The story of the bar at the birth of the street art movement

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What made the Dragon Bar such an important place, James? And why do you think this book needed to be made?

The bar was a melting pot for creative, interesting, unique people who had something to say. It had this raw energy mixed with this very punk DIY aesthetic, which meant it was forever changing and adapting with the people who drank there. It was of a time when no one had mobile phones, Botox, had to update their profiles or answer emails. We realised we had to capture that energy in a book or it would have stayed a faded memory. The only way to do that properly was to self-publish so we could keep control of the book’s direction.

People wouldn’t recognise the Old St/Shoreditch area back then – it was literally barren wasn’t it?

Barren is not even the word for it… burnt-out cars, abandoned factories, a couple of pound in a pint strip clubs, very grey concrete, bombed buildings left from WW2, giant sewer rats and metal bars over windows. The smell was worse, like rotting meat.

We started making this book in the first Covid lockdown. I kinda figured it would take about a year. IT TOOK THREE AND A HALF! Did you think it would take that long?

Honestly, I expected it to take some time, but nearly four years is quite a lengthy time for a project. So much time was taken up with hunting down the images and stories. Most of the time people could not remember anything or they had some images on an old hard drive at their mum and dad’s house which we waited for but when we finally got them they were just their mates getting drunk.

It was you who introduced me to the place. Can you remember your first time there?

Yeah I can. It was a summer’s day on a Saturday in 1999 and my graphic designer mate Rich took me as he lived around the corner. I spent most of the time sitting at the bar drawing over these flyers and putting them back on the pile. Our friend Paul Camo joined us and said to me “Why are you doing that, you’re destroying someone’s work.” I replied “How else am I supposed to get my work out there.” I remember taking you – it was to a well rowdy drum and bass night going on in the basement.

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