalgic old punks who take him up on the offer.
“You get a few older punks who grew out of it,” he says. “They just look like normal people now.”
Rory says he got into punk music via his older sister. She played him a song by The King Blues called What if Punk Never Happened. A scary thought indeed. We would never have had post-punk. Rory rattled off some of his favourite bands: The Casualties, Leftover Crack, Restarts, The Filaments, Inner Terrestrials, Exploited, GBH.
“I think it’s got something to say,” he says of punk’s appeal. “It’s not just talking about money or drugs.”
Camden markets have certainly cleaned up since I last visited. A labyrinth of wonders, it’s easy to get lost amongst the racks of rock clothing, rock soap and rock cake until you find your way out into the open again via the scent of Peruvian, Moroccan or Ethiopian food. Amongst the twists and turns, the place is now decorated with giant bronze horse sculptures coming out of the walls and floors, representing the stables that used to be there in the 1800s. It’s pretty epic, and while it might add a bit of polish to the once grungy markets that have been there since the 1970s, I think it creates a sense of fantasy and wonder.
One of the hottest establishments is Cyberdog, a future-shock paradise selling out-there club wear that has been around since the turn of the last century. Once found in an underground archway, it now occupies three floors. It’s the only shop I’ve ever seen people queue to get into. Two giant cyber sentries guard the door and once inside, you’re rewarded with the vision of two dancers (one female and one male I’m happy to say) on a high-tiered platform energetically keeping pace to the pumping techno beats. Future fashion has been a self-fulfilling prophecy. I remember in 2001 thinking how much the clothes at Cyberdog represented the 1960s vision of the future: new tactile fabrics, strange padded clothing, wide hoop necklines, Jetsons style dresses. It was 2001, the future had arrived and now the kids were wearing those clothes! Well now it’s 2013, we’re even further into the future and Cyberdog is still selling the same space-age clothes like nothing has changed. Hmn. So we’ve got the outfits, but has the future really arrived? Where are our hoverboards? Where is my hand-held smart device? Oh yes, I lost that.
It might be a capitalist mecca, but Camden is a great place for individual artists and designers to show off their wares. I also chatted to Jeff the Chicago artist who has made London his home and art his living for the last eight years. He mans a stall selling comic artwork somewhere in the mess of stalls and shops. You can check out his art online at killerbunny.co.uk or if you are in London town head to the MCM Comic Con at the end of the month.
If the crowds and the chaos gets too much, just a stroll away past the locks, where people gather by the side of the canal snacking on crepes and Turkish pide, you’ll find yourself in utter quiet as you walk along the canal. Canals have been in these parts since the early 1800s when Dingwall’s (now a club) was a lumber yard.
Camden is a tourist destination of course and certainly you’ll hear lots of foreign accents. But they’re guaranteed to be the cool kids, just like you. So, it may be capitalist heaven, but it’s got a heart of solid bronze. And, I’m happy to say, punk’s not dead. Right on, London!