White Noise
Made in White City

A Playlist for the Underside of London

From Soft Cell to Suede via Derek Jarman and Nico, co-founder of The Quietus Luke Turner selects a playlist of music that exemplifies another side of the city, by turns dark and exhilarating, paying tribute to the London celebrated by Derek Jarman.

IMAGES – Derek Jarman, Jubilee

The allure of the city as a site of dangerous, transgressive possibility has been the subject of art and literature for as long as they have existed, from Hogarth's Harlot's Progress to the banned Victorian memoir My Secret Life, Baudelaire's flâneur and Michael Power's career-ending 1960 film Peeping Tom.

London has long attracted wide-eyed young men and women from the provinces who've come not merely for job prospects and careers, but with the desire to escape the strictures and conventions, the moral codes and judgements of small town life. With a million places to hide, the city's nightclubs, open-spaces and venues of ill repute open up the possibility to push mind and body in unusual new ways, to test limits, experiment, and walk the hazy borderline between safety and desire.

Inherent within this are potent forces, both for good and destructive. The queer culture that emerged from hiding in Soho in the 1970s, for instance, was documented by Derek Jarman, who would cast his films of defiant eroticism from regulars at clubs and bars. Soho was celebrated in song for decades, but none quite got the two sides of a place where "down in your alleys seems that everything goes," as Marc Almond did. His group Soft Cell painted a beautiful portrait of 1980s Soho, where a new openness for queer culture powered fantastic nocturnal culture, sexual freedom and political radicalism alike, before the AIDS crisis was used by the conservative mainstream to unleash a new wave of homophobia.

But to plunge too deeply into the city, to allow oneself to be consumed by it, is just as a leap into fire, or to be lost in the woods. Violence and chaos and a sense of dread, whether real or imagined, might just be around the corner – either of the street, or within the mind. The city inevitably speeds up human life in part by creating this anonymous world, where the breaking own of the ties of family and community mean a reinvention, or a rise and fall, can happen much faster than anywhere else. 

You might be beautiful, as Nico had it, but oh boy, you're alone.

Share this article