The London Blogger Interviews #25: Urban 75

By JazCummins Last edited 108 months ago
The London Blogger Interviews #25: Urban 75

This week's blog should need no introduction, a heavyweight of the London online landscape for nearly 15 years Urban75 displays the kind of personality and community that makes London great. We were able to grab some time with the founder to discover a bit more about the organic, dynamic nature of the site which so reflects its Brixton birth.

2707_urban.jpg

If you had to describe Urban 75 in less than 15 words how would you do it?

A great seething mass of photos, features, obsessions and pisstakes held together by a lovely community.

How and why did the site come about? What about London inspires your site?

The site's roots lie in an early 90s political football comic called Bluebird Jones, based around the lives of hedonistic, drug taking Cardiff City fans. The strip tries to take on the (then) widespread belief that all football fans were knuckle dragging Neanderthals and used humour to challenge the prevailing stereotypes.

The comic moved on to the web when it became apparent that footie fans would also be impacted by the Tory's dastardly Criminal Justice Bill. To draw attention to what was going on, I drew a strip showing what might happen to football fans, got it published in loads of fanzines across the UK and unilaterally declared myself the leader of the mighty Football Fans v the CJA campaign group (total membership=1). I figured having one of those new fangled web sites would make the campaign more credible and incredibly it did, with the mainstream media immediately taking an interest in the campaign. Learning the lessons from the comic, we added daft games to attract traffic (games like 'punch a politician' and 'slap a Spice Girl') and starting adding our own reports from demos and marches, along with legal information about protesters rights etc. From there the site grew organically, adding a comprehensive photography section, London features, Brixton 'then and now' archives, drug info - even a section on old railways - while the bulletin board community slowly grew to hit over 45,000 members. London, and specifically Brixton, has been a constant inspiration for the site - as a photographer, how can I not fail to be inspired by the energy of such a remarkable city?!

What's been one of your best posts/moments in the history of U75?

Some of the best moments have been on the bulletin boards, from titanic battles over hilariously mundane topics, to the times where it's felt like the best place to keep track of breaking news (with a lot of journos contributing to the site, news gets posted up fast). Before the evil Daily Mail caught wind of it, Brian Paddick (then the highest serving gay officer in the UK ) contributed to a fascinating online debate with assembled Brixtonites, lefties, anarchists,cop-haters and druggies about local policing, institutionalised racism and drug policies. Sadly, the subsequent furore over his comments has made it very unlikely that other police forces will chose to engage with online communities in this informal manner again. Posting in the direct aftermath of 7/7, survivor Rachel North's posts were some of the most moving and passionate accounts of the events I'd read anywhere and reminded me how blogs and bulletin boards can offer a more direct and uncensored take on the big news stories. I also rather enjoyed our bizarre legal battle with Barney, Microsoft's dinosaur toy.

Your forums are hugely popular, how did you build such a strong community?

From its football protest roots, the site first took on related issues like direct action, raves, squat parties and drug information and the forums organically grew. There's never been any kind of masterplan so it's mainly the users that drive the creation of new forums - I certainly never imagined that the site would have a hugely popular forum on gardening, cooking and household tips (christened, 'suburban75'). There's even a popular walk club and a craft club! I guess that the large range of topics covered on the 'static' part of the site - plus Urban75's high search engine profile - have also helped drive new traffic to the site. I'm hoping that our fanatical resistance to any kind of advertising or sponsorship deals also makes it seem a more welcoming place than some commercial alternatives (we've turned down some very handsome deals in the past, but the thought of seeing Nike slapped all over the site gives me the heebeegeebees).

How has the blogger/online community in London changed since you started up?

Well, when urban75 started blogs didn't exist! A few communities existed on newsgroups (uk.local.london and uk.music.rave were my favourites in the nineties) but most of them moved on to social networks and the like. With so many people posting on urban75, the first meet ups were organised at squat party raves, but folks tended to get so off their nuts that they couldn't remember who'd they met. In response, we organised a less manic monthly night at the Brixton Ritzy, called 'Offline'. This quickly outgrew the venue (plus Cinema 5 was always complaining!), so we now run several free club nights in Brixton at the Dogstar and the Albert, putting on bands, poets, films, DJs, film screenings and the occasional famous comedian.

Would you feel more connected to London, or missed out on things without your blog?

Through running the site I've got to meet loads of really interesting people, gained invites into places I never knew about and been invited to some great parties - the bulletin boards have a strong 'real life' social side to them and I can't now imagine what I'd be doing without it!

Tell us about another London blogger you like.

Without filling the room with backslapping dust, I have to say that you guys have been a firm favourite of mine for ages. The truth is that there's so many ruddy brilliant London bloggers out there now it's hard to pick out just one or two. Thank 'eavens for Google Reader so I can keep up to date with them all!

What do you know about London that noone else does?

I've been deep, deep inside the Camberwell Submarine!

And for some general London chat...Bit obvious, but where do you live and why do you love it? I've lived all around London - including some particularly grim years around Plaistow and East Ham - but as soon as I set foot in Brixton (originally to visit the legendary Cool tan squat), I knew it was the place for me.It's the only place I've found in London that has a real sense of community. Stick around a few weeks and you'll soon get to know a variety of characters and there's always something interesting going on for free - and Brockwell Park is a real gem. There's also a few fellow Welshmen around so we can all wax lyrical about the superior Brains beer, the tastier Caroline Street chips, the joys of Barry Island and how lovely, lovely, lovely Wales is at the end of a long night on the ale. Naturally, none of us have any immediate plans to move back.

Where's your favourite place in London?

For lunch it's got to be the Phoenix cafe in Brixton, for beers, the Brixton Prince Albert, and you can't beat an afternoon cycling along the Thames, or perhaps strolling through the winding streets of the City of London, soaking up the history.

Have you ever been sick on the tube?

Not yet, but I'll be working on it tonight.

Anything else we should know?

The 'Brixton squirrels on crack' story from a few years ago was made up by someone in the bulletin boards. Proof indeed of how some of the mainstream press will swallow any old guff.

www.Urban75.com

Last Updated 27 July 2009