What does King Krule’s music look like? Psychogeographer Laura Grace Ford listens to The OOZ and takes a walk through Archy Marshall’s native south-east London
Today we explore the world of King Krule - from his influence on youth style and uniquely eclectic sound to his mythical south London.
As an artist and psychogeographer, Laura Grace Ford typically begins work with a walk. Wandering around city wastelands and dispossessed sites, her “drifts” are an attempt to grasp the ephemeral nature of the modern city. For Dazed’s “Is East London Dead?” issue back in 2012, she drifted from Shoreditch to the then newly-erected Olympic Village in Stratford with writer Tim Burrows, to ponder the future of east London’s creative scene.
Here, for King Krule Day, Ford takes us on a psychogeographic tour through Krule’s south east London stomping ground while listening to songs from The OOZ — documenting her location, happenings around her and feelings as each track plays.
LOCATION: Drummond Road, Bermondsey
TIME: Friday, 5:44pm
He’s playing records while I’m getting ready. The flat has a dusty 80s feeling, maroon walls, low ceilings and the residual smell of incense. There’s a dull orange glow from the street lamps outside and the rooms are cluttered with dark landlord furniture, the kind you saw everywhere after the war but not so much now.
The block is on Drummond Road, that estate opposite the old Peek Freans biscuit factory. He’s on the fourth foor. You can look out over the art deco baking houses, the heaps of yellow bricks.
He’s playing “Dinosaur Jr”, the song tears up the room, for a second it’s 1990. I’m wondering how he knows all this stuff. It’s like he’s channelling my record collection, mining my biography.
I’m in the bathroom, there’s a smell of mildew and moss. I’m taking brushfuls of gold eyeshadow, manufacturing a face for the night out. He’s got this unsettling way of staring at me while I’m looking in the mirror, sometimes his face just looms there in the glass like a spectre.
The flat is claustrophobic, it’s getting me down. I’ve been doubting this situation for a while but don’t really have anywhere else to go.
He’s on the balcony smoking weed. The night is heavy, weighed down by a sullen band of fog. The estates of Bermondsey are fuzzy apparitions, edges softening in the murk. You can just about trace the lines of the footpaths, the shell of the factory. Somewhere over Southwark park I can hear the muted explosions of fireworks.
He gets a phone call, it spurs him into action, punctures the lassitude, he shouts at me to hurry up. I’m in his old puffer jacket, it’s got a dark oily stink, a sheen of grease but I look OK I think. My hair is in a messy bun but my make-up is sharp, kind of new wave and bold like David Sylvian.
It’s good to escape the flat, I feel bolder now the walls of his fiefdom have been breached. I can smell cordite and woodsmoke and I think about the crew waiting in New Cross.
We walk through the patchouli scent of fallen leaves.
LOCATION: New Cross Road/Lewisham Way
That’s the end of that...
New Cross High Street, usual racket softened by the fog. I can hear traces of The Smiths from an open window above Gateway Chicken, then it collapses into reverb, gets subsumed by the wobbling velocities of a dub track. It’s unexpected, I’m losing my bearings. The sounds are coming from a network of subterranean caverns, records sublimated then re-emerging in the hydroponic fug of now.
The Marquis is like a marooned ship, a glowing capsule of yellow light on that black intersection. It’s already rowdy in there, a glass smashing, table tilting kind of scene. He’s edging around the knot of blokes at the pool table, negotiating something. The soundsystem is up loud, Kyla’s “Do You Mind”, a song indelibly inscribed in this place. There’s something emancipatory as it breaks through the din, the possibility of escape is distilled in that fragment of sound.
I find my crew and squeeze behind a table strewn with crisp packets and spilt beer. It would be so easy to sink into a session but he comes back over, eyes casting nets over me.
He says we’re going over to the New Cross Inn, one of his mates’ bands are playing. His eyes are issuing little threats. My mates look sulky as I extricate myself, unpick the threads that hold me here.
New Cross Road is a dark seam, especially this crossroads, there are malign vectors here.
The band has already started. The lighting is bilious, swampy green and purple. They’re wearing papier-mâché heads and lurching weirdly across the stage. The sound is dark bossanova fused with US hardcore. Everyone is wrecked in here, subsumed in the panicked delirium of bad pills and cheap coke. There’s a messy scrum around the bar, tables and chairs ripped out leaving a dingy, cavernous space.
