In the mosh pit of global corporate excess that claims so much of London (UK) circa 2014, Café Oto is an oasis of cultural intelligence and inspiration. I popped in last night to check out Daniel Higgs and Michael Zerang, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Daniel Higgs (formerly of Lungfish) is a compelling performer: part troubadour, part sacred chanteur, part angry prophet, all the while plucking and playing a 5-string banjo like a sitar. Michael Zerang accompanied on percussion and was particularly rivoting with his hand drum. In their more electric moments there was something almost shamanic about their stagework — Higgs in particular. A performance like this is to be savoured.
Which, alas, is exactly what I had to do, because I only saw 15 minutes of the show. I got lost looking for the venue, and stumbled in late to catch the last three songs.
Café Oto is a cavernous space on a very small street at the end of some twisty narrow lanes in a rough and tumble part of East London. I was told the area (between the two Dalston Stations on the Overground) is ‘ground zero’ for hipsterville in London, and there were definitely some overly wrought bits of face-fur in the crowd, but the neighbourhood – at least the parts I drifted through – felt more grit than chic. The café is hand crafted and rough, with little decoration, no screens, not a beer logo in sight, and with a grand piano pushed in a corner beneath a large, red lantern. The sparse charm suggests that priorities are in the right place. And the selection of beer and cider is all microbrew. The dumb machinery of corporate culture has not quite found this place, at least not yet. An oasis.
Café Oto is even more than a great venue. They have OTOProjects, a not-for-profit that programs the music at the café, puts on workshops, film screenings and salons, and is working with artists and institutions in the UK and abroad. In partnership with the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, OTO Projects has also set up a Promoters and Artists Fund to support live events with UK-based musicians and offer artist residencies. Plus, every Wednesday night, the OTO Broadcast hits the airwaves on London’s art radio station Resonance FM 104.4 FM, from 9.30-10.30pm.
This place is the real deal, even a little amazing … I only have one, small complaint.
As I said, I arrived late. I was told at the door that the duo was half-way through their set. Fifteen minutes later, the show was over. It was their second set. Ouch. For the bean counters among you, that’s about 3Ł per song. I was annoyed, but the manager basically told me to piss off. Maybe it’s a London thing, but it seems unnecessarily greedy.
If you are in London, and you are looking for the avant-garde, the experimental, the creative and the new in the music world, Cafe Oto is definitely worth checking out. (Just don’t be late.)
Cafe Oto: 18 – 22 Ashwin street, Dalston, London