The west London scene

North London's full of indie bands, south of the river it's all grime, and disco-punk's eaten up the east. Now it's the west of the capital that's ready to make some noise

  • ‘Way Out West started for two reasons,’ explains club promoter and musical Jack-of-all-trades Keith Anderson, 29. ‘I wanted to raise money for Brentford FC and I realised there was nowhere in west London, probably in a ten-mile radius, that was putting on what I would deem to be new, exciting bands. So I said to my dad and a couple of the guys at the club, “Let me have a go”. It took about three months to find a band that was willing to come to Brentford.

    ’For the teenage (and alarmingly skew-whiff) west Londoners at his latest Way Out West night at Bush Hall, the club (founded in 2005) has been a musical awakening. Earier this year, kids were so hungry for a night out in west London that they queued for hours to get in to see Laura Marling (so far west she’s actually from Reading) and Fear Of Flying who provided the musical thrills for kids – most younger than Pixie Geldof and just as wealthy. Some didn’t make it past the door after all the excitement mixed badly with their alcopops.

    For a lot of folk, west London’s music scene starts and ends with heady end-of-summer boozing at Notting Hill Carnival – and perhaps the odd gig at Shepherds Bush Empire and the Hammersmith Apollo. When it’s compared with east, north and south, the west is better known as a haven for antipodean pissheads moshing to Nirvana tribute bands than for any recent musical creativity. Maybe it’s finally time for a rethink.

    Westsiders will tell you that the snidey comments their patch attracts are unfair and point to the area’s rich musical heritage. Dom Prosser, booker at Mark Ronson’s favourite London hangout, Notting Hill Arts Club, is vociferous: ‘Historically, looking at Notting Hill as the gateway to west London, you’ve got to look at the Carnival. Caribbean culture has had a huge impact on all London music, and the history of west London is very much based around Caribbean culture.’ And, as every west Londoner will remind you, there were some chaps called The Clash too. The cultural stew with which they flavoured their music – Kings Road punk, ska, reggae, the Notting Hill riots – can be heard in bands playing every sticky-floored venue in the capital. Clash bassist and ska nut Paul Simonon isn’t shy about telling anyone he can about west London’s worth. Then there was post-punk venue Acklam Hall, which morphed into Subterranea (now Neighbourhood) and hosted legendary gigs by Joy Division, The Fall and Scritti Politti, as well as 1979’s Rock Against Racism concert.

    No wonder so much of the industry was attracted to the area. Major labels (Warners, Universal), indies (Rough Trade, XL, the relaunched Stiff), PR companies (Hall Or Nothing, Coalition), record shops (Rough Trade, Honest Jon’s, Intoxica), studios and all the other cogs required to keep the industry ticking are dotted all over the Ws. Following suit, big pop names – the ones who’ve made it rich enough to buy property out west – are trying their luck in the area. Damon Albarn is involved in Honest Jon’s, and The Streets’ Mike Skinner runs The Beats label from west London. He recently signed Fulham rapper Example. But these are all established stalwarts that mostly made it years ago, and as any Spurs fan knows, it’s not healthy to live in the past.

    Even with its rich history and the right contacts, west London is still overlooked. Look in our listings and you’ll see why: a lack of venues. It’s inextricably linked to economics. Property values force the sale of venues, like Hammersmith Palais, and they hardly encourage new ones to move in. With west London largely residential, licensing is an issue too. Councils work closely with housing associations, which means that when 1,000 kids queue outside Hammersmith Working Men’s Club for a WOW night, as they did in 2006, residents complain, the venue gets cold feet and Keith Anderson’s club is forced into a nomadic existence. Popular techno night Nodisko moved from Woody’s to the east because it couldn’t find a bigger late-night venue. No wonder the image of the west is of city boys in wine bars.

    It’s detrimental to live music. Shepherd’s Bush-Ealing band Fear Of Flying have to play outside the area: ‘It’s pretty scummy here in terms of venues,’ says bassist Charles Cave. ‘You’re going to play to a pub full of yobs if you want anything. So we got our first gigs at the other end of the Central Line in Bethnal Green.’ It’s created an antipathy that frustrates Anderson; both he and bands like Noah And The Whale have moved to north London. He’s still trying to stir things up, though. The last Way Out West night was run, in his absence, by some young, trustworthy punters in an attempt to inspire others to ‘get off their arses’. He hopes WOW might kick things off on a wider scale. ‘From a business point of view there’s money to be made from the area,’ he says. ‘I’d like to see kids putting on gigs in Scout huts. Anything!’

    For those stumbling about at Way Out West, it’s been a revelation and most of the fresh-faced teens at the Bush Hall gig Time Out attended spoke about being inspired by the nights. Before Anderson set up WOW, these indielings were starved of music. But suddenly kids from Acton, Brentford and Ealing descended. Then he saw a metal club at Brentford FC’s Stripes Bar admitting over-14s and followed suit, starting a trend in London that’s yielded a summer festival (aptly named Underage), to debut this year. Every gig since has been a chaotic lockout, attracting west London kids who previously had no live music to spend their pocket money on. The first WOW to allow kids as young as 14 in, featured Les Incompetents and was a riot of stage invasions and, reportedly, a broken leg (‘We shouldn’t have been allowed to do it after that!’ says Anderson).

