The borough excels at live music in intimate spaces, from experimentation at Café OTO via eclectic jazz at the Vortex to international stars at the inspiring Village Underground. These long-established venues have been joined more recently by the glitzy Moth Club and fabulously alternative Total Refreshment Centre. Dalston and Stokey feature umpteen basement clubs and bars, from dive to diva style, offering regular free music nights. The Nest Collective organise folk gigs in unusual places including Woodberry Wetlands.
Ploughing its own musical furrow since 2008, Café OTO is Hackney’s most distinctive venue. The stress is on experimentation across genres – jazz, folk and classical – and past performers have included Yoko Ono, percussionist Eddie Prévost and the dazzling Sun Ra Arkestra. The café serves excellent Persian food and baking, plus a range of beers and whiskies (including Japanese single malt).
This pop-up serves healthy Senegalese and European food, plus a generous side-serving of beautiful West African music.
The Moth Club
This ex-servicemen’s members club has an alternative life as Hackney’s hottest new venue for gigs, DJ nights, album launches and film screenings. The glittering main hall provides a beautifully kitsch backdrop.
The beautiful old train station at Hackney Central has a new lease of life as this club/venue/fancy restaurant. It’s part of an entertainment company chain, so hasn’t the organic feel of other Hackney venues, but the upstairs room hosts new and established bands as well as club nights, and the L-Acoustics sound system is excellent.
Upstairs from a snooker club, this gloriously tatty venue hosts a great programme of film, art and music events, with a Thursday jam session that has to be the most eclectic in the borough.
Total Refreshment Centre
The recording studio here nurtures new talent, and the backstreet Stokey venue provides a showcase. So far this collective of musicians, producers and filmmakers has featured a collaboration with Thurston Moore, sets by Gilles Peterson and exciting custom-made events such as a Blue Note night. The monthly Peach event, the brainchild of brilliant poet/saxophonist Alabaster de Plume, is a must.
One of Hackney’s best music venues, this 700-capacity former warehouse treads an interesting line between commercial and alternative music, styling itself as the Barbican Uncut. Tuareg musicians Tinariwen, singer songwriter Blood Orange and local soul star Lianne La Havas have all played here – and partied in the tiled green room that once housed a brothel.
The Vortex has been around for thirty years, moving from Stoke Newington Church Street to revamped Gillett Square in 2005. It is run mainly by volunteers, and programmes a staggering volume of excellent music: around four hundred gigs a year. Officially a jazz club, it has a wide musical remit – you’ll hear everything from Zimbabwean jit jive to Afro-Latin sounds.
Located below the Three Crowns pub, Waiting Room features diverse club nights and live music in a tiny wood- and tile-lined basement that’s a little smarter than its Dalston equivalents. Electronica, reggae, hip-hop, indie pop and alt-country all feature here.