The band are sliding under rafts of feedback.
I watch the audience hurling themselves about at the front, they look like 90s ravers, emaciated and sallow with faded mohawks. They’re only in their twenties but they’re already fucked, students who never got out, endlessly circling the wastes of the A2 in search of ketamine and cheap pints.
We’re standing next to the window, his voice is heavy –
I can see the trajectories spilling onto the estates behind, falling steeply into the LCC blocks, the dark terrain of Fordham Park. This isn’t an incremental step but a sharp demarcation –
The move from one life to the next –
It’s been on-off with him all the time, a stretching of elastic then a snap back, but now it’s completely frayed, I can’t keep doing it.
‘A SLIDE IN (NEW DRUGS)’
LOCATION: St Mary’s Road and Dundas Road
The walk back is taking ages, stalled and interrupted by his manic energy, his endless interrogations.
A ramshackle house with caravans and decommissioned buses. I recognise it as a vestige of the convoy scene in the 80s, an acid commune. This was their stronghold. I remember the GMT, the squatted DSS office in Peckham, all those places. They’re just outlines now, spectral traces.
Sometimes I think I can still hear RDF, Sensor, those massive dub sound systems. I think maybe if I walk these paths for long enough I’ll circle around and step back into them.
But for now it is just me and him and he’s vexed.
‘SLUSH PUPPY’ (first listen)
LOCATION: Queens Road, Asylum Road, Meeting House Lane, Green Hundred Road
I feel cast adrift and alone with him, as if I’ve been separated from everyone I know, caught in a steely matrix, a cat’s cradle.
We walk past the site of the London and Brighton pub, echoes of bands we used to see are still resounding in those new build fats. The sign is still there, forlorn and stranded on the path outside.
He’s getting more anxious, dragging me through his old haunts, Green Hundred Road, the Friary Estate, trying to map his memories onto mine.
LOCATION: Drummond Road and Clements Road, St Crispins estate
TIME: Saturday 11:11am
I’m waking up from a fragmented sleep. I’m in Bermondsey in his flat again, in that bedroom with its dusty red walls and struggling spider plants.
The bed feels damp, a sheen of cold on the duvet.
I shouldn’t be here.
He’s already up, I can hear him moving around. I recognise that album he’s playing, Morphine, The Night. He can have that, it was never mine anyway.
I’m starting to feel nervous around him, the weed is clashing badly with his medication. Sometimes he just stares at me without speaking as if he’s trying to implant thoughts.
The flat stinks of lemon, he’s been smoking it for hours already, his eyes are red and glazed.
I have to get out. I don’t have much stuff, one holdall, that’s it. I just need to throw everything in and and walk around the city, let it guide me to those quiet bolt holes I used to know.
The sun is sinking, leaching through the orange curtains. It’s suffocating in here, a stiffing zopiclone heat, gas fire and medications are knocking him out.
I seem to sink lower –
We’re under the covers. I feel a sense of detachment from his angular body, his staring eyes. He’s so wasted, the stretchy voices circling, he can’t even tell if it’s me or him speaking.
I know where my mates are later. My phone is smashed and I’m out of battery, I can leave here with the sweet knowledge I’m beyond his grasp.
He’s sitting up in bed staring at me with a remote expression. I wait until he drifs off and lock myself in the bathroom, enjoy a few minutes solitude, sometimes he can’t even stand that, sometimes he kicks the bathroom door if I’m in here too long. I have just enough time to sort myself out, to backcomb my hair, make a messy kind of goth look, black eyeliner, dark lipstick. I don’t look that bad, better than I deserve to.
When I leave his face is slumped like a pumpkin lantern that’s been left outside too long.
‘HALF MAN HALF SHARK’
LOCATION: South Bermondsey/Old Kent Road
TIME: Saturday 8:32pm
I race down the stairwell, past the tiles with Millwall written in marker pen and faded traces of NF.
I’ve thrown my stuff in that one bag, make up, a few clothes. It’s sharp and invigorating like emerging from an underground bunker, coming up and breathing fresh, crystalline air. I look round at the estate hoping I’ve got everything because I know for certain I’m never going back.
