My London mosh pit days may be a distant memory – thanks for the good times, Glenn Miller (just kidding) – but I'm still aware that my former stomping ground is a hotbed of live music. And since not all the venues I once attended still exist, I touched base with two way-cooler-than-me insiders for tips on where to go and who to see.
Anika Mottershaw (anikainlondon.com), who stages shows, manages bands and works for hip East London record label Bella Union, suggests several funky venues for gig-loving visitors.
"The Bunker in Dalston is an old wartime bunker in the back of a car park. It's cold, wet, damp and dark – but also great, although they don't have a lot of shows," she says. "But the Lexington is a classic: the sound is amazing and I've seen some really special shows there. Finally, Cafe Oto is very curatorial. They pick high quality acts and it's a comfortable place to watch shows – seated and candlelit." (See: bootstrapcompany.co.uk; thelexington.co.uk; and cafeoto.co.uk.)
If this is your first London live music foray, I'd add two venues every fan should experience. Check the calendars – and book ahead – for the legendary Brixton Academy (o2academybrixton.co.uk) and the lovely Union Chapel (unionchapel.org.uk).
Do some deeper preparation by perusing the listings at Londonears (londonears.com) and Time Out (timeout.com/london). If you fancy hanging with like-minded festival fans, time your trip for the Bushstock (bushstock.co.uk), Camden Rocks (www.camdenrocksfestival.com) or Land of Kings (landofkings.co.uk) annual events.
If you miss the fests, though, Mottershaw says the city's rich pub scene always has something to offer – so long as you know where to go.
"The Waiting Room [waitingroomn16.com], in the basement of the Three Crowns in Stoke Newington, is probably my favourite pub venue. It's a wooden box room, which, for some reason, reminds me of Twin Peaks," she says, adding that the Old Blue Last pub – owned and operated by hipster gurus Vice magazine – is a great Shoreditch alternative (theoldbluelast.com).
And while she also recommends London's two Rough Trade record shops (roughtrade.com) for frequent free performances, Mottershaw says shows staged by promoters ATP, Rockfeedback, Upset The Rhythm and Bird on the Wire can also be relied on to deliver the goods .
But which local act would she especially recommend keeping your ears open for? "Landshapes is my favourite London band at the moment. Their live shows are something special – and they're just getting better and better."
Also on an upward trajectory – they've just released a new EP – hardworking London-based band Sisteray (sisteray.com) has been playing venues throughout the city since forming in 2012.
Lead guitarist Dan Connolly names smaller venues such as the Silver Bullet (thesilverbullet.co.uk) and Nambucca (nambuccalondon.com) – both in Islington – among the band's favourite places to play. But the old-school, if a little gritty, New Cross Inn (newcrossinn.com) tops his personal list.
"It stinks of beer, has sticky floors and needs a paint job – but that's what makes it," he says, adding that "the acoustics are great and there's always a lively crowd who are really into their music. We've played there more than anywhere else."
Connolly's leading London venue when it comes to watching other bands is the Brixton Academy. "It's big, but there's a massive slope in the middle so no matter where you're standing there's always a decent view. I've seen the 'Modfather' Paul Weller as well as Primal Scream there – both blew me away."
Among the grassroots local acts Connolly recommends catching are the Deets and the Tones. And if you're a first-time London mosher? "Go down to Camden or Shoreditch on any night. You'll find more than enough venues here putting on good acts for free or very cheap. Expect to get hurt, though – London crowds can be very rowdy!"
OUR READERS WRITE
- Wilton’s Music Hall is fab. Very atmospheric design/architecture and a great bar serving stiff drinks. @SbonnerABV
- Brixton Academy, Scala, London Jazz Cafe, Union Chapel and the O2 Wireless in Hyde Park are great but the Union Chapel is just so unique. Saw Amy Winehouse there plus a few others and the sound just vibrates through your soul. @Chiqee
- We suggest you check out the Vault Festival (thevaultfestival.com) held in London’s underground tunnels. An amazing venue. @WestworldAB
- St-Martin-in-the-Fields is a fantastic live music venue, including its Cafe in the Crypt for live jazz. Rent a cushion for comfort in the pews. @sandyhermiston
- The Troubadour in Earls Court is small and intimate. For the dance/club/dj scene: Ministry of Sound and Fabric are good. @drjrcorns
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