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@jack_farrar_ Photographing the @rhythmsectionhq 12th Birthday

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2 January 2024

Third Spaces, Raves and The Barbican Centre

ISABEL WETTER

We live in a climate where home and work have begun to exclusively dominate our lives. It has become  increasingly difficult to find a space outside either of these spheres, particularly one that is both accessible  and inclusive. How has youth culture adapted to this change and are there any existing spaces remain both  accessible and inclusive? Most importantly is this restricted world of work and home limiting our capacity for  change?  

A Third Space

A third space, as defined and coined by urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg, is a place that is neither home  nor work but instead, an accessible environment in which people are able to meet and socialise. Perhaps  with friends or strangers that they’d be unlikely to meet elsewhere. These spaces are usually characterised  by a sense of community and familiarity, what Oldenburg refers to as a metaphorical (or literal) “place on the  corner.” These settings are an anchor for communities and friendships not associated with the stress of  work or intimacy and solitude of home.  

 

Photographer and journalist AlibsWrites sets the scene of a third space as one in which social hierarchy  becomes irrelevant, “a CEO and a street performer can be seen chatting over drinks, while a fashion  designer and a mechanic share a laugh at the bar.”  

Yet, despite their typically informal setting third spaces present us with opportunities for creativity and  change. 1950s post-war cafe culture in London is partially responsible for the formation of the New Left. A  wave of left-wing activism that materialised across Western Europe and North America towards the end of  the 50s and early 60s. The Partisan Coffee House in Soho famously attracted cultural theorists Stuart Hall, John Berger, and Raymond Williams, figureheads of the influential movement that would go on to bring social issues such as race, gender, and sexuality into prominence within left-wing politics.  

In spite of their social and political relevance, it has become apparent via recent discourse on social media (predominantly Tik Tok) that our third spaces are significantly under threat. Creative director Nathan Allebach explained in his semi-viral video that the combination of urban sprawl and rampant consumerism  has caused a rapid decline in not only third spaces but also their accessibility (almost none of them are  free.) Allebach recounts how in the US third spaces “with little to no pressure to buy things” are a rarity.  

Whilst the decline of these spaces in American suburbia is staggering, it is not the only societal sector  negatively affected by capitalism and urban sprawl. Inner city living no longer boasts the variety of  accessible third spaces that we’d like to assume it would. Whilst communities are physically close-knit,  prices are often doubled in major cities. 

In the UK long term inflation recently compounded by the cost of living crisis has put regularly buying a pint  or coffee, for the sake of socialising or leaving the house, out of reach for an increasing amount of people.  More specifically, for the recently gentrified North East, locals are being priced out of the area. Writing for  Vice, Hackney local Malakaï Sargeant recounts how “the polarisation between the wealthy and the poorer is  widening violently, and within this increasing gap is the deterioration of Old Hackney’s sense of community.”  

An Ode to Raves and The Barbican Centre

Yet, in the face of rising prices, wealth disparity, and dwindling third spaces there is, shockingly, a glimmer  of hope. In the midst of capitalists attempting to profit off youth culture, see for example Refinery 29’s ‘How  Fashion Helps These 3 People Express Pride’ (an ad campaign for H&M.) In conversation with Dazed photographer Yushy elaborated, “you go to a big venue like Printworks and it’s almost like an influencer meetup, it almost looks too manufactured to be a rave.” Alongside the often jarring cost of London’s  nightlife (I was almost charged a staggering £25 entrance fee to a club in Shoreditch a few weeks back,)  London’s young creatives have carved out spaces (and third places) to fight back.  

The underground rave scene has become a saving grace for the city’s youth culture. The lesser loved or  abandoned corners of the city are transformed by collectives putting on nights with inclusivity, accessibility,  and music at their heart. Speaking on sense of community co-founder of east London collective  Slimehouse (@e1slimehouse) explained that their own group has become “more artistically active in a  collaborative sense” since the launch of the collective. They observed how the act of sourcing and liberating their own third spaces influences wider circles of friends who then become involved. They hope to  “perpetuate this to the max” and continue to grow into a larger queer-centric community.

 

Despite the growing success of these communities, their current existence within the margins of society makes their physical accessibility infrequent. We are still at a loss for concrete third spaces to learn, socialise, think, and exist without the pressure to pay our stay. Spaces like this could operate in a similar way to The Barbican Centre in North East London.

Nestled in the brutalist heart of The Barbican Estate, the centre was originally designed to support the  function of the estate as a “self-sustaining city.” For this reason, the centre is home to a library, a theatre, a  cinema, a gallery space, and even an artificial lake. The complex is free to enter with extensive opening  hours and communal spaces. Whilst paid amenities are available you are not required to purchase anything  to sit in the centre for as long as your heart desires. In fact, you can pretty much do what you want as long  as you avoid causing disruption. I’ve previously witnessed two older men tucking into a supermarket roast  chicken in the foyer around Christmas, no questions asked. A Barbican employee, who preferred to remain  anonymous, observed that “there are people who come in to literally get out of the cold in the winter  months,” “unless they are sort of in the way we don’t really mind.”  

Third spaces such as East London’s rave communities and art centres like The Barbican provide opportunities for chance encounters and conversation. Without them, our lives become increasingly restricted to work and home with fewer opportunities to encounter new people and ideas. It could even be argued that being outpriced from third spaces is synonymous with being outpriced from our capacity for  change. 

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