Sukhdev Sandhu

Night Haunts

Online
01 September 2006

Whatever happened to the London night? London at night has always been seen as a lawless orgy of depravity and pestilence. But has it become as bland and unthreatening as any new town? 

A collaboration between Sukhdev Sandhu, website designer Ian Budden and sound artist and musician Scanner, Night Haunts unfolded in monthly episodes on a specially designed website. The website’s visual and sonic textures are in constant flux; they are randomly triggered so that each experience of the site is unique.

Sandhu journeyed across the city to find out whether the night has been neutralised by ASBOs and CCTV cameras. His forays saw him prospecting nocturnal London with the people who drive its pulse, from the avian police to security guards, from urban fox-hunters to real-life exorcists. Sandhu waded through the sewers, hung out with fugitive graffiti writers, and accompanied the nuns of Tyburn as they prayed for the souls of Londoners.

In the course of this episodic journey, Sandhu reflected on the nature of the urban night: does the quality of night change between 1am and 4am, and between the East End and the West? Has ‘night life’ been gradually corroded and colonised by light and entertainment? What are the invisible economies that pulse through the sleeping city? Does the Thames change its character at dusk? Is authentic darkness impossible? Do we need darkness?

Night Haunts formed part of Artangel Interaction’s series of artist-led projects, Nights of London, exploring the nocturnal city with the people who inhabit it. Selcted essays are available to read on the Night Haunt's microsite.


Image: Night Haunts by Sukhdev Sandhu (2006)

Press

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There are chapters on the lives of minicab drivers, police helicopter pilots, Samaritans, cleaners and sewage maintenance people. The book reads like a novel but has the immediacy of good reportage, the sort of stuff that used to appear in Granta. You come away in awe at all that goes on in the capital on an average evening - and full of respect for an author who has left the study to discover how things really work. — Alain de Botton, The Guardian

Selected Press


Night Haunts is grounded in satisfyingly solid, real-world research. Sandhu has spent much time staking out territory, following leads and rumours, interviewing prospective subjects. His adventures have taken him into some dark and difficult terrain. He has sometimes been threatened with violence, and on one occasion, was shot accidentally in the hand while trying to kill vermin. [...] However, this project goes beyond the simple recording of facts and impressions. Although it looks at specific Londoners and their lives, it engages with deeper themes, asking searching questions about the nature of night, of cities, and of Britain today.— SF Said, The Daily Telegraph, 3 February 2006.


With a writing style that mixes down- to-earth reportage with lyrical flights of fancy, Sandhu simultaneously builds up and dispels the mythology of London. Its more seductive qualities are revealed to be the workings of a great machine, devoted to the accumulation of capital and supported by legions of people who are there to mop up the aftermath. — Daniel Trilling, New Statesmen,13 September 2007.

He is a sympathetic listener, but does not leave his own urban concerns or political beliefs at the door. These essays are thoughtful engagements with reality, not just exercises in topographical style. While many see the metropolis today as a global financial centre, where dreams of unlimited accumulation are embodied in brilliantly lit towers, Sandhu explores life below. Large swathes of poverty and unhappiness are revealed, and inequalities thrown into sharp relief, in the 'anti-modernity of the night. — Ken Worpole, The Independent, 16 November 2007.

About Sukhdev Sandhu

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Sukhdev Sandhu

Sukhdev Sandhu is the author of London Calling: How Black and Asian Writers Imagined a City, I'll Get My Coat, and Night Haunts, which won the DH Lawrence International Prize For Travel Writing (2008). In his book London Calling (2003), Sandhu brilliantly chronicled the way black and Asian writers have experienced and re-imagined the city since the 1770s.

Sandhu is the award-winning chief film critic for the Daily Telegraph and Associate Professor of English, Social and Cultural Analysis and Director of Asian/Pacific/American Studies at New York University. He also regularly participates in public and radio debates, and his writing has appeared in a range of publications including the London Review of Books, Suddeutsche Zeitung, Du,The Wire, Sight and Sound, Bidoun, Gastronomica, The Australian, Modernism/ Modernity, New York, The Guardian and Times Literary Supplement.

 

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Images: (left and above) Portrait of writer Sukhdev Sandhu in London (2006). Photographs: Toby Glanville

Nights of London

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Nights of London

Running for just over a year, Nights of London was a thread of projects exploring the nocturnal life of the city. It ran through cinemas and galleries, was hosted on websites, burned onto CDs, written into letters, performed in nightclubs and broadcast via radio channels, before concluding in an old East End town hall that – for one night only – was filled with bat experts, musicians, cabaret artists and paranormal researchers. We heard stories from the unorthodox side of nightfall. We learned about ways of life that, despite their physical proximity, are all but invisible to most of us, most of the time.

Nights of London projects include:

Night Haunts

Nick SIlver Cant Sleep

NightJam

When Night Draws in

To the Man in My Dreams

Radio Nights

Book: Night Haunts

Twelve essays about nocturnal London published by Verso and Artangel, 2007.
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Night Haunts

£10.99 from Verso Books

Their working conditions veer on the dismal. And yet, perhaps because of their wavering accents, or the general pall of disrepute that hangs over them, and despite recent regulations that mean they must fill out reams of paperwork to prove they're not illegals, they are dismissed as qat chewers, stubby lechers, illicit sharks, conmen who fiddle the companies for whom they work as well as their hapless passengers. They will never appear in tourist brochures or in cameo parts in trans-Atlantic romantic comedies. Their Social Critiques, hopes and dreams will never be echoed or celebrated by newspaper columnists. — Sukhdev Sandhu on Mini-cab Drivers in Night Haunts

Sukhdev Sandhu journeys across the city to find out whether the London night really has been rendered insipid by street lighting and CCTV. Night Haunts seeks to reclaim the mystery and romance of the city—to revitalize the great myth of London for a new century.

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Colour
  • ISBN: 9781844676552
  • Hardback: 144 pages
  • Colour
  • ISBN: 9781844671625
  • Cover design and photography: Eggers + Diaper, Berlin

Credits

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Who made this possible?

Credits

Night Haunts was made possible with the generous support of Mala Gaonkar. Artangel Interaction is funded by Arts Council Lottery, the generous support of Vincent and Elizabeth Meyer and the John Lyons Charity.

Artangel is generously supported by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial AngelsGuardian Angels and The Company of Angels.


 

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