Thoughts on London past and present, from VICE’s UK Creative Director Ronojoy Dam.
I was born, and still live, in Dalston. There was more of a Caribbean presence back then; I remember passing by all the old reggae stalls in Ridley market with my old man and most of my childhood friends were Jamaican. I grew up through the increasing arrival of the Turkish and Kurdish community to the area, which was totally revitalised by their late night restaurants and supermarkets. In retrospect, it was rougher back then; there weren’t street lights at night and there were issues with gangs, kerb crawling and crack houses. I was definitely mugged a few times and got into a couple of scraps. But there was always this incredible and inspiring energy on the streets. There was a real market community attitude, a positive spirit and a local pride. It taught me a lot about how to live.
London’s like Shiva’s cosmic dance of destruction and creation
Since then, I’ve seen nearly three decades of cultural and migrant change in east London. London’s like Shiva’s cosmic dance of destruction and creation. It doesn’t show much mercy; things come and go quickly. But the city is a constant lifeblood. It’s ever-changing ethnically, culturally and politically. I could rant on about how I’ve seen London change. I miss Duke Baysee, the harmonica-playing conductor on the 38. I miss T*R*A*S*H. I miss lunchtime fags in backstreet Blackfriars churchyards.
I don’t know whether it’s just because I’m at that age now, but I do genuinely feel there is a wave of contemporaries who are currently
carving their space in London’s cultural history, and it’s intoxicating. I’m equally sure there’ll be another wave who’ll come right over them.
I’m currently the UK Creative Director at VICE. Prior to that I was the London Energy Marketing Manager for Nike and before that I was a Strategist at ad agency BBH (working on Levi’s and Burberry). I also co-run a creative collective called Real Gold. I’ve been lucky enough to have always worked for places I’ve been a fanboy of. Each job has been very different, but if there’s anything that they’ve shared in common it’s the ambition to curate and communicate something of some cultural value and interest.
It’s a hustle city. There is self-belief. But also self-effacement.
I’ve only ever lived and worked in London, so I have a clouded view. It’s a hustle city. There is self-belief. But also self-effacement. I do think it’s culturally richer than anywhere else in the world. But spread out across such a vast city, much of it is lost to people’s everyday and unwillingness to explore. You can find nearly anything you want in London and there are some real diamonds in the dirt.
There’s a tough-skinned, hard-headed work ethic in the capital. People work very hard. There is a determination and commitment. People I know are passionate about what they do, and they put their all in. There’s a graft ethic, a quiet ambition, and no real place for complacency or self-entitlement. You have to take your chances here. People will fuck you over. And a lot of people are only looking out for themselves.
I always worked in Soho until recently, which was great. Side streets, little boozers, and the remnants of the area’s outsider history. Like the market traders, the call girls, the record sellers, the actors and the junkies side by side on Berwick Street. You’re a stone’s throw and a blank-headed walk away from Mayfair’s regency, the bustle of Chinatown, old-world Piccadilly, Fitzrovia’s squares and Marylebone village.
The best parties are always ad hoc. People putting on nights because they’ve just found a new space, for an after-party, or just for the hell of it.
London at night… Well, there’s the drinking and there are the parties. Boozing is usually split between in town and out east. I’ve been stumbling in and out of Quo Vadis, Mark’s Bar, La Bodega Negra, ECC and Scotch recently for gimlets and espresso martinis. Back on eastern turf, it’s shots in London’s best late-night dive bar The Alibi (Real Gold’s Cheers) and sharp drinks downstairs at Ruby’s. And getting away from it all up at Frank’s a summertime bar atop Peckham multi-storey car-park as part of the Bold Tendencies sculpture project.
The best parties are always ad hoc. People putting on nights because they’ve just found a new space, for an after-party, or just for the hell of it. I’m playing tomorrow night at 20 Hoxton Square, for the closing down party of a gallery my friends are putting on. Six years ago friends put on one of the best parties I’ve ever been to before the gallery opened.
