Why Closing Southbank Skate Park Would Suck for London
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to London, but if there’s one thing this city is lacking it’s coffee and sandwich shops. Many’s the time I’ve found myself approaching people in the street, saying, “Hey, you know what this city needs? More cafes.” Because there just really, genuinely aren’t enough. I mean, take supposedly gastro-friendly Spitalfields Market, for instance; there are only four Prets, three EATs and two branches of POD in a five-minute radius. And as for fusion taco stalls and Evisu stores? Don’t even get me started. Honestly, it’s like living in Brezhnev’s Russia sometimes.
It seems the good people at the Southbank Centre share my opinion, as they’d apparently like Londoners to forget about that world famous unofficial skate park next to the Royal Festival Hall and instead associate the area with places where you can spend an hour’s pay on a sandwich. The planning committee has announcedplans to “refurbish” the area and move in high-rent retail units, shunting the skaters from the brutalist, graffiti-splattered enclave of banks, ledges, and stairsets they carved out themselves, to a new council-built spot beneath nearby Hungerford Bridge.
A video shot at Southbank and other nearby spots in 1991.
It’s an expensive development, coming in at a reported $183 million. There are a lot of fierce opinions flying around, as well as a petition addressed to Lambeth Council, the Southbank Centre, London Mayor Boris Johnson, and the Arts Council. Naturally, the skate community and anyone who has a vested interest in London not becoming a massive shopping center on the outskirts of Guildford are up in arms about it. We went down to Southbank to gauge what the local heads were thinking and find out what the future holds for the site, the skaters, and London as a whole.
Since I was too busy listening to Cypress Hill on my Discman outside a nearby chain music shop to get involved in the early Southbank scene, I thought I’d speak to somebody who knew what they were talking about. Lev Tanju, founder of Palace Skateboards, is someone who’s been skating Southbank for 15 years.
I asked Lev about the first time he ever skated Southbank, when he was young and “proper shit” (his words, not mine). He painted a picture of a lost time, the days before South Bank looked like a Richard Curtis set.
“It was kind of at its most legendary then, because it was before South Bank was redeveloped. There were no shops or cafes, it was like a no man’s land. The only people there on the regular were homeless people and skateboarders, and the skaters there at that time policed the place and wouldn’t take shit from anyone. There was a feeling that you had to know someone to skate there.”
Who Firebombed London’s Oldest Anarchist Bookshop?
Staff at Freedom Press, London’s oldest anarchist publisher and bookshop, woke last Friday to the news that someone had tried to burn their shop down in the early hours of the morning.
Founded in 1886, Freedom has been at the heart of radical East London for over a century, featuring on walking tours and seemingly, from my time spent in the shop, serving as the first stop-off point for every European crusty looking for a squat to stay in or a protest to rage at.
The shop sits just off Whitechapel High Street, down Angel Alley – wedged between an art gallery and a KFC. If you need to pick up something by Bakunin, Chomsky or the utterly bonkers John Zerzan then this is where you go, past the linoprint heads of Emma Goldman and Peter Kropotkin and close the door after you because it’s always cold in there.
At around 5AM Friday morning an arsonist entered Angel Alley, smashed a window, poured accelerant into the shop and sent the books, pamphlets and irreplaceable archives ofFreedom newspaperup in flames.
That night I went inside the building with one of the shop’s most dedicated activists, Andy. It smelled awful, there was soot across the roof and charred books sat in piles. There was no structural damage to the building but Freedom has no insurance and were already mired in the financial shit. Looking at the horrific mess, I thought the shop would have to close for months, but this morning they’re back open for business.
Before you joke about anarchists owning a building, or organising a clean-up, read up on the rich history of working class self-organisation the movement draws on. At its height in 1930s Spain, anarchists ran collectivised hospitals and operated Spain’s most popular daily newspaper.
THE HISTORY OF THE BEST BAR IN LONDON, WHICH WE HAPPEN TO OWN
You might not be aware that VICE UK has its own bar. It’s called The Old Blue Last and it used to be a brothel before we acquired it. Still, it was a bar for 300 years before that, and even Shakespeare used to hang out there. It stands imperiously on the corner of Great Eastern Street and Curtain Road in London, dominating Shoreditch like a gigantic ancient rock that sells beer. To celebrate their magazine’s tenth anniversary, our English counterparts hired an incredibly famous historian who wished to remain nameless to find out all about it.
ROMANS East London has been horrible and messy for a very long time. The Floralia, the ancient Roman festival of flowers, celebrated Flora, a hooker who’d been turned into a goddess. When the week-long festival came to London, scores of half-naked prostitutes gathered outside the city walls, in what is now Shoreditch, to exchange milk, honey, and invent all the STDs we have to worry about these days.
ELIZABETHANS In the 16th century, everyone got into theater, which might sound wimpy but it was actually a lot more boozy and fighty back then. Plays were banned in London, but because Shoreditch remained conveniently just outside the city limits, in 1576 a venture capitalist named James Burbage built a venue called The Theatre where The Old Blue Last currently stands.
This illicit, out-of-town theater turned Shoreditch back into the godless pleasure garden it had been in Roman times. It was a place for gentlemen to bathe, play lawn bowls (which might sound wimpy but it was actually a lot more boozy and fighty back then), and fitfully rub their genitals against the wenches and rent boys who populated the area. Oh, and Bill Shakespeare hung out there all the time too, kicking back with John Webster and losing his shit to whatever the Elizabethan version of “She Bangs the Drums” was.
