Across the Pond: London Musical Culture from an American Perspective

Bertie Magit / January 25, 2012
photo by Clare Shearer

London is a thriving city with its own prominent music scene. Well known venues like the O2 attract the largest acts, but  smaller venues seem to pop up into my periphery every day with their own must-see headliners. Some, such as Rizlab, literally pop up out of nowhere thanks to the multiple concert curator companies in the metropolis. Eat Your Own Ears, Upset the Rhythm, and Rizlab frequently host anything from run-of-the-mill shows and music festivals to creative events and warehouse parties.

Pete Doherty at O2 Academy Brixton/ photo by Bertie Magit

A reoccurring trend in show locations is that very few spaces are designated for concerts only. Many are nightclubs with shows a few nights a week, such as Koko in Camden and Heaven in Soho. Other,s like burlesque club Madam Jojo’s, have only one night reserved for concerts. London also offers the unique experience to listen to jazz at one of its many hidden speakeasies. If you happen to be in London with a severe music craving you can always find a pub where a wide range of bands are able to play for a buzzed and usually appreciative audience. Pubs are a great place to stumble upon a band you may have never heard of before but will soon become a regular on your Spotify or iTunes playlist. In an audience of what could have been no more than twenty people, I saw Racehorses at a pub in Hoxton and could not have been more satisfied with the music I heard. In these small, low-stress environments bands play simply for the love of music, resulting in genuine and memorable performances.

Racehorses/photo by Bertie Magit

While audiences all over London are receptive, they do not always have the same encouraging and excited energy that bands desire. A general expectation is that unless a DJ is playing, very few people will be dancing. When STRFKR played White Heat at Madam Jojo’s, the Pacific Northwestern band seemed to be a bit disappointed with the crowd’s lack of movement.

There are exceptions to this concert faux pas. In November, Architecture in Helsinki were welcomed by an ecstatic audience at Heaven even when an instrument malfunctioned and the band ended up playing 80’s covers for fifteen minutes. However, the band showcased abundant effort and energy, obvious in their constant choreographed dance routines.

Photo by Clare Shearer


photo by Clare Shearer

The only musical scenario where dancing is guaranteed is one that features a DJ. The wonderful aspect of the music in London clubs is that it is not the same Top 40 dubstep expected at American fraternity parties. I have yet to go to top clubs, Ministry of Sound and Fabric, but from my experience DJs mix some nice whomp and extra beats within classics. It is not surprising to hear more remixes of New Order in one night than I had ever heard before.

With most restaurants, bars, and pubs closing around midnight, London is not the city that never sleeps. However, it does have a packed lineup of music to hear every night. There is always another club to go to with a new band to see. The only problem is finding the time to experience it all.

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