Barden’s Boudoir’s replacement, The Nest, is bringing back the era of big soundsystems to Dalston. The renovated music venue enlisted the sound engineers behind London superclubs Matter and Fabric, hoping to become the new centre of gravity for the area’s burgeoning live scene.
The Nest, which took over the iconic basement space in mid-2010, is pledging to continue Barden’s mission to showcase independent musical talent, albeit in a slicker environment. The new leaseholders of the building at 36 Stoke Newington Road, Columbo Group, have kept the structure of the basement intact but lowered the floor by half a metre and moved the stage from the middle to the side.
“It has become a much more functional space,” said Columbo boss Steve Ball, who co-founded Fabric and currently runs innovative small-sized night spots across London, including the Old Queen’s Head in Islington. “There are so many great events in the area, it’s important to have a point of difference from others, that’s what we hope to do [with the sound].”
The Nest certainly feels much classier than Barden’s, with £50,000 spent on just the new sound system. The sweaty smell is gone as is the iconic but aesthetically questionable bright red wall paint. The revamp, however, cannot be called bourgeois sanitation, as the space retains its basic character, including the cozy wall booths. Sometimes cleaner really is better.
Weekends at The Nest will see night club-style events featuring up-and-coming DJs. Steve says Columbo aren’t interested in big ticket DJs because of the price that will have to be passed down to the door. Entry on the weekends will cost £4-5.
During the week the venue will be live music-oriented, although it will also stage events such as poetry readings and theatre. As part of its involvement with the local art scene, The Nest will provide a monthly £1,500 bursary to worthwhile creative projects.
The Nest’s booking manager, Ally Wolf, said they spoke with every single promoter involved with Barden’s because, as a regular visitor there himself, he understood the venue’s importance to the area. “It was integral for us to continue working with [former] promoters… we want to continue relationships,” he added. Among the returnees are London’s foremost promoters of underground music Upset The Rhythm, who were instrumental in reviving Barden’s profile in late 2000s.
Asked how he selects the venues to invest in, Steve said: “It would be nice to have a strategy but it’s quite haphazard… We take buildings that have character, that we will enjoy running. For us [growth] isn’t the numbers game, it’s organic.”
He adds that London’s ‘night life community’ can be quite transitory, but Columbo has a good track record of creating entertainment environments that stand the test of time. The ongoing popularity of the Old Queen’s Head, despite the migration of the creative scene out of the Angel area, supports this claim. “We have a 15-year lease [on The Nest] and we have every intention of [seeing] it to the end.”
Yet Steve, who lives in Hackney and has been going out here for years, hesitates to associate his work with The Nest with Dalston’s gentrification. He believes the word has acquired negative connotations of stale middle-class cultural values. “What does [the word] mean?… Would I like to see the streets cleaner and more businesses opening up [and rising] business rates? Damn right I would.”
When is a Columbo investment considered a success? Never, said Steve. “I think the moment we [think] that, is the moment you take your foot off the gas. We always strive to improve the event, to showcase more interesting things… That’s the nature of [managing] venues.”