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The Tradition of Art Students Doing Weird-Ass Shit is Alive and Well in New Cross

In the peak era of depressing statistics about UK nightlife, it can be easy to forget about the truly brilliant and unparallelled music scenes that are still thriving despite the odds.

by Daisy Jones
08 September 2016, 9:00am

Over the past few decades, New Cross has gained a reputation as a lowkey creative nucleus. This is partly because of Goldsmiths College, which is known for harnessing the talents of Malcolm McLaren, the lads from Blur, the label PC Music, and the whole Young British Artist movement that ruled the late 80s/early 90s. But it’s also because New Cross used to be – and to a certain extent still is – cheap as fuck, meaning that artists and musicians haven’t been pushed out quite yet, and buildings haven’t been replaced with luxury flats or branches of Natwest. In other words, while the rest of London is sinking in on itself slowly like an overpriced and undercooked pie, the South East postcode is still chugging along, occasionally flinging out artists like James Blake, filmmakers like Steve McQueen, or weird trends like Nu Rave.

All of which is to say: at the beginning of the year, a bunch of artists, producers, musicians and all-round creatives who met at Goldsmiths decided to continue this long-established tradition of doing their own shit, and doing it better than anybody else. They moved all their belongings into an old abandoned pub (The Rising Sun), built a studio in the basement, named themselves the “Rising Sun Collective”, and spent the next few months writing, recording, making films, and throwing parties. Very recently, they decided to release the fruits of their labour as a track/video every single Tuesday, which have been immortalised in the inaugural Rising Sun mixtape. To celebrate, they threw a party in their pub-turned-venue space. Not wanting to miss out, I decided to head down to witness the magic of The Rising Sun collective in glorious, technicolour reality.

The first stop? Finding the venue. This wasn’t an easy mission to complete because the space felt purposefully impossible to find. After pummelling my fists on the closed shutters of an unrelated cafe with the same name (why are there two buildings called The Rising Sun in New Cross? Why?) I discovered the venue was actually hidden behind a council block down the road. Most of the windows were boarded up, and only the faint rumble of a crowd and the odd slither of cigarette smoke curling beneath a door frame to gave it away. As I walked in from the empty streets, it felt kind of like I was turning up to a uni house party, but with a better sound system, a real life bar, and an endless avalanche of bowl haircuts and tiny fringes.

Unlike most venues, The Rising Sun did not require me to pay money on arrival. That said, they did expect gifts as an entrance fee: a fact I was only made aware of when they put their hands out expectantly, before refusing my meagre pile of coins. Once I had presented them with a gift (a mangy old Chupa Chups lolly that was fermenting in the bottom of my rucksack), I was given a goodie bag. Inside this goodie bag was a free drink token, a tiny bouncy ball, and a list of tasks I needed to complete (below). I’ve never had to complete tasks upon entering a venue, but what the hell. I'm always down to try new experiences.

This activity catalogue wasn't the only unique thing about The Rising Sun's night, though. Most of the people within the collective are art or music students, which gave the place a distinctive feel of existing somewhere between a club night and an art installation. On one white wall, for instance, a silent projection of all the music videos the collective had been working on were playing on loop. Down the narrow corridor in a room labelled “The Reflection Room”, a small wooden chair sat in the middle of four mirrors, as Alice Deejay’s “Better Off Alone” blasted out of the speakers on repeat, like a physical manifestation of all your existential fears and anxieties (maybe not the most lols activity for a night out, but Alice Deejay is severely underrated so props where props are due). Then, upon entering the bathroom, I discovered that all their utilities were wrapped in bubble wrap. “Take a bubble bath”, it read, over a bath overflowing with inflated, scrunched-up plastic. I briefly submerged my face in the puffy collection of air bubbles, wondering why no music venue had thought of this spiritual nirvana before.

Finally, after crawling up a rickety old ladder and into the loft, I found myself in “The Acid Lounge” (one task, ticked off!), which was essentially somebody’s bedroom which they had adorned with old scarves from Camden market and allowed strangers to take drugs in. Which, obviously, is an essential part of every great party. I spent some time up here. Then I realised I had spent the last few hours wondering through art installations and had yet to watch any of The Rising Sun's bands. So, it was time to go down, deep down, and into the basement.

Like most spaces that exist underground, the basement felt damp and cramped, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were low enough in the ground to be able to hear the faint rumble of the Jubilee line above our heads. But soon enough, the warm trickle of rum and pepsi made me forget all about my potential future respiratory problems and possibly imminent death from a collapsed ceiling (side note: those with drink tokens weren’t allowed to choose their own drinks, but were instead given mystery concoctions. Luckily, I managed to dodge their weird, slime-coloured punch by sheer force of the mind.)

After watching some fit American dude in a fur coat spit semi-socially conscious bars and deliver some creamy ad-libs over a Destiny’s Child beat, the collective’s most well-known band – New Cross four-piece A House in the Trees – shuffled on stage. Judging by the half-drunk roars and whistles that followed, most people crammed into the tiny venue space had come specifically to see them. It was easy to see why: their music sounds a bit like Massive Attack if their tracks had been warped, spliced and fed through the lucid filter of your post-festival dreams, with a few swirling guitar riffs and bleary-eyed vocals in between. In other words, the music they make is magical. Just go and take a listen on Soundcloud and witness the wizardry.

A House in the Trees weren’t the only good reason to be there, though. There was a brain-tingling set of ambient electronics from the regally-titled Parliament of the Owls, and a few tracks from South London producer BYFYN, who sounds exactly like 1996 reimagined for 2016 – AKA a strange mixture of Grimes and Chicane (seriously, why would I lie to you? Listen to this track).

As the basement began to gradually transform into an amorphous sweaty mass of dancing bodies, I decided to extract myself from its boa-like grip, slip out through open door of the venue, and amble back home through the eerily silent streets of 2am, unsure of exactly what I’d just witnessed. On the one hand, this whole night at The Rising Sun felt a bit like someone’s end-of-year foundation show, but this same ad-hoc silliness also made it so much fun. At a time when the only night out anyone can afford in London is within the pungent, cave-like walls of Wetherspoons, the free-falling, creative spirit of the The Rising Sun felt refreshing.

Watching these talented artists perform in the lung-crushing confines of an ex-pub basement reminded me to feel lucky to exist at a time when London’s creative culture still reigns supreme, despite its £6 pints, bashment bans, and overwhelming collection of flaws. In the peak era of depressing statistics about UK nightlife, it can be easy to forget about the truly brilliant and unparallelled music scenes that are still thriving despite the odds, like a secret society that can only be found if you dip your head beneath the water’s surface for long enough to spy the undercurrent.

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Tagged:
Music
London
Features
Noisey
Student Night
South London
New Cross
South East London
The Rising Sun Collective
A House in the Trees
London Nightlife
Goldsmiths College
Art School