Coke City: How Gak Is Taking Over East London


The last time I met my dealer he said East London is known as Coke City, and that he hated driving round there because there was so many police.  He lives over South London, so I asked him why he bothered coming here at all, and he replied: “There’s just so much business around here, you have no idea.  I can’t not do it.  I’ll be out and have someone out for me, 12 hours a day at the weekend, minimum.  And there’s  hundreds of other guys doing it.”

He’s right; there are hundreds of guys doing it. They seem to getting more sophisticated, and they all know each other.  Call one and he can’t come for a few hours, he puts you onto his mate.  He’s not on tonight, but no worries, here’s another number, it takes a little bit longer, but you get there in the end and now you’ve got another number to call in future. Everyone’s in on the action.

There’s something in the air; take the 55 past Holborn into Farringdon and beyond, and suddenly the combination of trendies, trust funds, techies and dosh sees it become a bustling metropolis of recreational drugs hounds that see no difference in the procurement of a g than they would 300 grams of finest fillet.

It’s not so much that people are taking coke; God knows that’s been going on since some clever fella learnt how to render.  It’s the sheer percentage of people doing so, which is directly related to the ease with which you can get it.  Friends from other towns and areas have a right faff getting hold of anything; waiting on a phone call from a friend of a friend who knows a guy on Bluebell Hill who once shook hands with an Albanian who swears he’s got a suitcase of bugle back in Tirana. If I am in that area of London and it is between 8pm and 5am, Tuesday through Sunday, I and most of my social circle can get someone to drop off however much gak I want, wherever I am.

If this sounds like gloating or Big I Am’ing, I’m not being clear enough.  Bloc Party once released a tune called Song For Clay (Disappear Here) in which perennial indie diary-writer Kele Okereke yelps “East London is a vampire/It sucks the joy out of me.”  I’m not about to start wishing back the nights and afternoons I’ve had in back-bars and front rooms snuffling away like my life depended on it, but in the year or so before I moved away I lost count of the amount of times I had conversations with people around my way where they/I spoke ruefully about that 5am phonecall that seemed so right, and so easy, at the time. It’s the equivalent of wishing you hadn’t bought that last bottle of wine in the pub, multiplied ten fold.

I don’t think that we all need to be checked into the Priory.   Obviously if you aren’t someone that dabbles then you won’t empathise, but if you do there are some nights and events that lend themselves to getting something in; you plan for it, buy it in advance, book the Monday off work, whatever.  The nights that linger on the conscience (not to mention the wallet) are the innocent ones that start off down the pub, a few beers leading to a couple more and everyone’s nicely jingled and thinking maybe, maybe, maybe. Before you know it it’s 9am and you’re failing to put into words just why Springsteen/Strummer/Skinner has had such a profound effect on your life.

The reason it’s so popular round East is, at the basest level, a mixture of commerce and ease.  Money is flooding into the area, you won’t be getting any change from £600 if you want something with working appliances within 20 minutes of a tube.  In the slipstream of the artists and original beard-cultivators came the rest (i.e me), attracted by the music scene, the exposed brick-work and the fact that it’s generally an interesting place to be.  Hang around Broadway Market on a Friday night and it’s a Home Counties ho-down, with everyone looking like a cross between Hemingway and an Eastpak model. Don’t get me wrong, I love it there but it is what it is.

Chuck in the large numbers of ABC1 types, put them in the middle of a circling motorcade of dealers desperate to press little cardboard triangles into your palm and you’ve got a perfect  breeding ground for a growing market.  I don’t actually think that many people are developing real dependencies on the actual drug, it’s just the drug is an extension of the alcohol-dependence that is pickling my generation.   We all joke about it, pretend those adverts on the tele are wrong, but the fact is 75% of people I know in London are drinking 100% more than they should.  You can’t disregard the industry these people are in- mainly PR, TV, online- and the fact is a certain amount of schmoozing and boozing is expected.  But it doesn’t make it any less true, and in the same way that people before might have got tipsy and bought a load of shots, now we get tipsy, buy a load of shots, score some coke and keep going for as long as we fancy. The nature of coke is that, if you are so inclined, you are always to do more; it levels everything else out and bares its teeth to tired hearts.

My brother is 39, a reasonably successful actor that spent a large chunk of his younger days hacking it around London’s nightlife; he reckons that the culture of coke didn’t exist in the same way when he was my age (28).  Yes, Noel, Alex, Brett and Bobbie were all getting loaded and having a good time, but for the lay-person the scene was more amphetamine related- night outs were about the actual night out.   But now the night starts when you get home and there is a mini-nation of perennial caners in Coke City, with gak leading the charge.  One of the reasons I was glad to move to Brighton recently was to give me space from that scene, to put distance between me and the man who was always happy to take my calls. I haven’t done drugs since moving away. For a lot of people it will take something similar-whether it be relationship/job/health- to break the cycle.  Let’s just hope it’s nothing too serious.

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