We asked Class War why they hate the Cereal Killer Cafe so much and what they hoped to achieve by throwing paint at it.
Footage from the Fuck Parade
It's just over two weeks since a rampaging pack of anarchists and crusties held an anti-gentrification "Fuck Parade" through East London's Brick Lane, throwing paint bombs at the Cereal Killer Café and giving the internet something to talk about.
The attack was always going to go viral. The rowdy, agitprop-loving anarchist group Class War were heavily involved in the Fuck Parade, and the victims were themselves the pantomime villains – Cereal Killer twins Alan and Gary Keery. What with all the flaming torches and an estate agent's window getting smashed before the cereal cafe attack, it was such an eye-catching realisation of the battle to live in London that it could have been a piece of street theatre put on for visiting tourists, as if the London Dungeon was opening up a Brick Lane branch.
The think-pieces have swirled their inevitable swirl, and the paint has been cleaned. So last week I caught up with two members of Class War – "Artur" (not his real name) and Martin – who are involved in the Fuck Parade, to ask why they did it, what they made of the reaction and what they're up to now. They told me that we haven't seen the last of the Fuck Parade.
What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
VICE: Hi guys. So a couple of weeks ago you held a Fuck Parade that resulted in the Cereal Killer Café getting attacked with paint. Why did that place get targeted?
Artur: You've got to understand, we didn't organise the Fuck Parade with the sole intention of fucking things up [for Cereal Killer Café], but at the same time, I'm quite happy it happened. And you know what? Fuck the cereal bar, yeah? The truth of the matter is that they paint themselves as two little Irish working class lads. They're fucking not, mate. They've got a franchise in Camden; they're doing very well. It's fucking insulting. They've basically come to an area and shown a complete lack of sensitivity, a complete inability to question their own privilege. People who are from this area can't afford £4.50 to £5.50 for a bowl of fucking cereal, and nor would they want to. It's a fucking gimmick. It's forcing a far-away, disposable culture on us and it's a fucking lie, mate – it's a joke. It feels insulting. As a person who's from this area, I feel insulted by that.
So if you didn't intend to attack the cereal bar, how did it happen?
We get these people turn up on our demos. I like them, I think they're great. They turn up with their black on, in their masks, and they're a bit naughty, a bit spiky, and the truth of the matter is, they're also people that are very much on the front line of what's going on with the gentrification and yuppification. Like with the situation at Sweets Way [estate in north London] – you know, disabled people getting dragged out, getting beaten in the street while the cops look on.
Which is terrible – but does that justify throwing paint at a shop?
People who have been going on our social media, on Twitter, on Facebook and all the rest of it [are saying] "I hope you get cancer, I hope you get AIDS, you're the scum, I hope the police shoot you in the face with rubber bullets," and it's like, "Oh, we're really sorry that we tried to do something about people being fucking made homeless and people's communities and lives being destroyed." The point is, nobody's asked us why we try and do Fuck Parade and what the point of Fuck Parade was, you know? And those fuckers at the cereal café, they're not doing badly are they? Boris Johnson went down there the other day [he didn't visit, but did tweet his support]. It just shows you exactly what kind of people they are, because if that had been my shop I would have spat in his cereal and told him to fuck off.
Okay, so what was the initial aim for the Fuck Parade?
Shoreditch is an area that is a byword for gentrification, you know; there's a word coming into our lexicon now, "Shoreditchification". It's long overdue that something happened. The Fuck Parade is based on a thing they do in Berlin every year, which is a similar sort of thing but much bigger. It's a full-blown event and it's kind of an anti-gentrification answer to the Love Parade. It's like, all this stuff going on, what's there to love? Fuck it, you know. We took that...
Love Parade – that was more of a dance festival, right?
It's all bollocks, mate, but you know, I'm not here to debate about German musical tastes and all the rest of it – that's them.
The Fuck Parade came about when we had a sit-down meeting with Taylor McWilliams, who's a property developer for One Commercial Street [a luxury block of flats that Class War had been campaigning against because it had poor doors], and we thought we were actually going to be able to resolve the situation amicably and perhaps he was going to see the error of his ways. But we dug around him a little bit and found out that he's an aspiring DJ. He does some awful house nights and I kinda said to him, you know, "We don't want a repeat situation of their situation [in Berlin], but you know, you're pushing us into a situation where we're going to have to organise something like that." Most people are really fucking flaky, but if I say I'm gonna do something, I'll do it. So we did one on the first of May, which was a lot of fun.
The more recent one wasn't very fun for the Cereal Killer Café guys.
Martin: In the whole post mortem, how much damage was actually done? I think one or two windows were broken at the estate agents. I've seen the 18th of June in 1999 [at Carnival Against Capital] – cars on fire and banks smashed up: real damage.
