London's happenings hitlist

Inspired by ‘60s hippy happenings, there‘s never been a better time to incorporate a man shooting fire from his penis into your clubbing

  • London's happenings hitlist

    © April Angell

  • Standing outside 43 South Molton on the only bit of astroturf in Mayfair, I scan the Tesco Disco launch party guestlist. One name stands out: Dale Winton. As in ‘Supermarket Sweep’? It seemed Dale’s people had taken our club’s name literally. Sadly, he was a no-show but, in my stint as occasional door whore at London’s first ‘nocturnal arts salon’,

    I came to expect the unexpected.

    Tesco Disco, now relocated to an underground maze off Regent Street called Hedges & Butler, is just one of a new breed of club nights which defy categorisation. Straddling art forms as well as musical genres, these nights incorporate fashion, cinema,burlesque and even – in the case of Elephant & Castle’s Guerrilla Zoo – impromptu bondage. If you like the idea of live comedy but don’t want to spend your Friday night at Jongleurs, there’s Dr Dimaglio’s Secrets, which boasts established comics like Paul Foot alongside performance art from Kiki The Hula Hoop Girl and Beardyman, 2006 Beatbox Champion. Or if a man playing the fiddle with a saw appeals, you’ll want to catch Herr Piece at Shoreditch’s New Cabaret Supper Club.

    Although the idea of ‘happenings’ was first popularised in the 1960s, it has been dormant since. It’s no accident that it’s been resurrected by the MP3 generation. As one Tesco Disco regular points out: ‘At these nights you never really know what’s coming next – it’s like you’re listening to a stranger’s iPod.’ Acts typically perform for 20 minutes and guests are invited to circulate until they find something that suits their mood.

    Guerilla Zoo (‘A collective of underground artists, un-caged’) encourages such channel hopping with Twitter & Bisted, a pair of wizened pensioners who harangue the performers. This playful self-deprecation is something which many of the clubs have in common. Café Royal’s wonderful Size Zero – which plays host to Peaches Geldof’s Trash Pussies on February 22 – is strewn with tins of SlimFast. Its MySpace page lists hobbies as ‘dieting, vomiting, fainting – in no particular order.’

    MySpace is, of course, integral, with many promoters assembling their line-ups from friends of friends, often at the last minute. Some acts are total gambles, which leads to the odd wobble in quality but, for an average door charge of £6, who’s complaining? Certainly not the band managers who welcome the opportunity to play to an atypical crowd of punters. May Looi, who manages dance-rockers Rapid Fiction explains: ‘These nights are the natural home for bands which aren’t easily pigeonholed.’

    Rapid Fiction concur: ‘We’re not the sort of band who look like we’ve just shambled off the bus. Our dramatic make-up and clothes fit the bill at Tesco Disco, where the whole event’s like a mad theatre.’

    The daddy of these happenings is, of course, Lost Vagueness, which started life on the fringes of the Glastonbury festival. Their events are themed: New Year’s Eve was Prince and Paupers, and saw a woman on a horse suspended from the ceiling, while their Valentine’s Day Massacre on Feb 17 promises a bloke who shoots fire from his penis. Other clubs spread their vision over consecutive events. Lady Himalaya’s upcoming monthly Decasia, held at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, promises a ‘super-connected’ multimedia night inspired by 1950s B-movies: ‘Like YouTube, those movies gave artists an outlet outside of the mainstream,’ Himalaya explains. Decasia aims to do the same, and with the likes of Ollie Evans (Klaxons’ video director) and gifted illustrator Edward Crutchley (best known for his enchanting monochrome wildfowl) on the team, it’s set to score a strike.

    ‘Everything’s broken out of its silos now,’ notes Toby Caldwell of Dimaglio’s. He’s right: for the time being at least, the genre-hopping genie shows no signs of going back in the bottle. For time-poor, cash-strapped Londoners, happenings offer the perfect opportunity to do a month’s worth of culture shopping in one boozy night. More importantly, it’s an excuse to dispense with those skinny jeans: at a goth comedy night in an art gallery, it’s almost impossible to wear the wrong clothes.

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