Four mates are modernising the sounds of the '60s Deep South in the unlikeliest of settings
It’s daylight, and that’s kind of a relief. Around the corner from the townhouse that two members of Gotts Street Park share, a man is slumped on some concrete steps drinking a gold can of Skol. A couple of drug dealers barely conceal their afternoon rounds as their car crawls along the road heading towards the local KFC. A dog with shoulders like Vin Diesel strains on its leash, the animal’s polo-shirted owner barking into his phone. In front of a boarded up doorway, two expressionless builders knock down a crumbling brick wall, tossing the rubble into a pile of nettles and rank bin bags spilling onto the pavement. Even in the sweet, bright spring sunshine, the neighbourhood still manages to feel like a grey, uneasy maze of ominous passages and shady alcoves.
This is Armley, a tough part of Leeds, 15 minutes on the bus west of the town centre. There’s little sign of the gentrification that’s fanned out across the rest of the city the past few years. The craft beer bars, pricey coffee shops and fashion boutiques haven’t made it here (yet). In fact, there’s not much at all besides a greasy spoon, a Chinese takeaway and a dodgy looking bookies.
No surprise then that Josh Crocker takes care to lock the back gate behind us as he welcomes me into his studio and home. Gotts Street Park’s HQ is an imposing terraced house, an unexpected spot for a jazz hip-hop collective to base themselves. Out front, a steep slope overlooks four lanes of burbling traffic. Across the way, there’s a set of allotments and in the distance the greenery of Gotts Park – historically the home of industrialist Benjamin Gott, but now a golf course.
“It actually looks alright on a day like today,” says Josh, before later explaining that his girlfriend moved into the house recently, only to leave again after a month because she didn’t feel safe.
“We do live next to a convicted burglar,” he says. “There’s kind of a lot of smack heads. Dealers are pretty blatant around here – there are constant drop-offs outside. But weirdly, I’ve never had any trouble in Armley. It’s like people are too depressed to even bother.”