The dA-Zed guide to south London music

As our doc on south London music goes live, we celebrate the thrilling present and musical past under the river

south london

As the latest AllSaints x Dazed New Music Cities shines a light on some of the most exciting voices coming out of south London, from Kwes to Katy B to Mount Kimbie, we decided to devote this week's dA-Zed to the rest of the musicians that have made under the river such a vital area, from Communist revolutionaries to Croydon dubstep.  

A IS FOR AREA 10

There’s long been an overlap between art and music in South East London, something facilitated by the close proximity of two art schools and all those glorious pre-regeneration empty factories and warehouses which were turned into squats. Area 10 was one of the better ones. It sat behind the multicoloured exterior of the EU funded Peckham Library, though now demolished it was host to some colourful people; a guy who made chainmail, and I think an old American hippy who made geodesic domes. !WOWOW! were also an integral feature of the space. One of their warehouse parties was attended by Laura Bush, daughter of US President George. One of their live performances featured a band called Swarfega, which was a guy playing drums whilst a man ran around with jars of Swarfega throwing it at the audience. Avant-garde stupidity at its best. The group went on to spawn the careers of Matthew Stone, Gareth Pugh, Boo Saville and Adham Faramawy.

B IS FOR THE BROMLEY CONTINGENT 

The Bromley Contingent were a group of early punk scenesters; Siouxie Sioux, Billy Idol, Jordan (not the model), Soo Catwoman amongst others, all from Bromley and who followed the Sex Pistols around their early shows, described by Julie Burchill as a group ‘of unrepentant poseurs’ which was the point I think. They created, or at least popularised and made wearable the fashion that Westwood and MacLaren were selling in their Kings Road shop. John Lydon describes a party at Siouxie’s house where she was wandering around ‘topless, knickerless, wearing tights, stilettos and an apron, carrying a whip.’

Whilst The Bromley Contingent would go on to help define the post-punk sound with their own bands, The Banshees and Generation X, they also appeared on TV during the Sex Pistols’ infamous appearance on the Today Show. Bill Grundy asked Siouxsie to meet him afterwards drawing a tirade of abuse from Steve Jones. The Daily Mail penned The Filth and the Fury headline, the Pistols were dropped by EMI and their career slowly became enveloped in media controversy and hyperbole.  

C IS FOR CROYDON

As south as you can get in South London, Croydon sits somewhat depressingly between urban malaise and suburban boredom, unfairly (or fairly, depending on your POV) denigrated by the media; the Croydon Advertiser recently ran a headline informing that nine out of ten Croydon children think there is a safe place to stab someone. Croydon is also the home of the Brit School as well as the Croydon facelift and the Big Apple Record Store, where Benga and Skream worked and along with fellow Croydon residents Digital Mystikaz and Plastician, developed the early sound of Dubstep. Croydon, the place that managed to be responsible for both Jessie J and Dubstep.

D IS FOR DAVID BOWIE

The archetypal pretentious South London art school pseud, born in Brixton and grew up in Bromley. There’s not a lot to say that hasn’t been said, but Bowie was an undersung influence on the costumed theatricality of the Bromley Contingent.    

E IS FOR ELECTRIC AVENUE 

Street in Brixton, named after its electric lights and made famous by Eddy Grant’s 1983 single of the same name. The Guyana born singer is indicative of the cross-pollination of British music with the sounds of its former colonial outposts; Grant was originally part of the soul infused group The Equals who had a hit in the late 60s with Baby Come Back, Grant also penned Police On My Back, which was covered and released by the Clash as part of Sandinista (Clash bassist Paul Simonon was also a Brixton boy); but Electric Avenue stands out, despite its cheesy synthesizer melody, as a recording of the violence of the Brixton Riots of 1981, immigrant poverty and the difficulty of integration.  

F IS FOR FELA KUTI 

Another example of the fertile cross-pollination between Fela left Nigeria for London in 1958 to become a doctor but instead enrolled himself at Greenwich’s Trinity College of Music to study the trumpet and lived south of the river for five years.

G IS FOR GOLDSMITHS

Art school in New Cross with a pretty wonderful list of alumni; Blur, James Blake, John Cale, Malcolm McLaren, Brian Molko, Katy B, as well as a load of the YBAs, Lucien Freud, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Princess Beatrice. New Cross was continually primed to be the ‘the next Shoreditch’ before Peckham stole its thunder and became ‘the next Dalston’.

H IS FOR KIERAN HEBDEN 

Best known under the alias of Four Tet, Hebden’s developed from initial experiments in smoothed out acoustic electronic, to become a figurehead of Britain’s dance music scene, working with Radiohead, Burial, Caribou, as well as remixing just about everyone. He seemed to blossom in the creative explosion that followed dubstep, and his earlier work’s laid back tendencies only grow in stature with coupled up with the low rumble of sub bass.  

I IS FOR TIPPA IRIE  

Tippa was a Brixton based MC in the early to mid 80s associated with the Saxon Studio International soundsystem, along with Smiley Culture, Papa Levi, Maxi Priest and Daddy Rusty, it was a golden age for the soundsystem in the UK. Tippa and Smiley would have two of the best known UK reggae singles, with Complain Neighbour and Police Officer, both of which dealt with racism in the UK, Smiley’s single Cockney Translation too, bridged the linguistic gap between cockney and patois.   

J IS FOR JOBCENTRE

The Collyer Place jobcentre in Peckham was squatted in the late 80s, a haven for grebos and crusty punks, bands like The Levellers and Chumbawumba played there, was quite foundational in the birthing of techno hippy acid scene at the all night raves that took place after the bands had finished, if that’s something to be proud of.  