I’m going to have to hide out somewhere, go to ground, avoid New Cross anyway, all the places he goes, it shouldn’t be too difficult, his map is restricted, lines etched between Bermondsey and New Cross with gouges in the Marquis and New Cross Inn; he’s a dull regular, a creature of habit.
I’m walking fast down Drummond Road, keep thinking maybe he’ll wake and realise I’ve gone but I'm beyond reach now, no phone, zero co-ordinates.
Signals are scrambling, other voices coming through. I hear traces of The Blitz in the railway arches, the air raid sirens and collapsing masonry.
I’m getting vanilla scents of custard creams, the cocoa sweetness of bourbons from boarded up windows.
Bermondsey is losing its identity, beginning to unravel as I feel the force of the Old Kent Road. The gas holders are markers, elegant tracings beyond the tangled wreckage of scrap yards. I am in that section where things start to undo, where objects transfuse at the end of the line; outlets, recycling, junk.
This is a place he doesn’t know, a wrecked 1940s factory next to a traffic intersection. It’s a secret club where you can hide out. I’ve always kept a few places back from him, I suppose I knew early on how it might go. To get in you have to follow a path through cylindrical stacks of tyres and the stink of diesel. I edge around iridescent oil slicks and push through a break in the plywood fence. Inside a cobbled yard is illuminated by coloured lights like a Christmas tree.
I know the blokes on the door, some of the old Anarcho crew from the Aylesbury. There’s some chat, a bit of gossip, I don’t have to pay to get in.
A narrow staircase is painted dark institutional green, there are still numbers stencilled on the walls from when it was a factory. The bar is on the top foor. I walk into a viscous magenta light, bare foorboards and brick walls saturated with the glow from a billboard outside.
They’ve been running this shebeen a few weeks, you can drink rum on velvet banquettes then veer of into all these other rooms. There’s a stack of speaker cabs, I don’t know what the music is, it’s like Burial with guitar bands. I can hear The Smiths, “What She Said”, maybe, that sense of clattering urgency. I’m trying to resist 1985, I don’t want to settle there, this is something else, the coiling entanglements of 2017, precarity, SSRIs, the search for escape.
I’m watching the condensation on the steel framed windows, the adverts as they flood the room with amber, deep carmine red.
The night is intense and hypnotic. I’ve fallen back into my crew. I feel safe again, adrenaline giving way to a sense of euphoria. I’m buoyed up, anything is possible now, juggernaut bass coming through the walls, architecture beginning to reconfigure.
Being here breaks the spell of him, his claustrophobic presence. It really is over now.
We’re sharing out this last bit of MD, looking out across the city as it unfurls in galaxies of orange light.
LOCATION: Old Kent Road, Queens Road, Telegraph Hill, Brockley, Honor Oak, Nunhead
I’ve had my phone switched off, I don’t want to see if he’s called me. I’ve been subsumed in another world, I don’t want to leave it, I’m on that precipice, doing everything to stall the come-down.
We leave together, the inner circle down to five now. A band of luminous green light is glowing beyond Toys R Us.
I can still hear the sounds from that place, a saxophone, the scattering of emotion, highs and lows scuttling like marbles.
I’m trying to prolong the sweetness, evade the melancholy –
I’m hearing it again, that heavy voice, intoning, casting nets into the night – fading then sharpening as if I’m tuning into its frequencies, being called from a séance.
LOCATION: Stuart Road
They’ve got blackout curtains but you can still see a sliver of light. The allotments stretch behind in fraying patches to the banks of the reservoir. It’s like falling into a peripheral zone, the Norfolk Fens or Lincolnshire Wolds, somewhere on the edge of England.
There’s no energy left now, we’re shufing in like the survivors of a war.
The front door is encased in perforated steel. I recognise the musky scent, the tobacco, frankincense and cardamon.
And the garden with ancient rose bushes, dewy pastel heads clinging to black stems.
I’ve been here before, a long time ago, fifteen years maybe. We collapse into a room with woodchip wallpaper and yellow OS maps. I remember the beds with their steel frames like a hospital and the tiles on the 1940s fireplace, the coral sheen still visible beneath the film of dust.
