A potted history of Shoreditch for those who want to visit

Since the turn of the twenty-first century Shoreditch has become and maintained itself as a center for innovative art and music, largely driven by a punk ethos, and is arguably the most fun and exciting place to be for any young person with artistic intentions looking for inspiration in their life and career.

Of course since the beginning of the twenty-first century much has changed in Shoreditch. Situated on the northern borders of the city of London it started off the twenty-first century as it experienced most of the latter half of the twentieth, fairly neglected, the six and seven storey brick warehouses, which were once home to a thriving furniture industry, now standing empty, falling into decay, old curtains flapping in the wind.

Things began to change when a number of young artists moved into the area, into Hoxton Square in particular, and began to make an international name for themselves. Tracy Emin and Damion Hirst were at the forefront of this scene. Their success gave Shoreditch and its surrounds a name, and the idea of renting out an old warehouse studio caught on. Subsequently throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century more and more artists, musicians and media flocked to the area.

It wasn’t long before a young man by the name of Robin Gunningham, with an extraordinary talent for street art, astutely recognised Shoreditch as both providing a surfeit of canvas for his work, but also by way of its location offering very good potential for publicity. Gunningham’s work, together with his determination to remain anonymous, excepting the fact that he monikered everything Banksy, fascinated and titillated the British media. Banksy single handedly bought an army of graffiti writers and street artists into the area, to decorate the walls with all manner of scribblings, pictures and paste-ups, varying enormously in quality and size.

The popularity of Shoreditch amongst young artists led to a burgeoning nightlife, some of which mirrored the punk ethos of the early days. Arguably the social hub of Shoreditch throughout the first decade of the twenty-first century was The Foundry an old bank, into which was jammed all kinds of ramshackle furniture and artistic junk, with several underground rooms, where artists, including Banksy, exhibited their work and talks of various intellectual and political content were provided. The Foundry was a favourite point for the City’s courier classes, who seemed to have a vague if varied sense of being counter-cultural, and was used as a base for people from around the world who travelled to London to take part in the 2011 May Day protests, the participants in which the London Metropolitan Police went on to brutalise.

Things have moved on somewhat since these days though.

Shoreditch is no longer considered a place for start-up artists to move into. Young city bankers with exceptional pay checks, excited by the colours and energy of Shoreditch started to move in. Some of the artists created businesses in design and advertising, and became wealthy as a result. IT and architectural firms attracted to the location by its proximity to the City have also been attracted to the spaces offered by the warehouses. It has also been argued that the artistic buzz created by Shoreditch in the early years has attracted a good deal of young adults from wealth families with bohemian intent. All of this, taken together with the fact that London more widely has become a hive for the international rich and international bankers, meant that start up artists with little cash have had to look elsewhere to start and further their careers.

The nightlife in Shoreditch has also started to change, no longer is it is a bastion of quirky little clubs, which combine drinking with strange artistic installations, theatre and fancy-dress, but rather the site of slick impressive looking bars and clubs. The Foundry, the heart of Shoreditch, was shut down after the owner of the building decided to develop it into an Art Hotel, which oddly, five years after the event, has not yet materialised.

Furthermore Street art, accepted by local authorities who recognised the money that it attracts in with the tourists, has now become as managed as the galleries, the exclusion from which inspired many artists to take to the streets in the first place. Property owners lease their walls for certain street artists to display their work. A plethora of gallery owners in the area, have helped street artists become proper artists, so that a piece of street art is now used not as an anonymous offering to the general public, but instead as a marketing device to let people know about their latest show.

Corporations have also seen selling their product through street art.  In 2010, a deliberate blurring of the boundaries between street art and advertising occurred in Shoreditch, London, with a series of street art pieces, which coincided with a large advertising campaign, launched by clothing brand Converse. The campaign started in a fairly orthodox albeit exhaustive manner. Converse paid for every bit of advertising space they could get their hands on in Shoreditch dressing several famous people from the world of rock, pop and television. But then around about the same time, street artists started to create a series of derivatives, some using the campaign’s initial imagery, others providing abstract reminders. The purpose behind the use of ever vaguer representations, this evolution from advertising into abstract street art, was seemingly an attempt to encourage the onlooker to make a link between Converse and the deep psychic sense of cool that one associates with free expressionist values of street art.

A few years before Vice magazine bought the Old Blue Last pub in the heart of Shoreditch, which they have used to promote and manage the music scene.

Another significant development was the creation of the Shoreditch Pop-up Market, a set of around fitty metal containers, which have been erected on space cleared during the construction of the Shoreditch Overground station, which have bought designer labels into the area, each one selling products with an off-beat spin to them, hoping to cash into the fascination for the random, that many people flock to Shoreditch to experience.

So, now in 2015, we see less of the courriers, the liberals and the start-up artist, and more the adult children of millionaires and successful businessmen and women in the fields of media, art & design, music and IT.

Now, a Friday night is just as much a night out for party-goers from Essex, with their love of beer, fighting, sexual intimidation and chart music, as it is for offbeat types, looking for more aesthetic or intellectual nights out.

So Shoreditch in 2015 is awash with money, wealth, young fashionable and sexy young people, coming to London to make it big in the world of art and music, or to rub shoulders and write about people who want to make it big. It’s got a plethora of bars, clubs, pubs, art galleries, markets and it’s still the capital of street art, the works seem to become bigger and more impressive each year. And it’s still broadly speaking a friendly and inclusive place, there is little snobbery or exclusion, and it still has liberal and left-leaning tendencies.


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