In pictures: the story of MAP Cafe

We speak to MAP's co-founder Oscar Verden and General Manager Niall Williams about the story behind this local music destination

It’s 1977. Chris Townsend is designing and printing punk rock t-shirts by hand, curing them in tumble dryers at a launderette on Kilburn High Rd before selling them outside gigs across London.

Fifth Column’s co-founder quickly built a reputation and expanded into premises above Kentish Town tube station. From there, Fifth [pictured below] produced official merchandise for bands like Thin Lizzy, The Clash and most of Stiff Records’ roster (Elvis Costello, Madness, The Damned and more), plus political merchandise for campaigns including Nicaragua Solidarity and the Angolan Liberation Movement, operating a day and night shift in the factory to meet demand.

Fifth Column

In 1986, they took on a lease on a former Greek bakery on nearby Grafton Rd, to house their stock. It’s an otherwise quiet, residential corner of the neighbourhood, but the roots were being planted for what has become MAP Studio Cafe.

Meanwhile, Chris’s cousin Oscar Verden was trombonist for Pigbag and gigging with much of the burgeoning post-punk scene in London including Rip Rig and Panic and the Pop Group. After a stint printing homeware fabric in Finsbury Park, Oscar came to the site on Grafton Road and together they took MAP from Chris’ ideation to a full-scale clothing brand.

Chris with t-shirts at Notting Hill Carnival, 1994

Conceived at the intersection of Music, Art and Print, much of MAP’s inspiration comes from the night. Its clothing brand, MAP London, has long been influenced by life after dark. Conceived during the era of rave culture in the early 90s, co-founder Oscar explains that “customers gravitated towards designs of ours that were best suited to wearing at raves. This informed the direction the brand took.” Selling out at festivals across England solidified the brand’s place in UK dance culture.

Fifth Column and MAP were involved in the printing and support of Dread Broadcast Corporation, started by DJ Lepke [pictured], brother of Rita Marley and Ranking Miss P in the early 1980s

Today, MAP is a community-led cafe, recording studio and venue with Oscar, Chris, and MAP’s General Manager Niall Williams, reinvigorating the clothing line. Two more studio spaces have opened alongside the flagship studio and the top-floor radio station Itch FM, an iconic UK Hip-Hop station founded in 2000 and based at MAP for over a decade.

Nash Ahn, designer at MAP, 1996

The clothing brand suffered during the lockdowns when its Portobello Market stall was closed and shows were postponed. Overheads for the building meant keeping the cafe going was tough and in the end, MAP launched its own fundraiser to save the building.

MAP’s emphasis on collaboration as opposed to maximising profits is increasingly rare. Having spaces where creatives can try out their ideas, whilst working with wider established promoters is invaluable and MAP seeks to provide an accessible platform that showcases all entry points and generations.

The night is a time of creation for many and the cafe at MAP is now open until 11pm every evening in order to share the space with the local community for as long as possible. Oscar and Niall are excited to keep growing the community of MAP artists, creatives and likeminded people. They are also keen to platform this country’s skills in manufacturing, while leaving a smaller carbon footprint behind.

What does the future of nightlife looks like? I feel it is currently uncertain in London after covid and due to harsher measures on curfews. However, the desire for nightlife is not going away. Wherever it ends up, we will always want to be a part of it.

Any parting wisdom from the MAP crew? Love thy neighbour as thy togs.

Find this article in our latest print magazine: Camdenist Presents… The Night, out now across borough and Central London.

THE NIGHT

Niall AKA Nige has put together a playlist just for Camdenist readers, featuring tracks made by friends of the studio and/or recorded behind its doors. Dance along to the likes of NiNE8 Collective, Barry Ford, Nia Archives and Nige.

Follow us on Spotify (Camdenist) for more mixtapes by some of the area’s musical minds.

map-london.com            @mapstudiocafe

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