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A whistle-stop tour of London’s coolest gig venues

Published 20 February 2013

London is absolutely teeming with live venues, with thousands of bands and solo performers playing and singing their hearts out every night. Here are some of the hippest venues that London has to offer.

creative commons Flickr (Kriffster) Café Oto, Dalston
Situated just a stone’s throw from Dalston Junction overground station, Café Oto is a hub for all things left-field, from jazz and folk to electronica and noise. During the day, it’s a pleasant enough café bar, serving a range of organic and responsibly-sourced cakes, sandwiches, ales, wines, and hot drinks. At night, it transforms into a hipper-than-hip gig venue, hosting concerts and talks featuring the likes of Thurston Moore, the Sun Ra Arkestra, Yoko Ono, and Alasdair Roberts. Basically, if you’ve read about it in The Wire, then the chances are that you can see it here!

The Lock Tavern, Camden
Back in the go-go 90s, Camden was very much the centre of the musical universe, at least as far as the Britpop scene was concerned. Since then, what many see as being the over-commercialisation of the area, coupled with the rise of East London areas such as Shoreditch and Dalston, have taken the shine off Camden Town to a certain extent. However, there are still a few places in the area that have retained an aura of hipster exclusivity, and the Lock Tavern is chief among them. The actual upstairs venue is tiny, but it has played host to a virtual who’s-who of the music scene over the past few years, including Vampire Weekend, The Horrors, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, Belle & Sebastian, and Connan Mockasin. Best of all, entry is always free, and if the live room is too busy, you can always enjoy a drink in the wonderful rooftop beer garden.

The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch
Back when it was launched in the early 2000s, glossy freesheet Vice Magazine virtually defined the concept of hipsterism for a generation of trucker cap-wearing BMX riders. Capitalising on the cache that came with running such an influential magazine, they opened up their own bar and venue in the fashionable Shoreditch area of East London. Since then, literally hundreds of famous names have graced the Old Blue Last stage, including the Klaxons, Amy Winehouse, the Vaccines and current NME darlings Toy.

Notting Hill Arts Club, Notting Hill
Back in the 60s and 70s, West London was very much the place to be, with hip venues such as the Troubadour and the 100 Club attracting the biggest names of the day. Since then, rising property values have all but priced out the young creative element, but as with Camden, there are still pockets of cool to be found amongst all the glitz and glamour. With its whitewashed walls, eye-candy projections, regular art exhibitions and underground music policy, the Notting Hill Arts Club is one of the most interesting venues in the capital, popular with bohemian twentysomethings and big-name celebs alike.

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  • Murray Abisch

    Some of those are venues that are deliberately trying to be cool. Any place (or anyone) that tries to be cool automatically is not cool.