Up to Leeds this last Thursday for the University Open Day – certainly the place serves my purposes (good English department, Brutalist architecture, males outnumbered by females four-to-one) and there are, allegedly, traces of independent culture still stirring within the city (the annual Chinchillafest DIY festival, the regular Subdub nights at the West Indian Centre, a number of DIY labels, not least the marvellous Jealous Records, a Green Action Food Co-Op in the student union, the pub where Mekons and Gang Of Four drank, if it’s still standing).
Wandering around the campus, though, I kept getting the sense that there was something not quite right. For a start, the people didn’t fit the place: almost every single person I saw was easily identifiable as middle class, and certainly only one or two people could be identified as working class. Thus the quite marvellous interlocking concrete lines and glass expanses were awash in a sea of every current female-student sartorial cliché imaginable: the shemaghs, silk scarves, tiny leather jackets and faux-Sixties floral-print dresses were in full and deathly effect; the stench of hipsterdom, diffused as it has to the previously unwashed masses, filled the place. Of course, whilst I can always appreciate this (on a purely aesthetic level), one has to wonder what the architects, designing for the purposes of working-class enlightenment – not in the sense of fruit-juice-and-book-learning Victorian philanthropy, but the creation of a chunk of the post-capitalist future in the present as a means of advancing the eradication of capital – would think of such a situation. My mental picture of Leeds was, of course, based on thirty-year old information - a smoke-blackened wasteland stuffed with interesting people, perpetually suspended between the punk explosion and the miners' strike.
Walking toward the city centre my suspicions were further confirmed; I suppose it’s my fault, having cultivated a romantic view of Yorkshire and Leeds based on various sources – David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet, Rip It Up And Start Again, Factory Records, M.E.S.’s meditations on the Northern occult – it could never live up to it. That combination of Socialism, mysticism and the Northern reputation for righteous ire proved extremely alluring. But the fact is that the place is now quite terrifyingly gentrified – admittedly with more of a delicate hand than, say, London or Brighton – with about five shopping centres squeezed into the central precinct and the entire place apparently populated by Southern hipster-students. This isn’t merely happening, of course, in Leeds but across the North, and the world. This can lead, in some cases, to more interesting things, but rather more often it seems to be producing exceedingly boring cultural product - the very people meant to be in the forefront of advancing culture are retarding it with their ass-backwards approach to the business of creation and maintenance of said culture. "Focking students" - all those horrid NME-Carling-'indie' (note, not 'independent') bands one has stopped listening to the radio to avoid. One wonders how far our neo-liberal masters plan to push this process of blanding-out before the event horizon of some black hole of homogenised boredom is reached.