THE LAST Eventually Burbage pulled down The Theatre and moved it south of the river, where it became The Globe. Shoreditch, meanwhile, remained an iniquitous pit of bowls and sex, and in 1700 a bar was built on the site of the old theater. It was called The Last, which, remarkably boringly, refers to a wooden block that a shoemaker uses to mold a shoe. The Last was owned by a brewer named Ralph Harwood, who went on to achieve a small level of fame when he was pronounced bankrupt one day by Gentleman’s Magazine. In these early years, men carrying powderpuffs used to frequent the pub. Anyone familiar with the coded body language of this era will know that “man with powderpuff = man who wants to fuck other men.”
THE OLD BLUE LAST In 1876, Truman’s brewery took over the pub. They pulled The Last down and rebuilt it as The Old Blue Last, which means “the old blue wooden pattern that is used to mold the shoe.” Gents came to dine here, ladies took their tea here, everyone wore flat caps, well-made shoes, and called each other “squire” in a way that wasn’t irritating because Guy Ritchie and Pete Doherty hadn’t been born yet. There’s still a massive mirror hanging in the main bar that dates back to this time and has somehow managed to never get smashed. Eventually Truman’s went down the toilet and Grand Metropolitan Hotels took over the OBL (which, let’s face it, proves that they were never really that grand at all).
LATTER-DAY BROTHEL Throughout the 1970s and into the 90s, Shoreditch was still full of strip joints and violent gay bars (Freddie Mercury is said to have landed his helicopter on top of the building that is now The London Apprentice, formerly the 333). At that point, The Old Blue Last was a rough place full of rougher men and people who were afraid of being beaten up by them. It housed an illegal strip club and brothel, which was on the second floor. The room was divided into cubicles, with no walls, made up of single beds. Next to each bed was a small table, and that was pretty much it.
Weirdly, on every bedside table there was a bowl of peanuts. I guess East End gangsters were into throwing nuts at prostitutes? Apparently, once some pissed-off tough guys turned up to settle a score with a bouncer, put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Lord knows how, but somehow he lived (if anyone can be described as “alive” when half their head is missing).
When we filmed the Valerie Vargas Tattoo Age series, she took us to meet the legendary English tattooer Lal Hardy. Lal has been tattooing since 1975 and is generally considered to be one of the people who elevated tattooing in the UK in the 1980s. Lal is also an amazing storyteller, and he entertained us for quite some time at his shop, New Wave Tattoo Studio. We were so enamored with Lal’s stories that we kinda got off track and ended up talking more about English tattoo history than Ms. Vargas. Oh well. What you have here is just a snippet of our conversation with Lal that will hopefully turn into something bigger in the future. Enjoy.
Daniel Stier is a German photographer who’s been living in London for the last 15 years and still hasn’t stopped finding the portly African women in their taffetas fascinating. Inspired by them, he roamed around the city’s ex-pat communities, looking for people to take photos of in their country’s traditional dress.The end result, In My Country, is a set of striking images of Aztec gods in front of Hackney tower blocks and jewel-adorned, elf-like Balinese women dancing outside of drab coffee shops.
Talking to Daniel was kind of disconcerting, making me aware of the fact that I too belong to that cliched breed of foreigner who won’t stop yapping on about “back home.” So if you’re like us (or if you just appreciate really, really good photography) you’ll enjoy his photos. Here’s what he said when I called him up.
VICE: Hey Daniel, how’s your day going? Daniel Stier: Good, I’ve been doing some research for this still life project I’m working on. It’s kind of hard to explain, but I’m basically building these little nature landscapes in my studio out of fake stuff I find, like plastic plants and pots and stuff.
Oh, cool. Looking at the rest of your work, I guess it’s fair to say you are more of an art photographer. Is that because you prefer coming up with a proper concept for a photo? Yeah, I tend to think before I take my photos. I’m not the kind of guy who runs around with a camera all day because I prefer it when someone’s really got something to say, rather than, “Oh, I’ll point my camera here and there and then maybe I’ll come up with something to explain it.” When it comes to art, I want to see the artist taking a clear stance.
VICE’s resident gadfly Nimrod Kamer went to London to mess with the Sartorialist, aka fashion blogger Scott Schuman. For some reason, Scott wasn’t so psyched about the idea of Nimrod following him home after his book signing. Fashion people are the worst.
Valerie Vargas grew up in Scotland, but has lived and worked in London for the last five years. You can find her at Frith Street Tattoo in Soho, where she’s known for doing the prettiest “lady heads” in the world. Valerie has only been seriously tattooing since 2007, so she’s proof that talent and hard work will never fail you.
Think of a sports experience you’ve had in your life. Any sports experience: playing in a basketball game or running a race; nursing a hangover on your couch while watching golfers squint their way, so very slowly, through the Accenture Match Play Championship; attending a college football game or hitting a tennis ball against a wall or watching a bunch of boiled-looking sports columnists bickering halfheartedly about Tim Tebow on ESPN, or even walking by a pod of cigarette-smoking women in leggings and oversized hockey jerseys pacing outside a hockey arena’s players’ entrance in hopes of scoring some quick, demeaning sex with a gap-toothed NHL defenseman named Gord or Pavel. The Olympics is the opposite of that.
This does not necessarily make it better or worse than those things. It just means that the Olympics are incalculably and intentionally and irreducibly stranger than anything else in sports.
One thing that’s great about the Olympics is all the fabulous regeneration in East London. We went to meet all the lucky locals, such as the residents of the Carpenter’s Estate, who have been evicted from their homes to make way for the Games. Some of them even got moved to Stoke! Lucky them. Marginally more hyped about the whole thing are the competitors in the Boris Johnson themed “wiff-waff” tournament (that’s ping-pong to you, me, and everyone besides Boris).