12000 Miles From Home: NZ to South London with Chaos In The CBD

Written by: Jack Blocker

Ben Helliker-Hales, one half of the pair of brothers responsible for the techno/house brilliance that is Chaos in The CBD, tells us why he and his brother moved from New Zealand to South London.

It’s been a while since I last went out in Peckham. I used to have some of the best nights of my life there. Much of my early twenties was spent roaming in and out of the handful of venues on Rye Lane, where we drank lukewarm tins and danced to sets mixed by proudly local DJs. Although I’ve moved out of SE15, I haven’t really moved on. I still have late nights that suddenly pivot into early mornings; still with the same people, the same clothes, the same tins. Probably the same shoes.

It’s not that I don’t still enjoy it, but it certainly isn’t new anymore, not like those first years in Peckham. I guess there’s a big difference between 20 and 27. The other day I was asked to interview Chaos in the CBD, two brothers from New Zealand who’ve built a name in south east London (and beyond) with a string of Techno/House releases and sold out parties. Naturally, I jumped on their Soundcloud before setting off. I don’t know if it’s my pathetic sense of nostalgia, the lads’ connection to Peckham, or both, but the first CBD mix I heard threw me right back to my first forays into the dark rooms off Rye Lane. The sound was energetic, tropical, unheard. Whatever the difference between 20 and 27, this seemed to bridge the gap.

So when I met one half of the duo, Ben Helliker-Hales, manning the til at a local record store on a recent Tuesday, I asked him what makes Peckham nightlife so unique in London. “I guess things around here are pushing a young culture, and people are drawn to that, they want to be a part of that. It’s a thriving place, people are creative, they’re doing interesting things. That’s why I stayed here.”

Things around here are pushing a young culture, and people are drawn to that, they want to be a part of that. It’s a thriving place, people are creative, they’re doing interesting things.

Ben and his brother, Louis, originally hail from New Zealand. While a lot of Peckham’s new residents moved in from within the boundaries of Britain, these two flew all the way from Auckland. But unlike a lot of interlopers, who make a conscious decision to come for the club nights, the rooftop bars, whatever, Ben and Louis’ arrival in the city’s south-east was somewhat accidental: “I kind of stumbled into this area. I’ve been over here for three and a half years after moving initially to Nunhead - my aunt had a house there, so I stayed there for over a year - and then I kind of fell into all of this. I never knew it was going on, I lucked out in a way.

“Since then I’ve had no desire to leave Peckham.”

Why is that? I hear New Zealand’s pretty nice.

“Mainly for my personal music career. Auckland wasn’t really the place to be. For me to further myself I needed to be more immersed in a place with a bigger scene.” That makes sense. After all, there may be no where in London more crucial to music and the arts than SE15. You only need to walk down Rye Lane to see record stores nestled between the butchers and grocers, and flyers for club nights line the walls outside cash and carries. There’s a new buzz that appears to sit easily with the entrenched area. As Ben says, “it’s quite a grassroots kind of vibe here. It’s a very diverse area.” And when he talks about Peckham in comparison to New Zealand, you can see why he and Louis decided to stay here.

You only need to walk down Rye Lane to see record stores nestled between the butchers and grocers, and flyers for club nights line the walls outside cash and carries.

“It’s very different. In New Zealand we don’t really have any of this, I’ll say ‘younger culture’. People’s aspirations are a bit different. It’s a great place to be, but people want to grow up and buy a house. It’s quite a settled culture. Whereas here there’s a very hustle mentality - I mean at the very least you’ve got to pay London rents.”

Even so, it’s clearly worth it. These ex-pats are creating music that’s evocative of an important place. I’m sure in a few years it will be evocative of an important time, too. If history repeats itself, then I’m sure the capital’s creative minds will soon shift to another section of the city. But, for now, the place to be is Peckham. Although it’s been a while, I think I’m going to need to spend another night there soon.

And you really should as well.

Live there. Even if it's just for a night.