Speakers Corner Quartet on the venues that made them

The group are headlining an unmissable night at Chaka Khan’s Meltdown this month

Georgia Evans
Written by
Georgia Evans
Commercial Editor, Time Out
The four members of Speaker's Corner Quartet sitting on a low wall
Photograph: Marc Sethi

For almost two decades, the Speakers Corner Quartet have been active in London’s live music scene, collaborating with legends like Sampha, Kae Tempest, Tirzah and Shabaka Hutchings. What started off as a house band at south London music venue Brixton Jamm is now a four-piece powerhouse of Biscuit on flute, Kwake Bass on drums and percussion, Raven Bush on violin, and Peter Bennie on bass. 

In 2023, the group released their long-awaited debut album Further Out Than The Edge to critical acclaim, and this year scooped up the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Song, for their collaboration with Tempest on ‘Geronimo Blues’. Taking inspiration from hip-hop heavyweights like MF DOOM and J Dilla, innovative electronic artists such as Aphex Twin and composers like Ralph Vaughan Williams and John Coltrane, the group have been praised for their lush musical textures that heighten the performances of their collaborators.

So it makes sense that the legendary Chaka Khan would choose such an exciting and important collective to be a part of her 2024 Meltdown. The band has spent a whole year preparing a brand new show alongside the 35-piece Guildhall Session Orchestra for the festival, and are promising some thrilling new compositions and orchestral reworks from their debut album, as well as appearances from a few of their famous friends. 

In anticipation of their big night on Monday June 17, we caught up with flautist and band leader Biscuit ahead of the event, to shine a light on some of the places that have made the band what it is today. 

Brixton Jamm

It was where we started. The night was called Speakers Corner, and DJ Snuff ran it. It was the biggest open mic night in the country for spoken word and hip hop. But we had people from all kinds of scenes coming through to spit lyrics. So there was a lot of UK hip-hop, American guys, and people doing grime. I met Giles (Kwake Bass) in ‘06, exactly five days before his 21st birthday, and we are the only original members from then.

261 Brixton Road, SW9 6LH

The Barbican

In 2021, we did the first ‘Further Out Than The Edge’ blueprint show. That was crazy because I came back to London after some time out to look after myself, and we got the show together over three weeks, then pulling it off felt like this big milestone. We were joined by Sampha, Kae Tempest, Tirzah, Mica Levi, Coby Sey, and it felt like a big family performance. At the time, we were shopping some of the songs we had done with Kae and Coby but labels weren’t really interested, they needed to see longevity and a three-album signing, but they were all kicking themselves after the Barbican show because of how epic we were live. 

Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS

The Room Studios 

This is a rehearsal space and recording studio in Herne Hill where a lot of people work. It’s a highly sought-after place, Doom Cannon rehearses there, Joe Armon-Jones from Ezra Collective, and Shabaka Hutchings will go there when he’s in the country. It’s just an amazing hub for anything that’s current and it acts as the centre of a lot of UK jazz stuff. It was set up by Kwake Bass, the drummer for Speakers Corner Quarter, and Wu-Lu who left the business a little while ago, but it feels like a proper family business. 

174-176 Hither Green Lane, SE13 6QB

Royal Festival Hall

We supported The Roots when they played at Royal Festival Hall [in 2009] with Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock. And that was a big moment in our early career. We used to do a lot of our meetings around there. Now, we’re bringing a 35-piece orchestra and premiering a new album that’s a complete curveball from our last album. It’s got synths and one tune that I can almost call trap for its 808 drums and flutes that act like snares, with the maddest Ligeti-style composition. And it all comes from me using samples in Ableton, kind of like how a DJ would make classical music. 

Belvedere Road, SE1 8XX

Book tickets to Speakers Corner Quartet & Guildhall Session Orchestra at Chaka Khan’s Meltdown here.

ICYMI: Underbelly Festival returns to London this summer.

And Girls Aloud are playing a free, intimate gig in London next month.

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