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Spoken word, hip hop and contemporary dance artist Kojey Radical discusses gentrification in East London and the humbling nature of the UK and Ireland.
“I can’t deny it’s a much safer place to live, but there are obviously some ghosts still walking the streets.”
I was reading a piece recently detailing ‘The Hoxton Story‘. It was a “walkabout performance” by The Red Room theatre group in 2005.
It tells the story of the artists and creators that poured into East London in the 1980s and how they affected areas like Hoxton Square; it’s an interesting insight into gentrification throughout the decades.
When I saw Kojey Radical was coming back to Dublin recently, I immediately wanted to talk to him about it. Kojey is a testament to the “born-and-bred” creativity coming out of East London. He’s somebody who saw the creative population increase around him, and while resenting the negative elements of gentrification, embraced parts that accelerated the art community.
Hoxton was one of the first places to see gentrification as we know it today. What was it like growing up there?
It was different. Hoxton wasn’t the best area to grow up in back in the day. I think it was probably one of the first areas to see the positives and the negatives of gentrification… I can’t deny it’s a much safer place to live, but there are obviously some ghosts still walking the streets. I miss it sometimes, you know what I mean? But the thing about Hoxton is it’s the people that make it great.
No matter who lives in Hoxton, there’s always a sense of community which is important.
You mention the positives and negatives of gentrification, but is the influx of artists ultimately positive?
Creation is necessary for any country, any city, any district. To have artists and makers means that you can thrive and move forward. Growth is necessary. It’s weird, because any area that has an influx of artists are usually the areas that are worth twice and three times as much a decade later, due to the influence the artists had. I think we underestimate the ability we have to impact and make change.
When did you start noticing external creative forces in your area?
Creativity has always been in Hoxton. If you have nothing, you make something. If you have an area that’s deprived in some sense, you’re always going to have someone that stands up and creates.
I don’t think Hoxton, or East London in general has ever been without artists in my opinion.
That’s interesting, because I wanted to ask you, when you studied dance did you have to leave Hoxton to find somewhere to study?
No not at all. I studied dance two minutes from my house. I used to work and teach in Victoria Theatre across the road from my house.
All of these little things is what I was talking about, that make Hoxton what it is. It wasn’t that hard to find opportunities in Hoxton because there were makers here. Someone doesn’t sprinkle the fairy dust and it lands on your lap, you have to get up and create. And if there is an influx of kids that need something to do and direction, someone is going to step up and do that.
It’s interesting from an outside perspective, looking at London from Dublin, or wherever, you’re looking at the city thinking it’s all of these external forces that make the city great, but it’s interesting that you say it’s the people who were there all along that make it…
For sure man, the United Kingdom and even Ireland are floating in the middle of nothing and have such a huge impact on the world stage.
Those streets we think are irrelevant, those venues we think are irrelevant, they still matter on the world stage.
"Someone doesn’t sprinkle the fairy dust and it lands on your lap, you have to get up and create. And if there is an influx of kids that need something to do and direction, someone is going to step up and do that."
Obviously with the problems with venues, in London in particular but Dublin too with the imminent closure of some big cultural spaces, will that breed DIY culture? Or has it already?
It’s a bit of both. At the end of the day a club is just a dark room that sells alcohol and plays music. It’s the people in there that make it a scene, make it interesting and worthwhile.
The cultures are DIY. Naturally subcultures emerge and they have to find things to entertain themselves and venues become the hub.
I read in an interview that you did that you said people are always going to want guestlist for their friends’ shows, but if Bryson Tiller comes to town he’ll sell out. Is that something you experiences first hand?
Yeah for sure, even up until now. Again, it’s a very small place and in the process of you coming up you meet a lot of people and they all feel a part of your growth. And because of that they have a sense of entitlement, like they’re just meant to be there during those moments. They feel like they were meant to be there jumping up and down on the stage as if they were in the studio with you working on the lyrics…
I think though for the most part, none of us really believed this would happen, that we could be artists that are revered and cared for. I think it’s just as shocking to the people who support us as it is for the artist.
Stormzy always comments on how he saw Krept & Konan walking through the ends, and that’s real.
That’s a testament to the artists you surround yourself with, that that sense of normality never leaves.
I think that’s the culture England raises. You’re always going to get your divas here and there, but it’s a very humbling place to come from. Ireland too. Even if you’re a superstar, you still go to the pub and have a pint. It’s almost like that’s your god-given right. The UK and Ireland are like that. We’ll humble you as much as we’ll celebrate you.
Speaking of Ireland, I think it’s a testament to yourself that you were booked here so soon into your career. It usually takes a while before artists like yourself play here. You performed here last year, now you’re playing at the Young Blood event for the St Patrick’s Festival…
I like Ireland, the only thing is I have to go to the post office and change my money… But other than that it reminds me of home. You guys talk the same shit.
Performing in Ireland was for me one of the biggest things I’ve done. It’s like you want to be able to conquer the places close to you. Go to these places that at one time looked mystical and magical and be greeted with hellos and warm smiles.
And when I was there I ran into Rejjie Snow. So to meet a guy like that who has come out of Ireland and managed to do things all over the world… So of course I want to come there and sell out shows.
The St. Patrick’s Festival has commissioned Stephen James Smith to write a new poem, entitled ‘My Ireland’ in response to the theme. The video which was released last week has had 232,000 views on Facebook. His interpretation of the theme was the inspiration behind Young Blood: The Beats & Voices of Our Generation in the National Concert Hall on March 18. It’s a celebration of young, hip-hop and spoken word artists as they dissect and celebrate Ireland today. Curated by music producer Aoife Woodlock, the line up includes Rusangano Family, Hare Squead, Kojey Radical and spoken word from Irish artists Emmet Kirwan, John Cummins and Natalya O’Flaherty.