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#196 Camden Underworld

March 3, 2011

Camden. So I bet you’re wondering what’s been happening in Camden these last few years, right?

The World's End, looking rather dignified and Queen Vic-ish. It's not, of course. It's the same a cheerful, scruffy meeting-place it's always been.

Don’t worry! Everyone is the same. I don’t mean the crowd looks the same, or has the same style. I mean these are the same people, only older. Some  of the tourists are different people, but that’s okay, because they dress the same now as the Camden kids did back in the 90s.

This didn’t stop us trekking back to the good old World’s End outside Camden Town tube station, to see our friend’s band Order 66, the Star Wars punk band, who are barnstorming, nerf-herding, awesome Rebel scum. They played in the Underworld, the World’s End’s below-stairs club and venue. I like Underworld, because a) it’s never pretended to be anything it isn’t, and b) hasn’t succumbed to the cartoon version of counterculture the rest of Camden seems to wallow in sometimes.

“There’s one whole wall of the dressing room covered in drawings of cocks,” our friend confided to us. “It’s like the end credits of Superbad in there.”


I sent him to get pics, obviously. He returned with the one you see below. Yes, your eyes haven’t fallen out and been replaced with balls of dung – it really is a tenderly-sketched portrait of a wolf puking and ejaculating at the same time.


My friend shook his head, looking sheepish. “There are people in there,” he said. “They think I’m a pervert now.”

I’m glad there are still bits of Camden that don’t give a fuck. Camden has always been, in my lifetime, a theme park – but now it has something of the sadness of an out-of-season seaside resort too. Quite an impressive achievement for an inner-London borough that’s as tourist-packed as it’s ever been, and still commands sky-high property prices too.


I always thought that Hoxton had overtaken Camden in terms of trendiness over the last ten years, but seeing the crowds in Camden, I realised this isn’t quite right. The two places have quite different tribes – while Camden was never particularly arty, it’s now lost almost all pretence of cutting-edge culture. The difference is that while Hoxton and its surrounding areas are still spiky, elitist and precious (in either sense, depending on how you feel about it), Camden has mellowed. It’s got into its role as countercultural ambassador to the world’s backpackers, and is still making a pretty penny from it. It wears its cheap day-glo heart on the outside, and anyone can join in if they’ve got the cash for an ironic A-Team t-shirt, a non-ironic Che Guavara t-shirt, or a we’re-not-really-sure Lady Gaga one.

Damon Albarn’s long gone; Jarvis Cocker has left the building. As for Camden’s people – the genuine crusties, the toking, dreadlocked, cargo-pant-wearing teens of yesteryear – they’re still there, like I said, just older. Do they care that the world has moved on, that they’re no longer in the spotlight? Course not. The real hardcore never cared about Cool Britannia in the first place. So maybe it’s right that they have their very own old folk’s home, a playground where baggy never gave way to tight, where weed is still for sale on Camden Lock, and there is still organic home-style pumpkin and coriander soup in styrofoam cups for tea.

The hats, however, are still able to give Hoxton a run for its money. And that’s the main thing.

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