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Electric dreams: London now

Faced with a copy-and-paste culture industry, the city's creative breed is blazing a collaborative trail. From fashion to music, get to know the new art alliances now

Taken from the autumn/winter 2015 issue of Dazed:

Long famed as a breeding ground for startling individualists, London is fast becoming the adoptive home of a new kind of creative. These are the artists, musicians and designers who, faced with a tide of rising rents and student loan repayments, are increasingly realising they're better together. Music nights in abandoned spaces, co-working collectives, self-published zines: the city is being buoyed by a new collective spirit that refuses to bow to convention.

As always, fashion is central to the city’s DIY spirit. Just look at Charles Jeffrey, who started his LOVERBOY night to fund his degree and now channels the outré style of its club kid regulars into his eponymous label. For Irish designer Richard Malone, what makes the new generation special is that they are from outside London; innovation comes from an inclusive gang of interlopers, from working class families in Europe and overseas. As he puts it: “You’ve already learned to have a voice because that’s what got you to London – it’s what drove you.” Far from being stuck behind a screen, creativity in the city now means carving a physical space for yourself: whether that's setting up a feminist music night like Simone Gray-Ritson, or staging a guerilla presentation when you're not selected for your school's press show like the #encoreCSM students. In the digital diaspora, even a piece of printed matter can be a startling statement of intent. Meet the city’s new creative breed proving that DIY – not copy and paste – has still got power.


“Acting on instinct has always worked for me,” says Charles Jeffrey, the designer whose LOVERBOY night is adoptive home to club kids Jenkin van Zyl, Jermaine Ampomah and Justin Gong. Together, the kaleidoscopic after-dark squad take aim at those who would see London’s gender-queer scene diminished. For Jeffrey, the LOVERBOY universe – encompassing the party project, but also his Fashion East-supported label – is testament to the power of getting ready as a creative ritual. “Dressing up is extremely important,” he says of his anti-formulaic approach. “I hope it challenges the traditional path that designers have to take, and their roles as arbiters of fashion.” Thanks to Jeffrey’s Instax sponsorship, his midnight memories are being captured for posterity. But for the most part, you really have to be there. “It was electric,” Ampomah says of the first time he DJed to a sweat-drenched dancefloor. “Everyone danced as if under a spell.”


“I don’t think art should be a vain attempt to feel useful in society,” says artist Lydia Ourahmane, whose practice takes place between Algeria and London. Buoyed by a fascination with her heritage, she traverses geographical distances through the manoeuvring of objects and people: her most recent work, Too Late for Ambition, saw her install a neon sign in a square and orchestrate a public stoning of it. Physical space is also important to Teenage Caveman frontwoman Simone Gray-Ritson, whose music and film night D.I.M is leading the charge for inclusive, feminist communities in the city. “DIY culture is experiencing a big resurgence,” says Gray-Ritson, whose uncompromising onstage presence is attracting a dedicated following. “We are redefining what success means for ourselves.” Though negotiating different scenes and cities, these are two creatives determined to emphasise the offline over the online. “Physical spaces are becoming more and more fictional,” says Ourahmane of the real-world interaction with the online. “This is our space to play.”


“Does going mad to Kate Bush songs in the club count as creative collaboration?” asks art student Alexandre Simões. Given the setting – Charles Jeffrey’s LOVERBOY club night and community – you’d be hard pushed to say that it doesn’t. Dedicated club kids and creatives in their own right, Simões, model Afonso Peixoto and artist Eugenia Shishkina think forming collectives is the best corrective to the cult of the personal brand. “Charles created a platform for all of us,” says Peixoto, who has formed a DJ duo with Simões. “Communities like this are important because they bring queer creative individuals together.” Just like their predecessors at nights such as BoomBox and Ponystep, London’s new breed are letting their boundless creativity do the talking in the basement and above ground. It’s a productive chaos akin, as Simões puts it, to “throwing yourself in a huge pile of rubbish and having your friends join you and scream for more.”


