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Rock & Pop: East London

Community Music

- Why East London is poised to take on North London and Soho as the centre of the capital's music scene: An exclusive LondonNet feature by Catherine Chambers

For too long North London and the West End has dominated music venues and club culture. But now the traditional backbone of London's music and clubbing industry is facing a new challenge - from its Eastern neighbour.

East London - specifically Hackney, Spitafields, Shoreditch and Hoxton (the latter two often christened 'Shoho') is not only home to a smorgasbord of bars and trendy eating places, but has witnessed a mushrooming of small club and music venues over the last few years.

Cantaloupe and the much-lamented Blue Note heralded the change, as well as the popular 333 Club, which has become a magnet for clubbers. But over the last two years a new wave of venues has emerged combining club nights with live music.

Of these, the Spitz, which celebrated its fifth birthday in April, 93 Feet East set up at the tail end of last year, and newly opened Cargo are leading the way. Bands on the first rung of the ladder who want to get away from Camden sweatboxes, and DJs after fresh and vibrant club venues are turning towards the East, as are well known names who can benefit from larger venues such as the 2,700 capacity Ocean in Hackney.

"East London is developing rapidly and in a very exciting way," says Anthony Luvera of 93 Feet East. It's a notion repeated by the other venues.
The Ocean front"East London is the centre of not just music but art and the two do go hand in hand, "says Lucy Whitehead of Ocean, which opened in April this year. Among Whitehead's theories for musicians re-locating East are "the number of amazing disused buildings" which are being turned into venues, and the diverse artistic communities that provide the cultural base. "London is a very multi-cultural place and East London typifies this, making the mix of people and music ever vibrant."
Spitz PR Tris Dickin agrees that the cultural diversity of the area around Spitafields, EC1, where the Spitz is based, has helped the venue -which also boasts an art gallery- become popular. He credits artists such as Asian Dub Foundation and Talvin Singh as 'revitalising the scene.' "Talvin Singh used to DJ at the Spitz a few years ago and used to have a studio on Brick Lane. ADF's success has enabled them to put so much back into the community from where they came," says Dickin.

SpitzRun by a charity called The Dandelion Trust, The Spitz began life as a dance/theatre/music venue but opted to slim down its programme to focus primarily on live music and club nights. While the venue is a main player on the touring circuit for rising stars such as Turin Brakes and Goldfrapp, the Spitz has attracted high profile artists seeking to play an intimate gig, such as Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal who played to a sold-out crowd earlier this year.

Dickin describes the music policy as 'eclectic'. Indeed it is hard to think of another venue that covers such a wide rang of music - from art-rock (Sweep The Leg Johnny) to Godfather of alt-country Howe Gelb, and from jazz drummer Fred Frith, master of electronica Zan Lyons, to Balkan folk from female Bosnian duo Szapora. "We usually get acts who are on the verge of getting a good reputation and who can pull good crowds," he says.

What marks the Spitz out from other venues however, is the intimate ambience, with candle lit tables and vibe similar to the Jazz Café. It's far far removed from the beer stained floors of the pub venues. "The audience have done the pub-rock thing," he says. "Now they want somewhere they can sit down and have a glass of wine." It's an atmosphere that has found favour with famous musicians, including a certain David Bowie who, on visiting the Spitz, remarked that it was 'very bohemian'.

The Spitz's success is such that the promoters are considering putting on gigs at other venues. "We're thinking of doing events outside the Spitz," says Dickin. " The maximum amount of people we can get in is 250 and the natural position is to go outside the Spitz and put on events in bigger venues."

Right in the heart of Shoreditch - home to the popular 333 club - and Brick Lane respectively, Cargo and 93 Feet East are two venues that have capitalised on merging club nights with music. Both pull the punters in through their popular club nights, with 93 Feet East holding the bi-weekly Haywire sessions with Andrew Weatherall, and classic house night Sugar Candy. Cargo hosts a Latin house club on Friday and Worldwide Live on Sunday with Giles Peterson.

Located halfway along Brick Lane, 93 Feet East launched last September hosting Ninja Tunes 10th anniversary party on its inaugural night, with Coldcut, Mr Scruff and Amon Tobin. Musically, 93 Feet East matches the Spitz in terms of its range of artists including Plaid (Warp Records) to the twisted art-rock from Southern Records.

Set in three brick arches in the cornerstone of Shoreditch, Cargo promises MDF (Music Dance Food) and live music and DJs seven nights of the week. Run by the folk who own 'Shoreditch Godfather' Cantaloupe, the 500 capacity Cargo has played host to Jarvis Cocker and Giles Peterson, the latter of whom DJs regularly at the venue. Luvera makes that all-important decision of which artists to put on, anything goes, he says but its 'gotta have soul'.


The main auditorium at OceanOcean only opened its doors in April, but is already riding the crest of a wave, having welcomed big names such as Fun Lovin Criminals, Brand New Heavies and reggae legend Lee Scratch Perry. Like the Spitz, Ocean is run by an independent charity, Ocean Music Trust and receives no private funding. It's a huge boost for Hackney- currently in the throes of a regeneration programme - as local residents can take advantage of Ocean's music education programme, Rising Tide. The Ocean Resource Centre runs workshops aimed a young people with little or no musical experience. "The education side of Ocean is instrumental in improving young music lovers/makers lives," says Whitehead.

The venue's large capacity - divided into three separate spaces - the main auditorium, Ocean 2 (300 capacity) and Ocean 3 (100 Capacity) gives it an advantage over the smaller venues in that it can attract established musicians to the area. But like Spitz, 93 Feet East and Cargo, Ocean boasts hugely eclectic line-ups, a fact which Whitehead puts down to the promoters experience and knowledge. Whitehead describes the music policy as 'open minded', covering a cappella, African, ambient, bhangra and world music among others. "We have bands from Soca to Jazz to classical to reggae rock hip hop, " trumpets Whitehead. Not to be outdone, Ocean also holds club nights -though of a slightly different nature - a weekly salsa club every Sunday, and the Beautiful Octopus Club - a night run by and for people with learning difficulties.

A thriving hotbed of culture, East London is on track to being the beating heart of London's music and clubbing scene.

Catherine Chambers

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