EAST LONDON MUSIC VENUES – Evening Standard, 22 Feb 2012

Gravity has shifted, the pull is overwhelmingly strong, and London’s musical epicentre is now firmly located in the east. Sorry to break this to you, Camden, but it’s been on the cards for a while, ever since Rough Trade opened its glorious, airy new record store off Brick Lane in 2007 and the O2 Arena, far from the main action but still Britain’s foremost music destination, flung open its vast doors in SE10 the same year.

This month, a tipping point was reached. The NME Awards on February 27 have moved from Brixton Academy last year to the Troxy in Stepney. The dozens of gigs that build up to the main event, once dotted all around London, are this year largely in eastern venuesXOYO and Birthdays.

Buzzworthy new indie band Peace have just announced a May tour that includes four nights at Dalston’s Birthdays, when they could have chosen to play once at a much bigger venue elsewhere. And to cap it all, following on from the main musical moment of last summer — Radio 1’s Hackney Weekend — the Wireless and Hard Rock Calling festivals have now moved from Hyde Park to the Olympic Park in Stratford. Tickets went on sale this morning for a mouthwatering Wireless line-up that includes Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z and Frank Ocean.

But never mind the superstars — this is the area to find the next big thing every night, with the clubs almost all walking distance from one another. If you don’t know where to start, here are 10 hot venues that are already blazing.


Opened in 2010 with gigs by Everything Everything, British Sea Power and Friendly Fires in its first week, this former printworks has become the place where bands play when they’re on the cusp of greatness. It’s smartened up a little since a relaunch six months ago but with those bare walls and exposed piping, 450 clubbers still feel as if they’re in an underground car park.

Coolest moment: US R&B singer Frank Ocean played there in November 2011. This month he was nominated for six Grammy Awards.

On sale: Slider burgers and “mini dogs” upstairs in the Shoreditch Butchery bar.

Upcoming highlight: Pop starlet Sky Ferreira, February 27.

32-37 Cowper Street, EC2. xoyo.co.uk.

The Old Blue Last

Owned by the hipster empire Vice, this boozer, right, can be relied upon to come up with surprise upstairs gigs by some pretty big names, usually for free. Lily Allen, Florence + the Machine and Arctic Monkeys have all played to a 120-capacity crowd there. Since a 2010 sprucing up, it’s even possible to enjoy the toilets.

Coolest moment: A 2008 set by a peak-of-her-fame Amy Winehouse.

On sale: Agwa de Bolivia coca leaf liqueur.

Upcoming highlight: Funeral Suits, the Dublin band produced by Blur/Smiths cohort Stephen Street, March 6.

38 Great Eastern Street, EC2. theoldbluelast.com.


Don’t be fooled by the “N” in the postcode — as another Vice-associated venue, Dalston’s Birthdays is as east London as they come. Opened in May last year, its 250-capacity basement has already witnessed gigs by LA buzz band Haim and Tim Burgess of the Charlatans.

Coolest moment: A free secret show by Bloc Party last August.

On sale: Fried chicken and waffles at Rita’s Bar & Dining upstairs.

Upcoming highlight: Electropop quartet Fenech-Soler, February 25.

33-35 Stoke Newington Road, N16. birthdaysdalston.com.

Sebright Arms

This pub down an alley in Bethnal Green was meant to be demolished in 2009 but instead reopened last year with smart wood panelling upstairs and a gig venue for 150 downstairs.

Coolest moment: The Vaccines previewed their second album with a surprise set there last June.

On sale: High-spec burgers and chips in restaurant-in-residence Lucky Chip.

Upcoming highlight: Mumfords-associated singer-songwriter Joe Banfi, March 7.

31-35 Coate Street, E2. sebrightarms.co.uk.

Village Underground

Opened in 2007, the main space of this Shoreditch venue is hugely impressive, a warehouse with towering bare brick walls that can fit 1,000 music fans. By day it’s also a community for creative types operating out of the converted Jubilee line carriages and shipping containers outside.

Coolest moment: Notorious rap collective Odd Future played their first London gigs there in spring 2011.

On sale: They’ve hosted events sponsored by Beck’s and Tiger beer.

Upcoming highlight: Hackney dance collective Rudimental, February 22.

54 Holywell Lane, EC2. villageunderground.co.uk.

The Shacklewell Arms

Down a Dalston side-street, this shabby-without-the-chic pub has a recording studio next door and the cool bands keep popping in to play the 150-capacity back room.

Coolest moment: Skrillex, one of the biggest DJs in the world, spun records there last August.

On sale: Pie and mash for £6.50.

Upcoming highlight: Melt Yourself Down, containing former members of cult jazz band Acoustic Ladyland, February 27.

71 Shacklewell Lane, E8. shacklewellarms.com.

Café Oto

A café by day and performance space by night, this is experimentation central, with past performers including Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and the London Improvisers Orchestra.

Coolest moment: Matthew Herbert performed his One Pig album, then served a pork-based meal, in 2011.

On sale: Beer from Bermondsey microbrewery The Kernel.

Upcoming highlight: Tom Waits’s guitarist Marc Ribot, March 15.

18-22 Ashwin St, E8. cafeoto.co.uk.

Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen

The venue for 450 music fans is at the back of a long modern bar filled with hip art, a stone’s throw from the White Cube gallery. It’s a busy place with many past performers going on to great things.

Coolest moment: Grammy-nominated soul star Janelle Monáe was here in the summer of 2010.

On sale: Multiple tequila cocktails, plus Camden Hells Lager and Pale Ale on tap.

Upcoming highlight: Intense Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanne Sundfør, March 11.

2-4 Hoxton Square, N1. hoxtonsquarebar.com.

The Vortex

The not-for-profit home of improv jazz is housed in a surprisingly smart glass box in the centre of Dalston’s grime. It’s been here since 2005 but has been going for 25 years, hosting regular experimental nights for 100 people.

Coolest moment: Releasing the first Portico Quartet album, which earned a Mercury nomination.

On sale: Tapas and burgers in the restaurant downstairs.

Upcoming highlight: Shatner’s Bassoon, emerging from the Leeds jazz scene with two drummers, February 26.

11 Gillett Square, N16. vortexjazz.co.uk.


In Stepney, this art deco theatre and ex-cinema is now the most impressive-looking venue out east. Capacity of 2,600 means it often hosts big names.

Coolest moment: The reformed Pixies played there in 2010.

On sale: Just the usual beer and spirits of a major gig venue.

Upcoming highlight: Brooklyn indie pop band Vampire Weekend’s comeback show, May 8.

490 Commercial Road, E1. troxy.co.uk.