Psychogeographic Slow Boat to the Camberwell Riviera

Culture, like acid, comes in waves. Cosmic Bob in his excellent “A Very Special Date” chat with Ibizan Harry talks about how you sometimes find yourselves being carried along in certain orientations by your peers. For me the current hasn’t been particularly strong, but I have definitely found myself drifting south, lower, slower as the years pass, very little techno. But over the past year the current picked up and I accelerated – or more accuately decelerated – to a deeper place where I’m not sure I can surface from. Early in the lockdown I heard one of the K+E bedroom sessions, and I was perplexed. How exactly were they managing to pitch the beats down to that pace without the vocals sounding like a DJ Screw record? Are they really using the slider to drop it by 50% or more?

As it turns out they were playing music from their own favourite niche genres, Schneckno and Ketapop. In the past when confronted with a nascent subgenre, I might have bluffed my way through my ignorance and hazarded a guess at some artist names, but this was beyond the pale and I was stumped. Ely mentioned something during one of their early shows about a track from Argentina or Brazil, so for a few months I had it in my head that there was this underground music scene down there which had completely passed me by, playing this sort of pulsing, sub-100, psychedelic, balearic-ish techno.

Looking back over the past year, there were Bermondsey Lido radio shows which grew out of me attempting to sort my record collection during the lockdown, into some sort of coherent order for later retrieval. It all crumbled to shit within a month or two of course, like many other aspirational lockdown projects, and I gave up about 25% of the way in. However I did manage to cluster several labels’ releases together neatly, which formed the Shall Not Fade & Force Tracks showcases. Both of which bumped along mostly around 125, maybe even touching or exceeding the dizzying heights of 130 towards the finale, as things got hot and heavy with my attempts to emulate the experience of a club, in the absence of it.

But then with the 48 hour marathon in October, and my timeslot, I had to shift. Starting off low at 10pm and working your way up through the gears might work for the regular American listeners on a five or six hour delay, but most people would be winding down at that time. During the marathon I was assigned a 6am to 8am redeye, and wanted to capture that sense of coming out of an all nighter, still buzzing at the start of the long walk home, but then dialling down as the streetlights turned off and the grey dawn reality started to kick in. For that show I started higher and dropped down to low and slow over the course of the two hours… and from that point on, for the most part, that’s been the direction of travel. Sure, some shows like the ones around Christmas have been bouncier, but overall I’m feeling more intensely drawn to the grooves of stablemates like K+E and Ian Vale. Likely it had been coming anyway. As I get older the sharp edged desire for harder, faster, louder has been rounded off and smoothed over. I find it almost impossible to listen to any of my old techno records now.

It’s also been nice to find some kinship in the world of imaginary psychogeographical drifters and loafers’ hangouts. One outdoor autumn Tier 2 night in the Yard, Cristina Carrasco asked me where exactly the Bermondsey Lido was. I started to explain but another of the party cut me off, wanting to preserve the mystique. But now I’ll let you know – despite the historical references, and the general (factual!) theme of the Spa Baths and Neckinger river shaping the neighbourhood over many years, the Lido hasn’t ever existed. You could consider it as an artefact in the same hazy un/sub/deconscious sphere as “out in Peckham”, “gone to Croatan”, or a slightly less family-friendly version of “dancing at Xanadu”, in that it’s a space where only the music and the euphoric or transcendent moment matters, and you can swim in the Lido’s waters for as long or as short as you want that moment to be extended. It’s not necessarily to do with drugs – it could just be some moment where everything felt OK and you didn’t care about the usual grind of work/money/bills, and for me many of those moments in my life tend to be associated with water or swimming, whether that’s feeling a slow and total sense of tranquility when being the only person on Goode Beach and swimming in the sparkling sunshine, or being unable to translate a sensory experience into words at Wet Sounds, or feeling the Atlantic spray on a cold spring morning in San Sebastian and the stresses about being on my own evaporating.

It’s reassuring that there are others out there in this hallucinatory, map-not-territory reality. Part of me decries its increasing colonisation by clubs (Brixton Beach, Costa Del Tottenham) but I suppose they need to eat too and not everything can be the sole preserve of flaneur blog writers and artists. I picture K+E’s Camberwell Riviera as a less-shit, artistic (with participation from all) reinterpretation of a Mediterranean or Latin American coastline, with rickety pallet boats instead of yachts; beer instead of champagne; bicycles instead of flashy cars and motorbikes; multiple sound systems with infinite power supplies and stuck in localised time/space loops – so you can go in and stay as long as you want, without it impacting on life outside; naked painting sessions in the sunshine; collaborative street murals; just a general sense of directionless, spontaneous play and interactions. A “Beach Bolo” (cf. Hans Widmer) of sorts, but not with the usual sun oil posturing and body-perfect capitalist demands.

In terms of music and the downward journey, I’ve somehow come around to the idea in my head of taking a slow, chugging boat, possibly steam or human powered, leaving the moorings adjacent to the Bermondsey Lido, and travelling along the Underground River of Regrets (Neckinger), warily traversing the waters in Apocalyse Now fashion through the Pirates Forest, wherever that may be (it featured on one of their maps), then putting on some victorian Tweed Run clobber for the journey down the old Surrey Canal Path, currently paved over, then steering clear of the increasing chaos and commercialisation of Peckham Beach, while finally slowing down even further and dragging the anchor as we arrive at the Camberwell Riviera, greeted by smiles and throbbing psychedelic emissions from an enormous sound system.

I’m always a fan of translating daydreams and artistic notions into reality, even if the results aren’t quite what you desired. To this end, the next show (Sunday May 9th at 10pm) is going to be my attempt at dropping my usual pace so it’s approaching their level (if not quite making it), as the boat makes the journey from the Lido to the Riviera. It might be a one-off special as I don’t think I have enough records (yet) to put together a second show with the same tempo. I might trade in the decks for a newer model that has a +/-16 pitch on it rather than the usual 8. I’ve also spent all my lockdown savings on a used Bullitt to mount the sound system on, so I’m looking forward to broadcasting their sounds to others. And finally I’ve done a gang initiation ritual on myself and we’re going to do a Deceleration night at the Arch in the autumn, with K+E, Ian, and Inca Jones, where the music gets progressively slower over the course of the evening, to the point at the end where you are melting in sticky, gooey, dubby electronics. It’s not quite the Lido or the Riviera made real, but little moments like these are tiny reminders that you can still find joy and transcendent moments on the streets of south east London.

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