But you can still rely on a number of heavyweight promoters and labels to bring the wild noise, such as Young Turks fam, NTS, Black Atlantic, Lucky PDF, Durrr and Deviation. Acyde (The Shining) continues to play at and put on some of the top boy parties.
London’s food scene is hitting high right now, and just getting better.
London’s food scene is hitting high right now, and just getting better. Soho is smashing. Street food young caesars are upping their game. Good quality dining is being made mad easy. And people are experimenting. My favourite restaurant in London is hands down my boy Jackson Boxer’s Brunswick House Cafe, located in the old Lassco antiques yard in Vauxhall. There ain’t nothing like it. He is a total maverick with a fire in that belly.
Along with the brilliant Gabriel Pryce in the kitchen, and Missy Flynn, Phoebe Oliver and Real Gold, they’ve just opened Rita’s, east London’s most exciting independent eating spot, doing their take on diner classics. Ox heart tacos, beef patty melts and hibiscus margaritas just to start. I also like the Asakusa basement for sushi, you can’t fuck with Hawksmoor for prime cuts. Upstairs at the Wolseley and Cecconi’s for staying til closing. The “Dalston Lane Cafe”: for a champion breakfast. And my parents’ for Sunday night salmon curry, rice and dahl.
My favourite shops in London are more like curatorial platforms really. James Brown’s Hostem is a bold vision. It’s so fucking considered; there’s a care and pride that’s all about craftmanship in all its guises. That’s all reflected in the selection of brands such as Adam Kimmel, Alice Waese, O’Keefe and Santa Maria Novella. It’s a welcoming luxury that challenges the given status quo.
In a different way, I think LN-CC is upping the ante too. Gary Card’s industrial and organic modular conversion of an old underground boxing gym is a future tense step. The consideration given to product and layout, with bookshop, gallery and music space, soundsystem is ideal.
My favourite new label is father son design house Casely-Hayford.
My favourite new label is father son design house Casely-Hayford. The combination of sartorial specifics and anarchic inspiration makes for a heady, thoughtful and pragmatic combination that’s perfectly representative of a modern London. I’ve picked up something from each collection, including two suits. They’re about to start a made-to-measure service at Hostem, so I’ll be having to get a third.
Another brand I’m a big fan of is the t-shirt label British Remains, set up by the inimitable gentleman and fountain of knowledge Andrew Bunney. The designs are all inspired by British subcultures, yesteryear’s England and its marginalised. All done with a very pointed sense of humour, which is refreshing. And Shout outs to Daunt Books and Artwords still standing up tall and killing my Visa bill.
Where do I go when I want to leave London? I’m lucky that some of my best friends have parents with little country houses. So I go to Essex and visit little pubs or take a boat out to Mersea for fish’n’chips, or Suffolk in Christmas: walks, red wine and log fires. An escape from the UK is also a welcome one. I do like to turn off completely. Near Saint Emilion on the bank of the Dordogne by
Bordeaux, or by a lake in the Umbrian hills. I recently got back from Tel Aviv, which was great. It’s laid-back and by the sea in a Mediterranean way, but it’s such a young and open city, it’s very hedonistic and the food is a smart combination of European and Middle-Eastern. And I’d like to return to Rajasthan sometime, which was the greatest escape. It’s an adrenalin shot to the imagination, like one ancient acid trip.
Across the spectrum you’re seeing upstarts calling their own shots, taking their chance and making their mark.
How does London feel right now? Conflicting. The social climate feels under pressure, but people are putting up a fight. Nothing and nobody is safe, and that’s the best environment for the new. It’s a positive energy. Bring down the walls. Across the spectrum you’re seeing upstarts calling their own shots, taking their chance and making their mark. I get high on that.
The constant state of flux is what keeps me here. That and my family: we’re a really tight unit, especially with my nephew Roman now. That’s three generations living in the same area of London. Growing up I’d always wanted to escape London. But now I don’t know if that will ever happen until I’m an old man. I need the madness of this city to stay alive.