Cultural Guide to Brixton

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Image © bongo vongo via Flickr

Here’s to Brixton, an area of London with a distinct character and a compelling story to tell.

Brixton is one of London’s most well known areas, enshrined in popular culture and social history. Its identity has always been multiple, always contested, always forceful. In the 21st Century it remains one of the most interesting parts of the city and the heart of South London. And there is plenty going on...

In 2018, Brixton residents will get a new cultural venue when experimental theatre Ovalhouse relocates from Kennington Oval to Somerleyton Road. The theatre will be a striking addition to an area famous for its importance in the history of West Indian immigration to the UK. Windrush Square is named after the first boat that carried significant numbers of passengers from Jamaica in 1948; now the Black Cultural Archives has taken up residence at the side of the Square alongside the library and the Ritzy Cinema: three buildings of great cultural value to the area. The Black Cultural Archives has a changing exhibition space (see their website for details) and as well as its hugely varied programme of films the Ritzy Cinema hosts regular events in its upstairs bar.

Windrush Square itself often holds fairs or food markets - which brings us to the other big thing that Brixton is known for. The whole of Electric Avenue is abuzz with market traders and useful shops and there is a maze of indoor markets from the controversially frivolous (‘Champagne & Fromage’) to longstanding community staples such as Nour Cash and Carry, an emporium of global groceries. Pop Brixton, constructed largely from old shipping containers, is a recent addition to the network of independent businesses around the underground and rail stations.

Brixton has its own currency, the Brixton Pound (equal to Sterling in value), its own brewery, the Brixton Brewery (its distinctive multi-coloured labels are in pubs all over town) and its own independent newspaper, the Brixton Bugle (a print version of the Brixton Blog). A great Brixton based company helping local young people get into arts and media industries is Livity, which facilitates the production of quarterly youth publication Live Magazine.

Brixton has always been good for big, laid-back pubs with live music - some have come and gone or seen their glory days go by, but the Hootenanny is still packing them in. The O2 Brixton Academy is one of the most respected live venues in the world and long queues are guaranteed for club venue the Electric Brixton, formerly the Fridge. Tucked away behind Brixton Hill are Windmill Brixton, an essential gigging venue for emerging bands, and the Brixton Windmill, which is an actual, functioning, 200-year-old windmill and the area’s key landmark from the olden days. Although Brixton is said to be named after a boundary stone erected by Saxon lord Brixi, no one knows where it was or what became of it.

Brixton is always busy with pedestrians, but in recent years Brixton Splash has emerged as a major street party, filling the streets for an afternoon every August with sound systems, food and drink stalls and live music. Aside from the general revelry, the festival provides free art workshops and offers volunteer opportunities for young people. After-parties, both organised and spontaneous, ensure the fun continues past the 7pm closing time.

For the other 364 days of the year, there is the glorious Brockwell Park, book-lovers paradise Book Mongers on Coldharbour Lane (but why oh why do they still display female and male novelists on separate shelves?) and Negril on Brixton Hill, a serious contender for the best Caribbean food in Brixton with its roti wraps, saltfish fritters and very moreish gravy.

What do you like to do in Brixton? If we’ve missed a cultural venue you think deserves a mention, let us know in the comments below!