3 -min. read

“Everywhere has a story. Every story has a side story.” That’s the hook for new concept SideStory, co-founded by former Wallpaper* publisher Gord Ray, former Wallpaper* City Guides editor Rachael Moloney and Virgin’s Giovanni Donaldson. Eschewing the clichés epitomised by your standardised guided tour – no clipboard sign-ups, megaphones or double-deckers for this set – SideStory aims to go beyond the obvious narrative of a destination via the personal, alternative stories of handpicked ‘Insiders’.

This eclectic collective of critics, stylists, artists and more gives small groups of travellers a glimpse of their niche worlds – experiences on offer include delving into the history of domestic items in a museum with artist Grace; learning how to put together a magazine photoshoot with creative director Benjamin; and getting a crash course in street photography from photographer Antonio. (SideStory currently only operates in London, but plans to expand to other destinations soon.)

We joined street art Insider Karim for an afternoon of walking in East London to see whether the SideStory concept really offers anything different to your average tour. We have to confess that prior to arriving, we were slightly cynical about the concept of a ‘Shoreditch street art tour’, the punchline of so many scathing Vice articles about the gentrification of both an area and an art form.

SideStory Tour
Karim explaining some of the symbols in a mural

However, our hipster preconceptions were punctured pretty hard and fast by Karim’s obvious knowledge of and involvement in the scene – a graffiti artist himself, he’s collaborated with ROA and The Rolling People and is set to have his work auctioned at Sotheby’s later this year. With riffs on Situationist theory, gothic futurism and the war of symbols underpinning the work of the original graffiti artists, this isn’t a Banksy-by-numbers rendition of street art (although of course, we ran into a few of his celebrity-status pieces along the way).

One of Karim's pieces
One of Karim’s pieces

The tension between mainstream and underground inherent in the rise of street art as both an artistic and commercial medium was evident and explained throughout. We stood on Old Street next to a wall of tags whilst across the street Camille Walala’s commissioned, graphic mural loomed large. We learned how Ben Wilson has circumvented the law by painting on top of chewing gum rather than the surfaces themselves (now you know, try not spotting his mini masterpieces all over the capital). We saw Dan Witz’s political, anti-battery farming piece (done in partnership with PETA). We also had an interesting lesson on how to hijack a fire extinguisher to create storeys-tall sentences like Swae, whose words are scattered across the city and apparently form a sentence when conjoined.

Dan Witz's piece for PETA
Dan Witz’s piece for PETA

We won’t give away all Karim’s secrets – that would spoil the SideStory – but suffice to say, the few hours spent in his company gave us a new layer and access point for a part of London that we thought we knew inside out (as well as some new lingo to try out on unsuspecting friends and colleagues). Whether you’re a local or a traveller, it’s a different way of reading the city – brief fulfilled, we’d say…

Discover more about Karim and the other Insiders at

Wall by Low Bros
Wall by Low Bros
Gum piece by Ben Wilson
Gum piece by Ben Wilson
Piece by ROA
Piece by Phlegm

Tim Snell

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