LOCATION: Stuart Road, Nunhead
It’s one of those precious diamond days, gems of light spilling through the perforated steel.
I want to hold on to this, I can’t bear the idea of it ending. I’ve been rescued from the distortions of isolation, returned to a sequence of ecstatic moments. There are five of us strewn in here, we’re like family, the khandan, bonded in a way he could never handle.
I suppose we must have slept a few hours. I’m drifting in and out of a comedown, it’s like a melancholy outline, a spectral trace as if I’ve lived it before. Downstairs they’re playing The Pixies, I can hear the bass coming up through the floorboards. In here there’s a battered cassette recorder playing an exquisite smoke-infused song with a boy singing “Lonely Blue”, I know I’ve heard it before but I can’t place it. His voice has a transformative quality, like recognising a kindred spirit as it rises from that corner.
I’m getting all these premonitions. I watch the marker pen glyphs crawling over those maps and hear the scrambling of decades. I think of the kisses, all those years ago, still circling. Waiting to land.
‘SLUSH PUPPY’ (second listen)
LOCATION: Nunhead Reservoir
Everything is tilting, I’m leaning, losing my balance as if I’m out at sea.
I know these paths, the alley behind the artisan cottages then the steep muddy track between the cemetery and the allotments. Tangled roots, broken tomb stones, piles of bones.
The word “ruins” is spray-painted in fluorescent pink on a brick wall, just that, potent and dazzling in a palette of muted greens. We used to come here before.
We push through buckled railings, find a path through lacerating coils of brambles and climb up to the reservoir, an aztec pyramid overlooking the city.
I’m still in the haze of a comedown, thinking about the night before. Time is dilating, slowing down. I can smell woodsmoke and vetiver, the dusky fragrance of the old forests.
Despite myself I’m worrying about him, little shards of anguish interrupting the moment. My eyes are swarming with black dots but the city is still there, glittering in a sublime panorama.
You can map the landmarks, scan the city from east to west.
Clusters of drinkers huddle in circles watching the city as it opens in a crepuscular blaze.
‘THE CADET LEAPS’
LOCATION: Rye Lane, Peckham
He must have realised what’s happened. I’m looking out across the city, the labyrinths embedded in it and I’m thinking of him walking past all those shops with their shutters down, the tawdry Edwardian housing, everything provisional and half finished. The thought of him searching casts filaments of sadness over me.
I’m hearing his voice through veils of smoke – maybe he’s pacing in the flat getting agitated at the voicemail, throwing his phone against the wall.
I think of the first time I met him, on that roofop in Peckham when I was living over there. There was a party swarming with all these braying hipsters, I wanted to escape that, find some quiet space, I remember facing outwards so I could avoid them, fix my attention on London, and then he was there, kind of dominating, taking up the space of the city.
LOCATION: Cheltenham Road, Nunhead
The shops around here are frozen in the early 90s, newsagents with sun-bleached birthday cards and dusty cans of peaches. There’s no one around apart from some young lad with ginger hair asking us for a cigarette.
I’m still hearing that Pixies record they were playing in the house, the bass still reverberating.
It demands so much, refuses to be a feint outline. It seizes me, takes me back to then, lets me embody those times instead of drifting passively at the edge.
LOCATION: Stuart Road, Nunhead
Walking into this pub is like entering another dimension. It’s packed, brimming with unexpected conviviality like Christmas in a film. There are oak panelled rooms and a stage with a live jazz band. I like the smokiness, the old fashioned glamour.
Globe lamps shed a warm yellow light, I watch them replicating, full moons glowing in a milky sky.
We sit by the fire, pressed together in the scent of soot and pine.
His voice is behind a screen, veiled somehow – maybe he knows more about hope than I realised.
The walls have those opalescent edges again, little prisms of light in the cornices and coving.
It all goes quiet when I see someone I’ve known a long time. The decades collapse and I feel the markers of elation, just glimmers at first. I’d heard last night, in the tendrils of bar room chat that he was in London again.
He sounds older than he looks, the years have been held in a time-fold. His eyes are radiating the span of those years.
I’m moving across to the other side again, seeing him has rekindled something, he must have been right when he said the past is open.