We just left our calling card; we didn't really go mad or anything. A bit of paint thrown. The place could've been torn to bits, but they're making out it was like [Assault on] Precinct 13 or something, but it wasn't.
Isn't it unfair to single one business out?
Artur: As far as I'm concerned, they all deserve to have paint chucked at them and more. But you know what – it is what it is.
What's the tactical intention? What are you trying to achieve?
I think you're crediting us with a little bit more forethought than... we don't have any tactical... it's just to have some fun and make a bit of noise and a bit of rock 'n' roll in people's otherwise shit, dull, misery-infested lives, man. You know, we want a bit of fireworks – some fucking fire breathers and juggling. Shit music and people celebrating, dancing in the ruins of a fucking dying empire or whatever. Just, you know, trying to fucking stand up and say, "I am against what's happening and I will turn out on the street and do something for it," do you know what I mean?
Do you have more actions planned?
Well, there'll definitely be another Fuck Parade.
Is gentrification the Cereal Killer Café's fault?
Martin: Look, the café has pissed off a lot of people. There are a lot of worse shops, but the way I look at it is, it's not the existence of the cereal café, but the destruction of our market on a Sunday, which is a tenth of its previous size. It used to go all the way down Cheshire Street – most of it was illegal – all the way down Bethnal Green Road. It would spread out to car boot sales to where the new Sainsbury's is, even as far as Cambridge Heath Road, where there used to be a brewery. Even down the other side, going down towards Stepney. All of Cheshire Street, all the streets around Cheshire Street, the entirety of Brick Lane. All that's left is a tiny remnant, and another chunk of that went.
All that space belonged to us. It was our space, in the East End, a big focal meeting point for loads of really elderly East Enders, where people came down to sell – it was pitiful stuff, but it was a social occasion. But what happened is these people started moving in to the area years ago, when Cheshire Street was the first to go. [Gentrifiers] moved in and it was sold as sort of "edgy" and so on, then they started complaining about the noise from the market.
They're building, within a couple of years, within a five minute walk of where I live, 5,000 luxury flats. 5,000! We've got 20,000 people on the [social housing] waiting list here. And these people, there's none of them from here. I've been in them – show flats and whatever – and they're horrible. I wouldn't want to live in them. I know people that are doctors – they're living in slum conditions. So a doctor, him and his partner have to rent out one stinking mouldy room in a flat and it's costing them a fortune
Artur: It's just forcing people out of the area, and people say, "Yeah, they're great, they bring in tourist trade, they bring in money for local businesses" – this whole thing about they're just hard working, tax-paying businessmen. Fuck the petty bourgeoisie; they're not doing anything for the local community, other than contributing to the imposition of a culture that's not relevant to East London.
It's this kind of shift where the rich people are coming in and colonising it, and it is poor, it is run down, so there's this whole kind of edgy urban hipster culture that's artificially imposed by places like the cereal café so that it's somehow desirable and edgy and cool to live in an area that otherwise people like that wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole.
You're saying they're not bringing anything here, but they're bringing jobs.
Martin: They said in the paper that [Cereal Killer Café workers] make £7 an hour, right. Where on earth could you live around here for that? Unless you want to live under a staircase. How could you have any kind of social existence, see a movie, go out for a meal, have a drink? They're fucking paying two bowls of cereal an hour to these people they employ – it's like pocket money or something.
Do you ever feel like – and it's difficult to disagree with what you're saying about the housing crisis – but do you feel like as the area changes, when you're talking about the Cereal Killer Café not being "for" people round here, you're talking about a concept of east London that has been moved on? And stuff like Cereal Killer Café is what London's about now, whether we like it or not?
No. It's an East End that's changing, but not an East End that's going. There are so many people living here, despite all these millionaires moving in. We still retain our culture here. All our street life is being destroyed as well. It's all being destroyed. But fortunately the Bangladeshi, Somalian and what's left of the white working class – we're clinging on tenaciously because we've got nowhere else to go.
This idea of people "coming over here" – I've seen people criticising the Fuck Parade for being akin to the EDL in terms of its attitude to outsiders: "Qatari billionaires" investing and so on.
All this stuff about us being like fascists – we got out about 200 to 300 people every time the EDL came out, we stood with the local community, the Bangladeshis, we regard it as a politically incorrect insult that we could even be compared to the EDL. A couple of years ago, we had about 150 people arrested on the streets here, protesting against the EDL.
Artur: You get all these people saying you're hipster racists and, "You're like the EDL." It's insulting to people who have experienced racism and hate crimes. It weren't a hate crime. People have completely disregarded the callous, psychopathic level of violence that this community has been under, and impoverished Londoners have been receiving for many years.
I've been in hospital [after] taking a brick to the head from the EDL. I'm not exactly on their Christmas card list. This is about how London doesn't belong to the people of London any more.
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