This month’s column takes a special look at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney as it celebrates an Arts Council cash boost, as well as hot new London venues Lafayette, Exhibition, Phase and Orange Yard.

Hackney venue Paper Dress Vintage is celebrating after receiving more than £36,000 from the Arts Council.

Paper Dress Vintage by Dan Criscuolo

The 12-year-old Mare Street vintage shop and evening venue was awarded the money from Arts Council England and will be spent on a new, state-of-the-art D&B Audio PA system and lighting rig, and other upgrades to make the 100-capacity space more accessible. 

“We’ll be sprinkling a bit of this much-needed investment into our magical little corner of Hackney Central,” said Steve Dix of Paper Dress Vintage. “We’re very lucky to be surrounded by so many creative people, not to mention all the emerging artists who travel to play.”

Venues just wanna have funds

The Arts Council’s new £1.5million fund is designed to primarily support venues and promoters. Venues can get help to apply by the Music Venue Trust.

“Grassroots music venues have been crying out for this type of investment,” he added. “And we’ve received fantastic support from the Music Venue Trust over the last five years.”

Steve Dix

It comes as Ben Lovett, from the love-em-or-hate-em band Mumford or Sons, claims the UK will fall behind its peers in Europe if smaller venues and younger talent aren’t supported. 

What’s so special?

“I don’t think there are many places around which manage to capture the same spirit that we do,” Steve said. 

Even a few weeks after the funding boost was announced, Steve’s clearly still elated by the result. “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 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.”

So why should small venues expect to be benefiting from taxpayers’ money? Wouldn’t the Arts Council be better off putting the money into larger venues and bigger crowds? 

“Grassroots music venues are absolutely vital to the health of the UK music scene,” Steve replied. “Young people, performers, artists need a safe and welcoming space where they can get on stage and try out their material, find out who they want to be and take those first steps in building an audience. All the acts who now play in big venues and headline festivals started out on their local music venue.” 

Trust in the Music Venues Trust

Steve says The Music Venue Trust has done some ‘amazing work’ over the past five years in lobbying, championing the importance of the scene and – crucially – fighting against venues closing and reversing that trend. 

“With this new fund from the Arts Council there is now a specific fund that grassroots music venues can access to invest in facilities. Margins are so tight at the bottom and rents, particularly in London, are savage, so actually having some spare money to put into buying new equipment and improving our spec is a revelation for us.”

A vintage love

Steve works for Liquid Management and manages acts such as LIFE, Flamingods, Ren Harvieu and Pat Dam Smyth. For the past eight years, he’s also managed Public Service Broadcasting, booking one of their first shows at Paper Dress in 2011. 

“When I met my (now) wife, Hannah, she was running a vintage clothing shop in Shoreditch. When the recession hit in 2008, she started looking at other ways to make money. I booked in the odd band for small parties there, just four or five a year. Then when we got an alcohol licence, we started doing a lot more,” Steve said.

“People might spend less on clothes in a recession, but they still want to drink.” 


To find out how to make a funding application for your grassroots music venue, click here.

New venues in Soho, Shepherds Bush, King’s Cross and Croydon

Exhibition – Photography by Jake Davis

Exhibition London is a new venue at the Westfield shopping centre in Shepherds Bush. It was opened last month by its in-form owners Broadwick Live, who are busy building an empire of impressive new London venues such as Printworks in Surrey Quays and The Drumsheds in Enfield.  

Built in 1899, Exhibition’s iconic Victorian structure was originally used as an engine house for Central London Railways. Its tiled interior walls and red brick exterior also made the new 2,300 capacity venue the perfect location as the ‘Acme Factory’ in Nineties film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

The Lafayette, a new venue in King’s Cross, is set to open in February next year. The new 600-capacity venue is managed by the same team behind Southwark’s Omeara. It opens on February 20th with a show by HMLTD, followed by a three-night residency by killer jazz pianist/producer Robert Glasper.

Orange Yard

Meanwhile, two more clubs have been added to London’s late-night scene after Phase opened in Croydon and Orange Yard opened in Soho.

Phase is a 500-capacity venue nestled within walking distance of the three railway stations in Croydon. The club – which opened on December 6th – will focus on live gigs during the week and club nights at the weekend. This month will see DJs such as Oneman and Barely Legal perform, as well as live performances from the London African Gospel Choir and trumpet player Mark Kavuma & The Banger Factory.

We reported in May that the Borderline was to shut after its owners DHP fell out with their freeholder over spiralling rents and issues with the redevelopment of a neighbouring property. 

However, all is not lost. The 500-capacity Manette Street venue in Soho has been re-opened as a nightclub, thanks to the owners of the E1 club in Wapping. Called Orange Yard, its boasts of incoming high-profile DJs playing intimate shows late into the night. As far as Soho venues come, their late licence means they’re the only venue in the area that can keep you going into the early hours.

Open and shut cases?

-The Grade II-listed Kensington Roof Gardens is set to be restored to its former glory by early 2020 – if a suitable bidder comes forward. The Evening Standard reports that the leafy 1.5 acre-venue could re-open either as a restaurant or a members’ club. It’s owned by German property company Sirosa and its previous leaseholder was Richard Branson’s Virgin empire until last year’s unexpected closure on December 31st.

Meanwhile, the Newham Recorder reports that 24-hour Canning Town nightclub Fold has lost its licence. The club was raided in October after its owners were arrested on suspicion of money laundering with police seizing £200,000 of DJ equipment. Newham Council has now stripped the venue of its licence – but the club remains open as it appeals the decision. Fold is part of the Shapes Collective which campaign against the closure of London’s clubs.  


Notable mentions

Fabric has spent the past year celebrating its 20th birthday. Heading into its third decade, the Farringdon nightclub is securing its legacy as London’s premier house and techno club by releasing two new special anniversary compilations: 

-A double CD booklet of 20 original tracks made for this release by seminal fabric and FABRICLIVE artists, along with archive photos and artist shots

-A fabric and FABRICLIVE double coloured vinyl set. 

To join the party, click here.

A new record shop dedicated to highlighting unorthodox music has opened in Bethnal Green. Called Hidden Sounds, the Cambridge Heath store will offer a wide selection of intriguing releases, as well as hold concerts and workshops. 

The record shop, hi-fi retailer and community cultural space hosted a much-needed Netil Radio Xmas Hangout on election night (December 12th).