Long Live Power Lunches, a Space for Everyone
Artists, labels, and people who frequently haunted Hackney's basement venue pour one on the ground for one of London’s most beloved spaces.
Inside Power Lunches, a venue in Haggerston, east London, you will find the following things: a toilet covered in band stickers and anarchist graffiti, someone behind the bar who volunteered to be there and probably runs an independent label or zine out of their bedroom, and a sweat-drenched basement that has seen some of the best live shows in the past five years.
Of course, all good things in London must come to an end because this is 2015, the chinese year of a Giraffe being built on a nightclub or primary school. Hackney's Power Lunches recently announced that it would be shutting down on December 23 (update: Power Lunches will now close on December 20). Beginning five years ago as an arts café putting on gigs at weekends, the tiny venue quickly evolved to become one of the cornerstones of London’s DIY scene. Offering cheap rehearsal and recording space as well as the opportunity for basically anybody to put on whatever kind of show they wanted without having to convince them it would make a load of (if any) money, it operated with an ethos of 'hey, look, anybody can do this - you should do this' rather than dealing with the same pool of booking companies with big-name bands and crippling guarantees. Warm beer, loud music, and poorly air-conditioned windowless rooms may not be to everybody's taste, but for a great many Power Lunches was a haven from the city’s increasingly strict, increasingly expensive music spaces.
Its closure marks another blow towards London’s nightlife - in September the Guardian reported that of the 430 venues that traded in London between 2007 and 2015, only 245 remained, and that number has already gotten smaller - but it’s artists that will feel its loss most personally. With a community-encouraging and anything-goes booking policy that gave musicians, promoters and causes a space when most others wouldn’t, it was more than just punk that found a home at Power Lunches - it was anyone on their page. “We’ve got a reputation for being quite feminist, radical and queer friendly and that’s reflected in the kind of stuff that happens here. Other venues don’t go out of their way to encourage that scene,” bookings manager Andrew Milk said in an interview last year.
After closing, its legacy will remain as one of London’s few independently-run spaces that operates as a legitimate above-the-board business while still retaining staunch DIY ethics. In their statement, they wrote that “it has become financially unviable for us to carry on without compromising the integrity of what power lunches is known and loved for.”
The statement continued: “We all know it it has become increasingly difficult to do good stuff in a city that is so focused on making a profit without much concern for anything else but we’ve had 4 great years and we hope everyone will remember us fondly knowing we did our best to support independent bands and promoters in London.”
Power Lunches are throwing a goodbye party this Saturday, December 19 with sets from The Glugg, Sauna Youth, Not Sorry and The Rebel. You should go and support them while you still can. Ben Perkins who puts together Another Subculture, “London’s Best (Only) Cassette Magazine”, will be there with dictaphone in hand ready to record all your half-drunk memories while you’re waiting in the queue for the toilets. Until then, here are some reflections and memories canvassed from artists, labels, and those that frequently haunted the venue.
“Power Lunches was vital to a small DIY promoter like me. They were supportive of you taking risks and were not going to kick you out if one night was poorly attended. It always felt right when I put on a show at the venue. It's absence will mean less bands getting to play their show in a supportive environment. Less promoters taking risks. Less diversity across the DIY 'scene'” - Trev, Odd Box Records
“There are precious few places in the UK where independent artists like myself can hire great rooms for a sensible sum - Power Lunches was one of those places and I’m really sad that we’re losing it” - Laura Kidd, She Makes War
“Power Lunches might not have been considered the perfect venue by everyone, but to me it was a little haven - a world away from the overpriced branded pubs in Dalston where half the audience spend gigs flicking through their phones or chatting over the band. It was a venue that welcomed the weird and the wonderful parts of London's underground music scene, especially the bands that might not always fit into the traditional mold or be well-known enough to draw a big crowd.
Promoters could take chances and anyone was encouraged to put on a gig or take to the stage, which usually resulted in some very sweaty, messy and exciting shows. It felt easy and accessible to get involved in some way, maybe by forming a label or band, putting together a zine or hosting the odd gig, as it housed so many overlapping scenes.
The loss of Power Lunches is another sad blow to London's underground scene. Where can musicians in the area rehearse cheaply or play those important formative gigs? It's getting tougher to access and afford these spaces in the city, and DIY venues are being forced to move further away from central areas. Elsewhere in the UK, scenes are flourishing and it does feel as though London's getting left behind” - Liv Willars, Feature
“I enjoyed seeing Joanna Gruesome there when the aircon was broken so the front row was crowded around a dripping bucket” - Laura Snapes, Freelance Journalist/Editor and Senior Editor of Pitchfork Review
"Power Lunches was a confidence building work-shop for bands, where you could play feeling supported and surrounded by friends where everyone could play, get better and have a good time together. This was where I saw Vision Fortune and Slowcoaches play for the first time, played a New Year's Eve where there were only our three friends and the sound guy (Mark Jasper from Sound Savers) where Feature and Monotony played their first shows, where I've played too many shows with Sauna Youth to remember. This year's highlight was getting to play with Vexx two days in a row on two of hottest nights of the year but there are so many more. Thanks to everyone that kept Power Lunches going for so long" - Jen Calleja, Feature/Sauna Youth
“I put on a Fifth Element themed club night there once. Went down like a lead balloon, but I had a great time” - Mitchell Stevens, Social Producer for the hip music website Noisey dot com
"I wasn’t even aware of the DIY scene before setting foot in Power Lunches in early 2013 when my band played our second show there. Immediately I was struck by the sense of community. It was so exciting to find this hidden place that facilitated sub cultures, where the audience wasn’t 90% straight white dudes in NOFX shirts.
Power Lunches was also home to the first ever show I put on, which I was able to do due to the low hire cost and supportive staff. They provided so much freedom, it was an incredible introduction to the scene and I’ll always remember that". - Nicola Leel, Doe
“My gf's band launched their EP there and it's where she told me she loved me” - @TalkOldToMe
"Power Lunches was one of the few venues that I've been to that I felt completely comfortable in. They let me record both an album and music video during some downtime in the basement. It's the venue I've played more than any other in the world. It's the building I met most of my favourite people in. It was the London show of the first tour I went on. I miss you already." - Saam Watkins, Playlounge/Nudes/Personal Best