LONDON

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It feels like no exaggeration to say that London’s music scene is one of the finest in the world — if not the very best.

There are world-class venues all around the city. There are humongous arenas, historic theatres, beautiful chapels, dingy basements, upstairs pub rooms and converted railway sheds, with each and every one of them making their own unique contribution to the capital’s musical legacy.

 

The O2

It’s the big one — the place that consistently bills the very biggest artists in the world, more successfully than any other venue in London. The memories of its ill-fated founding as the Millennium Dome — a rudderless exhibition space that seemed more like a vanity project than anything of cultural importance — have long since faded.

Peninsula Square, SE10 0DX, theo2.co.uk

 

Wembley Arena

The O2’s only true arena-sized competitor comes from the opposite end of the city, over in north west London. It has a smaller capacity — 12,500 — and, these days, its bookings are ever so slightly less impressive, but make no mistake: this is still a titan of the capital’s music scene.

Arena Square, Engineers Way, HA9 0AA, ssearena.co.uk

Brixton Academy

There’s a sense of excitement that ripples through this place before the music has even started. Part of it is sucked in from outside, absorbing the surging energy of Brixton at night. A lot of it is thanks to the architecture of the venue, with a sloping floor in the stalls that gives it the feel of some sort of amphitheatre, and a cavernous roof looming above.

211 Stockwell Road, SW9 9SL, academymusicgroup.com/o2academybrixton

Roundhouse

While many venues in London start life with the ambition of becoming a famous spot, the Roundhouse began with rather less lofty aims. It was built in the mid-19th century as a railway engine shed, before eventually falling into disrepair. However, those rather underwhelming origins have allowed this Chalk Farm venue to become one of the most striking buildings on London’s musical map.

Chalk Farm Road, NW1 8EH, roundhouse.org.uk

Cafe Oto

There was a performance at Cafe Oto back in March 2017 that pretty much summed the venue up. It was a showcase of experimental Japanese artists and featured the maverick composer Makoto Nomura. He tore through an absurdly virtuosic performance, which culminated in him playing a melodica with his chin and mouth, pounding a grand piano with his right hand and striking a selection of tuneful roof tiles with his left, all at the same time.

Ashwin Street, E8 3DL, cafeoto.co.uk

Union Chapel

In some venues, it’s all about the music. In others, the place itself threatens to draw eyes away from the musicians playing. Such a risk is regularly run at Union Chapel, one of the most beautiful live music venues in all of London. It’s a refuge of calm and relaxation in Islington, away from all the sound and fury of Upper. An evening spent sat in its pews, gazing up at the stained glass window and ornate gothic-revival architecture would be delightful enough, but add live music to it all and you have an experience unlike anything else in the city.

 

Compton Terrace, N1 2UN, unionchapel.org.uk

Shepherd’s Bush Empire

Shepherd’s Bush Empire strikes a winning paradox — it feels grand without sacrificing too much intimacy. It has the ornate feel of an vintage theatre, with intricately detailed ceilings and balconies and a looming roof, but it all still manages to remain rather compact, with a relatively small standing area and elevated seating that seems climbs on top of itself.

Shepherd’s Bush Green, W12 8TT, academymusicgroup.com/o2shepherdsbushempire

Hammersmith Apollo

It’s undergone many name changes — first it was the Gaumont Palace, then the Hammersmith Odeon, then the Hammersmith Apollo, and then various other guises due to sponsorship deals — but this huge art deco theatre has remained a strong player in the capital’s music scene.

45 Queen Caroline Street, W6 9QH, eventimapollo.com

 

The Jazz Cafe

Don’t let the name deceive you — this place isn’t really a cafe, and there’s a lot more than just jazz that rattles its walls. Hip hop, soul, grime, rock, techno, samba — the Jazz Cafe boasts one of the more wide-reaching programmes of the major venues in London’s music shene. Mostly though, the music played here is geared towards making you dance, and that’s a good thing, because there’s a real sense of togetherness.

5 Parkway, NW1 7PG, thejazzcafelondon.com

 

The Windmill

Grassroots venues in London are in short supply. ‘Cheap gigs with bands that not many people have heard of’ isn’t the most profitable of business plans, especially when London’s exorbitant rents and overzealous property developers get involved.

22 Blenheim Gardens, SW2 5BZ, windmillbrixton.co.uk

Southbank Centre

The Southbank Centre is one of those places that you almost feel guilty to have in your city — there’s always so much going on, and of such high quality, that it feels somewhat greedy to have it all on our doorstep. It’s a world-class cultural institution, hosting art, dance, opera, classical music, exhibition, talks, poetry readings and, last but not least, live gigs.

South Bank, SE1, southbankcentre.co.uk

 

Barbican

Everything about the Barbican is imposing, from those huge, totemic tower blocks that pierce the skyline, to the bowels of the building that seem to swallow you up as venture deeper into them. It’s all befitting of the place — from the outside, it’s the city’s finest example of just how forebodingly beautiful brutalism can be, and hidden away inside is one of London’s finest cultural powerhouses.

Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS, barbican.org.uk

The Lexington

Music in pubs is a well-worn London tradition. Admittedly, the gigs in question are quite often terrible — as anyone who’s heard an acoustic cover of Chasing Cars while trying to enjoy their drink will attest — but there are a handful of boozers in the city that put on some terrific live shows. The Lexington is probably the best of them. Hidden up a narrow staircase above a pub in Angel, this 200-capacity space punches well above its weight with a superb sound system and a raft of excellent bookings.

96-98 Pentonville Road, N1 9JB, thelexington.co.uk

Ronnie Scott’s

Thriving against all odds in one of London’s most rapidly changing areas is one of the world’s oldest remaining jazz clubs. Set up in 1959 by two musicians, Ronnie Scott and Pete King, as a place for local musicians to jam together, it’s now fit to burst on a nightly basis. In its early days, you might have seen Miles Davis or Chet Baker. Jimi Hendrix did his last ever public performance here in 1970, just two days before he died.

47 Frith Street, W1D 4HT, ronniescotts.co.uk

 

Bush Hall

If we were just ranking London venues on looks and charm alone, Bush Hall would right up there at the top. The glitzy venue is housed in a former dancehall, and the pink decor and chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings bring a touch of glamour to every event here. The venue itself is a real west London gem, hosting just 450 guests at a time.

310 Uxbridge Road, W12 7LJ, bushhallmusic.co.uk

EartH

Multi-functional arts space EartH is housed in the reclaimed rooms of Hackney Arts Centre, marking one of the newest venues in the city. There’s a grand theatre with sweeping seating upstairs, as well as a functional live music venue with fantastic sound in the basement. Both host a diverse selection of events, with plenty of free shows worth keeping an eye out for too.

11-17 Stoke Newington Rd, Dalston, N16 8BH, earthackney.co.uk

Village Underground

Village Underground is synonymous with Shoreditch’s live music and clubbing scene, not least because the artwork on its exterior is one of the area’s most recognisable features — if you’ve never walked down the steps to the venue itself, odds are you’ll be familiar with graphic art, and abandoned train carriages perched on the walls along Holywell Lane.

54 Holywell Lane, EC2A 3PQ, villageunderground.co.uk

Royal Albert Hall

The Royal Albert Hall is, of course, one of the most historically and culturally significant venues in London’s music shene. It was opened in 1871 by Queen Victoria, and remains one of the most beautiful and instantly recognisable buildings in the city.

Kensington Gore, Kensington, SW7 2AP, royalalberthall.com

UK music festivals are renowned around the globe for their creativity and their clout in capturing the coolest acts around. They also form one of the most saturated music festival markets in the world.

 

Glastonbury Festival

Take a stroll through Shangri-La – the festival’s night time district – and you’ll be thrown into a themed world full of immersive theatre and shenanigans, soundtracked by electronic music’s finest and underground names. 

Or just up the path there’s Arcadia, the sprawling spider-like, flame-throwing structure, open to only the most hardcore ravers, or the more cosier circus and cabaret field, where some of the country’s best comedians come together with drag queens and trapeze magicians. 

 

Boomtown

A boiling pot of vibrancy, theatre, fantasy, escapism and camaraderie, Boomtown Fair is a hub of diverse and non-commercialised musical movements whose roots stretch far and wide. Consisting of nine districts with a different emphasis, you may be chilling to some folk one minute, and then travelling at 180 BPM to some drum & bass the next.

When & where: August Winchester

 

Creamfields

Now in Daresbury, Creamfields attracts tens of thousands every year seeking to party to the finest names in dance, along with immense visuals, lighting and pyrotechnics. Joined by a devoted following, Creamfields continues to shape the dance scene as we know it.

When & where: August Daresbury

 

Lovebox

Festival lineup: Chance the Rapper, Solange, Four Tet, Brockhampton, Loyle Carner, H.E.R., Action Bronson, Kaytranada

London’s beat lovers, freaks and hipsters convene for an annual party created by Groove Armada. A colourful mix of dance dons, rock gods, vintage markets, bespoke bars and fairground tides, Lovebox is a carousel of creativity.

When & where: 12-13 July 2019, London

 

Fusion Festival

Fusion Festival is one of the UK’s go-to pop music festival, each year bringing some of the genre’s biggest stars to Liverpool for a weekend of catchy sing-a-longs.

When & where: August – September, Liverpool

 

Camp Bestival

With all the playful nonsense of its naughty older sister event Bestival, Camp Bestival offers the same novelty of fancy dress and late night silliness, but with a twist: it’s completely family friendly. 

Taking place in a beautiful English castle, it has everything from medieval jousting to face painting with music, comedy and poets hand-picked by Rob da Bank. 

When & where: July, Lulworth Castle

 

Latitude Festival

Taking over the idyllic English countryside, Latitude is, as its tagline proclaims, much more than just a music festival. With DJs hidden in the woods, colourful sheep roaming the tufty fields, opera on the lake, film debuts in its onsite cinema, clowns under canvas, actors treading the boards, local ales, dance troupes and a huge children’s area, there’s something to keep whatever age entertained.