K IS FOR THE KLF 

Trancentral in Stockwell was the squatted house belonging Jimmy Cauty of The KLF and The Orb, Cauty and collaborator Bill Drummond were busy recording in the basement (improbably The KLF were the biggest selling singles band of 1991). Though The KLF are almost as famous and well known for their art stunts as their music; (firing blanks into the audience at The Brit awards and burning one million pounds on a remote Scottish island) their two albums are masterpieces.

L IS FOR LAMBETH WALK 

Song from the late Music Hall comedy Me and My Girl, inspired by the Lambeth street of the same name, Lupino Lane formulated the exaggerated cockney strut that would turn The Lambeth Walk into an inter-war dance craze.

M IS FOR MIKE SKINNER

Though a Brummie by birth Skinner’s The Streets are undeniably influenced by the Brixton the group formed in. Despite’s Skinner rapping in thick Mockney a still rather wonderful first album stands as the most emotionally honest and sonically interesting statement to come out of the tail end of UK Garage.    

N IS FOR NEW RAVE

So much to answer for: New Cross the home of Angular Records, New Rave and the Klaxons, a joke that got out of hand, responsible for so many art students’ ongoing ketamine problems.

O IS FOR OI!

Combat 84 played their first ever gig at a reguar Oi! night at The Walmer Castle on Peckham Road (now demolished). Combat 84 were the focus of a BBC Arena documentary in which singer Chris Henderson was recorded making racist comments, the band split up shortly after and Henderson went on to become involved with the National Front and the Chelsea FC hooligans, The Headhunters, before, like all good racists, becoming an immigrant himself and moving to Thailand.

P IS FOR PUTNEY'S ELLIOT SCHOOL

A school in Putney that taught Burial, Four Tet, Hot Chip, The xx, a few members of So Solid and The Maccabees everything they know.  

Q IS FOR QUEENS ROAD PECKHAM

So far gentrification resistant road that links New Cross to Camberwell, flanked on one end by The Montague Arms, which was once voted the best pub in the country, and was once privy to an interview for The NME between Nick Cave, Mark E Smith and Shane MacGowan, hosted gigs in the early days of The New Cross Scene, as well as a Gang of Four reunion show, it recently closed after the death of it’s two elderly landlords. On the other, Peckham Rye, end, is the Greyhound, a traditional Irish boozer, full of the travellers living on the tiny site on Friary Road, which hosts traditional irish events like Karaoke and locking doors at closing time and letting everyone smoke inside.

R IS FORTHE RED FLAG

South London’s always trod the line between urban slums and suburban countryside; blacklisted trade unionist and exiled Irish Republican Jim Connell wrote the workers hymn The Red Flag whilst on a train journey back from speaking at a dock strike to his home in Catford in 1889.

S IS FOR SNIFFIN' GLUE 

Instrumental zine in documenting the punk scene of time, based in Lewisham, Sniffin Glue was integral to creating the whole three chords and the truth DIY sensibility of Punk. It’s editor Mark Perry would go on to form Alternative TV, Genesis P Orridge of Throbbing Gristle was their first drummer. Alternative TV’s How Much Longer? was as instrumental in deconstructing the punk aesthetic as Sniffin Glue was in creating it.

T IS FOR TOILET FACTORY

A squat in Elephant and Castle run by Shitdisco and Is Tropical when they were called Ratty Rat Rat. I remember sneaking in round the back to see The Metros (who are now Fat White Family) play there; it was a huge building, you could’ve easily managed to get a thousand people in there. They had numerous squats over the years, all named Squallyoaks. I saw Foals play in a basement off Camberwell Road. There was another place in Elephant & Castle where there was a big party - but I don’t remember any of it.

U IS FOR UK GARAGE

Nothing says South London quite like So Solid Crew, with Giggs more recently taken up the mantle from Asher D of local rapper in gun related crime incident. Like much of the music coming out of South London, it’s a stylistic mix of the different communities who live there, with its roots in Jamaican sound systems.

V IS FOR VAUXHALL

People thronged, en masse, to Vauxhall’s Pleasure Gardens for over two hundred years, between the 16th and 18th century on the South Bank of the Thames, the gardens were home dubious and immoral entertainment, a place where prostitutes and princes rubbed shoulders, they had a reputation as a place of ill repute and easy love. For much of it’s history the South Bank was outside the jurisdiction of the city, hence it was home to theatres, brothels, beat baiting pits. Vauxhall these days is a pleasure garden for a different sort of bear; all night gay clubs and saunas.

W IS FOR WORLD UNKNOWN

Fearsome dance music club that used to be in a small, very hot, pitch black room in a Loughborough Junction railway arch. Defined by a lack of ‘name’ DJs, an inclusive spirit, Andy Blake and Joe Hart, turn up, turn on a smoke machine, and play records for eight hours. A refreshingly honest and inclusive antidote to secret location warehouse parties, and special guests.

X IS FOR X RAY SPEX

Fronted by buck-toothed mixed-race sex symbol Poly Styrene, Bromley (again!) born Polly was inspired by seeing the Sex Pistols (again!) play in Hastings to form her own band. Short lived, X Ray Spex only released one album and five singles over one a half years.

Y IS FOR YOUNG AND DANGEROUS

Triad God, aka Vinh Ngan, is a New Cross based MC part Chinese, part Vietnamese, who works with Loughborough Junction based producer Palmistry. Inspired by Andrew Lau’s Young and Dangerous films, his mixtape New Cross Boys is according Palmistry  about “brotherhood with his old crew: the struggles they faced, and the lasting memories they left with him”

Z IS FOR ZOO KID

Ginger haired, grizzly voiced teenager, the dark side of Brit School, now recording as King Krule

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