Is Camden Still Cool?

Written by: Sophie Taylor

We tentatively stepped out of Camden Town Station with one question on our minds: is Camden still cool? Furthermore, can we ask the locals and business owners here without getting our sorry arses sent straight back on the Northern Line to whence we came? Well, it turns out that the good people of Camden are a chatty and welcoming bunch who don’t mind the likes of us thrusting annoying questions and cameras in their faces.

Big Ved took over his cousin’s business and has been running his ice cream van for the last four years in the same position on the bridge. He was the first person we spoke to on our mission to find out the truth about Camden’s relevance and it wasn’t exactly the most positive of responses. He’s tired of sheer number of people and the unfriendliness he’s greeted with constantly. A woman with her family promptly calls him over and asks for 99s all round; “£3 for an ice cream?” she shouts. “You’re joking aren’t you?” He gestures while she storms off, as if to prove his point. “Being such a huge tourist attraction, you don’t really get a sense of community here” he explains. 

Anthony ‘Tony’ James has been working in Camden Lock Market for over 20 years selling his choice of vinyl records. Again, Tony’s view of Camden isn’t as positive as it used to be. He pauses before answering, looking at us slowly. He takes a deep breath; “Look, if you’ve never been before then yes.” He’s noticed, through the sales made at his store, that it’s become more touristy – his clientele is no longer opting for the obscurities and niche titles, but instead buying up the more obvious records.

As the market is now owned by just one person it’s all about profit

“..there’s more money in the food industry, we’re seeing more bars and restaurants now” he explains. Tony believes the new Camden is Brick Lane, with those who used to frequent Camden now opting for East London instead. But change is inevitable he states, change is good. Who knows what the future holds for Camden.

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We interrupt a group of builders who are up for a chinwag but not so much a photo shoot. So while they all slope off back indoors, we wax lyrical with Gitmas, a builder from Lithuania, who lives in Brent Cross and has been working on pub and bar renovations in Camden over the last few years. He loves Camden and definitely thinks it’s still cool;

if you haven’t seen Camden you haven’t seen London

It’s refreshingly positive feedback and unexpected after our first few interactions. Next, we spoke to a yoga instructor and designer who’s lived in Camden for 25 years. Again, she states that Brick Lane is where the “cool has moved” explaining that “Camden has become too expensive and is catering to tourists instead”. She lost her design company to Chinese importers taking over years ago so is now teaching yoga and designing her own line of yoga clothes. But, she says, the Kuva Bar and Proud Camden are two venues that haven’t given in to gentrification and have “stayed open and stayed cool”.

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Spying two punks on the bridge (as you do) with an iconic sign asking for ‘money for clean socks’ we dash over for a chat. They first require £1 for photos before we begin and they go on to describe how punks get a lot of attention and the constant photographing gets tiring. “One guy was hiding behind a bin to take free photos today, while another ran away when we caught him in the eye. He ran away from us!” Both girls are from Denmark and had heard all the fuss about Camden so, knowing it’s punk history, it was their first port of call. Walking out of the tube station they were hit with how ‘uncool’ the place has now become. They exclaim;

The cool people can’t afford it

“…they’ve moved out.” Speaking to old punks they were told that sure, Camden is fine, but was better back in the day. One of the girls expresses her wish to have a time machine so she could experience the area 10 years ago. I feel old as she says it and think back to when I myself visited the area back then. I felt the same in 2006.

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Power Dressing duo, Steven and Chloe Power have just opened their vintage clothes shop in the Stables Market. They live and work in Camden and love it.

Of course, it’s still cool, but you just have to search a little harder to find it.

Chloe continues, “it’s about cultivating local interest and relations with the community, rather than the fly-by-night tourist custom.” Steven mentions the 28 million strong footfall of Camden but again puts emphasis on the locals which he believes “reflect the creative, diverse, unique, liberal and anarchic spirit of London.”

“It’s still here” Chloe says with such conviction I feel a bit goosebumpy. She’s right, of course. The old ideals and characters are still here, sitting alongside the new pop-up independent stalls and shops. Despite some lone fat cats buying up the markets and squeezing the place dry, the spirit of creativity and DIY culture is still surviving within the undercurrents of Camden. It’s found within in the locals, the punks and the stall owners who have remained resolutely in their corner of London, declaring that ‘change is inevitable’ and holding on to the area’s history. So let’s see what that spirit brings in the next phase of Camden. If the anarchic sentiments of what is arguably North London’s most culturally significant neighbourhood remain true, perhaps there’ll be an uprising among the local community to restore the area back to being a centre for culture, creativity and self-expression. 

Photos by Mike Barry

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