It’s a truth universally known that we bond best over the things we dislike. “It’s a way in,” says writer Luisa Le Voguer Couyet, who, together with photographer pal Scarlett Carlos Clarke, channels mutual distaste into their magazine, Hate. But, scathing as its title may be, the project is actually more positive than you might think. “Some of the best work I’ve done has been a reaction to something which has infuriated me,” says Couyet. “If something makes you fucking mad, channel that anger into something creative.” South London singer Misty Miller, now flying solo with her girl-power garage pop, was once in a covers band with Couyet. “Scarlett got a great shot of me and Luisa topless playing the synth,” recalls Miller. They even had great merch, adds Couyet. “We painted our boobs with ink then pressed them on to shirts!” For Carlos Clarke, the best collaborations come out of contrast, anyway. “It’s the perfect balance of chaos and control,” she says.


As with all the best friendships, editor Reba Maybury and artist Louis Backhouse first bonded in the toilet queue at a house party. “I think I said something like, ‘I can tell your parents don’t pay your rent and that you’ve got great taste,’” says Maybury, who edits body-conscious magazine Sang Bleu. The fast friends attended Central Saint Martins, where they favoured political expression over keeping their distance. For Backhouse, who is currently collaborating with performance group New Noveta, growing up in the hinterlands of working-class Wales has everything to do with his creative drive: “If everything was soft, mild and gentle, then you’d have nothing to fight for, or against.” Refusing to view London through rose-tinted glasses, Maybury also produces a zine, Radical People, to celebrate subculture’s best non-negotiators. It’s a manifesto for action – after all, as she puts it, “Nostalgia doesn’t create culture. Guttural reaction to inequality does.”


He might be the proud purveyor of an “Instagram of eyebrows”, but there’s more to knitwear designer Matty Bovan’s sparkle than meets the expertly daubed eye. “It’s definitely a celebration,” he says of his wild and woolly designs. “I get so into textures and colours – it’s very mood-enhancing.” Andrew Sauceda was in the year below Bovan at Central Saint Martins, where he set out to inject menswear with a whole new gender agenda. “Sexuality is something I always question when designing,” he says. But with Bovan about to embark on his LVMH prize-winning placement in Paris, and Sauceda accepting a new role in NYC, how do they feel about leaving London behind? “There is definitely a community of young designers here and I will miss that,” says Bovan. “But moving to another city always shakes up your own perspective and style, which is only ever a good thing.”


“You’ve already learned to have a voice because that’s what got you to London – it’s what drove you,” says designer Richard Malone. Raised in obscure seaside towns in Ireland and Wales respectively, Malone and artist boyfriend Tom Garnon have been inseparable since a chance meeting in a “nasty nightclub” five years ago. Malone’s hands-on design ethos, which won him the prestigious LVMH Grand Prix scholarship, takes unwanted materials and makes them new; Garnon’s time-based sculptures, meanwhile, might last seconds or deteriorate over a long time. Both refuse to join the cult of the easily Instagrammable. “The lack of originality astounds me,” says Malone, whose graduate collection took its cues from post-recession youths back home. “Fashion has become about making images, not making amazing clothes.” Inspired by people more than pictures, they’re currently enjoying life in a live-work space. “The amount of different people we meet on a daily basis is amazing,” says Garnon. “Serendipity keeps things exciting!”


Julia van IJken is proof of her generation’s ability to disrupt the idea of discipline: studying fashion communication at Central Saint Martins, she styles, takes photos and makes videos alongside writing for 1 Granary. She’s pictured here with fellow student and designer Aleksander Bucko. Citing this year’s #encoreCSM show – where BA fashion students who weren’t selected for the press show simply went it alone – as one of the year’s most exciting moments, Van IJken believes in a fashion world beyond the bubble. “It is a real signifier for creatives going against bureaucratic, institutionalised rules and finding a new way of doing things.”

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