Photos That Show London's Punk Scene Is Still Alive and Spitting
We spoke to Jude Kendall about documenting the capital's squat and punk scene.
These days, punk isn't all that visible. Since the tabloids lost interest in the late-1980s and your aunt started selling Ramones baby-grows on Etsy, you'd be forgiven for thinking the scene had died a death, or was just about being kept on life support by the odd tri-hawked guy you'd see queuing outside the Underworld. But, really, it never went away – punk's continued to thrive in London, in the city's squats and DIY shows.
Jude Kendall is a photographer who moved to London from Cambridge nine years ago, and has been documenting the city's squat and punk scene for the last five. Many of her photos are of friends and bands she knows, but they provide a rare insight into a world you don't often see much of.
I met up with her to chat about her photos and experiences.
VICE: Hi Jude – how did you begin photographing the scene?
Jude Kendall: I started going to gigs about five years ago. The first show I went to was the Squatterlympics. It was 2012 – the year of the Olympics in London – and it was in this horrible squat in Camberwell. People still talk about it now because it was so rank. I wanted to go to gigs for years when I moved to London, but I was too scared to go on my own in case people laughed at me for having no mates. I eventually went to this one and it was awesome, but I was nervous about taking photos because if you go to a gig and don't know anyone and start taking photos, people don't like it. And if you walk around asking everyone if you can take photos, you look like a freak. After that I went to every single gig I could with my friend, every week, and I got to know people and got friends – then I felt comfortable enough to take my camera with me and people didn't mind.
What was going on at the squatterlympics?
They tried really hard to do punk Olympic games, so they had a tug of war between north and south London, which worked especially well then because all the crusties lived in south London squats and all the spiky punks lived in north London around Camden in their digs, and they didn't mix as much as they do now. I think they also did a three-legged race and other stupid games like that. I think south London won the tug of war...
Where are the photos from?
A lot of the earlier ones are from the Grosvenor pub, but that's closed down now. When I started they were mainly from squat parties, but now nobody has squat parties because it's kind of died in London.
Because the police kick you out too quickly. They changed the laws in 2012 just before the Olympics so there wouldn't be all these horrible punks around, especially because there were a lot of squats in east London, near Stratford [where the Olympics were held]. The law used to be that if you squatted a residential building for ten years then you could own it. Or you could Section 6 a building – put a notice on the door declaring your rights to be there. But now you can only squat commercial buildings, like pubs or big office buildings, which are harder to keep safe and it means you need a massive crew of people.
Before, you could do it with a small crew of 10 or 15 people, which would be easier to manage, instead of now, where you have to join different crews together and things can get complicated. The police send in bailiffs now more readily, and then it turns into a war. It's a lot harder to find a nice place to live, so people now do it for political reasons, which means you have to draw attention to yourself, which means the police come in really quickly.
So squatting in 2016 is more about a political act than simply needing somewhere to live? Or a bit of both?
I think it's both, especially with London being so expensive to live. I have a lot of friends that are in Guardianship programs, which means you can't throw big raves, but you can be there for years and it's safer. There aren't as many punk squats any more because people got sick of moving on every couple of weeks. It's not the same as in Europe, where people fight for them and there's a community around it. In London people get jealous. The Mare Street squat in Hackney was closed down due to neighbours complaining that they were paying £100 a week or whatever, and these guys were living for free.
There seems to be a lot of unity and friendship in the photos – is this the same for everyone? Or is it quite cliquey?
I think it's inclusive. I came to London without knowing anyone, and after I'd been to a few gigs and got chatting to people I was totally welcomed. I've never felt safer; people properly look after each other.
Is it all Londoners?
There are people from all over the world in the scene. The music brings people together; if you're at certain gigs you can assume you've got some stuff in common, you have similar political views... there's a lot unsaid, which is pretty cool. There's a network there that I experienced when I was on holiday recently – people I knew from London put me in touch with their friends and I had somewhere to stay.
Is there a difference between the older crusties and the new generation?
There is a generational difference, although people of all ages hang out in the scene. There's sometimes a difference in political attitudes and PC attitudes. The younger generation are more safe space-y and into gender politics, and the older generation are more straight-up anti-fascist.
Do you think the punks have got the same things to shout about as they did in the past?
I think so. Politically, the climate in Britain is the same as it was in the 80s. We have rising racism, which is becoming more of an issue. There's only so much a band can do apart from singing about it, so I think it's important that people are politically involved in other things. The politics and the music go hand-in-hand; it's an alternative lifestyle.
Is it still alternative? It seems like it's hard for stuff to be truly underground when it's all so publicised and you can read about it all online.
I think it's all very much underground, yeah. Some bands get bigger, like my mum knows who Slaves are now, and I think Wonk Unit are climbing that same ladder, but I don't think people are bitter about it. Other bands will never be that famous and they don't want to be. I think the general consensus is that everyone's happy if there are more people at the gigs. Some people get annoyed and can become hostile if it becomes a hipster thing, because it feels like people come and take from the scene without caring about it and being a part of it.
Do you see any problem with exhibiting the photos? Or have you been hesitant in the past?
I don't put them all online because I'd like to do a book one day. In 20 years people will look back on this particular moment in punk, but nobody will have any photos of it. Some might think that punk died in 1979 or whatever, but my photos show that it didn't and that it's existed this entire time and you didn't even know about it. That's what's so good about it. People don't think it's there – they might not think it's relevant, but it changes people's lives. I've asked my friends if they minded me exhibiting the photos in the past and they said they'd be honoured to be in them. I think because they're photos of the scene from someone that's in the scene there isn't a power imbalance.
What do you want the photos to convey? Is there an underlying theme?
I selected the photos that I feel are relevant even if you don't know the people in them. Obviously there's only a limited interest people can have in photos of just my friends being pissed, so I hope people can see in the photos what it is about punk that's so good. Something I don't think I can really put into words. That feeling... when you're at a gig and everyone's loved up, you're all mates, you're all there for the music and you feel... you feel like you're part of something.
I know the feeling. Thanks for the chat, Jude.
To see more from Jude, visit her website.
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