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London's No Longer a City for the Young

The city's fucked and Mary Berry's to blame.

by Josh Baines
Sep 9 2016, 3:17pm

This article originally appeared on THUMP UK.

Shut your eyes and think about London. What is it that's projecting itself onto your prisoner's cinema? Whatever it is—sunflower seeds discarded on the grubby-brown floor of a bus heading towards Penge, a fat man in a suit sweating on Blackfriars Bridge, a pint pot spattered and speckled with piss lolloping in the long grass of Hilly Fields—it probably isn't what you want to think about when you're thinking about the place.

This image of contemporary London won't be a surprise to anyone who's spent more than twenty minutes here in the last decade. Hell, 20 minutes looking into the eyes of anyone living in Arnos Grove, working in Beckton, bleeding themselves dry in order to plunge headfirst into a box of chips in a Morden chicken shop, would be enough to convince the first alien to reach planet Earth that London was a shithole. 20 seconds would do it.

You know the drill by now—sky high rents and club closures, social cleansing and burger bars, the Bake Off and an overwhelming sensation of being slowly, very slowly, suffocated by the cloying and crushing blandness of it all. Each and everyone of us drowning in a silo of shittiness. This is the London 2016 narrative everyone's happy to run with because it's true. This week's monumental moment in city-ruining will likely have massive repercussions, as the place edges ever closer to being a dormitory town inhabited almost exclusively by big-boned boys from the Home Counties called Benjy. A sleepy shuttle ferrying the red-faced and unpleasant from Charing Cross to Hither Green just in time for a half-arsed wank over the ten minute preview on Television-X.

What we're stepping into is the emergence of a nation in which nightlife—and by nightlife I'm not just referring to clubs here, but bars, gig venues, restaurants, private galleries—has been transformed from an essential emotional outlet into something akin to a perversion. Tell the country you quite fancy another Stella gone eleven on a Tuesday night and the country will look at you like you just admitted to shitting into sandpits in broad daylight.

Our nation's cities are—thanks to the triple-headed fun-sucker that is local councils, police forces, and government—increasingly homogenic, a deathly-dull simulacra of what city life should be. This is metropolitanism for people who see living in a city as a stopgap before they bundle into a country pile and settle in for a life of Agas and simmering resentments; urban living for the Buzzfeed crowd.

The reasons you moved to London or Leeds, Bristol or Bolton, likely involved the possibilities that cities offer the young—and not so young—at night. You wanted to live in a world that went on beyond midnight. You wanted to exist within a place where culture was a priority. That's what you wanted when you packed a bag and boarded a coach. What you got was this. And that's why fabric's closing borders on genuine tragedy.

Beyond the lost jobs, and nights out that'll never be, it's the story of a city turning against youth culture, in a country which already sees the young as a bunch of debt-saddled walking erections, moronic chip-eaters happy to spend a life in malnourished rented bedsits, eeking out meagre livings, seemingly happy to go to bed the second the sun sets because there's nothing to do.

It is patently obvious to most people that reasons put forward by Islington council as to why fabric had to shut with immediate effect were, for want of a more sensitive phrase, absolute bullshit. Even if we ignore the Operation Lenor evidence, it's clear to anyone with at least a third of a brain that closing clubs won't stop widespread drug use. In fact, that was such an obvious point to have made, I now feel slightly embarrassed to have mentioned it. But the point remains: people across the entire country, from the smallest hamlet to the densest inner-city area take drugs, and will continue to take drugs until drugs cease to exist. At which point they'll discover the hitherto-unknown narcotic properties of soil or glass or cigarette butts, and the whole thing will start again.

What nightlife spaces offer is an environment which is suited to it and equipped to deal with any complications that arise from drug-taking. By eradicating them, the council, and the police, unwittingly force drug users into position in which their safety is seriously compromised. Having done that, the demonization process begins. Shoved into the shadows, substances take on an even more illicit appeal. Which, again, very obviously, is a terrifying prospect for anyone with an interest in the kind of communities which form around shared nocturnal interests, because that kind of illicitness leads to situations where drugs and alcohol are misused—out of fear, rather than stupidity. That fear breeds ignorance. That ignorance breeds a determination to stamp out the space rather than the source of the problem. And then the space is turned into a block with a concierge and a special door round the back for the affordable homes buyers to slink into, shame-faced and guilty.

As our outlets of escapism find themselves plastered with closure notices, Britain gets more boring by the day. There are pockets of resistance, and there will always be clubs and late bars that offer people a place to forget about the world until the first trains start running, and people willing to enjoy them. But largely, we're unwilling participants in an experiment in the limits of boredom and societal control.

Youth culture's dead, and we've been told that luxury flats, "the Bake Off" and no-reservation tapas places in Soho are adequate replacement for pints and pills and the kind of memories that are only created when most of the world's gone to bed. They aren't. And they never will be.

Josh is on Twitter

youth culture
london clubbing