Sunday, June 09, 2024

Haunting Digbeth, drenched in art

I was in Birmingham yesterday for one of the Design Festival talks I was especially interested in (by Territory Studio) and as it was a soothingly sunny, breezy day I went on a good long haunt of my old stomping ground, Digbeth.

When settlers first came to the area we now know as Brum it was Digbeth they started with, and you can feel that in the solidly industrious maze of chimneyed buildings, bond houses and factories clustered around each other. I was there briefly for one night in late April, but since I was there on a regular basis many years ago the ghoulish mask of gentrification has been slapped over much of the area, a process that’s really ramped up since work on HS2 began. Graf and street art, professional and non-pro alike, is being feverishly applied to every un-developed surface, as if the artists can feel in their bones that their time here is almost up.

On the way back to the car I visited the Custard Factory, central in our lives for a long time due to our historic involvement in music, pirate radio, DJing and events, and was unmoored by changes there — I initially couldn’t work out what felt wrong but then I saw it all: the lake in the middle was filled in, the gallery where I had one of my first shows (with Solo One) had been turned into a Laser Quest, and the little bar where we went to the infamous Selfish Cunt gig was now a Pieminister. And the Medicine Bar, where we’d danced (maniacally, to DJ Food and myriad others), DJ’d and handed out myriad flyers? Derelict and shuttered, its immense dragon sculpture replaced by a gaping white wall.

Time marches on and, to mutilate a favourite Dolly Parton quote, one day you wake up to realise it’s been marching all over your memories. But I was filled with appreciation at being there for this great, free creative event (I wanted to do a talk there but was too late to apply; that’ll have to wait for the next one) in a city I still get a buzz from, absolutely drenched in street art and organic graffiti on the walls of buildings designed and built for, and still echoing with, the business of graft — my comfort zone.

Even picked up a scuzzy pirate for the drive home. #castlevale #iykyk

Enjoy the pictures.

Beautiful buildings built for work:

A vintage Will Barras?

Medicine Bar: Before

Medicine Bar: Now

And here's us DJing in that very spot, looking back at the audience!

I was filled with an odd relief that there were still buildings like this to find. With paste-ups!


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