Let some great musicians play away your Sunday blues
Rich Mix on Bethnal Green Road
While music is never hard to find in London we are experiencing a time where many historical venues, such as those of Denmark Street, are being pulled down or closing. You would therefore be forgiven for feeling somewhat despondent with the London music scene. Even I myself have been to too many music venues that charge £5 for a bottle of beer and offer the kind of act that quite frankly makes you really want a drink.
In Shoreditch, a district of London that one can't help to love even though they are unlikely to admit it, sits a huge former leather factory, now known as Rich Mix. A worthy recipient of Arts Council funding and proudly financially self-sufficient, Rich Mix is an independent arts venue that looks to be the "place where all of the communities of the world come together to make and experience art and feel like they belong".
While there is another article with an overview on what is available at Rich Mix I would like to talk about the monthly Sunday evening music event, Smile Acoustic. To begin with entry is free, and anyone can walk in from 6pm onwards and be welcomed by either great music, a smiling host (Arthur Lea – pictured), or free cake. Yes, free cake. Some people turn up for just that reason and are rarely ashamed, but it is a venue that tries to make you welcome regardless.
Similarly, because of the nature of the venue, there is no pressure to even buy a drink and that, when you think about it, is quite rare in London. It creates a relaxed atmosphere where, even though most people will certainly want a drink, the dynamic of the night is such that people come simply to listen to some great music, which in turn appeals to the musicians because they receive the unwavering attention of the room, therefore attracting better acts and creating a better evening for all.
And it's this quality of the music that has always drawn me to this particular event. I wouldn't say it's just a good standard, but also there is variety you will often be denied in some venues that cater exclusively for an audience who know what they like when it comes to genre. On top of this the sound is excellent, all sound checks happen before the doors open and the performers are ready to go without needing to plug in a loop pedal or tune their hammer dulcimer.
The acts are hand-picked by Arthur himself and they come from all over the UK and beyond to play there. I myself have spoken to people from all over the world and all ages during my visits there who feel very welcome and enjoy the experience. While it may be unfair to compare this night to venues that don't receive any funding and are instead fighting against the rise of beer tax and such things, I feel that in terms of their mission statement, Rich Mix are doing a great job and Smile Acoustic, along with those who run it, are certainly playing their part in keeping the party alive as far as the London music scene is concerned.
Unfortunately though, and on a slightly less positive note, the mayor of London and the London Borough of Tower Hamlets are reportedly looking to bankrupt the venue by forcing them to repay a large sum of money in a single payment. While Rich Mix have offered to pay in settlements, keeping them alive, the council have rejected the idea and instead taken them through a costly legal battle. If you have enjoyed the venue, or value the excellent work they do there, please go to their website to sign the petition and show the council that art and culture within the community is important to you.