Bubble rap: ‘It’s hard not to reminisce over the former scruff of Tottenham Court Road’

 (ES Magazine)
(ES Magazine)

The week before I went into labour I thought I’d get the blessed child initiated into the fine art of conducting interviews and engaging in fashion industry chat over heaving sound systems. I went from a Raf Simons fashion show-slash-rave party at Printworks in Surrey Quays to a Prada perfume launch held at Outernet, the music venue at the heart of a billion-pound ‘immersive entertainment district’ that has sprung up into a gold-and black post-Crossrail colossus next to Centre Point. It was a contrast of London’s evolving machinations, tied up in commerce, culture and community. Printworks will go out with a bang next year owing to Southwark Council’s redevelopment plans, after six years of raving in this former newspaper printing factory. You can feel the patina of well-worn, sweat-drenched, hedonistic good times reverberating inside this electronic music cathedral.

Outernet, on the other hand is so new and fresh, I could almost lick the floor, it was so clean. Okay, maybe I’ll let my newborn child go lick the floor (it’s all good germs, right?) when the time comes. That’s after he’s exposed to a mammoth dose of screen time, seeing as you enter Outernet through a square video-screen tunnel that PR spiel has dubbed a ‘brandscape’. It reminded me of that bit in Minority Report when Tom Cruise’s character walks through a shopping mall and his newly implanted stolen eyes are pounded with targeted shop ads. Apparently, one of the green rooms servicing the main HERE concert venue buried in the underground layers of Outernet has a shower that can accommodate up to 40 people. I don’t even want to know what artist would make actual use of a 40-person shower. And the venue itself? It’s all interior-led metal and glass, ambient screensaver projections and a bar that is so tastefully lit, you can’t even see the sweat on revellers’ faces.

I never thought I’d be a curmudgeon about newness. It’s what keeps a city moving, going and growing. But like many, it’s hard not to reminisce over the former scruff of TCR. The original Foyles and its dusty upper floors where you’d really have to hunt around for what you’re looking for and no, you weren’t gonna ask the staff because that takes the fun out of it. The original building is now a block of luxury flats with a pink blanc mange façade. Dionysus, the not very authentic but who-cares ‘Greek’ restaurant at Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road, where you’d go for a pre-gig bite. And of course the iconic Astoria, which Outernet is attempting (somewhat) to be the successor to. We all bewailed its loss back in 2009.

But like many, it’s hard not to reminisce over the former scruff of Tottenham Court Road

Didn’t everybody go through a determined, formative phase of going to gigs solo (because every young person likes to think nobody ‘gets’ their music wave-length). Swaying to Modest Mouse and Broken Social Scene on the fringes of the crowd was perhaps the making of me.

Anything new needs time to bed itself in and build that aforementioned patina. Look at Koko, the revamp of another teens-to-20s beloved hangspot, which has been augmented with a boujie members’ club but retains its original aura. One look at the restored red-and-gold interior and the nights spent drinking snakebites and wondering if a floppy-haired boy would look my way (specifically the floppy hair of mid-Noughties) come flooding back. But one visit to Outernet made me wonder how any sort of scuzzy layers could develop amid all the LCD screens and sanitised surfaces. How sticky will the floor actually get? Only time will tell.