For some, Peckham conjures up images of destitution, high unemployment and gang crime in droves. But this slightly outdated view doesn’t reflect the whole picture, as it fails to acknowledge Peckham’s growing status as a prominent London art hub, with a flourishing music scene. An olio of budget grocery stores, shabby takeaways and Caribbean barbers, Peckham’s streets are also home to a medley of grass-roots galleries, unique music venues and unassuming art cafes. So what is really unique about Peckham and have local creatives witnessed many changes over the years?
Leon Day (a.ka. LD of Hyperdub fame) was raised in the area and has seen concrete council flats give way to shiny new leisure centres and exhibition spaces, but feels this change has had a beneficial impact on his music.
“Peckham is diverse, friendly and inspiring, with a dark eerie side. The dark side – which is where I am from – is just part of the adventurous place that it continues to be. For me, Peckham has changed a lot over the years, but [it still] has plenty of childhood memories. I used to live in a place called Sumner Estate, which has since been torn down and replaced by a much nicer looking close. This has been happening all over Peckham, along with the regeneration of others areas - I remember when there was no library, Peckham Pulse or Peckham Square,” he said.
“There are [now more] art galleries and different cultures on display, on a day to day basis. These things are all inspirational, which is very important to me as an artist,” he added.
Prolific house producer Wbeeza grew up there when the dominant musical forces were Garage and 2step.
He told us: “[They] were big in the 90s and early 00s with Peckham residents, but there were no clubs or ‘scene’ as such. People would go to Elephant & Castle, Vauxhall, Kings Cross, Croydon or elsewhere. Then there are the few house [fans] who used to go to Soul Heaven or The Ministry, and occasionally still do. Drum ‘n’ bass and then later grime, were also big in the borough. Music Emporium (which stocked garage, hip hop, R&B etc and some house) was the only music store in Peckham!”
So it is a wonder how an artist like Wbeeza can emerge from this musical heritage and end up making exactly what he does.
“There are one or two heads [...] who exposed me to Chicago house and Detroit techno when I was growing up, but we’re talking about a handful of people only. So, house is something which is quite new in Peckham. It’s not like Dalston where there are bars and basements suddenly everywhere. But then in Dalston you’ve got a very different situation. Many of the landlords are looking to make a quick killing. There isn’t the same thing in Peckham,” he suggested.
The steady rise of Peckham’s position on the music map has been driven by a number of key collectives, including Off Modern, Warm Music and Wavey Tones; all of whom have, at one time or another, hosted parties at the widely-renowned Bussey Building.
A vast brick-clad industrial warehouse, the Bussey Building has become somewhat of a South London institution in recent years, having hosted events ranging from Redux’s grime nights to Benji B’s Deviation; a night which saw the Radio 1 Dj join forces with Hyperdub to bring down Omar S and Martyn.
But undoubtedly, last year’s highlight at Bussey was Secretsundaze’s rooftop party with Will Saul and George FitzGerald – an event that saw hundreds of clubbers take to the building’s rooftop on what was one of the hottest days of the summer. Giles Smith, one half of the Secret Sundaze outfit, has a long history of throwing rooftop parties across the Capital and says the scarcity of suitable venues in East London encouraged him to look South of the Thames.
“We did three very risqué parties in Shoreditch, which ran all day with no sound restrictions due to a much more laid back council. This was a time though when Brick Lane was a lot more rough around the edges and things like this were welcomed, as opposed to fought against now. We simply chose [Bussey’s] roof because it’s hard to find a roof top in a built-up city such as ours where you can have amplified music, and Peckham is a place with such vibrant streets, community and vibe,” he said.
“I don’t see Secretsundaze as an East london thing. There is life outside Shoreditch, believe it or not kids! Secretsundaze has always been about unearthing special locations, which are not dependant upon being ‘on your door step’! I used to travel the length of the country to see some Djs play in Nottingham and Leeds – at the likes of the old Renaissance parties or Back to Basics – and had to wait around for the first train home,”
“We do the parties all over the world, from Tokyo to New York, so what’s the problem in moving across London if the space is right for us? Not only that, but it’s on the 6th storey of the building and affords incredible views of the city on one side and countryside on the other. It’s something to behold. [And] it’s also the opportunity to come to a more intimate secretsundaze – [this year] the capacity is around the 600-700 mark – a lot smaller than our first two parties of . Joy Orbison – surely one of the most celebrated artists of [late] – said it was one of his best gigs last year. If the weather is just half as good as last year we are in for a real treat,” Smith added.
