Paper Dress // Interview

This Independent Venue Week, we’re running a series of features looking into the highs and lows of some of London’s most important small venues.

Independent Venue Week, which runs this year from the 29th January – 4th February, acts as a seven day celebration of small venues and those who own, run and work in them.

Each day this week, we’ll be interviewing the people behind the day-to-day running of some of London’s most loved independent venues and delving into the highs and lows of running them. We’ll also be asking how best they feel they can be supported, both by those who go to gigs and by organisations, and looking into the challenges they face.

After yesterday’s spotlight on The Dome, today we talk to Steve from Paper Dress in Hackney about the challenges of being a small live music venue (as well as a vintage clothes shop!) and what more needs to be done to support venues like his.


Hi Steve! What’s your favourite thing about your venue?

I don’t think there are many places around which manage to capture the same spirit that we do. It’s hard to explain; when it doesn’t feel like a venue but more like a big house party is when I love it the most. We’re fortunate that we tend to get a lovely and respectful crowd and I think all the clothes around and the vintage touches put everyone at ease and feel at home. We’re still a bit of a secret. I think most people who walk past just think we’re a dress shop, but there’s something wonderful going on behind the red curtains.

What’s been your standout show at the venue?

Our 10th birthday was a riot. We had one of our favourite acts of all time – The Bikini Beach Band – who always get the whole place jumping. Plus, we had our Barbarella Disco Dome pop-up party, a Bowie tribute and some weird and wonderful cabaret. The place was packed out with lots of friendly faces. It felt like a very special evening and a celebration of 10 years of hard work.

It’s been pretty tough for a lot of venues over the past few years with rising business rates, threats of closure and more, but what would you say has been your biggest challenge?

Our biggest challenge is our space. We really don’t know how long we’ll be able to stay where we are, we’re at the constant mercy of our landlords and things could change in an instant with the next development. We’ve already have to move once and it could very easily happen again. It would be amazing to own our own building but that’s not going to happen in London any time soon.

What role do you think the government or funding bodies could play in helping venues survive?

The Music Venues Trust do some amazing work on this – pulling all the venues together and giving the sector a voice and championing the various pressures is vital work. I’d love it if our government funded the arts like they do in Europe, you go on tour and marvel at the state of venues in places like Holland and Belgium.

Is there anything your average gig-goer can do to support local venues, besides just turning up to gigs?

Matty who books the Lexington made a good point on this at the recent Venues Day: meet your friends at the venue and have a drink there rather than meeting at the pub round the corner and heading in for the headliner. It’s the bar which keeps all these venues afloat, so go in and support the night and the opening acts from the beginning. That would really help and it’s an easy thing to do.

Not including yours, what’s your favourite venue?

It was a real shame when Passing Clouds lost their fight to hold onto their venue. The Troxy in Limehouse is an amazing, beautiful building with some great programming these days and one of the few big venues to be run independently.

““Music isn’t a luxury, it’s essential, a way of life and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon”

Are there any common mistakes you feel venue owners make that hurt business?

We make sure that we treat bands respectfully and welcome everyone with a smile and a can-do attitude – good vibes are important and if the performers and promoters are happy hopefully that will spread around the whole building.

Any stories of terrible bands over the years? Or are the 70’s cliches of rock’n’roll band behaviour extinct?

We had one band, who I won’t dignify by naming, have a meltdown and fight on stage and then punch a wall in our dressing room and nick some clothes. Classy. Drugs are bad, kids.

What are your biggest hopes for the future of independent venues & live music?

There are lots of talented, creative and driven people out there who will persevere and strive to keep venues afloat; new venues will be started up and new bands and new scenes will flourish. Music isn’t a luxury, it’s essential, a way of life, and it isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

Read more about Independent Venue Week on their website.

Find out more about some of our favourite venues on our ‘Venues’ page.