I lived in Hackney before it was cool.
I know that's the most obnoxious sentence ever, but it's true. I grew up there and lived there for 25 years, so when I say "before it was cool", I mean, "when it was shit."
Last month, rumours of an East London hipster-based The Only Way is Essex-alike started doing the rounds on the internet. The ever-sharp Vice took up that challenge with the spoof mini-series Dalston Superstars. However it's likely that the original rumoured plans (supposedly MTV's doing) are still in the works.
It's been strange watching Hackney's ascent. When I was growing up it was always home to champagne socialists and middle-aged hippies, but its more recent gentrification has been far more noticeable.
Yuppy couples usually found in the leafier parts of Islington started to move in, huge buggies hogged pavements, and a Whole Foods opened. Then, about five years ago, there was an increase in asymmetrical haircuts and skinny jeans. The young, exciting creative people who'd helped make Shoreditch so cool were driven out by rising rents, down Kingsland Road and into Dalston.
I'm so familiar with that area prior to the hipster exodus that to me, the Efes Snooker Hall becoming a super cool venue is hugely amusing, and the old wholesale shops Dream Bags and Jaguar Shoes getting amalgamated and turned into a bar run by an artistic collective is positively mind-bending.
Unfortunately a lot of this is wallpaper over the cracks. During the London riots this August, it became impossible to ignore the fundamental factors from which Hackney's bad reputation stemmed. The privation, violence, social frustration and crime were still there, at its core, and no amount of organic cafes, PR firms' offices or pop-up shops could change that.
Hackney's bad reputation has been translated into "edgy" and then mangled into "trendy," and in this game of Chinese whispers, genuine social problems become novelties, as much a feature of your new home as the original Edwardian fireplace. It's easy to sneer at hipsters as tedious and pretentious, but their influx has meant that areas of Hackney previously written off as shit holes are now famous for being energetic and creative. East London has the Olympics next year, and Hackney can show the whole god-damn world how far it's come.
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