London. A sprawling, confusing mess that’s home to every flavour of humanity. Yet while Samuel Johnson may have famously opined that “there is in London all that life can afford”, many Londoners are increasingly finding their lives less than affordable. As luxury developments and unfettered gentrification start to sweep across the capital, the city feels like it’s approaching a significant tipping point.
Which seems like the perfect time for a new feature focusing on The Smoke. For while London has always had its problems, there’s also plenty about it that’s still worth celebrating, not least its deserved reputation for being a hotbed of creativity – especially when it comes to music. From Bowie to Burial, Winehouse to Wiley, it’s provided an almost incomparably fertile environment for musicians of every stripe.
We thought we’d ask some of the latest artists in that lineage for an insight into their relationship with London. This time around it’s Squareglass artist Guy Baron, whose slinky productions as Semi Precious wormed their way into our hearts thanks to two excellent EP releases over the last two years. Now he’s back with the debut Semi Precious LP, Ultimate Lounge, the title of which, and smooth sounds within, belie a record that challenges “the illusive veneer of things we call ‘precious’: capitalism, society, or even music itself”.
It’s an album that both reflects and interrogates the surroundings that spawned it, so we thought we’d ask the Goldsmiths graduate more about his experience in the city. Take a look at the video for ‘Purple Room’ (directed and edited by frvshndg with Semi Precious and additional footage by Paolo di Giacombo) below, then scroll down for the full interview…
Where you were born (or if you weren’t born in London, where in the city did you first live?): I’ve lived in different parts of Lewisham Borough since I moved to London (Brockley, New Cross and currently Deptford).
What was it like back then: It was already quite student-y when I moved, but it wasn’t as buzzing as it is today. Some of the areas I lived in were quite residential/suburban though.
What is it like now: Many new coffee places/bars/restaurants have opened here in the last couple of years, and quite a lot of new developments have been built. But it’s still quite authentic in a way and some areas are still somewhat rough.
Best thing about where you live: It’s quite lively and vibrant and it’s not-too-big so it still feels quite communal. Deptford market is great and I also like the fact that it’s quite nearby the river.
Worst thing about where you live: The plethora of betting shops.
Do you think the city has influenced your music: For sure. I fall in love with places quite easily, and become quite emotionally attached to cities I live in. Living in a huge metropolitan like London can make you feel quite small and alienated (especially if you’re not a native Londoner), but I actually find this sense of alienation quite inspiring and creatively stimulating. My upcoming debut album [Ultimate Lounge] is very much inspired by this aspect of living in a place like London. I like going for aimless walks, especially around Canary Wharf and Dockland area, which is a walking distance from where I live. From whatever reason I find myself drawn to such places that are somewhat dystopian and sterile and I think that this is something that’s very much reflected in my new material.
What is the biggest problem facing London: It’s quite apparent that the city is moving in a certain direction in terms of gentrification and foreign investments coming in and I think that this is something that needs to be monitored and balanced. However, I also think that this is something that has been happening in many big cities for quite some time, and I don’t necessarily think it’s altogether bad. As I’ve already mentioned some of the tracks on my upcoming album engage with these issues, but I try to steer away from preaching and making big statements. I think that the reality holds more complexities and is more ambivalent and I’m trying to reflect that through what I do.
Do you see yourself living in London in ten years time: I hope so, but it’s difficult for me to answer this question at this stage.
If you couldn’t live in London any more, where would you go: I’d love to live in a slightly sunnier place for a while. Maybe Spain.
Favourite venue in London: I’ve had quite a few shows at Birthdays in Dalston over the last year or so, so it feels very homey and I also really enjoy seeing other people perform there. It’s quite intimate, so in a way it enables a very direct and precise performance experience.
Favourite rehearsal studio in London: I quite like Deptford Music Complex, which is a great little rehearsal space really nearby my place.
Favourite record shop in London: I rarely ever buy physical records so I’m probably not the right person to ask. I quite like Hackney Record Fair though, where you can find a lot of older and rare stuff that’s not online anymore.
Favourite building in London: There’s a really interesting building called The Ismaili Centre next to South Kensington station. It looks like a weird hybrid of retro-futuristic and Islamic architecture with a touch of Art Deco, and it’s delightfully detached from all the overly-ornamented buildings in its surroundings. I’m also a big fan of all things Brutalist, and really intrigued by the conceptions that inspired London’s social housing architecture.
Least favourite building in London: I’d say that Strata Tower in Elephant and Castle is quite graceless.
Favourite place to eat: Nouvelle Spice in New Cross.
Favourite place for a pint: Job Centre in Deptford.
Londoner you respect most, dead or alive: I really respect Burial.
If you were mayor for a day, what one change you would implement: As hippie as it may sound, I’d actually love to see more trees being planted, particularly in the less wealthy parts of the city. Trees balance out the grimness.
Ultimate Lounge by Semi Precious is released on July 22nd, and can be pre-ordered from the Squareglass site here. You can also catch Semi Precious on the following dates:
June 3rd – Stroud/Good Shed, London
June 4th – Take 5, Bristol
June 8th – The Green Door Store, Brighton
Photo: Barbora Mrazkova