Stop the press! London has an amazing new music venue. And strangely, the old cinema was lying empty just beneath our noses for decades.
Thanks to the owners of the Village Underground, the new Hackney Arts Centre is about to start rocking. The crew announced its new Autumn programme of gigs which kick off in fine style on September 16th with Ethiopian jazz maestro Mulatu Astatke.
The former Savoy Cinema – built in 1936 – will also welcome Lianne La Havas, as well as various art, flea and vintage markets during the month. Shuttered behind heavy iron gates in Stoke Newington Road, the derelict space has not seen a party for 40 years.
The new venue is being designed to mirror The Roundhouse with its multi-purpose spaces to promote grassroots culture, working with 3,500 artists each year. The organisers say the venue’s first programme at the venue is ‘step one’ of a varied programme including ‘talks and debates, spoken word and film, comedy and cabaret and more live music and club events’.
It’s not all good news in Hackney. The battle at the Strongroom continues to rage as the legendary Shoreditch studio and venue fights against an aggressive neighbour who plans to build a six-storey office block that would cripple their business and cast a shadow over their sunny courtyard bar.
The world-renowned studios could be forced to close if the demolition and construction work proceed. But there is a sliver of light. The Strongroom scored a small victory after it successfully forced the owner of the neighbouring property – Curtain Road Properties Limited – to carry out a technical assessment on the impact of the proposed development on the studios. This will now form part of the evidence the council uses to decide the planning application.
Strongroom is also galvanising support from high-profile musicians such as Dan Snaith (Caribou), Nigel Godrich (Radiohead) and Tom Odell. A letter writing campaign is also underway – send your support to the planning officer in charge of the application at: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Currently, Strongroom comprises four world-class commercial studios, eight programming rooms, and a busy public bar. Opened in 1984, seminal recordings from the likes of Orbital, Underworld and The Prodigy earned Strongroom a commanding electronic edge during the Nineties. It’s still going strong today, with everyone from Frank Ocean to Atomic Kitten laying down tracks.
It’s not the first time Strongroom owners Richard Boote and Paul Woolf have faced down a development threat. They also own AIR Studios in Hampstead and recently won a long-running dispute with neighbours who wanted to dig out a huge basement.
Another recording studio with a cloud hanging over it is the Total Refreshment Centre in Stoke Newington. The music venue, studio and rehearsal space was quickly shuttered by Hackney Council in June after it was issued with a closure notice for allegedly selling alcohol and playing music without the relevant licenses, the council said. It clarified that the venue was ‘not shut down’.
The news was also announced in a lengthy post on the venue’s Facebook page, saying: “As of this week we won’t be having events at TRC for a little while. The council has issued us with a notice of closure. We will know more in the coming weeks.”
While TRC founder Lexus Blondin quietly told Resident Advisor that they were working closely with the council to get back up-and-running. “This is not a case of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’, rather that we must collaborate with them fully,” he said.
Total Refreshment Centre was opened in 2012 in an old social club. It offers a large multi-use main space, a recording studio, rehearsal facilities, and a variety of workshop spaces for film and gallery events.
Big changes are now coming to venues all across Hackney – and specifically Shoreditch – as the council approved tough restrictions on new venues or bars wishing to open in the borough.
The changes – which took effect on August 1st – sees opening times for any new venue opening in Hackney trimmed to:
-Monday to Thursday – 8am-11pm
-Friday and Saturday – 8am-midnight
-Sunday – 10am-22.30pm
Exceptions for later licences will be allowed. And the council’s licensing chief, Cllr Emma Plouviez, defended the move by saying: “…it is becoming more and more difficult to strike a balance between supporting our late night venues and the needs of residents.”
But it’s not going down well. The 4,000-strong local WeLoveHackney pressure group called it a ‘disaster’, adding: “It’s a gift to big corporates. By forcing up the value of a license, an area like Shoreditch will become as sterile and soulless as Leicester Square, forcing out anyone without deep pockets.”
While others called it a ‘curfew’ and mocked the Mayor of London’s ‘night czar’ Amy Lamé for demanding an urgent meeting with the council the day after the decision – despite having been consulted in advance about the plans.
The most reviled part of Hackney’s new policy is not just the restrictive opening hours, but also the increased size of the Shoreditch ‘special policy area’ where new licensed venues are effectively banned.
Special credit goes to Mixmag for putting Hackney’s mayor on the spot over the new policy.
Shoreditch has suffered two more high-profile closures. The karaoke-bar-food joint Last Days of Shoreditch and the exhibition space Red Gallery have shut their doors. Both venues will make way for the construction of a new 18-storey Park Plaza hotel on their sites near Old Street.
Live music at the Lock Tavern is under threat. Rumours have it that the Camden bar has been sold to new owners who plan to dramatically reduce the number of live gigs to focus on its culinary aspirations.
Over in West London, the massive Olympia exhibition and conference centre is the focus of a planned major remodelling and expansion.
Its owners, Yoo Capital and Deutsche Finance, have announced that the 130-year-old centre would be transformed into an arts and entertainment complex, while keeping its exhibition business.
Architects Heatherwick Studios were appointed last year to help design plans for a new 1,500 theatre and entertainment venues, hotel, museums, co-working spaces and new restaurants. The price tag? Upwards of £1billion.
Follow Geoff on Twitter @eskimopog