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Unified in Vinyl: Peckham's Fight Against Gentrification

"I felt like I needed to open this place just to put something in the way of all the expensive places that you can't really hang out in."
February 5, 2015, 9:28pm
All photos by Nadia Langensand

7pm on a Tuesday night and I'm following the stream of commuters into the depths of Peckham Rye station. Upon tapping out, you walk into an olfactory wall: fish, roadside poultry, the heady fumes of public transport. This is Rye Lane.

Down a hole-in-the-wall arcade, a group of middle-aged men crowd round the counter of a makeshift phone card dispensary, laughing loudly and rolling dice to a blaring hip hop soundtrack. Continuing down the narrow passage of this indoor arcade, past a fabric retailer, you'll see a small, neatly organised record shop. Its size brings a Japanese cubicle hotel to mind. Fittingly, it contains a literal listening cubicle: shelves of vinyl, a record player, a coffee table and a few chairs, and a miniature palm tree.
  You and Music Records is one of the three independent record shops that have opened within spitting distance of one another in one of south east London's most thrilling streets. There's YAM and Do!! You!! – run by NTS host Charlie Bones – in the Sky Shopping City complex, and Rye Wax, tucked away underneath the Bussey Building. The latter is the largest of the three with enough space to sneak in a café and bar next to the bins stuffed with everything from freshly pressed industrial techno to battered old boogie records. The Sky dwellers offer a more compact range of releases from smaller local labels and a stack of second hand funk, soul and disco. Basically, as YAM part owner Tom Lawes tells me, "anything that makes people move."

YAM's Tom Lawes

These shops aren't the beginning of SE15's love affair with dance music. In effect they're physical monuments to the area's love of all things vinyl. Playing host to nights like Bradley Zero's Rhythm Section, held as a 12" only bash in the charmingly shabby Canavan's pool hall, the independent label fairs and listening parties at the Peckham Pelican, and a few record labels (22a, First World, and Rhythm Section International), the place hums with appreciation for crackly black wax.
  So why records? The worldwide vinyl renaissance – sales are at an 18 year high – helps, sure, but it seems to go deeper than that in Peckham. Vinyl carries the kind of trading tradition that never really translated to the age of the CD and that sense of community is apparent in the SE15 scene. The proprietors and their DJ pals make regular trips down the road to hang out in each other's stores, talking shop and jamming records. The shops direct customers back and forth, they DJ at and go to each other's parties, they borrow and trade vinyl. Local resident Ben Helliker-Hales is a prime example of the inter-connectedness of the Rye Lane set. He's one half of New Zealand deep house duo Chaos in the CBD, has released tunes on local labels, works at YAM, and has played Rhythm Section parties.
  That level of communality can be seen in Peckham at large. Rye Lane is a curious blend of high street monoliths and independent one-offs sitting side by side while straddling opposing ethos. A sense of friendliness runs throughout the thoroughfare. "Really young business owners are doing well and, hopefully, that's got to slow down the momentum of gentrification," Lawes says, "It's also just great to be part of a wave of independent businesses. There's a feeling that we're all doing good for the place." Theo, the other half of YAM, is a bit more forthright on the issue of the G-word. "I felt like I needed to open this place just to put something in the way of all the arseholes who fill up the super middle class, highbrow, expensive places that you can't really hang out in."

Rye Lane - one of London's most unique streets

The parties, labels, and stores that are have emerged have done so organically. Rye Wax opened with the intention of providing local DJs a place to buy records. YAM always wanted a spot for local labels. The Rhythm Section night – probably the highest profile of the Peckham parties – acts, for Bradley Zero, like a kind of social club. As he told The Vinyl Factory the joy of the night, for him, is, "bringing all your records over, getting them out, having a good natter over who's got what, and then hanging out." His booking policy reflects that: DJs are given a date because of their Soundcloud stats but because Zero wants to have dinner with them, have them stay over at his, take them record shopping the next morning.
  The importance of the ideals of community within the community is what makes the idea that Peckham has changed due largely to cocktails at Frank's and small-plate specials at The Begging Bowl infuriating for the people who live and work within it. It's also dangerous to take aim purely at these Time Out friendly signifiers of overdrawn-wealth. Commerical developers seem set on turning a unique space into another anodyne shopping experience. This kind of thing doesn't go down well with most Peckhamites. Groups like Peckham Vision, a resident-led organisation focused in supporting the continued independence of the town centre are pivotal to ensuring not everywhere in London is a grey snake of Pret's and H&Ms. They've recently put forward the opportunity for locals to co-design the future blueprint of the area surrounding the train station.

Rye Wax

Resistant to the complete demolition of the past but open to moving with the times, record shops like these are vital components and micro-local institutions within a community that prides itself on free spirit. Theo thinks that YAM and co are a new generation of record store. They want to push against the High Fidelity inspired idea of record shop clerks being snide, snarky sods who resent each and every one of their customers. Charlie Bones agrees, saying that Do!! You!! Is designed to be an "egalitarian and accessible space."
  But things do change, albeit slowly and through a lot of hard work. An electrician by trade, Theo continues with his refurbishing work of YAM's office after our chat, literally building with his own hands what the two joke may become a "hub" for the local music scene. Whether it does or doesn't, we're ready to assume the store won't be offering deals on Black Friday.

Check out the Peckham scene in full flow this Friday at the YAM hosted night at everyone's favourite SE15 watering hole Ali Baba's Bar Bar - more info here.

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