BY JAMES TWOMEY
Something is going on in South London.
In the last three years there have been an undeniable scene of high quality jazz, afrobeat and funk musicians coming out of the area.
But it is not a new phenomenon for the area to produce talented musical acts.
Brixton had Bowie, Battersea hosted Led Zeppelin’s first gig and, much more recently, Croydon has proudly produced grime sensation Stormzy.
But the newest scene has a different feel to it – it is jazz-based with experimental and modern twists, and it is now getting national recognition.
Artists such as Moses Boyd, Sons of Kemet, Kokoroko and Nubya Garcia have been leading the charge in South London, and this summer they will get the opportunity to come together at the We Out Here festival, created by DJ veteran and record label owner, Gilles Peterson.
The We Out Here festival, set to take place between August 15 and 19 in Cambridgeshire, boasts a mouth-watering line-up of contemporary jazz, afrobeat and world music bands, as well as club DJs in recognition of this growing new scene.
Gilles Peterson – another Croydon native – is currently best known for his BBC Radio 6 slots where he curates an impressively wide range of genres and styles, but he has been playing records in one way or another for the past 40 years.
Gilles spent most of his youth across South London, growing up in Cheam and Sutton, but cutting his teeth in the DJ scene in Croydon, Streatham and Brixton.
“My first gig was a gay disco in Croydon when I was 15, I had snuck out, my mum had no idea where I was.
“Since then I’ve probably played every wine bar from Kingston to Bromley, playing funk and jazz records,” said Gilles. “I remember going places in South London like Brixton, DJing, which would be a trek on a Friday going to new venues with decent jazz.
“I used to have residency at the Fridge in Brixton, which was a hub for artists like Jamiroquai and The Brand New Heavies.
“Lots of those places have closed down now, but some of your older readers might remember The Cats Whiskers in Sutton, Scants, Bogarts or Beanos in Croydon.
“There was also Horizon in Crystal Palace. Great venues all over South London.
“I used to get loads of music from the Sutton Market. They had some really good finds there – they even used to get the Japanese imports.
“One thing I would say that doesn’t really happen anymore is the music I would get from libraries. You could borrow some amazing records from the libraries like I did at Sutton library and get some proper jazz, different to what I was picking up and I am very grateful for that.”
Gilles attributes South London’s newest found success to the artists’ ‘do it yourself’ attitude, saying they have created the scene for themselves.
Gilles said: “People are putting on the events themselves. Creating the space for themselves to be heard.
“Big up to people like Steamdown and Tomorrow’s Warriors who are putting on nights giving these artists a platform.
“I think the colleges and Goldsmiths are contributing to this scene, there’s a great activity going on from them which has led to a scene. Artists like King Krule and Oscar Jerome have come from there.
“Most importantly, it’s a space created for them, and a DIY thing as well, it’s also a bit of a reaction to overpricing and the generation above. A scene like this happens every few years, but rarely are they so organic as this.
“With nights like Tomorrow’s Warriors especially there’s a punky attitude to it.
“They’re really high quality musicians and they’re fusing this quality with this DIY attitude, which makes it more than a passing thing. But I feel kind of awkward talking about it because it’s theirs.
“They made their own. Without us. Without the elders. It’s their own thing and that’s great to see.”
Gilles calls himself one of the elders because, at 54, he has a vast knowledge of the industry, as well as curating festivals.
For the past 14 years Gilles has held a festival in France called Worldwide, but says that there is something unique about British people and music festivals, which is why he decided to create We Out Here.
“At this stage I’ve done so many festivals, this year will be the 14th Worldwide Festival and I’ve played loads of festivals from grungy to high brow, and the number one thing is that British people love festivals,” said Gilles.
“They know the etiquette of festivals, so it felt right to bring a festival to Britain, and the time is really right to incorporate these scenes [jazz] that aren’t being represented.
“We Out Here is at a great site as well, not far from London. I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’m most looking forward to seeing the closing set, Gary Barts, Saul Williams the poet and Dwight Tribe.
“People talk about jazz legends Coltrane and Miles Davis and Barts is an essential link between the 60s and now.
“He’s an amazing artist that hasn’t quite been seen in the same way as other legends, and hopefully he gets the love he deserves. I want all these elders to get the love they deserve.
“All I ever wanted to do was tell people about that music and those artists that didn’t get the love they deserved. That’s my mission in life.”
Tickets and the line up for We Out Here Festival can be found at https://www.weoutherefestival.com/
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Cheques should be made payable to “MSI Media Limited” and sent by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online. Everyone at the South London Press thanks you for your continued support.
Get the latest local news delivered every week!