North London Food & Culture

Ich Bin Kentishtowner: Ben Osborne, DJ and Arctic Monkeys biographer

[quote] The most constant bird sound isn’t the cooing of a London pigeon, but the call of seagulls” [/quote]

Ben-OsborneBen Osborne is, variously, a DJ, arts programmer, musician, radio presenter and writer who has lived locally all his life. He runs unusual multimedia events under the banner Noise of Art, cropping up at diverse locations such as the National Portrait Gallery, Roundhouse, summer festivals, and further afield in Paris and Berlin. His next event (Village Underground, Friday, 17th) is the first in a series celebrating 100 years of electronic music, with a rare live show from Eccentronic Research Council, with TV and film star Maxine Peake on vocals. And that’s just part of a rather busy week, since Ben has also written a book on the Arctic Monkeys, published this Wednesday.

When were you happiest?
As I write the sun has finally come out and, as of this morning, Noise of Art will be playing Latitude Festival again, all of which is making me feel pretty happy right now. Last year’s weather though? Miserable. I played a few festivals, mostly sodden. Alma Street Fair was probably the sunniest outdoor event I went in the UK.

That said, K-Town and Camden Town are good places even when it’s raining; there’s always stuff going on. There’s a theory that this country is creative musically because of our shit weather. While other people in hotter climes head off to the beach and laze in the sunshine, we knuckle down to master guitar arpeggios or create the next genre of electronic music, while working on our studio tans. It’s a good theory – until you start thinking about places like Jamaica…but London has music in its rhythm whatever the season.


Arctic Monkeys. Image: Band website
Arctic Monkeys. Image: Band website
Where would you like to live?
I’ve lived in many parts of the area already (Kentish Town, Camden Town, Chalk Farm, South End Green, Parliament Hill, Tufnell Park) and they’ve all been good. The biggest changes have been around Camden and Kentish Town Road. When I was a kid the surrounding areas were all nice, but Kentish Town Road itself was a hole, such a major traffic route, constantly choked. You’d walk down the road to get a paper and feel like you been snorting lead.

Nowadays some of the traffic has been redirected and the town’s able to breathe again. There are great shops and restaurants new and old, and a new refurbished boozer seems to open on a monthly basis.

What is your favourite sound?
There’s a surprising number of quiet places that don’t feel like you’re in an urban environment at all. The whole area’s full of contradictions and things you don’t expect – let alone in the centre of a city the size of London. The most constant bird sound isn’t the cooing of a London pigeon, but the call of seagulls. Hundreds of them: hanging out on chimneys by the canal and robbing the sea lions’ at feeding time at the zoo (which is one of the reasons why they’re here in the first place). I once lived above a pub in Regent’s Park Road and every morning was like waking up at the seaside.

The bandstand on Parliament Hill.
The bandstand on Parliament Hill.
What is your greatest life achievement?
Not sure what my greatest achievement is, but I’ve just written a book on Arctic Monkeys (out this week), so this is probably a good place to mention it.

What is your earliest memory?
Not my earliest memory, but I used to walk the dog across Parliament Hill with my dad before school. Being able to stroll through what felt like countryside and over a hill overlooking the city – before going to school – felt pretty cool.

What simple thing would improve your quality of life?
Cheaper transport would help. And I’d like to ride a bike more. But compare London with places like Berlin (which has so much space compared to us) and Amsterdam, and it still just doesn’t feel safe. I recently moved flat and soon after someone was fatally killed while cycling down the road from us. A lot more still needs to be done to make cycling safer. But I do like all the flashing disco accessories cyclists get to wear. From a distance lone cyclists can take on the appearance of a cluster of low-flying UFOs. And if your destination happens to be a psy-trance night, there’s no need to change when you get there.

Camden Brewery in summertime
Camden Brewery in summertime
Where do you hang out?
I don’t go to one fixed place, but I like the fact we have our own local brewery; anywhere that stocks Camden’s Hells lager is good. I find the rise of local breweries quite inspiring. It’s like the way that people have reacted against chain pub companies. People expect more individual qualities, rather than pubs like station waiting rooms. Even the big companies have had to start trying to make their pubs look like they’re not part of a chain. Sure Camden’s been invaded more, but there’s been a reaction to that, which is healthy.

What’s been your best experience here?
One thing that was pretty major growing up in the area was getting a gig when I was a young teen at the Bull and Gate. I was too young to drink there, of course, let alone play. But they didn’t know that and I wasn’t about to tell them. It was a great music venue, run by the same husband and wife team for decades. A shame to see it go now.

Whatever People Say They Are… That’s What They’re Not is published this week by Omnibus Press

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About Kentishtowner

The award-winning print and online title Kentishtowner was founded in 2010 and is part of London Belongs To Me, a citywide network of travel guides for locals. For more info on what we write about and why, see our About section.