Tuesday, 25 December 2012

It's a wrap

I went back home from Christmas, like everybody does. Back home with mom and dad, back home with the family and the usual quarterly meeting with what used to be you old room. Quarterly meeting with what used to be your old computer and 6-hour train ride to the North to visit the relatives and time enough for self-reflecting.

It is past 21-12-2012 and we haven't died. This was a far bigger hoax than the stupid year 2K computer crash that managed to sell all sort of fixing crap to avoid a stupid figure disaster that some PhD IT engineer apparently didn't thought about back in the early days.

All and all 2012 has been a pretty good year. In fact, now aged 26, I am enjoying things, little things, even more than before. Seems like this great City has caught me right at the peak of my cultural development, so I have enjoyed every single minute of it.

2012 packed the greatest of celebrations and all that involves them: Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games. Transport for London suffered a major facelift and now is looking better than Mel C post Spice Girls Era. Summer was surprisingly calm in the centre and London was dressed to impress all year long (let's not count Bishopsgate Road, near Dirty Dicks: this bad boy cannot be kept clean, not even putting a bin every foot).

Oyster Card Jubilee Limited Edition

East London has been crowned the official trendsetter and people is not afraid of popping around deep Hackney on the weekends anymore. In fact, hipster media says that you should be seen in postcodes around EC1 and E19, while WC1 to W1 are so 2010... Street Feasts conquered the hearts of us skint Londoners, which now we have forgotten about eating a meal sitting down. A fiver per item, and sitting on the floor of a derelict warehouse is what you have been supposed to be doing this last summer, while testing the new lager or real ale from the microbrewery round the corner. The 'shabby chic' has displaced the Swedish angular white furniture. This year's all new places required a menu written in white chalk in a blackboard, mismatched school chairs, exposed wooden floors and old mattresses as up-cycled lamps.

Lamps at The Crate. the White Building. Hackney Wick

People in 2012 didn't want to eat small portions in a massive designer plate anymore. People pilgrimed around the city in search of the latest pop-up food joint to eat in cardboard boxes with their fingers. Because just in case you didn't noticed, hot dogs are not in anymore (except Big Apple Hot Dogs or Bubbledogs): the new fast meaty solution is the burrito in all shapes and forms. High end fast food.

Victorian Lemonade on the floor at Borough Market

But I lied when I said that E* postcodes were the only ones allowed this year. In fact, the dirty South is the alternative for the Dalston Superstars. SW2 is getting strength, and I could really support the fact since I moved to Brickstance (the stone of Brixi, a saxon Lord). I can support this affirmation as i brought with me on my train 4 London-related magazines which, as the season demands, wrap up the year, and all 4 of them affirm that the best Burger in town can be found In the upcoming Brixton Village, really, at Honest Burgers. Really good burgers are now the new fish and chips. We don't want more beans on toast. Because last year, the best burger was crowned up on the East, on a shy school yard, at the Netil Market in London Fields, off a caravan with old school speakers, but people thought it was a bit too much to pay 8 quid to eat the burger under the rain, Lucky Chip.

Fish Taco at Fifteen Street. Jamie Oliver

Oysters at Mussle Man. Fifteen Street

Before somebody asks, NO, I haven't tried those famous burgers, but I have had dinner in nearby places around the market and both for quality and price, I have reassured myself in the fact that I will never ever set a foot in McDonalds or similar again, as Prima Donna served me a burger in Ciabatta Bread of the size of my head for less than a Whopper menu. However, confessing myself as guilty as all of yours, I will admit breaking the rule when very late at night, after a big night out, the local chippie that offers chips and chicken for 2 quid is an effective reliever and needed cure for the next day hangover.

Churros with chocolate. Tapas Fantasticas

I must admit that now matter how hip people want to eat, they now and then want to it their buttocks in any sort of horizontal surface for a while. The same way that in spite of trendy burritos and Mussels and chips pop-up, people still adore the good old pizza, and for me there are two choices: South for Winter and East for Summer, and famous reviewers agree. I almost felt down off my communal wooden bench at Franco Manca at the Village but Hackney Wick rocked my socks after a very gloomy day, the sun finally set and showed my path to Hackney Wick and something divine served me Potato and Sage pizza at The Crate that made me forget about the Olympics and my wet socks.

