This picture was taken from the window of our meeting room at 6 Corbett Place four hours after the concrete you see was awash — almost beyond recognition — with young people waving their phones at a group of skaters I could barely make out from the fifth floor. The room overlooks the Old Truman Brewery, just off Brick Lane in East London.
It was 20 degrees in London yesterday and it’s been warm every day this week, which means the Brewery courtyard has been a crop circle of tech and design types eating sophisticated pork sandwiches and drinking Red Stripe in the sun. But yesterday was different. Twenty minutes before our lunch break (and in the middle of a brainstorm) wafts of adolescent screams made their way up through our meeting room window with undulating intensity until we reluctantly, although without protest, got up to gawk at the circus unfolding below.
Not techies. But Teenagers. Lots of them. Male and female. In black Supreme hats and grey hoodies, queing outside a pop-up shop labelled, ‘OF Sweatshop.’ Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All had descended on Tower Hamlets, making use of the space you can barely see on the right hand side of the picture to sell items from their new clothing line.
Music journalists, critics and fans have written at length about OFWGKTA, and the group has encountered their share of controversy, despite the hysteria they seem to ignite wherever they go. I was excited, too; less for the store opening than for the genuine elation unfolding below which, at certain points, required restraint from security guards in white button up shirts. To me, OFWGKTA are a group American writers, producers and performers who release consistently imaginative, bold music collectively and individually, managing to sound like nothing else I’ve ever heard. Could I do without the violent lyrics? Without a doubt. And I am always willing to have that conversation, as long as it doesn’t seep into a larger more structural condemnation of people who look and sound like Odd Future as inherently menacing and dangerous. Sadly, it often does.
I first came across MellowHype through a friend before hearing about another wildly talented member of ‘the same crew’ who was of part-South African heritage. And then there was Yonkers. And Syd. And the BMW on the cover of Frank Ocean’s nostalgia, ULTRA. Beyond the music itself, I value the entrepreneurial ethos that underscores what they do, and the polished sound (as of late) which nevertheless maintains the meticulous anxiety of home production.
As a music lover with a Social Science chip on her shoulder, I couldn’t help but connect the crowd I saw to a larger context where tertiary education is increasingly unaffordable; where social institutions that seemed a biological and cultural given not so long ago appear less and less relevant to youth; where London is still digesting the threat of underage crowds; and where boardrooms have waning appeal as spaces for building careers next to more glamorous forums touting Ideas Worth Spreading. So despite the noise, I was somewhat comforted by the frenzy of fans waiting to see Odd Future, because it was a case of young people gathered to cheer on their peers. I saw it as a microcosm of the world around us, which I find hopeful in its volatility. Perhaps because I don’t think youth are as materially-driven and disengaged as their elders tend to believe.
Whether the fans were there to get a picture, soak in a breath of Odd Future’s good fortune, see the group break something, or to simply pick up some new gear was indistinguishable from where I stood. I might go in and have a look myself. When it’s less crowded.