When & where: July, Southwold

 

Boardmasters Festival

Hidden amongst the swell and sunshine of the south-west coast of England, Boardmasters mixes the best boarders in the world – whether they’re surfers or skaters – with BMX kings, and soundtracks the action with dance dons, folk stars, and pop favourites. 

With cliff-top sessions and surf shack shows, it’s only a cocktail short of the best weekend of the year.

When & where: August, Newquay

 

Download Festival

Probably the most prestigious hard rock and heavy metal festival in the world, Download took over from the legendary Monsters of Rock Festival at Derby’s Donington Park.

Its three days packed full of the biggest names from the 70s right up to the newest generation, and if the heavier end of the spectrum is your thing then Download will take a heck of a lot of beating.

When & where: 12-14June 2020, Derby

 

Houghton Festival

Festival lineup: Ben UFO, Four Tet, Helena Hauff, Craig Richards, Floating Points, DJ Stingray, Hunee, Ricardo Villalobos

Few festivals – if any – make as remarkable an impression after only two editions as Houghton Festival has. Curated by British electronic music veteran Craig Richards and produced by another firm favourite Gottwood, the festival’s first two events have won praise on basically all counts – lineup, scheduling, sound quality, location, atmosphere. Let’s hope they can keep it up.  

When & where: August, Houghton

 

South West Four SW4

If London ever needed an extra club, South West Four is it. And what a club it is. Forget those tasteless, champagne with sparklers joints, this is an open-air party palace that sorts out the essentials first: music, music and more music.

A coming together of the EDM world, their understudies, and up-and-coming stars, the four stages of house, techno, minimal, trance and electronica will fill your ears for the evening, before you head out to one of the countless after parties.

When & where: August, London

 

Green Man Festival

As far as festival locations go, Green Man Festival takes in the might of the UK’s landscape with its backdrop of the Brecon Beacons’ Black Mountains in Wales, and the folk-led lineup fits it perfectly.

Hidden in the hills are 1,500 performers to discover across the comedy, theatre and literary worlds, complimented by the host local ales and ciders on offer, and the various spas and therapies to nurse away those hangovers.

When & where: August , Brecon Beacons

 

Isle of Wight Festival

The reincarnation of one of the UK’s first ever festivals continues to pull in the world’s biggest guitar slingers and the hottest craftsmen and women from pop and electronic genres. 

Born in 1968 and still rocking out strong 50 years later, IoW has lived through decades of musical and cultural change, always staying relevant and incredibly popular.

When & where: 11-14 June 2020, Isle of Wight

 

Reading & Leeds Festivals

Reading and Leeds are the type of riotous events that Bank Holidays are made for, providing a platform for rising and established indie bands, metal groups, next generation dance, hip hop and alternative pop acts.

When & where: August, Reading & Leeds

 

We Are FSTVL

With its Best Medium-Sized Festival prize still gleaming from its gantries, We Are FSTVL continues to go from strength to strength, with even more colour and more incredible EDM masters.

Try its 16 stages, 200 DJs, stylised stages and VIP arena with bubbling hot tubs, spa treatments, gourmet food and champagne bars for a weekend (and hangover) you’re unlikely to forget in a hurry.

When & where: May, London

 

All Points East

After a thrilling debut in 2018, All Points East returns to London’s Victoria Park in 2019 looking to take things to an even higher level.

From late May till early June they’ll be laying on ten days of multi-flavoured music, comedy, outdoor film screenings, theatre, children’s activities and more. 

When & where: May – June, London

 

TRNSMT Festival

Started as a replacement for T in the Park, the city centre event includes all the revelry of a traditional music festival, but also gives festival-goers the chance to explore the city’s bars, restaurants, nightclubs and cultural attractions.

When & where: July, Glasgow

 

 

Parklife

Festival lineup (2019): Cardi B, George Ezra, Solange, Migos, The Streets, Khalid, Christine and the Queens, Eric Prydz

Parklife Festival is one of the UK’s most popular and famous weekend music festivals, laying on a programme of diverse and cutting-edge music inside Manchester’s Heaton Park.

Curated by a number of the UK’s most renowned clubbing brands, the weekender has rubber stamped its position at the very front of the country’s dance music scene.

When & where: 13-14 June 2020, Manchester

 

Wilderness Festival

If there’s one thing Britain’s festivals do brilliantly, it’s boutique bashes. One of the more posh and pretty gatherings in the event calendar, Oxfordshire’s Wilderness Festival is the type of place where you can watch a bona fide legend on the stage, enjoy a banquet feast, a science lecture, soak in a hot tub, and watch a one man performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

When & where: August, Charlbury

 

Wireless Festival

Wireless is not quite bigger than hip-hop, but it’s certainly getting that way. This supafly soiree is the best chance to see a line up of urban legends, leaning heavily on the side of rap, grime, hip-hop and R&B.

Pair that with fairground rides, chill out areas, bars and artists singing booths to keep days filled, and you’ll begin to understand why this is the only UK date this pedigree of rap stars book in advance.

When & where: July, London

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