And people back home keep telling me how bad food this in this great City, and I chuckle inside thinking: oh, you have now idea, and it is better it stays that way. People keep telling me about surviving the bad weather, which fair enough, has been a nightmare this last summer, but as cure for it, somebody decided to chuck tons of fine sand on top of the Roundhouse and named it the Camden Beach.

If still not enough, a group of people decided also to start a market down the canal and THAT was absolutely beautiful. Floating market: brilliant. 

I have eaten a two course dinner at a Supermarket and I have discovered secret roof terraces in Dalston

Dinner at the People's Supermarket. DJ

But yeah, living aside Street Food, Food Markets and pop-up shops, in spite of me being fully employed and spending horrendous amounts of time commuting, I managed to see probably all the bands I wanted in the best little venues of London, managed to go to crazy corners of the city: end of tube lines or brand new postcodes to discover derelict bunkers or party in potential festive venues that now have closes for stupid organisation and lack of safety.

Bands, lots of bands: Sleigh Bells, Spiritualized, The Raveonettes, Glasvegas, The Cribs, DZ Deathrays, Dark Horses, Two Wounded Birds, Mika (!!!), The Crookes, Hanni El Khatib, Jack White, Electric Guest, Crocodiles, The Pukes, The Futureheads, The Pukes, The Buzzcocks, La Femme, Dirty Beaches, Deap Vally, Django Django... Even one of the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, with Imogen Heap included.

The Crookes

Hanni El Khatib at Birthday's

And I feel like awarding the venues: The Lexington for value/money and cool for having two floors (but he quiz night sucks), Roundhouse best layout, Shacklewell Arms for being awkward to get there, Birthdays for opening way before Rita's was built, Electric Ballroom for its quirkiness, Heaven for the stinkiest (piss and beer), The Union Chapel for being the most beautiful venue in London, The Old Blue Last for its convenient location and dead chip gigs, Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen is alright, intimate, Koko never fails but is way too red, Ally Pally for being ridiculously big (and sort of tropical) and Shoreditch Park (interesting story behind it) for being a cool park to host a city festival.

And is not all about music: I have managed to interact with a lot of my favourit artists working around the city and has left me thirsty for more. The annual meeting at White Cross Street Party introduced me to Milo Tchais and Stephen Ball, Rich Mix gave me a massive showcase of Cityzenkane, Tony's gallery showed me that a bicycle rode by Christian Grillitsch can turn out into pretty interesting art pieces, and the list just goes on and on.

Aw, good times.

Happy New Year 2013.

Definitely more stories.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Urban Masters 2012

Right in the middle of Shoreditch, right off Curtain Rd, in a little alleyway behind Hewett St, behind doors that could perfectly belong to a backstreet car hand wash, just signalled by a handmade cardboard and white chalk: Urban Masters, organised by The Opera Gallery. Quite an interesting offset from the usual white wall gallery but in the shape and form of what street art is: something more warehouse-y, in an old Victorian Factory. 13 Hearn Street.

To warm up, a classic 80s tag in blue and green neon by Risk.

Neon Sign by Risk

One of my favourites pieces from the exhibition was actually right at the entrance. Remarkable in its bright magenta background, there it was: a portrait of Chairman Mao made out of more than 9000 plastic soldiers, by Joe Black. Brilliant.

Chairman Mao. Joe Black. Soldiers

Chairman Mao. Joe Black. Soldiers

Chairman Mao. Joe Black. Soldiers

And right next to Mao, there it was ROA, with his usual animal pieces and bit à la Gunther Von Hagens, showing the internal bits of the dog (titled Canis), and a hint of anatomy class for kids. Brilliant as usual, bone included.

Canis. ROA

Bones. ROA

Kan was also there, with his puntillistic approach to emulate Warhol's signature pieces. Made with markers.

