Or, “Goodbye to Denmark Street; I hope you’re fucking happy, Mr Johnson.”
As usual, I’m a few weeks behind the curve on this one: the articles have been written, the petition has been signed, and the developers are riding roughshod over public interest. London has lost the 12-Bar Club and Enterprise Studios. As many other writers (quicker off the mark than me) have rightly point out, the history of these places enjoyed considerably more illustrious phases than it seemed to in the last few years of their existence, but the point is that there was some history. There was some real character, and it felt like it was our character – not the “official” history of London, of statues and monuments, but another little part of the city that was built on rock’n’roll. And in many ways, it ended up being a bit like our weather – maybe it wasn’t that great towards the end, but it was ours, and so only we were allowed to complain about it.
The 12-Bar is certainly not the first music venue to be driven out of Central London in recent years, merely another indication of a depressing trend. It would be unfair to blame such developments entirely on the current Mayor of London – the Astoria, after all, was bulldozed in the name of development before we even had mayoral elections. But Mr Johnson does seem to take some perverse pleasure in cosying up to the developers of the sort of ridiculous high rise monstrosities that make you wonder what kind of personal inadequacies the architect is overcompensating for. (He has certainly received plenty of due criticism for allowing developers to build complexes of luxury flats where there was previously social housing.) And this is exactly the thing that makes this redevelopment so depressing. If you can stomach it, there is a nauseating promotional video for Outernet, the development which has cost us a famous music venue. Yeah, you read that correctly: “Outernet” – Jesus wept, even the name makes me want to punch someone.
You don’t have to get too far into the video to realise the most repulsive thing about this new development: it’s all about brands. Every few seconds, their vision of the future involves another person having another advert downloaded to their mobile phone, in between their busy (and frankly, fucking expensive) day in which they buy branded coffee, have lunch in heavily-branded restaurants and buy branded drinks in the kind of wanky-looking bar that people are persuaded to go to on the ridiculous notion that it’s somehow important to be seen in one. The centrepiece to this heap of branded horse-shit, “The Now Building,” appears to be nothing but a giant, electric totem to the continued worship of endless, unbridled consumerism.
Few phrases have ever thrown up such vomit-inducing despair into the front of my mind as “a new dawn for meaningful brand engagement”. Christ on a fucking Segway, just what kind of sharply-dressed, unspeakable wanker can suggest such an utter heap of meaningless toss in front of a boardroom with a fucking straight face?
Or are they all in the joke? A part of me actually hopes that they’re pissing themselves, in fits of laughter as they suggest phrases like “interact with the brands we love in exciting new ways,” as a way of selling this soulless redevelopment to ordinary people. Ordinary people who, surely, are not sitting on the bus thinking, Gosh, I wonder if there’s a more exciting way I can interact with Nike…it seems all I do is wear their shoes. Could there be some way I can buy further into their not-in-the-least-bit-artificial-and-contrived notion of success and fulfilment in my life?
“Something to buy, something to do, something to see.” Please, tell me it wasn’t just me that noticed in horror that “something to buy” was the first of those three to be listed, as if to suggest some implicit priority: buy something while you’re here, there’s a good consumer.
“Providing all the information we need to start our day…plus quick branded surprises we didn’t.” There it is again: “branded.” It’s becoming virtually impossible to wander through the capital without having somebody’s logo imposed on my peripheral vision, and I hope you’ll forgive my possible confirmation bias if I single out the likes of Starbucks, McDonald’s, Subway, Tesco and their ilk as worst repeat offenders in this respect. Does anyone really believe that what London’s inhabitants need, deep down, is more branding shoved up in their faces? Since these companies seem content to treat us like cattle, to be herded into shops on our way to work, why not just literally brand us with their fucking logos and have done with it? At least that way you can be sure I’ll have Ronald Mc-fucking-Donald’s hideous, grinning face staring back at me in the shower, before I’ve even got out of the house to see the branding you’ve conveniently left to catch my eye in the street.
(Seriously: I stand on a tube platform and there are advertising billboards either side of me, filling up nearly every space that wasn’t reserved for important information, such as, you know, where the train fucking goes to, or how to get out of the fucking station. I get onto a train and I have adverts staring back at me just above the heads of my fellow passengers. I alight a few stops later and walk another hallway of adverts, up the escalators, in the lifts, adverts everywhere…and you think I’m going to like the idea of some hideous building that blasts out even more adverts on huge LCD screens and tries to beam the things into my sodding phone?)
Arguably, all is not lost, as there appears to be a plan for a sizeable music venue to be built into this dystopian horror. Seeing as we’ve already lost Earl’s Court (thanks, once again, for nothing, Mr Johnson…), this will hopefully come as some scant compensation. Oh, and I can download a free mp3 while I’m standing in the queue – because heaven forfend I should stop consuming just because I’m stationary. But an 800-capacity venue is going to be quite different from the 12-Bar: the promotional video suggests I might like to go and see the Kings of Bloody Leon at this venue – once again, I can imagine some insufferable tosser telling the screenwriters that they need to put in a nod to the rock ‘n’ roll history they’re so gleefully trampling over: maybe make it one of those more ‘alternative’ bands, like…erm…Kings of Leon…they’re a bit more edgy than Olly Murs, people will like that. This is in contrast to what I could have done at the 12-Bar, which is try out a completely new band in a small venue while they find their feet, as opposed to having some “branding expert” tell me what sort of music I should consider cool. The creation of a new venue is good in principle, but when you look at the details it looks even more like another closed door to the new bands struggling to get their footing in the capital.
So, Outernet: tell me how, exactly, your “branded real-time experiences” are going to “add value to people’s lives.” My life, if you will, because as you might have guessed, I’m not particularly impressed by what I’ve seen so far. If you simply mean monetary value then sure, some people are clearly going to get very rich off the back of this. Would it really be so difficult for these people to just leave London to a bit of its own character, rather than forcing us to be pawns in the ongoing fight between Apple and Coca-Cola for who can best deliver their ridiculous ideas of what we should aspire to in order to find fulfilment? Apparently not: if we want anything more three-dimensional, anything enriching to add real value to our lives, it appears we can whistle. No time to sit around and whinge about the loss of our grubby little music venue when there’s still so much shit out there we could be buying to fill the gaping void in our lives, because the one thing we’re clearly not getting enough of is fucking brand engagement…