Saturday 30th of October – it was a surprisingly sunny day despite us being in the thick of Winter. There was an excitable buzz around Croydon – it’s an area on the rise. With London Mayor Sadiq Khan labelling the borough as one of the fastest growing economies in London, the days of negative stereotypes about gang culture and violence from the 2011 riots were certainly stored in the distant past for this special event. Mislabelled by mainstream media and ostracised by the closure of cultural spaces such as Fabric Nightclub, the urban underworld has had a difficult 2016. However, on this day, music took centre stage.
A hub of culture for so long in the hipster kingdom of Shoreditch, East London, Boxpark provides everything any young person could want. From a global selection of food restaurants, to vintage clothes and great music the opening of the new Boxpark in Croydon can only signal positive things for the borough. It was only right that Boxpark teamed up with Eskimo Dance for a high energy opening weekend music festival showcasing some of the capital’s best Grime acts.
After passing through what was very tight, airport style security, the fun began. Hidden behind East Croydon station, the venue was deceptively big and full of excited people. From teenage groups, young couples to millennial music lovers it was great to see all of the people of the borough and beyond represented at this event. The centre stage appeared relatively small compared to the speakers either side which were the size of planets; however, the stage size was not a problem, in fact it only served to enhance the atmosphere as each act felt a lot closer to the crowd than in other venues and the acts generally did a very good job in animating the crowd. It did not take very long for mosh pits to form once the music started. Notably, the friendly atmosphere was emphasised with people helping each other up after each mosh pit ended – this was the epitome of the feel good vibe on the day. Of course, music was not the only thing on the menu at Boxpark, there was also a wide selection of delicious food, from the exquisite tastes of MeatLiquor to the dessert treats of ChillBox. There was also the iconic BoxBar at the back of the venue which many people retreated to when things got more heated towards the end of the night. The sleek and iconic all black branding of Boxpark certainly seems like the right fit for an already more modern looking Croydon.
Lined up there were some real heavyweights of Grime stars. Opening the show Old School Grime DJ MistaJam exploded on stage with a selection of classics. Consistently shouting out all of his ‘Grime Soldiers’ in the crowd he had come to entertain as well as educate. Reminding the older members of the crowd of the time when Grime was banned from UK clubs back in 2004, he also celebrated the rise of new school Grime acts as well as the older ones during his set. It is amazing to observe the rise of Grime over the past decade. From not even being considered as a music genre by mainstream radio stations to its acceptance, endorsement and in some cases appropriation nowadays, Grime music has certainly endured an ardent struggle for acceptance yet it has still managed to stay true to its roots. Coming from someone who lived through this journey, MistaJam’s passion was authentic and was duly lapped up by the crowd. A memorable moment came when he sent the crowd into euphoria by playing Lethal Bizzle’s ‘Pow’ – a UK Grime classic. I had to take a moment to take it all in following the crowd’s exhilaration.
Following MistaJam, there were a selection of talented up and coming acts such as the likes of Blakie and Elf Kid. It was great to see these young artists being given such a big platform to perform and they certainly took this opportunity. Showing no nerves, they interacted with the crowd and performed like seasoned veterans of the game causing the crowd to become extremely animated as they fed off their onstage energy. Other standout acts included the likes of Sian Anderson, one of the London’s most talented DJ’s who’s gained attention this year for her show on BBC Radio One Xtra. As it got darker, anticipation built for the bigger name acts such as Ghetts, Preditah, Jammer and a surpise performance from secret special guest JME. As more people filled the venue, some of which treated the occasion as a pre – Halloween celebration and were dressed in some very interesting attire, further excitement filled the air at the announcement of the surprise guest act of ‘Section Boyz’ was made. A night of music, excitement and high energy, Eskimo Dance’s opening event at Boxpark Croydon was a memorable occasion for the borough.
What does this mean for London Youth Culture?
Following the closure of Fabric Nightclub, the opening of another cultural hub in the Capital can only be a good thing. Another place for young people to connect with each other and do something productive should keep many youths out of trouble and improve the area. Located conveniently behind East Croydon Station, the opening of a new Boxpark is sure to bring more visitors to the area from different parts of the Capital as well as from surrounding areas in Surrey and beyond. The move is part of the wider regeneration programme which will see a new Westfield’s Shopping Centre open soon, all of which locals hope will create more jobs. On the opening of Boxpark Croydon, creator and CEO Roger Wade said: "I’m delighted to announce the opening of Boxpark Croydon, our first food and drink only retail development. I would like to personally thank Croydon Council, Schroders, GLA and most importantly the local Croydon community for their support. I was born and bred in South London, and it's great to build a world-class development in my local area. We are not building this IN Croydon, we are building FOR Croydon!’