But for many curators and promoters, the safety net of East London is too strong a lure to resist. However, this was never an issue for Boiler Room host Bradley Zero Phillip, who brought his night, Rhythm Section, to Peckham’s Canavan’s Pool Club six months ago and hasn’t looked back since.
“I live in Peckham, and have done for over four years. East didn’t [even] come into it. When I go to Dalston I feel like I’m on holiday. I don’t know the venues or people there and I would say it’s a lot harder to draw in a crowd. Only a few years ago, the Peckham social calendar was based strictly on house parties. I think that culture of a tight knit community definitely fed into the ethos of the burgeoning music scene that’s happening in Peckham now. Even in terms of the Djs, some of the guys who would be running into the kitchens of said house parties to plug their iPod into the HiFi are know playing in clubs and on radio all over the world,” he said.
While many of the earlier underground house and electronica nights were sporadic, Zero-Phillip suggests his event is intended to bring some much needed frequency to the local nightlife.
“Until Rhythm Section came on the scene, there had been little or no regularity. LuckyPDF kick-started the whole spectacular warehouse rave thing in the Bussey building, a few years ago. This has led to some amazing shows in the area, with different promoters bringing down Dixon, Actress, Caribou and many more world class acts to Peckham Rye. But, because Peckham doesn’t really have the reputation for being a place to go for a good night out, promoters would often advertise the venue as a ‘SECRET WAREHOUSE’, which doesn’t really add anything to the area in terms of reputation...all you’d tend to get are a few East Londoners moaning about crossing the river on forums when the address is announced!”
Those that remain reluctant to venture South won’t have the fortune of stumbling across some of Peckham’s less advertised highlights, such as Bar Story, Hannah Barry Gallery and Frank’s Café and Campari Bar (a pop-up summer bar that calls the roof of an NCP car park home). Frank Boxer, the bar’s founder, believes the success of the creative bubble is partly down to a cadre of fresh-faced artists who work very closely together.
“The local artistic community are young, tight, and really know how to party. Luring people away from East London has never really been a concern - there are enough cool kids round here already!” he suggested.
Known for its panoramic views of London’s skyline, Frank’s Cafe proved to be extremely popular last year (with both locals and non-locals) and the owner is hoping to repeat this success when he revives another previous venture.
“At the moment I’m trying to resurrect the Peckham Hotel. It was a late night venue walking distance from Frank’s Cafe, which ran for a month over December. We were a platform for all sorts of artistic events and also threw some wild late night parties, including World Unknown, Lucky PDF and Off Modern. It should be banging!” he said.
When seminal music and comedy pub The Ivy House closed its doors for good in April, some suggested that the parochial charm that draws people to some of Peckham’s best-loved beer houses might be a poison pill. Enterprise, owners of the Grade II listed venue, have reportedly sold it to developers – a sign that property moguls have marked SE15 as an ‘up and coming area’. This bubbling interest in the post code has sparked whispers of impending gentrification; something that is likely to become a reality in the not-too-distant future, due in part to the forthcoming railway extension, which will see Peckham Rye connected to areas including Clapham Junction and Surrey Quays.
But, will an influx of ‘outsiders’ deprive the district of its character? Frank Boxer said: “Yes [it would] – I’m not too keen on what Brixton feels like at the moment...”. Wbeeza suggested: “Gentrification is occurring, but Peckham has a grounded community already, which is currently unaffected by it. If it brings jobs and opportunities then it can only be a good thing.”
To brand Peckham as the ‘new alternative to East London’ would be enough to make anyone nauseous, because it’s not and, more importantly, it’s not trying to be. But while some of the negative associations often made with the area are still present, the growing number of art and music based-events are worth knowing about, and definitely worth a trip across the water for.
Secretsundaze rooftop party: Sunday July 1st The Bussey Building, Peckham. 1pm to 9.30pm with: Daniel Bell, Braiden ,Flori, Giles Smith and James Priestley. For tickets and info, head here.