Interesting dynamic piece by the German Mentalgassi, consisting on the parallel slates of a fence: different angles, two different pieces, or nothing, depending on the perspective. It reminded me of the very famous garage door on Curtain Road that showcases the pieces with the same concept of different angles.

Love, Crash and Burn by Zevs. It reminded me of thehuge crashed car at the Sunday Upmarket.

And yes, before anybody asks, Bansky was also invited to the party, but in my opinion, his piece did not bring much to the table. So was Blek Le Rat, but still, the Parisian is not my cup of tea anyway. Bleh, let's move on.

Banksy. Kill mom?

And the night was all about the portraits. Shall we call this piece 'Portrait of Picasso with an Oomph'? Because everything looked pretty normal from afar, but the close up look was another story. Also by Joe Black, and definitely an artist I am going to keep following.

Picasso portrait by Joe Black. Badges

Picasso portrait by Joe Black. Badges detail

Badges, definitely not suitable for work.

The brilliant Colombian Stinkfish was also there in the house to showcase his art. He just left discrete piece in wood and black ink, shy in comparison with his usual colourful pieces that we are used to see, but still terrific. Powerful. One of my favourites.

Nick Gentry, new for me, gambled for the portrait again, taken me back to childhood, given a far more functional use to the loathed floppy disks. It was quite entertaining to spot the programs on the labels. Actually a Londoner: Social art from the obsolete, that's what his biography says.

Nick Gentry. Floppy disks

Piece on wood by ZeZão.

More Graphical and sober was ---- with the use of nails and string, which by the way, reminded me of the London-based artist Perspicere, who uses a similar technique. Good stuff.

The exhibition was starting to be a retrospective thing, a return to my childhood in terms of the materials used by the artists: string, floppy disks, markers, and now painted toy trains, by Gris1.

Gris1 graffiti trains

Gris1 graffiti trains

A reinterpretation of Picasso's masterpiece Guernica by Ron English. Still dramatic, but in another different tone. Cowgirl Guernica.

Ron English. Cowgirl Guernica

David Shillinglaw. Impressive too.

The very famous around East London streets C215 didn't want to miss the opportunity to hang one of his pieces in a disused road sign.

Free, exciting and sufficient. A good wrap up for all the Street Art that has been blooming around on the last year.

We want more.

Masters indeed. This was a good lecture.

Saturday, 15 December 2012


I woke up to heavy tummy of a home cooked full roast at home with friends. In fact, the first proper meal cooked in that kitchen. As I was getting dressed, I looked at the window, an the opaque thick mist was covering the Victorian clay little chimneys from the terraced houses down the road. The sun had just started to rise, and behind those hidden fume ducts, the sky was turning streaky purple and yellow.

In reality, what woke me up were not the three alarms programmed for the new schedule, but the magic sound of the copper pipes dilatating against the old wooden floor, with a sound of periodic drops. Disconcerted by the post-effects of the feast and the intriguing noise, as it sounded as though somebody had broken in, so carefully I opened the door check on the corridor. But it was just my imagination.

After the standard morning routine, I set a foot on the street just by the time the Town Hall was banging the bells to signal 7 o'clock. I had been warned beforehand of their fantastic presence but I hadn't been fully aware until that moment. The seven bells paced my gate and I joined the flow of pedestrians walking towards the Underground station. And the sun kept rising shy, illuminating the remaining fallen red leaves from the autumn, sign of the forthcoming cold winter.

It was indeed my first morning away. Riding my usual tube line in an unusual fashion, walking towards the platform to the sound of classical music pieces blasting through the station´s PA system. Northbound and then Northern line. Riding away from Isledon.

Away from Isledon.

But it is that, when packing all my belongings accomulated during more than 2 years, it started to feel odd to leave the place. Every piece of paper, photograph, pen or spare button had a story behind related to such an eventful location: just between those four walls, between those 4 floors, inside those kitchens and definitely right at the front door.

- 'There used to be shops around here years ago', said neighbourgh one night while D was having a cigarette at 3 am... - 'There used to be shops'. Now there aren't.

