The North London borough of Camden is known for its idle canals, artisanal pubs serving craft beer and quirky murals lovingly painted on the side of bare brick buildings. It’s a place to stumble upon an overpriced painting in a turquoise shop with a giant rocking chair protruding from the sign, or a place to pick up a strange mix of delicacies from a variety of street vendors from around the world. It’s the rich hipster’s paradise, shortly followed by Shoreditch and Brick Lane. But, when I was young, this wasn’t the case. My socially rebellious friends and I revered Camden as the punk capital of the UK (the world was a much smaller place back then.) This quirky, loveable borough seems at odds with the spiky-haired punk rockers of my day, who would often frequent the market and buy copious amounts of black clothing and clumpy New Rocks boots.
So, what does this hipster paradise look like through the eyes of a post-punk Camden obsessive? Apart from being unnecessarily overpriced, the undertone of social rebellious nature is still alive and well, but no longer do people flock there to indulge in its seedy underbelly. The distinct lack of Mohawks and black lipstick lead me to believe that Camden is no longer the capital of social unrest I once used to see it as. So, let’s start asking ourselves the important questions – what happened to the punk movement of Camden?
The history bit
The punk movement of the 70s found its home in the streets of London. Bands like the Sex Pistols and The Clash urged their listeners not to follow rules, not to do as they’re told, but instead to cause anarchy, for anarchies sake.
But where did this anger and animosity arise from? There’s one simple answer to this; politics and the economy. Yes, it may not sound particularly sexy, but the birth of any legendary subculture normally arises from political unrest or economic failure and in the case of Punk Rock it was both of these things.
Imagine London pre-Margaret Thatcher. A city crumbling from rubbish men strikes and severe economic decline. People would turn up to Parliament and throw bin liners filled with waste at the Palace of Westminster. Bin bags littered the streets and the smell was phenomenal. Then came the post-war consensus an agreement voted on by both major parties that would increase taxes, regulate the people and encourage strong trade unions. So, rubbish littered the streets, people would have to leave the capital city because of power shortages and taxes were rising. Is it any wonder the youth of the day felt alienated and without hope for their futures. And that, my friends, is how the punk movement started….
Camden and the punk movement
So, where pray tell does Camden fit into all this social unrest? Well, Camden has played host to some of Punks most iconic moments. The music venue The Roundhouse was the setting to Pink Floyd’s debut gig and all night rave. The Stranglers, Ramones and many more have taken to the stage there, making The Roundhouse the venue of choice for Punk Rockers around the world.
The Clash’s iconic debut album cover was shot in an alleyway, in Camden by their recording studio, in a disused British Goods Rail Yard.
Even the singer from Wolf Alice, Joel Amey told Vice news, he wouldn’t have found success without Camden “The place was very unpretentious;” he said. “It would let you kind of do your thing. It’s hard for me to find fault with it, even though I know everyone else does because it seems like everyone is walking around with a fucking trilby and trying to buy a bong.”
The Camden of today
Today, Camden looks on the brink of a huge change as the Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi set his sites on the booming market and has spent millions to make it his own. The billionaire alluded to having significant plans for the iconic area of London. But, many people are afraid of what will happen to the punk haven when Sagi starts putting his plan into action. Will it still be the punk mecca we all know it as? Or has its slow decline disrupted its rebel nature? Only time will tell what will happen to this post-punk haven. But, today the punk soul of Camden is still alive and well. It’s still known as a place of sheer creativity and a place where you can still see unknown bands trying to make a name for themselves in bars across the borough. You never know if you’ll run into the next Johnny Rotten, or if that band with the upbeat sound will become the next Clash. The feeling of social unrest still haunts the streets of Camden and probably will for years to come.