A QMUL Fresher’s Guide to Awesome London Gig Venues

As a QMUL student, you are right on the doorstep of London’s historic and tireless music scene. Despite being invariably ripped off by exorbitant ticket and drink prices- why not take full advantage of it?

As I have lived in London for the whole of my life and have unashamedly frequented the same bars and gig venues since I was sixteen, these recommendations are intended for the freshers coming in from outside the city and those who already live in London, but haven’t sampled the delights of its live music scene to their full extent. Whilst already itinerant London gig-goers may find this article frustratingly condescending, I hope that these suggestions will be of at least some vague use to a proportion of you.

The Garage:

Nearest Tube Station: Highbury and Islington

This venue guarantees relatively cheap tickets and a rich mix of bands in an oh-so trendy part of town. Unlike some places in London, the promoter of this venue seems to demonstrate a rare innovativeness and imagination when selecting the line-ups for each gig. The Garage is a moderate sized venue and houses a fairly laid back atmosphere: the majority of the time people aren’t desperately scrambling to get to the front and thus your personal space isn’t jeopardized so much.

It is also a possibility that you’ll bump into members of the higher echelons of the popular music hierarchy: at a Maps and Atlases gig last year at The Garage, I found myself standing next to Foals. Admittedly, when I went to go to  talk to them later on, they just sort of glared at me. Moreover, if you are a borderline creepy stalker, bands tend to hang around the merc stand and bar at the back of the venue before their sets- by implication the backstage area must be rather crap. Here’s a top tip: it may be advisable to bring some anti-bacterial hand gel with you as the last time I was at The Garage, there was no running water in the men’s toilets. Now that’s rock n’roll.

The Old Blue Last:

Nearest Tube Station: Shoreditch High Street

If you want to impress the elite hipsters in your year, or more realistically just intensify their disdain in your futile attempts to sound cool, make sure that you can say that you’ve caught a band here at some point. Clichéd and worn witty observations about hipsters aside however, The Old Blue Last is an awesome venue for fans of alternative sub-genres, particularly math/post rock, shoegaze and post-hardcore bands.

With local independent zines regularly curating free gigs, and the occasional Vice Magazine launch, the pub hosts a DIY aesthetic which is refreshingly antithetical to some of London’s tackier, but nonetheless extortionate clubs and bars. In all honesty, it is not as pretentious as I have made it sound and for those of you who from fresher’s week are completely fed up of ironically dancing all night to the same vapid music on loop in clubs such as The Ministry of Sound, The Old Blue Last may provide a welcome alternative.

 Brixton Academy:

Nearest Tube Station: Brixton (obvs)

Brixton Academy has been putting on the biggest acts from around the world for thirty years, there have been countless live albums recorded here and a number of bands such as Arcade Fire, Sex Pistols and The Clash have chosen to play five consecutive nights at the venue. Therefore, it is little wonder that Brixton Academy has been voted venue of the year twelve times in the annual NME awards.

Alongside its vast significance in the context of popular music history, it is a progressive venue attracting a diverse array of upcoming bands. Its forthcoming gig schedule caters for a wide spectrum of contemporary popular music styles, putting on ubiquitous acts such as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and those that are more underground such as post-rock legends, Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

It is a huge venue with a 5,000 person capacity and it fills up pretty rapidly, so it is advisable to get there relatively early if you want a good spot. Despite its size, the sound in Brixton Academy is particularly impressive and so it isn’t really an issue if you want to stay by the bar getting pissed the whole night. Also, as an added bonus, it is similar to Mile End Road in the fact that there are innumerable opportunities for a kebab on the walk back to the station.


Nearest Tube Station: Russell Square

The University of London Student’s Union regularly puts on exclusive secret shows for students; bands such as The Strokes, Radiohead and Mew have all played there in the past. In addition, ULU also provides slots for student bands, hosting the finals of the ‘Uni Music League’ last year. The venue is great for meeting students from other London Universities, although it’s in UCL territory, so just make sure you don’t start any gratuitous fights.

Perhaps most importantly, drinks are pretty cheap at bar adjacent to the gig area so you won’t have to worry about pre-drinking repellent, sub-standard vodka from the Budgens down the road. Unfortunately, ULU has recently been threatened with closure as part of austerity measures, so make sure that you get down there while you can and find out for yourselves why it is worth saving.

Some other awesome places in London to see a band which didn’t quite make the list above:

The Camden Roundhouse, Nearest Station: Chalk Farm

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Nearest Station: Shepherd’s Bush Market

229, Nearest Station: Great Portland Street

Koko, Nearest Station: Mornington Crescent

The Macbeth, Nearest Station: Hoxton

The Borderline, Nearest Station: Covent Garden

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