While dusting away some notes from my Masters, classifying the useful from the redundant, I remember about Uni just a year back. The nearby University, now infamous for their malpractice and fiasco with overseas studients. Those mornings walking to class, passing right next to the infinite concrete Council Estate, through the hurdles to stop the cars and right next to the Emirates Stadium. And the early rainy mornings walking through Highbury Barn, fighting against the wind, where I discovered the leafy Aberdeen Park. And walking towards the barn, towards the station, is where now sits that brand new, shiny student hall being constructed down the road. I saw it whem it was just a couple of asian imported clothing warehouses. I have seen the church in the corner being refurbished to become the main HQ of the Pentecostal church of UCKC.

I still remember my first trip to Finsbury Park and the moment I discovered that derelict house opposite to the dodgy church: the blue pub with the painted faces by RUN. It used to be a pub, a venue for punk bands in the 70's. Just like the dodgy church, that by that time was a Theatre called Rainbow where big names like Bowie sweated their shirt on stage.

But sure we'll miss Akdeniz, our 24/7 convenience store in the corner. So many sleepless nights there. Last minute groceries shopping, countless nights after a night out in Camden. So much 'fine wine', 4 for 1 corn in the cob and strange unconfirmed stories about holding two pineapples. Stories about unexplainable stomach aches after eating their sausages, ultra-fast going off milk and funny-taste eggs. But they never failed us we needed them the most and their tomatoes were ace.

And the 29. I used the famous 'bendy bus'.

A farewell too to the Swimmer. Hidden between the residential streets of Seven sisters road: The Swimmer at the Grafton arms. Our holy place to wash away our despair. Breakout area for when it was too hot or too smelly to be at home. A place where a very very good burger could be enjoyed unlike the Tollington, despite being closer.

Farewell to the Faltering Fullback, known by the locals as The Flower Pub. Actually, my first 'proper' English pub when I came here. My first contact with the city, and my first effort to try to keep up with your drinking pace, guys. Didn't succeed (and I didn't have time to have dinner that time). The dark and leafy atmosphere remained in our memory to come back as often as possible to runaway from when Seven Sisters felt dull. But we will always love the Big Red, that dark heavy metal pub in which our housemate D is not allowed in unless accompanied by us.

But Seven Sisters is just a street. It has its character. It's like your shy work colleague. Looks unfriendly, but after a while you become best friends. Perpetual opening 'offies', mega deal charity shops, the cheap butcher in the corner, the Sunday's car boot sale and the Nags Head Market. Fishmonger, Jamaican pasties, white eggs, buttons, fabric and trimmings, the eye-brow threader or the 3 for a fiver man-vest stall.

But after mentioning the good pubs, I cannot leave without mentioning The Coronet, the 'spoony' hidden inside the premises of a 1930's theatre, known by us as the sad pub. Or the infamous Gaff now converted into a Costa.

I will miss wandering around Sunday morning down Holloway road and trying on ridiculous 70s printed dressed and wrinkled 5 pound woollen coats at London Region CND.

I will miss Jai Krishna, the inexpensive Indian restaurant. We will miss The Front Room for those lazy Sunday brunches when it was more worth it to get served than go to the shops to buy eggs and cook. Just as much as Bon Matin, which I would have liked to have explored far more. Will miss the Beach Hut in Highbury Barn and its lovely humid atmosphere, easily chilled down by their delicious lavender ice-cream.

I won't miss Morrisons, but I will miss Selby's and their secret Topshop corner. I will miss Jones Bros impressive building as I was hoping to manage to get inside at some point to discover its Victorian insides.

And as I write this, I am scared of realising how emotionally attached I am to things and places. But I really enjoy that, at the same time, I can relate things to stories. Stories that I will probably forget in a couple of years. Stories about doors, coffee tables and sofas.

But it is just a farewell, not a complete goodbye.

At the end of the day, N7 is just a few stations away from SW2.

My world now revolves to the sound of the bells.

Bells will be another story.