Monday, 24 March 2008

Keverything Begins with K

I thought I may as well try to do this chronologically, though I'm not sure how long I will be able to keep that up. But anyway - here goes.

My first memory of what has now become the site for London 2012 took place about ten years ago in 1998, just after I left school, moved back to London to go to art school and soon discovered the pounding underbelly of the capital: the squat party scene. Hackney Wick was once the centre of this grimy underground culture, with one of its warehouses being appropriated as a rave space almost every weekend, and a building on Waterden Road (now of course demolished) was one of the longer-standing venues. I (hazily) remember two parties there, among the more homely atmospheres, with little of the nagging threat that has become so common at the events, or perhaps I was just naive.

Finding the buildings has always been half the fun, and on this particular evening I remember pricking up my ears as we traipsed along the Eastway, keen to discern that tell-tale thudding that emanates from all parties, no matter what the DJ is playing. The area was deserted and having not ventured so far into London's industrial hinterlands before I was struck by the amount of sky, the openness of the space. A few minutes later we squeezed between the chained fence, handed over our £3 each and joined the thrall. At the end of the night I took as a memento a sticker from the door jam which read "Keverything begins with K", not a motto to live-by, but it did capture something of the zeitgeist.

I am not an expert on the law regarding squatter's rights, but I guess this was also the first time I had trespassed in London. The impact of this activity on my current practice of scaling the Olympic fence cannot really be overemphasised. From that evening onwards I became ever more convinced by these parties; not just as places to drink, dance and take drugs without the unwanted attention of bouncers and excessive door charges; but also in their transformative use of forgotten spaces as autonomous social hubs, often for a single night. Squat parties are not without their problems. I have also attended one rave, not far away, at which someone died of an overdose, and sadly muggings are not rare: this is the world we live in . But when the organisers succeed in keeping out the crack and the greedy, they are setting an example of anarchy that works, a self-regulating party where people can enjoy unlicensed entertainment. It tastes different.

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