Reforging the Foundry (The Hipster Comes Home)

This post was written by Richard on June 14, 2010
Posted Under: East London

The first time I went to the Foundry was for a New Year’s Eve party 4 or 5 years ago. It had all sorts of Hackney usuals: artsy films in the background, hipsters lounging on the ends of their cigarettes, coke snorting in the basement and an oozing ambience of cool. As I got to know the trendy spots of Shoreditch over the next couple of years (not too well, I’m glad to say), I found out that the Foundry was, however, slightly different from the usual hipster haunt: the people were actually a fair bit more interesting, the art was provocative albeit pretentious, and the stunning range of graffiti in the basement toilets contained stickers for political meetings and Indymedia collectives.

Early last year, I got to know the place far better as the focal point of activity in preparation for the G20 mobilisations. Chris Knight, the mad professor, the full range of anarchists, hippies, socialists and clowns met in the strange revolving-floor basement room to talk tactics and plot the latest installment in the traveling anarchist circus. It was there that the Bank of England was decided on as political site for those demos on April 1st 2009; it was there that the giant ‘four horses of the apocalypse’ puppets were conceived. It was there that we put on the fastest summit mobilisation anyone present had experienced. Those things usually take a year; we did it in a couple of months. There were other places we organised in as well of course. The squatted Library House in Peckham; a NGO office in Hackney. But the Foundry had an edge to it. The people who ran the bar were friendly and accommodating, always happy to give us the rooms downstairs, unmoved by the police van hanging outside the door.

Just over a year later, and the Foundry’s gone. The bicycle couriers, draped in Anarchist black and an array of European accents, still gather on the pavement outside, as they have done for years, to kick back and drink to the fact that they didn’t get run over that day. But the bar is shut, the neon sign has been taken down.

The owners of the building (not the same as the bar/ gallery people) have decided that it’s time to be gone with this progressive nonsense and build a big massive shiny cylindrical hotel. (Hilariously, a self-professed ‘art hotel’). Triumph to the phallus once again. The place has been cleared, semi-gutted, a giant iPad poster draped over the offices above the bar, so that the glory of Guardian-reading relaxation is beamed right down from the Foundry to Old Street station, lauding the image of Apple Corp over the kebab shops, dirty streets and migrant cyclists below.

The owners were evicted on Friday last week. On the Monday, the squatters moved in. Groups of people from different squats around London realised that this wasn’t meant to be: the Foundry’s time has not come. This weekend, there was a free, open cafe, called the ‘Crusty Spoon’. With England flags draped round passers by and popping out of sleek cars driving by, we sat out on the street by the building, sharing, eating, drinking, talking. Resisting. It’s still our space – and I sincerely hope that it stays that way.

In his definitive article on hipsters, Douglas Haddow claimed that:

“An amalgamation of its own history, the youth of the West are left with consuming cool rather that creating it.”

As much as the ‘creative imagination’ can be mocked for being as ideologically trapped as any other, there is perhaps some inspiration to be taken from the birth of a Hipster politik. In the face of the in-your-face gentrification of the Foundry from hippie to yuppie, there may not be a wave of resistance, but perhaps there is enough for the unambiguous cool of the hipsters to be transformed from consumption to creativity.

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