From the subterranean theatres of Waterloo to the sticky dancefloors of Camden, we round up the best live music venues and performing arts spaces in London.
This week we reported on the declining health of London’s live music venues and performing arts spaces, which are under increasing threat from development across the capital. Happily, some are not only surviving but thriving. And here they are:
1) Wilton’s Music Hall, Shadwell
Despite the best efforts of the Luftwaffe, council demolition teams and creeping gentrification, Wilton’s continues to live on as the world’s oldest surviving music hall. Grade II-listed in 1971, it wasn’t deemed structurally sound until 2015, but today still retains a rickety magnetism when hosting plays, poetry slams and live bands.
1 Graces Alley, London, E1 8JB; wiltons.org.uk
2) The Barbican, Barbican
No list of London’s live music venues can be considered complete without the inclusions of the Barbican. Housed in an exquisite piece of Brutalist architecture, the concert hall is home to the London Symphony Orchestra and puts on regular theatre and music performances, plus art exhibitions and film screenings. The 2,000-capacity concert hall has wonderful acoustics, which lure big names to its stage.
Silk Street, Barbican, EC2Y 8DS; barbican.org.uk
3) The 100 Club, Soho
A purveyor of live music since 1942, the 100 Club helped propel punk from underground concern to cause célèbre in the 1970s with gigs from establishment-bashings bands like The Clash and Sex Pistols. Despite flirting with closure in 2010, this intimate venue off Oxford Street remains a pioneer of jazz, classical and alternative music.
100 Oxford Street, London, W1D 1LL; the100club.co.uk
4) The Vaults, Waterloo
The labyrinthine catacombs beneath Waterloo station are an incubator for some of the city’s most creative thinkers, whose artistic ambitions are realised in a series of subterranean theatres and galleries known as The Vaults. Directors of this underground space embrace edgy and alternative artists, and make sure performances are accessible to anyone with an open mind.
Leake Street, Waterloo, SE1 7NN; the-vaults.org
5) The Forum, Kentish Town
Originally an art deco cinema, The Forum has a hard-earned reputation as one of North London’s premier gig venues, pulling in anything from drag acts to megastars seeking something intimate (Kiss, Nelly and Rihanna have all played here in recent years). Balcony seats are comfortable and offer good views, but the sticky dancefloor is where the action happens.
9-17 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, NW5 1JY; o2forumkentishtown.co.uk
6) Bussey Building, Peckham
Saved from the wrecking ball in 2007, this defunct Victorian warehouse turned party hub has helped Peckham carve itself a reputation as one of London’s best nights out. This multi-floored venue has a toe in every genre, putting on anything from raves to disco nights. When the sun comes up this dynamic space offers art exhibits, theatre performances and yoga. There’s also a rooftop cinema.
133 Rye Lane, Peckham, SE15 4ST; clfartcafe.org
7) The Barfly, Chalk Farm
Long the late night haunt of Converse-wearing, skinny-jeaned students, the Barfly is raucous, two-storey, sticky-floored, cider-and-black sup house that chiselled Camden’s musical reputation into folklore by breaking the likes of Coldplay, Muse and the Killers to crowds of 200 people.
49 Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8AN; thebarflylondon.com
8) Union Chapel, Islington
Islington’s Union Chapel manages to be all things to all people, alternating between working church, live music venue and drop-in centre for London’s homeless. The acoustics are superb and the ecclesial 19th-century interior offers an exquisite backdrop to live performances whether it’s a choir or band.
Compton Terrace, Islington, N1 2UN; unionchapel.org.uk
9) The Young Vic, Waterloo
This prized playhouse in Waterloo has a simple ethos: to present exciting productions at low prices. It’s doing a stellar job, helping emerging talent break onto the stage under the guidance of old theatre hands. The Young Vic has its roots deep in the community with 10% of tickets given away to locals who couldn’t otherwise afford to see a show. Nice.
66 The Cut, Waterloo, SE1 8LZ; youngvic.org
10) The Tabernacle, Notting Hill
Housed in a glorious, Grade II-listed building in Notting Hill, The Tabernacle was built as an evangelical Christian church in 1887 before converting to performing arts in the 1970s. The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd have played here, but the community-focused venue predominately champions grassroots artists. It also does a very decent brunch.
35 Powis Square, Notting Hill, W11 2AY; tabernaclew11.com
11) Café Oto, Dalston
A sanctuary of leftfield artists and the experimental avant-garde, Café Oto may look little more than a steam-windowed hot coffee and home-baked cake shop, but it’s where the capital comes to stroke its beard and hear some weird. Expect anything from to Saturn space lords, Sun Ra Arkestra, to sonic-bending South Koreans, Balloon & Needle.
18-22 Ashwin Street, London, E8 3DL; cafeoto.co.uk
12) Koko, Mornington Crescent
All lipstick reds and curved balconies, Koko looks more like a sultry boudoir than a live music venue. But this former theatre is one of London’s more grandiose concert halls with three levels of viewing tiers and a knack for booking some of the biggest stars from rock, hip hop and pop.
1a Camden High Street, London, NW1 7JE; koko.uk.com
13) Roundhouse, Camden
Built in 1846, this vast railway storage shed outlived its original use and had morphed into an experimental live performance space by 1964. It received a sympathetic facelift in 2000 and is now a revered London landmark that’s as happy hosting dance dons Underworld as it is street dance crews and circus acts.
Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8EH; roundhouse.org.uk
14) Scala, King’s Cross
In the 1980s, when Scala was still operating as an art house cinema, it became known as the Sodom Odeon for its penchant for banned films, famed horror all-nighters and saucy sexploitation flicks. As a live music and clubbing venue, it still carries a sense of misadventure, putting on everything from flamenco percussionists to indie duos.
275 Pentonville Road, London, N1 9NL; scala.co.uk
15) Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush
Restored to its former glory as a jazz-era dance hall in 2001, this ornate musical venue in Shepherd’s Bush is known for welcoming the likes of Kings of Leon and Paul Weller. It’s best, however, for acoustic acts and singer-songwriters whose shows can be elevated to ecclesiastical levels beneath the venue’s glittering chandeliers.
310 Uxbridge Road, London, W12 7LJ; bushhallmusic.co.uk
16) Underworld, Camden
Carved into the basement of the World’s End boozer, a mere phlegm’s spit from Camden Town tube station, the Underworld is the unshackled beast of the alternative rock scene. Expect loud speakers, low ceilings, sweltering mosh pits and indecipherable gig posters, as everything from rock to emo to punk leaves its mark.
74 Camden High Street, London, NW1 0NE; theunderworldcamden.co.uk
17) Ronnie Scott’s, Soho
Opened by British saxophonist Ronnie Scott in 1959, this Soho institution is one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs. Since the early days of Sarah Vaughan, Count Basie and Miles Davis, the legendary basement club, with its soft-lit, intimate ambience and plush furnishings, has continued to host a gamut of musical talent and is stacked to the rafters most nights.
47 Frith Street, Soho, W1D 4HT; ronniescotts.co.uk
18) XOYO, Shoreditch
Since the plug was pulled on Plastic People, XOYO has become the most aurally aware night in stylish Shoreditch. With two rooms to choose from, emerging bands and electronica stars squeeze in during the week, before the naughty nights are taken over by big name DJs keen to test an ear-warping sound system.
32-37 Cowper Street, London, EC2A 4AP; xoyo.co.uk
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