Strange Powers

There are over 240 new black majority churches in Southwark. Just off the Old Kent Road, in a grid of old warehouses and light industrial units, there were several glorious examples.

Just up from the Salvation Church of God & Stress Relief Centre, and next to a church represented by a logo incorporating an eye, a crown, and a cross, you will find the DIY Space for London, offering salvation of a different kind.

I walked through the doors and felt immediately at home. It was the kind of space that London seems to be expunging at a dramatic rate, and can only exist in the strange hinterlands yet to suffer the regeneration game. 

A co-operatively run social space for meetings, creative facilities, events, screenings, talks and the like, it’s been around since 2015 and I’m sad that I never heard about it before. It’s wonderful: there’s a record shop, fanzines everywhere, a cafe-bar, and lots of space to think, plot, meet, and create.

The purpose of my visit was a screening of Strange Powers, a documentary about the Magnetic Fields. This apparently came out in 2010, though again: this escaped my attention. I can’t think of a musician more suited to the documentary treatment than Stephin Merritt, and the film dealt beautifully with the relationship between Merritt and his friend/manager/bandmate/muse/antagonist Claudia Gonson.

I knew almost nothing about Merritt before watching the film; I worried that a documentary with footage shot over ten years would lift the curtain and ruin the magic. The band, along with other Merritt projects like the Future Bible Heroes, have played a huge part in my life. If I close my eyes there are moments profound and throwaway, all soundtracked by those ridiculous perfect songs.

I needn’t have. There are hints, teases and mini-revelations: it’s nice to know that half of 69 Love Songs was written in a New York gay bar called Dick’s, and that Merritt once got accused of being a racist by a blogger in 2006, back when blogging was a thing.

But what lingers is the support network required to allow this so-called genius to flourish: without these friends and comrades helping to bring his vision to life, those songs would have remained unheard and unloved.


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