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Top Independent Music Venues in London

By Matthew Lewis

Updated January 7, 2020 Updated January 7, 2020

Independent music venues have been the backbone of the British cultural music scene for as long as there has been popular music. No world-famous British band would be where they are today without these vital institutions and generations of teens can recall hedonistic nights when they first heard their new favorite band in the sweaty backroom of a pub.

Many of these iconic venues are long gone and more continue to close under the strain of increasing overheads, gentrification and the sweeping changes in how we all consume our music. But fear not, a handful of independent music venues continue to fly the flag for this dying yet integral part of the British music scene.

Here are some of our favorite independent music venues in London – definitely take in a gig or two at these places while you’re here studying!

100 Club

Arguably one of London’s most famous music venues, the 100 Club first opened its doors in the 1940s and continued to cement its place into the very core of the British music scene.

The venue is most notable for hosting the gigs of Britain’s most famous punk bands during the 70s and early 80s, such as The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Dammed. One of the venue’s most notable gigs was The Rolling Stone’s secret show in 1982.

Today, the 100 Club’s decor remains unchanged, and so does its busy and vibrant schedule. After surviving near-closure in 2010, it has only gone from strength to strength. Step in this iconic Oxford Street venue and you can step into a small part of musical history.

The Windmill

Brixton venue The Windmill combines a focus on great independent music with cheap drinks and tickets and it has a long history of championing the newest British and cross-Atlantic talent.

First opening its doors in the early 1970s, The Windmill has slowly changed in direction from a traditional English ‘boozer’ to a solid indie venue. Any ardent music fan should try to visit this venue and potentially see the next big act playing one last intimate show at this 150-capacity venue.

Cafe Oto

Taking the mantle for the most experimental and unique independent music venue, Café Oto is a small, one-room, 150-capacity venue in east London.

Cafe Oto takes its name from the Japanese for ‘noise’, which gives you an idea of the ethos of the venue. Both the performers and crowd enter directly from the street, and with no green room, the intimacy of the gig starts right away.

Experimental artists fill most of the venue’s schedule, and have given it its global reputation, with names such as Yoko Ono and Anthony Braxton championing the venue. Occasionally artists play for an entire week’s residency.

The Shacklewell Arms

The Shacklewell Arms in Dalston transcends the ‘local pub’ feel and creates a music venue that welcomes all newcomers. It’s the location to catch local and up-and-coming bands, combining the grittiness of a ‘spit ‘n’ sawdust’ bar with an eclectic, varied line-up.

Notting Hill Arts Club

Notting Hill Arts Club is the top west London music venue competing with the east-end scene. As well as live concerts, this venue holds weekly DJ nights, themed nights and art exhibitions.

This variety is a testament to the diversity and uniqueness of the Notting Hill Arts Club. One of the venues most famous nights is the ‘Death Disco Clubnight’ run by Creation Records founder and music industry legend Alan McGee.

Those looking for a more refined and varied independent music venue should make their way to the West End and the Notting Hill Arts Club.

Lead image: Savages at the 100 Club (Paul Hudson: Flickr)

This article was originally published in January 2020 .

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