Photo credit: vintagedept Flickr
All hail the hipster. The much-maligned modern zeitgeist long ago annexed east London in a flurry of media start-ups and upcycled furniture. Think John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids, but with more ethically-sourced wheatgrass.
These days, it’s hard to pick your way down Kingsland High Street without tripping over the spokes of a discarded fixie-bike. Why didn’t we see this coming? Can anything be done to stem the rising tide of beards?
Alex Proud, owner of Camden’s Proud nightclub, recently decried the ‘Shoreditchification’ of London in his Telegraph column, cursing the inexorable spread of the hipster “formula” towards Peckham, Crystal Palace and Streatham. Shoreditch, he says, has become a “roiling, boiling mass of fight-ready designer-labelled out-of-towners smashed on sugary cocktails and bad cocaine”. Your neighbourhood is next, the Gucci-clad prophet warns. Lock up your daughters. Shave your sons.
Proud is hardly alone in reviling the new collar-button class: Being a Dickhead’s Cool, a 2010 video parody of ‘nu-eastend’ life, racked up over 10 million views on YouTube, whilst Charlie Brooker’s TV series Nathan Barley parodied the subculture in the mid-noughties. Hipster hatred, ironically, has become au fait in its own right.
But are we being hard on the hipster? East London’s creative industries are now worth an estimated £34 billion to the UK economy per annum, and the sector is growing at twice the rate of financial service hubs in the Square Mile and Docklands. Flannel trousers and oversized headphones are just the uniform for this 21st century workforce – dubbed the “flat white economy” after the coffee shops favoured by the Old Street crowds – a footloose industry of digital entrepreneurs and independent TV productions companies driving social change in London.
With Britain finally emerging from the recession, it’s the hip who have bounced us out of the double dip. Digital giants Microsoft, Cisco, and Google have all set up innovative campus-like centres near Silicon Roundabout, offering lectures and other free events to drag the area out of the digital doldrums. Bar Segal, founder of Shoreditch start-up eatro.com, says businesses like his have thrived on the back of like-minded folks moving to the area. “The people came, and then the businesses started”, he said, “It’s become a progressive environment, a place where people want to start, try and do something new.”
The ‘people’ have thrived post-recession. According to Google Trends, the word ‘hipster’ had dropped out of circulation pre-2008, but has soared back into popular vernacular since. They’re the talk of the town. The re-opening of the East London line in 2010 has provided an artery for tech city’s young blood, pumping trendy techies through Hoxton, Dalston and Shoreditch. Toes, inevitably, have been trodden on. Who wouldn’t find twirling to electro-swing and chap-hop a little trying? (Michael Gove, sit down at the back.)
But why bite the hand that feeds you? Hipster culture may pain Proud, but its smart-casual dress code belies a work ethic that has put London back on the financial map. And that, undeniably, is good for everyone. Mo’ money, mo’ jobs, and fewer problems. So take a deep breath, and leave the beardie-prejudice at the front door, because the retro-beatniks are saving the day. Three cheers for the hipster. Hip, hip…