London is in the middle of a creative decline.
That’s the fear shared by mayor Sadiq Khan – who in April announced a new emergency fund aimed at protecting the capital’s culture during the coronavirus crisis – and Mellah, aka Liam Ramsden, a musician raised in Forest Hill, southeast London.
In his latest single Family Fun, Mellah presents a critique of what he terms London’s ‘generi-fication’ – “the smell of sanitisation screaming ‘follow your nose’” – wrapped up in a catchy, pop chorus and a tacky 90s-style television game show music video.
The single’s video – also directed by Mellah – pits the humble Smith family against the more affluent Banks, a parody of British game show Family Fortunes.
Contestants answer questions in an attempt to win an array of ominous ‘prizes’, including antidepressant gummies for kids and a family size tub of Botox.
The result? An introspective work of art which forces the listener to examine the state of London as well as their own personal raison d’être.
Mellah explained: “The kind of city London’s become, or seems to be going towards, in my opinion is pretty bland.
“Every high street becoming the same, all cheap spaces where creatives could inhabit being pushed out, venues closing down, the obsession with money.
“It started off being written about London and turned into more of a general ‘what are you living for?’”
The statistics support Mellah’s perception. London is becoming a less hospitable, more expensive place for artists.
Take south west London. The table below shows figures from the 2019 Mayor’s Housing Strategy on the area’s rents, house prices and earnings.
|South west London Borough||Average private rent 2018/19||Average house price (March 2019)||Median earnings 2019||Price to earnings ratio 2018|
|Hammersmith & Fulham||£1,690||£702,445||£39,372||19.4|
|Kensington & Chelsea||£2,427||£1,226,771||n/a||44.5|
|Kingston upon Thames||£1,300||£472,873||£38,009||16.1|
|Richmond upon Thames||£1,600||£654,404||£42,982||18.8|
Kingston upon Thames and Hounslow are on average the least expensive boroughs to rent in the area, while unsurprisingly Kensington & Chelsea is the costliest.
And house prices are on the rise too, with the average south west London home costing £597,177 in 2019 compared to £578,218 – a rise of 3.3%.
For Mellah, it is this sense of exclusion and injustice which motivates him to make music.
He said: “I’ve settled into the fact that I’m going to have to keep moving further and further out.
“Fifteen years ago I was in Dalston, then I had to leave and went to Peckham. Then Peckham started going the same way so I went to Deptford.
“It p*sses me off but I feel like a lot of the appeal of London – for people, business and commerce moving here – is its culture and cultural history.
“Except it’s not going to have any in ten years. No one’s here anymore. You can’t have culture without spaces to do it.”
While the total number of grassroots venues has marginally increased since 2016 (100 from 94), London has lost more than a third of its music spaces since 2007.
And these figures were before the onset of coronavirus forced venues across the capital to shut their doors – many of them, it is feared, for good.
Added to this are the rising prices of artists’ workspaces. According to a 2018 Artists Workspace study, in 2014 56% of creative sites charged an average of £11+ per square foot for rent. In 2017, that figure had risen to 79%.
But Family Fun isn’t just a criticism of the loss of London’s creative spaces; it shines a spotlight on the misplaced priorities of its inhabitants too – as Mellah explained in his thinking behind the single’s music video.
He said: “The idea mainly was to make a very sickly sweet, happy, fun idiot game show where the subject matter is serious.
“Although they’re not so important now, I think game shows are a good reflection of our society – ‘here, you can win a load of money’.
“I wanted to make it kind of an old, 90s sort of feel – mainly because that’s the heyday of game shows but also all the prizes are really sh*t!
“That’s how I see a lot of consumerism – you’re just collecting tat.”
Mellah’s latest single Family Fun is available now.