    Another club showcasing locals and, just as importantly, bringing bands out west is Blue Flowers at the George IV in Chiswick. Local lad Chris Pearson, 23, started the acoustic Sunday night almost three years ago to ‘fight against those yuppie wine bars and start something for people who wanted decent music.’ Held in the back room of a pub on the first Sunday of every month, they’ve booked big names like Jamie T who, along with Mystery Jets and Larrikin Love, emerged from a west London field previously thought infertile. There’s a second wave of Blue Flowers-touted west Londoners too, like Bobby Cook, Noah And The Whale, Tom Hatred and Fear Of Flying. This DIY scene, born out of boredom – just like the suburban punks of Bromley and Slough – has a reputation for breaking acts. So much so that Kevin Spacey once paid a visit. ‘It was our two-year anniversary,’ says Pearson. ‘We had Jamie T, Laura Marling and Johnny Flynn – who was doing a play at the Old Vic. Someone came up to me and said, “You’re not going to believe who’s outside.” I went out and there was Kevin Spacey with a cap on. All you could hear was people whispering: “Kevin Spacey’s here!”’

    But it’s not all indie in the saloons out west. Notting Hill Arts Club, host to indie-heavy sessions RoTa and Death Disco, hosted the first gigs by west London’s first lady Lily Allen (she hails from Hammersmith) and Kate Nash. They both played the YoYo night run by west Londoners Seb Chew and Leo Greenslade, famed for showcasing new talent like Philly rappers Plastic Little. The Arts Club’s Inspiration Information night is home to another west London-based music: broken beat. Phil Asher, Bugz In The Attic and Domu all reside or record in west London. Says Prosser: ‘For the layman, it’s hard to differentiate between broken beat and African tribal house, but it’s a fantastic sound. We encourage more abstract forms of expression. We want things that move music on.

    ’Keep your ear to the ground and further, disparate talent will come crawling out of the once-grey and stoney west: junglists No U-Turn Boys (Ealing); west London nu-rave DJ duo The Coconut Twins; grime acts from the Acton studios; baile funk-loving rap merchant MIA; bluegrass outfit The Barker Band… It’s proof, says Alan Grant, who runs Neighbourhood, that ‘innovation is invariably born out of necessity’.

    With fewer venues or late licences than other parts of the capital, another scene has been revived: the house and warehouse party. Grant and Magic Jase, host of Nodisko, reckon the most ‘edgy’ nights out in the west are the bashes arranged by groups like ETA (not Basque
    separatists but a bunch of ‘trustafarian party people’, according to Grant). They apply for temporary event licences, which can run for 72 hours, and the result is mayhem. Following suit, the best boozer in the Bush, The Defectors Weld, is drawing up plans for its own late events.

    West London, for so long the dull point on London’s axis, has got much better. And it’s to its credit that what’s going on is too diverse to give it a name. The combination of a mix of cultures, kids with money and sheer boredom has inspired promoters and pubs to use what resources they have. The Askew has gigs on Saturday nights; Ginglik, a former public toilet, always has interesting bills; there’s Sunday sessions at The Raven (W6); plus new music at The Pelican (W11) and Inn On The Green (W10). As Alan Grant found at one of ETA’s parties, west Londoners are definitely up for it. ‘I went to one at the Shepherd’s Bush Pavilion last year. It was great. Kids were losing their minds.’�

    Where it's at

    Blue Flowers

    Acts including Adele, Kate Nash, Remi Nicole and Bobby Cook First Sunday of every month. George IV, 185 Chiswick High Rd, W4 (

    Defectors Weld

    Just DJs at present (Thursday to Sunday), but they play odd and wonderful fare. Plans are afoot for late-night events and live bands. Defectors Weld, 170 Uxbridge Rd, W12 (


    Lynchian ex-public loo beneath Shepherd’s Bush Green. Lots of electronica and quirky indie types play through the week. Ginglik, 1 Shepherd’s Bush Green, W12 (

    Inn On The Green

    Lots of blues, ska and vintage rock ’n’ roll nights, but they do occasionally host garage rock, ‘new indie’ and interesting DJs. Inn On The Green, 3-5 Thorpe Close, W10 (


    Stylish club under the Westway. Music veers between soulful house and hip hop, but it also puts on cool band showcases. Neighbourhood, 12 Acklam Rd, W10 (www.myspace. com/neighbourhoodclub).

    Notting Hill Arts Club

    Home to rock and indie clubs RoTa (Saturday, 4pm, free!) and Death Disco (Wednesday). Plus hip showcase YoYo (Thursday), broken beat/nu-soul night Inspiration Information (Friday) and more. Notting Hill Arts Club, 21 Notting Hill Gate, W11 (

    The Pelican

    Lovely locals’ pub that’s been commandeered for live music by Raison D’etre, who host an open mic on the second Wednesday of every month, and The Dirty Roar Club (every Thursday). The Pelican, 45 All Saints Rd, W11.


    Brand-new night on the last Sunday of every month, taking in guitar-totin’ kids and the occasional hip hop line-up. The Raven, 375 Goldhawk Rd, W6.

    Way Out West

    Nomadic indie club. A bit like a school disco for posh junior Dohertys. (̈

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